Then there’s the matter of sound. Would you believe that they’re not perfect?
They are definitely old school Altecs. While the mismatched directivity of the old days is reduced (along with a significant portion of the box coloration), enough of the traditional flaws are present enough to be noticeable. You’ll hear them. The bass is anything but stygian, the treble is anything but extended, and the integration between the two boxes leaves a little bit to be desired.
Of course it does. It’s old school Altec.
What that doesn’t tell you is that old school Altec does some things better than you’d expect if you haven’t heard it. Listening to Sarah Vaughn perform “Like Someone in Love” offered the kind of immediate emotional connection that many more modern systems just can’t seem to achieve.
Of course, this was absolutely a modern system in every other sense. Early visitors heard an Esoteric digital front end playing through Pass amplification. Friday evening saw Raven Audio‘s Dave Thompson drop by with his Shadow preamplifier ($7k) and Spirit 300b Reference amplifier ($7k). This moved the system away from slamming speed and toward a bit more romantic sound.
Now… there are two real problems here. The first problem is that these speakers cost $80,000 of money that I don’t have. If you’re fortunate enough to have that kind of money, the Burwells will work with you to tune the sound and the look to your taste. Each pair is a unique piece of art, and the price reflects that.
The second problem is that the crossover, as used at the show, short changes the vocal range a bit. When combined with the traditional Altec vice of a slight rise in that same range, it can make some vocalists sound as if they’re singing very loudly from inside a box. This is, of course, a Traditional Altec Virtue, and the Burwells have replicated it faithfully. They are also developing additional crossovers that will allow owners — killjoy owners! — to abandon that trait in favor of something more appealing to their — killjoy! — modern tastes.
As for me… I asked the Burwells to keep some beer on ice for me. At the end of Saturday, after two full days of listening to everything at the show, I went to their room, popped a Red Tail Ale, and relaxed. There’s a whole lot to be said for that.