OK, this isn’t necessarily a review of the Altec Lansing VOTT A7 speakers, it’s more of an introduction to these classics and the opportunity to share some thoughts and impressions on how they sound and what it’s like living with these behemoths in a fairly modestly sized listening room.
A while back I bought a pair of Altec Lansing Valencias and really enjoyed my short time with them in the main system. You can read my review of the Valencia 846b here. I sold the Valencias prematurely and missed them as soon as they left the house. Though to be honest, moving from the Valencias back to the Piega C40 wasn’t a real hardship. The C40 offers a very different type of presentation than the horns, and it’s certainly a more ‘audiophile’ sound, refined, spacious, nice imaging etc, versus the more homogenized presentation of the vintage horn-driven Valencia.
Still, I missed the Valencias and decided quickly that I needed to cast the net into the vintage marketplace and see what came back. I’d already spent time with Khorns, and even though a pair appeared at a good price on the local Craigslist I managed to resist the temptation of going back down that path. I then came upon a local chap selling Altec Model 19s, and I came close to traveling up to the Richmond area to give them a listen, but I figured they were probably too close in presentation to the Valencias and I was just fancying something a little different.
The VOTT A7 appeared on eBay a few days following my scouting of the Model 19s, and I decided to make an offer which, after some to and fro, was finally accepted.
So I rented a pickup truck from my local Enterprise and headed off on the 8-hour round-trip to/from Charlotte, NC. This will sound preposterous to my American cousins but to the best of my recollection, this is the first time I’ve driven a pickup truck in the 25 years or so I’ve been in the USA! And what a pickup truck it was – I enjoyed the journey in this top-spec Toyota Tundra!
Getting the VOTT A7s into the main listening room took a while. It involved dismantling the entire system in order to shunt the main racks a couple of feet forward into the room. Then, setting up a temporary rack in the middle of the speakers, as you can see here:
One issue encountered was with the speaker posts on the rear of each crossover box. These are little spring-loaded pins that will only accept small gauge bare wire, and on one side the springs were missing. So I needed to get the toolbox out and the soldering iron and I removed the pins and replaced them with quality binding posts that accept spades or bananas. I realize this isn’t retaining the integrity of the classic design of the XO, but since the pins were broken anyway I decided it was the right thing to do. So the speakers now accept spades, bananas and bare wire.
With the soldering job complete I hooked up the A7s initially using my Lyngdorf TDAi 2170 as the preamp driving the Dennis Had Inspire KT88 amp from the analog outs. The little 8w Dennis Had amp is a perfect match for the A7s, only around 8 watts but there seems to be plenty of oomph and the speakers play loud and effortlessly.
For this vintage the speakers are in pretty good condition. There are some minor blemishes but nothing untoward. My plan at some stage is to sand these down to bare wood, fill any minor imperfections, then spray them with automotive paint to the original paint specification.
I should also replace the diaphragms at some point. New diaphragms are readily available and inexpensive and only take a few minutes to install. I’ve seen them go for around $60/pair, or Great Plains Audio has more expensive versions. I do hear the occasional buzz on certain types of music, so it could just be the horn vibrating on top of the cabinets or it could be a call for new diaphragms. I’ll investigate further at some point.
Altec Lansing VOTT A7 Specs
Before I go any further, let’s deal with a few specs. First off, I’m no expert here and the A7 came from the factory in various iterations with different configurations and drivers. The VOTT range first appeared in 1947, and the designs evolved in a number of different two-way configurations over the years leading to the classic A7 which ran through the 1950s, 60s, and 70s — a compact version of the larger VOTTs designed for smaller cinemas.
The A7 was made available with an inverted configuration where the high-frequency horn could be mounted inside the bass horn instead of being mounted on top of the box, as my version are. I believe the common nomenclature for the internally mounted horn version was the A7 ‘Magnificent’, and it was intended more for domestic use. The standard A7 (which I have) has the 511B horn sitting atop the inverted cabinet and was intended for theatre use, hence ‘Voice Of The Theatre’. The standard A7 used different drivers over the years, my pair has the 416A 15″ Woofers, 802-8D Drivers, 511B Horns, with N501-8A Crossovers, which cross at 500hz.
The A7 weighs 135 LBS per side and is large, with a height of 56″, a width of 30″, and a depth of 24″. Its nominal efficiency is 97dB. There’s a lot of information online, particularly on some of the forums, that I’ve found quite contradictory and misleading. Two good articles worthy of note can be found here and here.
Using the Dennis Had amp with KT88 tubes gives about 8-10 watts per side, ample for the A7, so having made the mods to the speaker posts I was finally up and running.
Altec Lansing VOTT A7 Initial Listening Impressions
In some sense, the size and layout of your music/listening room will determine where you place the A7. What I mean is, with their large footprint, you won’t have a great deal of flexibility to move these around in a smaller room. I placed them in my limited space at 24″ from the front wall to the rear corners and about 30″ to the sidewalls. I use toe-in so they’re shooting directly at the listening chair. Were I to want to move them from this location, options would be limited. Sure, I could move them back towards the front wall a couple inches, but not much more than that since one needs to get behind the speaker to access the speaker wire connectors. I could move them forwards a little, but not much since my listening chair is probably already a little too close to the speakers, at around 9′. Incidentally, my room is only 18’x17’x9.5′ but opens via a 6′ doorway into a second room. I place my chair in the opening so that I don’t sit with a wall directly behind me. I think this creates an acoustic space larger than the 18×17 space and seems to work OK in the most part. I do have a nasty hump in the upper midbass frequency range that makes most of the speakers I’ve used in this space sound a little ‘chesty’, and the room doesn’t work well for reproducing the effect of low bass frequencies. These room acoustic anomalies lead to my purchase of the Lyngdorf TDAi 2170 with its ‘Room Correction’, and that has worked exceptionally well, particularly with removing the midbass hump. But for now, the TDAi 2170 is out of the system, so my comments here are made without using any room correction software.
