WE/Altec 755 Part 1
From Western Electric to Altec
The original Western Electric 8" 755A driver along with the 10" 756A and 12" 728B and 754A were marketed a couple of years after World War II. According to Walt Bender, former publisher of Audiomart and a leading authority and expert on vintage American audio components, the transition from WECO [Western Electric Corporation] towards Altec [All Technical Services division of WECO/AT&T] was not completed until the early 1950s. This was due to a 1930s anti-trust lawsuit filed against the giant telephone company whose business ventures, amongst other interests, included providing sound systems for movie theatres during the booming Hollywood film industry of the pre-WWII era.
Below is an email I received from Steve Schell, manufacturer of Cogent True-to Life Loundspeakers and whose research on vintage American classic speaker components I truly respect. This is probably the most comprehensive and easily grasped explanation of the transition from WE to Altec as well as establishing the [James B.] Lansing connection. Many thanks to Steve for allowing me to upload this information!
May 26, 2006
I just read your 755 pages, after following a link from the Audio Asylum High Efficiency Speakers forum. I recall running across your site several years ago, as well as reading your fine contributions to my well worn and valued copies of the Angela Instruments print catalogs.
There is a little history I can add to the story of the 755. What follows is not authoritative, but based on the reading I have done. Altec Lansing was formed in 1941, after All Technical Services bought Jim Lansing's struggling Lansing Manufacturing Company in Los Angeles. All Technical had been the theatre service branch of Western Electric, which maintained service contracts with several thousand theatres that were equipped with Western Electric sound systems. When the U.S. Government forced W.E. to divest itself of its U.S. theatre sound operations in September 1937, the All Technical branch was purchased for a token amount by several of its managers. They continued to maintain the theatre contracts, though they began running low on replacement parts. Part of the reason for their purchase of Lansing's company was to give them facilities to manufacture the needed parts. They also acquired the designs and production capability of Lansing's theatre systems, regarded by many as being the best at the time. The Lansing product line continued in production, and formed the basis of many of Altec's later sound products.
Western Electric continued to manufacture sound products for numerous applications, but not for domestic motion picture theatre use due to the 1937 consent decree. In about 1940 they began making the 750A, which looks to me like the ancestor of the 755A. It was a 10" driver with an aluminum cone and 4" edgewound aluminum voice coil- please see attached pictures. The 750A is very scarce, and sells for $5000 or more in Japan.
After WWII they introduced their postwar line of speakers, including the 755A, 756A, 728B, 754A, and several phenolic cone variants. W.E. made a huge effort to design the best speakers possible, and to market them effectively through Graybar. In 1949 the U.S. Government intruded on them again and insisted that they cease manufacture of these products. W.E. signed another consent decree at this time. In late 1949 a full page ad in Audio Engineering magazine announced that W.E. was discontinuing manufacture of several of their speaker and microphone models, and that these products would be henceforth be manufactured by Altec Lansing. W.E. had apparently made a deal with their former associates at Altec to manufacture these products and provide W.E. with a portion of them as an OEM. This apparently satisfied the gov't. and allowed W.E. to continue to offer products such as their monitor systems, which contained the Altec-produced components, now labeled with "KS" numbers.
One funny story... I have seen at least two Altec hi fi speaker cabinets from about 1950-1952 on ebay that used shiny perforated metal discs to hold their fiberglass lining in place. Looking closely, I realized that these discs were identical to the metal rear plates on a W.E. 756A. Altec must have received a box of these along with all the other stuff from W.E. and found a use for them.
Altec continued to produce several of the W.E. drivers, horns and microphones through the 1950s. Most of them eventually left the catalog, but a few W.E. designs like the 755 continued to be produced through the 1970s and 1980s.
Apparently the government had good reason to go after W.E. in the 1930s, as they held a majority of market share in the theatre sound business and often acted as a tyrannical monopoly. I'm not sure why they hounded W.E. in 1949, except possibly to try and contain W.E's endeavors to the communications industry for national defense purposes. I have often wondered, though, if the awful performance of most current consumer loudspeakers would have been better if the government hadn't repeatedly driven W.E. out of the business. I suppose we'll never know the answer, but at least we can enjoy some of the surviving W.E. products. I got to hear a pair of 753C monitors recently and they were really something.
Long Beach, CA
Co-founder, Lansing Heritage web site www.audioheritage.org
Altec 755C, Altec 755A and Altec 755E [left to right]
This 8" full range driver has achieved "cult status" amongst audio aficionados. The most desirable version are the ones branded with the Western Electric logo with the frame in smooth silver or textured charcoal greyish brown finish. The mounting gasket always had 5 - 8 quality control stamps showing the tight tolerance procedures excercised in their manufacture. The later Altec branded 755As only had 1 or 2 stamps but essentially looked the same and came finished in either textured charcoal greyish brown or silver hammertone. A lot of silver Altec 755As served as the midrange/tweeter unit in Edgar Vilchur's AR-1 speaker.
