My Altec Valencia Iconics

Feb 1, 2011
Extra: Mika Kankainen

Nowadays the Altec is mostly known as a manufacturer of cheap audio devices for the computer audio and other personal audio use. However, during the good old days Altec was known as a manufacturer for serious audio systems both public and home audio, and huge horn-loaded speakers were their trademark.

Valencia Iconic is the descendent model of the 1937 original and legendary Iconic loudspeaker. The original Iconic was used mainly in serious mono systems. Valencia Iconic was manufactured only for a short period of time during the 60's prior to Valencia 846A and 846B models, both more common but still very respected. Silly prices are asked at the ebay and by some vintage brokers. The exact manufacturing years are hard to define as Altec used the name Iconic randomly with different speaker lines and models designed to be used at home. All of these similarly designed Altec speakers share a bunch of qualities with another Altec legend "Voice of The Theatre", e.g. part of the drivers and horn setups are the same.

The Valencia Iconic is a two-way speaker with 15" inch woofer/midrange driver 416-16z and the frequencies from 800 Hz up are handled by 806A driver installed to H-811B type horn made from heavy cast aluminum. Both of the drivers use Alnico V magnet system and the dividing network N-800F sports an output level adjustment knob for the horn system.

The speakers that show up in the pics ended up to my possession from one vintage-oriented enthusiast based in Stockholm, Sweden. The speakers are completely original, and the enclosure has been preserved very well. The roadtrip to pick them up during one hot summer weekend in August 2010 is a nice story of its own and the contact to Sweden has continued with some interest topics related to audio world.

The heritage of the Iconic

The sound of Altec horns is very competent with suitable amplification. Even compared to my other speakers, the acclaimed Yamaha NS-1000M, these cubic-like vintage Altecs have some qualities that are not often heard. With a decent analog source and Shindo Aurieges/Montille combination they are able to fill the room with a very realistic sound, having presence and density that many modern speakers lack entirely. Transients are very fast, clear and open, and the music is easy to listen and follow even at louder levels.

Despite the unverified specifications the usable frequency response of these speakers is limited to 60Hz - 17kH. Naturally this and the fact that the enclosure is not brazed and not bass-optimazed affects the overall experience. Cleaning the horn output level attenuator resulted in improved High/Mid performance.

I've been listening to these speakers now for a couple of months, and slowly fallen in love with  their sound. While listening to music through these speakers I have more than once asked myself about the "giant steps" made in the loudspeaker design during last decades. And at the same time I have been studying possibilities to improve the original design. The key question is how to better the performance without loosing the original involving sonic nature of these speakers.

Future plans and modifications

The first and perhaps the biggest modification I've planned is to replace the original walnut cabinet with the 360L Onken enclosure designed by Jean Hiraga during the 70's

http://www.ispra.net/audio/Onken/Audiophile_n2_dec1977/articulo-hiraga01.html

According to the measurements, this design will set the low frequency response to the 35Hz region. Those who have tried also report of significant improvements in the quality of the bass and midband. The permit from Mrs. was received with some preconditions for the outlooks of the enclosure. As a consequence, instead of DIYing the cabs I contacted the local carpenter who now has a project ongoing for these.

 

The Onken design allows the use of original dividing network and the driver/horn combination. However, the crossover frequency recommended by Jean Hiraga is around 600Hz with 12db slope. Some enthusiasts have raised the crossover frequency even to the 1-1,5kHz region. According to some information, an Onken based speaker will also benefit from a larger horn system. Thus, larger multicell horns such as the Altec H-805 (possibly made of wood) intrigues me a lot. So does rebuilding the original dividing network from modern high quality components with some minor modifications reported in the various Altec/horn-speaker related messageboards.

One possibility is to try an active crossover. But that would mean further investment in  amplification, and secondly, due to the high crossover frequency, I really do not feel comfortable with the idea of leaving my wonderful Shindo Montille only to run the High/Mid horn, and get some D-class amp to drive the woofers. Perhaps I'll try an active version in the future.

The target is to get the first taste of the Onken enclosure with the original components during the spring 2011, and afterwards continue the project to some interesting direction. I do not have any idea how far I am willing to go, or any restrictions to alter the original design, so I guess this will be quite a long and interesting journey. If you find the project interesting, stay tuned ...

Altec Valencia Iconic Technical information

Low Frequency Driver: Altec 416-16z (size: 15”, Magnetic Structure: 10 lbs. 8 oz Alnico V)

High/Mid Frequency Driver: Altec 806A 16 ohm (Frequency Range: 500Hz to 20kHz (800Hz to 20kHz with H-811B horn, Magnetic Structure: Alnico V)

High/Mid Frequency Horn Model: Altec H-811B (Frequency Range: 800Hz to 22kHz;  Distribution: Horizontal 90°, Vertical 40°; Construction: heavy cast aluminum)

Dividing Network Model: Altec N-800F (Crossover Frequency: 800Hz)

 

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