Lowther Almira

Hardware Review

Lowther Almira
Friday, July 1, 2022
floorstanding loudspeaker
Chris Beeching

Loudspeakers can sometimes be the make or break of a system. After all, having got the system nicely set up, the right front end, amplification and cables a house move brings a new room and the delights which came before evaporate, then the realisation dawns that, no matter what, despite the rest of the system being on song the speakers are a mismatch with the room. 

So it’s always with excitement and a healthy amount of trepidation that I look forward to loudspeaker reviews. My job is to describe what said loudspeaker will do to the best of my ability, bearing in mind the constraints of the (fortunately two very different) rooms I have available for listening. One is near enough square, the other longer and slightly narrower, so hopefully I’m able to give most loudspeakers a fair crack of the whip.

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Lowther have been around on and off for a good many years, revered (or sometimes reviled) for their sound and their almost dogged persistence with single-drive-unit loudspeaker systems. Claims and criticisms abound regarding the older models with their fair share of afficionados and critics. However, whether it is simply a drive unit, or a whole speaker there is always lively debate around the pros and cons.

I always try to have an open mind and open approach when new products come my way. Lowther hadn’t introduced any significantly new products for a while, so I was particularly keen to audition the Almira floorstander. The old Lowther company went bump a while ago, but has been rescued, and is now producing some stunning (both aurally and visually) loudspeakers in a range which still pays rather more than lip-service to the brand’s heritage, but is also trend and style conscious. As a result the new models will fit into a contemporary home or the wood panelled environs of a gentleman’s club.

With its Darth Vader styling softened by gorgeous real wood finishes, visually the Almira immediately makes a statement. Sporting the famed parchment-coloured single drive unit the tall(ish), elegant, slightly angular but beautifully finished cabinet immediately catches the eye. Standing some four feet tall, and roughly 14 inches square its presence is unmistakeable. 

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But what’s this above the DX3main driver, a small also parchment-coloured horn mouth. Being cognisant of the DX3’s real world capabilities, Lowther’s new owners made the decision that where an additional driver would make enough of a sonic difference to justify using it, but without compromising or detracting from the main drive units’ strengths, what was the harm in using it. Assuming the overall outcome was a better speaker. So, with very great care, Lowther decided to add a supertweeter with the most minimal of crossovers (so as not to disturb the DX3’s own output).

I’m not about to go into the technical aspects, crossover frequencies etc; after all, at the end of the day if there’s anything wrong it should be audible, and do we really need to know where it crosses over?

Placement
As mentioned, I have two rooms, one squarish, the other longer and narrower. The reality is that, totally contrary to expectations, the main essence of the Almira remained unchanged, irrespective of which room was being used. The only noteworthy comments to make would be that in the longer room there was a feeling of slightly deeper bass at the very bottom end, and a slightly smaller soundstage. In the squarer room the bass felt slightly lighter, but soundstage and imaging was slightly better. But in both rooms, if the speakers were placed right into the corners they would boom, so they do need a little space to breathe.

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Speaker cable connection is via a single pair of 4mm banana sockets, so unterminated (bare wire) cables aren’t accommodated. In both rooms the speakers performed best around at six to seven inches from the rear wall, toed in slightly, and ideally not too close to the corners. Listening distance was roughly 10, and 14 feet on the centre axis. 

Sound quality
The first shock was how far round not to turn the volume knob. These are high efficiency units, and with a power handling capability of around 100 Watts you’d think they’d need some driving, but in keeping with the Lowther heritage, the Almira has the same high efficiency of its predecessors. 

