Sonics by Joachim Gerhard Allegra loudspeaker Page 2

The Allegras' performance took me completely by surprise. They sounded mediocre. I moved the speakers, moved my chair, switched equipment. Nothing helped. The sound wasn't bad, exactly, just diffuse and lifeless—a far cry from the dynamics and precision I'd heard from a demo pair set up in Immedia's Berkeley office. The Allegras didn't sound like the Animas with more bass; they didn't sound like Animas at all—or any other Joachim Gerhard speaker I'd ever heard. Were they defective? Or had I not even got close to the optimal setup in my room? I called Allen Perkins and asked him to come out and set them up the way Perkins thought they should be.

Fifteen minutes and three or four different setups into his visit, Perkins—whom I'd not told about my experience—looked at me and sighed. "Either there's something wrong with these speakers, or they really don't work in this room. They're not obviously broken, but they don't sound very good at all. Would you be willing to exchange these for a different pair—one that I know works properly—and let me check these out?"

Our general policy is not to allow such a substitution but in this case, it did appear that, yes, there was something wrong with those review samples. I'll leave the discussion of the first pair's problem(s) to Sonics to address in their "Manufacturer's Comment," but Immedia shipped me a second pair of Allegras finished in a deep, reddish Macassar ebony. I unpacked them and moved on.

Use and Listening: Round Two
I again started with the Allegras in the spots where the Wilson Sophia IIs, Thiel CS6s, and Sonics Animas had all worked well. They sounded different from the first pair—better, but still pretty ordinary. Systematically moving the Allegras around resulted in small changes, but nothing dramatic. I then replicated one of the more dramatic setups Allen Perkins had tried: placing the speakers midway between the front and rear walls, and my listening chair at the two-thirds point between those walls. This resulted in greater changes in the sound, but they weren't necessarily improvements.

After several evenings of inflicting progressively larger perturbations on the setup, I finally tapped into something promising. I moved the Allegras farther forward—much farther—into the room. The farther forward I moved them, the better—and the more like a Joachim Gerhard design—they sounded. The soundstage opened up, and temporal and spatial focus improved. The Allegra's bottom end tightened and gained solidity, and finally, images began to sharpen and break free of the speakers and room. The optimal positions for the Allegras turned out to be about a third of my room's length out from the front wall, with the speakers spread as far apart as possible, almost touching the sidewalls, and toed-in to point directly at the listening position, which was very near the center of the room.

In these positions, the Allegras produced the huge, open soundstage that's characteristic of Gerhard designs. It was far wider and deeper than the soundstage created by my Sophia IIs, and more expansive than I would have thought possible, given my room's size and shape. Both performers and credible, tangible re-creations of the spaces around them appeared well to the left of the left speaker and to the right of the right speaker. These outboard portions of the stage were as solid and three-dimensional as those between the speakers, but with none of the Cinerama wraparound effect I associate with strong sidewall reflections. The perspective remained correct—or at least consistent—out to the far edges of the soundstage, with no shrinking of images or obvious foreshortening of depth at the outer edges of the stage.

I was really impressed with how forcefully the Allegras re-created performance spaces while erasing any aural traces of my listening room. Other speakers, including the Sonics Animas, have created coherent sonic pictures in my room, but not with this sort of muscle and authority. Rather than simply hanging images in space within the bounds of my room, the Allegras' soundstage seemed to push the room's walls aside.

I found this effect most noticeable, and most captivating, with plain-Jane multimiked recordings. For an example that everyone who was alive in the late 1970s can relate to, I cued up "Low Down" on Boz Scaggs' classic Silk Degrees LP. The soundstage was a single, coherent space spread way beyond the room's boundaries, with images appearing in precisely fixed locations from far left to far right, and at spots deeper within the stage than I'd heard before. It had a slight liquidity or texture that contributed to a visceral impression of strength, though not a strength that obscured fine details. Images were nicely layered from front to back and very well defined, but not at all discontinuous with the overall stage. Perhaps it was because I was listening particularly closely, but with the Allegras I could hear specific electronic effects that had been added to individual background voices. But again, the clarity of these low-level spatial, temporal, and tonal details didn't at all disrupt the overall impression of coherence.

