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Ardento ALTER

Price (in Poland): 44 000 zł

Manufacturer: Ardento

ul. Fordońska 246, 85-766 Bydgoszcz
tel. 694 887 308


Manufacturer's website:

Country of origin: Poland

Product delivered for test by : Ardento

Text: Marek Dyba
Photos: Marek Dyba | Ardento

Published: 1. October 2012, No. 101

If I recall correctly the first time I had ever heard about Ardento was in September, or beginning October 2010. At that time I conducted review of some products of PAB, and it was its owner, who told me about „remarkable Polish open baffles”, that were to be presented on, soon to come, AudioShow in Warsaw.
I, as well as every other audiophile, have my own sound preferences, that are probably obvious if you read at least some of my review, which doesn't change the fact, that I always do my best to cover each reviewed product as objectively as possible. I've had horn speakers for many years now, but I dreamed about having OB speakers from the moment I visited a friend and heard his giant ones (I mean triple leaf-door big) with single wide-range PHY drivers. It was my dream and it was to stay a dream only, as such huge OBs require a lot of space around them – at least 2 meters from back wall, there must be some space between them and sidewalls, plus the sweet spot should be at least 3-4 m away from them – that means they require large room to perform at their best.

Unfortunately I don't have such a room. So when I heard about Ardento being OBs, not too big themselves and performing well in a room of a size of mine (24 sqm) I knew I had to give them a try. Obviously AudioShow is not a place for a critical listening session (of any product), but you get at least an idea about sonic characteristic of particular product, which lets you decide whether to get a serious audition or not. So I waited anxiously for AudioShow, also because I knew that Ardento would be presented in two rooms, in two different systems which would give me a better idea about how they sounded. I think that model called Zendo was presented during the Show – a large woofer with paper diaphragm and a nice wide-ranger delivering the rest of frequency range. Manufacturer drove them with a Sophia Electric 300B SET – my favorite kind of amplifier. The acoustics of the room was as poor as it always is in the Sobieski Hotel, but despite that I kept coming back to this room many times, as I truly enjoyed the sound of this system. And I don't mean that it was some perfect sound, or the best sound of the Show – not necessarily, but it was „my” sound, with fantastic midrange, impressive (non-bass-reflex) bass, so I didn't care about lack of upper treble. This was in fact a debut of Ardento at the very beginning of their activity, so it took a long time before we agreed with the owner and designer, Mr Tomasz Flanc, a loan of his speakers for a review. Before that one of my friends bought early version of Alter, and in this way I witnessed an evolution of this model, and my friend's search for a perfect amplifier to drive these speakers. The most obvious difference between Alter speakers and Zendo is an additional driver – a ribbon tweeter, also wide-range driver is different, obviously also crossover had to change, and the size and look of open baffle. The aforementioned evolution of reviewed model was mostly a search for the best wide-range driver for this particular project (not necessarily the best ever made), also this driver was installed in replaceable panel, so it was easy to swap whole panel with one driver for another one. After extensive trials Mr Tomasz decided that the best choice was a driver from Hungarian company Sonido, that you might already be familiar with, if you read my review of BodnarAudio horn speakers (read HERE). It is not exactly the same model of driver, but already than I mentioned that these unknown (at the time) Hungarian drivers might be a serious alternative for much more famous brands like Fostex, and maybe even Lowther.

On the other hand Michal's (that's the friend, owner of Alter, I mentioned before) long search for a proper amplification was in fact quite a turn-around of the initial idea – he had one of the best 300B SETs I know – AirTight ATM-300, and he was looking for speakers that would offer full range sound with it. Ardento Alter were supposed to be such speakers but it turned out that they were a bit too difficult load for this amplifier. Yes, there was amazing midrange, sweet, open treble, but obviously driving 15'' woofer to its full potential was too much to ask of the Japanese amp. During his search (that I partially witnessed) he found out that the „proper” output power should be at least at 20W, regardless if it was a tube or solid-state amp. He tried many amplifiers and finally found a one (actually two) that ended the search – these were monoblocks with GM70 power tubes. Long story short – a search for perfect speakers for a great 300B SET ended with finding great speakers and replacing amplifier witm more powerful one. Bottom line – keep your mind open – sometimes we focus so much on finding a better amp/source/speakers/cables for our system that we don't even consider changing some other element of the setup, which sometimes might be what we really need.


