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Reviewer: Michael Lavorgna
Analog: Rega P3, Denon DL-103 cartridge, Auditorium 23 moving coil step up, Fi Yph phono stage
Digital: Audio Aero Capitole MKII
Preamp: Déjà Vu Audio, Red Wine Audio Lotus Passive PreAmp [in for review]
Amp: Fi 45 Prototype, Fi X, Red Wine Audio Lotus [in for review], Audio Note Signature Kit1 with upgrades [on loan], Fi 2A3 monos with Magnequest Silver output transformers [on loan]
Speakers: Cain & Cain Abby (Normal) and Cain & Cain Bailey, Tonian Acoustics TL-R2 Super Tweeter, KCS AL-2 [on review], Omega Aperiodic 8 [in for review]
Cables: PHY interconnects, Shindo interconnects, Auditorium 23 Speaker Cable, JPS Labs Digital AC Power Cable, Audience PowerChord, ESP Essence Power Cord, and Z-Cable Heavy Thunder V2 on the Blue Circle MR, Audiopath Silver Speaker cable, 8 Wire Silver Interconnects [in for review]
Stands: pARTicular Basis Rack
Powerline conditioning: Blue Circle Music Ring MR800
Accessories: Symposium Rollerblocks Series II under AA Capitole, Yamamoto Sound Craft PB-10 Ebony Bases under Abbys and Bailey, PS Audio Ultimate Outlets and AudioPrism Quiet Lines. Room damping provided by lots of books.
Room size: 13' w x 14' d x 9' h
Review component retail: $4000/pr + shipping
"What's he building in there/What the hell is he building in there/He has subscriptions to those Magazines... And what about all those packages?"
"We have a right to know..." [from Tom Waits What's He Building?]
|The world of the serious DIYer must seem intriguing from across the street, the yard or the hallway. Raw materials coming in and -- in today's case -- 300lb packages coming out. Intriguing from afar. But is the DIY world really fodder for a close-up review? Given the context of the question, my answer is obviously a resounding "Yes". There's a world of|
|possibilities outside mainstream audio. While it can be dangerous, with rumors of mercury vapors run amok, it's also a vast and terribly interesting place.
Do it Yourself. And let's make a very clear distinction up front between this and MOY - Make One Yourself. My interest is not in me-too products that undercut their commercial originals in price and oftentime quality. Just as in The Matrix, there's a world going on underground, a Zion that's filled with people who have the passion, skill and gumption to actually devote their time, energy and cash to turn a hobby and original idea(s) into something more. The metamorphosis from DIY projects to DIY ventures is exciting, interesting and just plain old fun.
"No," you counter? Shards of that ol' American dream causing some discomfort? Is the DIY profile rising up, threatening to topple some blissful state of high-end economic balance? Or should we envision the DIYer riding the waves of the Net, wielding a Weller ready to help reignite the passion that many complain has abandoned our hobby?
|John Kalinowski and Kalinowski Custom Speakers (KCS)
John Kalinowski of KCS started messing with speakers before he started messing with girls. Or so I imagine. "When I was 12, my father built me a pair of loudspeakers using old car drivers. They had a damaged driver and sounded poor so I started messing with them. 29 years later, here we are." As is so often the case, John started selling his speakers when some friends heard his horns and wanted to own a pair. These early designs were born out of frustration with the status quo.
"I ended up in the high-efficiency loudspeaker camp because I was sick of the many electrostatic, planar and conventional type loudspeakers that seemed to be designed just as much by bean counters as for real sound. My systems are also designed to appeal to many, including high WAF. Heck, I just wanted great sound. The only loudspeaker systems I heard that where good were over $20,000. So I bought used pairs. The best was the Avantgarde Duo 2.2. The Duo was a good loudspeaker but suffered from bass and driver integration problems. So off to Oris I went. I built 11 Oris-based systems. To me, all these were much better as well as to others who heard them and preferred them over the Duo, Avalons or electrostatic. So folks approached me to purchase my loudspeakers. Even though I was enjoying them, I couldn't stop designing and construction. I was eager to sell existing systems to develop new ones."
"I am influenced by Bo Yamamura, Nagaoka Tetsuo, Paul Klipsch, Doc Edgar, Bert Doppenburg and all those vintage horn designs by Klangfilm and Western Electric, RCA et al. To me, high-efficiency designs or limited xover designs with robust drivers are one key to great sound. Dynamic range is one big benefit but a musical, detailed and natural sound is more what I am after. I try to get as much performance as I can out of a given design and design the owners a system pretty much built for them. I can tell what most folks need system-wise and can adapt or design a loudspeaker unique to the owner. More affordable small-run models like the F200a TL are also available. I am interested in all loudspeakers and all quality transducers. I don't limit myself to any one style of design. If it's cool and quality, I am interested."
|Today, John builds speakers to order, specializing in high-efficiency horn and hybrid horn designs. And fun. "As far as KCS is concerned, it will stay small time and fun because when the fun is gone, how can one design fun loudspeakers? And isn't the hobby all about relaxing and having a bit of fun, not worrying whether your system is approved by other audio types? After all, you listen to it. It should be right for you and yours." Special order speakers take roughly 6 weeks depending mostly on the availability of the desired drivers. For John's favorite projects, the giant custom front horn systems, it's best to give John a call to discuss specifics. "And if you want a giant horn system... well, that's something I need to talk over with the future owner since there's so many options."
