X HITS THE SPOT.

InCar Entertainment  - - AUDITION -

Oval speak­ers, eh? They take me way back. You don’t see too many of them around, but here is a set from Alpine. In­deed, the X-S69C is the top model in the com­pany’s X Series range of speak­ers.

So, why oval? Ba­si­cally, it’s one way to make a big speaker fit in a small, oddly shaped space. And cars are full of small, oddly shaped spa­ces. If you want a big­ger woofer in a home speaker, you just make the box big­ger. Not an op­tion with cars. In the auto world, the speak­ers have to con­form, not their en­clo­sures. EQUIP­MENT The speaker cone is rated at 9 inches by 6 inches (speaker driv­ers are tra­di­tion­ally mea­sured from their screw holes, not the size of the cone it­self) — thus the X-S69C model num­ber. It fea­tures what Alpine de­scribes as a ‘Nano-Fi­bre Woofer Cone’ and its en­gine uses a neodymium mag­net.

In­ter­pret­ing more of the model num­ber, the ‘C’ stands for com­po­nent. Which is to say, there’s a tweeter, but in­stead of be­ing sus­pended in front of the cone of the larger driver, it’s sep­a­rate, and so can be placed some­where on the dash­board. As al­ways, you’re go­ing to get more tre­ble if the tweeter is fac­ing you, the lis­tener, than if it’s fir­ing into your calf from the door or un­der the dash.

The tweeter is a 25mm unit with a car­bon graphite dome and neodymium mag­net. It comes with its own enclosure, stand­ing 34mm tall and 58mm in di­am­e­ter. It’s de­signed for sur­face mount­ing.

There’s also a sep­a­rate cross­over net­work, which can be put any­where it will fit, within the range per­mit­ted by the speaker ca­bles. Lots of mount­ing hard­ware is in­cluded.

You can open up the cross­over net­work boxes a lit­tle to change some set­tings, and with lit­tle care­ful squeez­ing, re­move the lid com­pletely. This dis­closes a PC board with two lar­gish com­po­nents: a 0.4mH coil and a 100 volt, 3.9 mi­cro­farad, 5% tol­er­ance Ben­nic PMT ca­pac­i­tor. Alpine boasts of us­ing ‘high grade net­work com­po­nents’ for the cross­over, with­out go­ing into de­tails. Ben­nic ca­pac­i­tors cer­tainly have a rep­u­ta­tion for high qual­ity in au­dio ap­pli­ca­tions.

We also noted that the printed cir­cuit board is glued into the case, so it’s not likely to come loose and start rat­tling around over time.

When you slide back the lid of the cross­over, two ad­just­ments are avail­able. by mov­ing lit­tle square jumpers from one set of two pins to an­other set. One set of ad­just­ments is to change the level of the tweeter. As de­liv­ered it is pre­set to a ref­er­ence 0dB, but +3dB and -3dB are avail­able. Chances are you’ll ad­just the level with the EQ in your head unit, as­sum­ing that most pur­chasers will have a head unit wor­thy of speak­ers like th­ese.

The other ad­just­ment al­lows you to re­verse the phase of the tweeter com­pared to the larger driver. This may help deal with cross­over is­sues, po­ten­tially un­pre­dictable given that Alpine has no idea how far from the main speaker you’ll be in­stalling the tweet­ers. But it’s go­ing to take a fine ear in­deed to de­tect any such is­sues, so I doubt it will be widely used.

You know how manufacturers rou­tinely, if fu­tilely, ask pur­chasers to re­tain the pack­ag­ing in case of re­turn or hav­ing to move? Less rel­e­vant with car au­dio of course, but there’s

no hope of that here. The cut­ting tem­plate for the main speak­ers is most of the back of the car­ton, which has a per­fo­rated out­line, ready to push out. Un­for­tu­nately, the in­struc­tions are also on the back of the car­ton and you make a big hole in them when the tem­plate comes out. Keep the bits. Or take a photo be­fore push­ing out the tem­plate.

The wiring di­a­gram, which I man­aged to read by care­fully align­ing the tem­plates I’d re­moved from the box, made it clear that the am­pli­fier is wired to the larger driver, with ad­di­tional wires go­ing from it to the cross­over and thence to the tweeter. Clearly the cross­over does not con­trol the range of sound de­liv­ered to the larger speaker.

The nec­es­sary wires are al­ready at­tached to the cross­over and tweeter, but you may need to add more de­pend­ing on the lay­out of the speak­ers in your ve­hi­cle. The wiring in­cluded al­lows up to 830mm be­tween the woofer and the cross­over, and 1.04 me­tres be­tween the cross­over and the tweeter.

If you like what you see about the Alpine X Series, but don’t have a place for th­ese speak­ers for what­ever rea­son, there is also the X-S65 model ($649), with is a com­po­nent sys­tem like this one, but the larger speaker is a round 6.5 inch unit, and the X-S65 ($549), which is some­what like the X-S65C but with the tweeter mounted as part of the main speaker sys­tem.

