Wednesday, December 12, 2012

REAL Fake WE 755As from Western Labo

Interested parties worldwide are by now well-acquainted with the Line Magnetic LM 755EX, a field coil "remake" of a Western Electric 755A. Although often referred to as a faithful replica, the fact that it uses an field coil instead of an AlNiCo magnet, 8 ohm nominal rather than 4 ohm voice coil, and 68hz resonant frequency instead of the circa 90hz of a WE/ALTEC original, makes it it's own thing.

That is not necessarily bad....in fact that makes it cooler in some ways than an exact copy. Most such copies fail at being copies. GIP replicas of WE field coil drivers are very close to originals and in some ways better (at least smoother and more transparent) to my ear, but if you really listen for a difference between the old and the new it is there. My other experiences of replica WE drivers have been disappointing to say the least. Some are probably better than others, but few can please the WE purist looking for the exact original sound of a perfectly working antique WE driver.

In any case, a field coil "755" never existed before Line Magnetic, at least not from Western Electric, so it is hard to say it is in any way a copy.

The LM 755EX also doesn't look exactly like a WE or ALTEC 755A, with deeply textured silver hammertone and a fancy brass nameplate instead of the waterslide decal on the originals, nice knurled speaker terminals instead of solder tags. I'd say the cosmetics were 755 inspired but not a dead nuts copy, more elaborate than the original in some ways and dialed in for audiophile use. The originals were not meant to be seen or played with. They went into industrial installs and disappeared from view forever.

Line Magnetic 755EX field coil 8" Loudspeaker




One wonders how near the LM 755EX cone is to an original. Judging from pics, the contour is pretty close, except perhaps for a wider outer surround corrugation on the LM. Material, rigidity, and texture are unknowns. I never saw an LM 755 in the flesh, so what do I know. From photos, it looks like a fair match, at least visually.

I just read a review of the LM755EX in very nice looking, large floor standing cabinets by Jack Roberts at Dagogo. Jack liked these a lot but the description did not remind me at all of the lightning fast 755A flavor. Fat, rich "yin" sound with lots of bass is not what a 755A does. 40hz region bass isn't going to happen with a WE 755A. I can only wonder if the crisp lively highs of the real 755A are there in the LM. One report I read on the net suggest that the LM is quite rolled off on top. Seems they may have shifted the spectrum down relative to a WE original.

Original 755As are fast, detailed, dynamic, and although very colorful, they can ride the edge of being overly hot and bright in an imperfect setup. LF extension is limited to maybe 70hz with room boundary reinforcement. maybe slight hints of lower notes. The highs are silvery and sparkly, mostly 8-9k stuff. Not impressive to read about in numbers but the balance and presentation are unique, lively, and compelling.  Reports of the  LM 755EX suggest a different gestalt entirely, a darker and thicker sort of interpretation..

My reading as a dedicated obnoxious 755A snob is that the LM 755EX actually has little to do with a WE 755A, except for cone shape and marketing connotations, but it may have merit in and of itself as its own thing. Nobody would confuse it for a 755A and the more you know about 755As, the less likely such confusion becomes.

I hope I get a chance to hear a pair of these someday to see what they do.


But there is another 755A remake around that I find a lot more troubling, the "Products, Inc." 755A from Japanese manufacturer Western Labo. Western Labo is a long time dealer in WE and other upscale vintage gear. A few years ago they got into the business of producing replica Western Electric field coil drivers, transformers, and some crossovers and electronics. Word I have is that this gear is mainly produced in China, at least the drivers, and marketed through Japan.

Most of this stuff does not look precisely like Western gear but the field coil 555 and 597A drivers were close except that the nameplate said "Western Labo."  But wait! Some "Products, Inc" units say Western Electric"! For example, the 618B transformers on their replica step up have Western Electric decals on them! Not to mention 1940 date codes!

Replica 618B step up trans from  http://www.westernlabo.com/70.html




Following the pdf linked from the description, these 618s use GERMAN permalloy cores and wire!! Hmmm...that sure doesn't sound right! When Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring took control of German industry in 1940, I seriously doubt he was making bootleg WE input transformers!!  Surely big Nazis were Klangfilm fans, right?

That reproduction 618B step up has been around for a while but the line has expanded considerably. The "Products. Inc" TA-4181 woofers have authentic looking "Electric Research Products, Inc" labels on them and they have a line of field coil Lansing gear with LANSING labels on them!!

And then, the subject of this post, they have a 755A replica that is truly a faithful reproduction...down to WESTERN ELECTRIC labels!  Even has the correct inspection stamps around the gasket just like a real WE 755A. Limited to 50 pairs.



Product Page: http://www.westernlabo.com/70_2515.html


Yo, that looks like Western Electric on that label!


Google translate of the product listing says this:


Explanation
We have completed the 755A 20cm FULL RANGE 755A Western Electric excellent article in illusion temple culture prize winning country east. Weight, appearance, texture, I am a full copy version to quality of course. 50pair Limited. The original, Pair \ 945,000 now - and we are scheduled to price Pair \ 198,000 the same standard, the same sound quality. Now, I do not need the original! Reservations are being accepted.




Although this "Products, Inc 755A looks like a straight-up counterfeit to me, as a cultural anthropologist, I must remind myself that I actually have no idea what these Japanese guys are up to in this case. I think there is a clear element of tribute here and I suspect that this replica item lives in a deep Japanese cultural category that I am wholly unfamiliar with.

From the standpoint of the world market, however, I think this exact replica activity may have stepped over the line. One of my Korean friends recently bought a pair of these very replica 755As for big money, represented as mint original Western Electric 755As by an unscrupulous seller. This guy is a knowledgeable vintage collector but new to Western Electric. He originally had no idea that the 755As were fakes.

These replicas might not fool an experienced WE or Lansing expert who can get close enough to make a careful inspection, but they are good enough to fool most of the audio folks out there. Demand exceeds knowledge of such rare items, so there is significant opportunity for abuse by shifty middlemen. Some of these items have probably already been through ebay as authentic WE antiques.

But one fears that this is not the end of it. I just heard a second-hand report from a businessman stationed in Guangzhou that there are at least three types of replica WE 755A available in local stores. Maybe the LM 755EX and the Western Labo unit are not even included in the count

China, Japan, Korea, and a few Europeans are making repro Western Electric gear now, and it looks as though some are branching out beyond WE.

Buyer beware! And it won't be getting any easier as the lines get fuzzier and fuzzier...








2 comments:

  1. We are ready for more posts ; )
    *subtle hint*

    ReplyDelete
  2. There's also a small stream of fake 618B transformers on ebay these days from an expert forger. Very unfortunate.

    ReplyDelete