T H E S O U N D
THE FLOOR-STANDING ALÓN V LOUDSPEAKER from Acarian Systems may be modest in appearance, but don't let that fool you-- this unassuming three-way design is an exceptional speaker. In fact, in my listening room, the Alón V speaks with such scale and authority that I would never need or want anything more. That might sound like hyperbole- believe it. True, mega-designs like the Genesis One, the Wilson X-1 Grand SLAMM, and the Avalon Ascent provide a greater sense of presence, and are spectacular, even awesome in large rooms, but I don't have a large room, and for most of us real-world folks, stratospherically-priced products like SLAMMS and Ones may as well not even exist, so remote is one's chance of ever owning such a High End air-moving device.
The Alón V speakers are so good that whenever I encountered a sonic limitation in my reviewing, it more often than not turned out to be the associated equipment and not the speaker, since the sound just kept getting better and better with each improvement in associated equipment. I'd go so far as to say that the Alón V's at $4,950 are better than most of the associated equipment they are going to be paired with, and, "even" at $4,950 (I don't know about you, but for me, $4,950 is a huge amount of money to spend on something that isn't a house, a car, or a son's college education), are appropriate for use with the absolute finest top-echelon equipment. On the other hand, even though five grand is a serious chunk of real money, compared to what state-of-the-art cartridges, preamps, amplifiers, digital front ends, and even speaker cables cost, I suppose the price of the Alón V, viewed in relation to its superb sonic performance, can be seen as quite a value.
The Alón V represents a refinement rather than a radical departure from previous Alón designs. I think of it as a "super Alón IV." It features the same three-way driver complement as the Alóns II and IV, with the same "dynamic dipole" configuration of the (1") aluminum-alloy dome tweeter and (5") treated paper midrange unit mounted on enclosureless baffles, for a combination of the spaciousness and freedom from box colorations afforded by open-air mounting, and the presence and dynamic impact provided by dynamic drivers as opposed to electrostats and planar units. The midrange and tweeter mounting baffles are angled to effect proper time alignment and rounded to minimize diffraction effects. The 10" bass driver is mounted in a sealed enclosure, again like other similar Alón designs (although the IV uses a 12-inch driver).
The Alón V's improved sonic performance is the result of across-the-board improvements in driver materials, passive components, cabinet bracing, and attention to the numerous fine details that differentiate the very good from the truly excellent (such as the composition of the felt-like diffraction-reducing ring surrounding the tweeter mounting, and the fact that the mounting bolts and rubber grommets that hold the enclosureless baffles in place are torqued down to a specific value to assure maximum vibration isolation from the woofer enclosure).
Describing the sound of the Alón V's is difficult for two reasons: First, I don't want to short-shrift their considerable musical and sonic excellences, and, second, I don't want to sound like I'm trotting out the "Handbook of Reviewer Clichés."
Ever notice how, in the case of so many magazine reviews and reviewers, you pretty much know what they're going to say before you even read the review? I could hear deeper into the stage. Veils were lifted so that the stage seemed more illuminated. Bass was tighter and punchier, with more harmonic definition. I could hear detail I never heard before on records I heard hundreds of times and thought I knew every note of. High frequencies were cleaner and less grungy. The soundstage got wider and deeper, with images easily extending beyond the edges of the speakers. Images had more solidity, with an almost spooky sense of musicians "being in the room." The frequency extremes were more extended , with a convincing sense of "air" and "life" to the highs. It was easier to separate complex instrumental and vocal parts, even during demanding, complex orchestral passages. There was more of a musical, natural and less of an electronic "hi-fi" quality to the sound, a "relaxed ease" that sent me scurrying for record after record far into the night. Sound familiar?
That's because you've read it all before, and you're going to read it over and over again from now until the end of audio time. Don't think I'm excluding myself from this syndrome; I've been as guilty as any other reviewer at times. The fact is: (1) improvements in audio components, more often than not, sound exactly as described above; (2) reviewers tend to express themselves in a similar manner because of agreed upon conventions of descriptive language that have evolved over the years and are, in fact, a great help in communicating what they're hearing to the listener; (3) we've all seen how badly reviewers, no matter how accomplished or experienced, can stumble when they're trying to re-invent the conventions of easier to write a review based on agreed-upon conventions than to try to reach a new level of critical and descriptive acuity every time you put hand to keyboard. It's unavoidable: At every transduction interface, there is degradation; the transduction from aural perception to written sonic description is perhaps the most degraded of all.
