Listening #169

On a bright, warm day in September, at the memorial gathering for our colleague Wes Phillips, I overheard John Atkinson, in pre-ceremony conversation, discussing men's fashions: "What's popular these days," he said, with a degree of puzzlement that stopped short of disapproval, "is very long hair on just the top, with nothing on the sides and back." Then he added, this time with disdain, "What I don't understand is this trend where men wear dress shoes without socks—which I have actually seen!" The fact that we were in Park Slope, Brooklyn—the very jaw of the hipster possum—may have triggered his observations, which I overheard while chatting with Stereophile alum Laura LoVecchio. I remember reflexively looking down at my own ankles, to make sure I was wearing socks. I was.

But here's the thing: The first few times I'd seen a man wearing a suit and wingtips without socks—in summer, Cherry Valley is quite the fashion hot spot, perhaps owing to its nearness to the seasonal Glimmerglass Opera—I thought it looked silly. Now I'm not so sure. Men with confidence and just the right attitude, whose appearance in all other respects suggests that it's a choice and not a laundry-day fail, can pull it off. So now I think it looks all right, even as I regard myself as too old to try it.

Similarly, the first time I saw a pair of late-1960s Altec Flamencos—a large domestic loudspeaker with a neo-Moorish grille so elaborately styled it would not look out of place in the drawing room of a Victorian hookah merchant—I wanted to have both of my retinas cauterized. I admit that, to this day, I have never seen a pair of Flamencos in a home in which the furniture is covered in clear plastic, but I believe that's only because I have never seen even a single Flamenco in anyone's home (footnote 1).

Except my own
Like its contemporary the Altec Valencia, a pair of which I've owned and used since January 2013, the Altec Flamenco is a two-way loudspeaker in an aperiodic enclosure, with a 13.5" bass driver (the Altec 416-Z) and an aluminum multicell horn (Altec 811), the latter driven by a compression driver with a 1.75" diaphragm (Altec 806A). The incoming signal is divided at 800Hz by Altec's aptly named N-800F passive crossover.

As noted above, the Flamenco has distinctive grillework: a 23" wide by 24" high expanse of what Altec described as "simulated wrought iron" (actually molded from very dense plastic and painted black), in contrast to the Valencia's more conservative wooden lattice grille. The two models also boast different veneers—oak for the Flamenco, walnut for the Valencia—and different price tags: in the late 1960s, a single Flamenco retailed for $345, while a Valencia could be had for only $333.

Despite their different names and very different stylings, the 846A Valencia and 848A Flamenco were produced side by side from early 1966 to 1974. (After that, they were replaced by the significantly different 846B Valencia and 848B Flamenco, footnote 2.) As with so many other commercial products, the Flamencia and Valenco offered the same ingredients in different packages, presumably to appeal to different tastes. It's sort of like Pez, especially after that company began topping their candy dispensers with the likenesses of pop-culture icons: the Valencia is Santa Claus, or perhaps even Superman; the Flamenco is Pope Callixtus III (1455–1458).

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But recently I discovered that the Valencia and Flamenco aren't functionally identical after all. Early in September, a local friend forwarded to me a classified ad from the Rochester, New York, edition of Craigslist: someone who lived about three hours west of Cherry Valley was selling a pair of Flamencos, along with the speakers' matching equipment-and-record console. (Picture it. I dare you.) I wasn't interested in the latter—which, at almost twice the size of a single Flamenco, would never fit alongside the speakers themselves in a Volkswagen Tiguan. But because a friend of mine in New York City has, for over a year, lusted after my Valencias, I was suddenly very interested in making a deal for the Flamencos, as long as I didn't have to pay any more for them than I would receive from the sale of my Valencias. After a bit of haggling, a deal was struck, and I drove west to collect what I'd already been able to identify as a pair of 846A Flamencos made in 1966. (The production numbers on the backs of the cabinets, the antepenultimate numerals of which are keyed to the production year, were visible in the photos in the ad.)

Before long, I would make two major discoveries about these speakers.

The first: At the end of that September afternoon, when I found myself really struggling to get the Flamencos out of my car—at the home of the seller, I'd had help getting them in—I chalked it up to the fact that I was five years older than the last time I'd performed such a chore. Still later in the day, when I removed the cabinets' rear panels to ensure that all within was well, I was surprised to see a number of differences between the Flamencos' cabinets and those of my Valencias, at least two of which had the potential to affect their sound:

• Instead of the cabinet bottom being a removable (with effort) frame of decorative hardwood trim, as in the Valencia, the Flamenco is solid, down to its bottommost surface.

• The Flamenco's cabinet has more bracing than the Valencia's, especially on the inner surface of the rear panel.

• Whereas the Valencia's cabinet has damping material affixed to only three inner surfaces—the bottom, rear, and one side panel—every interior surface of the Flamenco is padded. Not only that, but an extra hunk of this damping material, which appears to contain fiberglass, is stuffed between the top edge of the woofer and the bottom edge of the midrange/treble horn, in an apparent effort to tame structural resonances in the latter.

