Recently I happened on Herb Reichert’s review of Harbeth’s Monitor 30.2 40th Anniversary Edition loudspeaker, originally published in the April 2018 issue of Stereophile. In it, Reichert states, “Many a day, I think Edgar Villchur, inventor of the acoustic-suspension loudspeaker and the dome tweeter, ruined audio, and that audiophiles will never stop denying how artificially colored the sounds of domes and cones in boxes really are.” I hope Herb’s tongue was planted firmly in his cheek when he wrote those words, but they don’t read that way to me.
Edgar Marion Villchur (May 28, 1917 to October 17, 2011) was an American scientist and audio engineer who was president of Acoustic Research from 1954 to 1967. In those years, he influenced the reproduction of sound in ways that would resonate (so to speak) for years to come. First, he invented the acoustic-suspension loudspeaker, which has a sealed cabinet with no port or vent, and in 1956 he received a US patent for it. The acoustic-suspension speaker made possible greater low-frequency output, with lower low-frequency distortion, from a cabinet of smaller size than had been previously possible. This was a revolutionary advance in audio reproduction.
That wasn’t all. In 1962 Villchur was granted a patent for the direct-radiating dome tweeter, which improves the high-frequency sound of loudspeakers by reducing the size of the tweeter diaphragm and thereby improving off-axis high-frequency sound dispersion. (Villchur explains this in a video on the Audio Engineering Society website.) The dome tweeter had debuted in 1958, in Acoustic Research’s three-way AR-3 loudspeaker; a sample of the AR-3, an acoustic-suspension speaker that combined that dome tweeter with a dome midrange and a 12″ cone woofer, is on display in the Smithsonian Institution.
Then, of course, came 1961 and the AR turntable, still considered one of the most influential ever created. This turntable, with innovations that included a suspended subchassis and mechanical isolation of the tonearm, was the precursor of the Thorens TD 150 and Linn LP12, to name but two other classic turntables based on its design. The AR turntable was praised for its industrial design, and for specifications better than any other turntable then available.
But Villchur’s career wasn’t only about producing hi-fi products. He was a strong proponent of comparing live with recorded music as a way of judging the latter’s quality of reproduction—in that sense, he was a pioneer of what we audiophiles base our hobby on today: judging the quality of audio gear in comparisons of its sound to that of live music. After leaving AR, in 1967, Villchur invented the multichannel compression hearing aid, which revolutionized hearing-aid technology. He also worked for the American Foundation for the Blind, where, according to his Wikipedia entry, he spent his time “organizing their laboratory and designing or redesigning devices to make it easier for blind people to live independently.” His work for the blind led to his development of a tonearm system that would slowly lower the stylus to the record’s surface, preventing rapid accidental drops that might damage record or stylus or both.
Any one of these inventions would have made Edgar Villchur a pivotal figure in some aspect of sound reproduction. Combine them all, and his accomplishments are extraordinary.
Although today ported loudspeakers are more plentiful than acoustic-suspension designs, sealed-box speakers are still being designed and sold. Right now I’m listening to a sealed-box speaker with a dome tweeter, and it’s one of the most neutral reproducers of music I’ve ever heard: the Magico A5. (For the A5’s technical details and my listening impressions of it, read my full review, published June 1 of this year on this site.)
The easiest way to refute Reichert’s claim of “how artificially colored the sounds of domes and cones in boxes really are” is to trot out lots of measurements of excellent speakers like the Magico A5. In the ways that current audio science has determined are the most important, the A5 is beyond reproach: flat frequency response, even off-axis dispersion, low distortion, etc. Ah, you may be thinking, but we don’t listen to measurements. That’s true. But we do listen to products designed with measurements.
But it’s almost as easy to refute Herb with my listening impressions. In my review of the A5 I’m clear about what I think of its sound, and I’m not alone. And for decades now, many other—though certainly not all—sealed-box speakers with dome tweeters have been praised by listeners throughout Audiophiledom.
Reichert says in his review that “box speakers with dome tweeters sound like box speakers with dome tweeters. I can hear their tweeters calling to me when I’m in the next room, making a phone call.” What does that tautology even mean? Still, as much as I think Reichert’s criticism is entirely without substance (assuming it is criticism, and not a joke I’ve somehow missed), I’m still left with an argument that’s really nothing more than my own opinion. But in no way do the measurements of speakers like the A5 indicate the poor sound quality Reichert claims to hear from all box speakers with dome tweeters.
This article isn’t really about proving Herb Reichert wrong—I can’t prove that he doesn’t hear what he says he hears. But many other listeners, including this one, hear acoustic-suspension speakers and dome tweeters quite differently. Herb has his opinions, and I have mine—about this subject, and about Herb’s opinions about this subject.
Nor is this editorial about bass-reflex vs. acoustic-suspension speakers. I’m not a proponent of either technology over the other—just as I don’t always prefer ribbon to dome tweeters, or first-order to fourth-order crossover circuits. I’ve heard speakers built according to all types of design philosophies that have impressed me with how well they reproduce music.
This article is actually about Edgar Villchur’s stature in the annals of hi-fi history. Each of us each hopes for the long-term validity of our opinions. My work in the hi-fi industry is well documented in my opinion pieces and reviews, and will probably remain tied to me for as long as the SoundStage! Network exists. But Edgar Villchur’s reputation as a superstar in the realm of sound reproduction is firmly established for all time. No matter how hard I work or what I do, I know that my rep will never hold a candle to his.
In January 2005, Stereophile published David Lander’s interview with Edgar Villchur. It reveals many fascinating tidbits of audio history, and none more interesting to me than this: Villchur says that Stereo Review “used to do an annual survey [of market share by component category]. In the late ’50s, we became number one in speakers, and our share increased and increased.” Lander then remarks that, in 1966, “Stereo Review put AR’s share at just over 32% of the speaker market.” To put into historical context that 32%—and the astonishing dominance of AR under Villchur’s leadership—consider these statistics from the website Statista.com: In 2020,Bose Corporation accounted for 28% of the loudspeakers owned in the United States, Bowers & Wilkins for 1%.
It’s not a stretch to say that many audiophiles of the 1960s and early ’70s—including some who founded their own companies in those years, then pushed the industry forward in new ways—cut their teeth on speakers greatly influenced, if not designed and made, by Edgar Villchur.
As I finish writing this article, I’m still listening to the Magico A5s. Domes and cones in boxes? I think these sound amazingly good.
. . . Jeff Fritz