Review By Karl Lozier
"By the way, what electronics will you be using with them" Carl Marchisotto asked? Mainly Herron's tubed pre-amplifier and a pair of his solid-state power amplifiers was my answer. " That's fine, we know how well his equipment works with our speakers. Did you know that Keith uses our larger Circe model in his so-called portable system that he takes for demonstrating his electronics and that some reviewers are using our speakers plus his equipment in their reference systems?" "Yes, I realize all that and it's a large part of my interest in reviewing your new Capri model loudspeakers", I replied. It seemed to be a fine introduction as far as I was concerned. He emphasized that the speakers were specifically designed to be used with bi-wiring. Bi-wiring is basically two wires hooked up to each of the terminals on the amplifiers and then at the speakers' two pairs of terminals one of a pairs' wires goes to the proper woofer's terminal (+) and the other wire goes to the "same" terminal (+) for the tweeter's hookup. Then repeat for the other three pairs (for a stereo pair setup). The very different setup of "bi-amplifying" adds another amplifier to each channel but not any more wiring than used for bi-wiring. I've asked Carl to briefly and simply explain why bi-wiring can, under certain conditions at least, improve the sound of a loudspeaker system designed for it. He sent the needed pairs of loudspeaker cables for bi-wiring. Acarian offers their "Black Orpheus" biwire cables to specifically complement their speakers and for a price competitive with many well regarded name-brand single cables. Until near the end of the listening sessions, I only used their cables. They are much thinner than most well known cables, particularly the pair for the tweeter connections. He also sent their jumper connectors so I could use the speakers with my usual single speaker cables.
Physically the speakers present a reasonably attractive appearance, typical of many others of similar size at 38 inches high and about 8 inches wide. A very snug fitting black removable grille cloth covers the entire upper two thirds of the front mounting panel and effectively hides all the drivers. As my usual I left the grilles on most of the time. Removal enables the expected touch of added treble sparkle to be heard. The port is 3 inches in diameter and is located on the finished rear panel. Under the port are the two pairs of posts for connecting the true bi-wiring cables or jumpers for single wire use. Given the obvious care and detail of the Alón products, I was surprised to find that the posts' diameters were too large for proper fit of their supplied cables. The company is well aware of the situation, which affects only the Capri model. It is easy to get around the situation though, by simply pushing part of the connector through the post's hole and then thoroughly tightening the nut. The veneer on my review pair is called Light Cherry, though not matching any wood finishes in my home, it is a pleasing relatively neutral color with just a touch of reddish (cherry) glow to it. Dark Cherry, Natural Maple and Black Ash are the other three wood finish choices. Some extra time and expense went into the esthetics here; there's no unfinished slabs covered by a black stocking.
The knuckle test, rapping on the cabinet sides did not result in the audiophiles beloved solid/dead sound. Have little fear; over the years manufacturers routinely have told me that's not important with vented, ported or transmission-line systems. The rationale being that's only critical with sealed enclosures where the woofer's back waves can create significant pressure resulting in resonances and vibration in the cabinet sides. Eliminating cabinet vibrations is not as easy as we would assume and in the real world would probably add significantly to manufacturing costs as well as how the speakers could be shipped and the added costs for that.
Pay attention to the company's break-in time recommendations. You may hear at least a couple of distinct performance plateaus before they reach their peak performance. My guess had been for a shorter break-in time based on my thinking that with relatively small drivers, they would be working harder and therefore might loosen-up/break-in more quickly. Bass response and quality was the main beneficiary from extended break-in time beyond about twenty-five hours at rather loud listening levels.
Positioning of the Capris was not at all critical; that's good news for many having concerns in that regard. In my fairly unique situation, I wound up with them very close to my typically "best spots" and usually had them aiming straight ahead with no toe-in. With most loudspeakers I usually feel the need for some toe-in; with the Capris it was unnecessary. Best placement for the rear of the cabinet was between 30 to 36 inches from the wall behind them in my room; your room may not react the same. Moving these Alóns closer to the wall behind them than 30 inches resulted in a rapidly diminishing soundscape sensation of depth! It went from very good to "where is it". I had them spaced about six and a half feet apart measured from the inner side of each to the other. As usual, my listening position was a bit further away than it ideally should be, but it is consistent.
