The Medallion cabinet of Lowther America has been one of the most popular cabinets for the use of Lowther seven-inch drivers for over a decade, but many of Lowther America’s customers wanted something not so big and a little more modern-looking. The Alerion is Lowther America’s answer to their customers.
It makes use of the same basic design concept of the Medallion, such as a back loaded horn for the bass and mid-bass, while remaining a direct radiator for the mid-range and highs. Lowther America’s choice to stay with this design stemmed from its opinion that the bass, mid-bass speed and articulation of the Lowther when loaded through a horn is superior to most woofers. They feel traditional woofers require a much larger mass to perform the task and thus are not as fast. According to Jon Ver Halen of Lowther America, their initial design goal was for bass extension to reach 80 hertz, a point where most sub-woofers could cross-over. When the units were being built and tested, they were pleasantly surprised that they could get bass extended to about 45 hertz. At this level, most people would not require a subwoofer. They also contracted with the late Terry Cain to build the cabinets. The result was a much more updated look.
Introduction And Description
In no way could the Lowther Alerion be called a mini-monitor, but their footprint is no larger and smaller than some of the mini-monitors I have reviewed in my “Flight of Mini-monitors” series. So I found it interesting that this speaker showed up while I was doing this survey of mini-monitors. In fact, not only does the footprint compare, but their height is about the same as most of the mini-monitors when place on their stands. One last comparison to the speakers in the mini-monitor survey I have been doing would be price. It is here that the Alerion really gets your attention, for at $2750, they would be the second least expensive in the survey so far and you don’t need to purchase stands for them. They make an interesting comparison, I think. In the Alerion, you get a small floor-standing speaker, that images better, has a more three-dimensional soundstage, and is more dynamic than any of the mini-monitors. Of course, they aren’t mini-monitors.
Lowthers have been manufactured in Britain for nearly 70 years. When I started reviewing for Dagogo, Constantine asked me what I would like to review, and the first thing I said was a speaker that uses a Lowther driver. Well, now I have had three different ones in less than six months, and they were all three worth waiting on. Both the Alerion and the Teresonic Magus use the Lowther DX 55 driver, while the Teresonic Integrum uses the larger Lowther drivers.
Let us admit it, Lowther speakers have not been for everyone. Over the years, almost all the successful attempts at Lowther enclosures have been horns or pipes of some design. Again, most of these have been rather large, and often not high on the list of wife-pleasing speakers. Also, it is very easy to damage them, then it is very expensive and time consuming to have them repaired. To the lovers of really alive, dynamic sound and for the connoisseurs of SETs, the sound of Lowthers are well worth these few problems. The Alerion keeps most of what is wonderful about Lowthers; including the dynamics and does this in a nice, modern looking, small cabinet.
As many of you know I am a big fan of the finer SET amps and of speakers that do not use crossovers. The Alerion is the third single-driver speaker I have had in house in the last year and the second with the smaller Lowther DX 55 driver. Readers may remember how much I like the Teresonic Magus, a small stand mounted, monitor type speaker that uses this same driver. So, it was with great anticipation that I unpacked the nicely done cabinets and installed the drivers. By the way, the cabinets were built by Cain and Cain and the quality is obvious.
Low-powered SET amps used with high-efficiency speakers still aren’t mainstream, but I think most audiophiles who hear a really good system based on this combination come away amazed. It is safe to say that even here in America where “bigger is better”, there has developed quite a market for these special amps and speakers. Today, there are lots of choices in low-powered amplifiers from the new inexpensive chip-based amps all the way to 1.5- to 10-watt amps from Japan that cost over six figures. Then, there are plenty of wonderful low-powered amps in between.