Recordings used during test (a selection):

  • Cassandra Wilson, New moon daughter, Blue Note; CDP 7243 8 37183 2 0, FLAC.
  • Metallica, Metallica, 511831-1, 4 x LP.
  • AC/DC, Live, EPIC, E2 90553, LP.
  • Pink Floyd, Wish you were here, EMI Records Japan, TOCP-53808, FLAC.
  • Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin, Atlantic/Warner Music, WPCR-11611, FLAC.
  • Etta James, Eddie 'Cleanhead' Vinson, Blues in the Night, Vol.1: The Early Show, Fantasy, B000000XDW, CD/FLAC.
  • The Ray Brown Trio, Soular energy, Pure Audiophile, PA-002 (2), LP.
  • Dire Straits, Communique, Vertigo, 800 052-2, FLAC.
  • Rodrigo y Gabriela, 11:11, EMI Music Poland, 5651702, FLAC.
  • Arne Domnerus, Jazz at the Pawnshop, FIM XRCD 012-013, FLAC.
  • Arne Domnerus, Antiphone blues, Proprius, PRCD 7744, FLAC.
  • Renaud Garcia-Fons, Oriental bass, Enja, B000005CD8, FLAC.
  • Keith Jarrett, The Köln Concert, ECM/Universal Music Japan, UCCE-9011, FLAC.

As I mentioned it took me quite a long time to get Alters for a review, and I think there were two main reasons why I finally succeeded – first of all it seemed that he, as a designer, was finally happy with the result he achieved and started to treat it as final version, secondly he and I were both fans of 300B SETs and that worked to my advantage. In fact Mr Tomasz story (as a designer) started, as in many cases of audio designers, when he couldn't find a product on a market that would satisfy his needs, and he needed speakers that would sound good enough with his tube amplifier. As a resourceful guy he decided to give it a try and build a pair for himself. Obviously it took him years to get where he's now with his top model Alter, but when he finally got some results he was happy with, he decided to share them with other audio enthusiasts. Because let's make it clear – especially early Ardento models were created for people with certain sound preferences – to those who value most this wonderful, dense, smooth midrange, and were ready for some sacrifices in both frequency range extremes areas. Most people I talked to during/after AudioShow 2010 told me they really enjoyed the sound in Ardento room, but at the same time most of them complained a bit about treble extension. My guess it Mr Tomasz heard a lot of these comments and decided to do something about it, so maybe that's the reason of creating Alters? This new model sports additionally, as I already mentioned, a very good Fountek ribbon tweeter, thus offering a truly full-range sound.

But let's start from the very beginning. The speakers were brought to my place in two solid, wooden crates that were cleverly designed to protect speakers from damage or any scratches (especially considering black, glossy finish) during transport. For the Customer it's a first sign that company treats its job, and its customers, very seriously taking care of all details including proper packaging. Speakers themselves are made up of two main parts – a solid base, that rests on four feet, holding crossover inside it, and the baffle with drivers installed in it and a MDF frame around it. The baffle is slightly tilted towards the back. There are two black grills for both, front and back side of the speaker. In my eyes it looks really good, nicely finished – these should look good in every living-room they might land in. Taking their price into consideration it shouldn't be surprising but on the other hands I've seen some even more expensive products looking much worse. After removing a front grill I found the front of the baffle also beautifully finished, with black, but this time mat color, and all drivers solidly bolted to the baffle. I have to confess – the look of 15'' paper cone, a wide-ranger and a ribbon tweeter in non-bass-reflex cabinet was like a dream came true. Taking the back grill off allows you to take a look at the back of all drivers plus it gives you an access to bass, midrange and treble adjustments. The two latter are simply pots giving you control over volume of mid and upper range. To adjust volume of bass you need to replace, or take out a capacitor mounted in a socket next to speaker bindings. Mr Tomasz always brings speakers to new owners and helps them adjust especially the volume of bass to the particular room, and of course to the personal preferences of a new user. Usually it is done once – so just chose one of two capacitors, or leave the socket empty. With „regular” speakers all you can do about exaggerated bass is to fiddle with speakers placement (sure you can deal with room's acoustics but if that's your living room you don't want to do that, do you?). Here, it is quite simple – too much bass, replace a cap. As the operation is so simple (socket – no soldering) if the you change the room later or you preferences change you can play with caps again. Adjusting volume of midrange and treble is even simpler with pots so if you really want to, you could adjust both even for every single album you play.

