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Inter.view with Giuseppe Prato of Aliante Audio

by Lucio Cadeddu

[Italian version]

LC >
Aliante, born as an evolution of the project Acoustical, is quickly earning reputation among the audiophiles because of the high quality of its products.
May you tell us how this project was born and which kind of motivations forced you to make it different from the standard Acoustical products?

GP >
Here's the history: first there was the product then came the brand.
Between the end the '80s and the beginning of the '90s the Acoustical products were having a wide success with the RS series. In the meanwhile we were encountering some troubles selling our products abroad where Sonus Faber, with a very clever marketing action, was imposing a kind of model for the Made in Italy speakers.
In other words we were asked for designing some products with a very classy finish, real walnut for example, while our Acoustical speakers were mostly *functional* by design.
Since we never copied anyone we wanted our product to be different with a strong and well defined own personality. Hence we started to work together with top designers (now we collaborate with Pininfarina and more news are in the way) creating the first loudspeaker of this new series, the Acoustical Linea, born in '92 and now renamed Aliante One.
That product was new both because of the construction (CNC-machined parts and individual finish of every single part before mounting, large use of walnut) and the speakers. Indeed, we used the brand new Acoustical MDT 26.1 metal dome tweeter, designed in collaboration with VIFA during a joint research lasted more than one year. This tweeter was the answer to a goal I had in mind: building a metal dome tweeter with the pros of this kind of speakers (ie transient response, low distortion, coherence and speed) without the cons (cold and harsh sound, typical of some titanium domes).
After a long search for materials we decided for an aluminium dome (a bit out-of-fashion for that time) and then I started the challenge with the guys at VIFA who preferred a more canonical approach.
At the end of all we had that little *monster* we use for the Aliante One and the Punto 5: double magnet, ferrofluid cooled and damped moving coil, decompression rear chamber, damped rear emission, incredibly low resonancy frequency (500 Hz).
All these specs make this speaker the less metallic (if you know what I mean) metal dome tweeter available.

One year later we made the Punto 5, a tiny loudspeaker that didn't have the deserved success probably because audiophiles were getting tired of the Tablettes and their clones. During the '94 we made the Spazio and the One Hex.
The Spazio, a fairly-priced loudspeaker, imposed some restrictions on the construction of the cabinet but we still used real walnut. We created a new technique that makes use of the traditional *folding* and of some sophisticated kind of joints (someone, later, was strongly inspired by this kind of construction).
The One HEX is a fundamental step to develop and understand the most relevant ideas with respect to crossover components. It was born almost as a joke and now it has become one of my most interesting projects (this is another story, we could talk about this in another interview).
In '95 we design the Pininfarina, a landmark speaker for performance and aesthetics. In '96 we make the Iperspazio, that is a bigger Spazio, and our last design is the One/Zeta.

We owe the name Aliante to John Watson, precious and invaluable collaborator with some prestigious English brands, who helped us with with the export of our products, before making it back to his homeland (not only soccer players suffer from nostalgia, eh).
One day, passing near a small airport together with Giovanni Faccendini, the boss at MPI and High Fidelity Italia that distribute our products, he saw a glider flying silently and asked: *how do you call it in Italian?* *Aliante!* was the answer. *What a beautiful name for a HiFi brand!* he commented.
So the new brand was born, even because we wanted to avoid any confusion with Quad products, built by Acoustical ltd, indeed.

LC >
The debate among different schools of thought regarding HiFi loudspeakers designing is far from being over. Some swear by the ultra-mimimalist approach, ie few speakers and first order crossovers, while others take for granted that more sophisticated designs could give better sonic performances.
You seem more devoted to the minimalist approach. May you explain your views on this topic?

GP >
I agree with the fact that the two approachs both have given excellent results. But, if we focus our attention on some parameters that I believe are fundamental for a good HiFi reproduction, then I think we should prefer the minimalist approach.
I think everyone agrees on the fact that the ideal speaker is of the fullrange kind; the success of some planar speakers seems to confirm this fact, despite all their rather well known drawbacks.
Clearly as one goes far from this ideal situation he finds more and more problems to solve and not always one can solve these quite easily. Furthermore I've very personal ideas with respect to crossovers, ideas that can shock some of the most traditional hifi designers and that actually put a serious restriction to the number of ways (speakers) of an ideal loudspeaker.
Anyway, many many years ago I designed a four ways loudspeaker and built 3-ways crossovers with 36 dB/oct slopes with some good results.
Simply put, I realized during the years that the way I was following would never have given me the sound I was searching for.

LC >
For several reasons the so-called bookshelf loudspeakers (or freestanders) have a wide sales success. Mainly this success is due to their size, given that the most common listening rooms are small and that huge floorstanders are normally not welcomed into small rooms (both sonically and...because of the WAF).
Furthermore a small cabinet better approximates the ideal point source. Anyway these speakers need a pair of good stands to perform at their best, otherwise all the pros of this kind of speakers quickly become cons.
The quality of the stands is so influent that they can make sound horribly a good speaker and decently a bad speaker. This notwithstanding many audiophiles think at the stands as audio accessoires rather than hifi components with their own heavy influence.
For all these reasons I'd like to see speakers designers providing their own stands, thought as a part of the loudspeaker itself, in order to get the best out of it. Have you thought at something similar?

