Product: Aliante CNM Tower - floorstanding loudspeakers
Manufacturer: Aliante - Italy
Approx. price: 750 Euro/$ (pair)
Reviewer: Lucio Cadeddu
Reviewed: June, 2001
I can't help but remark a common trend in today's loudspeakers market: more and more slim and tall floorstanders are taking the place of the ubiquitous bookshelf loudspeakers, even in the so-called "budget-class".
While floorstanders have always been considered obtrusive, heavy and expensive, thanks to this new trend, even audiophiles on a budget can get the extra bass kick and depth a larger cabinet can give, without spending an arm and a leg or filling their living room with ugly big boxes.
The solution (a good compromise, actually) is commonly called "tower": a slim floorstander that has the same footprint - if not smaller - than a small bookshelf speaker on its stand.
There are several GOOD reasons for this kind of approach: first of all, the increased volume for the cabinet (= more, deeper bass). Secondly, the possibility to avoid the speaker stand, an accessory which is a plain nightmare for any audiophile: they all sound different and the good ones cost more than a compact, good bookshelf speaker.
Thirdly, a floorstander is safer for kids and pets! It is quite easy to make a bookshelf speaker tumble down from its trembling stand, not so a floorstander!
Now, it should be clear I'm a great fan of floorstanders and towers in particular. So you can imagine how curious and interested I was when Giuseppe Prato (chief designer at Aliante) e-mailed me he was about to release a new "budget" tower, the first one after, say, 10 years of bookshelf loudspeakers (the last one was the Acoustical RS-4).
Of course, I wanted to be the first one to test these new babies, the Aliante CNM Towers!
The CNM Tower (CNM, kind of acronym for CiNeMa :-)) are very slim floorstanding towers with a footprint just slightly larger than a CD case (17 x 22 cm).
In other words, they take LESS room than a mini-bookshelf on its trembling stand :-)
It is a 2-way design with two 5" (13 cm) custom made woofers in a front-firing double bass-reflex enclosure and one 1" soft dome tweeter (by Peerless).
Internal wiring has been done by means of CAT 5 network cables, exactly like the ones we use for some of our popular DIY cables. Also, you may want to have a look at some "stolen" photos published into our Aliante factory tour.
All the drivers are of the shielded kind, so the CNM Towers, as the name itself suggests, can be placed near a TV set into any Home Theater environment. BUT!!! Don't think these are speakers good for the Home Theater crowd only!
Aliante does have a very good reputation among die-hard audiophiles, so expect more than a loudspeaker for HT effects and big-bam-booms only.
The Aliante CNM Tower uses a pretty unusual configuration for the woofers: while the first one is placed traditionally, below the tweeter, the second one faces the ceiling, as it is mounted at the top of the cabinet.
It is not a completely new configuration, as it has been used by other manufacturers (in Italy, by Indiana Line, for example), but it has several interesting features.
First of all, this second woofer is invisible, hidden by a black dust cover, so the front baffle remains cleaner with just 1 small woofer and a tweeter.
Secondly, the "top-firing" woofer (actually, a mid-woofer) helps increasing the amount of reflected-diffused sound, so that the acoustic image generated by the loudspeaker is wider.
The cabinet of the CNM Tower is quite solid and sturdy, thanks to the small size of the side panels and to the quality of the manufacturing. The finish is outstanding, considering the price. Don't expect to find real solid wood here at this price but you'll be surprised because the front and the rear of the cabinet look terribly close (even after a careful inspection) to real cherrywood.
The side panels have been covered with black synthetic leather (hard to tell, it seems real good quality leather).
In other words, the appearance of this loudspeaker is excellent: precious, classy and elegant, as only Italian loudspeakers can be :-))))
The small floorstander makes use of 4 fully adjustable spikes and of good quality biwiring binding posts. These are placed very close to the floor, a detail that will be - certainly - appreciated by your relevant second other.
Why? Obviously because the speaker cables will run very close to the floor! A nice touch (cables become less obtrusive) that adds safety to your stereo set: hanging cables normally attract kids and pets.
And now for some tech spec:
As usual, the Aliante CNM Tower has been extensively and intensively tested into 3 different systems and rooms, so to be able to pick up their personality with as little subjectivity as possible.