So my first impressions were remarkably good – great look, user-friendly, no bass-reflex (I know, I know – but that's my „thing”), simple solutions allowing to adjust sound to particular room and preferences, high sensitivity (93dB), impressive frequency range (35Hz-40kHz) – from my point of view, all pros and no real cons. Well, maybe there was one thing that bothered me a bit (considering that I was hoping I could drive these beauties with 300B SET) – 4Ω impedance. But on the other hand Mr Tomasz told me that it was somehow special version as he left the wide-range drivers uncut, which was supposed to make them even easier load for an amplifier. So I started the first listening session with my modified (Tom Willis replaced output transformers with the ones from Diavolo) ArtAudio Symphony II and... what I heard reminded my listening experience from sessions at Michal's – amazing midrange, colorful and smooth, crisp, sparkling treble, but no real power at the bottom one would expect from 15'' woofer. So even though I loved voices of Kari Bremnes, or Patricia Barber, the sound of small bells and some other percussion instruments were amazingly vibrant, vivid, but my favorite double-bass didn't have that power, didn't go as deep as it could, so I was a bit disappointed. So I switched to my other amplifier – solid-state Modwright KWA100SE with LS100 tube preamplifier. This set offers a really good performance with outstanding (for a solid-state) midrange. I had to be a bit careful because, as I mentioned before, the wide-range driver wasn't cut off, so it might have been in danger if I suddenly decided to use full power of my amp. OK, there was no real danger, as I had neighbors I needed to think about and thus kept volume at reasonable levels anyway.
What this system offered with Ardento simply chained me to my couch for many hours. In fact for the next couple of days I spent as much time as I could spare looking for more and more music just to check how it would sound on Alters. Well, obviously I have a thing for a 15'' paper cones – not so long ago I was almost equally impressed with Bastanis Matterhorn, which in fact I bought after the test for myself, as I couldn't let them go. Those were horn speakers, now I had an open baffle, but they had some things in common, important things for me – no bass-reflex, 15'' paper-cone woofer that delivered powerful, rich, heavy bass, high sensitivity, amazing midrange and also damn good, sparkling treble.

Mr Tomasz (designer) told me that it was a wide-range driver that the whole speaker was built around. The woofer and ribbon tweeter were there to support it at frequency extremes, where wide-range driver didn't do so well as in the midrange, upper bass and lower treble. And when listening to Alters I could fully agree with that. These speakers delivered remarkable midrange – smooth, rich, colorful – that sound reminded me the best single driver (usually horn) speakers. That's what made vocals and acoustic instrument sound so well. The common disadvantage of single-driver solutions are rolled off treble and bass but it's not a case here!
One might be a bit concerned about how the combination of very clean, transparent, detailed sounding ribbon tweeter might co-sound with kind of „soft” sound of a wide-range driver. One might think that in contrast to the „softness” of midrange, treble might sound bright and harsh. And the other way around – such a transparent, clear sounding, sparkling treble might make midrange sound dull, fuzzy, slow, not transparent. But there is nothing to worry about here – there is a great balance between treble and midrange, plus it can be adjusted (using the controls on the back of the speakers) so that it might fit one's preferences perfectly. And last but not least there is THE BASS. I do realize that there are some bass-reflex designs that sound good, even very good, but it's the minority among all manufactured nowadays. So I will keep claiming that bass-reflex solution is not a good one, it was created because manufacturers wanted to supply people with smaller, narrow-front speakers, that would better fit small rooms. Nowadays most speakers are made this way and what's worse most people think that it's how speakers should sound, and when there is no boomy bass from b-r port they don't like the sound. For me it is this boomy sound coming from b-r port that takes a big part of enjoyment of listening to the music, away. OK, I'm old-fashioned but for me a large, paper-cone woofer, at least 15'' in diameter, is the only way to reproduce natural sounding bass. That's why I loved so much Bastanis Matterhorns, and that's why now I loved Ardento Alter even more. It is also about the size of the diaphragm – 15'' can move a lot of air creating a lot of pressure and allowing listener to feel the bass, especially comparing to saller drivers even if they come in pairs. The large cone, like the one used in Ardento, delivers powerful, mighty even, well differentiated, tuneful bass, which is kind of a foundation, base for the rest of the frequency range.