While a larger variety of amplifiers have become more and more available, there are still very few speakers that really work well with these little precious jewels we call SETs. Thus, when one comes along that is reasonably priced, of a reasonable size, and truly can be driven by amps with only single digit output, it is reason to take note; that is what brings us to the Lowther Alerion. It is a mere 8-1/2″ wide, 14-1/2″ deep and only 39 ” tall. They are 94 dB efficient with an impedance that doesn’t drop below 8 ohms. This may not sound all that efficient, but when the bass of such speakers drops off rapidly below 45 Hz and the amp is not strained trying to produce the lowest bass, such speakers are able to produce more apparent volume than a full-range speaker.
As mentioned above, the Alerion is based on Lowther America’s experience with their tried and true Medallion speaker. What they have done is re-create their classic Medallion cabinet to work with the Lowther DX 55 driver. In fact, the proportion ratio of the DX 55 driver to the Alerion cabinet is about the same as the 8” Lowther driver is to the Medallion cabinet. The Alerion is just what it looks like: a simple rear-loaded, exponential horn. On first glance, the Alerion looks like the dearly missed Terry Cain design; and while the Alerion cabinets have the signature Cain & Cain updated look with the stylish base and feet, and yes, the enclosure is constructed of solid hardwood, they also have that weird stair stepped horn mouth. Having said all that, the fact is while Jon enlisted Terry Cain’s help with the cabinets, they were built completely to Jon’s specifications.
Additionally, Jon chose the Cardas binding post that preferred by many. However, as my speaker wire was not terminated to work with these, I found them frustrating. The Alerions are wired internally with Jena wire, and last but not least, Jon chose to use what he refers to as a shelving filter to deal with the natural peak in the Lowther driver.
The Alerions came well packed for shipping, with both speakers fitted into one wooden crate on a pallet. This packing is much more comprehensive than I expect for a speaker in this price range. I auditioned the Alerions in both my upstairs system and my reference system downstairs. Upstairs, I used them with the Roksan Caspian integrated amp, with the Oppo DVD player as the source and a DirecTV box. Downstairs, the reference amp was the Wavac EC-300B with vinyl playback. I tried the Alerion with several good speaker wires, but hey sounded best with my new favorite: Teresonic’s exceptional Clarison speaker cable. I like them in both systems and they sounded best in setups well out from the rear wall and about three feet from the side walls.
As good as the Lowther Alerions sounded in different setups, this review will focus on how they sounded when driven by the Wavac EC 300B amp, with the Shindo Masseto preamp, the Clearaudio Ambient turntable with the Satisfy tonearm, and Benz Ebony TR cartridge.
Lowther drivers are legendary or you could say notorious for how long they take to break in. Thankfully, theses really were already broken in. Still, interested readers should note that new Lowthers “shout” until they are broken in, and they keep getting better after hundreds of hours.
After lots of experimenting, I was able to obtain the right placement in the listening room. It turned out they needed to be pulled out into the room further than I would have guessed, and ended up being about four and a half feet out into the room and about two feet off the side walls. Now I was able to get down to listening to some music. I was really surprised they could be pulled out this far and still not having the bass negatively affected. This is a real plus because it allowed their great soundstaging ability to really come into its own.
Truth is, the Alerions sounded nice with most everything I played on them, and they are not even the most transparent Lowthers I have ever heard. Now, don’t get me wrong, they are more transparent than most speakers, but they are a little warmer than most Lowther-based speakers I have heard, including the Medallions. I wonder if the smaller size of the horn creates some of this warmth. When you take into consideration their price and size, this seems like a small sacrifice and one that, to be honest, many people will count as a blessing and not a sacrifice.
I think there are two very different things that people are saying when they say they don’t like horns. If you don’t like horn speakers, chances are you are thinking of horns as bright and glaring. Well, if that’s the case, let me tell you that you won’t think this is a very “horn-like” loudspeaker. If you think of a horn speaker as one that sounds a little like we do when we put our hands on either side of our mouths, then you may feel that you can hear just a little of this with the Alerions.
I’m getting ahead of myself as I so often do, so let me start by telling you what the Lowther Alerions do better than any mini-monitor or any other speaker at any price. That is how they produce a three-dimensional, holographic, reach-out-there-and-touch-someone soundstage.
