While the laws of physics favor better sound from larger speakers, many small cabinet models can deliver most, if not all that sound quality from a more efficient footprint. Alta Audio offers its Alyssa compact speakers as an alternative to large towers. With a premium ribbon tweeter and a powerful 6-inch mid/woofer, it can play surprisingly low and render extremely fine detail with grace and precision. It looks great too with a unique cabinet shape and high-end finish. At $5,000 a pair, they are an investment but once you hear them; you will consider them a solid value just as I did.
Alta Audio Alyssa Compact Speaker Review
- Compact stand-mounted speaker
- 2-inch ribbon tweeter
- 6-inch mid/woofer with 3-inch voice coil
- XTL Transmission Line design delivers solid and controlled bass
- Multi-layered DampHard faceplate ensures an inert cabinet
- Unique bell-shaped design with high-end finishes
Most audio enthusiasts will agree that when it comes to speakers, bigger is better. It is certainly easier for designers to coax more bass from a large cabinet with large-diameter drivers installed. And higher volumes with lower distortion can be achieved with more drivers. It’s more difficult then for one to create a compact speaker that plays like a larger one. With room for just two drivers, component selection and cabinet engineering present a greater challenge.
Alta Audio meets this challenge in style with its Alyssa Compact Speaker. I’ll get this out of the way upfront: it is not a bookshelf model. Unless you have really deep bookshelves, the Alyssa will not fit. And even if you did, its rear port would chuff right up against the back wall. No, the Alyssa is a stand-mount speaker; one designed to grace small to medium spaces or to be less obtrusive in larger rooms. Either way, it has the necessary design and components to deliver premium audio at any volume with fantastic detail and high precision. Let’s take a look.
6-inch composite dome with titanium former
87.5dB @ 2.83 Volts
32Hz to 47kHz +3 dB
50 to 150 Watts per channel
Alta XTL Bass with DampHard faceplate
14.5”, 15” with spikes
8” at top, 9.6” at bottom
13.25” at the top, 14.25” at the bottom
Alta Audio Alyssa Compact Speaker Price:
$5,000/pair in piano black, +$1,000 for beechwood or rosewood, custom finishes available
2021 Speaker Review, alta audio, alyssa, compact speaker, bookshelf speaker, speaker review
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Speaker design usually has two goals: sound good, look good. While this is an oversimplification, it’s obvious that Alta Audio has swung for the fences on both counts. The Alyssa Compact Speaker looks beautiful. Not only is it finished like fine furniture, but it also has a pleasing shape which is something one rarely says about speakers. Think about the typical speaker cabinet and your visual memory will conjure up a rectangular box, four sides, top, and bottom, with round drivers in the front and a grill to cover them up. Lots of speakers can be called good-looking but most of them, regardless of price or finish quality, look the same.
The Alyssa is not a box, not in the traditional sense anyway. It has four sides with a top and bottom, but it is definitely not a rectangle. From the front, it has a distinct bell shape which is an Alta Audio trademark also seen in the Alec towers and the Legacy-series Rhea and Lelantos. In fact, only Alta’s IO model looks like a typical loudspeaker.
The Alyssa tapers front to back as well. It’s hard to see, but a ruler confirms that they are one inch shallower at the top than at the bottom. The top surface is gently curved while the bottom is flat. Corners are gently rounded and the piano black finish I received on my samples was completely seamless. If you prefer a wood veneer finish, beechwood or rosewood are available for an additional $1,000. Or you can talk to Alta about a custom finish.
The driver complement is equally fine with a large two-inch ribbon tweeter that plays up to 47kHz, more than one octave beyond the range of human hearing, and a six-inch cone woofer made from a composite material with a rubber surround. It’s driven by a massive 3.1-inch voice coil that employs a titanium former giving this huge motor extra litheness and response. This is the way to produce large amounts of smooth, fast, and distortion-free bass. Alta rates the Alyssa down to 32Hz and listening gave me no reason to doubt it. And yes, that is me reflected clearly in the piano-black finish shown above. If that isn’t a sign of quality, what is?
To further control and extend bass, the front baffle is made from what Alta calls DampHard. Rather than using thick MDF, it’s made from multiple layers of materials with varying densities. This makes the cabinet sonically inert. It also means less dampening material is used inside the cabinet.
The cabinet is tuned with a process called XTL Bass which uses multiple tuning frequencies and a folded transmission line to achieve better bass control and extension. Alta treats its speakers like musical instruments to ensure the cabinets are free of any unwanted resonance or vibration.
The Alyssas arrived strapped to a palette which was perhaps a bit of overkill, but it certainly reduced the chance of shipping damage. At 28 pounds apiece, they are beefy and solid, and slippery too, especially when handled with the included white gloves. Metal spikes with felt-lined feet are included to isolate the cabinets from whatever stands you decide to use. I had a couple of stands on hand but had to augment them with wood planks as the Alyssas were too large for their platforms. You will not be setting these up on a bookshelf, they are quite deep. And you’ll want to let those rear ports breathe at least 18 inches from the back wall and 24 inches from the side. If you’re forced to put them closer, Alta includes port plugs. Using them will remove any potential bass bloat but also reduce low-frequency extension.
I did not have this issue, so I set them up using Alta’s recommended configuration of sitting one-and-a-half times farther away than the distance between them with a slight toe-in. The rear panel has two large five-way binding posts which easily accommodated my locking banana plugs. I did not use the port plug. I also removed the magnetic grills though I could not hear a difference with them in place. Leaving them off let me enjoy the beautiful and unique drivers set off by a small Alta logo at the bottom.
