For audiophiles and music lovers who love to read...
Not only is Alain's 9" widebander of premium quality. Its open-backed loading is a big part of its performance. It minimizes common resonances and reflections which define generic box sound. The 5½ octaves which the human voice traverses now enjoy uncompressed freedom more like dipole ribbons or planarmagnetics. But they also couple to the dynamic push of a big cone driver. As extra bonus, we get some very useful lateral cancellation from out-of-phase energies wrapping around the box. These nulls dilute our side walls. They factor less as typical reflection points. [At right, Aurai's M3 when it was still Simon Audio's house brand.]
The upshot is a significant drop in time confusion. After all, reflections and resonances are delays in time. Now the equation for how Lieutenant's higher resolution works is solved. A drop in time confusion equals higher alacrity of handling complexity without getting confused. It's not just intuitive. It demonstrates directly. If we sample complex big fare bedeviled by challenges to subsequently shun it, our ear/brain heard issues even if we didn't stop to analyze them as dynamic compression, temporal blur or weak focus. Conversely, if we're strangely attracted to ever more challenging stuff, the same issues must have softened significantly; or gotten sorted altogether. It's an involuntary reaction like avoiding a hot stove. You get burnt just once then know better. It's why reverse diagnosis works so well in reviewing. Tranlated to audio lingo, Lieutenant excelled at high-speed timing without blur; had the dynamic envelope to do Juan Carmona's jagged angularity justice; and the advanced separation chops to follow Alireza Ghorbani and Hiba Tawaji's vocals through the surrounding orchestral thicket without flattening it out. Dumped into a catch-all bucket, these qualities mix down to higher resolution.
Should I now pass my mix-down to a mastering engineer to have him make it all much louder? I'd have to rewrite the lot. But raves run the risk of getting assassinated by the next rave a month later. Even if it takes us years to come across something better, what to say when we do? That yesterday's awesome is suddenly flawsome? I like to remind myself that I never know what I don't know until something resets my map. The longer I'm in this game, the rarer such resets get especially since I don't really like to stretch my financial comfort zone.
In today's case, it's been many years. So I return to say that Lieutenant's advances in the areas mentioned were next level to me. Beyond that I wouldn't know. In my book then, Lieutenant's design success centers on its unusually large midrange. It covers broad bandwidth in box-less mode but unlike a classic widebander isn't tasked to do treble or low/mid bass.
Harmonic sheen and that certain lightness of being are injected with quasi omni tweeters of ultra-low mass. Meanwhile the hidden 8" carbon woofer (smaller than the midrange!) isn't tuned for ultimate reach but control, impulse response and high power to -3dB/32Hz. That comes from the strategic but narrow plateau of the bandpass loading.
It's a clever mix of ingredients which I haven't seen combined this way before. Alain's two bigger models in the Zero range will scale up the same recipe with a bigger woofer then dual woofers. Naturally their cabinets must grow in cubic volume. Lieutenant remains the most compact of this seafaring lot. It's why I didn't ask for Capitaine or Commander. They would definitely have outranked our domesticity of seaman 2nd class.
The remix. Looping back to ambition as a young man's game, Alain already used his proprietary tweeter in the M3 before it was Aurai.
"All tweeters without wave guide suffer lobing functions relative to frequency. I've tested them all. With our horn's ellipsoidal profile, we only have one lobe and exactly the same energy across the entire pass band. My tweeter isn't a standard soft dome but has a polymer membrane and total moving mass below 0.12g. For a dynamic driver not ribbon, that's exceptionally low. I control its level with magnets. Everything is set on the motor. By removing or adding a magnet, I adjust level and overshoot. With full-power extension to 18'500Hz in a 10mm voice coil, that gives me 6dB of tuning leeway without shelving resistors. Most important is that's how I control overshoot. Here magnets or autoformers are the royal way. But this tweeter also uses a floating system to avoid screws or extra glue to work without tension and far fewer mechanical vibrations. Its shape is like a Western Electric 555 motor placed in front of a 2" Altec diaphragm."
Lieutenant adds a unique midrange driver and custom woofer with carbon-fiber Audax cone. When it comes to tech not marketing, young brand Aurai and its retired boss have ambition to burn even if at first, it'll be mostly South Korean listeners who'll cross path with Lieutenant. It's because Alain's champion Simon Lee—formerly of April Music now Simon Audio—already imported his speakers more than 60 moons ago when they were still his house brand. On the Seoul peninsula, Simon has established a very solid reputation for Alain's designs. Outside that market, it'll be for Alain to blow his own horn. That's where the music might dial down. Rather than face it, he far prefers engineering. C'est la vie de retraité.
But how many small boutique brands can you name which roll their own drive units?