GP >
We've been designing ad hoc stands for years. Personally, after many years of experience on this issue, I believe that a stand, even if heavy and stiff, can't be totally free of resonances that come out from a stereo system (I'm talking of commercial products here, not of strange and huge menhirs that some crazy audiophiles can build at home).
It suffices to think that even a tiny loudspeaker as the Punto 5 with his 11 cm woofer can shake the floor and the walls of a common listening room, to understand how much can be shaken its stand.
Hence, since one can't dampen all the kinds of vibrations, one should try to *tame* their effects, minimizing the energy related to the phenomenon. And since the energy stored by an oscillator is proportional to its mass the basic idea has been to build the lightest and stiffest stand available.
A possible solution was to make the stands out of aluminium alloy:
light, damped and light years far from the ugly and poor iron (let's call things with their names) normally used to build commercial loudspeakers stands.
Only, aluminium is twice more expensive and very hard to weld. This is how our Series S Acoustical stand was born: aluminium tubings filled up with glass-wool (very good dampening properties yet very light), welded structure for max stiffness but only fair aesthetics. And this is the main problem: products are sold because of their look and not for their quality or functionality.
Our stands made many of our Acoustical customers happy and still today Andrea Morotti (alias Andrea Morandi e Claudio Mazzotti from FdS, an Italian HiFi magazine) use this stand whenever they want to know how a bookshelf sounds like.
Conversely this stand didn't satisfy our Aliante customers. For them we have designed new stands, using the same ideas but making them aesthetically more attractive and, hence, expensive.

LC >
Speaking of freestanders and of their coupling with the listening room how do you see the latest trend of tower floorstanders, ie those loudspeakers that have the same size of a small freestander with its stand?
Don't you think that it is better to use the height of the stand as *cabinet* for the loudspeaker, improving bass response and getting rid of the hassle of dealing with the uncontrollable variable stand ?
The old Acoustical RS4 seemed to go towards this direction, are you planning a re-birth of this loudspeaker?

GP >
I mostly agree with these ideas but tower floorstanders do have some drawbacks. First of all, with this kind of tall speakers it is very difficult to work with the height, being not comparable with the width and the depth, and this may cause some inner resonancies and stationary waves.
Then the look of a compact freestander over its own stand is less intrusive than an equivalently-sized tower.
Anyway, since this seems a clever idea, it is possible that I'll try to design something similar again in the near future.
Also, let me add that had we been able to find a nice way to mix successful aesthetics with tall tower loudspeakers maybe our tower Aliante would be already designed and crafted.

LC >
A very common trend among audiophiles is the tweaking, that is to say the art of fine-tuning HiFi components with simple ideas to get the best out of these.
For loudspeakers the most common tweaks are: rewiring, changing passive components with better quality ones, hunting for resonancies of cabinets and speakers with the heavy use of blue-tac and even putting the crossover into an external cabinet.
Aliante loudspeakers, especially for the finest models, make use of some of these ideas. May you explain to our readers all the pros of each one of these tweaks?

GP >
Working with the Aliante One HEX has taught me a lot of things. I can say that each one of these tweaks produces audible differences, given that one has a decent HiFi system, with a perfect set-up and some room-tuning, too.
Let me say that the least significative tweak is putting the crossover into an external cabinet, while the other modifications can dramatically change the sound of a loudspeaker. This is a long story and it would require a dedicated article that we may write another time.

LC >
Thinking of DSP, multimedia and Home Theater, how do you see the future for loudspeakers design? In particular, since this is a frequently asked question, do you believe that stereophonic reproduction has come to an end?

GP >
The best way to make wrong predictions is to base your views on a matter that is quickly changing because of the commercial interests of the big hardware and software Companies.
It is clear that, starting from the audio-video experience, time has come to think of a new way to reproduce Music instead of stereophonic audio, but this would require the existence of a standard that we don't have yet...maybe with the DVD...
On the other hand I strongly believe that we haven't exploited all the capabilities of the stereophonic system yet, since there are nice analog recordings of the '50s and ugly '90s DDDs.
This is matter for thought unless we want to go for the latest in technology just to shake the HiFi market.

LC >
With the Spazio series you have brought the Aliante quality to a wider public, are you planning to design other loudspeakers that follow the same idea?

GP >
The loudspeaker Iperspazio widens what we have started with the Spazio. It is possible that, if the customers show some interest, we will design even cheaper Aliante loudspeakers.
This is not an easy task though, because if we still want a nice walnut construction it becomes difficult to make the loudspeaker cheap without lowering the quality of the components. Also, building budget-conscious loudspeakers makes you compete with many industrial designs that, thanks to the high volume of units crafted, can be sold at extremely competitive prices.
We never tried to make jokes to our customers and we're not going to start right now.

Courtesy by Giuseppe Prato for TNT.

Copyright © 1997 Lucio Cadeddu

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