For all listening, I streamed Apple Lossless CD rips from my iTunes library which I keep stored on an iPhone 12 that interfaces with an Anthem AVM-70 processor through AirPlay. Using Wi-fi, there is no compression or alteration of the signal and is therefore identical to the original CD. The power amp was an Emotiva XPA-5. No room correction or sound modes were used. The Alyssas were run full range with no subwoofer except where noted. All material was presented in its original two-channel encode.
If I had only one word to describe the Alta Audio Alyssas it would be “addictive.” There is a character to them that kept me coming back for more. I wanted to listen to as many different selections as possible and most times, I wound up sitting for the entire album. Symphonies, chamber music, piano, rock, and metal; all had me glued to the chair. I experimented with a few toe-in angles and occasionally tried adding a subwoofer, but on their own, the Alyssas can carry pretty much anything.
With the speakers toed in to converge about 18 inches behind my head, I achieved the ideal balance of sound stage and resolution. The detail coming from the ribbon tweeter was extraordinary. The old cliché, “I heard some things for the first time” applies here. Piano music was a great example. I listened to solo works by Chopin, and concertos by Mozart and Beethoven. In all cases, the piano had a sparkle and texture I had not heard in previous auditions of these same recordings. The percussive effect of the hammers striking the strings was palpable. It was also delicate, to the point where I thought it would break up or bloom, but it never did, no matter how high I turned the volume.
The balance between the piano and orchestra was ideal with Beethoven’s stateliness and Mozart’s fragility perfectly portrayed. During tutti passages, massed strings never became mushy or undefined. I could hear individual players. Winds and brass were placed perfectly in the phantom center space. The Alyssas have a huge presence and a sound stage that transcends their size and placement. They easily disappear into the room.
Chamber music was my favorite material to listen to. The contemporary work Dark Wood for bassoon violin, cello, and piano sounded incredibly real. The Alyssas excel at recreating intimate spaces like recital halls or small theaters. The feeling of live performance is strong with just the right amount of decay and reverb. The individual instruments’ overtones were also clear which added to the sound stage’s third dimension.
I had a similar experience with Divertissement for Bassoon and Strings by Francaix. Matthias Racz is a gifted bassoonist with a very forward and resonant sound. It was easy to tell him apart from Eric Stomberg, the soloist in Dark Wood. Bassoon tones are like fine wine from a small vineyard, no two bottles are alike. The Alyssas highlighted every nuance and minute difference perfectly.
Large orchestral works like Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 and Shostakovich’s Symphonies 5 and 9 also had tremendous presence. After listening to these two albums, I went back and tried a few excerpts with my sub engaged and the crossover set to 80Hz. Though I could hear a difference, I wouldn’t say adding the sub made it better. I enjoyed the performances equally. I would say if you’re someone who never gets enough bass, add a sub to the Alyssas. But if balance is your thing, the sub is unnecessary. I didn’t need the sub to feel tympani impacts or the growl of low brass at fortissimo. These speakers create a lot of depth from just their single woofer and well-designed enclosure.
Though I am a classical music devotee, I had to hear how the Alyssa’s rocked. Foo Fighters’ latest album, Medicine at Midnight, is a mix of pop and grunge styles with a very radio-friendly mix that sounds good on a variety of speakers. The Alyssas delivered plenty of punch without the sub engaged. Adding it thumped the room a bit more but again, it was not better that way, just different. If you need to fill a large space with tons of bass, add the sub. For the average listening room and a few friends, the Alyssas rock just fine. I really enjoyed the detail from the layered guitars and Dave Grohl’s voice shone in all its glory, whether he sang or screamed. Drums had plenty of tactility and imparted an obvious texture.
Heavy metal was also well represented. Five Finger Death Punch’s Got Your Six is loaded with the group’s signature thrash. Bass and drums kept the motor running at redline while Zoltan Bathory’s lead guitar lines rang out. Lead singer Ivan Moody has a vast palette of vocal styles from primitive guttural to bel canto. He was perfectly balanced in the mix and the Alyssas had no trouble separating him from the mayhem going on behind. Again, the sound stage was as deep as it was wide.
The Alta Audio Alyssa Compact Speakers are mid-priced high-end stand-mounted models. There are alternatives, but few will deliver such exacting detail and precision.
- Phenomenal detail and resolution.
- Premium build and finish with attractive styling and design.
- Solid bass for their size.
- Tremendous soundstage.
- Forgiving of placement.
- A matched sub for users who can never get enough bass.
Honestly, that last comment is trivial. The Alta Audio Alyssa Compact Speakers put out an impressive amount of bass for their size. In a normal-sized room, you won’t wish for more thump. If you want to host a rave in your 50 x 100-foot loft though, adding a sub would be warranted.
What I enjoyed most about the Alyssas was their precise detail. I couldn’t stop listening to them because they truly brought things out of my most familiar recordings that I had not heard before. The sparkle of piano tones, the nuances of different bassoon sounds, and the huge soundstage and presence all suggested a much larger speaker. If you can set them up on stands with some breathing room away from the walls, you will be rewarded with a sound that is much larger than the small cabinets would suggest. Those ribbon tweeters are pure gold. The Alyssas truly disappear into the room.
At $5,000 a pair, they are clearly high-end. But it is possible to spend more money and get no more performance. It’s hard to imagine anything at this price equaling the Alyssa’s high resolution or addictive character.