Alegria Audio Arias

November 8, in Hi-Fi Systems Reviews

Specifications:

  • Bipole Design
  • No crossover or filters
  • 4 Ohm minimum impedence
  • 50hz-20khz (40hz in room bass
  • Sensitivity: 88db @ 1w Drivers: Two 4.5” paper w/ rubber surrounds
  • XBL2 Motor Design
  • 40”H x 7.5”W X 9.5”D
  • Price $850pr.

Sometimes it seems like there is nothing new under the sun in speaker design. Prowling the Internet for bargains worthy of the pages of Affordable$$Audio, it seems like everyone and his 2nd cousin is trying to tap the “entry-level” market with a pair of overachieving bookshelf speakers. Sure, many of these offerings sound fantastic, but I’ve got better things to do with my precious listening time than hunt the world for the best budget bookshelf.

Alegria Audio

So, I’ve recently become enamored with alternative approaches to speaker design. It turns out that great things can happen when certain widely accepted conventions are challenged. Take fullrange speakers for example: common sense suggests that running a full 20-20,000Hz signal into a single driver with no crossover is going to leave a lot to be desired. I certainly thought so until I built a pair last Thanksgiving. While the cheap experiments I made aren’t for everybody, they have a magic to them that I find lacking in most traditional box speakers.

I was thrilled, then, when Tim Forman of Alegria Audio2 offered a pair of his Arias up for review. According to Alegria Audio’s website, the Arias are “full range, bipole, crossoverless, restricted terminus quarter wave resonator” speakers…see Forman’s design notes at the end of this review for more about what all that means. To me it meant that I had the opportunity of living with a pair of expertly designed fullrangers for a few months, so I jumped at the chance.

Alegria Audio Aria speakers review

Simply Stated

Out of the box, the Arias are unpretentious columns of maple veneer, 40″ tall with a footprint just 7.5″ wide and 9.5″ deep. There is a 4.5″ driver in front with an attractive copper phase plug, and the back boasts a (visually) identical driver, plus a flared port and highquality binding posts. The cabinets are well constructed: solid, heavy, and difficult to remove from the box by yourself…invite a friend over to help you unpack them.

Alegria Speaker

The upper, rear corner of one of the speakers I received had some damage to the veneer, no doubt thanks to one of the red, white and blue clad chimpanzees employed by FedEx. The speakers came doubleboxed, but probably would have benefited from a bit more shock-absorbent padding inside. That said, the drivers & wiring all arrived in perfect condition, so the sound quality was unaffected by the Arias’ rough treatment in transit. Full-range speakers have a fiercely dedicated following3 in some audiophile circles, but designing a good pair involves overcoming some significant hurdles. This is where Forman comes in: the inherent compromises of full-range speakers are addressed with every aspect of the Aria’s design. Again, his notes explain these better than I can, but there are a few aspects that warrant mention here:

Creative Drivers

The Arias feature two of the most popular drivers in the DIY audio world today, Creative Sound Solutions’4 FR-125s in front, and WR-125s in the rear. The WR-125s were developed first, and gained a lot of attention due to their gorgeous midrange treatment and astonishing bass performance (thanks to Adire Audio’s XBL2 technology5). The FR-125 came along a year later and are identical to the WR-125s in every way, except they offer treble extension all the way to 20kHz. A true full-range driver was born in a 4.5″ package, and DIY speaker builders rejoiced the world over.

Creative Cabinetry

The CSS drivers 65Hz response is outstanding for a 4.5 incher, but Forman takes it a step further with his cabinet design. The inside of the speaker consists of a series of precision-tuned chambers that lower the bass response even further. These chambers also serve to brace the cabinet, which passes the “knuckle wrap” test with flying colors.

Listening Impressions

The best word to describe the sound of the Arias is “natural”. Frequency response is smooth, perhaps a touch rolled-off in the ultra-high frequencies (17kHz+), but certainly no offensive peaks or valleys; beyond that the Arias do what great full-rangers are supposed to do: communicate all the emotional impact of music in a way that makes you forget that you’re listening to a hi-fi system.

I wouldn’t say the Arias are finicky about placement, but they are nonetheless opinionated: any closer than two feet to the nearest wall and the bass starts to boom. Response is smooth and uncolored at two feet, but at four feet the soundstage opens up with a holographic spaciousness unlike anything I’ve had in my living room before. The Arias are capable of throwing a boundaryless soundstage, but they do so in a controlled fashion. Some speakers strive to stretch everything across the entire width of your listening room, whether it’s a full symphony orchestra or a solo guitar, but the Arias consistently get it right. The Tomas Stanko Quartet’s Suspended Night (on ECM) is an album I’ve heard suffer from serious “15-foot-wide piano syndrome” on some very high-end systems, but not so on the Arias…every member of the band was right where they should be, at the same time blended together in a very musical way. Imaging is a bit diffuse, but again, it sounds natural. You don’t hear “pinpoint imaging” in any concert hall in the world, even from the front row…why do we expect it from our speakers? This audiophile convention has been laid aside in the Arias, in favor of a more lifelike music presentation.

A pleasant oddity of the Arias bipole alignment is their omni-directionality. Except for the high frequencies (above 12kHz or so) they sound remarkably consistent anywhere in the room. It’s a bit disconcerting at first, getting up to change a CD or whatever, and the sound doesn’t change when you walk between or even behind the speakers! The off-axis sound is good, but sitting down in the sweet spot brings a large dose of high-end detail & air. This HF beaming is typical of full-range designs, so having the speakers toed-in to point directly at the primary listening position is a must.

