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Source: Eastern Electric Minimax CD player with NOS Philips Miniwatt 6DJ8s, Cairn Fog v2.0 24/192 CD player, Pro-Ject 1 Xpression turntable w/Ortofon 540 Mk II cartridge
Preamp/Integrated: Manley Labs Stingray, Manley Labs Shrimp Preamp [in for review], Audio Zone AMP-1, Almarro A50125A [in for review], Pro-Ject Tube Box phono stage with RCA Black Plate 12AX7s
Amp: Manley Labs Mahi monoblocks [in for review]
Speakers: Green Mountain Audio Callisto (on lead filled metal stands), REL Q108 Mk II subwoofer, Almarro M2A [in for review]
Cables: DH Labs Revelation interconnects, Auditorium23 speaker cables, Audience powerChord AC cables, GutWire Power Clef 2 AC cables; BPT L-10 [in for review]
Stands: Premier three-tier, filled with sand
Powerline conditioning: BPT Pure Power Center w/Wattgate 381 outlets, Bybee Quantum Purifiers and ERS cloth, Blue Circle BC86 MkII Power Line Pillow
Sundry accessories: Grado SR-60 headphones, Pro-Ject Speed Box, Gingko Audio Cloud 11 platform, Grand Prix Audio APEX footers (under speaker stands), Isoclean fuses, Walker Audio SST contact enhancer, Audience Auric Illuminator MkII, GutWire Notepads and SoundPads, Black Diamond Racing Cones, dedicated AC line with Wattgate 381 outlet, Echo Busters acoustic room treatments
Room size: 11x18x8, short wall setup
Review Component Retail: M2A loudspeaker $2,700/pr in oak finish; A50125A integrated amplifier $2,950
|Almarro is a small family-operated audio equipment manufacturer from Japan. I first learned of Almarro from Jeff Day's review of the A205 EL84-based SET integrated before I gained first-hand exposure during Primedia's Home Entertainment Shows in 2004 and 2005. Looking over both of my show reports, the Almarro room was one of my favorites. Indeed, both Srajan and I were duly impressed when we dropped by at this year's show. The M2A's Focal tweeter was a surprise - it hasn't exactly bowled over either of us as heard in other speakers. We hung out for a spell and had a pleasant chat with our gracious hosts. Needless to say, a pair of M2A speakers plus the A50125A integrated amp appeared on my doorstep several weeks later.
|The M2A is a 2-way floorstanding speaker of average dimensions featuring a Focal TC120 TD5 inverted titanium dome tweeter and a 6" Neo woofer constructed from a type of honeycomb weave. There was no mention of the crossover in the documentation and neither was it accessible|
|mounted high up inside the cabinet instead of behind the binding posts as is more common. I couldn't remove the drivers, which were fixed with non-standard screws. However, I managed to remove the housing to the rear reflex port, slide my hand inside and feel around the crossover. My guess is 1st order as I could only detect a cap, one inductor and possibly a resistor or two. On the rear are two sets of binding posts for biwiring/biamping and the aforementioned bass reflex port. Interestingly, the M2A's cabinet is solid oak approximately an inch thick. In this case, Hokkaido Oak plus a half-inch layer of MDF. From what I gather through my email exchanges with Almarro's Yoshihiro Muramatsu, the MDF is included purely for sonic effect. Almarro found optimum sonics with a combination of rare wood and MDF. I was quite impressed with the fit and finish. Not unlike the Leben CS-300X I recently reviewed, it also smelled good! Muramatsu-San explained that the oak wood used is difficult to dry out completely; hence the heady aroma of the sap remains quite noticeable.
|Instead of traditional spikes, the M2A sits on four adjustable metal outriggers that are coupled to the bottom of the speaker with long threaded bolts. The M2As are equipped with grills. However, they look and sound better without them.
