Great hi-fi can give you goosebumps. And it relates to another source of horripilation: live music, and its recordings. I’ve also always been a live music junkieever since I was a kid.
I was fortunate to have grown up attending the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Cincinnati Pops Orchestra’s “LolliPops” children’s concerts. I’d seen some tepid live acts as a kid (ie, Donny and Marie). But nothing prepared me for my first rock concert. It, um, rocked my world.
It was The Power Station, at a large, covered, outdoor amphitheater. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) opened. I was a giddy 12-year-old. An older teenager, the elder daughter of friends of my parents, escorted me. I was excited.
The heady night air felt sticky and grimy. Fortunately, our seats were back where the music wasn’t excessively loud. Even so, being a sensitive kid, I stuffed some cotton in my ears.
I was a naïve Duran Duran fan. This supergroup side project involving two of that group’s five members (plus Robert Palmer and former Chic drummer Tony Thompson) sounded much different from Duran Duran. This was soon after the release of their first, eponymous studio album (widely known as Power Station 331/3) and their only one until the band’s 1996 reunion.
Why am I rambling about a distant concert memory? Because it was a formative experience, hearing how musicians transform a familiar album when they play it live, and because, when I was reviewing the Chario Aviator Amelia loudspeaker, I kept wanting to play live recordings. I wasn’t exactly sure why. Somehow, these speakers seemed to bring naturalism, humanity, and a sense of alivenessor livenessto that music.
When it comes to recreating the feeling of live musicmaking it seem realeven the loftiest of high-end systems have ground to cover. But some systems deliver a large measure of a live performance’s qualities and spirit. The Chario Aviator Amelia speakers possessed this virtue to a surprising degree.
Origins and principles
Carlo “Charlie” Vicenzetto and Mario Marcello Murace, engineers at the University of Milan, founded Chario in 1975. (“Chario” is a portmanteau of Charlie and Mario.) The two engineers were, and remain, interested in how speakers energize the air in real spaces and how human bodieshead, ears, chest, shouldersreceive and perceive sound.
These are not mere sound-producing appliances. As with so many Italian cars, suits, and shoes, Italian speakers offer style, too. The Chario’s rich wood cabinets curve gracefullyno right angles, which has advantages in the diffraction of standing waves, inside and out. It’s tempting to compare them with another Italian marque known for its woodcraft: Sonus Faber. Friends who saw them in my apartment praised their beauty.
I found the Charios pleasant to live with; indeed, I found myself more attached to these speakers than to most review components.
Natural wood is appealing, sonically, visually, and to touch. Many musical instruments are made of wood because of its warm resonant properties. Natural wood also has a warm, soft feel, and wood furniture has a comfortable, lived-in look. These speakers are functional furniture, with a midcentury modern aesthetic. These speakers are meant to be lived with.
Chario speakers are also meant to be lived with in another way, too. Most speakers, Chario’s founders complained, are designed for optimal performance in an optimal listening space. Others are designed by ear for use in real spaces, but without sufficient attention paid to technical performance. Chario’s approach is different: to design speakers for use in real spaces to a high level of technical refinement.
Right off, one notices the three-way Chario Amelias’ atypical driver placement. Drivers are mounted in front, on back, and underneath the cabinet. The tweeter sits below the midrange, which puts it closer to the height of the listener’s ears than if it were, as is usual, positioned above the midrange driver. This placement facilitates “proper imaging, clarity, and focus,” according to an internal Chario document. This configuration also puts the midrange driver higherfarther from the floor, which delays the “floor bounce” first reflection and “prevents low-frequency phase distortions where the [floor-]reflected sound arrives at the listener’s ear at a different time than the direct sound,” Chario says (footnote 1).
“The distortion caused by the first reflection can result in a 10dB rise in out-of-phase and/or harmonically distorted information,” Rich Maez, CEO of Monarch Systems, which distributes Chario in the US, wrote in an email summary of Chario’s approach. “Chario eliminates this distortion by using a unique combination of driver orientation and crossover points.”
About those crossover points: Chario uses an unusually large tweeter and uses it deeper into the midrange than most tweeters go, reporting a crossover point of 1345Hz. Why? Because, Chario says, human hearing is insensitive to phase distortion between 800Hz and 1500Hzabove 1500Hz is where we’re most sensitive, they sayso they use a bigger tweeter and lower the crossover so that it’s in the less-sensitive range.
The mid/bass driver hands over the signal to the woofers at 200Hz. According to Chario’s emailed responses to my technical questions (sent via Maez), the crossovers use fourth-order electrical topologies with Linkwitz-Rileygenerated polynomials.
The Amelia’s two active woofersone on the back of the cabinet and one on the bottomare in phase for low and subwoofer frequency ranges, so they act as coherent sources, Chario wrote in an email. All the drivers are housed in separate enclosures.
The Amelia’s cabinets have a layer of high-density fiberboard (HDF) inside, but outside they’re made of slabs of walnut wood. Chario prefers wood cabinets: “When Bechstein, Fazioli, Bösendorfer, or Steinway use metals, synthetics, and other materials,” Chario will follow suit, says a document shared with Stereophile. Chario’s cabinets made from slabs of dry-aged Italian walnut are said to be sturdy and warp-resistant.
Chario supplied Maez with answers to my questions and some additional technical details. The tweeter is made of a “treated” silk dome, with a metal surround of nearly the same diameter as the midrange above it. The other drivers all use the same flared parabolic cones, made of a proprietary material involving Rohacell, a lightweight structural foam.
In the low bass, the Amelia is a bass-reflex design: A port on the bottom next to the bottom-firing woofer extends the low end.
The Amelias come with X-shaped base “stabilizers,” heavy steel plates with “legs” that serve as stands for stability and as base plates to optimize low-end performance. The speakers’ spike feet nest neatly onto the base plates; they’re meant to stay put to maintain the correct height between the plate and the cabinet’s underside, to control the reflection and response of the soundwaves launched from the down-firing woofer. According to Chario, this approach provides for 3dB of gain without increasing distortion.
The stabilizers are included in the purchase price, but if you choose not to take them, the price is lower. If you buy the Charios, get the plates: Without them, the speaker’s bass performance and stability are reduced.
Because they’re designed to work in “real” rooms, room placement for Chario speakers is said to be simple and forgiving. It was, but it still involved a bit of lifting and shifting, so it was helpful to have another pair of handsactually I had two pairsto assist. The two main guys behind Monarch Systems LimitedMaez and Jon Bakervisited to make sure the Amelias were properly set up. It didn’t take long. The Amelias ended up approximately 5′ 5″ apart with rear woofers a little more than 3′ from the nearest wall. Both speakers were toed in by about 20°. The Monarch guys and I agreed that that position delivered optimal imaging and the smoothest bass at the listening position.
Footnote 1: Raising the woofer relative to the floor increases the path-length difference between the direct and floor-reflected sound, which will shift the frequency of the resulting intradriver interference. What’s more, in general, a longer delay between direct and reflected sound is widely considered desirablehence the usual advice to place loudspeakers at a distance from the side walls.
On the other hand, Floyd Toole and Siegfried Linkwitz (and probably others) have found floor reflections less audible than other reflections, perhaps because floor bounce (or ground bounce) was ubiquitous during the evolution of the human sense of hearing.Jim Austin
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US distributor: Monarch Systems Ltd.
16 Inverness Place E, Building B
Englewood, Colorado 80112
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