Listening #169 Page 2

The second great discovery took longer to unfold, but began before I'd even made it all the way home with the speakers. I paused for lunch at a rest area on the New York State Thruway, where I also opened the Tiguan's hatch, photographed the Flamencos—lying face up, side by side, taking up virtually all of the car's interior, from the rear window to the backs of the front seats—and attached the photo to a text to my wife. Within seconds, she texted back:

"Holy shit—gorgeous 1216emoji-beso.jpg1216emoji-beso.jpg1216emoji-beso.jpg"

Naturally, I thought she was being sarcastic. That impression persisted until the end of the day, when she came home, saw the Flamencos in person, and made it clear, in tone and expression, that she does in fact consider them the most attractive loudspeakers she has ever seen. Titania, meet Bottom.

Then: A little over a week later, during my daughter's visit home from college, she glanced into the music room, spied the Flamencos, and—after nearly five seconds of stunned silence—exclaimed, "Those are the most beautiful things I've ever seen." For the record: She has been to Versailles.

The penny dropped: Women love Altec Flamencos.

Closet Orientalists, all
But I wondered, reasonably: Would my new-old Flamencos sound different from my old-old Valencias?

The short answer: Yes—a little.

Before I even called my New York friend to let him know he could have my Valencias, I needed to make sure that the Flamencos would fill the bill. So I removed the Valencias from the roughly 13"-tall stands I'd made for them and lifted the Flamencos into their places. (It sounds a lot easier than it was.) An immediate, direct comparison proved unfeasible: As with many such things, the Flamencos hadn't been used in a very long time and required a few days' run-in, to extend the frequency and amplitude ranges of their bass drivers, and to work the excess grain and tinge out of the treble drivers.

That done, I found a slim mix of differences, good and bad. On the good side, the nettlesome bite I'd become accustomed to hearing in the Valencia's treble range was less severe in the Flamenco's—a result, perhaps, of that extra chunk of fiberglass?—and the Flamencos delivered a more convincing soundstage: deeper, wider, with more precise image placement.


On the bad side, the Flamencos sound slightly more hi-fi—a little less physical—than the Valencias. With dynamically intense recordings—such as my 10" 78s of Louis Armstrong (Parlophone) and the Quintet of the Hot Club of France (Columbia), or even my early-LP-era 78s by Hank Williams (MGM)—the Flamencos sounded fractionally more compressed, fractionally less volatile, than the Valencias. That said, the Flamencos still had 80–85% of the intensity, the danger, of the Valencias—which is to say, they were still miles ahead of most loudspeakers being manufactured today.

All that, and woman appeal, for less than $2000/pair.

The catch? You have to drive somewhere, maybe a faraway somewhere, and haul them home yourself. If you live in the Northeast, you might get lucky and find a pair one state over from where you live—perhaps a four- or five-hour drive. If you live in Montana, you might get lucky and find a pair in Wyoming. Pack a lunch.

Maybe I'm doing it wrong
When I drove my Valencias down to my friend in New York, I included the stands I'd made for them. After that, even though the magnificent Auditorium 23 Hommage Cinema loudspeakers I reviewed last November were still in-house, it was time for me to get on with my bad, budget-conscious self and to press into service my new-old Altec Flamencos, without benefit of stands. (I'm making them now, during breaks between splitting firewood, painting the house, and writing up the December issue's 2016 Products of the Year feature. It's taking forever.)

When Flamencos are used without stands, the centers of their midrange-treble drivers are 21" above the floor. Given a chair or sofa of typical height, even a seated hamster would have to decline his head somewhat to hear properly balanced trebles from such a thing. But that's how the Altec engineers designed it. Yes, giants once walked the earth, but they pulled their pants on one leg at a time, just like everyone else—and sometimes mixed plaids with horizontal stripes.

There, perhaps, is the answer to a question that had been bugging me all along: On the back of every Valencia and Flamenco is a treble-output control that goes from "0" to "10": counterintuitively, "10" provides the lowest treble level possible, and "0" provides a treble level that I find uncomfortably bright when the high-frequency horn is raised to more-or-less ear level. On the back of every Valencia and Flamenco is also a factory-applied label that recommends a setting of "2" as "correct" for "average conditions"—and for over three years of Altec ownership, that has puzzled me.

The reason is now apparent: If it is to be installed with its uppermost surface only 28" above the floor, a big speaker must also be a bright speaker. Those Altec engineers knew that their customers weren't crazy enough to jack up on stands their handsome, furniture-quality Flamencos or Valencias, any more than they were crazy enough to wet-wash their LPs, or tolerate amplifiers that run hot enough to heat a room, or hook up their gear with anything heavier than lamp cord.

The engineers of yesterday imagined a lot of wonderful things, but they never imagined us.

Until I finish making my new Flamenco stands, which I hope will be just a week or two from now, I'm running them with their treble controls almost wide open, as the people who designed them expected. Even so, as I think I said of my Valencias soon after I bought them, the Flamencos are reliably skilled at turning groove-bumps into goose-bumps. Of how many other loudspeakers, howsoever good at soundstaging and neutrality and wideness of frequency range, can you say such a thing?

Footnote 3: John Atkinson's follow-up review of the Hommage Cinema, including its measured performance, can be found here.—Ed.

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.

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.


deandcourt's picture

Heathkit also had a version of these speakers with the same drivers and cross-overs. Cabinets were similar ( Oak ) to Falmenco, but had woven wood lattice for grills. Actually, pretty nice looking speakers and sound great. I have Flamenco speakers. Heathkits are my Brother In Laws ( picked up for $100.00 at Good Will,) lucky bast--d. However, I didn't know the girls loved the Flamencos', which explains my ex-wife!