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April 2015
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Superior Audio Equipment Review
Alta Audio Celesta FRM-2 Speakers
Alta-Audio's FRM-2 speaks with a remarkably defined voice.
Review By Ron Nagle

 

Alta Audio Celesta FRM-2 Speakers Review

  We begin at the beginning, with a quest for solace in a helter skelter world.
A puff on a pipe perhaps or music lending wings to carry us away.
I would chose a melody to sooth me. Then all care I would displace for another day.
An Audiophiles desire is to listen and live in a moment of time from a time before today.
Music a Drug?
Yes it can be but you must mix just the right ingredients. It is an alchemy made from metal wood and plastic and at times a super-secret proprietary element.
The mind behind Nola speakers, Carl Marchisotto once told me: "What you hear is the designer's idea of what music sounds like".

 

Needs Must
To use an old aphorism borrowed from our British cousins of course. Alas, we need and must describe the physical aspects of the Alta Audio Celesta FRM-2 speakers as reviewed here. Big is the appropriate tag line for the Alta Audio Celesta FRM-2 speakers. For they are the largest two-way speakers I have had within my apartment. The designer, Michael Levy, hand delivered them and did a preliminary set up. He tells me the price of these speakers is $13,000. When he leaves, they remain spiked to my floor sitting on proprietary 28" high stands, which adds another $2000 to the price. The space between the speakers is 68" and they are toed in at approximately 12 degrees. The Alta Audio Celesta FRM-2 speakers are in turn sitting on smaller 1" spiked feet on the top of the stands. The rear ported Celesta FRM-2 Transmission Line enclosures are finished with a high gloss black polyester coating. The speakers measure: 17" x 10.75" x 15.5" (HxWxD) and each speaker weighs 55 pounds. The enclosure itself is made from a dense proprietary multilayer materiel called "Damphard". The Entire enclosure is molded in one piece. Therefore the front baffle holding the drivers is not separate. It is just one integral part of the molded enclosure. The speakers house a specially modified 70 mm ribbon tweeter and a long excursion 6" mid-woofer. Internally, the speaker uses the highest grade silver foil capacitors and extra-large Litz wire inductors with ten gauge deoxygenated copper wiring designed by Paul Kaplan of Waveform Fidelity

 

Raison D'Etre
All the aforementioned bits and pieces were put in place to satisfy a single need. The goal was to design and build an apartment suitable speaker that could function like a large full range floor standing tower. Logically, a very difficult task to accomplish within a smaller enclosure for two loudspeaker drivers. The manufacturer's frequency response for the Alta Audio Celesta FRM-2 is listed at 29 Hz up to 47 kHz. This would certainly qualify to make it a full range speaker. The very top part of the frequency spectrum must have been relatively easy to implement. Because there exists a fair selection of tweeter drivers with a very extended high frequency response. In this design we find a modified 70mm high frequency ribbon. (Incidentally my small two-way reference speakers are Aurum Cantus Leisure 2SES that have a 40 kHz capable 60mm ribbon.)

When we get to the bass and upper bass and the midrange that's where extra brain size is required. The problem is to find and integrate a larger single driver with the speed and high frequency extension to seamlessly match an ultra-fast ribbon tweeter. The Celesta uses an asymmetric crossover scheme that has two different slopes for the tweeter and mid-woofer. Still success or failure hinges largely on that Celesta 6 inch driver, it most certainly has to be exceptional. This is how the manufacturer describes this driver. "A Six inch woofer with a 3" Hexatech aluminum 3.1 inch diameter long throw voice coil. The motor/ voice coil uses a hybrid Neodymium Ferrite magnet with a Titanium coil bobbin and a copper sleeve Neolin motor housed in a Uniflow aluminum diecast chassis". Understand all this innovative engineering cannot have any effect unless you find a way to eliminate enclosure resonances that would interact and smear the 6" woofer and the tweeters frequency response. The manufacturer's literature states that they have a proprietary Alta XTL (Extended Transmission Line) bass and cabinet tuning method.

 

Doomed Room?
Within my 12' wide by 19' deep listening space, there lives an acoustic poltergeist. It is the Boom Beast, he only comes out when the music slides down to a 50 or 60 Hz frequency. At that point the room tries to join the performance. Technically that would be called a Bass Node, which is partially proscribed by my rooms dimensions. Yoda might comment: "Fighting this many times you are". On many days and in many ways  I have tried to tame the beast. Lift those speakers tote them stands, reposition them farther away from the walls. Move my Argent Roomlens Resonators. Now pad my trampoline floor. Then place some pillowy things up by the ceiling and a couple more along the walls. All of these things, but so far only partial amelioration. This is about as far as I can go without chopping through the walls into my neighbor's apartment. ("Yes wife" I reply, "What are you up to now?" she asks. i repond by saying "Err nothin'."). True, there are active room analysis programs that allow you to adjust or I should say compensate for uneven room induced frequency variations. This in some respects would be like placing your speakers in an anechoic chamber. This might be your idea of a good thing but that certainly does not include this reviewer.

