Acarian Alón IV loudspeaker Thomas J. Norton, December 1993
What of the competition for the NHT 3.3? There is no shortage of contenders in the $3000–$4000 price range, and many have passed through Stereophile's listening room. None of the latter can match the NHT 3.3 for clean, extended bass. A pair of Acarian Alón IVs—certainly a member this elite group—was conveniently available. After completing most of my listening to the NHTs, I trotted out the Acarians to do battle. While the IVs can be tri-wired, I settled on bi-wiring, due to the lack of three lengths of identical cable.
I had recently set up the Alóns for my review of the Bryston 7Bs, and had been impressed by their fine performance. What jumped out at me on firing them up again was the striking increase in soundstage size over that produced by the NHTs. I also experienced more vivid senses of depth and soundstage layering on a wide range of recordings. The spacious soundstage of the Acarians was far more evident following long acclimatization to the sound of the NHTs than it had been when I switched to the Acarians after spending time with the WATTs/Puppies.
The NHTs' well-defined but less expansive soundstage is perhaps due to the speaker's large cabinet, which, while narrow at the front for minimum diffraction, is nevertheless a high and deep piece of furniture. Perhaps, however, the Acarians, which also radiate significant energy rearward through the midrange, enhance the sense of spaciousness inherent in the recordings in a way that dipole radiators are often accused of—or credited with. Suffice it to say that the Alóns presented a sense of space—a halo of air, if you will, around the performance—in a way in which the NHTs did not. At the same time, the lateral image focus of the NHTs generally was more precise than that of the Acarians.
The Alóns also had a superbly clean top end. I had first noticed this while switching from the WATTs/Puppies to the Acarians during the Bryston review. I rate the top end of the Acarians as slightly sweeter and smoother than that of the 3.3s, but the differences were not dramatic.
The NHTs came to the fore through the bass range. The Acarians do have a powerful low end, and on the occasional piece of program material—like the drums that open the soundtrack to Jurassic Park (MCA MCAD-10859)—they actually sounded fuller and more powerful than the NHTs. Their bass performance, though a bit full in the midbass, was certainly effective. Over the long haul, however, on a wide range of material, they couldn't match the combination of clarity (including mid- and upper-bass clarity) and low-end reach which distinguishes the NHTs' bass performance.
And in the important midrange, the NHT was decidedly less colored. There was an intermittent, but not particularly subtle, nasality to the Alón's midrange. For me, this was its major flaw. I could not eliminate this coloration with straight-on, toed-in, or intermediate positioning. It clearly seemed to originate from the rear radiation of the Alón's midrange. No such anomaly marred the NHT's midband.—Thomas J. Norton