Alta Audio Alyssa Monitor Loudspeaker by Tim Barrall
Last November, I received an email from Adam Sohmer of Sohmer Associates, the P.R. agent for Alta Audio. He wanted to know if I would like to review one of the loudspeakers he proudly reps – the Alta Audio Alyssa’s. I had a choice of a floor stander or a smaller stand-mounted monitor. I chose the latter, the Alyssa, because of the ease of portability and weight and primarily because I’m always fascinated at how smaller speakers perform so well.
A week or so later, a UPS truck backed into the driveway at our Connecticut house. By the time I put on my shoes to meet the driver, who off-loaded two large boxes bearing the Alta Audio brand. My first thought? “These 28 lbs. Alyssa’s (each) are not the small speakers I thought I was getting. I thanked the driver, loaded both boxes on to my hand truck, and wheeled them in through our basement’s back door. I immediately set to unboxing the well packed Alyssa’s. As each speaker emerged from its lovely velvet cloth bag with printed gold logo, I swooned at the Alyssa’s gorgeous beechwood veneer and exquisite clear, polished finish. The shape is a bit different—the base of the speaker flares out slightly, reminding me of medieval chainmail coif headgear.
The speakers sat on my sturdy oak table for a week until I was able to set up my electronics and stands properly for listening (I had disassembled and cleaned my rig just before this delivery). The Alyssa’s appeared more immense than I had imagined, but their superior built quality quickly converted my surprise to admiration.
After confirmation of the Alyssa delivery, Adam set up a 3-way call with the Alyssa manufacturer, Mike Levy (photo above). A man passionate about audio, Levy created Alta Audio to contribute his knowledge and experience. Levy could’ve taken the electronics engineering path where he started and studied, or in sales, where he worked as a salesman. But Levy wanted to contribute something more emotional (as in the emotion that emerges when you experience a live musical performance.) You never forget the special moments. A bell went off, and after many months of R&D, Alta Audio was born.
When playing the Alyssa’s, Levy mentioned trying not to have any other speakers in the room because it will pick up sympathetic resonances from them and may blur the sound.
Mike Levy expressed his thoughts on speaker building, saying he always questioned the Thiel Small Parameters Theory as a bit flawed in its way of determining what sound might be like coming from a speaker driver. He began his journey to source the best sonically unique drivers for his speaker designs. Then, he had to build the enclosure box in which these speakers lie. Mike shared that the elimination of resonance was the key, so superior engineering had to be employed to make a cabinet with such control. So, with these attributes in hand, Mike had a reliable engineering platform to build on.
The Alta Audio Alyssa is fixed with two separate drivers, one a ribbon tweeter comprised of pure aluminum that brings forth a 3D soundstage and exceptional clarity. It demonstrates robust power handling and exceptional frequency response. The tweeter sourced by Mike is China-made to exacting tolerances. A 6″ woofer includes a 3.1″ diameter long-throw voice coil that utilizes a high-powered motor for smoother airflow; using titanium in the build makes this somewhat larger voice coil lighter. It’s able to render much more difficult musical performances with ease. The improved sonics are evident in analog and high-resolution digital recordings. The woofer is custom made to Mike’s specifications by Morel® in Israel.
As noted from their website, Alta Audio’s proprietary XTL* Bass (patent pending) tuning system relies on specialized sonic geometry to tune Alyssa’s cabinets like fine musical instruments for bass response that is clear, fast, deep, and powerful. To ensure the cabinet is free of resonances that cloud and distort music, Alta’s exclusive DampHard multi-layered, multi-density material extends the bass’s clarity while maintaining the overall dimensionality of the music.
SPEAKER SET UP
Levy suggests 26″ stands, but I happen to own a pair of 28″ sand-filled stands equipped with a metal top-plate. Mike thought they’d be adequate for this review, as the Alyssa’s are not as dependent on the exact listening height, but they do benefit from a slight tow-in (where you can see just inside each cabinet). Once hooked up, I fired up the amps and let them warm up for 20 minutes, after which I played some vinyl, keeping music selections light to not be aggressive so early in the break-in process. Mike cautiously recommended 100 hours of break-in.
So few hours did not reveal the Alyssa signature sound. Still, I wondered what is holding these stallions back? You can usually hear some indication of their sonic character early on. After 30 hours, they remained a bit thin in the bass region. A week later, I got a call from Mike, saying, “I might have sent you the wrong speakers,” and he asked if they had poly-fiber in the rear air ports. I looked, and, sure enough, they’re filled with poly-fiber. He said the poly-fiber filling is for a different room size than mine and instructed me to pull out the batting from each speaker port. I accomplished my mission carefully with a bent to right angle four penny nail taped to one end of a 15″ dowel, which helped me get it all out. I powered up again and, OMG! What a difference! Now I have had the wind in my sails; the bass was now there!
That presented a grand improvement, but more hours were necessary before the Alyssas could be adequately evaluated, so I continued to feed them music from my laptop. Even before 100 hours, I could hear a substantial improvement but chose to wait the recommended hours of break-in, hoping to reproduce the sound they were capable of.
READY TO LISTEN
My first choice in music was a 200-gram vinyl reissue of “The Modern Jazz Quartet” (Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab, MFSL 1-205). As the needle dropped and before the music even played, I could hear the nuances of needle drag on the vinyl as it entered the track “They Say It’s Wonderful” by Irving Berlin. As this slowly-paced performance emoted from the speakers, I thought, “Yes, this is what I remember.” The bass foundation was there, Milt Jackson’s vibraphone had a 3-D sound all around it, the bass, the drums, and the piano all filled the room with the recording’s spatial correctness, but much more! We now got something here!
