Philharmonic Audio and Audio by Van Alstine

An old Dutch saying holds that "good wine needs no wreath," meaning that real quality sells itself. That probably applies to Philharmonic Audio, too. The Maryland-based speaker manufacturer, led by veteran designer and viola maestro Dennis Murphy, has never put much stock in advertising and marketing. It grew mainly thanks to word of mouth from people who value great sound, superior measurements, and reasonable prices (footnote 1).

Hearing is believing, and I finally understood the reason for the frequent online recommendations when I visited room 456 at AXPONA. There, Philharmonic had teamed up with Minnesota’s Audio by Van Alstine. A pair of Philharmonic BMR monitors ($1700-2000/pair, depending on finish) took center stage. The BMRs are 20"-tall standmounts with RAAL ribbon tweeters that provide very wide horizontal dispersion plus, I was told, a ruler-flat response. The Balanced Mode Radiator midrange drivers are claimed to match the tweeters in dispersion characteristics “thanks to a shift from pistonic to a bending motion well below the crossover point.” Six-inch SB Acoustics ceramic woofers handle the lower octaves.

Weighing in at a portly 32lb each, the 4-ohm BMRs cover the 36–20kHz frequency range (±2dB), but that’s an anechoic measurement. In a real-world room with the usual boundary effects, they’ll probably go a little lower.

Older Philharmonic speakers, at least the ones I’ve seen, were boxy and a bit nerdy-looking. I’m happy to report that the BMR monitors are handsome. The company’s commitment to hard numbers remains: Philharmonic provides not just specs but extensive measurements of all of its products. More audio manufacturers should follow suit.

The BMRs were being driven by a recently launched Van Alstine NPI power amplifier (55Wpc into 8 ohms, $1199). Van Alstine rep Mithat Konar explained that the NPI separates itself from the pack with Advanced Nested Architecture (ANA), a technology that incorporates a dual global correction circuit, reducing nonlinearities "to the vanishing point."

The preamp/DAC combo was a Van Alstine DVA ($2499). All of these products were new to me. Obviously I heard them as a system, so I can't speak to their individual sonic qualities, but together, whoa boy. I thrilled to the clean tones of Fiona Apple's "Shadowboxer" and noted the terrific purity and holistic completeness when the rig reproduced "Lights of Louisianne" as performed by Jennifer Warnes.

Footnote 1: Reminds me of the earliest years of another Maryland-based loudspeaker manufacturer, Polk Audio.

Anton's picture

....that it forced me to go internet shopping!

RvB's picture

Did you buy? After setup, come back and let us know what you think.

avanti1960's picture

very special coming from these speakers. They had a unique midrange and lower treble blend that was clear and likeable. Coherent imaging and decent bass if not somewhat reserved. Enjoyable sound that when heard transcends frequency response plots. The RAAL tweeter is one of the few AMTs I have heard that have AMT sparkle without any brashness.
Credit to the nice clean looking AVA gear running the electronics, the synergy was something I would not tamper with.

beave's picture

Perhaps nitpicking, but the RAAL tweeter is a true ribbon tweeter, not an AMT.

avanti1960's picture

The sound of the Philharmonic RAAL ribbon tweeter is more pleasant and sweet sounding than most other ribbon or folded ribbon tweeters I have heard.

Aleph5's picture

I visited this room and agree these pieces sounded very fine. The speakers, at least, belong on a list of best value components heard, at least within the limited exposure of a show like this one. Probably the amplifier does too.