First off all you have to define what do you want from them. If at this moment you’re looking for something within $700 then very next year, when you finish you medical school you will be searching in very different price range… :-)
Now a little bit more serious.
The vintage speakers are not necessary good. The beautiful part about them that many bargain techniques that widely popular today: metal or “forced” cones, severally overhang coils, pored enclosures, soft suspension, high excursion, crappy magnetic strictures, too resonating or overly damped suspensions, cheap or inappropriate cabinet materials, wrong cabinet damping, bad and cheap cabinet building techniques, barbarian use of crossovers and impedance equalization, design for excessive power handling and coil heating with consequential dynamic compression and very many others “today’s bad things”… were not as widely popular in past. They did have in past some interesting solutions: enclosures, drivers or the complete speakers but all together the old speakers were not so much better. In past they have also a lot of very bad speakers – we just do not see them. Today, if anyone really would need it, we can do nowdays way more interesting drivers, enclosures and speakers. We just have no market for those tasks and very limited resources of people who understand "what" and "how" the things might be done. The majority of the today’s speaker engineers are fluent in engineering language that has not relation with reality of sound. It might have a relation but the relation does not located within a domain of know to them engineering.
When you enter the domain of “vintage speakers” then you enter a very strange world with as much BS as the contemporary highly polished and glossy speaker industry. My observation indicate the in majority the people who do vintage speakers has no better general result then their counterparts who use contemporary hi-fi. The vintage guys use slightly different vocabulary and they motivate each other with slightly different snobbism but in fact they are audio-wise not “there” and they still in the zone of very serious performance compromise.
Many vintage speakers can’t handle a serious criticism. For instance some vintage speakers have some tonal advantages but they hardly usable in flextime frequencies, have horrible amplitude responses, sometimes some very stage impedance runs, not always are usable in the contemporary enclosures and have many other problems. I do not even to mention that a great majority of the vintage speakers were exposed to “home improvement” of wild and semi-barbarian DIY community. Yes, there are some spectacular ideas/parts/solution in the world of the vintage speakers (and their successes in percentage measurements are no necessary higher then the today’s successes) but those successes are well recognized by audio people and consequentially the prices on used marker for those “successes” are very high.
So, my take about all of it would be following: if you really know what you do, how to do and you are wiling to “work for the result” then you may try to fish among the vintage speakers. If you are planning to get a result “out of box” then the vintage speakers do not delivery higher ratio then many contemporary solutions. Probably the vintage direction will be less expensive though, but I do not taking about money but about the Results.
There were a great number of small 2-3 ways bookshelf speakers made in 70s that were OK. All of them do not sound perfect but they were for the $50-$700 of today’s price way more musical then the contemporary $5000-$50.000 garbage. You might try to fish some of them on Ebay-like sites or among the vintage dealers. I have heard some ultra inexpensive Scotts speakers, a few JBL (like the L65 Jubals), the small 10” Tannoys… all of them were quite musical… I am sure there are many others I just relay do not know as those spacers never interested me, I never looks in that direction and if I head something good it was accidentally.
What I would suggest if you to go into the bookshelf world would be do not pay too much for them because they would be just your temporary acoustic system. I’m quite confident that soon or later you might want to have the “larger sound”. You unfortunately have contaminated by THAT Moronism and you know too much about audio to stop ”here” and before to "go there".
Welcome to the club…
Now about your ideas:
*** rebuilding an altec A7 with tractrix horns and supplementing the upper registers with some sort of modern driver; from hearing a similar system and depending on how i arrange the xover, the bass below 80hz or so will be severely compromised.
