Albedo HL 2.2
Hi-end world may seem mysterious and bizarre, but when you understand some mechanisms and taste the close contact with the music, it is not hard to get involved in this hobby. Even cables and power conditioners are of major importance for the owners of hi-end audio systems. However the speakers are the most important element. To climb higher naturally we look for the ones which are more professional and refined. It's hard not to notice that the majority of speakers available on the market look roughly the same. Many manufacturers offer big, three-way speakers with four classic drivers, high gloss finish and leather, metal or glass accents. Woofers can be placed on the front, on the sides or on the bottom of the enclosure. Treble can come from a dome, ribbon or other stuff and so on, but the problem is that most speakers apply ventilated enclosures, which is too boring and obvious for many audiophiles. Instead, you can choose the electrostatics and magnetostatics, but it requires a lot of courage to make sacrifices in interior design. It may turn out that the best place for them is right in the center of the listening room. Additionally there is a need to purchase an amplifier with a very high output power.
Your other choice may be a closed box, but as far as ventilated enclosures have problems with uneven and unbalanced bass, closed cabinets often go the other way. Certainly not everyone likes this kind of sound. Horns, open baffles and omnidirectional speakers? You need to find a model that you will love with all its pros and cons. However there is one more solution that is rarely used, but the appropriate application gives very interesting results. I am talking about the transmission line. Here instead of the typical resonance tunnel we have something like a maze which cooperates with a driver to achieve deep and well-controlled bass. Why do so few manufacturers use this solution? The reason is very simple - it is very complicated and expensive thing. The transmission line must be very carefully designed and measured, and the whole labyrinth must be integrated into the cabinet. You cannot just extrude it as it's done with bass-reflex ports and put it in a simple MDF enclosure. Nevertheless this solution has many supporters and you can find enthusiasts who stick with it in spite of the high cost and complexity.
One of them is the Italian company named Albedo. Interestingly its founders did not start from the production through trial and error, but first they had developed a highly accurate mathematical model describing the work of enclosures with this acoustic configuration. This allowed them to create their own software for modelling speakers. Long studies let Italian engineers find what they were looking for. The results of their work were supplemented by already known solutions such as Helmholtz resonators, which were used to compensate the emissions from the reflex port. All this scientific talk sounds very professional, so some people probably expect to see nasty speakers resembling studio monitors or laboratory equipment. But the Italian designers created something which looks... Well, check it out!
Design and functionality
Most loudspeakers with transmission lines I know are boring, rectangular boxes with fairly normal drivers. Angular shapes greatly facilitate the design and installation of the entire maze, but these sets do not distinguish themselves with anything particular. They have larger grilles covered with pieces of foam or thin material instead of blowing ports and that's basically it. The situation with Albedo speakers is different. It is obvious that we are dealing with something else, very interesting and technically advanced, and, above all, beautiful. At first glance petite enclosures look like they levitate over the curved, stabilizing plinths. The cabinets are bent and gently expand upwards. During the unpacking I could examine the bottom carefully and I have to say that I haven't seen anything like this before. Besides the leg which supports the whole construction, we have a grille formed in the shape of a honeycomb, and the mysterious circle on the base, clogged with the foam. The speakers terminals were mounted on the pedestal, and the wiring goes through the foot to crossover and to the drivers. The metal grille is an outlet of the transmission line and is directed towards the floor. In addition to other advantages such an acoustic system makes it easy to set the speakers in the listening room. Along with the perfectly made plinth, in which we can insert four adjustable spikes, it creates a really complicated structure. From the bottom the HL 2.2 looks like a combination of classic speakers with the wing of an airplane, air inlets in the bumper of the BMW M3 and the Warsaw Spire skyscraper.
Italian floorstanders are relatively small. HL 2.2 is a two-way speaker, so the whole cabinet - even with the transmission line - didn't have to be modelled on the two-door refrigerators. It may sound strange, but HL 2.2 present themselves as if they were to be a denial of the principle that bigger and heavier equipment sounds better. These are hi-end speakers which do not dominate the room, but blend with it, which it is a rather rare thing. The class of the craftsmanship emphasizes not only in the perfect woodwork and attention to detail, but also natural colour of ebony veneer. We can choose between two options - one is more brown (Macassar) and the other is greenish (Jamaica). For now I will not elaborate about the technology because Italian designers explain everything very carefully on their website.
From a practical point of view, HL 2.2 is very user-friendly. The dimensions of the cabinets make them easy to deal with. After opening the boxes we only need to decide whether we need spikes screwed into the base or not. Probably the best thing is to leave them in place, but the owners of wooden floors will not be delighted. In this case I would recommend to remove the spikes and replace them with felt pads. The base is quite flat, so four small adhesive disks will do the job. Drivers have been secured with metal grilles, so you don't need to throw them in the basement if you don't use them. Installation of cables is easy due to speaker terminals mounted on pedestals. You can use bananas or spades. The latter can be even more convenient option because the wires can lie flat on the floor.
