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Angles, Devils and the Big Bang
"When I produce a loudspeaker, I pretty much build for the owner. These [AL-2s] are built for testing gear and what I feel a reviewer should have in a semi-affordable loudspeaker. You should be able to easily pick out the diff in sources, amps, pres etc." And it just so happened that I had a slew of gear in-house to just see about that. I tried five different amps during the course of my listening sessions. This included the resident Fi 45, the Fi 2A3 monoblocks with silver trannies, an Audio Note Signature Kit1, Red Wine Audio's Lotus and even the 100wpc solid-state Magnum Dynalab MD-208. The Déjà Vu Audio preamp and the Red Wine Lotus Passive Pre saw playing time in most possible amp/pre configurations. I even tried my Audio Aero CDP amp direct. The only thing was, I wasn't listening through the AL-2s, I was listening to the AL-2s. And they wouldn't let me forget their presence. The monocular gaze of that 12" Alnico-magnetized Fostex woofer was somewhat overpowering in my 13' x 14' room. But what that one-footer promised in looks, it also delivered in sonics - namely authority. I will say it did take a bit of trial, error and coaxing to get them to come out and play.

From the liner notes for the Mass for Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra, Op21 by Wolfgang von Schweinitz [wer 60504-50] "It is as if a wanderer lost in a forest at night were calling fearfully and hopefully for help, and hearing no answer but noises." The Mass explores the heights and depths of - oh hell, it's the human condition for lack of a more original phrase. And a dizzying ride it is, angels, devils and the Big Bang thrown in to boot: "... isorhythmic, polyphonic texture, with the strings playing at the very top of their harmonics: music of the spheres, or the still audible resonance of the Big Bang, a continuing allegory of our existence."

Like the film Devils by Ken Russell, this Mass is way over the top yet it floats my boat. And make no mistake about it; this is big stuff. Big orchestration, chorus, dynamic range, mood, tempo, a real heaven-and-hell test disk. And it did test the limits of the Fi 45 first. At 2 watts, the Fi started harshing out and becoming strident somewhere into the "Gloria".

I could back off the volume some to even things out but this still left no doubt that the AL-2s would prefer more power than the Fis had on hand to deliver the concert-going experience on highly taxing music. Admittedly, I was playing in volume ranges I rarely reach but for those not as concerned about hearing well into their later years, be warned. You'll want more than 2 watts to really bleed.

"There is an alchemy between triodes and Alnico that is more profound than beer and pretzels..." - Dr. Harvey Rosenberg. Never one to pass on beer & pretzels, I kept going back to the SETs on hand for a taste of that tonal purity. And I settled on the 300B-based Kit1. Its 9 - 10 watts turned out to be the combo of choice, providing the best balance of tone and drive. Once settled on this score, it was time to dial in the T500a. I did find that integrating that Fostex super tweeter took some work to get things to gel as a whole. I ended up placing 2 pairs of Yamamoto's Ebony footers under the front spikes of both speakers, giving them a ½" tilt back. Having the super tweeter -- or as John Potis pointed out, the much more appropriately named extended range tweeters -- directed slightly above my head smoothed out a perceived liveliness. I also found the passive/SET combo to work much better with the AL-2s. The additional gain coming from the Déjà Vu preamp was not needed and ended up being a case of too much by tipping the tonal scales with undue emphasis on that 3-4kHz region. For the remainder of my listening, the extended range tweeter was set to -8dB on the transformer attenuator which turned out to be a very practical feature rather than fixing the tweeter's output level a priori. It makes the design much more flexible and adaptable to room/equipment interactions and personal preferences. One more note on set-up. I found the placement of the T500a to be very critical, with back and forward movements down to less than ½" changing the balance of presentation. Too far back = too much lag, too far forward = too much tweeter. I do have to wonder about my ability to 'time-align' drivers by ear and hand yet after some fiddling, I found my sweet spot.

