Cambridge Soundworks Ensemble Speakers: Retiring Another Audio Component

Note: A while back I wrote about replacing an audio receiver after many years (The STR-AV1010 Is Dead ). It was a sentimental moment, since it played such a role in the soundtrack of our lives. This week another of the venerable audio components is retiring, significant not only to us but to the history of audio electronics.

Above is an ad from exactly thirty years ago, introducing the Cambridge Soundworks Ensemble Speakers. Developed by audio legend Henry Kloss, this was a breakthrough in the way quality speakers were marketed. It was relatively inexpensive compared to big-name brands, and it was being sold direct to consumers, without retail stores in the middle. These days, of course, most consumers buy speakers without hearing them first.

New York Times, February 19, 1989:

Now a new approach to speaker shopping is being promoted by a manufacturer who says, in effect: Buy my speaker by mail, sight unseen and sound unheard. If you don’t like it, send it back within 30 days, and we’ll refund your money.

One would tend to distrust such a proposition if it came from anyone less reputable than Henry Kloss, a hallowed name in audio history. During the 1950’s and 60’s – the gestation period of modern audio technology, Mr. Kloss advanced prevailing standards of speaker design with such classic innovations as the original Acoustic Research and Advent loudspeakers, which were among the first bookshelf speakers capable of wide-range sound.

Later he founded KLH, the first company to produce compact components and to make extensive use of transistorized circuits. It was partly Henry Kloss’s ideas from which, a few years later, the Japanese audio industry took its cue and rose to predominance.

I bought the speakers right away. I am not a listener with genius ears, but I appreciate good sound and good value. These speakers have been with us in all our houses, throughout the chapters of our lives. But just lately, I have heard the distortion symptom of one of the speakers failing. It is time for another set.

As with the passing of the receiver, sentiment is balanced with functionality, and so new speakers are on the way. The Ensemble will go back in the same box that arrived at our door those years ago and that they have been moved in again and again. I suspect they will be discarded someday, but not now.