Giuseppe Prato knows how to design good sounding loudspeakers. For, you just need to listen to his masterpiece, the One Zeta to understand. Only, this time the task was tougher: a nicely finished, good sounding floorstander below 750 $/pair!!!
I have to admit his designing skills have made this little miracle possible: the CNM Tower is a loudspeaker that lets you forget its price tag quite easily, both visually and sonically.
The first thing one can notice, despite the size of the cabinet and of the drivers, is the powerful and deep bass range. I'm pretty sure the frequency response goes down till 50 Hz FLAT (in room) and then even a little bit lower. Some friends of mine I usually invite during tests agreed the bass performance is stunning considering the size and the price tag.
It is not "dry and fast" - like the bass of many minimonitors - rather it is solid and powerful, quite controlled and articulated, enough to satisfy even those "audiophiles" (quoting is strictly necessary here) who judge a speaker by the amount of bass it produces :-(
They won't be disappointed.
The woofers, custom built for Aliante by an Italian manufacturer, are able to handle large amounts of power. Of course, you shouldn't expect the bass performance of larger and more expensive floorstanders, but I'm sure you'll find the quantity and the quality of the bass sufficient even into large rooms (30 sqm or so).
The whole sound these towers create is "big", way bigger than the size of the cabinet would suggest.
The mid-bass range, still reproduced by the 2 mid-woofers, is coherently "linked" to the bass, perhaps a bit on the slow side when playing the electric bass guitar, for example.
No problems with the pipe organ and the drums. Don't expect to be assaulted by a huge mass of "moving air"...but the reproduction of these difficult instruments is reasonably realistic.
Now, real audiophiles would like to know how is the mid-high range, often edgy and poorly detailed in floorstanders into this price range.
A very nice job has been done with the crossover network, as the transition between the mid-woofers and the tweeter (placed at 2.5 kHz) is seamless and incredibly smooth.
No steps or changes of "pace" can be detected so, even with voices, it seems the mid-woofer and the tweeter work together in perfect harmony, as they were a single unit. Jaw-dropping coherence, I'd rather call it.
Mids are clean and detailed, never "obscured" by the clouds :-) of the mid-bass range, as it happens in poorly designed tower loudspeakers. Designers wanting to give the speaker a FULL and powerful sound often fail to preserve the grace and the detail the midrange MUST have.
So what about the high range? Is this Peerless tweeter good enough? Well, while I was expecting a crisp, rather metallic sound (considering the price tag and the "target"), this tweeter sounded sweet and warm instead. Its sound is detailed but never edgy or tiring in the long run.
This means you can listen to these speakers for a long time, with less listening fatigue even at loud levels. Normally, loudspeakers into this price range are designed to impress during A-B comparisons so they normally show a forward high range that makes the sound more present and ear-catching. What you get is listening fatigue after 30 minutes of continuous listening. Not so the CNM Towers: their high range is sweet and smooth.
I'd say this is a brave choice since the speaker will sound dead and dull during fast A-B comparisons. Audiophiles, and readers of TNT-Audio in general, should already know the worst way to choose a loudspeaker is the A-B (C-D-...) comparison. Statistically, one chooses the most fatiguing loudspeaker.
As already remarked, the sound these towers deliver is quite "big" and this also means "lively" and punchy. The Aliante CNM Towers are able to follow - with ease - the most intricated and power-demanding musical programs. Perhaps they are a bit slow in the bass and mid-bass but certainly NOT compressed.
High listening levels are possible, even in large rooms, provided the amp is powerful enough. Anyway, being a quite easy load with a good sensivity (at 90 dB/w/m), they don't require large amounts of power to deliver their lively sound: even with few watts their sound is fully dynamic and involving (now try that with a 86 dB/w/m minimonitor :-) )
Of course, we're talking of two small woofers into a small cabinet, so don't expect the violent "punch" in your stomach only larger loudspeakers can give.
Furthermore, their native ability to sound lively even at low listening levels allows for a good performance in the microdynamics department. Not exactly hyper-detailed, these towers don't miss any small dynamic variation. These remain quite easy to detect even during the reproduction of macro variations (large orchestra in full bloom, for example).
The ability to create a realistic soundstage is one of Mr. Prato's chief missions. If you have ever listened to some Aliante loudspeaker you already know what I mean. While this is NO easy task even when budget isn't a problem, you can imagine how hard to design is a loudspeaker with severe price limitations.
