Reprinted from Listener Hi-Fi and Music Review, September/October 2000

Alnico Tweako

Or: "Magnetic Makeover."
Review by Art Dudley

Alón Lotus Signature loudspeakers: $6500 per pair. Manufactured by Acarian Systems Limited, 181 Smithtown Blvd., Neconset, NY 11767. (631) 265-9577.

If you don't mind, I'm going open with a sort of a summation: Last Sunday, I had to take some pictures of a phono cartridge. Since my daughter wasn't napping, and since toddlers and tripods don't mix, I decided to do it in my hi-fi room, which has a shuttable door. And since I was doing it in my hi-fi room, I decided to play some music. I mean, why not?

So I put on The Kentucky Colonels' Appalachian Swing and went about my business. Then, I guess about four or five minutes later, I realized that I was sitting on the couch listening to the music-and not in fact setting up a photo shoot. This happened a couple more times with a couple more records before I finally made the connection: I can't work and listen to this system at the same time. I turned it off.

Funny: There've been lots of times that a system has been so bad, I turned it off (or wanted to). But this time I had to turn off the hi-fi because it was too good. The music stole my attention.

What's funnier is the way it grabbed me. Hey, I'm a Lowther owner: I know what it's like to hear something so pure and present and there that listening becomes a must. But this was different - yet compelling nonetheless. So now let me describe just how it was different...

The Alón Lotus SE Signatures have replaced my Lowther/Medallions for the past few weeks. The Alóns are good. Very good, in fact. But more to the point, they make me listen differently. Where Lowthers tend to thrust the sound forward of their cabinets, howsoever artfully and unaggressively, the Alóns create an illusion of performers around and (mostly) behind their enclosures.

... But I don't think I've completely said what I mean, so let me come at that again: The Lowthers effuse music. They emote. Whether I'm listening from my "listening seat" or not, I can get a lot of musical information from them. They're effective in that way: They do the job. The Alóns do the job, but differently - mostly by making the sound of the music compelling. I hear the Lowthers and I think: notes. I hear the Alóns and I think: singers and instruments.

Okay, so now I'm getting at the whole stereo imaging thing, right?

On the one hand, the ability of multi (two or more)-channel audio to create the illusion of sound coming from different points in space has never really impressed me. For one thing, real music doesn't sound that way when you hear it live. For another - and this is the big thing - most of the loudspeakers I have heard that tend to put imaging first also tend to put music last. Take Apogees, for instance -- please! (I can pick on them 'cause they're gone - or, as we say in Latin, de mortuis nil nisi malis.) They and others like them image like banshees, and they all bore me without fail. All sound, no music - no notes, no beats, no feelings.

On the other hand, if imaging information is contained in a recording - and it is, in most stereo recordings - then why shouldn't a sound reproduction system present that information to the listener?

There's no reason that good imaging and musicality shouldn't coexist. I realize that. Just don't blame me for being conditioned by a generation of products designed by people who knew sound but only paid lip service to music. But Carl Marchisotto gets it right with his Alón speakers. All the ones I've heard sound impressive in virtually every (audio) way and they play music brilliantly. Their "presentation" is different compared to what I own. The Alón Lotuses, which are open baffle dipoles from 400 Hz on up, are designed to be placed well away from the wall behind them, about a third of the way into the room. They should also, according to their designer, be aimed straight ahead, not toed-in toward the central listening area. All this makes for a listening experience in which performers sound like they're quite a ways behind the speakers. If you've heard Quad 63s... well, they're kind of like that. But then, the Alóns do notes and - especially - beats more convincingly than the second generation Quads...

Now: I wrote about Carl's original Lotus SE a year and a half ago (Vol.5, No.2), and as some of you recall, I was impressed. What I'm listening to now is a refinement of that same speaker - but that word isn't strong enough to describe the differences I'm hearing. The earlier Lotus was and is a fine thing - a great "all-arounder," on a par with (and comparably priced with) that perennial Listener recommendation, the Spendor SP1OO. (I promise that someday I'll come back to that one, too.) But the newer one is a total knockout.

Let's recap the basic Lotus design: What we have here is a three-way dynamic speaker, with an 8-inch woofer loaded in a 28-litre box, and a 5.25-inch trilaminate-cone midrange driver and 1-inch aluminum-dome tweeter mounted to a rigid wooden baffle. The whole thing is covered with a black fabric "sock," and it stands about four-and-a-half feet tall. The crossovers - which cross over at 400 and 3500 Hz - are outboard, and those enclosures, like the speakers themselves, sit on pointy metal feet. These speakers are tri-wireable.

