Western Electric 12a….after some listening time!

There have been “many” questions asked about the sound of the WE12a horns versus the 16a & 15a…all these big baby horns have been extensively listened to here. More often than not the question is “what is best, better….”. What I will keep on repeating is nothing is really “best or better” in sound reproduction, it will be different, and you will like it more or less but not better or worse…the key factor will remain in this order, music, interpretation, recording and then…..”& only then” the reproduction system itself.

Having said that this is what I previously said about the 16a and 15a :

* 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

You can read here “CLICK”

Then into the equation came the 12a that was a work of love and labour to achieve but the only solution as no originals around…! I feel very happy to have offered to some of my closer audio freak friends the opportunity to listen to the WE12a. As stated before this is most certainly the very 1st time the WE12a have ever been in Europe. Maybe Silbatone will grace us with the 12a at the Munich high end…now that would be cool!

1st some boring technical matters. The 12a horn length is approximately the same as the 16a with a mouth that is not as large, but the 2 x 12a’s are installed so the total mouth areas is in fact larger with the same two WE555 drivers. Then the materials: the 16a as we know is steel and the 12a is solid hardwood 25,4mm thick and not to forget the 15 with plywood. So this leaves us with more surface area, same horn length. This should equate to less out of phase vibrations from the horn and by definition a cleaner sound? This I consider to be one of the aspects of the 15a most difficult to live with. Anyway this is exactly what Chung (Silbatone) and Joe Roberts told me about the 12’s and you will be hard pressed to find any higher authority with hands on experience with “all” the WE horns.


Theory does not rank high in my agenda when it comes to my personal choice for audio equipment. This is the very reason I experiment with my audio16 blogger friend.

So…. with my friend D and W2 who both assisted installing these 100kgs beasts it was evident off the bat that these were wonderful. At the end of the 1st day after taking down the 16a we just had time to winch up one 12a.  All we did was connect this single 12a with a solid-state power supply, PP 300 amp fed by EMT927-139st and then just played full range, sweet full deep, inviting and a tone pretty close to the 16a run in same configuration at lower volumes. The night went on and we added a 597a tweeter. The whole rig was wired with crocodile clips! …far fetch from the standards of the high-end crowd! The sound was just mesmerizing on sopranos and promised great moments ahead.


Once the whole setup was installed with bass open baffles with 4181a woofers, 597a tweeters and Tungar Power Supply it was time to run various xover configurations.


No vibrating panels! You can crank up the volume and these babies have no out of phase vibrating at all when compared to the 16 and 15 this is somewhat of a novelty. Oh Yes…… the 12a (and 13a), in solid wood made prior to the 16’s and 15’. They have a heritage in the Victrola horns that live inside gramophones such as the Credenza. Solid wood construction, 1” thick, all animal glued and built well out of the proportions needed to entertain the crowds filling the 1st sound on film theatres! Having made these 12a’s myself and knowing the 16 and 15 I see the very reason they cut the ties with The Talking Machine Company, commissioned to built the 12/13 for Western Electric, and that reason was cost and delay! The construction of the 15 & 16 are based on industrial methods, pressed sheets of steel, large plywood panels, nails or welding…and out the factory they went. 12/13 horns require a high level of skill, huge quantities of hardwood, animal gluing…!

The level of flexibility these horns offer is incredible! You can tune the sound from vintage and romantic to sharp and defined. Such dramatic changes were not as apparent on the 16a or 15a they seemed to retain the horns character to a greater extent. This could mean that the 12a is has a neutral characteristic or at least more so than the 16 or 15? At last hearing more of the WE555 diaphragm beauty with its silky smooth sound and less of the horns colours?


Testing and tuning: after hanging angle and position of horns down to the xover stuff. Lessons learnt on 16 and 15 help here, not being one for the “straight and open wide range approach” I have had the opportunity to play with numerous configurations on these big horns.  These babies share the same genes.

So…full Range, low pass bass and high pass tweeter: This is the recommended setup that Suzuki San CEO of GIP Laboratory uses. He was kind enough to share his setting and measurements once he knew about my efforts to build the 12a horns. This is the most vintage/romantic sound of all, full vintage, large scene and a room filled with it…And then…6db Series xover between Bass and 12a with high pass on tweeter, parallel 6db, full range 12db low pass and 6 db high pass, extra tweeters, 12db high pass and 12db low pass with 6db mid…long list & actually longer. These were all tested with and without attenuation on the WE12a, such attenuation was with L-pads, Auto formers from Dave Slage or RCA’s, Kanno transformers… a lot of testing that was really enjoyable and for a great part shared with the hungry ears of friends! Conclusion?

All the above work and offer a truly superb sound in mono and stereo alike. All these settings and changes were “immediately” perceptible and anyone used to playing with xovers will very quickly find the sound for their ears…A good stock of coils and capacitors will be mandatory…unless you just go full range! Anyway you need a pair of 12a’s 1st…!

I think that in an ideal world two xovers will make it happen:  The one Suzuki shared and another one offering a higher degree of resolution and details. The good thing here is that this is “possible”…and maybe just at the flick of a switch! Yes I have the intention to make some WE replica xover boxes that offer the space to do just that!

The upstream amplifiers used demonstrate what the amps are about so up to one’s taste. This is not unlike the 15 and 16 horns and both amp configurations make it happen (at least for me…)

So 16a, 15a, 12a? If you can get any of these you will be happy so long as you put the time in to making them work for “you” in “your” room. I insist that they must be connected to well-chosen drivers, upstream electronics and most of all best records to meet ones taste. There is no quick plug and play approach here even if some state they have the sacred grail of settings…! I have heard WE systems that sound really “really” bad and others that leave you mesmerized. The difference between the two is often down to details. Remember there are no reassuring audio reviewers to write about the right from the wrong. No glossy magazine to reassure ones choices. It’s down to you and what you want and being fully content with the way you like things…

I am a very happy man with these horns!

All fun…



  1. Hi Tim! Whatever I would want to write is irrelevant! I admire your love and devotion to these horns. All I would like is to listen to it 🙂
    All the best

  2. […] The 13a knocks the WE16a out of the room in many “many” ways. 1stly it goes way lower, goes higher and can be played at low levels with still and outstanding clarity and dynamic (quality that the WE16a but not the WE15a) but then it can be played loud, I mean really loud whilst still retaining its qualities and yes in this arena the 16a just falls apart whilst the WE15a come alive, and …. I love my 16a BTW…As for the WE12a it sits in another place as you can read here […]

  3. Hi, hope you are still keeping tabs on this blog.

    I have recently taken over an old cinema in the UK which had one of the first WE sound systems installed.

    Like many others I have the nostalgia bug and a belief that the early WE sound systems were kicking out a sound difficult to replicate in todays market.

    As such I am embarking on re-installing a 15A system in the venue – i would welcome any input you may have to offer.



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