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 of 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 forward 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 for the most part. My room has a little 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 the very lowest bass frequencies due to it’s maximum 18′ dimension. 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 VOTT 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 somewhat and it took only a couple more adjustments to get the horn output dialed in nicely with the woofers. Even with the potentiometer wide open, the highs on the A7 are pretty rolled off.
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 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, unfortunately, the Aperion Audio super tweeters I have on hand are rated up to 97dB so would have been inaudible on the 100+ efficient Altec Lansing A7.
As I presently have them positioned I don’t find the bass offered from the 15″ woofer to be particularly taught, tuneful, extended, or realistic. The bass from the Khorns was a lot more enjoyable and a lot 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 the music a greater sense of dynamic impact, though closer proximity to room boundaries was probably a significant factor in this. But the A7s are far less bright than the Khorns and are more enjoyable on a wider range of music. [Comparison of the: Altec Lansing VOTT A7 vs Klipschorn vs Altec Lansing Valencia 846b]
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, 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.
I used the Altec Lansing VOTT A7 with a variety of amps, and once again my theory of driving even sensitive speakers beneficially with high-powered amps was supported. I tried the 60-watt Allnic Audio A6000 300b amps on the A7 and they were a very good match, open, spacious, and without any dynamic constraints. The Dennis Had Firebottle KT88 with its modest 8 watts or so did not fare well on the A7, it sounded lean, thin, and had insufficient control over the 15″ woofer. The Veloce Audio Saetta hybrid monoblocks with 150 watts from a class A/B power stage with a pair of 6H30 on the inputs sounded very good, perhaps an improvement over the 60-watt 300b amps.
Overall, disappointingly, I couldn’t live with the A7 long-term and moved them along after a few months. For one thing, their looks are an acquired taste that I just couldn’t acquire. My room is too small, I can’t get far enough away from the speakers for them not to seem visually overbearing.
But more importantly they just never sounded right, particularly through the lower mids and bass, which always sounded a little vague, and wooly, with instrument detail and tonality somewhat obfuscated. And the highs lacked the air and resolution for the A7 to be suitable in something of a ‘high-end’ system. A fun speaker, and certainly a contender for someone with a much larger listening space and perhaps the patience to do some experimentation with super tweeters and crossover work, but ultimately just not for me.
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 improved transparency and resolution, but that’s normal for most speakers with a passive crossover network. The bass response sans XO is also improved somewhat. The whole presentation is far better from the A7 in active mode, as it had been with the Altec Valencia, but that comes at a significant hardware cost. Refreshing the XO might help a little and it’s is a very straightforward task as it’s a very simple design. A couple of new caps per side is probably all it needs.
For those interested:
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.