Zenith 49CZ852 1950's Alnico full range driver

The Zenith 49CZ852 full range speakers pictured below are without doubt the highest performing speaker per dollar value of anything I have had in my room. I was recently turned on to these big 12-inch woofers by an email acquaintance. According to this source, the trumpet shaped ribbed cones of these 1950’s Zenith drivers were the inspiration for the famous and now coveted Diatone P610. So of course I had to find and try a pair as soon as possible!

These lovely old alnico drivers were originally installed in some of Zenith’s high end console stereos in the late 1950’s. A natural for open baffle, these speakers sound amazingly good! The sound is big, wide and quite revealing without any hint of shout. Placement of performers and instruments in the soundstage of a good recording is some of the best I’ve ever heard, and they convey a sense of ease that is in some ways similar to the Rullit field coils. They make great big bass in OB panels, even when mounted fairly high as seen below. I’ve paired them with an inexpensive paper cone tweeter by Goldwood, and it seems to be a great matchup. To top it off, these beautiful old drivers are quite efficient as well, I’d estimate 95 or 96 db/wm, so they mate well with my 45 and 46 amps, and are really no problem for the .75 watt Darling amp to push either. But, perhaps not surprisingly, 12 or so watts from the 6V6 console amplifier seems to be a really perfect match with bigger images and a really wonderful sense of space. All in all, these are easily some of the best sounding drivers I’ve heard. And the best part…I paid $15 each for these. I like them so much that I bought an extra pair to store in the garage in case the first pair is ever damaged. I’ll probably get a third pair just to have a spare set to lend out to friends.

The 1950’s Zenith 49CZ852 gets my highest recommendation. It's the very definition of a budget setup, but there is nothing even remotely budget about the sound. Find a pair and buy them!

Update: After 18 months of this antique Zenith driver dominating my speaker world on open baffles, I've sold off the Rullit field coils and the Supravox (but not the Coral Holey Baskets!). I have to say that this is the best sounding driver I've owned so far, regardless of price. A number of readers of this site have bought the Zeniths and have reported back with great reviews, thank you! Although the 49CZ852 are getting harder to find, it seems there are a number of very similar drivers from the same era of Zenith, all having the 49CZ code but with different ending numbers. They look very close and its possible that the 49CZ903, etc are also superb drivers. At any rate, this one just goes to prove that they knew what they were doing back in the "Golden" era of hifi.

Further update 1/2018: In the past few months I've stopped using a tweeter with this driver and feel that has actually been an impovement. Our ears are pretty damn sensitve to spacial cues, and as soon as the tweeter is added its complication. These old things might not make it to 20khz but I cant hear that anyway. FM radio is cut off at 15khz and no one seems to mind. At any rate, these Zeniths are very special drivers with a quality of sound that I've certainly found addictive.

Update Summer 2022: After receiving the Lii 15 and 18 inch drivers two years ago, I put them into the prime spot and moved my beloved and long-serving Zenith 852 drivers into storage. Recently I pulled them out of their two-year slumber and mounted them back into their baffles for a weekend run. Wow! There is really something about vintage Alnico that the big Lii drivers don't have. It's a presence, a lower midrange growl that many drivers just either don't portray or show in a different light. Its hard to articulate, but paired to the right amplifier (in this case the Partridge/Raytheon 45 on the 4 ohm tap) and at a realistic feeling volume, these speakers have incredibly appealing tonality and warmth but with gobs of smooth detail and an up-front, snappy presentation that can be startling. Even from the other room, or on the stairwell down to the tube lair, you can hear that these speakers sound good! In 20 years of this hobby I’ve owned and heard so many drivers of higher pedigree and price tag, but I still think these Zenith 49CZ852 and the Coral holey baskets are best choices in DIY hifi because they have a sound that the others don't, and its a sound everyone should hear. These will make you smile for sure. Super highly recommended, eight years or more on.

343 is the code for Zenith, and these were made in the 36th week of 1959 (936). More info on speaker codes (courtesy of Ted Weber, who created some of the best guitar speakers made today) is here and here.