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!
My dear readers, it is time for a well deserved break, as it is both Christmas and our summer holiday here in Australia.
I will be celebrating Christmas at home in Sydney with my wife and children and hopefully Santa Claus will bring me more vinyls to listen to and a tele lens for my Olympus E- PL1, my best photographic investment in my entire life (I started with a 6x9 cm Voiglander in my teens then moved on to a twin lens Rollei, a few Nikons - one that I still use when nostalgic of real film - and 2 Mamiyas 645, one stolen from me, the last one belonging to my ex-employer...). Most of the photos on this site since June are taken with this beautiful micro third four machine.
Then, I will spend a few days in regional Australia with a nice base in Canberra, and return to Sydney for New Year's Eve and its massive fireworks, enjoying a nice meal at Nick's Seafood on King Street Wharf, with some of our closest friends.
Next year, we are planning to bring you more reviews of vintage products, as well as real tests of more modern ones - Waterfall being the first one, as the Australian importer has agreed to loan me a pair for a full investigation.
Hopefully, more French manufacturers will follow suit and we will bring to you even more interesting content (I am dreaming of a comparison between Elipson 4050 and 4260s...)
If anybody from Agilent or Rohde & Schwarz are in a generous mood, I will need an real-time FFT analyser to do justice to these products...
In the meantime, many thanks for reading my prose and I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a prosperous and Happy New Year 2011.
I am not too sure how I came to own one of these fancy French contraptions, and I have no recollection how it disappeared from my life, apart from the fact that I had a very naughty kitten at one point who really enjoyed playing with the antiskating counterweight!
One can always use a cover, I hear you say, but there is great debate out there, whether or not it affects the sound!
The cat certainly did!!!
This was quite an elaborate design, with a floating subchassis and an arm based on an unprecedented (and unrepeated, as far as I know) virtual design pivot.
I heard on another forum that JC Verdier had a hand in the design...If it is true, then it would have been the most inexpensive of his designs!
The whole thing was pretty difficult to set up and was very wobbly indeed, but the sound was quite an upgrade from the Dual it replaced.
It is also at that time, that I started to be very found of the Grado cartridges, certainly contributing to the notch up in quality from the inexpensive Shure cartridges used on the Dual.
It is also at that time that I started to work for HP in the Test & Measurement division - now Agilent, and had access to the best test equipment in the World!
I had a big garage at the time, all fitted as an electronic laboratory, where I played with MOSFET amplifiers, ICE amplifiers modules from Sanken (I used to sell them...) and curiously, not much with tubes and speakers. All this happened before I moved to Scotland and discovered NAD, and the battle between Linn and Rega, the emergence of the CD...and started designing the Microphase speakers.
All photos are courtesy of www.vinylengine.com
Born in France, well travelled, relocated to Sydney in 1997.