Aside from those quality control procedures and alnico magnet, what sets the 755A apart from the later 755C and 755E is the chemistry of the cone material. The procedure was very intensive according to Walt Bender, involving a "vacuum formed" process to produce a cone that contained silk and cotton components. This cone material is also found in original examples of WE/Altec 756A, 754A and 728B. Perhaps this contributes to that beguiling and lifelike midrange quality of a 755A that eludes the later "pancake" versions.
I have seen 755As without the WE or Altec logo but with a KS14703 decal. KS = Kearny Specification, a New Jersey subsidiary which supplied replacement parts for WE. These units may have been represented the final transition period from WECO to Altec. But take note that there are ferrite magnet "pancake type" with KS14703 logos finished in Altec green. These units are really 755Cs and should be identified as such.
early to mid 50s
Frequency Response: 70-13,000
SPL graph courtesy of Steve Schell
Nominal impedance 4 ohms
Impedance graph courtesy of Steve Schell
Typical prices asked for a mint matched pair of WE755s are in the stratosphere, about $3,000/pr. while the Altec 755A go for about 50% less. I never owned a pair of WE nor heard them in the context of my system. But I have heard them in familiar systems and honestly cannot hear much difference between the WE and Altec. Although my impression might change if I start splitting hairs....but I do not want to get into that, through the years I learned that if I can't afford it, I would not think about it.
Introduced ca. 1961
Frequency Response: 40-15,000, Impedance: 8 ohms, Sensitivity: 95.5dB/1W/1.2M
In 1961, the "Altec green finish" 755C "pancake" was introduced and the alnico magnet was replaced by ceramic/ferrite. Although the cone looked familiar, the material is diferrent, indicating a move towards 'cost effectiveness'. An additional roll or two was also added to the suspension surround [more compliant] to extend bass response. This unit was later replaced around 1969 by the slightly less efficient but still SE amp friendly 755E, also with ferrite magnet but the frame is now finished in white and blueish grey combination. The 755C usually came with the surrounds heavily doped, even running and staining the cone itself, whereas the 755E is typically doped sparingly.
Replaced the 755C around 1969
Frequency Response: 40-15,000, Impedance: 8 ohms, Sensitivity: 92dB/1W/1.2M
These later versions should not be overlooked because they sound good. Supply is drying up but nice clean units with intact cones show up ocassionally at eBay - 755Cs normally trading from $700-$900/pr. and the 755Es for $500/pr. I have not come across a modern 8" full range driver that sonically comes close, so they are still worth it in my opinion. Amongst the classics, the only 8" FR drivers I've heard that compare favorably are the rare and hard to find Japanese Pioneer PIM8L OEM for the Lafayette SK98.
The most important consideration when purchasing any of these drivers is to make sure that the drivers are matched! Since they were used in various applications, they may have been electrically damaged or physically abused. Typical problems include partially damaged voice coils. This usually shows up when tested with a DVM, for example the DC resistance reading on my Altec 755A is 2.2 and 2.3 ohms and 6.8 ohms for both 755Cs and 755Es.
At a reasonable price, slight cracks or splits in the cone material can easily be repaired with careful application of Elmers glue and will not significantly impair the sound, if the voice coil is intact. Unfortunately I am not aware of NOS replacement cones for the 755A. There may still be replacement cones available for the "C" and "E" but the availability of original voice coils for these models is also unconfirmed, I have a pair of 755Cs with damaged cones waiting for this procedure.
Here are some 755 sonic impressions from esteemed hobbyists collected from Sound Practices list archive:
Joe Roberts: "Well the 'C' is pretty good. A little bit less high frequency energy than the 755A but good nontheless. More tilted towards the lower mids and a little less crisp than the 'A'.
jc morrison: "by the way, i would also like to add that the later 755s are, in my not always respected opinion, much better than the early ones, which are too peaky for my taste [especially joe's favorite, the really dry cones...] i have heard a lot of 755s. i like the c's and e's crossed over to a tweeter (yegads) in a tapered pipe. these are some of the nicest direct radiating midrange speakers of all times. make a nice pipe drea with a 755C or E, add a focal titanium tweeter: nice, in my book anyway...."
Koji's [of EIFL] translation of Stereo Sound "Tube Kingdom" No. 3 comparison:
Altec 755A - "...reproduces musical sources as it is. The presence of musical instruments is excellent..."
755C - ".....sounds modest but sonic qualities very amplifier dependent. Very good for monitoring the sonic characteristics of amplifiers."
755E - "....also sounds modest, calm, thick and beautiful. Very good for a real audiophile."
WE 755A - "....you feel as if you were embraced with music. Sounds open and brilliant."
Sources and references:
- Stereo Sound Special Issue Volume 1 featuring vintage American speakers.
- Stereo Sound "Tube Kingdom", No. 3 and No. 26
- Walt Bender's "Ask Walt" essays in Audiomart and article on "Olden Goldies" published by The Absolute Sound in the '80s