Acoustic Research was a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company that manufactured high-end audio equipment. The brand is now owned by Audiovox. Acoustic Research was well known for the AR-3 series of speaker systems, which used the 12-inch (305 mm) acoustic suspension woofer of the AR-1 with newly designed dome mid-range speaker and high-frequency drivers, which were the first of their kind. AR's line of acoustic suspension speakers were extraordinary for their time, as they were the first loudspeakers with flat response, extended bass, wide dispersion, small size, and reasonable cost.
Acoustic Research, Inc. (“AR”) was founded in 1952 and incorporated on August 10, 1954, by audio pioneer, writer, inventor, researcher and audio-electronics teacher Edgar Villchur and his student, Henry Kloss. AR was established to produce the $185 model AR-1, a loudspeaker design incorporating the acoustic suspension principle based on patent US No. 2,775,309, granted to Edgar Villchur and assigned to Acoustic Research in 1956.
Edgar Villchur's technical innovation was based in large part on scientific as well as objective testing and research, making most of it publicly available as documents, specifications, and measurements—all of which was then new in the loudspeaker industry. Acoustic Research, under Villchur's leadership, was also innovative during this period in the way the company offered equal opportunity, liberal employee benefits, insurance, and profit sharing to every employee.
- Acoustic suspension loudspeaker
The acoustic suspension woofer provided an elegant solution to the age-old problem of bass distortion in loudspeakers caused by non-linear, mechanical suspensions in conventional loudspeakers. The state-of-the-art at the time of AR's invention was the bass reflex speaker, which boosted bass response for a given amount of cone travel by directing sound energy from the rear of the speaker cone through a port in the cabinet "tuned" for reinforcement of the direct signal from the front of the cone by the signal from the rear of the cone. Among the drawbacks of that system are the stringent design parameters for successfully achieving accurate bass reinforcement, requiring great precision and, with the technology of the day, large cabinets. Some loss of accuracy ("smearing" or "vooming" of low frequencies) was inevitable and the results of specific designs were not entirely predictable. Long hours with slide rules and prototypes drove up the development costs of new designs, keeping them out of popular price ranges. High fidelity woofers were also vulnerable to damage from extreme low frequency signals. Those issues were finessed with the invention of the acoustic suspension woofer.
The acoustic suspension woofer (sometimes known as “air suspension”) used the elasticity of air within a small, sealed enclosure of about 1.7 cu ft (48 L) to provide the restoring force for the woofer cone. The entrapped air of the sealed-loudspeaker enclosure -— unlike the mechanical springs of conventional speakers—provided an (almost) linear spring for the woofer's diaphragm, enabling it to move back and forth great distances (“excursion”) in a linear fashion, a requirement in the reproduction of deep bass tones. The disadvantage of this arrangement is low efficiency; since the restoring force is large with a large woofer in a small cabinet, the cone must be massive to keep the resonant frequency in the required low bass region. The AR-1s were about a factor of 10 less efficient than other (physically much larger) existing speakers with the same bass response, but since higher power amplifiers were becoming available about the same time, this was a reasonable trade-off to get good bass response from a relatively small speaker.
As such, the AR-1 set new standards of low-frequency performance and low distortion that were unsurpassed for many years; in fact, some of the best loudspeakers available fifty-two years later continue to use the acoustic suspension principle for highest quality, low distortion bass reproduction. The small size of the high performance AR-1 (permitted by the acoustic suspension design) was a dividend that helped usher in the age of stereophonic sound reproduction. Two bookshelf-sized loudspeakers were far more acceptable in a living room than the two refrigerator-sized boxes previously necessary to reproduce low frequency bass notes.
By March 1957, AR began shipping a smaller, less expensive, acoustic suspension system, the US$87 Model AR-2. The AR-2 was selected by Consumer Reports as a 'best buy' and the company's sales went from $383,000 in 1956 to nearly $1,000,000 by the end of 1957. Also that year, co-founder and Vice President Henry Kloss left AR to form a new loudspeaker company, KLH.
- AR-3 loudspeaker
In 1958, AR once again pioneered loudspeaker technology with the introduction of the landmark model AR-3, which used the AR-1’s acoustic-suspension woofer in conjunction with the first commercially available hemispherical (“dome”) mid-frequency midrange unit (squawker) and high-frequency tweeter.