The Altec A7 is a sort of poor speaker; they have a lot of problems. The most “interesting” about the A7 that each and single solutions in them is done through the ass: under-loaded bass horn, horrible midhorn, sometimes strange drivers in use and so on. The wonderful part is that they are dirt chap, very simple and for ~$600 you might get the boxes or you might build then for double price and with way better quality. You might spend a few weeks/months/years, putting in them a large multi-sell (15 section for instance, you may put a tractrix horn in the play but I would not do it with A7) horn (~$600) preferably none-metallic (~$1600) with 808A (~$350, better drivers would cost more money) or some ~$350 level of JBLs, the aluminum none-symbiotic diaphragm (~$150), a proper custom made crossover (~$150), a good 515x drivers (~$600) and probably one more inverted 808A as a tweeter you might get something resembling to a pair of speakers. The will not sound good in nearfield, should be listened from far and wil
l have the “Altec ported bass”, the mellow Altec dynamic contrast and but they will be “sort of satisfactory”. BTW, although the “bass below 80hz or so will be severely compromised” it will be still way more interesting bass that you might get from the damn Revel or Karhma. Anyhow, your Altecs will be big and room demanding… Do you want to sacrifice so much to them? Will they worth all yours affords? Who knows! Will they be more interesting than some kind of off-the-shelf ProAc 2.5 for $1500 that you after 2-3 years of listing will dump for the same price? I do not know. I assure you that the plug-and-play ProAc 2.5 will have way fewer problems and you will spend with ProAc way more weekends with your girlfriend then soldering the damn speakers and taking with internet me-like Morons about the selection of the drivers. BTW, the ProAc I mention primary for an illustration propose….
*** building an open baffle system around an 8 or 10" PHL driver, some larger sealed bass enclosure and perhaps a ribbon based tweeter for supplementation; i considered the Lowther drivers for midrange, but i have no idea how well they could work in such an application. this might give me all kinds of problems with alignments and achieving 1st order slopes, but it may have potential.
Well the large open baffle with some kind of good contemporary cones and a separate bass section is a BIG milliamp project. It is a lot of money and it is a lot of affords. You also in there will be WAY beyond the $2K-$3K and you will spend close to $7K-$10K to build and organize all of this. With this appetite you might ask myself again: why do not get something like Tanoy GRF for $8K and just to forget about it? It would give you off-the-shelf, a small, compact, “problem-free” package. I feel that if a person abuses himself to custom-made something then this custom made should not be a half-ass solution. The open baffle, form my judgmental feline perspective, with a ribbon glycerin-sounding tweeters and the complimentary LF sections IS a half-ass solution. It is nice to make an experiment like this but will you live with it? I doubt. Well, from a different prospective you live in Chicago that is clearly indicates that you are in favor to a self-inflicted masochism….
Chirag, What would be the verdict? Being a horn devotee and considering two directions you proposed I would go for the Altec. Actually, I would go for a dirt-cheap and “comfortable” used ProAc-like solution but I would go there only because I when the Altec-like path all the way throughout and know the results the deliver in the very end equally dissatisfying.
You know I never meant this site to be an equipment selection guide as I feel that this subject is too primitive.
Stanislavsky, the Great Russian theatrical theorist and acting art methodologist, once said that an actor when s/he goes to a stage should not try to accomplish his/her theatrical task, namely to play the character well. Stanislavsky taught that an actor should have a super-task and by perusing to the super-task the actor will automatically fulfill his task. The problem is that in perusing of a task, the task’s language becomes the reality of the perusing consciousness. However, when one is exposed to a language of the super-task then the boundaries of this language much wider for the scope of the ordinary task…
Now, what would thy task and super-tasks in your new speaker project?
The task is to build the speakers. The super-task is by the means of those speakers to get better access to musicality. Well, I wonder how about to gain a new interest in a specific musical exploration first: for instance to “get” Bruckner, to “discover” French Vocal, fall in love with Puccini or to get infatuation in Barbirolli. …When you get it then why do not hunt your new fascination with Bruckner or Barbirolli and to observe where it might lead you, without making any efforts in the loudspeakers word? First of all it is possible that you find that the speakers (or perhaps the entire audio) is not what you need at that time. Second you may discover that your new musical senses might be used as a super powerful audio navigation tool across the speaker universe, and you will be able to guide your speaker selection contingent upon your successes or failures in the musical exploration.
When audio receive a dual directional feedback from the system owner musical inclinations and when audio helps to develop those inclinations, then the Real Audio starts and then the questions “what to do” get eliminated automatically. Those questions become like the small bricks in a large building and if some of the bricks are incorrect or missing then the large building still there and the fact of the missing bricks is totally irrelevant. The missing bricks could be easily and painlessly patched and then the existences of the building itself would accept or reject the new bricks depends how the bricks would benefit the entire architectural idea…
Romy the Cat
"I wish I could score everything for horns." - Richard Wagner. "Our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts." - Friedrich Nietzsche