Many years ago I attended a CES press demonstration using four Bang Olufsen Beolab speakers. All were using a DSP driven adaptive bass linearization system. It was intended to be a system using four speakers in a surround Audio Video home theater setup. That's valid if you never change your speaker's positions. And that would be the case if the movie and the screen was your priority. Like Carl Marchisotto intimated, designers do not design speakers that have ruler flat frequency response. If they did succeed most speakers might sound alike. I believe audio speaker design is in large part an art-form. In the real world the room is always there. So far no practical system has always totally and completely found the room's environmental/detrimental cure all. Unless you drag your Hi-Fi outdoors it is always a game of do whatever you can. To make a point, did you ever turn down the bass level and notice that the speaker sounded far brighter? The point I am trying to make is that everything affects everything else. Far better to listen in an environment that you know intimately and you will discover the speaker designer's voice.

Alta Audio Celesta FRM-2 Speakers Review

A Forgotten Phenomena
More to the point the designer Michael Levy inadvertently reminded me of another system I once had. And before that all of the time spent fiddling and moving my speakers while attempting to prevent the room from interfering with the imaging and frequency response. There was another entirely different approach: What if you could prevent the speakers from energizing the room!

Damn it, I had forgotten about this. My long gone unreliable but much loved Quad ESL 63 Electrostatic speakers (I nicknamed Sparky) had that ability. They were bipolar, meaning the sound radiated from the front and the back but very little energy radiated from the sides. Ergo, because of this phenomenon much of the junk within my room was taken out of the equation. However I would never have expected this transmission line speaker to do a similar disappearing act. The key is about the Celesta FRM-2 enclosure and that multilayer Damphard stuff. Then add the (If I told you then I would have to kill you) Alta XTLbass and enclosure muti-frequency tuning method. Also we should not discount the fact that the center of the mid-bass driver is raised about 34 inches above the floor.

 

The Proof Is In The Putting
Let's put the Alta XTL-2 to the dynamic and micro-dynamics test. Logic tells me we should start from the rooms problematic low end. So let's try spinning two of my well-used bass test CD's. They should suffice to get at the truth. The first is, Copland, Fanfare For the Common Man (this a cut from a manufacture's demo CD). This first test is really about dumping bass energy into a room and finding the room and speaker's limits. At the beginning you hear the transient impact of a Kettle Drum and the splash of a Brass Cymbal, it is startling. You can sense the body of the drum and the brass cymbal's shimmering reverberation. The ribbon tweeter provides a window on the brass cymbals high frequency overtones. As the level of the initial impact decays there follows a delayed echo from the venues surrounding walls. The clarity and definition is exceptional at my normal listening volume. However if pushed up past lease breaking, nasty neighbor levels the low frequencies can still start to sound uncontrolled and ill defined. The test tells me it is still possible to over load my room at listening levels I would normally find uncomfortable. The Alta XTL-2 still remains remarkably composed and clear when pushed. Composed and clear it certainly is but my definition of quality rests on the ability to portray the smallest micro-dynamics and the most subtle harmonic shadings of music.

That quality is contained on a recording of Harmon Lewis and Gary Carr's performance of Adagio d' Albinoni. This is a recording of a large Pipe Organ and a Bass Fiddle duet played in a large stone walled cathedral. There are passages containing very deep sustained bass organ peddle notes that echo off the walls. The organs reverberation reinforces the texture of the wooden reverberating sound of Carr's bass. His bow intones mournful feelings of pain and despair with a low moaning sound. At this point only a stone cold heart can ignore that deep quavering cry. This organic sound contains myriad sonic subtle overtones that if omitted would render it all mechanical and emotionless.

The Alta-Audio FRM-2 speakers speak with a remarkably defined voice. I would be remiss if I do not mention that Ribbon tweeter and the very clear stage it can paint. The match between these two drivers determines success or failure. The difficult crossover between the drivers is virtually undetectable. The tweeter has power articulation and speed that can complement and balance all the bass energy. As a matter of fact if anything it can generate to much energy. On some CD's I preferred to listen with the grill cloth in place. What better way to explain it than take a fun retrospective ride with the Beach Boys. The CD, Good Vibrations [Capitol CDP 0777 81299 29] is the previously unreleased, 30 years story of the Beach Boys Sessions. This disk contains original demos, radio broadcasts, separate vocal tracks and back up instrumental tracks and many live concert recordings. The very last cut is Surfer Girl, Live in Hawaii 1967. The sound quality is all over the place and that is a good thing. In the studio the raw mike feed sans reverb allows me to separate every voice and back up instrument as I sing along pretending to be one of the Beach Boys.

Alta Audio Celesta FRM-2 Speakers Review

Bottom Line
Everywhere we read hyperbolic advertising and empty catch phrases that really do not explain anything. However, with the Alta Audio $13,000 FRM-2 speakers, this is one of the few occasions where the performance was equal to the promise. If you were blindfolded, you could easily mistake their sound for a large full range multi-driver speaker. The Celesta speakers fulfill my most important requirements. The sound stage between the speakers in my room is unusually wide rock solid and dead centered. The driver's horizontal dispersion is remarkable. The extension at both frequency extremes leaves nothing to the imagination. They are not cheap, yet certainly justify their cost. Bottom line, if I could afford them I would keep the Celesta FRM-2 speakers within my reference system.

