Alpine DLX-F17S

When reviewing in-car entertainment systems, some things quickly become evident. One of the first is that most modern offerings in the high-end in-car entertainment market are competently designed, packed with features and (usually) provide at least good value at their respective price points. And secondly, you rarely get a sub-standard item sent for review, since your Editor has already pre-picked the most exciting items to delight our readers. But this can create a challenge for the reviewer – not to become repetitive, singing the praises of every piece of equipment that comes along. You can simply run out of new words.

But happily, once in a while, a product comes along that can surprise you, and the words flood forth. For this reviewer, the Alpine DLX-F17S proved one such product.

They’re baaack…
Originally released in 2008, the DLX-F17A was discontinued in the local market for a number of commercial and product selection compatibility issues. But the reviews and comments from the time had sung its praises

far and wide. Meanwhile it seems that those who installed the speakers have managed to remain happy with the results, and relatively immune from “upgrade-itis”.

Now it is re-released, offered in a 2-way system that appears, at first look, identical to the original; nothing jumps out as crazy different. Not a lot of “bling” either. But, on closer inspection, several things become apparent. There’s a noticeable attention to detail in every piece. Mounting bolts are stainless steel, wiring is heavier duty than usual, soft annealed and bright copper stranded. There’s plenty of it too.

Then the cup brackets for the Dual Voice Coil DLX-F30T tweeters are a beautiful grey alloy construction, with tapped threads and very solid mounts. The tweeters are also supplied with hardware for flush mounting.

Likewise, a look at the DLX-F17S 6.7-inch (17cm) DDLinear drivers reveals a very carefully crafted transducer with a very heavy-duty alloy frame, beefy wire terminals with decent-sized screws, and a massive magnet structure. With 4-ohm impedance and 200 watts handling capacity, these are serious drivers.

The two separate crossovers are also very interesting. Consisting of a solid ABS Plastic case, they are easily opened, revealing connections and adjustments. The same heavy connection screws are used here, along with what are obviously high quality components and thicker circuit board and track layout than is the norm these days. The tweeter output can be attenuated between 0 and -8db, by easily moving a pin joiner plug. More on that attenuation later. So, plenty of kit for your dollar, but nothing unneeded.

You’re not paying for pretty colours, shiny do-dads or features you’ll might show off once then totally forget about. And this becomes very clear, very quickly. Installation was quick, easy and logical. After all, this system comes from one of the oldest and most respected names in the industry. If they can’t put together an installer friendly set of speakers, who can?

The 6.5-inchers went straight into the front doors of the 2005 Stagea, where there’s now a set of baffles that can be swapped out for different sized drivers. Tweeters went into their lovely little cups and clipped onto the dash just above the vents. The head unit was the standard Nissan system, but with outputs to

a nice little 80 watt-per-channel Class-D stereo power amp that was put together a few weeks ago from a kit sent over by a contact in Poland. So for now, it’s a rather good-sounding no-name brand.

After break in of about a week of FM radio at various levels, it was time to put some reference music through.

Left brain versus right brain
Of late, one disc has been on almost constant rotation. That disc is from Stockfish Records, the first of its compilation discs called “Closer to The Music”. The 17 tracks contain a wide variety of music and sounds, and without exception, they are all very well recorded and produced (high-res versions are available).

Track 4 is from Sara K, “The Painter”. It rises and drops in volume and dynamics across the entire track. The DLX-17S followed each and every variation with ease, allowing the huskiness of Sara’s voice to come through clearly, along with all the ambient cues that can put you right in the recording venue. These drivers do not lose a single detail, no matter how low the volume goes. Or how high. On the next track with Chris Jones “Stop Those Bells” has several finger snaps. On the Alpines, they sounded exactly like fingers, not some artificial, mechanical “click”.

Track 7 is an old favourite from Chris Jones “No Sanctuary Here”. Huge bass, rapid dynamic swings and his growly, emotional rendering make this a track that really sorts out what a system can do. And the DLX-F17S can do it, and then some. Leading edge transient “snap” meant the drum beats had a real bite to them, and although the sub takes care of the lower octaves, the bass is tuneless without the information imparted by the next driver up the frequency range. This particular track is a real “show off” piece and was played to death during demos to other listeners. Track 11, by Steve Straus, is one of the most haunting and emotional on the album, named “Argyle Bridge”. The singer’s raw emotion, loss and sadness came through clearly on the Alpine speakers. Nothing was missed, covered or disguised in any way. Just pure enjoyment from start to finish. Other tracks on the album include David Munyon’s “Words Of Love”. It’s a simple, haunting melody, along with track 13 “Save The Wales” by the same artist. Both these tracks are very basic recordings, but unless you have the means, the enormous amount of low level detail in them will be missed. Not so with the DLX-F17S, which rendered them accurately and complete, but not so accurate that they became sterile, or lifeless. Just the opposite in fact, by portraying the tone and detail of the recording and placing the listener so close to the artist, they create the emotional engagement that’s so often missing in a system.

Speaking of emotion, track 14 by Paul Stephenson “Captain Of The Loving Kind” is a real tear-jerker. Describing what may well be a true story, the song is about an airline captain that turned a plane around, due to a very ill child on board. Not exactly a cheery song but the Alpine DLX-F17S nonetheless showed the song truthfully and accurately.

Across this list of tracks, regular tweeter attenuation adjustments were made in order to reach the best high frequency balance. If there is to be one criticism of the system, it would be that the F30T tweeter can sound a bit “hot” at times. Luckily, this is easily remedied by adjustment via the bridge pins inside the crossovers. A -6db setting seemed to be the best “all round” during our tests.

Do you listen to the music, or do you listen to the equipment? Do you analyse the sound quality, or just enjoy the song being played? This is what’s known locally as the left brain/right brain quandary in audio. There are not a lot of products out there that will let you do both, or make a choice as to which you want to do, without any trade-offs. Rarely at this price point do we find a product capable of satisfying both kinds of listeners. The Alpine DLX-F17S is one of the few.

As well as being clearly some of the best drivers heard at this price, the Alpine DLX-F17S simply would not distort. They flat-out refused to compress, break-up or otherwise misbehave at any volume the amplifier could produce. The amp was 2-ohms capable and almost doubles down with impedance increase, putting out about 160 watts at 4 ohms. Listeners’ ears would give out first. Even standing outside the car, with everything at “max” failed to produce any detectable distortion. Outstanding sound quality, beautifully made and extremely tough, the Alpine DLX-F17S is a resounding winner!

Alpine DLX-F17S

Alpine DLX-F17S 2-way split speakers
Cost: $899
+ Solid engineering, Superb sound, Good mounting options
-  May require tweeter adjustment to suit

Type: 6.5-inch 2-way component speakers with Multi Layer Hybrid (MLH) cone with aluminium phase guide

Frequency Response: 28Hz – 60 kHz

Rated power: 50 Watts RMS