Elsewhere in this issue I’ve reviewed the Gemme Audio Vivace, a beautifully and meticulously crafted speaker that delivers a full dose of single driver, full-range fun whilst going a long way towards eliminating the more severe weaknesses that can afflict such designs.
Interestingly, at the same time I also first came across a new company called Aurousal, whose debut loudspeaker is a compact standmount using a single, full-range driver. The difference is that at £450 a pair the little A1 as it’s known, costs around 15% of the Vivace’s price-tag. I found myself wondering just how much of the more expensive speaker’s poise and refinement (relative terms you understand) would be lost in the cost saving exercise?
There’s not a lot to the A1, apart from one of Ted Jordan’s metal ‘doublecone’ drivers, with a 90mm diameter diaphragm, neatly mounted in a front-ported, real wood veneered stand-mount enclosure of roughly 14 litres capacity. But that simplicity is actually much of what this speaker is all about, and there’s the additional bonus of a relatively modest £450/pair price-tag.
What distinguishes the A1 from most of the competition is that it uses a solitary drive unit to cover the entire audio band. Well that’s the claim anyway; in practice full-range drivers do tend to have limitations, both in maintaining an even overall balance and in dealing with the top and bottom extremes of the band.
The plus side of course is that there’s nothing bar a speaker cable and a voice coil between the amplifier and the sound generating diaphragm. The elimination of any crossover network and the avoidance of the use of more than one separate source to cover the audio range have got to be worthwhile pluses. The crucial question must be whether the advantages of the one outweigh the disadvantages of the other, or vice versa.
The A1 isn’t by any means perfect – I don’t know any speaker system that is – and the compromises are that much more obvious with a single driver system, at least in terms of the measured frequency balance. This has a distinctly prominent, broad upper mid-band decade from 300Hz to 3kHz, though happily, with the speakers stand-mounted and clear of walls, the bass and treble ends balance out pretty well. Furthermore, sensitivity is pretty good and the load very easy to drive, indicating good suitability to partner modestly powered valve amps.
While the strong mid-band is clearly audible and a source of obvious ‘cupped hands’ – almost ‘megaphonic’ – colorations, as is often the case with tonal balance aberrations, the ears adjust and compensate quite quickly, and the underlying advantages of this speaker’s innate simplicity come through.
The lack of time-smear and superb coherence create an overall sound that’s somehow more ‘real’ and believable than most conventional speakers, ensuring superior communication of musical subtlety and emotion. It also delivers fine stereo focus, albeit with some lack of air and sparkle. One down-side of using a relatively large driver right into the high treble is that the extreme top end is delivered in a rather narrow beam, so for best results one should try to orient the speakers so that one sits directly on axis.
The Aurousal A1 might have rather more than its fair share of ‘character’, but for all that it’s actually a surprisingly practical, thoroughly entertaining and very involving proposition, demonstrating that with care, the benefits of single driver, full-range designs can be appreciated even in modestly sized and affordably priced products. The Arousal A1s have their own set of weaknesses, but you might well find them outweighed by the musical strengths of this unusual beast.