Indeed, the first parameter to be sacrified is 3D soundstaging! Budget loudspeakers often fail to create a realistic soundstage, that's life.
The Aliante CNM Towers, thanks to the top firing midwoofer, are able to generate quite a good 3D scene, with very good height and depth. No, it is not the kind of 3D virtual image created by the Aliante One Zeta but you still can get, at least partially, the "disappearing" effect that makes the reproduced sound so close to the real thing.
This also debunks another myth among audiophiles: only small boxes can create a decent soundstage. Wrong. Perhaps one of the real key parameters is the WIDTH of the baffle, not its height. Hence, even slim towers can generate a good 3D soundstage.
Like any other loudspeaker, these Aliante towers sound at their best when placed far from the rear and side walls. Anyway, thanks to the front firing reflex port, the bad influence of the rear wall is reduced, though I wouldn't suggest a distance less than 40 cm (15"). Also, try to avoid the corners as these speakers certainly don't need any kind of reinforcement in the bass.
If you already have a double run of speakers cables, use biwiring. Otherwise, even monowiring is good. For future cabling upgrades, consider better cables instead of a second run of your existing ones. Chances are the upgrade will be greater.
This loudspeaker comes with its own set of adjustable spikes. If you don't like spikes on your floor or prefer the smoother sound soft feet normally give, you can remove the spikes and use one of the soft decouplers we have reviewed here on TNT-Audio. Even soft door-stoppers may work just fine.
In order to avoid any kind of damage to the voice coil of the top-firing woofer PLEASE keep the dust cover always in place. Remove it only to clean (gently) the woofer membrane.
Besides spikes and the owners' manual, the box includes a set of felt demi-rings to be applied around the tweeters. These normally give a smoother sound and a better focused image.
I have no particular recommendation on which amplifier to use: I've tested them even with low powered budget audiophile designs (Rotel, Cambridge...) and the CNM Towers perfomed just fine. Of course, you need more power if you plan to use them into a large room but please have in mind power isn't everything. It is better an audiophile 50 watter than a cheap consumer 100 watter.
Finally, two words on break-in. I'd suggest to let them play for 60-70 hours, at least. Before than that and you won't get a realistic idea of their sound. Beware of "out-of-the-box" listening tests!!!!
Manufacturing and finish.
At this price it is hard to do better, considering the cabinet is manufactured in Italy and not in China or Taiwan.
Still, there's something I don't like: the binding posts. Yes, they are cleverly located near the floor (as previously remarked) but this position is uncomfy if you want to test different cables (reviewers do that, not audiophiles :-)).
Furthermore the posts, while accepting forks, bananas and bare wire, are hard to lock since they're too close one to the other.
The "top-firing" midwoofer, despite the dust cover, tends to attract dust very easily and this could be dangerous. A soft brush or a small vacuum cleaner should solve the "periodic" problem.
The designer wanted to build a loudspeaker able to satisfy very different needs and tastes. Considering this, the goal has been perfectly achieved. For the same reason one can't ask for specific excellent performances with respect to one parameter or another.
Hence, die-hard audiophiles may complain about the lazyness this speaker shows in the deeper bass and midbass. Others may find it less transparent and accurate than small bookshelf speakers in the same price range. True, but in my opinion the CNM Tower gives a lot of sound for the money, while staying between the "audiophile" borders.
From now on I'll have a new loudspeaker to recommend to audiophiles on a budget willing to get 1) a full-frequency sound, 2) an easy-listening / no-fatigue performance, 3) a classy and preciously finished tower, easy to live with (high WAF) and 4) full Home Theater compatibility.
But, most of all, the Aliante CNM Tower is one of those speakers that remind us what HiFi should be all about: a pleasant way to enjoy our favourite Music, something many audiophiles, always searching for the ultimate in detail and transparency, seem to have forgotten.
When all's been said and done, I'd rate these speakers as one of the most convincing designs into their price range and even slightly above.
A big thank you to Aliante for having sent us these speakers for testing.
Remark. After serial number 935601 the CNM Towers have been factory upgraded with new tweeters and crossovers. An upgrade kit is available for 75 €.
© Copyright 2001 Lucio Cadeddu - http://www.tnt-audio.com