|On a more personal and human note, John donates part of each sale to a very worthy cause. "I take primary care of a 5-year old autistic boy who helps assemble most all loudspeakers including your review loaners. I will donate part of each sale to autism programs since 1 in 166 children born today suffer autism. I think this issue is only beginning to emerge. 28 years ago, it was 1 in 3000. When my boy was born, it already was 1 in 250. So autism takes up much of my time. But since I am home, I can do the loudspeaker thing for fun and to keep my mind flowing and spend time with my boy. He's my biggest critic. If he doesn't like the loudspeaker, he will turn off the system and tell me to "put the|
|horn speakers back on, daddy". He sits centered and you can tell he's really listening. My older boy built his own Nagaoka Fe166e design in high school shop class. His buddies where amazed at the sound that little driver delivered even for Rap."
The AL-2s are a two-way hybrid horn design. The speaker employs two Alnico magnet-enabled drivers, the 12" Fostex W300AII woofer in a bottom-ported design and, sitting atop the cabinet, the Fostex T500a horn-loaded super tweeter. A first order crossover on the T500a uses a step-down transformer to adjust gain. The tweeter crossover point sits at 2,700Hz/-6dB. The woofer runs full range.
"The design is a bottom-firing bass reflex alignment. Bottom firing ports or TLs sound better to me than front, back or side vents. Firing out the bottom allows you to eliminate the nasty Polyfill other designers use to keep port noise down while fooling the driver into sensing a larger cabinet. The T500a tweeter is Fostex's best and of the many top contenders for premium tweeter, my personal favorite. It's one amazing driver."
"I prefer transformers to step down levels over fixed resistors or cheap potentiometers like all the others give you. As far as I know, no other loudspeaker design is available with adjustable step-down transformers. You know why? Cost. I also use only the best electrical parts. This speaker system uses Mundorf silver oil caps. These cost more than most drivers in other $4000 speaker. The cabinet is fully lined with rubber foam damping material. There's Deflex behind each driver and the front baffle is over 1.5" thick. The internal top panels are angled to reduce standing waves. Angled tops behave almost like a sphere. I find crimps to sound much better than solder so I use WBT crimps for all connections. The AL-2 is time-aligned and phase correct. This matters much in loudspeakers. I also believe binding posts are an evil thing and destroy the high quality sound a loudspeaker can deliver. Such a mass of metal breaks the electrical connection (most will even add solder) plus you have a wire going to posts that's different than the one that follows the posts. I know many people with $1000s in speaker wire but they run it to cheap posts with cheap internal hookup wire on other end. To me, this makes very little sense if performance is the goal."
Options for this particular model include a ribbon tweeter, which lowers the price by $500 and a myriad of finish options. "Finish options are legion. For veneers, price is all over the place but simple maple or cherry only adds $200 while laminate finish options are no extra cost, just extra build time. I have 2 pairs of cabinets like the one you have ready to go. So I could ship almost right away if someone were interested in a pair."
To finish out the hard facts, the AL-2s stand at 44" h x 14" w x 17" d and weigh in at 125lbs+ a piece. They arrived via Road Way in three boxes, two of which were potentially back-breaking. Thankfully, I've retained an old hand truck and some rudimentary skills from my first real job loading trucks in a furniture warehouse. As it's John's preference to supply hard-wired speaker cables, that's how the review sample arrived. John uses the AudioQuest Type 4 speaker cable, terminated with banana plugs at my request. I honestly like this option and did not suffer from any audiophile nervosa over the inability to swap speaker wire. For those so inclined, you can order the AL-2 with WBT binding posts for the same price. John provided spikes for cabinet footers since the bottom port needs some space between it and the floor. If you opt for the hard-wired version, the speaker cable also exits from the cabinet bottom, further necessitating some lift. John also burns in every pair of speakers before they leave.
The only problem encountered during setup was related to the fact that the spikes do not screw into to the cabinet. They 'rest' under the cabinet, held in place via the supplied Bluetak. If done as a 2-man job, this would not be an issue but if you're flying solo, it may cause a bit of sweat and frustration. And pain. Okay, I admit that while putting spike number four into place, the cabinet teetered, tottered and came to rest on my finger. What was I thinking? However, once set in place, the cabinets are very stable and connection is a breeze. The physical hookup for the T500as was as simple a matter as setting the 10lb tweeters atop of the cabinets and screwing the exposed leads protruding from the top of the AL-2s to the T500as' binding posts.
|Prior to seating the super tweeters, one catches sight of a potential DIY nit to pick. The speaker leads and surrounding hole have a less-than-finished look. Once the tweeter is seated, this feature is mostly covered. As the rest of the finish quality is done to such a high standard, I'd suggest a re-think of this particular solution. Tony, my very genial UPS delivery buddy, gave them two thumbs way up on the finish|
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