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Alta Audio Alyssa Loudspeakers

11-17-2020 | By Victor Chavira | Issue 112

My appreciation for ribbons goes back to my earliest days with high end audio.

As a university student, I rode public transportation across the city with my CD wallet in hand to visit fine audio shops on the west side in order to listen to Magnepans and Apogees. Their incredibly spacious and transparent sound left a lasting impression. Over the decades, I've had the opportunity to listen to every permutation of tweeters, ribbons or otherwise. As I have written before, regardless of design, the best tweeter is one that doesn't call attention to itself or distract from musical enjoyment. I'll cut to the chase and assert that the Alta Audio Alyssa seamlessly integrated its disparate drivers in a manner that far exceeded my expectations.

Alta Audio Alyssa Loudspeaker

The Alyssa shown in wood finish.

Unboxing Alyssa was a precarious situation. First you must carefully unshroud the speakers from their protective black fabric bags. Grills are held in place magnetically. I did not want to deal with removing common house dust from the black mesh frames at the end of the review period, so they remained in the bags in the box. The dense 28 pounds of curvy, glossy, piano black cabinet seemed to be formed from engineered stone. The box made a negligible sound when knocked, causing me to quickly polish the offending knuckle print from the black mirror finish. A solid plate is fixed to the bottom with screws. I did not remove it to examine internally. Cleverly, the top length measures 13.25" whereas the bottom is 14.25" in length. Alyssa slopes back just so.

Akin to my wonderful Prima Luna EVO 100 tube amplifier, Alyssa is expertly manufactured in China from quality parts. The 6" woofer is built to spec by Morel. The profile is more dome that cone (woof-dome?) Constructed from damped polymer, the woofer features a titanium voice coil former, neodymium hybrid motor, and cast magnesium basket. The woofer is mated to a 2.5" aluminum ribbon in what Alta calls "XTL" loading. Designer Mike Levy explains: "Our XTL (patent pending) bass design is a hybrid of tuned port and transmission line design where our innovative use gets the best out of both concepts while eliminating their weaknesses. The concepts of Q (the ratio of reactance to resistance) and impedance matching explain how we get a box with a volume under 1/2 cubic foot to produce clear, powerful, defined, well controlled subwoofer deep bass (the minus 3dB point is 32Hz)." The rear of Alyssa has two high quality binding posts and flared port. Finally, the front baffle contains a layer of crashed UFO reversed engineered material called "DampHard" (insert pun here) to suppress internal resonances.

Alta recommends a minimum amplifier power rating of 50 watts for the specified 87.5dB 4ohm Alyssa. Not having an appropriate amp at my disposal, I contacted Kevin Deal at Upscale Audio in La Verne, only a short drive from my home. Kevin generously provided me with a beautiful Pathos Logos MkII hybrid integrated ($5000) from Italy (review forthcoming). The Logos MkII pumps out 200-watts into 4ohms. That'll do nicely, indeed! Strictly commenting on visual style, the massive Pathos Logos MkII on the floor flanked by dark attractiveness of Alyssa was a sight to behold, more so at night with the lights dimmed and input tubes aglow. All the music referenced was streamed from Tidal MQA, unless indicated as my hard drive or LP.

Prior to obtaining the larger and more highly efficient Tekton Design Impact Monitor speakers, I was a long time KEF LS50 user. Polished black exteriors aside, Alyssa reminded me of many of LS50's best qualities but executed to an extreme level. Alyssa is transparent, projects an expansive soundstage, and possess high frequency extension to the stars.