The only thing some other speakers do better is speed – some can offer faster bass, but there are only very, very few that can (in reality, not just on paper) go deeper down than Alters do.

Recently one of the Readers demanded that we use „more popular” music genres during out test – like trash-metal or hip-hop. Well, I won't, simply because conducting reviews should be a pleasure for me, which means my favorite music must be involved. I'm not judging which music is better or worse – I just like some music, and I don't like some other – why would I listen to something I don't like?
But having speakers like Ardento I had to play Metallica's black album, even though I don't listen to it to often. It's definitely not trash-metal, there is no ultra-fast kick drum involved, but there is a lot of power, low, mighty bass (from kick drum and bass guitar), there are some nicely taken cymbals, and electric guitars too. All that doesn't make it an „audiophile” recording (not even on my special, 4LP version) but it's a nice test for dynamics, bass extension, ability to convey huge amount of energy. The Alters passed the test with flying colors, not only with spectacular performance but also with a very nicely organized one – there was no fuzziness that is always there when this album is played from CD, and is sometimes there if the system can't handle that much energy at once, as accumulated in this recording. This reproduction of Metallica wasn't also so flat, instruments, sounds had some „flesh” on them, there was some depth to the soundstage too. That's what large cone driver is about – it moves large volume of air and lets listener not only hear, but also feel the low end. I had also a lot of fun when playing AC/DC's Live album (also from vinyl). That's no audiophile recording either, but it's so energetic, dynamic, involving that, if you like rock and roll, you must enjoy it, especially if it's delivered by speakers like Ardento. Not only was the presentation real TNT, not only the intense, explosive atmosphere of the concert was conveyed, but also, I think for the first time, Brian Johnson's vocal sounded so clear I could actually understand pretty well most texts.

There is more to the music than just rock'n'roll. Well, in fact I listen mostly to vocal and acoustic music so I had to stop enjoying performance of fantastic Aussies and move on. I wanted to listen to a piece, that after I played it with Hansen Prince V2, became an ultimate bass extension test for me. It's an AquaMarine tune from Isao Suzuki's Blow up album. It became my benchmark as no other speakers I had a chance to listen too since my review of Hansen, could perform so well in this aspect, going that low and with so much weight, power even in the lowest notes. Ardento Alter were first that came close, not very close but close enough to call them impressive. I think the bass extension was similar to Hansen's but there was not that much weight at the very bottom. But a great recommendation for these speakers was my not noticing any deficiency in bass extension or weight – I mean, when I listen to that piece on other speakers I immediately realize that they are not able to deliver all the bass that is there in the recording – here I didn't have that feeling. Sound was very natural, realistic – I could hear plucked strings, lots of wood, fast attack and long, rich decay – everything that makes a great sounding bass.

Yes, of course after such a great experience with Isao Suzuki I had to move to my favorites – Ray Brown and Renaud Garcia Fons, to hear the sound of their fabulous basses. I mentioned that probably dozen times before, so sorry if you have to read that again and again – in my opinion only „old-fashioned” designs (horns, open-baffles, infinite baffles) with large, usually paper-cone woofers, are capable of a true, natural presentation of that mighty instrument. The bass reproduced by Alters (or Matterhorns) gets as close to what I know from live concerts, as possible – the raw power, the huge scale of sounds that it is capable to play, lots of wood in the sound, plus all those small details – fingers sliding along strings, gentle knocks on wood, and so on. Yes, most of those details are usually delivered by high quality speakers, but only very few of them can do that in such an unforced, natural way.