Finding the right place for speakers in the room is exceptionally easy. HL 2.2 seem to be largely resistant to the acoustic environment in which they will have to work. I do not want to say that they will sound brilliant when they are set anyhow, but the whole installation took me about five minutes. Albedo speakers are not particularly sensitive to the distance from the back wall, especially when it comes to quantity and quality of the bass. If you want to make adjustments, you should pay more attention to the shape and width of the soundstage. Probably some people would prefer to spend more time on setting the speakers just right, but I really like gear which is so user-friendly. Unpack the speakers, put them on the floor, connect the wires, play the music and everything is fine. And how exactly do they sound?
Just a few weeks ago fantastic Sonus Faber Olympica III played in my hi-fi system. Italian speakers embellished the listening room and enchanted me with their performance, but I knew that at this price they will still be beyond my reach. Such a good sound does not happen often, which is why I didn't think that in the near future I will have the opportunity to listen to something as special as them. Meanwhile Albedo HL 2.2 sounded so vigorously that I found myself almost speechless. I was not prepared to hear so powerful, full-range and open sound. Ceramic drivers lead the way of timbre and dynamics, the price also suggested to get ready for something interesting, but I was not ready for this much energy and such a spectacular bass. And it was just the beginning of all the fun that was going to come.
As the speakers arrived at our office practically new, I've set them in a room without any ritual of measuring the distance from the walls. I was prepared to leave them for a burn in and I turned on the first album by Hidden Orchestra. The first sounds forced me to stay and listen to a few songs. I will be brief - I have not heard anything like that from the speakers in this price for a long time, and I have never heard anything like that from the speakers of such small dimensions, ever. Maybe the Equilibrium Ether Ceramique floorstanders have about the similar performance. Moreover, they are based on the similar drivers. I know that both companies had to work hard to achieve low and well controlled bass. Equilibrium's solution is more akin to the classic bass-reflex system, Albedo used much more complicated one with a transmission line. But when such great bass comes to our ears, we stop wondering how it is done. We just listen and enjoy the music.
Low tones of the HL 2.2 combine the depth with amazing rhythm and control which occurs in speakers with sealed enclosures. Actually to my ears there were no restrictions in depth at all. Measurements would probably show that it can go even lower, but for me HL 2.2 presents a completely full bandwidth. I have some experience with subwoofers, I know that they are able to expand the spectrum of floorstander speakers and add a touch of pleasant cinematic abyss. In this case, absolutely nothing is missing. I do not know whether the addition of an active subwoofer would change anything. I guarantee that you will not believe how low frequencies come from these delicate loudspeakers. What is more, the bass is incredibly fast and smooth. I listen to music in 18-square-meter room, which is not acoustically perfect. In these conditions sealed speakers positioned near the rear wall played really well, I liked the bass from Argon Amphion 3, Audio Physics Classic 10 also fitted into this room, and - what surprised me - the already mentioned Sonus Faber Olympica III. But I was sure that if I want to hear a reference bass, one day I will have to ask for help of the acoustics specialists. However it turned out that some speakers can change everything, and the HL 2.2 is one of these speakers.
At this stage, I finished listening and I decided to give the speakers some time, because their sound was still a little matt and the highs were not as open as I expected. After two days of intense work the performance gained gentleness and openness, so it went in the right direction. Initial roughness of midrange moved over for the smoothness. Nevertheless the sound temperature remained completely neutral. The HL 2.2 is one of those speakers, which remain completely transparent. In many ways they resemble good studio monitors, but they are not so cruel for artists and don't sound dry, hard and dispassionately. They have the human interior with all of its neutrality. Despite the excellent dynamics and clarity, associated to hi-end headphones, the sound is smooth and organic. The HL 2.2 don't force us to track recordings in concentration. You can relax with them, but you know that nothing is missing. Small contrasts are shown with such precision that it's not necessary to turn the volume knob of the amplifier harder to the right. For me it is important because I don't like to torture neighbours with my music. For this reason I appreciate the equipment which can show so much at temperate volume levels. HL 2.2 succeeded in this. When you listen quietly you can speak without raising your voice, and the sound coming from the speakers will still be full, detailed and engaging.
In addition to bass, the biggest advantage is the stereo imaging. I have heard such things from hi-end systems at shows and exhibitions, where the equipment had optimal conditions, but I haven't heard such spectacular results at home for a long time. I don't want to say that my listening room is a nightmare. Certainly not, but here I felt like I was sitting in a bigger room with carefully tuned acoustics. It is largely down to the shape of the soundstage. It stretched to the sides, projecting far beyond the cabinets, and reached very deep, like the rear wall didn't exist. The vocalists were usually on the line connecting the speakers or slightly forwards, while most of the instruments were located behind the base. HL 2.2 don't like to present the music close to our face, but they also don't give us the seat at one of the last rows. I rather felt like I was sitting somewhere in the middle of a concert hall or gently behind it. I admit that this approach suits me very well because I don't like being attacked by the music. With all their three-dimensionality, Italian speakers masterfully separated the sounds from each other. Even while listening to the dense electronic pieces, I did not feel like everything merged into one musical mush. The HL 2.2 can easily deal with even the most complex tracks of Aphex Twin to which I usually listen with my headphones, because very few speakers are able to picture their texture without making a mess. Here the HL 2.2 were successful once again.