• Whereas most of the Valencia's enclosure is made of plywood, with hardwood trim and softwood bracing, only the Flamenco's front baffle is plywood. Apart from that and the cabinet's bracing and decorative trim—respectively, softwood and hardwood—the whole thing is made of particleboard. (Picture it. I dare you.)



Footnote 1: I have a friend who owns a pair, but they're stored in a spare room, neither on display nor in use.

Footnote 2: But not at precisely the same time: For some reason, 846B Valencias and 848A Flamencos coexisted in 1975.

ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
rl1856's picture

I think your questions regarding sonic differences between Altec Valencia and Flamenco speakers can be answered by the differences in construction. Additional damping and greater structural integrity will reduce audible vibrations and resonances, leading to greater soundstage clarity. Conversely the attenuation of resonances etc can diminish the "live" or "jump" factors experienced when listening to some speakers. I have owned Valencias before, and I found they did some things very well, but also had limitations. Someone offered me too much money and that was that. My tastes and equipment have since changed. Maybe it is time to re-investigate Altecs ?

Idler's picture

Have you tried the Werner Jagusch crossover for the Valencia/Flamenco?

tonykaz's picture

I think those things were the "Home" version of the theater speakers, nice wood and all that. I had a pal that bought the Theater version based on a Stereoland hearing of your type. He had a Thorens, V15 Shure, Mac tube stuff ( 45 watts, probably ). I think we were hippie wanna-bees, back then. We were told that the 75 watt Mac was too powerful!, hmm. I remember thinking that 45 watts is all the power a person would ever need, E-gads, I still do! ( or maybe just 50 ) .

You tell a compelling story that would make a hell-of-a YouTube video.

Tony in Michigan

junker's picture

Neither my or my good friend's Flamenco's have all walls or the bass reflex port obfuscated with fiberglass insulation. Just the bottom the left wall looking from the rear, and and the rear. Perhaps, it was a request, or a modification? It may be slightly over damped. And needless to add that stuffing in the port will change the tuning of the cabinet. This may very well explain 98% of the difference vs. the Valencias. Ole!

JoeP's picture

You're always welcome to compare those to my 873A Barcelona. I saw these used years & years ago and, since my father had the Valencias, I had a good idea what to expect with the 873A.

1) I generally leave the crossover at 2
2) I don't think these fit in a Tiguan

dougspeterson's picture

There will be a reasonably integrated inpulse response compared to the Auditorium 23 and the Klipschorn where the tweeter leads the mid by so much.

The waterfall plot will show the aluminum driver breaking up around 17k. On the otherhand those big woofers work better than you would expect up to the crossover.

Some of the HF difference compared to the Valencia could be due to that fretwork grill, diffraction, resonances....

RabbitEars79's picture

So about the fashoin bit. I was in Moscow Idaho and waiting patiently for a (an?) co-ed from Pullman to join me for coffee (simple Hi at a bar worked until that point). SO, I was informed (I am 40something at this point) that circa 2006 I was wearing Grandpa shoes and my schrunched down socks were just not done, I needed the little footie things that used to have dingle balls hanging off the back. Um, I lost a measure of confidence. The 23 year old Cougar did manage to dress the old Vandal and well I am back to schrunching down my socks.
Finally landed a brunette and married her.

Brent Busch's picture

My dad has a pair of 848A Flamenco's. I don't remember exactly how much he paid or when he bought them, but I think they he paid less than $300 for the pair about 15 years ago.

Ike Carumba's picture

The 416 A is a 15” speaker - the frame diameter is15-5/16” to be exact - it is not a “13.5” bass driver”. That may be the measurement of the cone diameter but it’s still a 15” woofer.

http://www.greatplainsaudio.com/vintage_altec/416A_LF_Speakers.pdf

Flamencos, Valencias, Barcelonas ? They are alright but nothing to get excited about, stands or no stands. Altec Model 19s are better, but not by much..

For something similar, but much, much better get a pair of JBL L-300s or, better yet, a pair of JBL Hartsfields. I know whereof I speak, I have owned all those vintage 'horn' speakers and many more.

soundhound's picture

I was an Altec Lansing engineer while they were still in Anaheim, CA not long after these speakers were made, and am intimately familiar with both the Flamencos and the Voice of the Theater speakers from which these were derived. While I can't know anything about your desire to keep these speakers "stock", I can confidently say that there are numerous things which can be done which will improve their sound quality immeasurably (and no, I'm not talking about using some mystery wire or other voodoo - just solid engineering changes). In their purely stock form, I find any of these VOTT-derived speakers almost painful to listen to. For the record, I bought an original set of Altec A7-500s in 1968, and they are still my main speakers - modified, of course.

grantray's picture

Any chance you'd be willing to share those non-voodoo modifications? Specifically for the Valencia 846A model, that is ;)

I'm all ears, sir. Or we can take the discussion offline if you prefer.

Respectfully,
-Grant

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