So technically speaking, what are the differences between the Lotus SEs and the newer Lotus SE Signatures? You'll laugh when you hear what the big one is: On the earlier speaker, the midrange driver was built with an Alnico magnet; on the newer one, all the drivers are custom-built with Alnico magnets.

That's not all. Compared with the other Lotuses, this one's bass driver has a lower resonant frequency (between 5 and 10 Hz) for deeper bass response. Anti-diffraction material and Carl's "controlled coupling" are used in the enclosure. The crossovers have been altered to work with the better drivers. And the wood trim has been upgraded from black paint to cherry veneer.

But, yeah, the big change is the magnet thing. And I have to tell you: just a week before Carl and Marilyn Marchisotto came to my house with the Lotuses, I was having a conversation with an amp designer friend, during which he and I pretty much straightened out all the ills of the hi-fi industry, rhetorically, at least. And among our pronouncements was the absolute surety that all this Alnico stuff is really a bunch of hooey, and magnet material really doesn't matter at all. (Okay, so we were talking about Lowthers - but you get the idea.) There's one more thing for the file folder labeled "Shows You What I Know."*

Since I'm a Bigshot Reviewer, I got the designer to install my pair. But take my word: The rest of you won't have any trouble. Keep 'em away from walls, aim 'em straight ahead, and let 'er rip. Just hook the Lotuses up to the best amplifier you can afford: The Alóns never punished me for driving them with a lesser amp - they sounded refined and essentially musical no matter what - but they almost always rewarded me for using a better one. My single-ended pentode amp, an Audio Note P2SE, sounded chunky and lively and colorful and great. But my single-ended triode amp, a tricked-out Audio Note Kit One (300B), made the former sound a little mechanical and emotionally constricted by comparison. And the Wavelength Duetto I wrote about last issue sounded so good I laughed out loud when I tried it. File that away for the "Easy System Recommendation" file. But with all of them, the Alóns consistently played music, and were liquidly easy to enjoy for hours at a stretch.

I said "almost," and what I meant is that I couldn't drive the Alóns with my new Fi Stereo 2A3: It just didn't do it. Carl heard the strain, too, and wondered if it weren't because the 8-ohm Alóns didn't cotton to the 14-ohm output secondaries on the Fi. Right now there's just no way of knowing. So while there's every reason to believe the Lotus Signatures are better performers than the Lotus SEs, there's no reason to believe they're significantly more efficient.

I do, however, think the new ones make a little more bass. In my room, Carl and I measured the Signatures as flat down to 50 Hz, 8 dB down at 30 Hz, and only 11 dB down at 20 Hz (that's still what I consider "usable," audible output). More to the point, the Alóns are blessed with deep, clean, solid-but-not-silly bass, the kind that makes musical sense. Go buy the new XTC record, Wasp Star (you should do that anyway), and listen for the deep bass on the song "Church of Women": On the Alóns, it's breathtaking!

But while I'm writing this, my mind keeps going back to that Sunday afternoon, and that Kentucky Colonels disc. I started out standing, walking between and around both the speakers, but every time my ears "looked" up, there they were - Clarence White and his big ol' Martin guitar on one side of the room, Roland White and his little ol' Gibson mandolin on the other. The sound impacted the music, if you know what I mean - made it sweet and compelling. And once I sat down, the music was right enough - the melodies true enough, the little dynamic variations convincing enough - that I stayed with it for song after song after song. Like I said: a different kind of musical, but musical all the same.

The audio world is full of hairshirt products, like my Lowthers, or the great RS Laboratory tonearm (review next issue), or just about any amp with a 2A3 or 45 or something as an output tube. Those sorts of things. And hey, I'm not knocking them - quite the opposite. But the Alón Lotus Signatures are at the opposite end of the spectrum, and are just as lovable. They're easy. I honestly can't imagine the audio enthusiast OR music lover who wouldn't like them. If you didn't like these, it would be for their looks, or for the fact that they have to be out so far into the room, or something. But as far as their performance is concerned, what's not to like?

My experience is still that there are two camps in audio design: products that sound good and products that make music. This speaker comes closer than anything I've heard to doing both, and doing them well.



*Not that this means anything, but when he brought the Lotus SE Signatures, Carl showed me two impedance curves he plotted on his PC based MLSSA system, and III tell you, there really is a difference between the all-Alnico and midrange-only-Alnico versions. Go figure -ed.