"To the Stars" from the motion picture soundtrack Ad Astra by Max Richter is a current favorite track. The front wall and ceiling disappeared and were replaced by sheets of silky sound. Deep swells of bowed bass flowed from beyond, completely untethered to boxes that produced them. For a moment I was certain Alyssa contained another woofer inside. The low floor tom from "The Weight" by The Band viscerally punches through the speaker like a fist. Listen to "Como se Goza en el Barrio" by Marc Ribot y Los Cubanos Postizos. The bass was clean, quick, and low enough to project the distinct dynamic impact of Ampeg Baby Bass ubiquitous to Afro Cuban music. Will you be bowled over by the timpani at the end of "Finlandia" or sense tremors under your feet while playing the dub of King Tubby? C'mon man! No, Alyssa does not break the laws of physics. Nevertheless, if there is a stand mount, non-active, non-DSP corrected 2 way with more convincing and competent bass performance than Alyssa, I have yet to hear it. Want more umph? Move the speakers closer to the front wall, but at the risk of diminishing Alyssa's ethereal qualities. Again, physics, bro.

The above were my first impressions while simply setting up and optimizing Alyssa's position in the room. What follows next usually involves hours upon hours of playlists in the background while the unit under evaluation breaks in. This was simply not possible for me with Alyssa. One afternoon I streamed Angela Aguilar's brilliant modern rendition of the classic Mexican folk song "La Llorona" as background music while attempting to get some work done on the laptop far off axis at the dining room table. Suddenly I felt tears welling up in corner of my eyes. I had to stop the music and refocus on my task. Alyssa's astonishing control over the micro modulations of the human voice was profoundly evocative. For the record, this reaction has never occurred to me before without the assistance of a shot of tequila or two.

Alyssa excels at getting out of the way and letting music take over the room. Listen to "The Dicty Glide" from clarinetist Don Byron's 1997 album Bug Music. The band corporeally inhabited the space before me. The dynamic action of actual breaths of air flowing through instruments was hyper realistic. My listening notes read, "THE BAND IS IN THE ROOM!" If you dig "High Life" from Jazz at the Pawn Shop, listen to "Easy Healing" from Stefano Bollani's 2014 Joy in Spite of Everything. The Caribbean flavored track features Bill Frisell on guitar and Mark Turner on sax. The separation and distinct features of each musical instrument was absolute. Alyssa dials up the fine focus to 11. Ribbons are recognized for projecting a precise leading edge but it was the unambiguous decay and end of notes that impressed this listener the most.

For reasons I have yet to determine, I felt drawn to the gated reverb drum effects of my 1980's youth and Genesis in particular. Poor Phil Collins is having a tough time now, but back then his musicianship was above reproach. Alyssa rendered the music from 2007 remaster of Abacab in a way that was immensely pleasing, and in opposition to the annoyingly aggressive CD sound of the era. The ride cymbal from the title track resonated with shimmering heavy mass. Surprisingly, the saw tooth synth programs sounded sweet and clear. Depth of field was remarkable. Unbelievably, I streamed through several albums and my LP versions without experiencing listener fatigue.

Polyphonic Fantasy for Rock Percussion, Detuned Electric Guitar, Bass, and Vocals, or "Pneuma" from TOOL's magnificent 2019 Fear Inoculum is powerful and transcendent track of modern hard rock. A professionally recorded live version is available for viewing on YouTube, and very highly recommended. Listening to this track through Alyssa was nothing less than awe inspiring. Be forewarned, emulating Danny Carey's incredibly swift movements on air drums might result in personal injury. Every macrodynamic burst and micro dynamic nuance was projected with extremely fine resolution, energy, and tonal exactness. There is so much going on with this track, yet I could effortlessly pick out and follow any instrument. My ear/brain felt ecstatically engaged.

I think the logical target for Alyssa will be current LS50 owners who might find themselves with better economic circumstances than when they first purchased the speakers a few years ago. If you are a current LS50 owner (there are many of you) and curious about upgrading to the next level of musical bliss, Alyssa must be on your audition list. However, be prepared. Alyssa must be judiciously paired with elite components. Do not disregard the manufacture's minimum power recommendation. I will miss basking in the exquisite detail and immersive listening experience. Alyssa and Logos Mk2 made for one of the most musically gratifying combinations I have ever heard in this or any room.

Alyssa Loudspeaker

Retail: $5000 a pair

Alta Audio