Roy Allison Returns

Roy Allison Returns: A Personal Reminiscence
Mike Silverton
15 December 2001

If Roy Allison’s name means nothing to you, you’re very young, or, if a geezer like me, a weekend dilettante.

Roy’s role as chief engineer at Acoustic Research resulted in the AR3a, a celebrated reworking of Ed Vilchur’s AR3, the “bookshelf” speaker that in its day created a good deal of excitement. Until the development of the acoustic suspension enclosure, most of us assumed that a quality speaker system required a footprint about that of the Volkswagen beetle, another period hottie. My pair of AR3a’s traveled from the apartment I shared with my wife and two kids to the apartment across the park after the break-up, to the place my second wife and I now occupy.

Having stepped down as AR’s president and top speaker designer in 1972, Roy brought out his own Allison Acoustics line in 1974. Some years after that tectonic shift, his AR3a’s departed my digs for Roy’s flagship Allison:One, a beat-up set of used specimens for which I paid, if memory serves, $300. A little wood filler, some sanding and a couple of coats of high-gloss white and abracadabra! – sub-dandy sound. Not the speakers’ fault. The A:1, like all of Roy’s designs, is intended for against-wall placement, and I had mine standing in the middle of the listening space. No help for it. A platform behind the only area in the room where I could reasonably position the speakers prevented me from putting them where they needed to be.

Despite some of the best reviews anyone could have hoped for, Allison’s cachet suffered because he kept his A:1’s out there, as is, for a whole lot of years. Marketing was not Roy’s strong suit. You just don’t do that in a milieu in which the wheel is reinvented every year-and-a-half. Nothing fades so fast as yesterday’s innovation. I sold my A:1’s to a neighbor (he has them still, the sluggard) and acquired Roy’s grab at the golden ring, the IC20, so named, a friend pointed out, for the pair’s twenty drivers: two tweeters, two mids, one woofer on either side of a prow-shaped front, times two: twenty. Many thought the $5000 IC20 overpriced. As the fellow who praises $8000 speaker cables, I think I’d best keep my own counsel. In the bells-and-whistles department, a remote permitted the listener to command full-panel engagement, inner panels only or outer panels only, this latter presumably for that swimmy-washy cathedral presentation I soon found I could live without. Fluorescent lighting fixtures could make the imaging electronics go haywire, as they did when I wheedled a pair of IC20’s into Stereo Exchange’s then upstairs Soho store. The fellow at Stereo Exchange with whom I dealt was none other than Wes Philips, who’d come to my place and liked what he heard.

The problem persisted: my wedge-shaped IC20’s occupied the place where the rather smaller, similarly wedge-shaped A:1’s stood. The abovementioned friend, mentor and Allison idolater came up with what he thought was a theoretically solid solution to my placement troubles. In order to create a phantom wall behind the free-standing IC20’s, he suggested I acquire another pair to place back-to-back with the original two, for a total of four speakers in, given the IC20’s exemplary dispersion characteristics, a 360-degree array. In the spirit of demented consumerism, I went for the proposal without quite understanding what he was talking about.

Bass performance improved, that’s true, but the system’s bottom was far from baby’s-ass smooth. One recording in particular triggered a hump best described as a sounding tsunami. I played the disc the way people pick at scabs. I recall experimenting with the wiring connecting the pairs: one day in series, another in parallel. In the October, 1990 Stereo Review you will see Rebecca Day’s “Systems, Adapting to the Environment,” featuring photos of the installation. The text reports that I “adored the speakers but had no wall to place them against, so [I] wired the pairs in parallel and made them mirror images of one another, which [I] said creates the ‘wall’ they require for good bass reproduction. The setup restore 3dB of response to the low end … and the radiation patterns from the four speakers combined with wall reflections produce an acoustically flat overall response.”

The photo spread reveals a mono pair of Carver amps on that prohibiting platform. These are the solid-state mimics of the tubed amps Harry Pearson praised in TAS. Carver rather enjoyed provoking orthodox audiophiles with low-ticket wannabes, viz. the Stereophile challenge which, I remind, wily Bob won. I bring my enterprising friend into the story only because the mirror-image IC20’s departed not long after to make way for his barn-door-big Platinum Amazings, which, flaws and foibles notwithstanding, offered one of the airiest soundfields I’ve heard in this room. Wilsons followed: the WATT / Puppies Five, 5.1’s (the difference between the Five and 5:1 the jumper cable), and Six. Onward and upward!

If you want an idea of what Roy’s original Allison Acoustics’ Model A:1 looks like, Roy’s initial, limited-edition offering, the wedge-shaped Allison One, arrays its tweeter, mid and woofer as did the old A:1. There are differences of course but I’ve neither heard nor seen the new speaker and feel it prudent to stop with news of a famous name’s resurrection.

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