Also wide-range Sonido and Fountek's ribbon tweeter delivered stunning performance, especially when it came to acoustic music (but it wasn't limited only to it). Vocals were amazing – smooth, rich, with texture and timbre nicely laid out. What a remarkable performance Etta James gave, signing for me, all that amazing energy, her heart and soul put into her singing so well, so realisticly conveyed by Alters. In her best years she gave most thrilling performances and some recordings captured that amazingly well. As she is so engaged, involved in her signing, you also simply can't ignore that - you can clearly „see” all emotions – sadness, joy, anger – everything is there so convincingly delivered by those remarkable speakers.

My room is the smallest ((24sqm) Mr Tomasz recommends his speakers for, but even though I managed to find such a setup for them, that I got powerful, heavy bass and outstanding, three-dimensional, precisely layered soundstage. Each of these elements is important when it comes to creating an illusion of participation in some wonderful musical event, performance. In this particular case Etta was there, maybe 2 meters away from me, in the middle, behind there there was a band with each musician occupying well defined piece of space, plus there was this very agitated, involved audience, which made me feel like I was a part of it. If that's still not enough Alters presented also all the acoustic surrounding which simply put, brought the whole concert straight to my room, without any effort from my side – it just happened. Most of what I just described comes from a great work of a wide-range driver, but „most” not „all of it”. Sonido does its job damn well but also ribbon tweeter pours a stream of sweet but vibrant, crisp details, over listener. And there is also that fantastic 15'' woofer, delivering powerful, tuneful, well extended bass that in fact also helps midrange sound better – that's what I learned when I added a subwoofer to my previous horn speakers – with subwoofer in play midrange sounded richer, fuller - better.

What's most amazing and important about these speakers is great balance between all parts of frequency range, coherence that only very few speakers I know, offer. As their designer said – the concept of Alters was to build them around a very good wide-range driver – that's a concept really close to my heart, as there is 80, sometimes even more percent of the music inside midrange, so treating this part of the range as a key one, makes a lot of sense for me. Obviously to have a fullrange speaker you can't use only one wide-range driver – you need some woofer and tweeter. The big challenge is to make these 3 drivers work together in such a coherent way that they still sound like a single driver. I believe that Mr Tomasz succeeded like very few before him. The result is a great reproduction of almost any music you throw at Alters. It was also achieved by combining high quality drivers, but not the best, or the most expensive ones available. That's what building good speakers is about, right? Not just choosing the best drivers available and putting them together in one cabinet (which hardly ever works), but finding elements that work together so well, that the final result is better that one would expect by a simple sum of single elements. These speakers offered one of the best presentations of acoustic music I've ever heard, and the simplest answer to the question why is: because of their so coherent and natural sound. It did not matter whether it was bass, acoustic guitar, saxophone or trumpet – each and every time I was like: wow, it is so real, it's happening right here in my room. I listened to as many records as I only could with all sorts of music I usually listen to and there was not even one that I didn't like. Indeed, these are not speakers that would make poor recordings sound great – don't count on that. The better quality recording the greater presentation by Alters. If the recording was poor, well it was somehow more listenable than usually but without hiding flows of the recording, but rather just not exposing them too hard. Among the recordings I listened to, there was not a single one these speakers couldn't handle. To be honest most albums sounded better then ever (with just few exceptions like Hansen, Avantgarde Acoustic, and also Bastanis did not fall to much behind in terms of great performance). Mighty, truly extended, unconstrained, tuneful bass, so energetic, maybe not the fastest I ever heard, but fast enough to deal with rhythm and timing so I don't think many would complain about it. There is this rich, smooth, intense colorful, amazingly palpable midrange, comparable only to the best single-driver speakers. And there is also nothing wrong about strong, clear, clean, crisp and vibrant treble, that's also very airy and well differentiated. And, as already mentioned, all those element combine together so well, creating a smooth, coherent whole offering vivid, truly involving, full of emotions presentation. There is one more thing – such a wonderfully performing speakers, capable of competing with even more expensive from well known brands, are made in Poland. Bravo!

