Acarian Aln Petite loudspeaker & PW-1 woofer system Page 2

The Corigliano also pointed toward another—extremely minor, I think—shortcoming of the Petite: If pushed really hard—like, say, in the range of 100dB—they lose coherence. Sure, orchestras, big bands, and rock groups do regularly reach sound-pressure levels (spls) in that area, but remember, we're talking about speakers that are designed for smaller spaces that might not accommodate deep bass. All spaces can acoustically overload, even Carnegie Hall (I've heard both the VPO and the CSO manage that trick).

When really stressed, the Petite gets a tad blurry through a broad midrange band, as though the drivers were no longer in perfect sync. In fact, the brightness region seems to be projecting forward of the rest of the soundstage. Cymbals and string overtones sound spitchy, and the midbass, normally so expressive, turns opaque. There's a simple solution for this: turn the music down! Or, perhaps, add the subwoofer that Alón has just introduced.

I wanted to get those extremely minor cavils out of the way so that I could concentrate on describing these compact speakers' many admirable traits. They're extraordinarily expressive. Not just articulate and precise—which they are, in spades—but sublimely capable of communicating. This is a rare feature; many megabuck no-holds-barred components don't possess it, so I'm particularly gratified to find it in affordable ones.

I'm an old softie at heart; I seem to listen to a lot of music about loss and longing. Listening through the Petites, I found myself surreptitiously wiping away tears while writing my listening notes. "Goodbye," from Steve Earle's Train a Comin' (Winter Harvest 3302-2), is a good case in point. Earle's voice was never a supple instrument to begin with, and with the life he's led, he can't exactly be accused of having pampered it; still, he gets the job done. The song is searingly honest; the singer is looking back on a lost opportunity and accepting responsibility for it. "Was I off somewhere just too high / But I can't remember if we said goodbye," Earle sings—heck, almost croaks—but the simple words are imbued with missed chances, rueful responsibility, and deep, deep regret. An old friend claims that high art is made out of the meanest materials; this song proves her point—and the Petites get all so right.

And image? That's a lot of the appeal in minimonitors in the first place, and the Petites are champs in that regard. Train a Comin' really sounds like a coupla guys sittin' around your living room playing and singing together. When Norman Blake plays his solo piece, "Northern Winds," he's as solid and present as a guest in the room—and there's no doubt that he's playing his 1934 D-18. Each of the four musicians is concretely placed in space, surrounded by air, and full of life and verve. Watch out! Peter Rowan just bounced a pick off his F-5—it could've hit you.

Palestrina's Missa Viri Galilaei, as performed by La Chapelle Royale and Ensemble Organum (HMC 901388), seems to always find its way to my CD player when I'm evaluating a system's ability to soundstage. It's a truly nasty test, featuring a vast acoustic and combinations of singers that range from solo to duet to quartet, quintet, and full chorus—with dialogs between the solo (and small-group voicings) and the chorus. Colorations are revealed mercilessly, as is any loss of ambient information. The Petites did a fantastic job of portraying the vocal combinations in the reverberant acoustic, doubly impressive when you consider how much ambient information is contained in the lowest octaves. The soloists and choirs had great physical presence, and the passion with which they sang was rendered with exceptional force. Yet the specific nature of the huge space in which they sang lost the slightest bit of precision—although the voices were clearly in a large space, that space lacked the identity that it achieves through the finest speakers I've recently auditioned: the WATT/Puppy 5s and the Thiel CS7s.

But who am I kidding? You could buy fifteen pairs of Petites for the price of the Wilsons, nine of the Thiels. The Petites perform way out of their price class, and if I can point to one state-of-the-art design or another and find the Alóns lacking in comparison, there's no shame in that.

Summin up
Compared to other thousand-dollar loudspeakers, the Petites are winners. There are a lot of considerations in choosing a speaker in their very competitive price-class. The Ruark Templar I reviewed in December, the Thiel CS.5 LB reviewed in October '95, and the Monitor Audio Studio 2 I reviewed back in February are all worthy contenders. But I'd have to say that, even given the caliber of the competition, the Alón Petites would head any list I compiled of must-audition, affordable minimonitors. Let's just dub them "first among equals."