Pros: large, authoritative sound; non-fatiguing; bass goes deep
Cons: not imaging champions; highs sound a bit rolled off; large and visually imposing
The Rectilinear III is a large, high quality, floor-standing loudspeaker that came into production in 1966. In 1970, Rectilinear introduced a lower, less visually obtrusive version of the same speaker that came to be known as the Rectilinear III “Lowboy.” I had read about both but heard neither until a friend recently came up with a pair (of the original taller version). I had a chance to listen to the Rectilinear III “Highboys” for several hours over a two day period, so I thought I’d write a review.
The Rectilinear III is a three-way system, but it actually houses six drivers, a 12” woofer, a 5" midrange with a "whizzer cone," and four smallish tweeters. The four tweeters are spread about the front baffle to increase dispersion (see the photograph, above), but one would expect a decrease in image specificity with such an arrangement. The speaker is fairly visually imposing at about 35" tall, 18" wide, and 12" deep, but the top and sides are finished in high quality walnut veneer, so a refinished (or unused, if any exist) pair can be quite attractive, especially to those endowed with XY chromosomes. The “Lowboy” version was apparently introduced at least in part to look more like furniture and be more living room-friendly. I read that some versions had one treble control on the back while others have a treble and a midrange control. The version I listened to had both midrange and treble controls.
The Rectinilear III is a ported system with crossover frequencies of 500 hz and 3,000 hz. Although the Rectilinear III is mechanically a three-way speaker, Rectilinear's original literature claims it to be a four-way system due to an unusual twist in the design: Of the four cone tweeters, two are 2 1/2" drivers and two are 2" drivers. The 2 1/2" drivers are said to be most responsive up to about 11,000 hz, while the 2" drivers are said to be responsible for most of the output above this frequency. An acoustic, rather than electrical, "crossover." Efficiency is said to be fairly low in spite of the fact that they are large, ported speakers.
So how do the speakers sound? The first word that came to mind as I listened was “authoritative.” These speakers sound “big,” and it’s in a good way. The first day I head them, we played mostly vintage pop music (Steely Dan, etc.), sometimes at fairly high volume levels, and the Rectilinears always seemed to be cruising. Bass was solid and maybe a touch warm, while the mids and trebles were smooth and non-fatiguing. I wouldn’t call these resolution or imaging champions: I didn’t get a great sense of air around individual instruments, or of a well-defined soundstage that I could “peer into.” But I did get a sense of grandeur and of relaxation. The Rectilinear IIIs always sounded big, bold and musical.
The next time I heard them, we listened to some classical guitar music (Segovia) as well as larger scale orchestral works. My overall impression was the same: not much in the way of a soundstage, and not much air around individual instruments, but a smooth, relaxing sound, with authoritative bass and a large sense of scale. In the large room in which we listened, they made usually solid speakers like Acoustic Research AR2axs sound small by comparison. Overall, my impression of the Rectilinear IIIs was positive, but I think they might be overkill in a smaller room.
Because of their size, Rectilinear IIIs are hard to hide, and so their “wife acceptance factor” is not going to be very high. And I did sometimes miss the sense of acoustic space provided by the floorstanding speakers I listen to often, including DCM Time Windows and Cambridge Soundworks Towers.
When they were new, the Rectilinear IIIs retailed for something like $280 each, or just slightly more than Acoustic Research AR3as. AR3as are also known for authoritative bass and a somewhat subdued high end, and I think it would be interesting to do an A-B comparison between the two. Today, a pair of Rectilinear IIIs commands about $275 in the eBay/Craigslist market. If you have a large living room (or garage or workshop), a pair of Rectilinear IIIs might be just the ticket. Or if you have a long wall and can disguise the speakers as furniture, they might work there as well. In my smallish living space, I’ll stick with my Dynaco A-25s, KLH 6s and New Large Advents when I’m in a vintage frame of mind. But I think the Rectilinears are easily worthy of a 4 or 5 star rating, especially considering what a bargain they are in the vintage market.