Rattle Big Black Bones/in the Danger zone/there's a rumbling groan/down below
Tom Wait's Swordfishtrombones [Island 422-842 469-2] sits firmly in my top albums of all time, sounding like the Greatest Hits from some schizophrenic barking demon. Carny, crazed and Blues inspired rags mix it up with tear-jerk ballads, all driven by a great band, great
lyrics and some funky-ass instrumentation (it should come as no surprise there's a link to Harry Partch with Francis Thumm sharing duties on some of the arrangements). The opening track "Underground", according to Waits: "I abbreviated some of the scope and wanted bass marimba to give it kind of an exotic feel. So, you get the note and you get that kind of a tall wood clang with the attack." The AL-2s convey the exotic feel and when goosed with the appropriate amount of volume, the sound opens up wide. Percussive attack, bells, tambourine, Carlos Guitarlos' electric guitar on "Down, Down, Down" and on top of the beautiful rancorous row, there's Tom Waits, raspy and rewarding your darker imagination. On the track "Trouble's Braids", there's some heavy-handed percussion. This shows off one area the AL-2s really shine - dynamic range. From a whisper to a scream. Thwack!

With everything now set up, settled in and gelling nicely, Wolfgang's angels and devils flew through the room with abandon. And I breathed a sigh of relief. And put on some Grateful Dead. While I'm no Deadhead as evidenced by the existence of only two recently received bootleg recordings of Ratdog, American Beauty [Rhino r2 74397] elicits a
nostalgia for simpler, less coldly reasoned times. Angels and devils of a different sort, the AL-2s relished the reprieve and provided straight-forward Rock'n'Roll to be engaged in and enjoyed. The lazy harmonies of Garcia, Lesh and Weir are convincingly placed in the room and the acoustic accompaniment on tracks like "Ripple" are nicely portrayed. But as I relaxed, turned down the lights and was ready to chill, I found the AL-2s to close in as I entered the lower-volume quiet I inhabit later in the evenings. Without a certain amount of crank, the AL-2s slow down. Their tonal palette grays, the overall presentation gets a tad dark.

October 31st. Boo. John K. got married today while I listened to his speakers and Joy Division's Substance [qwest 9 25747-2] and Bauhaus' Singles Volume 1 [bega 64 cd1]. My job this evening was to welcome trick-or-treaters (all seven) so I put the candy bowl on the porch and turned out all the lights in the house while my family went to town to hit the big time. So I got to reminisce and crank it up, figuring anyone hearing "Bella Lugosi's Dead" would just figure the creepy guy must be out and he left on some creepy music in celebration of that timeless pagan ritual of candy consumption. I must admit that I had a great time with the AL-2s pumping out some inspired dread rock. Hell and damnation, fire and brimstone... you definitely don't want a polite speaker if this is your bag of tricks or treats. As Joy Division played "Atmosphere", I traveled back and into this murky message music: "Your confusion, my illusion".

Illusion & Reality
Did you ever see the movie The Abyss? That scene where Ed Harris is way down under the sea in the tunnel of the alien ship and the aliens do the Moses thing and part the seas so Ed can breathe? Well, the Maggies I recently heard presented sound somewhat like that. What at first seemed like a solid wall of sound was actually deep and liquid. Now the farthest I've
ever felt to be in the sound, enveloped, was with the Carfrae Little Big Horns. The differentiation between in-the-room and in-my-head was blurred. My Cain & Cain rig is a more intimate experience. You have to meet it half way, which I like. The AL-2s inhabit a place somewhere between the Abbys and Carfraes. They certainly aren't intimate speakers like the Abbys and they don't get into your head as deep as the Little Big Horns. But they try. And my feeling is that with the right room (read, larger than mine) and the right amount of power, they just might get closer. A 12" driver in a fairly substantial, well damped and ported cabinet can deliver convincing SPLs and physicality.

Loudness, Clarity, and Cooking
As Kari Nevalainen pointed out in his excellent Cornu review, "fixing the playback level for each track and with regard to the capabilities of the room and equipment is a vastly underestimated issue in current HiFi discourse." Herb Reichert also touches on this important topic in his review of the Konus Audio Essence loudspeakers. "First off, like most loudspeakers, the Essences have a loudness range where they sound the least distorted and most relaxed...Almost every loudspeaker has this same loudness-clarity limitation. Some however play better higher up the loudness scale and some play better lower down." And I would place the AL-2s in the former category, opening up and relaxing at higher SPLs. As such, the AL-2s are not the perfect match for my somewhat small listening room, somewhat modest tastes in listening level and admittedly modest 2 watts from the Fi 45. That's not a criticism, mind you, just the facts based on physical room limitations and user preference. The AL-2s are in fact surprisingly nimble and quick but to enjoy the full range of what they've got to offer, I'd suggest you need a larger room and an appetite for more volume than yours truly. Hand in hand with these prefs goes a mandate for more amp power and something that can convincingly control those big 12-inchers. The Audio Note Kit1 seemed a capable and willing partner. I'm sure if fed even more tube power, the AL-2s would just smile. You might even get a big 12" wink.