I really do not know what else I could wish for. In one package I got a reference bass, fantastic soundstage which allows to forget about the limitations of listening room, one hundred percent neutral colour, superb dynamics and lucidity which reminded me of great headphones such as the Sennheiser HD 700 or the AKG K701. Certainly the performance of the HL 2.2 will embody the audiophile ideals, but for me this is the maximum of what can be achieved without falling into complete absurd price range. I know that the Italian speakers are not cheap, but in my opinion they are worth every penny. If you ever have the opportunity to listen to them, I guarantee you will agree with me.
Build quality and technical parameters
Albedo HL 2.2 is a slim floorstander loudspeaker, built on the basis of two ceramic drivers, put in the enclosure with a transmission line. The company's founders claim that classical ventilated cabinet causes the problems that simply can't be circumvented by using any tunnels. In their opinion the solution is more complicated. The enclosure is equipped with a system which not only stabilizes the pressure inside and supports the processing of bass, but also adjust the phase coherence of the sounds emitted by the membrane to the sound waves created by the cabinet itself. Of course this construction is more difficult to manufacture, but the Italian company has the ambition of creating high-quality products, so the technical difficulties were not that important. The configuration used by Italian engineers is more than the classic transmission line, because it is supplemented by the Helmholtz resonators, levelling the frequency response. The system is called Helmholine and is used in all Albedo constructions. Ceramic drivers, aligned in the time domain because of tilt cabinets, complement the work of transmission lines. All of this is to provide a clean and coherent sound. Drivers were chosen not only because of the material used to manufacture the membranes, but also electrical properties. Italians believe that the ceramic drivers have no competition, because they combine the most desirable properties in terms of sound. In their opinion paper membranes are characterized by good internal damping, but they are not very stiff. Metal speakers are stiff, but they do not have good damping. Glass and carbon fibres combine both of these advantages, but they are relatively heavy. They therefore decided on a very expensive speakers whose membranes are made of aluminium coated with a thin film layer of mineral with a very high hardness and stiffness (9 points in Mohs hardness scale, the only material harder than that is diamond). The bass comes from the driver with a diameter of 5 inches. The dome with a diameter of 1 inch is responsible for treble. The first-order crossover divides the spectrum. The HL 2.2 have impedance rating of 8 ohms and their sensitivity is 86 dB. Each piece weighs 19 kg (42 lbs).
Taking the speaker to pieces proceeded very easily. Instead of poor quality screws, the Italian designers used ones that go in threaded inserts embedded in the thick front panels made of MDF. This is the first sign that the manufacturer really wanted to take care even of such details. Drivers provided by Accuton were connected by thick cables soldered to the ends, and then bolted several times. Crossover is made of high quality components, which can be clearly seen in the pictures below. So maybe the HL 2.2 cost a lot, but the manufacturer does not pull our leg, explaining the using of bad capacitors by some philosophical considerations. The chamber behind the drivers is lined with several layers of foam. Moreover, behind the tweeter there is a hole filled with mineral wool. Probably the front panel is the only one made of MDF. The rest is glued laminated plywood similar to that from which Audel CG Tower speakers are made. What is below the drivers? Unfortunately this is hard to say due to the difficult access and a large amount of damping materials. The whole structure looks very complicated, which automatically protects Italian speakers from copying. The forgery of Albedo speakers is rather impossible. Really expensive components automatically discourage the fans of cloning. The shape of the cabinet is very complicated, and the exact parameters of the transmission line will remain a secret.
Naim CD5 XS, Naim NAC 152 XS, Naim NAP 155 XS, Tellurium Q Black, Cardas Clear Light, Albedo Geo, Enerr AC Point One, Enerr Symbol Hybrid, Enerr Holograph, Audioquest NRG-2, Ostoja T1.
When I was interested in photographic equipment, I came across a review of some Canon lens. The authors tested it in every possible way and carried out accurate measurements. In the end they declared that this model simply does not have flaws. This was very surprising because those guys always find some disadvantages, even with cameras and lenses costing several thousand dollars. This time they were helpless and highlighted only one drawback - the price. Well, this is how this world works. This lens proved to be one of the best in history, an iconic model produced unchanged for many years. It was mentioned in many prestigious listings of the equipment every photographer should own. For me the Albedo HL 2.2 is the equivalent of this lens in the hi-fi world. Speakers that for many audiophiles will be just perfect, devoid of drawbacks. What is more HL 2.2 don't create artificial boundaries between the music and the audience. They don't play only for themselves, but - above all - for us. After a few days I knew it would not be easy to send them away. And you know what? I wont. In a few months HL 2.2 will come back to us, this time for longer. Apparently there are so many orders from all over the world that you have to wait for your pair. The manufacturer does not even have a magazine - each box is immediately sent to the recipient. After what I saw and heard, I am not surprised at all.
Speakers type: floorstanding, two-way
Sensitivity: 86 dB
Impedance: 8 ohms
Frequency response: 45 Hz - 20 kHz
Dimensions (H/W/D): 101/19/26 cm
Weight: 19 kg (one piece)
Manufacturer: Albedo Audio