Now add the 95dB/2.83V sensitivity. How many makers of serious multi-way speakers actually work on improving the abysmal power-conversion specs of 21st-century speaker design? Magico's 1'000lbs M9 flagship hits a lovely 94dB yet the same range's smallest M2 is already back down to a typical 88dB. Stenheim's quad-tower 1'200kg Reference Statement hits a high note of 96dB and their smallest 70kg floorstander still manages 93dB. But one feels vexed to identify many a speaker of Lieutenant's proportions and price which halves the gap between conventional 88-90dB multi-ways and Rethm or Voxativ 100dB widebanders (horns like Avantgarde live on still another page). That too makes Aurai's smallest floorstander in their Zero range unexpectedly ambitious without trading in floor-bending solid aluminium or sleek carbon-fiber builds. We're back at deceptively simple box looks. These hide more than is apparent to the eye though back-to-back horn tweeters in machined aluminium do tell their own exclusive tale.
The message is clear. Lieutenant demands close-up personal engagement to reveal all of his secrets. Booking a meet demands making the effort. No matter future commercial success as units sold or notoriety gained from big ads, show demos and forum chatter, he embodies the condensed know-how of a very gifted speaker designer who for his own amusement has been at it for longer now than this site is old. That Mr. Pratali's hobby solidified in commercial products at all is due to Simon Lee. He heard Alain's personal system in Marseilles, couldn't forget the experience, acquired Alain's only pair of speakers then encouraged him to revisit it and go into production. As far as I've been able to follow this tale and subsequent formalization of the brand Aurai Audio—home of an actual sailor man in the French Merchant Navy—it's now been laid out across four reviews and Lieutenant's genesis story on this site. [Simon Audio's M84 version in this next video.]
"If we can't be frens, we'll be emenies." I'm sure you can tell which side of that I'm down with Lieutenant. "Blow me down." And now I'm fresh out of ink. So let's give music the last words.
For an encore, here's an actual concert's encore after which there remains nothing to be said.
Alain Pratali responds: "Thank you for your honesty and this nice review. As you saw, a double tweeter is lovely to live with. Thanks also for thinking that I don't do this for money. Antoine and I can do at most 10 pairs a month. The proceeds of sales flow right back into future R&D where I'm going to tackle the issue of the driver's spider next. There's a lot to do on this suspension component."
Postscript. A day after publishing my review, this reader email arrived: I just finished reading your review on the Lieutenant speaker which I was very interested in since I read the preview for Zero Jr. some months ago. Due to its excellent sensitivity, it let's you choose from a wide range of amplifiers (First Watt, Bakoon and even tubes would be my preferred choices). At first read, it seems it was all I was hoping for (excellent resolution with great tone). Alas, I was surprised when I realized that it didn't get an award like the M1 or M3. This prompted me to re-read your article more carefully. That's when I realized you didn't say anything about its directness or its coherence. At first I assumed that since those traits were already mentioned in the M1 review, they were already a fact in this speaker. But after the lack of an award, I think that maybe they aren't. Am I right or is there another reason for the lack of an award? Regards from Mexico, Juan José Braham
Because I compared Lieutenant directly to the M1, I only mentioned the areas where it went beyond. There was nothing inferior whatsoever to warrant any mention. Given the preceding origin story, I didn't want this to become another endless tale. As to an award, there are two other models based on the same platform which are still bigger. I won't try those but would have to before I could be sure which offers the most compelling balance of sonics, size and price to get an award. But when you sit down to listen, you won't hear any awards, just sonics. If what I described fits your bill, there's no good reason to hesitate just because there's no blue pixels. Srajan
Thanks for your answer. One last question: will you be keeping one of the Aurai speakers or return both of them and go back to Codex? Regards, Juan
I'm seriously considering it. Srajan
The same day: Juan beat me to it about Lieutenant. It really sounds like a wonderful speaker and for a fair price considering. My question now is whether you factor in 'unobtainium' when you consider what to own? After all, reviewers whose systems consist of stuff nobody except them has ever heard work a bit outside the lines of relevance. Readers can't ever triangulate. On that score, your Audio Physic makes for a very relatable reference. Neither of the Aurai would. So when it comes down to it, do you vote on behalf of your readers or your personal preference? It's not a trick question. I'm really just curious how someone in your position weighs these things. Paul Wozniak
Excellent question indeed. Yes I do weigh these things. I also weigh price because, as you put it, I want to remain more relatable than some of the reviewers with high 6-figure systems (not to say that I could afford those). The way I look at it—about 20 years in of doing this gig—is that I've paid my dues. When the final decision is really down to just personal preference vs. easy reader triangulation and naught else, I'm far more apt to now go with the unholy trinity of me, myself and I. In the end, I do this for a living and because it's my hobby. Both sides of the equation must balance out. I also keep around numerous choices in each component category to better mix and match. That too insures that while some stuff might be more obscure, other stuff is more broadly distributed. Srajan
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