We have talked about 3A before, but having received a lot of new documents from Jean-Paul GUY - GUY.HF, it seems appropriate to write this complementary article. Read the first one here
The photos of the catalogues from 1977 and 1980 respectively show the success and the growth of the 3A range of speakers. Interestingly enough, they both use what was considered like one of the largest anechoic chambers in Europe at the time, although my suspicion is that KEF had a much better one with better test equipment (HP - Siegfried Linkwitz...) then, but I suppose, the British never though of themselves as being part of Europe. For proof, if one was needed, I am keen to tell the story of one of the best hifi dealers in Edinburgh to whom I was trying to sell my wares, who was almost in tears when I visited the second time around. When I asked what was wrong with him, he said " I heard we are becoming European...". That was in 1984/85...It is quite telling that, if the recent Scottish referendum had returned a "yes" Scotland would have immediately applied for EEC membership, thirty years later...Enough politics for the day!
Let's go back to the beginning of the 70s when Daniel Dehay an electronic engineer starts 3A with the help of Alain Guillaud who ended up working for Framatech and Max Chalambeau who will eventually start Alpheratz...and has now completely changed his field of activity.
Their first model was the 3A ARIOSO, which cabinet was built by GUY.HF. It was equipped with a 38 cm Fostex, a 12 cm midrange from Siare and a compression tweeter from Fostex. about 5000 were built in the first two years. Not bad for a start up...
3A ADAGIO was the second model and was an easy rework of the ARIOSO, with the same midrange, a 30cm woofer from Fostex and an ITT tweeter. There will be several versions of this model over the years with many driver configurations, including the latest version in the 1980 catalogue which uses 3A made drivers, favouring the midrange dome instead of the 12cm Siare paper cone. The 3A tweeter claims to reach 30KHz, but I am not sure it could be measured up to that frequency at the time, using the Bruel & Kjaer equipment shown in the catalogue...
3A claimed to measure each speaker separately and attach the resulting print-out on the speaker itself. This photo seems to prove the point. However, the way the curve is silk screen printed on each front panel makes me believe that this was a marketing ploy and only a generic test...Daniel Dehay was very good at marketing and this was reflected in the catalogues he produced. See some extracts of the 1980 catalogue below.
In the late 70s and until the demise of the company in the early 80s, 3A designed and manufactured a series of interesting drivers. 25 and 21cm for the woofers and dome speakers for the midrange and tweeters. Focal bought the moulds for the woofers chassis and it is easy to spot them in the early JM Lab productions as well as many other French speaker designers.
The drivers were manufactured in a dedicated factory in Lussac-lès-Chateau
The most popular product made by 3A was the 3A APOGEE, with a 25cm woofer from Fostex and the same ITT tweeter as in previous models. This was so popular that 3A had three different cabinet makers and had a production line at GUY HF to assemble them and ship them from a central location.
Probably what was the most famous product made by 3A was the ANDANTE, one of the very rare electronic feedback speakers of this era (Philips started the trend...). 3A called their system "Acoustic Pressure Feedback" and used a 125W amplifier and associated circuitry to claim a lower limit of 32Hz in a 20 litres cabinet! It made the hifi headlines in no time for sure:
"The Andante won our Compact Quality Award on the basis of its superb sound for its size. It also deserved the award for solid construction. It was organ music that demonstrated best the amazing deep bass of this small speaker...we were astonished to find that the pedal notes of organ, the earth shaking were as loud and clear on the Linear as on a speaker about six times its size". Extract from the 1980 catalog, with no source noted...This was the 1979 version.
The 3A ANDANTE in its original form used a 25cm SIARE driver and a compression tweeter from Fostex, as per previous models, then it evolved into the 3A ANDANTE LINEAIRE using three 3A proprietary drivers. The cabinets were still made by GUY HF, 3A being their biggest client at the time. It is nor clear who was manufacturing the amplifiers, but they ended up being very unreliable. I guess the combination of low quality, huge investment in manufacturing their own drivers and electronics, as well as the demise of some very large retailers who were the primary output for the sales of 3A speakers had a large influence on the eventual bankruptcy of the company. Interestingly enough, GUY HF was not one of the casualties of this debacle.
3A closing their doors was big news at the time and coincided with the rise of JM LAB/FOCAL who became in time the largest client of GUY HF and eventually buying the business.