My initial impression never changed; these are very musical and natural sounding speakers, period. Continued listening sessions always reinforced my initial thoughts. A particularly nice accompaniment to those thoughts was the very definite impression that the Alón Capris were never adding little nasties such as grit, edginess or harshness. That quality is particularly nice as many CDs do have that tendency. As a result, albums as diverse as Sinatra's The Very Good Years [Reprise 26501-2], Vaughan's Send In The Clowns [VICJ-60246], and Krall's Love Scenes [Impulse IMP-233] shared very smooth, sweet and relaxed sound with no hint of added harshness in the top or boom in the bottom end. It is possible to just sit back and enjoy the fine vocalists and that's what it is all about for music lovers. As I write this, I have been listening to various CDs and right now, a particularly fine one, Ballet for Band, Mercury Living Presence #434-322-2 featuring Frederick Fennell with the justly famous Eastman Wind Ensemble.
The speakers are "seeing" or working into a space of at least six hundred square feet. I'm seated about thirty feet away and just around a corner of a twelve-foot wide archway so I cannot quite see the speakers. I hope I've got the setting in your mind's eye while I gaze across a small lake surrounded with palm trees. This admittedly less than ideal positioning is comparable to being "just around the corner" from entering a small concert hall's seating area with wide doors opened wide. In this situation at home, while writing, I've heard a great deal of music and not at low background listening levels. By now you're wondering what I'm leading up to. Here it is; in this relatively relaxed setting the sound is almost as good as I've remembered hearing, with one notable exception. That exception is simply that I'm not feeling the deep or low bass notes and nothing around me or near the speakers is vibrating. With my usual reference Genesis speakers (with eight built-in subwoofers and 1,000 watts of dedicated amplification) some rather solid items do get set into vibration on those few superb recordings. With really deep and fully solid response well below 50 Hertz such as Reference Recordings' demonstration quality Copland disc [RR 93-CD], even at that listening distance, I am very familiar with feeling those bass drum whacks. The reference speakers cost many times as much as the Capris; you just can not have everything for a relatively low bargain price.
In that bottom octave (25Hz to 50Hz) it is too much to expect reasonably efficient pairs of 6.5" drivers to pump out feelable levels of bass response. The radiating surface area of a pair of 6.5" drivers is about halfway between a single 8" and a 10" driver. Above the bass range, only one of them continues up into the mid-range. Because of the extended bass response of the Capris, audible and measurable in my room to a tad below 35Hz, at very reduced listening levels, the result seems to nearly always be that the deep bass notes, drum whacks and all, sound just about the way they should! They're simply not feelable. In specific serious listening sessions, seated where I should be, at times it is apparent that well recorded brass instruments are a bit softened/rounded at the leading edge of transients, not quite as noticeable with the first violins' section for some reason. This is at least partly due to the sensation that the Capri's tweeters seem to be set about one to one and a half db lower output than my usual references and are not adjustable (a continuing pet peeve of mine), but very pleasing and musically satisfying.
Probably directly tied in with that is the general feeling that not every little shimmer or glitter on percussion such as cymbals, triangle or bells seems to come through completely. Though I expected to hear a significant loss of detail as a consequence, that just did not seem to happen; any loss was very subtle. No notes were lost, but once in awhile, a few might not be as clearly outlined as would be presented with some ribbon or electrostatic tweeters. I was not able to regularly and reliably discern the crossover area. That adds to my feeling that the "system speaks with one voice" a personal favorite accolade that I wish I could use more often than I do. I believe that it ties in with a popular phrase used by others that "it gets the timing right" and to do that requires a really good crossover or an outstandingly good single driver covering almost the entire range.
With the Capri's we wind up with a loudspeaker system that adds nothing audibly; except for the bottom octave it subtracts or subdues very little, lets call it a musically pleasing subtle degree of subtraction. It's all in the favor of music lovers; a few audiophiles might complain but remember that a few audiophiles are always complaining and searching. The lack of feelable deep bass response will bother some listeners. The extended, even though at a low level, response could possibly make the addition of a subwoofer or two, more problematic than adding to a system that simply dies below 50Hz or so. Contact Carl Marchisotto for guidelines; Alón has some available subwoofers and a valid generality is that a company makes serious efforts for their subwoofers to mate well with their other models that need them. If either Capri is relatively near a corner, first try to place the subwoofer in that corner. Most often a corner is excellent for subwoofers, but not for full range systems. If the subwoofer changes the tonal character of a male singer, the level of the sub is set too high or its roll off frequency is, or both.
