Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Speakers - Acoustic Research AR-3a

No, these aren't mine. I did have them for a few days though and listened to them . . .a little. As you can see from the bottom photo, the woofer needs help. There's an excellent restoration guide for FREE for AR-3A speakers HERE.

I played these at very low volume, and considering the driver condition, there's no need for an audio assessment here. These are very collectible though, and there's even a pair in the Smithsonian American History Museum - according to Wikipedia, anyway.

I was glad to get an up-close look at these iconic loudspeakers, and perhaps one day I'll get a pair of my own to enjoy.

Ever listened to AR-3A's? Tell us what you think of them.


  1. I have two pair. Since you luve them, make me an offer!


  2. Just listening to Joe Cocker on a pair of AR3a's that I rescued from my brother's basement. We bought them new in 1970 or so.

    The woofer surrounds were completely gone so I refoamed them with parts from Simply Speakers.

    I have ordered a new set of grills and badges from an AR site and I took the time to refinish them in Brazillian Rosewood stain with a Tung Oil finish while I had them apart.

    Next I'll renew all the capacitors and rework the potentiometers. It's great fun!

    It went quite well and they sound qiute good. They are being driven by a Crown DC300A amp. and a Crown IC150 preamp. These are also orginal and were bought in 1972 and 74 respectively.

  3. In its day, the AR-3a was considered by many to be the "ne plus ultra" among loudspeakers for use in the home (AR made their LST "Laboratory Standard Transducer" for studio use). At least among people who listened to classical music and to a lesser extent, jazz - and who hadn't drunk the Bose 901 koolaid.

    Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft, the famous German classical label, used the AR-3a as a benchmark for approving their final mix-downs. Conductor Herbert von Karajan owned AR-3a's of his own and insisted on them for post-production work of his DGG recordings with the Berlin Philharmonic. On the jazz scene, no less a personage than Miles Davis owned these speakers, and even shilled for AR.

    As I recall, NOTHING reproduced the real sound - the experience - of a symphony orchestra more musically - and accurately - than the AR-3a.

    People would sometimes complain that they sounded thin and bass shy. Then I would get out some Bach pipe organ music and treat them to a real, no-bull 32-foot diapason rising up through the floor at them, loosening their bowels and sucking the very breath from their lungs. And before they could recover, I would play the first movement to Mahler's Third Symphony to show them in visceral terms what a REAL orchestral bass drum sounds like - both at levels so soft you just barely feel the heaviness in your chest, up to slams hard enough to telescope your duodenum up to your epiglottis. No one survived my AR-3a demo and ever called them "thin" or "bass shy" again.

    The trouble with them was, BOY, they were inefficient! You needed 60 watts per channel minimum to drive them decently. Worse, they were 4-ohm systems. 60 watts into 4 ohms is a LOT of current. Your amp had better have a really robust power supply in order to deliver the power needed to really make them sing.

    AR made its own integrated amp specifically with the AR-3a in mind. It was rated at 60 watts per channel into 4 ohms, continuous power from 20Hz-20KHz, with less than 0.5% THD. On the surface, that didn't seem impressive. But that amp could run stably, cranking out the juice even at the typical bass range impedance dip, which in the AR-3a could dip into 2-to-3-ohm territory. With most gear, this type of load eventually tripped circuit breakers and blew fuses, sending even high-end receivers of the day packing it in from the thermal overload. You really needed the extra OOMPH from the big power supplies that in those days mostly came in expensive separates and a few integrated amps, but almost never in stereo receivers - by far the most common electronics found in home stereo systems.

    But if you drove them with an AR integrated amp, a Crown IC150/DC-300a preamp/power amp combo, or a dynaco PAS-3x preamp and a couple of sweet dynaco Mark III monoblocks, the AR-3a's were an absolute JOY to listen to with ANY kind of music.

    I was a music student in university back then, and with the AR-3a's served with the amplification they needed to sound their best - I would be listening - studying an orchestral score - totally transported - no longer aware of them at all. Then, I would look up... and down to earth I fell, sometimes accompanied with a touch of vertigo, because mentally and emotionally, I was inside the Concertgebouw studying my Beethoven score, and then suddenly... , I'm back in my cramped studio apartment. As far as I am concerned, no speaker system can receive greater praise than this.

    I am nearly 60 years old now, and I've owned and listened to many speakers, and VERY few speakers have been able to elicit a replication of this experience for me, and oddly, price has not been an accurate predictor at all of which make the cut and which don't.

    1. That is a beautiful piece of prose and a wonderful review from an enthusiastic owner. I have two sets of great vintage speakers now, Bozak 3001s and ADS 1530s, and given the slightest opportunity, I will try some 3as.

  4. I certainly agree. I've owned mine since 1970 and still listen to them daily.

  5. I've got two of them the 'improved' version (on a multitone m250 tube amp, oldskool style, like those geloso things but in stereo). It's difficult to describe the sound coming from them, totally not harsh not 'in your face' or whatever just a very clear soundfield. There's something about the ar's and the way they sound it's not the usual hifi speaker it's some sort of integral design it's one 'transducer'. If there's one word to describe it it would be 'medical grade'. Two were for sale from a hospital they were used to make audible the heartbeat from an unborn child. Not your dad's hi-end speakers :) If you want some -really- nice sound get some ar's, definitely. There's something really special about the way the ar's sound you won't find it in most hi-end speakers it's difficult to put a finger to.

  6. I have a pair in mint condition along with tweeters in original shipping boxes from 1957 .....make me an me...7085133508

  7. Why do a lot of old AR speakers look like they have been through a nuclear holocaust??
    With the grill covers off, they are quite simply some of the UGLIEST speakers I have ever seen.



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