There is one more thing I'd like to share with you. The ambition of Mr Tomasz is to offer a (almost) complete system to his customers. For now, apart from speakers themselves, you might also buy cables, made of the same material (silver) as internal cabling of Alters. You can't buy only cables – IC, SC and PC come only as a set with speakers (of course if customer is interested) – they are not sold separately, as Ardento is not a cable manufacturer, as Mr Tomasz said. Together with speakers I received a speaker cable and I must say it sounded damn well – most systems would benefit from using cables same as the ones used inside speakers. There is also one product available for customers already – it's a D/A converter, that I also had a chance to listen to for a short time, and while the price (4 kPLN without or 5 kPLN with USB input) is not among lowest on market, but in my opinion it is still a bargain for such a good sound. There is also, soon to come, a 300B amplifier, that will complete the system (you will need some source – CD transport or computer). Basing on what I already heard I guess it will be hell of a system. I'll keep my fingers crossed!


Robert Bastanis managed to build great speakers using only two drivers, and he achieved the sound I loved and couldn't resist, also because they sounded so well with both, 300B SET and a solid-state amplifier. Mr Tomasz created a three-way speakers in a „vintage” open baffle style, that offer even fuller, richer hence better sound than Matterhorns, but on the downside these can't be fully driven by a single 300B tube. Ardento Alter sounded perfectly with Ayon's Triton III, a tube amp delivering up to 60W per channel in triode mode, by a friend of mine drove Alters with a 30W Jadis I-35, and that wattage was absolutely enough, and the speakers sounded great. I did not witness that but I was told that a PSE 300B (so with 3 tubes per channel) drove these speakers with ease, which means that, say, 15W should be enough to get it all these speakers are capable to offer/deliver. That's not an inexpensive product, but I dare to say that comparing to what that amount of money can buy from well-known brands, Ardento Alter are a bargain, because of their performance, but also look. And they can be partnered with both tube amps (I would recommend no less than 15W) and solid-state – the only factor that really matters is how good the amp is. With Modwright's amplification they sounded damn well, which means that any good solid-state will do, so even if you're looking for speakers for s-s amp don't count Ardento out – try first. There are not speakers for anyone – I'm pretty sure that people who like bass-reflex sound might not be delighted with these, but on the other hand maybe you should give Ardento a try? Maybe bass-reflex is not the best solution available? It's a good thing to find out for yourself. One more important thing about reviewed speakers - with Ardento you get remarkable sound a great look.


Ardento Alter are w three-way open-baffle speakers. The main part of the baffle is made of 28mm HDF finished with black mat color. The side are made of 38mm MDF plates. These are finished with black, „glossy” lacquer, but the final „glossy” effect is achieved via dabbing several layers of lacquer and polishing each of them separately! This design sports three drivers: Fountek NeoPRO 5i ribbon tweeter, Sonido SFR 175 Alnico wide-range driver, and modified Eminence Beta 15" woofer. The drivers are mechanically isolated from each other – they are fixed in a 'soft' way – screws go through front wall freely and are fixed from the back side using rubber washers (in this way the influence of vibrations of one driver doesn't effect the others). The internal cabling is made of mono-crystal silver, that undergoes thermal processing (annealing and cryogenic treatment). Each speakers sport a pair of single WBT speaker bindings - WBT 0703 (with cryogenic treatment). Sonido is the „primary” driver that reproduces most of the frequency range, while the ribbon tweeter and 15" woofer do an auxiliary work, where the Sonido „can't do anymore”. The crossover for Sonido and Fountek is as simple as possible but using high quality passive elements. For bass woofer manufacturer used a circuit „enhancing lowest bass performance”.

Technical specification (according to the manufacturer):

  • Frequency response: 35-40.000 Hz
  • Sensitivity: 92dB (for bass), from 0 to over 100dB for the other two drivers (adjustable)
  • Impedance: 4 Ω
  • Dimensions (WxSxD): 51,4 x 128 x 32 cm (depth of the base actually)
  • Weight: 42 kg/pc.