Would it be fair to suggest that KCS speakers are not for everyone? After all, what loudspeaker is? I think the potential KCS buyer has to bring more to this deal than the average speaker buyer going to their local retailer (if there is one left near you). I'd even go so far as to suggest that the KCS customers know a bit more about what they want; a specific driver perhaps or a custom horn system. They've explored the off-the-shelf options and remained unsatisfied. Now there may also be those value-hunters who would tally up the parts costs and draw some conclusions
about the related sound quality. "The drivers in these things cost more than 5 x the drivers in those...". Therefore they must be a better speaker. Right? I say that ain't necessarily so. Do you really think if you give someone like me and someone like Kondo or Shindo the same parts, we'd come out with equally good amplifiers? Hell, even given a 5 x handicap in terms of parts cost, I still wouldn't put my hard-earned dough on moi. The sum of the parts means a hell of lot less than the skill and craft of the designer. Think Iron Chef.

Judging from the overwhelmingly positive feedback we received from KCS owners and my experience with the AL-2s, I'd have to say John Kalinowski is clearly cooking. In the end, you just have to figure out whether John's cooking to your tastes.
KCS Owner Comments
"At any rate, the Fostex Banana Pulp cones took a while to break in but after about 20 hours and much to my delight, they became very clean and highly revealing and just got sweeter thereafter. My despair over the loss of my long-term 50 ME IIs was then swept away by the detail and air and sheer musicality of John's high-efficiency loudspeakers." Frederick J.

"I would like to inform you that I am very pleased with the F200a-based large stand mount that John Kalinowski built for me. Everything he claimed about the F200as is true. They are a full-range speaker that does everything well. John's workmanship is first rate and I would without hesitation recommend him to anyone looking to purchase a well-built great sounding speaker at a very fair price." Thomas F.

"I purchased this beautiful pair of speakers from John K. about 3 months ago, and love them to pieces. They are my main speakers, driven by a two-watt DIY 6SN7/26/45 Hogan amp in series with the Klipsch. I'm funny that way. The driver is a Fostex FE208sigma with a 5" Fountek ribbon tweeter on top. I can't tell you about the cab design other than it's a tuned piped thing, heavy birch plywood, cork lined, beautiful Bubinga baffles, nice quality feel and look." Randy M.

"I own a Fostex F200a system by John and have been very pleased with the value and build quality, not to mention the sound. In fact, I have been pleased enough to spend thousands more on an outrageous pair of 'redesigned' Imperial bass horn systems that are 8ft tall and use a pair of 18" woofers in each. I have also purchased a pair of custom-painted Azura front-loaded horns from him to incorporate into the system. I have a very large listening space (25'x 35' x 16') and John and I felt this system could finally do such a space justice. We'll see, but I have enough confidence in John's abilities to risk the funds, gear unheard. John is enthusiastic and talented and best of all, he is thus far commercially untainted. I hope you don't make him 'too' famous. I don't want to be selfish though; his work deserves to be discovered." Greg M.

"I'm the owner of one of John's big-array of horn speakers. The Oris array is outstanding in looks as well as sound. I've been within this hobby for a very long time and I've own many speaker systems. I feel that John's Oris array is the best horn system I've ever owned." Cornelius

"I purchased a pair of Hedlund back-horn speaker cabinets with Lowther DX4 drivers from John in April of this year. The construction and finish of the cabinets is of impeccable quality. The cabinets are equally a "work of art" as they are an audio component. I am currently driving the speakers with a Fi 2A3 X stereo amplifier with NOS RCA 2A3 tubes. The Shanling CDT-100 serves a my digital source component. I am using WE 396A NOS tubes in place of the original stock tubes. The audio signal passes through my Mœbius preamp that was designed by Eric Kingsbury - or "Poinz" as he likes to be referred to. The sound that emerges from the speakers is so life like. If you close your eyes, you are right there at the concert. The highs are crystal clear without being strident. The midrange is natural and transparent. The bass is deep and undistorted. The instruments are very clearly defined in space. I have had the opportunity to listen to a few single-driver speakers in the past and I believe that John Kalinowki's Hedlund speakers with the Lowther DX4 drivers rank up there with the "cream of the crop". All it takes is one listen to this speaker to become a believer! " Conwell M. A.
To see some of John Kalinowksi's creations, click here. To e-mail him, click here.