Soundstage and Imaging
I’ve never started my description of a speaker’s sound with these two areas, but I’ve never had a speaker that was quite this exceptional in one area. The soundstage a speaker produces isn’t that important to me personally. In fact, I look for something a little different in this area, but I know how valued it is by most and I would be very remised not to share how extraordinary the Alerion was in this highly valued area of sound reproduction.
The Alerions have the most spectacular holographic type of soundstage I have ever heard. People, instruments, and even the audience sometimes have their own acoustical space. This is true both in side-to-side relationships and front-to-back ones. They truly have the most holographic imaging ability I have ever heard, bar none. I must admit it is most beguiling, and helps make up for what the eyes do when we watch and hear live music. I think for many of you, this ability alone would make this speaker more than worth the price of admission.
I think the first thing that I noticed about their sound, that is after I picked my jaw up off the floor from being shocked by their soundstage, was the amount of bass these mini-horns could produce. I was able to enjoy solid bass down to the mid-40Hz range downstairs in a 15- by 20- foot room. Upstairs space measures 24 by 30 and is opened into the dining room. In the latter setting, they had nice punch, but probably only went down into the upper 60s. The next thing I noticed was the treble response of the smaller DX-55 driver, just like in the Teresonic Magus, was very extended. I think this is pretty darn good for most speakers at the size, and most particularly for a single-driver speaker, especially one at this price point.
Back to the bass, it was tight, fast and still warm at the same time. While not as detailed as my WGA Ikonoklast Model 3s, the bass was very musical and emotionally satisfying. I found the bass to be very musically satisfying, and quite natural. These qualities allow you to enjoy many of the things we value in live music. As good as they are, it can’t be overlooked that they don’t go as deep as many speakers. As you listen, you will come to appreciate the bass they have. I was surprised at how much power the bass seemed to have without having gone any lower than they do.
If you happen to be moving from a conventional box speaker to a rear-loaded horn for the first time, the dynamics of the Lowther Alerion will come as a shock to you. The Alerions, even with their small 5-inch driver, have all the absolutely mind-blowing dynamics and punch that horns are so noted for. Whether it is the attack of a drum, a symphony orchestra at realistic volumes, The Doors or something as simple as a piano or guitar solo, I promise you: Their dynamics will startle you. Another thing you will notice if you are making your first step from a conventional box speaker to a single-driver speaker is coherency. There is just no way to prepare you for how much purer and more music-like a speaker with no crossover can sound. Yes, you may have some serious setup, placement and equipment issues with Lowther-equipped rear-loaded horns; but once you have everything right, the Alerions can most definitely make music come alive in your room.
Properly set up, the Lowther Alerions allow voices to sound quite natural. There was no evidence of a nasal tone or overemphasis of sibilance as sometimes is heard from a poorly implemented amateurish Lowther-based speaker. They can play music with real intricacy and yet with nice shimmer also. Because of the speed of the Lowther drivers, they allow you to hear micro-dynamics in a way that could only be called world-class. Voices also sound really nice. They have a nice combination of articulation and relaxation, at the same time sounding clear and clean, just never strained.
No speaker in my experience could image and produce such a good soundstage without the correct spatial cues from the top-end. No, the top-end is not as extended or delicate as the GamuT L3s or the Genesis 7.1Ps. Still, I never found the top-end to sound rolled off. They had nice shimmer and sparkle when it was on the recording. I found the top-end very nice indeed.
The Lowther Alerions are really fun to listen to and that’s worth a lot in my book. I was occasionally able to forget I was reviewing and was drawn into the music. No, the Alerions aren’t perfect. I wish they were a little more transparent and a little less warm, but if you love the sound of single-ended amps and you don’t have room for a large horn, your choices are severely limited, especially in this price range, and the Lowther Alerion is the answer.
In the end, I think the Alerion will be just the speaker for many who have wanted a Lowther in a smaller package at a good price.
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