Acarian Aln Petite loudspeaker & PW-1 woofer system PW-1 woofer system
A good audio reviewer must approach his or her duties without bias. Over my 12 years of reviewing experience, I've prided myself on my ability to review a broad range of gear in a totally unbiased fashion. [Now that's just begging for trouble.—Ed.] I've even been able to keep my own tastes out of the picture: although I love tubes, analog, and expensive, I review solid-state, digital, and affordable.
But with this review of the Alón PW-1 passive stereo woofer system, designed to accompany the Petite satellite system (together they're known as the Alón Trio system), I must confess to two strong personal biases: 1) I hate separate woofers and subwoofers, and 2) I love Alón speakers.
Explain thyself, oh biased one!
My hatred of subwoofers began in the '70s when I was looking to extend the bass response of my Dahlquist DQ-10s. I combed every high-end salon in the New York Metropolitan area looking for alternatives. Every dealer steered me away from Dahlquist's own DQ-1W woofer and toward more expensive, deeper-bass alternatives. Sure enough, the bass response of every woofer I tried was deeper than the DQ-1W's, but each time, the blend between the two designs was awful—in the worst cases, the system setups sounded as if someone was in the room playing bass guitar along with the record. I ended up buying the Dahlquist DQ-1W woofers despite their lack of significant bottom response because they sounded like Dahlquists and blended perfectly with the DQ-10s.
Later, as I got into reviewing, attended Consumer Electronics shows regularly, and was exposed to more gear, I learned to despise the practice of "matching" subwoofers and loudspeakers made by different companies. In fact, the only such subwoofer/speaker combinations that have impressed me are the Entec SW-5/Crosby Quad ESL-63 and the Kinergetics/Martin-Logan CLS setups.
Today, many manufacturers design subwoofers to accompany their own smaller, bass-shy designs. I don't see the point—more and more designers are extending the bottom-end reach of small, inexpensive designs, which obviates the need for subwoofers. For example, many of today's satellite/bookshelf speakers in the $250-$1000/pair range can convincingly reproduce 55Hz. Moreover, designers of floorstanding speakers have made tremendous progress in getting true bottom-octave extension out of smaller designs. I was even a bit shocked to note that my own Alón V Mk.IIs, with one 10" woofer per side, can reproduce a convincing 20Hz with a single 60W hybrid amplifier, something my Infinity RS-1B woofers—even with the help of a 400Wpc solid-state arc welder—could never do.
That hasn't stopped designers from adding subwoofers to their lines. I continue to scratch my head when I see talented designers like David Wilson and Carl Marchisotto design the Wilson XS and Alón Poseidon subwoofers, respectively, to complement the Wilson Grand SLAMM and Alón Phalanx—two loudspeakers that, on their own, produce some of the most deep and natural bass I've heard.
And don't even get me started on the Home Theater movement, which, though I support it, seems to give some subwoofer designers license to turn the home listening environment into an amusement-park ride.
My Alón biases are limited to three models: the Petite, the II, and the V Mk.II. I never much cared for the original, most publicized Alón IV. Though it was a very innovative and cost-effective design, I thought the IV's 12" woofer gave the speaker bass extension that tended to overpower the rest of the spectrum in smallish rooms (the only sort of room there is here in the New York City area). I therefore fell in love with the II, a smaller, better-balanced floorstander with less bass output and extension than the IV, but that otherwise sounded damn close at half the price.
At half the price again, the Petite satellite is another winner, and my affordable reference. This little darling is limited in bass and dynamic range, but boasts the same tweeter and soundstaging capabilities as the II and IV. (It was reviewed for Stereophile by Wes Phillips in January '96, Vol.19 No.1, and the Fall 1996 issue of Stereophile Guide to Home Theater, Vol.2 No.3.)