LIS­TEN­ING

I started off my lis­ten­ing with some chal­leng­ing ma­te­rial: Bey­oncé’s al­bum ‘Le­mon­ade’. With one omis­sion, the sound was as­ton­ish­ingly good. Re­ally lovely, with great tonal bal­ance and pre­ci­sion, and pretty re­spectable imag­ing. The omis­sion was the deep bass on the first track, and there was a def­i­nite hole there be­cause there isn’t a whole lot of mid or up­per bass on that track. Get rid of the re­ally deep stuff, and there isn’t much left. But then the next track — Hold Up — started and the char­ac­ter changed. This track has plenty of mid bass, and the speak­ers did a star­tlingly good job of de­liv­er­ing it. There was a real au­thor­ity and punch, and even some re­spectable depth, to the bot­tom end in this track.

Mean­while, the vo­cals and some of the in­stru­men­ta­tion was re­pro­duced with a real sense of three di­men­sions. This was more high fidelity home stuff than car equip­ment, but there we are.

I pushed the vol­ume hard, to the point of pro­duc­ing some rat­tles in the right chan­nel. I think the main driver was bot­tom­ing out, so I backed off a couple of deci­bels. Up un­til that point, even though it was ex­tremely loud, the speak­ers re­mained clean and con­trolled, with­out any sense of dis­tor­tion.

Switch­ing gen­res rad­i­cally, I played sec­tions of the Suther­land/Pavarotti ver­sion of

La Travi­ata. This kind of mu­sic is chal­leng­ing in a car be­cause of the dy­namic range, leav­ing too much of the con­tent lost in a car’s rel­a­tively high noise floor. That means the level has to be high, which means the speak­ers have to cope with the peaks.

Un­like Bey­oncé, though, there’s no re­ally deep bass, and con­se­quently no dan­ger of bot­tom­ing out the large driver. And it didn’t. The speak­ers went loud, and the amaz­ing Suther­land aria near the end of the first Act was de­liv­ered at a thrillingly high vol­ume, with­out any sense of shriek­i­ness, which is what lower qual­ity speak­ers can some­times pro­duce, even when not over­loaded. In­stead, this Alpine sys­tem was again in com­plete con­trol. Later in the same track Pavarotti lets loose, and the re­sult is the same: con­trolled, pow­er­ful mu­sic, and noth­ing un­to­ward.

Per­haps split­ting the dif­fer­ence be­tween those two kinds of mu­sic, I played Billy Joel. On the open­ing of The Stranger the cym­bals danced cleanly and pre­cisely in space over Joel’s pi­ano. The kick drum was hinted at by its sec­ond and third har­mon­ics rather than the fun­da­men­tals, al­though the toms were fully re­alised. The bass gui­tar line, rarely strong with Joel, was dis­cernible at around the right level. And the whole thing was nicely boppy.

TEST­ING

I ran a few mea­sure­ments of the two driv­ers, chiefly to see where the cross­over kicked in. That was rel­a­tively easy to do given the split na­ture of the driv­ers. I just put the tweeter well away from the main speaker, and the mi­cro­phone a few mil­lime­tres away from it. It was clear that the -3dB point of its out­put at the bot­tom end was at 1700 hertz, so you could call that, or per­haps 1800 hertz, the cross­over point. At the top end it was still pro­duc­ing plenty of out­put at 30,000 hertz, so if you think you might get some ad­van­tage from high-res­o­lu­tion au­dio in a car en­vi­ron­ment, th­ese tweet­ers are go­ing to be the kind of thing you’ll want to hear. As ex­pected, the larger driver ex­hib­ited no hint of hav­ing a low-pass fil­ter ap­plied in the cross­over. It just does the best it can with the full range of fre­quen­cies. Mea­sur­ing up close, they ap­peared to be drop­ping away by 2000 hertz, al­though it was hard to tell for sure be­cause the mea­sure­ment showed con­sid­er­able vari­a­tion which, I sus­pect, was due to dif­fer­ing path lengths given the oval rather than round cone. No mat­ter re­ally, I was only in­ter­ested in the end points. At the other end, the out­put was very solid to 130 hertz, then dropped by around 12dB to a new plateau, which it main­tained from around 115 hertz down to 40 hertz. Again, all that was with a close mea­sure­ment. Mea­sur­ing the whole thing to­gether at a dis­tance of a me­tre smoothed it all out a bit, and put the end points of the re­sponse at 28,000 hertz at the top (maybe higher given mi­cro­phone lim­i­ta­tions there), and around 100 hertz at the bot­tom. The roll-off be­low that was fairly gen­tle, but the out­put was still some­thing like 18dB down at 45 hertz.

CON­CLU­SION

Depth lovers may wish to fac­tor in a subwoofer, but the Alpine X-S69C com­po­nent two-way speaker sys­tem cer­tainly pro­duces truly high qual­ity sound, and is well worth a lis­ten at your lo­cal car au­dio re­tailer.

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