For nearly ten years after its introduction, the AR-3 was widely regarded as the most accurate loudspeaker available at any cost, and was used in countless professional installations, recording studios, and concert halls. Many well-known professional musicians used AR-3 loudspeakers because of their excellent sound reproduction. In the early 1960s, AR conducted a series of over 75 live vs. recorded demonstrations throughout the United States in which the sound of a live string quartet was alternated with echo-free recorded music played through a pair of AR-3s. In this “ultimate” subjective test of audio quality, the listeners were largely unable to detect the switch from live to recorded, a strong testament to Acoustic Research's audio quality.
The company also established music demonstration rooms on the mezzanine of Grand Central Terminal in New York City and on a street corner of Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where the public could stop by and listen to its products, but no sales were made there. This low-key marketing innovation caused a major increase in the company's business.
The AR-3 was subsequently replaced by the AR-3a in 1969, with a new dome midrange and tweeter reduced in dimensions, for even better mid and high frequency dispersion. On September 13, 1993, an AR-3 was placed on permanent display in the Information Age Exhibit of National Museum of American History at The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.
The AR-3a was subsequently replaced by the AR-11 and AR-10pi in 1977, which both shared the same improved tweeter and midrange domes. The 10pi even had woofer/bass response adjustment switches to allow for a variety of room placements. The new tweeter used in the AR-11/10pi had notably brighter high-frequency response partly to compensate for less dispersion than the tweeter of the AR3a.
AR went on to introduce many other notable designs, and by 1966 the company had grown to hold 32.2% of the U.S. domestic loudspeaker market, based on the IHFM and High Fidelity surveys statistics for that year. This was the largest product market share ever held by a loudspeaker manufacturer since statistics have been kept in the industry.
AR also produced a low-cost ($78) belt-drive turntable, a type of phonograph, using a cast aluminum 3.3 lb (1.5 kg) turntable platter suspended with a T-bar sub-chassis that greatly reduced acoustic feedback. A 24-pole hysteresis-synchronous, permanent magnet Hurst AC motor propelled the platter via a precision ground rubber belt to produce very low wow and flutter, exceeding the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) standards for turntable measurements.
Many AR turntable models  are still sought after today. In particular, the mid-1980s models are highly modifiable to become first-rate vinyl playback units.
In 1967, Acoustic Research was bought by Teledyne, Inc., and for the next 22 years it continued development and operations in Cambridge as Teledyne Acoustic Research. Technological breakthroughs in this period included the high-current amplifier. When purchased by Teledyne, AR was the world's second largest supplier of branded loudspeakers. Although Acoustic Research had continued in product development, by 1989 AR had dropped to fifth place worldwide, and Teledyne sold the company to their major competitor, Jensen Electronics. In 1996, Jensen, including AR, was sold to Recoton Audio Corporation.
Under both Jensen and Recoton, the AR brand continued to make technology breakthroughs in the speaker industry; these included the environmental controls that allowed a speaker to be placed in different room areas, the Acoustic Blanket that minimized diffraction and interference in speaker baffles, and a speaker line designed to complement home theater and the digital technologies of the 1990s.
In 2003, Audiovox (now Voxx International) acquired the U.S. audio operations of Recoton, and continues with AR-brand speaker development and sales. An associated firm, AB Tech Services (http://www.abtechservices.com), provided maintenance of AR speakers until mid 2014. Web-based audiophile communities lamented the closure of the company and apparent liquidation of stock. As of July 2014 CM Tech Support took over the responsibility of providing Acoustic Research Parts and Service (http://www.cmtechsupport.com).
- David Dritsas, "Audio's Dedicated Servant. (Henry Kloss; Kloss Video Corp.)", Dealerscope: The Business of CE Retailing, Jan 2001, v43 i1 p28.
- Lynn Olson. "The Art of Speaker Design".
- AR Turntable History Acoustic Research Ed Villchur Vinyl Nirvana
- AR Turntable Models Vinyl Nirvana
- Acoustic Research Audiovox branded site
- AB Tech Services AR speaker repair
- Acoustic Research Manuals Repair and owners manuals.
- The Classic Speaker Pages Resources and discussion forums
- Edgar Villchur and the Acoustic Suspension Loudspeaker Website of the Audio Engineering Society Historical Committee