Kodawari (拘り) Chronicles: Altec 604E

Altec 604E / Modified 620 Cabinet

Kodawari is a Japanese term without any direct translation to English. I’ve heard it variously referenced as “obsession, fixation, fastidiousness, pickiness about” and more negatively as “complaining or criticizing”. Like many Japanese (or German) terms it accomplishes the magic, frequently absent in English, of condensing a complex state of being into a single concise word.

It also brings to mind the approach of a certain subset of Japanese audiophile — those focused on refinement above all else. The members of this tribe decide early on which set of inputs (source, speakers, etc) yields a sound they enjoy then spend years (or decades) refining and shaping their fixed setup to achieve a personal perfection, many times working on optimizing the smallest of details to their liking. This of course is in stark contrast to the ever revolving inventory of equipment of that many of us, myself included, have deployed with great alacrity in search of the new / the better / the unreachable best.

And so for 2017, in the spirit of kodawari, I resolved to limit the deployment of new gear for a bit to focus on honing my current setup, starting with the area in which the most impactful changes can typically be most easily achieved — the loudspeaker.

Altec 604E Cutaway

My weapon of choice is the Altec 604E, the fifth in the line of venerable Altec co-axial speakers. Mine were manufactured, near as I can tell, in 1967 making them a half century old. They are not without faults and flaws but they do many things amazingly and uniquely well for my needs. To wit:

When placed in a correctly sized cabinet they are very efficient by today’s standards (ca. 100db), allowing me to indulge my predilection for low powered vacuum tube amplification. That efficiency provides a jump factor, a liveliness, dynamism exceeded only by larger horn systems that usually require more space then I have available leading me to…

…they are co-axial point sources and therefore don’t require much distance to provide driver integration — they sound amazing in the near field. They can be (as I have done) placed up against a wall with limited downsides. Imaging and realism suffer a bit for sure but they are worlds better than most other speakers forced into this situation…

…they are uncommon but not unobtainable. Drivers can be found in good condition for moderately expensive but not unreasonable prices, as can new old stock (or recent production) replacement parts. As the 604s were once the standard for studio monitoring in the United States there are many more examples of the type in circulation than some of the more revered yet similar loudspeakers — the Tannoy Silver/Red, the Jensen Tri-Axial, the Goodmans Axiom, etc…

…they are a platform that, via their heritage, lend themselves to modification if desired. Like the Porsche 993 engine which will bolt into the earliest iterations of the 911, the evolution of the species allows fitment of field coil magnets, true multicell horns, various diaphragm materials, etc. In their stock configuration they offer up the most enjoyable combination (to my ears) short of more exotic solutions: AlNiCo magnets, horn-loaded compression drivers and large paper cones tied together with simple crossovers…

…and speaking of crossovers there are many easily built options, which is good as you’ll want to sample a wide variety — the 604 magic lives or dies by their crossover implementation and cabinet combination.

Werner Jagusch Autoformer Crossover

For those interested I’ll be sharing a year or more of experiments in optimizing the 604’s to best suit my current tastes.

One thought on “Kodawari (拘り) Chronicles: Altec 604E

  1. Keep in mind that most 604s in studio control rooms were either hung against a wall or were soffit mounted. Free space location of 604s was unknown. I’ve found they sound better integrated against the wall and benefit from the boundary reinforcement. I had them out in the room before and I can’t believe I waited so long to back them up.

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