The Aria’s bass is full and well balanced by any standard…but jaw-dropping considering these are 4.5″ drivers. It almost comes across like an optical illusion…several recordings left me scratching my head wondering just where all the bass was coming from. Forman claims in-room response down to 40Hz…I’d say that’s conservative. In my room, I was getting usable bass well into the low 30s, and audible bass into the mid 20s. The Arias delivered a perfectly enjoyable “Flight of the Cosmic Hippo”, and played Karl Denson’s The D Stands for Diesel and Speech’s Hoopla with plenty of head-bopping groove. Now, 4.5″ drivers don’t move a whole lot of air; while their bass is real and very audible, it does not rattle shelves and you don’t feel it in your chest. If that kind of impact is something you crave, I recommend using the Arias with a subwoofer, but it would have to be a very good one.

This brings up an important characteristic of the Arias: these are personal speakers, capable of presenting a nuanced and immersive musical experience for a single, or perhaps a pair of discerning listeners, but they are not “party speakers”. They have limits to the amount of volume they will produce, so if you’re looking to annoy your neighbors or provide sound for a fraternity dance party, look elsewhere. My room isn’t huge, but it’s not exactly small either, 13’x20’ with an 8’ ceiling, and the Arias routinely offered up volume levels that were perfectly enjoyable for me and too loud for my family. However, I have some audiophile friends who like to listen loud, and I mean loud, and I can’t help but think the Arias just wouldn’t be their cuppa.

One of the things I noticed about the Arias is that, in particular with acoustic music, they shine brighter when playing at realistic volume levels. I played a Anne-Sophie Mutter, Bruno Giuranna, and Mstislav Rostropovich performance of the Beethoven String Trios (on Deutsche Grammaphon) that left me little flat the first time through on the Arias. The recording shined brighter on a subsequent listen, this time at a lower volume. Turns out the Aria’s magic really came on when played at a volume level that most resembled an actual violin, viola, and cello in my living room.

Electric instruments weren’t affected by this (of course, “realistic” volume levels for electric music is a very different matter than for a string trio), in fact the Arias sent me into headbanging heaven on AC/DC’s Back in Black, and captured all the dirt & funk in Robert Walter’s tube-overdriven Fender Rhodes piano on the aforementioned D Stands for Diesel. I’ve never expected much from any small-driver speaker on concert music, but the Arias made wonderful listening of Fritz Reiner and the Chicago Symphony’s Also Sprach Zarathustra (RCA Living Stereo SACD). While you won’t trick anybody into thinking that there is a full orchestra (with pipe organ and tympani) in your living room, the Arias displayed none of the congestion I expected on the bombastic “Sunrise” introduction.

The Arias crowning achievement, however, is their presentation of female vocals. I don’t have a whole lot of “chick singers” in my CD collection, but going through a few of my references (Emmylou Harris’ Spyboy and Norah Jones’ Come Away with Me), I was spellbound by the singers’ emotional impact and storytelling qualities. Female vocals were so enthralling that I was compelled to go out and pick up some more: Patricia Barber’s Modern Cool, on which the Arias did wonders with her jazzy Sprechstimme; and Ann Dyer’s No Good Time Fairies, who’s avant torch songs were brought to gritty life in my living room. Evidently the Arias got their name one night when Forman was listening to one of his wife’s opera CDs. I had to try this myself with “Dove sono i bei momenti” – the Countess’ aria from Act 3 of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro – a bravura performance that reminded me what a beautiful instrument the human voice can be — mesmerizing.

Buying Advice

At $850 a pair, the Arias are not what I call inexpensive speakers, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t a good value. The nice thing about buying from the DIY-gone-professional set, is that you know exactly what you’re getting: on Creative Sound’s website, the WR125s sell for $50 each, and the FR125s for $70 each. Manufacturing multipliers being what they are, you couldn’t expect drivers in that price range to turn up in any commercial designs running less than about $2000/pair, not to mention the 40% markup that would be tacked on automatically if Forman were selling these through a traditional dealer network. Also, I can assure you that the Arias robust cabinets do not come cheap. $850 is probably more than fair for the wood, copper, and paper that make them up (including a reasonable mark-up), however the most important component of the Arias is, from what I can tell, thrown in for free. A well-known story will illustrate:

A certain factory (or town, in some versions of the story) was having a very serious problem that baffled all of their top engineers. They hired a famous genius (often said to be Thomas Edison or Nikola Tesla) to come in and have a look. Our famous expert spent five minutes looking around before making an “X” on the machine, indicating exactly where the problem was. The factory workers disassembled the unit at the “X”, found the problem, and within a few hours, had the factory running at full-steam again.

The factory owner was thrilled, and requested an invoice from said famous expert. It was delivered with a single line-item charge of $10,000. Outraged, the factory owner demanded an explanation of this preposterous charge. That following day, another invoice arrived with the charges broken down: “Marking malfunctioning machine with ‘X’: $1. Knowing where to put ‘X’: $9999.”

When it comes to speaker design, Tim Forman knows where to put the ‘X’. The multichambered cabinet design, which I’m sure is a large part of the Arias sound, seems like magic to me, but I’m sure it’s more like science to him (or at least a lot of hard work). That kind of knowledge can’t be bought, it comes from years of the passionate pursuit of great sounding speaker designs. He’s knocked one out of the park with the Arias, which offer all the benefits of a full-range design, with a minimum of the compromises.

It has been said of great full-range speakers that they don’t impress you with what the speakers can do, they impress you with what the musicians can do. Both impress me with the Arias, actually, but the emphasis is definitely on the music. If you’re a music-lover who is willing to pass on a few audiophile conceits, these should be on your short list to check out.

Associated Equipment:

  • Sony SCD-CE595 SACD Player
  • Emotiva BPA-1 Integrated Amplifier

from affordableaudio, By Clarke Robinson

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