Sundry notes and details follow: In any reasonable placement the Alón Capris are surprisingly large sounding without the sound being overblown or boomy. Smooth, natural and sweet were words that often popped up in my listening notes. The "super recordings" are not needed for plain ol' good musical enjoyment. The accompanying spikes are a must for fullest enjoyment of these fine-performing speakers. For use on flooring other than carpeting, I suggest trying Soundcare Superspikes as recently reviewed and findable in our equipment archive section of Enjoy the Music.com™. At any reasonably sane level, the Capris never sounded strained. For classical music lovers I'd say the sound will remind you of midhall but the perspective and detail seem to be a few rows closer to the stage. The speakers were able to clearly reveal differences between pairs of other items I had on hand for review evaluations, but never seemed to exaggerate the differences.
The following is a direct quote from Carl Marchisotto, but for brevity I left out a few sentences that do not significantly affect his message:
Alón Bi-Wire - In an Alón bi-wire loudspeaker, two completely separate crossover boards are employed. This is a key difference with Alón loudspeakers in order to take maximum advantage of the improvement in performance provided by bi-wiring. Since we are trying to keep the high frequency and low frequency signals separate, it makes no sense to use a single crossover board, where the signals will inter-react and compromise the advantage of bi-wiring.
Why Keep Low and High Frequencies Separate? - In a perfect world, speaker cables would have zero impedance at any frequency and for any length. In the real world, this is not true. If the speaker cable impedance is low but not zero, then not all the current is returned to the amplifier. A small amount of current then will circulate within the loudspeaker. The current takes the path of least resistance so maybe 99% returns to the amplifier and 1%, for example, circulates within the speaker. This means that 1% of the woofer return current is now modulating the tweeter circuit. This affect causes a modulation distortion phenomenon, which in a high quality system can clearly be heard. Bi-wiring, because the signals are kept separate, eliminates this distortion.
Again in a perfect world, the zero impedance cables would also have zero distortion. In the real world there is some distortion due to the large low frequency currents modulating the relatively weak high frequency currents, when they occur in the same wire. By running the large low frequency currents in one wire and the weak high frequency currents in another other wire, this source of distortion is eliminated.
Alón Black Orpheus Bi-Wire - Alón offers, as a service to its customers, its own speaker cable, called Black Orpheus at $240 for a six-foot pair. (Karl sez that appears to be a fair price.) To take the bi-wire performance improvement further, this cable provides a different optimized conductor configuration for the bass cable compared with the high frequency cable. It was found that a single type of construction was not optimum over the full frequency range. Because Black Orpheus is a discrete cable, (Karl sez, I would call it/them discrete pairs of cables) it avoids the crosstalk inherent in single jacket bi-wire cables.
Based on my relatively short time experimenting with cables for the Alón Capris I suggest the following. Remember that it takes time for loudspeaker cables to break-in and sound their best. A very understanding dealer can be of immense help. If you have a pair of excellent cables, start off with the Alon's Black Orpheus Bi-Wire and let them break-in along with the Capris ( with return permission from your dealer). Then put on the jumpers and your regular pair of excellent cables and put them to the test. When I tried that, my single pair of Kimber Select loudspeaker cables seemed to be noticeably superior to Alón's Bi-wire pairs. Perhaps I should mention that the single pair of Kimber Select penultimate cables sells for approximately the price of the pair of Alón Capri loudspeakers! I'll end with my previous admonition; you just can't have everything for a relatively low bargain price (be thankful that companies such as Alón make efforts toward that goal).
I definitely recommend the Alón Capri loudspeakers, particularly to music lovers more so than so-called audiophiles. When I am not in my evaluation/reviewing mode and simply enjoying music, I could live happily with a pair of the Capri's by simply adding an excellent subwoofer that has clean, clear and tight bass down to at least 30Hz. Take the rating numbers with at least a grain of salt. I could have fudged them one or two points differently depending on the mood I was in. Read the article for details and try not to just decipher or compare the numbers.
Type: Rear Vented Tower
Bass/Midrange: Two 6.5" shielded tri-laminate drivers working in tandem in the low frequency range. Upper driver provides midrange.
High Frequency: One 1" shielded silk soft dome tweeter
Response: 35Hz to 20kHz
Impedance: 8 ohm nominal (5 ohm minimum)
Connection: Bi-wired with four 5-way posts/jumpers for a single wire
Dimensions: 38.5" x 8.5" x 13" (HxWxD)
Weight: 80 lbs.
Acarian Systems Limited
Voice: (631) 265-9577