Jensen C-855 Wideband Driver

"Walt & I discovered this speaker during our big test project in the later years sometime in the late 90s early 2000s. We just put them on the shelf back then for later OB projects. Later, I began to sell & market them sometime in the mid 2000s to 2010s – – and eventually sold out of them. I got frustrated with buying 'em because they are an overall fragile speaker with many potential flaws. Shippers tend to damage them packing – – and if not that, then customers might play them too loud and throw a lead wire. Other than that it's probably just about the best 8 inch speaker Jensen ever made and is in the "top 10" of post 1940s, (or so) 8" speakers in the world." -- Early Bender at HiFi Town.

Here we have a very snappy and agile sounding 8-inch full range driver by Jensen, the C-855. Dating to the early to mid 60’s, these simple industrial drivers were probably intended for the PA market. There isn’t a lot of info online that I could find about these, other than some references to it being a cult driver in Japan, which is probably always a good sign. Anyway, when they popped up on eBay I took the plunge and actually found quite a nice little gem.

A somewhat unusual driver, in name anyway this one seems to be a clear nod to Altec’s 755 series drivers. But the name is about where the similarities end. Structurally, the C-855 shares little in common with the Altecs; the 855 has a whizzer cone and it’s build is much lighter and simpler. And in practice the 855 is not quite up to the legendary pedigree set by the early A series Altec driver (although its not night and day either from a projection and detail retrieval perspective). But the flavor is quite different. However the 755E is another story, and in my memory of the 755E’s rather dismal performance from years past, I think the Jensen absolutely trounces it. And the Jensen is a bargain in comparison to anything Altec.

The C-855 took some time to warm up and open its petals, but wow once broken in this driver is quite a performer. For a whizzer-coned driver, this one is very smooth and not objectionable in any way. Frequency response is quite wide; this driver makes some decent bass on my open backed cabinets and the midrange is palpable and alive feeling. This is the kind of speaker that cuts right down to the bone on the recording; it’s all there and it can be brutal. But if the recording is good, all of that highlighting and pulling things out of the shadows is what sets drivers like these apart. It can be very realistic feeling. This is also a speaker that is capable of imparting the emotional jist of the program material and bringing it out into the room to be heard and felt. Percussion is particularly pleasing. Strings, solo classical guitar, girl/guitar, all of these are superior with the C-855. Sound staging and placement can be very precise if it’s in the mix, and the overall immersive feeling is strong with these. I’ve gotten used to the soundstage from an 18 inch driver, and this still comes across as a nice big picture.

The Jensen C-855 needs a little bit of power to really bloom, although it does well with a smaller triode amp like the 45 or 2A3. But 12 watts of push pull EL-84 or the 25 watts of 7591 from the McIntosh 225 is a more immersive and driven sound. With some power things start to really jump out of the speaker. However, these are not speakers for excessively loud playback.

Once in a while I dig up something interesting and that is certainly the case with the Jensen C-855! While not the “best” at anything, these do pretty much everything well and are one of the better whizzer-coned full range drives that I’ve heard. They make bass in open baffles, have a very revealing and pleasing midrange, play higher than my hearing and are efficient enough for a small 2-3 watt triode amp. What more could you need? I don't see them on the market much, but for the $150 or so that I paid (2022) they are an excellent choice. Highly recommended.

Update Fall 2023: After having these in and out of the system a dozen or more times in the past 6-8 months, running back to back with some heavy hitters like the Altec 755a, Isophon PH2132E and the sublime Rullit Aero 8, I have to say that I gave these simple little Jensen drivers too little credit in my original review above. These Jensen C-855 drivers effortlessly do so many things that I like, and especially on simple acoustic music I’ve found myself scratching my head at their innate ability to draw you in and set things up right in front of you. In some ways they are more accessible and easy to listen to than the Altecs, and they almost match the big expanse of the Isophons. One thing problematic that Early Bender alluded to in the quote above is fragile cones; and these have perhaps the lightest cone of any speaker I’ve owned so far. The paper is easy to tear. I’ve been so pleased with the C-855 that I bought a second pair as backup along with a pair of their sister drivers, the C-840, which appear to me to be the exact same driver minus the whizzer cone. In both cases, one driver from each pair was damaged in shipping despite excellent packaging. Thankfully easily patched (but less pretty as a result). The C-855 really are fragile, but they are superb performers.

A simple industrial full range driver, this one is worth your time.

These work quite well in the Telefunken open backed cabinets.

Early Bender describes these as kind of a “slap-dash American Lowther” and I think that description suits them perfectly. If you’ve ever heard a Lowther, imagine that supreme bright clarity and presence married to a much deeper low midrange and some actual honest to goodness room engaging bass, and that’s the C-855.