Specs are as follows:
Power handling: 80W
Frequency response: 27Hz - 21KHz +/-3dB @ 88dB/1w/1m
Tweeter: Focal TC120 TD5
Impedance: 6 ohms
Dimension: 100cm (H) x 24cm (W) x 40cm (D)
Weight: 25kg - 30kg each
|After attaching the outriggers, I initially placed the M2As approximately two feet from the back wall but preferred them four feet into the room with a slight toe-in. I also tried the Almarros in three other rooms. No doubt due to their rear port, they performed best when sited several feet away from any walls. Get that port too close to the wall and you'll be plagued with boomy and uncontrolled bass. As I'm no believer of biwiring, I used a single run of either Auditorium 23 or DH Labs Q-10 speaker cable, with custom jumpers made from DH Labs T-14 and Cardas spades. After I found the optimum location, I leveled the speakers and ensured the coned feet solidly contacted the floor. This was especially simple due to the outboard feet. I could perform adjustments with a mere twist of the|
|large knobs rather than the de rigueur futzing about with the tiny steel spikes mounted underneath most speakers.
|I more or less auditioned the M2A and A50125A as a system since they were designed by the same firm. This is an effective strategy and eliminates the trial and error exercise of matching amps with speakers, arguably the most critical interface in the signal chain. However, I also partnered the Almarro amp and speakers with other components on hand to get a sense of each piece.
|The M2A is definitely a voiced loudspeaker rather than belonging into the endless conga line of bland, boring and bright-sounding speakers currently marching into audio shops. I got the sense that this speaker was geared more|
|towards conveying the beauty and seductive aspects of music rather than throwing open a window to spotlight performances where every detail is revealed and brought to the fore.
Images were centered behind the plane of the speakers, creating a decently wide but somewhat shallow soundstage. Music playback was relaxed and refined, with good weight and extension in the bass. However and on occasion, I did note some undue ripeness and bloat down low. The highs were sweet, airy and a little rolled off. The midrange is where the M2A really shone: full yet refined and oh so smooth. Instrumental and vocal timbres were lifelike, even lush. Overall, the M2As displayed a laidback and mellow disposition that rarely offended if lacking a little in jump and excitement.
The choice of the Focal inverted metal dome tweeter surprised me as I had not heard an implementation of that tweeter I'd liked. The JMlabs speakers that feature this tweeter have consistently displayed too much of that "yoo-hoo, I'm over here" quality I find so annoying. I noticed no such trait with the Almarro.
|If I seem slightly cool towards the M2A, that was mostly the fault of my Green Mountain Audio Callistos. In my opinion, they are a benchmark design. There are very few multi-driver loudspeakers that display the coherence, immediacy and sheer naturalness of the Callistos. I am less aware of a speaker imposing itself between me and the music than with just about any other brand I can think of. Nor am I aware of any two-way design that hides its crossover as well. Most speakers I encounter ultimately pale when I switch to the GMAs. The transition from woofer to tweeter becomes all too audible and ultimately distracting - as do fatigue-inducing phase and timing anomalies. At first blush, I thought the M2A was more or less seamless and musically coherent. Which it is compared to the majority of similarly appointed loudspeakers.
|Switching to the Callistos however and then back to the M2A, I could easily hear where the woofer handed off to the tweeter. The upstart Callistos even beat up on the Living Voice Auditoriums I reviewed earlier this year. The Living Voice range certainly sounded impressive when I heard them at HE2004 and HE2005. Yet, after living with them for several weeks and comparing them to the Callistos, the game was over.|
|The Auditorium's cabinet resonances just got too much in the way of the music for me to enjoy. To my jaded ears, the Callistos are completely devoid of such enclosure-induced tonal aberrations. Meanwhile the M2A is certainly a tuned design not unlike a violin or cello. However, I suspect because of the clever use of real wood, it didn't bother me as much as the LVs. In fact, the effect was quite pleasant if not entirely correct from a technical standpoint. Still, the M2A is an enjoyable speaker that was good-natured, smooth and weighty and rarely made an impolite sound. As with the A50125A, the M2A is more geared towards those who prefer a rich, relaxed and seductive experience. For many listeners, it will be a pleasant alternative to most similarly priced and sized speakers on the market today. My father certainly had no criticisms when he got to baby-sit the M2As for a few weeks while we were selling our house. According to our real estate agent, prospective homebuyers frown upon the sight of audio effluvia littering living room floors. Go figure. Hence most of my equipment ended up in my old man's den. He found the M2As thoroughly lovable and was indeed sad to see them go.|