That said, I gotta trot out the superlatives here, because the Alón V is truly an exceptional speaker. Its tonal balance is extraordinarily well-balanced, with excellent bass extension. Whether listening to "Saturn" from the Mehta LA tour of The Planets [London CS-6734] or the low-bass synthesizer from Kraftwerk's Autobahn [Parlophone UK AUTO 1], bass was reproduced with both definition and authority. You might not be getting the ultimate in low-frequency extension, but it sounds like you are. Most of us don't really know what a 20 Hz note sounds like, correctly reproduced, having hardly ever heard it anywhere, much less from a stereo system. The midrange is simply stunning, richly detailed and transparent, not in the clichéd sense of the word, but in the true sense of allowing one to hear what is on the recording without the speaker's coloration imposing itself on the source.This speaker is not warm and euphoric in character, nor cool and analytical, simply as close to tonally neutral and uncolored as I have heard to date. The highs are wonderfully pure and effortless. (See? There I go perpetuating clichés again. But it's true!)
On recordings with a wealth of detail in the high frequencies (such as the Classic Records re-issue of The Royal Ballet [RCA LDS-6065]) the sense of airiness and musical verity is thrilling. The resolution of low-level detail from the highs down through the upper bass is remarkably close to that provided by the top contenders in this area-the Quads, the Martin-Logans, the Geneses, the Maggies, and the Audiophysics. And the delineation of detail in the mid-to-low bass is not far behind. The overall continuity of reproduction from low to high is smooth and seamless. As I've said about other Alón designs in these pages (not all of them; I haven't heard them all), I defy anyone to hear the crossover points between the drivers. An especially noteworthy achievement, when you consider that the woofer is in an enclosure and that the other drivers are not.
The imaging and staging characteristics of this speaker are outstanding. Again and again, I found myself amazed- really- at how big these speakers sounded, as did numerous veteran audiophiles (survivors of the audiophile wars, all) who listened during the course of these evaluations. I could go on and on about layered depth (bzzt! wrong- make that seamlessly continuous depth extending well into the rear walls of the hall), width extending far beyond the edges of not only the speakers, but the room, blah blah blah, but we've got those clichés to avoid. Suffice it to say that if the recording will provide it- as in the case of the RCA Living Stereo Lieutenant Kije [RCA LSC-2 150], the Alóns will reproduce the dimensions of the recording site with aplomb. In fact, this is one of the few speakers that can convey a credible sense of height- not as large as life, but there, which is more than you can say for most speakers.
Dynamic contrasts and scale were also first-rate, again, belying the Alón V's modest size, finely gradated from the most subtle of low-level sounds (the electric guitar on "The Look of Love" from the legendary Casino Royale soundtrack [Colgems COSO-5005], or the brush work on Bill Evans: The Paris Concert. Edition One [Elektra/Musician 60164-1]) to the crescendos on the aforementioned Lieutenant Kije.This speaker sounds remarkably quick and lively for a three-dynamic driver device.
Indeed, the sound I coaxed out of the Alón V's using the Immedia RPM turntable and arm combination, Lyra Clavis cartridge, Audible Illusions Modulus 3 preamp, VAC Renaissance Seventy amplifier, and a combination of Transparent Audio and Alón cables (an orgasmatronic combination of gear in itself) was- not to put too fine a point on it, as Ralph Kramden would say- just incredibly alive. The kind of sound that transcends the sum of its parts to provide that hair-raising you-are-there magic, where the quality of the reproduced sound is so close to reality that it is downright spooky. True, I've heard speakers that sounded better, such as the Audio Physic Medea, a religious experience- if the Alón V is spooky, then the Medea is hair-raisingly scary, transcendental- but the V is remarkably close. It is hard to fault. While it gives up a microscopic hair of resolution to a handful of state-of-the-art speakers, and won't play with the power and authority of some of the mega-speakers, I can unblinkingly say that that the Alón V is satisfying in every musical and sonic respect.
If you are looking for a speaker that gives you the sense that little if anything in the quality of reproduction is being compromised; a speaker that is accurate and musically faithful (enough of this jive about musicality versus accuracy-the two are not only not musically exclusive, but go hand in hand); one that allows the finest associated equipment to be heard to full potential, and is an unbridled, unbounded pleasure to listen to, then make it your business to audition the Alón V Why don't I end this review with a cliché, albeit one I can live with (stop beating the point to death, already!): For me, it was love at first listen.
* If all this sounds somewhat familiar it should given designer Carl Marchisotto's long apprenticeship with Jon Dahlquist.
Designer: Carl Marchisotto.