Sonics by Joachim Gerhard Allegra loudspeaker
Joachim Gerhard is one of those true believers. His speaker designsfirst for AudioPhysic and, more recently, for his new company, Sonics by Joachim Gerhardhave all been excellent and, in my experience, distinguished by three things. First is their spatial presentation: a huge, open soundstage populated by sharp, tightly focused images. Second is their exceptionally good value. Gerhard's speakers aren't inexpensive, but they often invite comparison to speakers costing two or three times as much. Wes Phillips accepted that invitation in his review, in the July 2007 Stereophile, of the Sonics Anima ($2600/pair), comparing it to the Dynaudio Special Twenty-Five ($5200/pair).
The third characteristic has been a bit problematic for Gerhard and his customers: his designs perform best when placed far apart, listened to in the nearfield, and toed-in so that the listener's ears are nearly on axis. As Allen Perkins of Immedia, Gerhard's longtime US importer, is quick to point out, it's not that Sonics speakers don't sound fine in more conventional layouts, but that they perform better when set up as directed. One can easily imagine the conundrum for a brilliant engineer who passionately believes that his is simply the way to build the best possible speakers and the best way to set them up, and that to do otherwise is to compromise and shortchange both his vision and the customer. Too often, however, "set up this way for optimal performance" is heard as "set up this way for acceptable performance," and the perceived inflexibility makes for a tough sellregardless of the speakers' actual performance in less-than-optimal setups. Which audiophiles can live with themselves if they know, going in, that they won't be getting a product's very best performance?
As much as I've admired Gerhard's designs over the years, I hesitated when John Atkinson first suggested I review the Sonics by Joachim Gerhard Allegra. My listening room is the shape of a shoeboxa smallish, narrow one. Allen Perkins, who has visited several times, acknowledged my concern but didn't feel it would be a problem. "They'll work fine," he assured me. "Joachim has actually changed the design a bit to work better in more typical setups. The perception that they needed to be widely spaced was creating an issue with customers." We agreed to go forward with the review, but to reevaluate the situation later to ensure that the Allegras could be fairly evaluated in my room.
The Allegra is a three-way, floorstanding speaker comprising two separate enclosures; the woofer cabinet has a rear-firing port. The Sonics literature points out that the cabinets are made of "13-layer plywood costing five times more than MDF, because it is very light, stiff and well damped," and that "constrained layer damping further reduces internal sound from exiting the cabinet walls." The drivers, built to Gerhard's specifications by SEAS, consist of a 0.75" aluminum-magnesium tweeter, a 6" coated-paper midrange cone, and two 7" aluminum-cone woofers. The Allegra costs $7800/pair.
The Allegra's crossovers are set to 280Hz and 2.7kHz, but seem to adhere to no particular design ethos. Instead, they're designed in a processfirst computational, then physicalthat begins with an effectively unlimited number of possibilities. At the outset, prototype drivers' electrical and physical behaviors are characterized with respect to several parameters. This is an iterative process that also includes the development of the drivers to be used. These data are then used by an in-house simulation program to design a range of virtual crossovers, with numerical representations of their performance. The 10 to 12 most promising crossover and driver candidates are then evaluated in more detailstill in the virtual domainand eventually, the best three or four of these are selected to be built as physical prototypes. The final design is selected after multiple rounds of measurements and listening tests. In nearly all cases, notes Perkins, designs emerge during this stage that measure nearly identically but sound very different. The final step is to build two pre-production pairs of prototypes of the final design for Gerhard and Perkins to independently validate and fine-tune.
Sonics by Joachim Gerhard speakers are still being made in Germany as I write these words, but by the time you read them, production should have been moved to a new facility in Berkeley, California, where Immedia is based. Both Gerhard and Perkins are confident that the speakers' high quality will be maintained, though I plan to do a Follow-Up once US-made samples are available.
Use and Listening: Round One
I was given the choice of finishes and opted for the bird's-eye maplewhich was gorgeous. The construction quality and finish were excellent, as I've come to expect from Gerhard's products. The Allegras are supplied with attractive, snap-on grilles, but other than a brief initial session, I did all of my listening with the grilles removed.
I positioned the Allegras in essentially the same places my Wilson Audio Specialties Sophia IIs occupy: about 9' from the front wall, about 2' from the sidewalls, 7' apart, and slightly toed-in. My listening chair is 4' from the rear wall and puts my ears about 3' above the floor. This setup has worked pretty well for most speakers (including the Sonics Animas reviewed by WP). After burning in the Allegras for a while using the supplied Burn-in CD, I sat down and got started.