Featured Pick:

Alon Exotica

      This speaker has superbly revealing transparency, and tactile, believable coherence. The key is Alon's use of drivers which are more pistonically accurate over more of the musical spectrum, than just about any other system using dynamic cone drivers. This pistonic accuracy reveals more of music's subtle inner details, and brings all portions of each musical transient into correct alignment. In contrast, most other speaker systems use cone drivers that operate in non-pistonic breakup mode over much of the musical spectrum. This smears music temporally, makes it harmonically incoherent, obscures inner detail, and adds artificial foreign colorations engendered by and characteristic of the cone materials that are non-pistonically breaking up (we've been working on a background analysis article explaining why this is so).
      The metal cone drivers in this system are expensive Seas Excel magnesium units. As they are implemented in the Exotica system, with its crossover design, these metal cone drivers evince almost no metallic coloration, which has been the bane of most other speaker systems using metal cone drivers. This low coloration achievement is realizable in the Exotica because there is extraordinary spectral overlap potential among drivers, so the woofer and midrange metal cone drivers can be cut off by the crossover well within their accurate pistonic range and long before they reach their metal cone resonance. Thus, this deliberately engineered spectral overlap actually provides two important sonic benefits. It provides low coloration, by allowing the crossover to cut off each metal driver long before it reaches its non-pistonic breakup spectral region that would introduce metallic colorations. And it also ensures that all of the music spectrum is reproduced more accurately, by drivers acting only within their accurate pistonic region.
      By reproducing music pistonically, the Exotica tracks each nuance of the music signal much more accurately. This is why the Exotica reveals much so much more of music's natural subtle inner details. It tracks these details better than conventional cones in non-pistonic breakup mode can, and it also does not obscure these details with obscuring smearing of energy over time, as conventional cones in breakup mode do.
      Music sounds much more realistic and believable when its subtle natural details are more transparently revealed, as they are by the Exotica. You can easily hear the sonic benefits, even on a solo recital with a single instrument. For example, on a simple guitar pluck, the Exotica can reveal details that other cone speakers miss, details that dramatically put the performer right in front of you and make the experience sound real instead of like a mere canned recording. Immediately after the first strong sharp tick transient, of a guitar pluck by a pick, there's often a second tick, as the string snaps back and hits the backside of the pick before the guitarist has moved it out of the way. And then just after that, the strings buzz a bit, before they settle into their prolonged oscillation that produces the pitched musical note. Subtleties like this second tick and this buzz are revealed by the Exotica, but obscured by other cone speakers (since their cone breakup is continuing to resonate on its own after the first part of the string pluck transient, thereby generating a spurious smearing energy tail that obscures all those subtle details that follow the first strong transient). Likewise, when complex music is playing, such as piece for large orchestra, the Exotica lets you hear into the details of the composer's orchestration much more clearly, because the pistonic cones accurately track the very complex signal with all its nuances, and also because strong musical orchestral energy at one moment does not generate a smearing energy tail that obscures the more subtle orchestral sounds that immediately follow (as happens with conventional cones in breakup mode).
      The Exotica's accurate tracking of each transient also makes music more believable because it is more coherent, more tactile -- and also more dynamic. That's because all parts of each musical transient occur together and simultaneously, instead of being smeared over time as they are by cones operating in breakup mode. Each musical transient and each note sounds more real, because you can hear it as a single coherent entity, with all its harmonic parts and all its temporal parts in correct alignment. In contrast, cones in breakup mode smear the energy of musical transients and notes over time, so they sound fractured and splattered, both harmonically and temporally. For example, the treble portion of a transient might sound as if it occurs after the midrange part, and the first attack strike might sound as though it occurs after the main pitched resonance of the note begins, rather than at the beginning (which is of course when it actually physically took place on the live instrument).
      The Exotica also sounds more dynamic, and reproduces music's dynamics more accurately, because all parts of the musical transient stack up vertically (coherently and correctly) at the same instant of attack, thus giving you the full vertical amplitude impact of that transient attack. In contrast, because cones in breakup mode smear the energy of each transient over time, this energy is dissipated over time, so this energy cannot stack up vertically all at the same time to have the full amplitude be delivered simultaneously to you, and thus these other cones sound less dynamic and are in fact less accurately dynamic.
      In short, the Alon Exotica gives you more music, more believable music, and less foreign coloration, than just about any other dynamic cone speaker system.
      The Exotica is a 3 way midi tower system, with a narrow frontal profile, which helps it to achieve excellent stereo imaging. Its superbly transparent revelation of subtle details also reveals the subtle imaging and hall ambience cues that are needed to make imaging truly believable. The ribbon tweeter, extending response way out to a reported 45 kHz, sounds beautifully fast and airy, and complements well the transparency achieved by the metal cone woofer and midrange.
      The sealed bass enclosure gives excellent quality bass down to a rated 35 Hz, and we found its bass quantity to be satisfying for music listening. However, the use of a woofer with merely an 8 inch diameter and the sealed (as opposed to vented) enclosure, both of which are intentional design choices to obtain the best quality bass (and less colored midrange, since a smaller woofer can remain pistonic out to a higher frequency) does impose limitations in bass quantity if your intended use is home theater (Alon makes another alternative model, the Lotus Elite, which is more suited for home theater use).
      Being a dynamic cone system for most of its range (above 3500 Hz a true ribbon tweeter takes over), the Exotica can play reasonably loud, certainly louder than mini speakers and planar speakers. It is moderately efficient, and is a pretty easy load for any amp to drive (its impedance above 100 Hz does not go below 7 ohms nor above 12 ohms).
      The Exotica is a huge leap forward for Alon, whose earlier systems of past years often had noticeable cone breakup symptoms, and indeed is a big step forward for cone driver speaker system technology in general. At $9500 per pair, it is a speaker that every serious audiophile and music lover should experience for himself, and then either buy or at least hold in his memory as a yardstick of what is possible in music reproduction today.