Another factor in the failing of the business was the plethora of models and the incessant redesign of successful speakers with new drivers and various revisions of the same models.
I have no intention to name and review all on them here but will direct you to the excellent overview put together by Jean-Marc Hauchard here:
The last product I will feature though is the 3A TR+Atom triphonic systems, where a coffee table houses the active subwoofer in 80, 100 and 120 watts , using a 150w amplifier and the "Acoustic Pressure Feedback" feature, using 2, 3 and 4 drivers respectively. One could choose from two satellites, the Atom 2 equipped with a 20cm woofer and an "Equipase" tweeter and Atom 3 equipped with the same boomer and two dome drivers for the higher frequencies, both using geometries to time align the drivers. Quite a neat system which was quite convincing.
To conclude this rather long article, let's say that 3A was one of the most prolific and famous French speaker manufacturers. There were certainly a good deal of great ideas in the designs of Daniel Dehay and his team. After the closure of 3A, he tried to resuscitate a business, moved to Switzerland first and then on to Canada where he still resides and where he helped starting another company called Reference 3A! These speakers are only sold in North America and have a great reputation. I have been in contact with the company recently and I will write a follow-up article on their products soon. So stay tuned for the next episode of the 3A saga!
Behind this simple logo hides more than 70 years of expertise in building modern furniture for famous designers of the time, some of the first TV cabinets and later on specialising in speaker cabinets for the most prestigious names of the French HiFi scene like Elipson, Jean-Marie Raynaud, 3A, A2T, Audax, AudioAnalyse, Audio Reference, Confluence, Elipson, France Acoustique, Mercuriale, Phonophone, Siare and for JM Lab/Focal, a collaboration over 30 years, Focal eventually buying the business in 2007. What an achievement for Emile, the father, and his son Jean-Paul Guy from the tiny city of Bourbon-Lancy, home to just over 5000 people but famous from Antiquity for its spa. GUY.HF is only one of two companies listed on Wikipedia in the town!
Jean-Paul Guy who I have known since 1983 has benefited from growing up in a rich cultural environment because of the trendy original clients of his Dad, like the famous interior designers Leleu Marcel Gascoin and Maxime Old. Jean-Paul is a serious melomane and a great collector of modern art with a collection of over 600 pieces which he occasionally lends to museums for specific exhibitions. An hedonist, he loves all the finer things in life...
He is also a speaker designer in his own right and was developing some products very similar to my Microphase around the same time, hence probably why he accepted to build our products.
As proof, you will find below some extracts of his catalogues, some products being sold under the GUY.HF brand and some more elaborate ones under the "Natural Sound" brand.
I find interesting in retrospect that we were all trying to replicate the 4240 from Elipson on a smaller scale and for less money. In many ways, most of these systems actually achieved this objective with very limited means sometimes and as a result, these companies didn't stand the test of time. But most importantly, GUY.HF and Jean-Paul were instrumental in helping these small outfits getting manufactured properly at a price which leaved them with enough margins as well as staying competitive in the retail market. Jean-Paul was also very helpful in streamlining the manufacturing process by advising us on ways to save money without too much compromise on the final auditive and visual results.Un grand merci!
All this quality manufacture was achieved without any CNC machines which arrived at GUY.HF only in 1987 when production reaches over 15,000 speakers. A second machine was bought in 1999 to accommodate the big success of the Utopia range from Focal representing half the production and all this achieved with less than 30 people!
One skill that GUY.HF had and still has is the quality of their varnishes, perfectly applied and never too glossy in the case of the clear finish. Lacquer was subcontracted to a local company Segaud, which was later bought over and integrated into the larger premises acquired in 2003.
If you have ever seen a Focal Grande Utopia in the flesh, then you will have experienced both the cabinet making and the lacquer expertise of Jean-Paul's team!
Over the next few weeks, I will go into each of the speaker companies that GUY.HF has manufactured over the years, and you will surprised to find out that even reputable companies outside France were clients, like Luxman, Toshiba, Sanyo, Fisher, Philips and Telefunken!
I will be forever grateful to have been associated with GUY.HF and still counting Jean-Paul as one of my long standing friends. Stay tuned for more French Vintage Speakers!
Born in France, well travelled, relocated to Sydney in 1997.