Acarian Systems Alón Circe loudspeaker Follow-up from April 2000

Sidebar 4: Follow-up from April 2000, Vol.23 No.4

Every now and again, there's an anomaly in Stereophile's "Recommended Components." Take Acarian Systems' Alón Circe. Originally reviewed by Wes Phillips in May 1999 (Vol.22 No.5), the Circe proved controversial, to say the least. As noted in last October's "Recommended Components" Wes praised its "midrange and high-frequency purity," which, in his review, he'd called "nothing short of magical." Wes also liked the bass, finding it deep, well tuned, and a "trifle warm"—perfect if you're a "tube-using music-lover with a yen for '60s jazz."

Looking over the Circe's measurements, which indicated some areas of shortfall, John Atkinson's feeling was that the measured performance indicated the speaker was "very fussy when it comes to optimizing setup and room placement." Further, JA noted, "Severe disagreement among the magazine's reviewers about the Circe's merit mandates Class B rating, though J-10 points out that these speakers have sounded superb with tube amplifiers at shows." Class B is a strange place for a $12,000/pair speaker system, so additional auditioning was mandated.

So it was that Carl and Marilyn Marchisotto of Acarian Systems, showed up chez Scull with two guys looking fetching in kidney belts, a pair of Circes under their arms. Marilyn had brought along some Italian pastries [munch munch], and, immediately following setup—which proved quick and easy—Carl & Co. quit the premises. That was the deal: Bring 'em over, set 'em up, and get out.

The plan was for me to give the Circes a fair hearing—we'd let the chips fall where they might. And let it be noted for the record: Pastries are not enough to move a speaker up or down the "Recommended Components" totem pole. (Not that anything else is!)

Even though I switched associated components and cables, the Circes wound up getting along perfectly with the system I was running: Lamm ML1s (6C33C-B, 90Wpc push-pull monoblocks, review forthcoming), Mark Levinson No.32 Reference preamplifier, dCS Elgar D/A and 972 D/D converters running at 24-bits/192kHz, Forsell Air Bearing CD transport, and Accuphase DP-75V 24/192 CD player, with Cardas Golden Reference interconnects and Alón's own Black Orpheus triwire speaker cables.

The Circes were plunked down in almost exactly the same positions that our JMlab Utopias usually occupy, except that the Circes were pointed straight ahead: no toe-in. I slightly preferred the sound with the "sock" grillecloths pulled down below the drivers, and had to lighten up on my array of ASC Studio Traps, which muffled the top end a tad too much. Argent RoomLenses replaced the Traps to either side of the speakers to best effect.

I liked the sound right away. Open, airy, and spacious, the Circes threw a large, deep soundstage around, behind, to the sides, and wrapping back toward the Ribbon Chair. They were very transparent, to the farthest reaches of the soundstage. Running through my usual gamut of recordings, I found the Circes imaged very well, if not quite as densely as the Utopias. Edge definition and focus were very good, the Circes favoring round, palpable presences rather than razor-sharp images. In that way, they were perfectly suited to presenting music as one might hear it in a concert hall.

But no matter how I arranged the acoustic treatments, the Circe never quite achieved the speed, openness, and ultimate transparency of the Utopia. Then again, our reference speaker lists for $30,000/pair. The Circes were ever so slightly reticent on the leading edges, giving music a pleasurable, slightly indolent cast. (But if you wanna wake 'em up, just hook up a pair of Linn Klimax Solo 500s to their terminals and duck!) Despite this quibble, the highs were open and spacious—quite "pure," as WP pointed out; female and male vocals benefited nicely from the presentation. The midrange, too, sounded very pure, with no discernible grain and full of harmonic detail. The bass was excellent—again, not as deep or as fast as the Utopia's, but quite acceptable for a speaker in this price range. Further, the entire presentation sounded nicely linear, extended, and hewn of a piece.

I think the Alón Circe—like the Avalon Ascent and the Radian HC, both of which we used to run—just needs plenty of room to breathe. So back up to Class A it goes, but with a caveat: As JA points out, its sound will depend on how well it couples with your listening room. Of course, this can be said of any speaker. Just be aware that a poor room can kill the Alón Circe dead, but in a good room, it might give you the pleasure you're looking for. 'bout a nice cannoli?—Jonathan Scull