The A7s are big and they sound big. I was amazed at just how well they do at getting out of the soundstage, given their immense size. Even before messing with toe-in and placement, the VOTT A7 does a great job of ‘disappearing’ from the soundscape, a feat I never would have imagined to be possible. Initially, the upper frequency seemed a little rolled-off, giving the speakers a dark tonal balance, a quick adjustment of the potentiometer on the N501-8A addresses the imbalance and it took only a couple more adjustments to get the horn output dialed-in nicely with the woofers.
The A7 is quite midrange centric, though you can lessen this by increasing the horn output relative to the woofer, but I mostly enjoyed the midrange presence delivered up by the A7 as it gives the speakers that slightly warm and ‘vintage’ sound. Some A7 users have added super tweeters to lift the HF response of their VOTT A7, on early listening that didn’t jump out at me as being something entirely necessary. Perhaps time will change my position on this, but for now I think they sound very good.
As I presently have them positioned I don’t find the bass offered from the 15″ woofer to be particularly taught, tuneful, or realistic. The bass from the Khorns as I remember it was less extended but a tad more accurate and true to the instrument. There’s some work to do here in getting the LF to sound as it should, this may involve some positioning changes and/or changes to the crossover network.
As one would expect, the A7 is not dynamically constricted in any way. It plays loud, delivers micro and macro transients with ease, and presents the scale of the music realistically given the constraints of the small listening space. From memory, I felt that the Khorns gave music a slightly greater sense of dynamic impact, though closer proximity to room boundaries was probably the main factor in this. But the A7s are far less bright than the Khorns and are more enjoyable on a wider range of music.
Over the course of a few listening sessions, I played through a range of musical genres and the A7 was comfortable with everything I put through them. This isn’t a speaker that only plays jazz well, classical, rock, etc. That said, playing heavier stuff at higher volumes did tend to overload the room somewhat, so I did find myself driving the volume button far more than when using something like the Piegas or even the Valencias for that matter. They don’t image tightly, so the sound is more homogenized than you’ll get from a smaller monitor-style speaker, for example. They do present a soundstage with nice width and depth, more so than the Khorns and Valencias, less so than the Peigas. But as I said, when you raise the volume, they just want to scale upwards in every sense, and the room becomes the limiting factor. I suppose given the constraints of my listening space they do draw one toward playing music without too much complexity and layering. Listening to Ellington, Count Basie, and other well-recorded big band music, the A7s really come into their own, throwing a wall-to-wall soundstage with sufficient instrument separation to sound like a believable facsimile of the recording space. Throw on some Rush or Zeppelin, and you’ll need to watch the volume so as not to put too much energy into the room. I don’t see these as speaker issues, I know of many people who use speakers like the A7 in rooms smaller than mine to good effect. It’s just a matter of being sensible with the volume and having realistic expectations about how much energy one can put into a smaller space.
So watch this space and follow this thread if you’re interested in seeing how these evolve over time. I’ll be trying different tubes in the Inspire amp, different amps (next up the Allnic 300b monoblocks), and perhaps looking into an updated crossover. I may also need to look at replacing diaphragms in the 802s at some point.
Thanks for reading, please comment below and stay tuned.
CAH – November 1 2022
UPDATE November 26 2022
When I owned the Valencias a few months back, the best results I had were with the passive crossovers removed and the speakers driven actively via the Lyngdorf TDAi 2170, using the digital crossover function in the Lyngdorf. This has proven to be the case too, with the Altec Lansing VOTT A7. Removing the crossovers from the A7s results in a heightened sense of transparency and resolution, indicating that the crossovers would benefit from a ‘refresh’, in the way of new caps and perhaps better inductors. The bass response sans XO is also significantly improved. The whole presentation is far better from the A7 in active mode, as it had been with the Altec Valencia. Refreshing the XO is a very straightforward task as it’s a very simple design. A couple of new caps per side is probably all it needs.
So these speakers do have tremendous potential beyond their present state.
For those interested:
History of Altec Lansing Loudspeakers:
Here’s a video I took with an iPhone 11 of the Altec VOTT A7 speakers. I was goofing around with the video but I think it actually captures a little of the tonal purity of these speakers….have fun! Oh…and if you were to like the video and subscribe to my channel on YouTube, that would be absolutely fantastic and much appreciated! Thanks.
135lbs! They must be good
Yeah. You want to swap for those Vikings of yours let me know…
I’d like to sell all my Allnic junk.
I heard a rumor, but I’m not sure I believe you. It isn’t junk, you were raving about it somewhere. What would you replace it with? You need some old speakers and an ear trumpet.
Send me a text sometime and I’ll tell u all the ugly details about Allnic
i can only imagine all the details of actually owning them and using them…… i went to Winterland many times….. it was always loud and good sound…… but i didn’t know anything about audio…… today i own a JBL 2×18 subwoofer and two 2-way 15’s on top…… srx 828p….. and srx 815p……… they have run strong and super loud w/ excellant bass and all around goodness….. all software and amps are built in….. drivers are protected and u can not blow one…… i got mine in 2016….. and never fretted about my system since…… it was approx 4500… w/ 5 years warrenty…… IMHO, vintage PA’s are for mis-guided audio people…..old altec stuff looks cool, i’ll give u that…… they do not sound better then modern boxes….. there is no warm magic like a tube guitar amp might have……. i love 1960’s and 1970’s guitar amps….. thats differant…. and much easier to collect….. my 2cents