Remember, enjoy the music and from me, Semper Hi-Fi.

 

Review System Components
Source components: Sangean Digital tuner, Marantz 8400 Universal CD/SACD/DVD player.
Music Hall Upsampling DAC 25.3 and headphone amplifier.
Amplification: Sanders ESL power Amplifier, Parasound Halo P5 Preamplifier, ARC SP9 MK3.
Speakers: Aurum Cantus Leisure 2 SE two way monitors on 24-inch stands.
Speaker Cables: Kimber Kable 12tc 10ft.
Interconnect Cables:
  Monster Reference 0.5 meter, 1 meter and 1.5 meters Nordost Red Dawn, 1meter
  Chord Silver Siren 1 meter, Homemade Teflon 1 meter, Autobahn 0.5 meter digital
AC Power: Wire World 10 gauge IEC line cord, Homemade 3 pairs, 12 gauge IEC
Islatrol Industrial 20 Ampere AC line conditioner, Richard Gray 20 amp Sub Station
Alpha Core Balanced Transformer Power Supply, Audio Power PE-1 power enhancer,
Triad 2 Ampere isolation transformer
And a comfortable chair.

 

Manufacturer Reply
I would like to thank Ron Nagle and Enjoy the Music.com for their review of our Celesta FRM-2 speakers. 

Ron is right, speaker design is an art, an art which is grounded in engineering. The Celesta FRM-2s are the first in a line of speakers from Alta Audio that were created using features developed through a design study that included feedback from reviewers, musicians, audiophiles, industry friends, other designers, and even a conductor. We took the time to listen at every one of the various stages, and some of the listeners even became beta testers. In order to keep ourselves grounded, we would try as frequently as possible to listen to live performances of natural instruments (not like we did not enjoy it). Occasionally we would even get a recording of a performance we had attended, we would listen, and I would get feedback from the beta testers. It all went to help tune the sound of the speaker.

In the case of the Celestas, they are called the FRM-2s for "Full Range Monitor". The concept being that in many listening rooms floor standing speakers get in their own way, as evidenced by the problems Ron has with floor standers in his room. A monitor speaker intrudes less and interferes less. Also, It will not act as a reinforcement point for standing wave resonances. 

There is a problem, though. Most monitors cannot produce the bottom octave of sound that is between 30 Hz and 60 Hz. It is an octave that can be both heard and felt, and I feel is essential to reproducing most music. The trick is to reproduce that octave in a monitor speaker. The laws of physics get in the way. They say that size (cabinet volume) controls bass output. But the laws of physics are more complex. They also say that there are other methods to tune a speaker. One method is called the transmission line. It tunes a speaker through a tuned resonant column of air, much like a pipe organ. We developed a new transmission line tuning concept in the FRM-1, our prototype, and refined it in the Celesta FRM-2. We call that concept Alta XTL bass. The result in the Celesta FRM-2 is clean tight bottom octave bass with incredible amounts of output from a monitor speaker with a 6 inch driver. That driver, as detailed in the review, is of exceptional quality.

In order to control the bass energy from this system it is housed in a cabinet where all of the sides are made of our multilayered DampHard compound material which is non resonant and presents a hard surface to the drivers that does not flex. Extremely dense, it is much of the reason these monitors weigh 55 lbs. each. Its inert nature and the cabinet's shape help it sonically disappear.

This all results in a deep black noise free sonic background on which smooth acoustic images stand clearly. In to this system we ear tune the finest crossover parts to meld the woofer's output with the high frequencies from our ribbon tweeter. The magnetic material used in this tweeter is so powerful that we ship the speakers with tweeter covers to protect them from pulling in stray metal. Smooth and dynamic it melds seamlessly with the woofer with response that extends well beyond human hearing.

Michael Levy
President, Alta Audio

 

Tonality

Sub-bass (10Hz - 60Hz)

Mid-bass (80Hz - 200Hz)

Midrange (200Hz - 3,000Hz)

High Frequencies (3,000Hz On Up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Soundscape Width Front

Soundscape Width Rear
Soundscape Depth Behind Speakers

Soundscape Extension Into Room

Imaging

Fit And Finish

Self Noise N/A

Value For The Money

 

Specifications
Type: Two-way stand-mounted speakers
Frequency Response: 29 Hz to 47 kHz
Ribbon Tweeter: 2.76"
Woofer: 6"
Impedance: 4 Ohms
Rated Power Handling: 50 to 200 Watts
Sensitivity: 87.5dB/W/m 
Dimensions: 17" x 10.75" x 15.5" (HxWxD)
Weight: 55 lbs.
Price: $13,000
Proprietary Stands: $2000
Speakers Serial Numbers: FRM2120758 and FRM2120759

 

Company Information
Alta Audio 
540 Barnum Ave.
Bridgeport, CT 06608

Website: www.alta-audio.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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