Newport 2016: Burwell & Sons – resurrection of tone through vintage Altec drivers

Mother of Burl ($80,000 USD), prototype loudspeaker system.

Newport250x2501Resurrection can be defined as something living coming back from the dead, and to me that is exactly what Gordon Burwell Sr., and his sons have done with their vintage Altec-based speaker designs. This is transducer as art form, transducer as religious experience. These are drivers that have been silent for decades, their electro-acoustic souls brought to life again, and allowed to speak to listeners from a bygone era of golden tone through polished-wooden throats like Gabriel’s horn. The sound in this room, while still an acknowledged work in progress, was incredibly tactile, visceral, organic, and challenged one to not become emotionally engaged. Were there a few sonic issues? Yes. But the promise the design holds far outweighs any minor hiccups that will be addressed by the Burwells before proper production. My colleague John Stancavage wrote about this room previously, but I felt compelled to add my voice to its coverage.

Altec 802D midrange-compression driver horn assembly.
Vintage green reanimated.


Burwell & Sons have been practicing their particular form of black magic for several years now, and show no signs of slowing down in their pursuit of wresting the very best sound possible from vintage Altec drivers, in this case at Newport Beach, the Altec 802D compression driver,  Altec 15-inch woofer, and the 16-Ohm JBL Model 075 high frequency ring-radiator tweeter that were featured in the company’s Mother of Burl prototype (with a pair of Burwell’s Single Jack subwoofers).

The Single Jack subwoofer module (black box on left) features a sealed-unit design with a 12-inch woofer.

award-sighting-smThe Mother of Burl (MoB) – to me – is designed from a standpoint of putting outstanding true-tone, Golden-Era sound first, and rightfully so, it’s a transducer that features vintage drivers. But, it cannot be visually overlooked because, while the MoB appear amazing in photos it’s when you see them in person that you simply cannot stop staring at them. The level of aesthetic sophistication in the design execution is eye watering in its beauty. Not only do they sound exquisite in their tone, their timbre, their vocal reproduction, speed, dynamics, and ability to portray a huge, deep soundstage, they possess  pinpoint accuracy in instrument placement, and they speak to the listener. They implore one to put aside one’s analytical capacities, and instead submit to an emotional engagement. Not an easy task in the best, or even most private of environments, but to be able to communicate that in a crowded hotel room, with slamming doors, mobile phones going off, and constant chatter is an art form indeed.