I worked for a company in Melbourne that specialised in the installation of the then “state of the art” 007 Mobile Car Phone. An enormous transceiver, handset and wiring loom had to be mounted and wired throughout the vehicle. Not to mention the 20mm hole that needed to be drilled through the roof of every car for the aerial – and that would not exclude brand new Ferraris, Rolls-Royce, Porsche & Bentleys! One of the most common vehicles for installation was the new Saab 900, including the top of the line Turbo models.
This all leads me to the point of this ramble down memory lane. The Saab Turbos were almost exclusively fitted with Alpine’s premium sound system. As a result of having to thoroughly “test drive” every vehicle after installation, I became very familiar with both the performance of the Saab and its sound system. Grabbing a collection of discs, I’d often extend the test drive to include some serious “testing” around the back streets of South Melbourne (especially if the car in question was one of the, ahem, quicker offerings).
Suffice to say, I really enjoyed my times with the Alpine fitted Saabs. Memory recalls fanatic bass and effortless dynamic range. Obviously, this level of performance has been surpassed today, as you’d expect. But, as I progressed to custom installs of audio, mobile phones and alarms through the 80s and 90s, the sound of the Alpine systems in those Saabs remained firmly lodged in my Aural Memory Banks.
Nothing’s changed – except for the better
That factory sound system, while basic by today’s standards, was indeed far above most of the current offerings of the time. This remains true to this day, as I discovered during the review of the new Alpine DLX-F177 Component 2-way speaker system.
Packed very securely in a single large-ish box, the system consists of two 17cm (6.5-inch) woofers with Hybrid Multi-Layer Cones and two 2.5cm Dual Voice Coil tweeters, along with two separate crossover modules. First impressions on handling the components are very favourable. Each item has a heft and finish that speak of serious attention to detail, along with the use of exotic materials. The tweeters are surprisingly heavy for their size. Likely this is due to their dual emission, dual voice coil design, featuring an integrated aluminium phase guide. They’re equipped with comprehensive mounting cones, with cable entry at the rear and they can either be integrated into a custom pod, or mounted free-standing using the supplied conical enclosures. Fasteners are equally good, using stainless Allen-headed bolts that add to the overall impression of quality.
Wiring connections on all the units are excellent, with good solid screw-down clamps that will take bare wire or spades easily. The 17cm woofers sport phase guides as well, have a serious magnet structure and again, weigh far more than their dimensions would suggest. They radiate quality. Their mounting equipment is excellent, with mounting rings/spacers, wiring and fasteners all supplied.
The crossovers, while exhibiting proprietary-branded Alpine components, are obviously up to spec with the rest of the components, and again are weighty and very high grade. A nice touch is allowing the insides of the crossover to remain visible, by way of a clear cover that fits over the top. Shows off the innards rather well, if you’re into visible “bragging rights”! This gear deserves the very best install you can give it. Given the performance of the bass drivers, I suggest they would benefit from a sealed enclosure to present their best. Said enclosure would need to be as well damped and non-resonant as possible, as these drivers can move a lot of air. Cone excursion specs are not provided, but I imagine they’d be impressive. You will definitely need a good amplifier and equally good source to do these justice.
The Sound of Music
Apart from the rather obvious relationship to the movie of the same name, the title above really does sum up this set of speakers. Simply put, they make music. That’s not to say they are lacking in detail, dynamics or transparency. Quite the opposite in fact. But they combine the best of both worlds, in my opinion.
While they can certainly “rock out” with the best of them, they do this with an ease that is rare to hear. Increases in volume, even up to crazy levels don’t yield a trace of compression or cone breakup. Rather, it’s almost as if the music just gets more powerful. You will forget just how loud you’re listening, until you check SPLs. Upon first install, I wired the tweeters to the crossovers standard outputs. This is where the one tiny niggle appeared to my ears (can something really “appear” to your ears?). Having the tweeters mounted in their supplied enclosures, and not in a panel or enclosure/pod, they seemed very bright and peaky. Now, maybe this was just an issue with source material, or installation I don’t know. What I can state is that it was easily remedied.
The crossover features three settings, via changing the ‘+’ output connection, to allow the setting of the tweeter to be at either Hi, Mid or Low. In my case, Hi was too high, Low was too low and Mid was just right – easy. Also both the woofers and the tweeters will need some reasonable break-in time before critical listening. At first listen, they may sound rather flat and lifeless. I ran them on the test rig for two days on repeat and, after this, they opened up nicely.
Once all that was settled, I sat back and listened… and listened… and listened some more. Man these things are addictive! They’re just so “right”, on so many different genres of music. First up was Aussie group the Rockmelons. Their 1992 album Form One Planet is a long term favourite of mine. Lead singer Doug Williams’ voice has an airy and open sound to it. Most of the tracks have quite a heavy bass line to them, but it’s not intrusive, even at higher levels. Deni Hines makes appearances on three tracks and really punches out the performances.
Dynamics, rhythm and vocals are high points on this disc. Track 3, the title track, is filled with rapid-fire vocals that often get lost, or muddied up. Not this time. Each voice was clearly delineated in its own space. Timing and dynamics were first rate all the way through. Just a lot of fun to listen too and really got the toes tapping. I played this album all the way through, which is somewhat unusual when being critical and trying to pick out high points, and low points. It was just so much fun!
On to something a little more restrained, so next up was Eric Clapton on his 2004 Me and Mr Johnson album. This is Eric Clapton’s tribute to his long-time hero and inspiration, Robert Johnson. With Track 2, “Little Queen Of Spades”, Clapton’s voice has an awesome growl to it in places, meaning that you can hear the guttural, rough start to his words. A real “chesty” kind of sound. Not many speakers reproduce this well at all, but you wouldn’t miss it unless you knew it was there in the original recording.
Timbrel qualities are also faithfully reproduced and this track can really carry you away. At other times, Clapton’s vocals peak in the upper registers and carry risk of compression with inferior drivers. Not here, thank you very much. The vocals remain pure throughout the range and just a pleasure to listen to.
Last, but definitely not least, we have Aussie singer Andy Cowan and his 1998 album Train I’m On. I only discovered this artist a short while back, but am already enjoying both his music and style. Track 8, “Finger Talkin’” is a fine example. Although this whole album is recorded in a studio, the engineers have let through the ambience of the room on this track, allowing you to hear cues and resonances from the room of the recording. I’ve heard this on some systems, but not many at all. The DLX-F177s don’t even break a sweat performing this magic. The detail presented is amongst the best I’ve heard. In fact, it really shouldn’t be that surprising. Online research finds reference to these exact drivers being used in horn-loaded enclosures, in domestic Audiophile systems. Apparently, they perform equally well in this application. Food for thought indeed!
This has been one of the most enjoyable speaker reviews I’ve written. The DLX-F177 is an excellent product, in the true sense of the word. At just over $1000 they’re certainly not inexpensive but, you get superb value for money. And you can actually see the quality.
Excellence in design, manufacture, materials and of course sound, all add up to a set of speakers that demand pride of place in your vehicle. It’s no wonder the flagship DLX-Z17PRO speakers got a ‘Highly Commended’ gong at this year’s InCar Awards… I simply don’t want to pack them away and send them back!