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Face-Off III: Alon Napolean

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Alon Napoleon: Bottom Line:
http://www.alonbyacarian.com

Pros:
Compact size
Crisp highs
Decent imaging at low volume levels

Cons:
Sound compression and break-up at moderately high volume levels
Honky midrange
Mediocre build quality

Although we weren't planning on reviewing a subwoofer satellite system, the opportunity presented itself when the Marketing Manager for Alon Loudspeakers phoned me and boasted about this new 5.1 Subwoofer/Satellite System that, according to him, sounded better than $20K systems with a mere price tag of around $3500. We all heard these claims before from loudspeaker manufacturers, thus the reason why we wrote the very controversial, but much needed article called "Top 10 Gimmicks in Loudspeakers".

But, we figured what the heck, let's give this company the benefit of a doubt and see just how good their little miracle system really is.

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Alon Napoleon woofer pic.

Notice the OEM woofer with a plastic basket. This type of woofer is used in many cost sensitive systems.

The Napoleon system is a typical 5.1 Sub/Sat system with five small two-way satellite speakers and a subwoofer. What is unusual about the system is that it does not offer a dedicated center channel speaker. This could be a mixed blessing, depending on the quality of the speakers. If the speaker system performs well, and has a wide dispersion pattern and dynamic range, than having all five speakers with identical driver topologies would be a perfect match. However, if the speakers could barely hold their own, and you place one of these under achievers on top of a huge big-screen TV, you may find the sound lacking. The speaker would get lost in a world that it can't call its own, sounding no better than the whizzer cone speakers that are inside your TV.

Unfortunately, the latter case is what we found to be true with the Napoleon System. In fact, we initially tested a pair of Napoleons by themselves without a subwoofer to hear how well they produced the frequencies they were responsible for (80Hz to 20KHz according to the user manual). Surprisingly, the Alon Rep recommended running all of the satellite speakers on full range and crossing over the sub where we felt appropriate. When voicing our concerns about how these little speakers, (based on the laws of physics and common sense), would not be able to handle full-frequency range (20-20KHz), and if pushed, would become distorted and incoherent, he simply shrugged off our concerns, claiming that these speakers were different.

Our listening results were quite disappointing, especially since we anxiously received the Alon 5.1 speaker system with high hopes. The mediocre build quality of the Napoleon Satellites was apparent from the moment we unboxed them. They had the appearance of a speaker system one would find at the local electronics shack in the mall. They came finished in what Alon referred to as a Brazilian Santos Rosewood, but actually they looked more like 1970's dark brown vinyl. The cabinets were square, and substandard metal grills covered the drivers. We decided to not let our first impression of appearance hinder our objectivity. After all, there are many moderately well constructed speaker systems that perform better than the sum of their parts, Pinnacle being one brand that quickly comes to mind.

Our first test disc was from (Sade's CD, called "Lover's Rock"). This disc helps to instantly determine the frequency range of a speaker system that is being reviewed, as it has loads of bass, mids and highs. (Track #4: "Somebody Already Broke My Heart") really tests a speaker's mid and lower bass capabilities, and how well they can accurately handle the sounds they must deal with. With the volume set low, the Napoleons sounded ok, but a little on the thin side. We didn't think this was a problem, as they would be expected to sound this way given their size and driver compliment. We figured we would ultimately cross them over and allow the sub to handle the bass despite the claims from the Alon rep. The vocals sounded clear, but forward, and the highs were detailed but somewhat bright. The tweeter brightness seemed to subside a bit after a few hours of break in passed. However, to our surprise, as we increased the volume, it became extremely obvious just how compressed and unfocused these speakers truly were. The woofer cones began breaking up, which in turn had deleterious effects on midrange clarity. In general, the speakers sounded very congested and boxy. Crossing them over at 80Hz and allowing the mighty little Velodyne SPL 800 sub to handle the bass duties helped considerably to decrease the stress on the speakers that resulted from the bass they were relentlessly attempting (but unable) to produce. However, this still did not tame their boxy, honky and bright composure. The voices had a cupped and closed-in sound, almost like listening to the music through a straw.

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Alon Napoleon baffle pic.

Notice the lack of bracing, and extremely narrow baffle that separates the woofer and tweeter. The inductor windings are directly soldered to the binding post, demonstrating mediocre workmanship.

When we discussed our concerns with the Alon Rep, he faulted the set-up and/or our cables. He went on to suggest that high-end cables which are sometimes higher in capacitance (say 200pf /ft) than normal 12 awg (20pf/ft) zip cord (due to winding schemes, or construction) may cause the speakers or amplifiers to oscillate, resulting in sound degradation. A courteous explanation was given to him as to how this was just not possible. I also modeled the metrics of the cables we were using in PSPICE, and demonstrated how the cables had a flat bandwidth and adequate phase margin beyond 100kHz and thus were transparent to the speakers. In addition, all of the amps we were using to power these speakers were more than capable of driving a few thousand picofarads of cable capacitance. In any event, we continued our review with his recommendations and used normal 12AWG speaker cables. The Alon Rep also claimed that we must hook up the Alon Thunderbolt sub along with the Napoleons as they were designed to work together. The logistics of that claim didn't really make much sense.

If we were ignoring bass capability and focusing on evaluating mids and highs performance we should be able to do so independent of the subwoofer.

Besides we had two perfectly good subs (RBH 1010-SEP and Velodyne SPL-800) already integrated into our system. Unless the Thunderbolt Sub had some magical pixie dust to correct the frequency and distortion problems we were hearing in the Napoleons, using their sub was a moot point. On that note, we opted not to install the Thunderbolt sub as suggested. Even after changing the cables and adding the Velodyne and RBH subs to the mix, the more we listened to the little Napoleons, the more fatiguing and unmusical we unanimously found them to be.

Further listening sessions with these speakers proved that regardless of driving them with the Harman Kardon Integrated amplifier, or Aragon electronics, there was little difference in performance and no change to the lack of musical enjoyment that these speakers bestowed upon us. If we had heard these speakers being demoed at a famous electronics shack in the mall, or a consumer department store, we wouldn't have given it much thought, as that was the type of sound one would expect in those places. However, the Alon's were being marketed as "high end" speakers capable of outperforming $20K systems, at least according to the Alon Rep. Viewed in that light, it was almost comical that someone would try to pawn them off as such.

As with all of our reviews, we sincerely hope that the manufacturer will take these observations of ours into consideration and produce a better, solid, more pleasing speaker in the future. It is our intent to point out the obvious and hope that we can make a difference in the way companies manufacture and market their products.

 

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