Next on deck was Wynton Marsalis’ “Hot House Flowers” (1984 CBS Records 26145). “Stardust” starts this recording with a lush string section, setting up the production’s theme. This album’s meant to be played all the way through, like a suite. Wynton’s trumpet cuts softly with simply beautiful phrasings. The next song, “Lazy Afternoon,” seamlessly appears like a dream. The Alyssa’s presented Wynton’s recording beautifully, with a fantastic soundstage. Even listening off-axis, I was able to hear all the nuances in this classic arrangement. Staying with vinyl, up next was Carla Bley’s “Life Goes On” (2019 ECM 2669), with Andy Sheppard and Steve Swallow. Carla’s piano was gentle but clear, setting the pace with unusual chords as Andy’s sax and Steve’s bass follow. You can sense the size of the relatively large space in which they recorded. A glance at the album’s inner sleeve photo showed they were spaced about 10 to 12 feet apart in the center of the room. I can hear that. The Alyssa’s made this album a pleasure to listen to (a gift from my brother-in-law Greg Voth). The recording space sounds like Dave Brubeck’s incomparable “Take Five” classic.
And now a little bluegrass, “New Favorite,” by Allison Krauss and The Union Station (2001 Rounder Records DIV 00LP), a 180-gram vinyl pressing that delivers. Jerry Douglas’s distinctive Dobro and Ron Block’s banjo offer wonderful support to Allison’s sweet vocals and fiddle play. This album is full of tactile fantastic finger pick’n, and excellent recorded low-end while the songs are all perfect and can quickly get a party going! The timbre of instruments and voices was really on par as I kept turning it up. I need to write this band a check because “they are in the room!”
OK, onto some digital stuff, playing audio files from iTunes through Amara Luxe on the MacBook Pro and out via RCA to my preamp. There are specific recordings I go to for excellent sonics, and Lee Ritenour’s “This is Love” (314 557 290-2) is one of them. The title song comes in right out the gate as if recorded in the “red zone.” The Alyssa’s had both immediacy and punch and revealed wonderful subtleties in instrumentation that I haven’t noticed with other speakers.
An album I hadn’t heard before, by MoonChild, proved just my speed with its 70’s Bossanova vibe, electronica feel, and modern, laid-back R&B sound. Yes, this was a good test album for the Alyssa’s, and, man, do they ever reciprocate. Such sonics – the tight bass and tender soft sweet vocals are both over the top, mixed with an aerial sound background.
Up till now, I’ve been listening to the Alyssa’s without their speaker cloth covers, so I affixed them to each speaker with the invisible magnets embedded in the cabinet build. I like that design feature. The covers don’t take away anything that I could notice, so I kept them on. They’re good-looking too.
Moving on to a few dance tracks, next up was Cha-Cha Toda la Noche, from the album “The Fifties – A Prism” by Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra (2020 Blue Engine Records, BE0027). The Alyssa’s presented this track with all that you could want from a dance tune – a big horn section, fabulous Latin percussion, and all on a vast sound stage. This recording is first-rate, and the Alyssa’s delivered its nicely recorded timbre.
In keeping with the Jazz/Latin genre, my next selection was a track from Elaine Elias,”Light My Fire” album. (Concord Picante, CPI-32761-02). Rosa Marena starts with a nice catchy rhythm from the band and superb vocals from Elias. The Alyssa’s brought forth a nice chunky bottom end that you can feel and spatial detail with integrity throughout the recording.
The Alta Audio Alyssa’s are the only speakers I’ve reviewed that promised great sound and delivered even more than I thought possible. Thankfully, it didn’t take a full 100 hours of break-in for them to provide a great listening experience. If you have 50 watts or more at hand, you will be pleased with the sonics they bring to the ear. The Alyssa’s were designed for a room-filling, sound experience. For the money and Alta Audio’s build quality, they come highly recommended! Do give them a demo.
P.S. If everything goes as planned, I plan on doing a second review of the Alyssa’s when they reach 500 hours. According to Mike Levy, that’s when the Alyssa’s will offer a whole new sound experience. As it stands now, they’re my pick for Most Wanted Component 2020 award winner.
Height: 14.5 inches, 15 inches with spikes
Width: 8 inches at top, 9.6 inches at bottom
Depth: 13.25 inches at top, 14.25 inches at bottom
Weight: 28 lbs
One 2 inch ribbon tweeter
One 6 inch midrange woofer with Titanium Former
Sensitivity: 87.5 dB / 2.83 Volts @
Frequency response: 32Hz to 47kHz +/- 3 dB
Impedance: 4 Ohms
Requirements: 50 to 150 Watts per channel
Alta XTL Bass with DampHard faceplate
P.R. Agent: Adam Sohmer
Contact: (347) 662 6535
Tim’s Associated equipment:
Core Power Technologies Equi=Core 300 (mains filter)
Conrad Johnson PV-8 preamplifier
P.S. Audio CX200 power amp
PhonoMax phono preamplifier
Vincent SV-200 integrated amplifier
Audio Path power cord
Synergistic Kaleidoscope interconnects
Synergistic Looking Glass interconnects
Synergistic Alpha Quad speaker cables
Well-Tempered Labs Record Player
(with a Larry Peterson Modified arm)
Benz Micro Silver High Output Moving Coil Cartridge
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