The Allegra's sound also had an unshakable, bulletproof consistency. I hear an acoustic piano in our great room every day; its sound and presence are embedded in my brain. Even great audio systems are often subtly inconsistent in how they reproduce the sound of the piano, particularly when the surrounding space is a significant, but not dominant, component of the overall sound. For example, there may be a change in the piano's tonal structure as it spans its range, or changes in the image's size and shape, both reflecting changes in how a speaker interacts with the room. I listened to a number of piano recordings with the Allegras. Some were of solo performances, others of orchestral works or jazz ensembles, still others multitracked studio recordings. Some were indifferently produced, and others were some of the best recordings in my collection. In every case, the presentation of the piano and its surroundings remained consistent across the full range of frequency and volume.

Once their placement had been optimized, the Allegras reproduced low-level details very well, and consistently across the frequency and volume spectra. On the Boz Scaggs LP, for example, I could hear the individual, light impacts of a brush on a hi-hat cymbal, a shimmer that spread outward, then collapsed back into its core as the cymbals were brought together. At the other end of the frequency spectrum, the unique snap and warm bounce of the bass guitar were equally distinct. Similarly, loud, percussive transients, such as rim shots or snare-drum impacts, were spatially and tonally detailed, as were the softest trailing edges of notes.

Dynamic transients weren't as large, as fast, or as sharp through the Allegras as through my Wilson Sophia IIs, or the Thiel CS6s before them. The Allegras' transients weren't soft or rounded, just not as impressive as the other speakers'. The Wilsons were more powerful and engaging—the "tap your foot to the music" effect—and with the Thiels, the leading edges of notes were clearer and more obvious. A rim shot snapped sharply with the Allegras, gained impact and solidity with the Wilsons, and realistically exploded with the Thiels. The situation was similar when I concentrated on temporal details. The Sonics didn't sound as obviously fast or precise as the Thiels, but their portrayal had a lifelike energy and drive that always drew me in and synced my internal metronome with that of the music. They were more like the Sophia IIs in this regard, if not quite as engaging.

I found nothing unusual or particularly unique about the Allegra's tonal balance; instruments and voices just seemed to be correct and, again, very consistent, regardless of volume or pitch. JA's measurements will tell the story, but I found the Allegra to be about midway between the Thiel's slightly cool balance and the Sophia's hint of warmth. What I was hearing, I believe, was a difference in dynamics across the upper bass and midrange: the Wilson's dynamics were unquestionably more powerful. The Allegra wasn't at all thin or dulled, just not as rich and engaging as the twice-as-expensive Wilson.

My listening notes consist of page after page of description of the above characteristics and how well the Allegra handled each one. Depending on the recording, one aspect or another of each attribute would dominate my notes. In all cases, however, I raved about the Allegras' wide, deep, open soundstage, and how thoroughly it seemed to replace my room with a different space entirely. I'd followed a tortuous path in setting up these speakers, and ended up with a configuration unlike any other I've used in my room, but the effort paid off. In my standard setup—in any number of standard setups—I would not have heard anything close to the Allegras' true, and superb, capabilities.

Three major bullets
Three things emerged from my protracted audition of the Sonics Allegras:

• While the Allegras did everything very well, their most distinguishing attribute was their huge, open soundstage and detailed, tightly focused images. Their re-creations of recording venues were the best I've heard in my room.

• The Allegra represents excellent value compared to its competition. Its qualities of construction, finish, and performance merit comparison with not only similarly priced speakers, but others, such as my Wilson Sophia II, that cost significantly more. I prefer the Sophia II, and believe it outperforms the Allegra, but I wouldn't take issue with anyone who pronounced the Wilson different but not necessarily or convincingly better.

• The Allegras don't need Joachim Gerhard's preferred far-apart, nearfield-listening setup to perform superbly. However, they do need to be set up carefully, and perhaps somewhat differently from other speakers. I've heard the Allegras elsewhere, spaced very widely, and they sounded better than in my room, though there were far too many other differences in setup and system to make any sort of definitive conclusion. Don't get me wrong: The Allegras worked wonderfully in my room, just not quite as wonderfully as I've heard them elsewhere, and they required a somewhat unusual setup to perform their best in my shoebox of a listening room.

The Sonics by Joachim Gerhard Allegra is entirely consistent with what I'd expect from this brilliant designer and a price of $7800/pair. I wholeheartedly recommend the Allegra to anyone, and have already recommended it to a close friend who's a very critical listener and is willing to spend $10,000, $15,000, or even $20,000 on a pair of speakers.

Sonics by Joachim Gerhard
US distributor: Immedia
1101 Eighth Street, Suite 210
Berkeley, CA 94710
(510) 559-2050