Western Electric 15a and 16a….two in a Room

Well it had to be done albeit to more modest proportions that some of our fellow audiophiles living in the Far East; 16a and 15a in same room. Some are curious about the differences between these two history pieces, and yes there are differences. Friends from around the planet have enjoyed time at my place. Its fun to share these great things with fellow listener; gives a more balanced opinion than the isolated audiophile. I say 18 ears are better than 2….Big thanks to my friend W2….

The 15a takes more xover work than the 16a. At first it sounds somewhat dry and too vintage when for my tastes when compared to the 16a…. With xover work it comes alive and shows how wonderful sound can be out of these large babies. The cruel thing is the 15a does push you to raise the volume, not that its lacks in dynamics, just the sheer size of the sound image it generates does push you in that direction. I surprised myself digging out my older rock LPs from my “younger days…” but never heard like this!  That does not make me any younger in case you were curious…still the 16a seems an easier animal to tame and more forgiving on the source, amps etc….

During the long sessions it became clear that the 15a blends better when filtered, there is a distinct difference here with the 16a. The 16a can be run full range without the same bass integration challenges; seems to roll off sweetly and the 4181 woofers just take over. Roll off of the 15a does not seem as smooth. You can enjoy the 16a full range with no bass at all yet with the 15a the result is far less satisfactory.

Yes the 16a is magic; there is something very very special about the 16a. It does lack the magnitude of its 15a brother; yet by some means this is not missed as much as one could imagine. It may be the mouth, the steel resonance, both or something else all together. When listening to Regine Crespin, Leyla Gencner, Alfred Cortot , Maggie Tate, Johana Martzy or…

Johnny Cash, Sarah Vaughan, Earl Hines,…etc you will sense the sheer physical engagement into their art. This is also the case with the 15a, yet somehow the size of the scene distracts from the heart of it all.

I had concluded that with the 16a the Tungar power supply was they only way to go and. this after numerous and shared listening sessions, selenium, diode, etc…and the “all choke no capacitor” (Tungar or selenium) that whilst delivering dynamics that impress somehow falls short in keeping you hooked to the music as well as the Tungar does. With the Tungar/cap power supply records fly, you listen to all sides and carry on going. With all the other power supplies this does not occur with such frequency.

And so?…..I switched back to selenium power supply to see if the 15a was more forgiving in this respect. Whilst the selenium is satisfactory it somehow removes softness and colour of tones and simply does not meet the Tungar in the sound territories I hunt for. So back in the tungar! BTW I was using a Klangfilm Selenium PS that I have in storage.

Both the 15 & 16 show off the merits of the amplifiers and sources.  The 16a is that little bit more forgiving. You can partner them with SET or PP as you like and based on your taste. I alternate between the two. Be aware that I have placed some modern and highly reputable amplifiers in front of the 16a and they deliver a far less engaging sound than my current WE based amps that are made by Aldo in the South of Italy.

Oh yes drivers are WE555 original dia and WE555 original with ALE, tweeters are 597a GIP and woofers 4181a .

I have yet to place a set of LM audio here and weigh them against the originals or GIP, it will happen.

In a nutshell:

* 15a is impressive, large, crazy, dynamic and for the aficionados’ of larges scale listening

* 16a is emotional, engaging, intimate crying out for long engaging listening experiences

Desert Island horn? Have no projects to go to any dessert island (yet…) so I have time to investigate further and in other directions…no same direction

The next babies in my room will be the Western Electric 12a horns.


    • Using a 16a or 15a on such a short range is defeating the purpose. The beauty of the large WE horns is to go from 80>120hz all the way up to 5k>6khz. Some prefer the big WE horns full range others with high pass on the lower end, all depends on your taste and level that you listen at.

      • But how else can I hornload a compression driver down to 80 Hz? I know there must be a sweet sound from these but but I am very pleased with my midrange horn right now. I have built a Goto S-150 horn that goes to 200Hz and I do prefer to use something else that starts between 600 and 1000 Hz.

      • I had Goto and now western electric and never looked back. Do not try to mix Goto with WE. Goto do a low frequency driver and design the horn to go with it.

      • Interesting. It must be great to not have to use so many crossover points in the midrange. How did your Goto setup look like? I bet a combination of these and Goto would sound great. I am sceptical of large diaphragm compression drivers. The 555W seems like the way to go for midbass.

      • I appreciate your comments and search for an adequate solution in your multichannel system. However this is not a forum. on forum(s) such as audiogon, lencoheaven, hifiwigwam….you will probably receive a larger audience to confirm/challenge your ideas. That is also the appropriate place to present your scepticism and I am certain that others will join you.

      • Right now I use three differently sized horns for that range. What other horns than these could be used in a 5-way or 6-way to get hornloaded compression driver down to 80Hz?

  1. The 15As looked like duplica judging from the construction on flank, if they are not original WE horns then the comparision to original 16A does not make sense.

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