Legacy Audio Focus 20/20 loudspeaker Carving Out a Legacy
In mid-September 2003, I paid a visit to the Legacy factory—or, more accurately, the Legacy/Allen Organ Company factory, in the Pennsylvania Dutch country an hour northwest of Philadelphia.
Every Legacy speaker is made on the same assembly line as are Allen's magnificent church and theater organs and supporting sound systems. But "assembly line" doesn't describe Legacy/Allen's manufacturing process. One sees none of the exotic machine tools that term implies, save for a computer-controlled milling machine that turns MDF blanks into the panels used to assemble Legacy cabinets. All other construction, assembly, and finishing processes are done by hand—there's not so much as a power sander to be found anywhere in the Legacy/Allen works.
Allen Organ has been a fixture in the Allentown/Macungie area for more than 60 years, and just as the Markowitz family still manages the company they founded, successive generations of the same families have crafted the organs, and now Legacy speakers. If you're anything of an audiophile or an organ enthusiast (I'm guilty on both counts) and find yourself in the picturesque Lehigh Valley, you owe it to yourself to stop in at the Jerome Markowitz Center, just outside Macungie. There, you can stroll through the Allen museum and showroom, the Legacy showroom, and the beautiful Octave Hall concert center, where visitors are warmly welcomed.
Softspoken but intense, friendly, and engaging, Bill Dudleston is the heart and soul of Legacy Audio. A native of Springfield, Illinois, he doesn't remember a time when he wasn't involved in audio and electronics. Dudleston was an enthusiastic amateur recordist in his youth, taping everything from sound effects to symphonic performances. While in high school, he fell under the spell of the Dahlquist DQ-10 and, inspired by that classic speaker, built his own first pair of loudspeakers. The speakers were eventually relocated, along with their designer, to the University of Illinois, where Dudleston earned a degree in chemical engineering. Why chemical, and not electrical, engineering? "Chemical engineering requires an understanding of fluid flow and thermodynamics, as well as an appreciation for mechanical and electrical engineering," according to Dudleston. And air is, of course, a fluid.
After a few years as a process engineer, Dudleston decided to follow his heart and, in 1983, begin designing and building loudspeakers for a living. He entered into a partnership with his father-in-law, Jake Albright, and Legacy Audio was born. Initially, the speakers were made to order, then on a factory-direct basis; Dudleston depended on word of mouth, spread by engineer friends, to get the Legacy story out (footnote 1). After a number of years, and a growing buzz about the speakers, business began to take off, and the company has experienced steady growth for the last 10 years.
By 1997, Albright wanted to retire, and Dudleston wanted to find a partner to support the expansion of the business into conventional retail (ie, dealer-focused) sales. Dudleston had done some design work and consulting for Allen's electronics and speaker side, and the company's president, Steve Markowitz, proposed that Legacy become part of the Allen family. Dudleston agreed, 75% of Legacy was sold to Allen, and Legacy's production facilities were integrated with Allen's organ-building operations. Legacy now boasts 54 dealers and an extensive range of speakers and electronics.
Dudleston favors highly damped, low-Q drivers, which he uses not over their entire usable range, but only over the range in which they provide optimum linearity. This accounts for the complex, multi-driver nature of his larger designs, and for such efforts as resulted in his design of the unique "fill driver" between the Focus' subwoofers and midrange drivers. Dudleston simply could not obtain the performance he wanted in the vital upper-bass/lower-midrange with anything less. Control of dispersion is an extremely high priority, especially in Legacy's larger, more sophisticated speakers: the Whisper and the massive, quad-amping-required Helix (footnote 2). The cabinet is given special attention inside and out; every Legacy is heavily constructed and extensively braced before being hand-finished in glowing veneers.
Although Legacy also manufactures electronics, Dudleston is anything but pedantic in his choice of the amps he uses when deceloping a loudspeaker. Every speaker is evaluated with various tube and transistor amplifiers throughout the design process, and cables used range from plain-vanilla Belden to exotica from Monster and Kimber.
Dudleston and sales manager Bob Howard both laid great emphasis on the priority that Legacy places on customer service. Because the company began as a direct-sale operation, pleasing the customer and going the extra mile to accommodate special requests were necessary to its survival. That ethic has been retained as Legacy has grown into a major player in the High End. The company will accommodate any remotely reasonable request for custom tweaking, from cabinet modifications to choice of internal wiring, and stands fully behind every speaker they have ever made.
Bill Dudleston, Bob Howard, and the rest of the Legacy team could not have been more helpful and gracious during my day at the factory, much of which was spent parked in front of the Whisper ($15,000/pair) and Helix ($40,000/pair) loudspeakers, where I contentedly, often rapturously, spun favorite CDs. The Focus is a remarkable piece of work, but the Whisper and the Helix are even more so. Watch this space for more on the Whisper in the months to come.—Paul Bolin
Footnote 1: During the direct-sale years, less than 2% of Dudleston's customers returned the speakers, which were sold on a 30-day trial basis.—Paul Bolin
Footnote 2: The Helix contains discrete 1kW amplifiers for each of its two active bass drivers, and requires three stereo amplifiers—or six monoblocks—for operation.—Paul Bolin