AS WITH MANY CONTEMPORARY SPEAKER manufacturers, Austin Speaker Works
takes its inspiration from the great speakers of the ’60s, but seeks to
improve on the original formulas to fit the needs of contemporary
guitarists. Namely, this Texas-based newcomer—founded in 2005 as the
manufacturing arm of long-established Austin Speaker Services— has set
out to make the best modern-day versions of classic Celestion models,
no expense spared, while also increasing these designs’ power-handling
capabilities. Each ASW speaker is made individually, by hand, using
custom- designed cones that are purported to reduce cone cry. After
rigorous testing, any that fail to meet strict 1.5 percent tolerance
for resonant frequency and performance are rejected. Designer Ron
Condon also tells us these cones are pulpier than most modern cones,
making them much more like the originals from the late ’60s. For this
reason, they also sound more like they should right out of the box,
without requiring the prolonged breakin period that many modern
speakers need before reaching their peak. All this comes at a price, of
course, and the trio of speakers that ASW sent us for testing—represent
the upper end of the market, pricewise. Are they worth it? Let’s find
Resplendent in its plum enamel finish, the Elegante Alnico is a real looker. It also promises to not only duplicate, but surpass the tone of the original Celestion G12 alnico speakers. Those, as many players will know, were rated at 15 watts RMS, but ASW squeezes a whole lot more power-handling capability out of the Elegante (and all its speakers so far) by using a kapton coil former, which makes it more resistant to frying when pushed hard by a high-wattage amplifier. Tested (as were all three ASWs) in both plywood and solid-pine cabs, open and closedback alike, with a range of vintage and modern tube amps and guitars, the Elegante quickly expressed its propensity to be pushed hard to sound its best. Treated as such, it revealed a thick, deep, textured voice with even mids, bigger lows than vintage alnicos, and recessed highs. It did not respond with quite as much immediacy to the British and American 15-watt combos I tried it with, however, and might be a better choice for the alnico fan that wants to hit his speaker with some serious wattage. Overall, it’s a very warm, luxurious sounding alnico, but that can also translate as dark sounding, particularly at lower volume levels.
The KTS-70 has the same stamped-steel frame as the Elegante and the KTS-60 (below), but wears a pearl-white finish and a heavy ceramic magnet that’s covered in a rubber bumper— a nice touch. The KTS-70 is gunning for the original, guitar- voiced 70Hz Celestion G12H-30 of the late ’60s, and on evidence of this test, it gets there and then some. Compared to the Elegante, the KTS-70 responds a little more quickly to lowerwattage amps at the edge of breakup, and with more detail too. It has a juicy, multidimensional midrange, solid lows, aggressively cutting highs, and extremely pleasing harmonic content throughout. Hit with more wattage, it retains these characteristics, yielding up creamy, singing, yet robust lead tones when pushed with an overdriven amp. It might lack a little of the Elegante’s burntumber sweetness, but for many applications this is more than made up for by its liveliness and biting, edgy attitude, which really helps it slice through the mix.
ASW’s matte-black KTS-60 is intended as an improvement on the lower-resonant-frequency rendition of the late ’60s Celestion G12H-30—the 55Hz “bass” version of that heavy-magnet speaker, as used by Jimi Hendrix and others. Specs are otherwise similar to the KTS-70, and again, this speaker handles more power than the original Celestion or the 30- watt reissues that are available today. In use, the KTS-60 has a voice that’s broadly similar to the KTS-70, but exhibits meatier lower mids, slightly less eviscerating highs (though its treble is still fairly aggressive, short of being harsh), and a bigger kick in the gut in a closed-back cab. Aside from its bountiful and undeniably visceral heavy-rock attack, I found that it served up great raunchy twang and mildly crunchy rootsrock tones—its lower resonant frequency adding considerable snarl to my Tele licks and a plummy thickness to my Strat. Ultimately, it’s a real boon for single-coil guitars, and not just for heavy rock tones either.
Compared directly to the current-issue versions of the originals they seek to emulate, the KTS-60 and KTS-70 both proved more detailed and harmonically rich than either the Celestion Classic Series G12H or Heritage G12H-30—both of which are excellent speakers. On the other hand, the Celestion Alnico Blue and the Heritage G12H-30 were both more articulate and expressive than the Elegante with lowerwattage amps. (Condon tells us that a more sensitive 20-watt alnico variation is in the works for vintage fans.)
At higher outputs, however, the Elegante reveals its true vocabulary, exhibiting a selfcompressed smoothness and chocolatey warmth that no other alnico on the market can deliver. The KTS-70 is probably the most versatile of the three from ASW, although I really enjoyed the extra chunk that the KTS- 60 gave my Tele runs, even in an open-backed 1x12 combo. The ASWs are extremely articulate and musical sounding speakers, and welcome additions to the marketplace. Whether they are worth the price depends on what you’ve got to spend, but if you can afford over- $200 speakers, these Austin Speaker Works drivers have a whole lot to offer.