Acarian Systems Alón Circe loudspeaker Page 3

Is this a characteristic of the Circe, or the difference between a well-designed ported enclosure and a sealed-box design? I can't say for sure, but the Circe's bass signature reminded me of the AR-3 and the larger Advent loudspeakers—classic designs from my youth. Not bad company to keep, but representative of a sound that won't appeal to everyone. I have to admit I find it quite attractive, but I'm not sure I'd want to experience it every day.

The midrange and top end certainly do not partake of any classic coloration, however. Time after time, I was drawn into the music through the exceptional purity of the Circe's mids and highs. Voices and winds sounded remarkably present. Having played (badly) in my day a fair amount of recorder and end-blown flute, I'm intimately familiar with the sounds of these instruments, and most recordings (and hi-fis) tend to blunt the sharp harmonics they produce. In a recorder ensemble, no matter how mellow the primary tones, the overtone structures are filled with clangor, a property the Alóns reproduced with astonishing verisimilitude on the Flanders Recorder Quartet's Armonia di Flauti (CD, Opus 111 OPS 30-201). The speakers reproduced not just the sound of four recorders, but also that of the space in which they were being played, with an immediacy that bordered on the frightening.

Here's a funny thing: My old Verve and Milestone LPs sounded fantastic on these speakers. Of course, many of them are just great-sounding records, but there seemed to be an affinity between the Alóns and my vintage jazz discs that just worked magic. Some of this might be attributed to that hint of bass warmth—which certainly did suit the bass lines of Leroy Vinnegar, Ron Carter, Reggie Workman, et al—but that wasn't all of it. There was a rightness and balance to these '60s-era discs that was impossible to deny. I can't explain it, but I certainly did dig it.

One other minor quibble: The Circe seems voiced for seated listening—stand up and there's a shift in perspective that, while relatively minor, I found slightly disconcerting. This isn't the huge tonal change you get with some loudspeakers, but rather a shift in the soundstage. Seated, I was surrounded by the stage, looking into it in front of me. When I stood, the soundstage shrank. It seemed as if I was looking down into it from a balcony. This may not bother everyone as much as it did me, but some performances draw me to my feet—and such a change in perspective takes me out of the music for an instant. Bummer.

It would be tempting to blame this on the top-plate, which is only 4.5" above the tweeter and just has to affect its dispersion. But it could be a crossover artifact instead.

The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.
I recently reviewed the B&W Nautilus 801, whose $11,000/pair price is quite close to the Circe's $12,000/pair. Both speakers are quite sensitive to the ancillary components that must be used with them. But the two speakers sound quite different from one another, and I don't imagine they'll appeal to the same listeners. The B&W is dynamic as all get out, and can play loud enough to cause structural damage. The Alón did a superb job of presenting dynamic contrasts and shadings, and played plenty loud enough for me—even in head-banging moods—but didn't convey the same sense of unlimited dynamic potential as the N801. This is an area where different people will react according to their nature. Not everyone needs to peel the paint off their walls with sheer loudness.

Allied with this sense of greater loudness potential, the B&Ws also seemed to possess greater volume in terms of soundstage size. The N-801s just projected more sonic real estate. The Circes' soundstage was detailed and densely packed with information, but felt more constrained.

The B&W, to my ears, has a tauter, leaner, more muscular bottom end. The Circe's generous bass is extremely supple and tuneful, but it warm and, perhaps, a shade less well defined. Again, a matter of taste.

To use a visual analogy, the differences between the two speakers struck me as similar to the difference between videotape and film. Videotape has a "realness" that is not to everyone's liking. Edges are sharply defined, and colors don't have the rich saturation they have in film, while light has a starkness that seems harsh in comparison to film. The B&W seems to me similar to videotape—no one can deny that it depicts reality, but some folks might wish the edges weren't quite so ungiving. The Alón also reflected reality, but colors were subtler—richer, some would say—and the illumination was often softer.

I wish I could pick and choose qualities from the two, but that would create a third speaker, one not under review here. Ultimately, I'd go with the Nautilus, but I truly do comprehend the Circe's transformative magic.

How strange the change from major to minor every time we say good-bye.
Some experts take great glee in pointing out that a loudspeaker is the least perfect component in the audio chain, but lately I've come to the conclusion that what they really mean is that the speaker is the most personal link in that chain. Speakers are what we listen to when we listen to a hi-fi; they are the component in which design perhaps comes closest to being an art, not simply mere science.

The choices that went into designing the Alón Circe have produced a speaker that I respect rather than love, but I can see where that could go the other way for another listener. It has a midrange and high-frequency purity that is nothing short of magical, mated to deep, well-tuned bass that I found a trifle warm, but that another listener might well find enchanting. At this level, speaker choice is truly a matter of personal taste.

But if you're a tube-using music lover with a yen for '60s jazz, the Alón Circe just might be the closest thing to a time machine you'll ever hear. With the right system and the right music, you can easily ask yourself, "How could it get any better than this?"

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