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RMAF 2014: AllSonics dreams in the darkness, rising

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Logo - Blue VectorWhen it comes to Altec drivers, all I can say is, “Iä! Iä! Cthulhu Fhtagn!”

I’m just a bit of a cultist about Altec. The All Technical Service Company made some of the worst speakers in the world, but their drivers, man, their drivers can make anybody a cultist. Compared to me, though, the guys at AllSonics have colonized the Plateau of Leng and performed a ritual of greater summoning. You could hear the tone and the snap from the hallway.

Dominating the room, and looking for all the world like a Gradient Revolution that had grown morbidly obese on a steady diet of Vandersteen cookies, was the Allure two-way speaker ($4,950). A transmission line with 416 sourced from Great Plains Audio handles the low-end here, while the upper range gets handled by two GPA compression drivers in a bipole configuration. In a show of utter perversity, the compression drivers are not horn loaded. The entire top sock can be lifted off to show them suspended in free space.

The two-ways here were turned into three ways. The looming monoliths dominating the back corners were a pair of Momentum subwoofers ($3500). In another fit of perversity, these were fitted with even more 416 drivers loaded in much, much longer transmission lines. Bringing a 416 down to 20hz with any authority is no easy task, but the AllSonics cultists aren’t the kind of people to let a little thing like sanity stop them from chasing the rabbit of perfect tone all the way down the well.

Everyone was a little cagey about the amps. They’re made in-house, but neither pricing nor topology was discussed. We were told instead that the compression drivers were being operated from a battery-powered version, while the other drivers had to make due with the more plebeian AC from the hotel. The source here, a highly modified TeraDak, was also left unexplored, but the heavy use of the volume slider in iTunes made me twitch.

Faced with unfamiliar amps, a speaker design that made no sense at all, a workingman’s source, and the kind of aesthetics that can make you seriously consider taking up the hobo life just to get away from it all, you might not expect much. That’s about when the surprises start hitting.

The track playing during our first visit was godawful pap from Les Mis. Our second visit saw us hand over a copy of the Mekons’ Ancient & Modern, the title track of which is about as horrible a test track as you can hope to avoid at an audio show. The Mekons, if you are uncouth enough to be ignorant of them, are a late 70’s vintage post-post-cowpunk band from Leeds that’s been based out of Chicago for long enough to be considered natives. The track starts with raw plucking, followed by the kind of harsh vocal that would make Tom Waits want to gargle some warm tea. Items are banged upon, unfortunate poetry is spoken aloud, and, eventually, the whole jangling, sprawling, wonderful mess breaks apart under the full weight of the Burlington Welsh Male Chorus rolling in with an anthem that you’ll want sung at your funeral.

We’re listening for the realism of the strings, the hitch of the splices, and how vocals get picked apart. See, the thing is that there are just a lot more distinct voices in play than you generally hear. Show systems, sadly, tend to miss all of them — especially when that Welsh Male Chorus shouts them down.

The AllSonics picked out everything. I’ve never heard it done that easily at a show. On top of that, there was no way at all to tell that subwoofers were in use. It was shockingly well-integrated. I spent the rest of the weekend telling people to go visit this room. Stumbling on to this was probably the single most exciting experience of the weekend.

Was it perfect? No. AllSonics’ speakers have a look that’s only about half a step up from pure DIY. Their amps haven’t even made that half step. The company itself appears to be so new that the word “company” seems like a not-terribly descriptive euphemism for referring to a couple of obsessives on a mission. Heck, these guys don’t even have their website up yet, so good luck finding them. Even their flyer has apostrophes where no apostrophes should be.

The sound itself had problems as well, with the compression driver seemingly driven by an amp whose gain wasn’t what you’d call “well matched” with the other amps. Then there’s the slight hitch that my lying ears told me I was enjoying something — bare compression drivers — that I would usually tell you was one of the worst ideas possible.

So… New company, weird speakers, strange system, unsound design choices, and I want to hear these again right now. This is exactly why I go to RMAF.

Iä! Iä! Cthulhu Fhtagn!

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