Acarian Alón Petite loudspeaker & PW-1 woofer system

SLAM! My left foot went numb. My fellow salesman, Danny Shapiro, had lost control of the Thiel CS5 that we'd been walking into place in Demo Room V, and it had come crashing down on my foot with unerring accuracy—all 180 lbs worth. As I stared down in horror, I remembered that we'd left the spikes on. But wait a minute—there was no pool of blood spreading out from under the CS5. How could that be? Convinced that the heavy cabinet was acting as a tourniquet, I levered it off my foot, expecting a grisly sight. I got one: my new Rockport pierced by the carpet-point—right between my big and second toes. And people ask me why I like small loudspeakers.

alonpetite.jpgThere are other reasons. As JA pointed out in his review of the Acoustic Energy AE2 Signature and Platinum Audio Solo (Stereophile, November 1995, Vol.18 No.11, pp.108-117), many rooms just can't support a speaker with abundant LF information. Besides, the li'l guys frequently image like bandits—which some of us just can't resist. There are also cost constraints; not everyone can afford the $10k he-man jobbies. So it's not surprising that there are a lot of small speakers on the market. What does constantly astound me is the incredible variety of designs offered in the realm of the two-way compact monitor. Good cases in point are the two loudspeakers considered here; they illustrate just what a broad diversity is available in design philosophy—and also in performance.

The Petite Alón
Alón by Acarian Systems is certainly no newcomer to the High End: for the last five years they've built an enviable track record, producing one well-regarded full-range design after another. Carl J. Marchisotto, Alón's president, engineer, and speaker designer, has been designing audio gear since 1973, when he marketed a solid-state phono section under the name Allpass. Later, he joined Dahlquist, designing the DQLP-1 electronic crossover (still highly regarded and sought-after on the used market) and improving the DQ-10's basic design. The DQ-20 and DQ-12 also show his influence. He still employs the open-baffle concept on most of the Alón designs; Petite is the sole exception.

The $995/pair Petites, introduced at the 1995 Winter Consumer Electronics Show, immediately attracted the attention of the industry. If you've read about these speakers at all, you know they were "set up" by being placed atop clunky hotel chest-of-drawers, and were powered by a modestly priced integrated amplifier—and everyone still came away raving! They're a small speaker (6?" W by 15" H by 8?" D), vented to the rear, and have two pairs of high-quality five-way binding posts to facilitate bi-wiring. These are wonderful binding posts; although they sport knurled cylindrical barrels, the last ?" is hexagonal, allowing you to tighten the connection with a hex-driver or Postman wrench. The well-made cabinet gives a satisfyingly consistent thunk to the knuckle-rap test. The review pair was veneered with Santos Rosewood, lustrous and rich with a tight grain pattern. Removable grilles are included—and should be removed. All of my auditioning was performed with grilles off.

The Petites were placed relatively near the record shelving that lines the long rear wall of my listening room. I employed David Wilson "voweling" process (see Stereophile, November '95, p.101)—or something resembling it, anyway—to locate the point where the speaker "freed up" from the rear wall's boundary effect. In my room, this was approximately 14" from the shelves. The speakers sounded best with a very slight toe-in; however, this may not be true in situations where the listener sits at a greater distance from the speakers. The Petites also benefit from being tilted back—severely, in my case—in the vertical plane: the front spikes were 2" taller than the rear. Again, listeners must experiment with this type of positioning based on the ratios particular to their own situations—I found the response to be much more coherent when the Alóns were placed in this manner in my room.

These are remarkably refined performers. As I listened to my favorite music—and to a lot of new stuff—I was consistently impressed with how much musical enjoyment I could derive from a pair of "modestly priced" loudspeakers. Of course, they're small and have limited LF—that's what compact monitors are. But given that restriction, I must still marvel at the sense of weight that these li'l guys gave to music that contained deep bass (footnote 1). In this regard they don't rival the Thiel CS7s, or any other true mid-20Hz performer, but they sure didn't sound anemic either. Orchestral works, such as my standby Corigliano Symphony 1, were re-created with great elán, but did inevitably lose some power. But the drive, the sense of doom and foreboding, and the organic sense of pace that distinguish the work survived intact. That's a lot of pluses, and it could be argued that all of those qualities are ultimately more important to an informed appreciation of the Symphony than the mere sensation of wallop. I lean toward that interpretation myself, but I'm enough of an audio-weenie to want it all, even at this price point.

Footnote 1: Alón has recently introduced a novel stereo single-box subwoofer to augment the Petites. Robert J. Reina will be reviewing it in the February 1997 issue.