Instances of genuine serendipity are rare. Perhaps once or twice in life do we experience some unexpected and profound bit of material gain. Out of nowhere, someone will offer you a gift, and it will be exactly what you wanted, but could never have come about on your own. That just happened to me.
I listen to a lot of music, and for years I have dreamed of owning a genuinely deluxe pair of loudspeakers. Many such speakers exist, but none of the affordable ones sound as good as the JBL bookshelf speakers I already own. Those JBLs are the ideal size to fit in any room, but are simply too small to offer deep bass. If you have ever been to a concert with a full orchestra (at least a hundred players) performing nineteenth- or early twentieth century repertoire, you know that the frequency range is as large as the dynamic range. High violin pianissimi one instant make way the next for low brass and basses that shake your ribcage. Obviously, nobody would listen to music at home at volume levels you find in the concert hall. But my dream has been to own the sort of loudspeakers that can reproduce the full spectrum of sound the human ear can discern. Those sort of speakers, alas, are hilariously unaffordable.
In a remarkably serendipitous way, I have become the proud owner of a pair of vintage AR-3a loudspeakers. The 3a was the top-of-the-line speaker made by Acoustic Research of Cambridge, Massachusetts until the mid- to late 1970s. In 1969, the year my speakers were built, the AR-3a cost over $500 a pair – a huge sum of money. Expensive speakers like these were purchased primarily by studios, wealthy audiophiles, and professional musicians. In fact, contemporary AR advertising demonstrates that their flagship loudspeaker was marketed largely to classical music fans. In ad after ad, the 3a is shown in the listening rooms of the world’s most prominent conductors: Karl Böhm, Erich Leinsdorf, Seiji Ozawa, and Herbert von Karajan. In a 1972 catalog, they make a point of mentioning that Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau–my favorite musician–listens to his own recordings on AR-3a loudspeakers!
How did I come to own such wonderful speakers? I cannot say in this public forum, but it was pure luck. The best way I can describe it is this: Imagine the physical thing that you want the most. Then, imagine that somebody just gives it to you for nothing. Then, imagine that they didn’t just give you that thing, but the very best version of that thing. I could not be happier about it.
In another post, I’ll write about restoring these speakers, tell you what they look like, and how they sound.