Featured Pick:

Alon Thunderbolt Subwoofer

      This is one of the very best subwoofers, and also one of the best bargains in subwoofers. Its bass is deep and powerful enough to be used impressively in a home theater application (e.g. with Alon's own Lotus Elite), and its bass is also accurate enough to be used seamlessly in a critical music listening environment (e.g. to supplement the Exotica's bass).
      Selling at just $1695 (per channel, including dedicated amp), the Thunderbolt has the moxie to shake your house better than most other subwoofers, and as well as powerful subwoofers selling for several times its price. That already makes the Thunderbolt a bargain. But where the Thunderbolt really outshines other subwoofers is in the high quality of its bass. Most other subwoofers, even some expensive ones, are one note boomers, with poor musical definition, and also excessive temporal overhang that actually obscures the rest of your music that follows in the shadow of each bass transient. In contrast, the Thunderbolt has excellent definition. As it accurately tracks each musical bass transient, it follows the breathing of that bass note, without imposing lingering colorations or obscuring boominess of its own. It is a revelation to hear music's bass energy revealed with such full power, yet with such intimately revealing finesse.
      For example, when you hear a live large orchestral bass drum hit, you first feel the dramatic kick in your stomach, and then you can hear the drumhead breathe as it vibrates in and out after the initial hit. The Alon Thunderbolt lets you hear and track each pulse of this live drumhead breathing, and thus makes the drum bass much more realistic than other subwoofers that obscure this natural live breathing with their own lingering one note boom. We're reminded of the sound of the Citation 16 power amp, which had a unique bass quality that no other amp has ever quite replicated. True, live musical bass transients are at once full yet also dry and tight, at once powerfully impactive yet also delicately defined. The Citation 16 captured this elusive combination of live bass properties just right, and so now does the Thunderbolt.
      The Thunderbolt employs a 12 inch driver, with very heavy duty construction but with a very light cone. This combination allows the power amp to control the driver more precisely, to achieve the high definition bass (and it also increases driver efficiency, thus giving the power amp more dynamic headroom for powerful bass). The bass response is rated as extending down to 24 Hz, as abetted by a vented enclosure. Most other vented enclosures degrade bass quality, since their steeper cutoff slopes in the frequency domain imply worse ringing overhang (hence poorer definition) in the time domain. After hearing such high quality bass definition from the Thunderbolt's vented enclosure, we would venture a guess that the port tuning is deliberately broadband, which technically is a mistuning according to the Thiele-Small textbook, but which actually in practice yields better quality bass and also more impactively impressive bass, because the port response has much less of a peaked, steep sloped character than the official Thiele-Small port tunings do (we discussed this topic and showed corroborating measurements in IAR issue 35).
      To get high power, deep bass and also high quality bass usually requires a very large bass enclosure, but, as subwoofers go, the Thunderbolt is quite modest in size (16 x 16 x 20). That makes this subwoofer product a quadruple winner. Convenient size, bargain price, powerful deep bass, and outstanding musical bass quality. Whatever the brand of your main speakers, the Alon Thunderbolt is a subwoofer you need to try with them.

Alon Lotus Elite Signature

      Alon's Exotica succeeds brilliantly in its uncompromising pursuit of transparency, accuracy, and purity. And it can play reasonably loud, certainly loud enough for music systems. But for home theater enthusiasts, the Exotica does have some loudness limitations, for example due to the small size of its woofer that is required to obtain such a pure midrange. So, if you want your home theater very loud, where do you turn? To Alon's Lotus Elite, which now includes design concepts borrowed from Alon's huge Exotica Grand Reference system.
      The Lotus Elite employs more conventional cone drivers for woofer and midrange, and a metal dome tweeter (instead of a ribbon tweeter as in the Exotica). It also uses two 8 inch woofers instead of one as in the Exotica. These drivers give the Lotus Elite more loudness capability, especially at the bass and treble spectral extremes. Although these drivers are not as pistonically accurate as the ones in the Exotica, and therefore do not sound as transparently revealing and coherent, they still allow the Lotus Elite to do very well in comparison to other speaker systems that also use conventional cone drivers, and they sound cleaner and purer than drivers used in earlier Alon systems of past years.
      The $7999/pr Signature version of the Lotus Elite employs more expensive Alnico magnets for its two woofers and its metal dome tweeter, and also uses an external passive crossover with premium parts. The standard version of Lotus Elite costs half as much (just $3999), and uses an internal crossover. The Signature version (which is the one we evaluated) is said to be more transparent and dynamic than the standard version, and also is quoted as having more extended bass response, to 28 Hz vs. 35 Hz for the standard version, thanks to the better woofer magnets.
      Each of the two woofers is in its own sealed enclosure, and the two bass enclosures within each midi-tower are of different volume, which staggers and smoothes out the bass resonances and rolloffs, thereby yielding better quality bass. The midrange and tweeter drivers are mounted on open baffles (like many earlier Alon speaker systems), so they radiate backward as well as forward. This provides a big, spacious sound from the rear reflections - and that in turn enhances your perception of system loudness, as well as broadening the stereo image to larger, more impressive size.
      There are many high quality midi tower speaker systems you can choose from, that give you lots of loudness capability for home theater. The Lotus Elite Signature is among the best of them. And, although we haven't yet heard it, we would venture that the standard Lotus Elite would, at half the price, also be an excellent competitor against other similarly priced speakers for home theater.

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