As many of you may already know, new HempCone drivers are coming from Omega that feature Alnico magnets. Louis was kind enough to send me a pair of the new drivers for testing in my MaxHemp cabinets. These are production drivers and not prototypes. I took delivery on Friday, March 1st and installed them two days later on Sunday morning. I have been using them ever since.
I spoke to Louis on the phone about the drivers last Thursday. In case any of you are wondering, I told him then that I wanted to buy them, and that was before he told me the price. The Alnicos for me represent a dramatic improvement to an already great speaker design, and I am very confident that anyone who opts for them will feel the same way.
In short, the Alnico drivers leave the wonderfully rich midrange of the standard drivers intact, while providing for considerably improved focus and articulation in the high and low frequencies. The one shortcoming of the standard drivers, in my view, is the occasional stridency that I was hearing on some recordings in the high frequencies. Low end response was much less of a concern for me since I have a DeepHemp. Now, I don't want to overstate the problem, because it is very small relative to the large body and variety of music I listen to. It would be unfair to say that I was dissatisfied with the standard drivers. If the Alnicos were not an option then I know I would still be very satisfied with the standard drivers.
One thing you should note is that the Alnico drivers are slightly less efficient than the standard drivers. I have to give them about 10 to 15 percent more volume on my preamp to drive them to the same SPL of the standard drivers. But in my opinion what you gain in sonic focus and clarity in the high and low frequencies more than compensates the listener for the slight loss of efficiency. It is a trade-off that I would gladly make any day of the week. To restore the balance of of my system all I did was lower the gain on my DeepHemp by the same factor and everything was fine.
Also note that the Alnicos do not go lower than the standard drivers in terms of frequency response. What they do is give you more volume and better definition in the low end. This was one of the first things that I noticed. When I spoke to Louis on Thursday I think we concluded that with my room acoustics and speaker placement that it might be better to plug the ports on the cabinets. I have since been listing to the speakers with the ports plugged and I prefer their sound this way. Right now I have a couple of pair of rolled up socks plugging the ports and Louis said that he would send me a pair of plugs.
Also note that these drivers do not have a lot of hours on them, and I am certain they are subject to break-in just like any other speaker. It should also be noted that the new designs might have entirely different break-in patterns than what we are used to. I will comment on break-in as I accumulate hours on the drivers. But I can say without reservation that these drivers today sound better than the original drivers that I have put over 400 hours on.
Al Smith – Hear My Blues
This title keeps bubbling up because it is the one record that I have that never sounded quite right on the standard drivers. I have spun this album three times at various stages of break-in. On the alnicos this album was sonically perfect as far as I'm concerned, and it was the best I have heard this record sound. When Al Smith hits the high notes his voice remains tight, focused, and holds together. On the old drivers it would bloom and break up occasionally. With the Alnicos the high-end stridency was completely gone and the low-end was very focused and tight, more so than on the standard drivers. The sweet spot, the character of the midrange, remains virtually unchanged. So the results with the alnicos are very delightful. You receive all the midrange detail and texture that brings audiophiles to Omega loudspeakers, and the new magnets provide the added benefit of more focused high and low frequency response without the occasional bloom in the standard drivers.
Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Duke Ellington Song Book
I have not tried to hide the fact that I prefer vinyl to CD. I think vinyl just plain sounds better, but not because vinyl is inherently superior, but because most CD remasters of classic rock and jazz titles are terrible. There are exceptions of course, and one of them is the Complete Ella Fitzgerald Song Books on Verve. This is a 20 CD boxed set of every song book that Fitzgerald recorded in the 1950s. The First Lady of Song never sounded better, and pairing her with Duke Ellington and his Orchestra was a stroke of genius. If all CDs sounded as good as these do then I probably would not feel compelled to buy vinyl. It is that good, and on the Alnicos every nuance of her ballads and the raw energy and exuberance of Ella's scat singing come through in all their glory, and with a clarity that I have never heard before. One thing about Fitzgerald was that she had near perfect elocution, you never had to strain to understand the words she was singing. The Alnico drivers are extremely faithful to her voice and stylistic interpretation.
Here is a record that sounded pretty good on the old drivers but sounds considerably better on the Alnico drivers. The noteworthy track here for the purpose of this report is Armistice Day
, and this is really a spectacular recording with a lot of guitar playing at the extremes of the scale. The Alnicos are sonically true to the very low registers on the acoustic guitar, again, without any blooming. When Simon’s playing wanders into the high notes the sound is bright without being too metallic to the point where the delicate tones are crushed. His vocals come through crystal clear and hold their tone without breaking up – there was never a hint of stridency. I was flabbergasted by the stark difference between how this track sounded on the old versus the new drivers.
Tony Bennett - Jazz
If you can only own one Tony Bennett album then this is the one to own. I have this on vinyl in a 2 LP set. I can also say that if you like Tony Bennett and you end up with a pair of Alnico drivers then you will want to find yourself a copy of this album one way or another, because it is a perfect showcase recording for the drivers capabilities. Bennett has amazing range on this record and he is in perfect voice. It left me speechless after listening to it.
Frank Sinatra - Sinatra and Swingin' Brass
This is one of my favorite Sinatra albums on the Reprise label. I found a second pressing of this sealed on eBay for $24. It's on heavy 160g vinyl. Very nice. This is a great record to discuss what the Alnicos do the for the low end. On lesser speakers the double bass (acoustic jazz bass) usually sounds weak. On this record the bass is perfectly miked (as are the drums) so the rhythm section is very pronounced on this recording, but it does not compete with or overwhelm Sinatra's singing. With the new drivers the rhythm section propells the music as it should without overpowering it. If someone asked me to play an album that really shows off the Alnicos, then I would probably reach for this record.
I could go on and on about these drivers. I have listened to a lot of records on the Alnicos that I also spun on the other drivers and were mentioned in my MaxHemp thread. If anyone wants a comparison of how those recordings now sound please feel free to ask. But I think it is fair to say that the alnico drivers have improved the sound of every recording I have listened to on them.
I also want to thank Louis, not just for giving me a chance to try these marvelous drivers out but also because he is always moving forward, looking for ways to improve what most of us believe are already great products. We all reap the benefits.