Listening #169: Altec Flamenco

June 29, 2023 0 By JohnValbyNation

On a bright, warm day in September, at the memorial gathering for our colleague Wes Phillips, I overheard John Atkinson, in pre-ceremony conversation, discussing men’s fashions: “What’s popular these days,” he said, with a degree of puzzlement that stopped short of disapproval, “is very long hair on just the top, with nothing on the sides and back.” Then he added, this time with disdain, “What I don’t understand is this trend where men wear dress shoes without socks—which I have actually seen!” The fact that we were in Park Slope, Brooklyn—the very jaw of the hipster possum—may have triggered his observations, which I overheard while chatting with Stereophile alum Laura LoVecchio. I remember reflexively looking down at my own ankles, to make sure I was wearing socks. I was.

But here’s the thing: The first few times I’d seen a man wearing a suit and wingtips without socks—in summer, Cherry Valley is quite the fashion hot spot, perhaps owing to its nearness to the seasonal Glimmerglass Opera—I thought it looked silly. Now I’m not so sure. Men with confidence and just the right attitude, whose appearance in all other respects suggests that it’s a choice and not a laundry-day fail, can pull it off. So now I think it looks all right, even as I regard myself as too old to try it.

Similarly, the first time I saw a pair of late-1960s Altec Flamencos—a large domestic loudspeaker with a neo-Moorish grille so elaborately styled it would not look out of place in the drawing room of a Victorian hookah merchant—I wanted to have both of my retinas cauterized. I admit that, to this day, I have never seen a pair of Flamencos in a home in which the furniture is covered in clear plastic, but I believe that’s only because I have never seen even a single Flamenco in anyone‘s home (footnote 1).

Except my own
Like its contemporary the Altec Valencia, a pair of which I’ve owned and used since January 2013, the Altec Flamenco is a two-way loudspeaker in an aperiodic enclosure, with a 13.5″ bass driver (the Altec 416-Z) and an aluminum multicell horn (Altec 811), the latter driven by a compression driver with a 1.75″ diaphragm (Altec 806A). The incoming signal is divided at 800Hz by Altec’s aptly named N-800F passive crossover.

As noted above, the Flamenco has distinctive grillework: a 23″ wide by 24″ high expanse of what Altec described as “simulated wrought iron” (actually molded from very dense plastic and painted black), in contrast to the Valencia’s more conservative wooden lattice grille. The two models also boast different veneers—oak for the Flamenco, walnut for the Valencia—and different price tags: in the late 1960s, a single Flamenco retailed for $345, while a Valencia could be had for only $333.

Despite their different names and very different stylings, the 846A Valencia and 848A Flamenco were produced side by side from early 1966 to 1974. (After that, they were replaced by the significantly different 846B Valencia and 848B Flamenco, footnote 2.) As with so many other commercial products, the Flamencia and Valenco offered the same ingredients in different packages, presumably to appeal to different tastes. It’s sort of like Pez, especially after that company began topping their candy dispensers with the likenesses of pop-culture icons: the Valencia is Santa Claus, or perhaps even Superman; the Flamenco is Pope Callixtus III (1455–1458).


But recently I discovered that the Valencia and Flamenco aren’t functionally identical after all. Early in September, a local friend forwarded to me a classified ad from the Rochester, New York, edition of Craigslist: someone who lived about three hours west of Cherry Valley was selling a pair of Flamencos, along with the speakers’ matching equipment-and-record console. (Picture it. I dare you.) I wasn’t interested in the latter—which, at almost twice the size of a single Flamenco, would never fit alongside the speakers themselves in a Volkswagen Tiguan. But because a friend of mine in New York City has, for over a year, lusted after my Valencias, I was suddenly very interested in making a deal for the Flamencos, as long as I didn’t have to pay any more for them than I would receive from the sale of my Valencias. After a bit of haggling, a deal was struck, and I drove west to collect what I’d already been able to identify as a pair of 846A Flamencos made in 1966. (The production numbers on the backs of the cabinets, the antepenultimate numerals of which are keyed to the production year, were visible in the photos in the ad.)

Before long, I would make two major discoveries about these speakers.

The first: At the end of that September afternoon, when I found myself really struggling to get the Flamencos out of my car—at the home of the seller, I’d had help getting them in—I chalked it up to the fact that I was five years older than the last time I’d performed such a chore. Still later in the day, when I removed the cabinets’ rear panels to ensure that all within was well, I was surprised to see a number of differences between the Flamencos’ cabinets and those of my Valencias, at least two of which had the potential to affect their sound:

• Instead of the cabinet bottom being a removable (with effort) frame of decorative hardwood trim, as in the Valencia, the Flamenco is solid, down to its bottommost surface.

• The Flamenco’s cabinet has more bracing than the Valencia’s, especially on the inner surface of the rear panel.

• Whereas the Valencia’s cabinet has damping material affixed to only three inner surfaces—the bottom, rear, and one side panel—every interior surface of the Flamenco is padded. Not only that, but an extra hunk of this damping material, which appears to contain fiberglass, is stuffed between the top edge of the woofer and the bottom edge of the midrange/treble horn, in an apparent effort to tame structural resonances in the latter.

• Whereas most of the Valencia’s enclosure is made of plywood, with hardwood trim and softwood bracing, only the Flamenco’s front baffle is plywood. Apart from that and the cabinet’s bracing and decorative trim—respectively, softwood and hardwood—the whole thing is made of particleboard. (Picture it. I dare you.)

Footnote 1: I have a friend who owns a pair, but they’re stored in a spare room, neither on display nor in use.

Footnote 2: But not at precisely the same time: For some reason, 846B Valencias and 848A Flamencos coexisted in 1975.

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