First on the CD player was a recent release from Tactus; the 12 Violin Sonatas for Violin, Cello and Harpsichord by Piana (TC671690). This disc is an absolute delight, but lays bare the instruments in their recorded space. The sonic contrasts between the strident violin, resonant depth of the cello and the changing timbres of the harpsichord demonstrated very clearly that the Almira is a highly transparent loudspeaker. It’s not possible to turn off the supertweeter, but the Almira did seem to have a very extended (but definitely not over-bright) treble, giving great clarity to the harpsichord’s upper harmonics without making the violin sound overly strident. There was no hint of where the DX3 gave out and the supertweeter took over. It was as seamless as you could wish for. Down at the bottom end the cello’s lower strings had realistic weight without becoming slow or lugubrious, and the cellist’s dexterity was easy to appreciate in the faster passages.

Moving on to more complex music, BRKlassik recently released a CD set of Mariss Jansons rehearsing the Bayerischen Radio Symphony Orchestra (BR 900934).Here Jansons works through Strauss (Ein Heldenleben and Don Juan), Beethoven (5th Symphony) and Sibelius (2nd Symphony). 

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Having excelled with an intimate chamber recording, how would the Almira cope with a full-blown orchestra in full flight. The answer: effortlessly. Despite the complexities of orchestral writing, the huge range of tonal colours, and the amazingly wide dynamic contrasts, the Almira soaked it all up and presented everything with a thoroughly believable presentation of an orchestra in rehearsal. One of the interesting things to come out of this was after Jansons, had taken several parts apart in the orchestra to make a particular point in the music, you could then identify and follow those parts again with the whole orchestra playing. Later, listening back to the Don Juan (with the score in hand) I was very impressed that the Almira made latching onto, and then following a particular instrument within the orchestra so very easy.

As Lowther has a heritage born of valve amplification and analogue front ends, I felt it only fair to give those sources (and, shock horror, FM radio) a spin too. China (by China) from 1977 (0C 062-99505) is a relatively unknown album apparently labelled soft rock, but which has been particularly well recorded. There is a clarity and separation between the instruments, vocals are close-miked (warts and all) and the original pressings have a great dynamic range. One of the Rocket Record Company’s better offerings. Cranking up the volume would, I thought, start to push the Almiras but no, things simply got louder. No loss of focus, soundstage imaging remained resolutely stable and the impact of kick drum, strident guitar chord or rim shots remained disarmingly on trend. 

Truth is a Beautiful Thing (London Grammar) was next up on the turntable. With its inky black background Hannah Reid’s vocals were even more starkly portrayed over the subterranean bass lines which had a weight expected from a speaker with much larger drivers. Again, turning the volume round to Spinal Tap levels still failed to upset things, and if anything made me feel as if I was sitting in the band, and not merely listening. 

The last recording of note that I used is a mint copy of the very early Journey Into Stereo Sound dating from 1958. Narrated by Geoffrey Sumner, this very early stereo demo disc holds some quite fabulous recordings showing, even at that early stage, what could be achieved from the medium, given care, patience and attention to detail. While it may be quaintly charming, the recordings of the carriage doors slamming, Ceremony of the Keys and racing cars at Goodwood are actually a real test of “does this speaker sound anything like real”?

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Without a doubt the answer is yes. Somehow, despite its modest DX3 driver, despite its parchment cone, despite the utterly minimalist crossover and circuitry, the Almira does rather more than just a commendable job of sounding real. So, if it can sound real enough, it’s good enough to convey anything else the system can throw at it, and reproduce it with a high degree of fidelity.

I mentioned FM radio. One of the things I tend to do with a new speaker is roughly put it in place, and whether run in beforehand or not, let it play with good old steam radio. Choice of channel may vary depending on mood; Radio 3, Radio 2, Classic FM, Scala, Jazz FM or whatever. After a couple of days I can usually get a feel for how the speaker is faring in the room, and whether changing its position is necessary. Well, rather disarmingly, towards the end of the second day the doorbell rang. The speakers were in the room nearest the front door, so I shot along the hall and opened the door. Nobody there. Then, while I was standing there the doorbell rang again, only it was on the radio through the Almiras. Some speakers I’ve had in the past have given a pretty good impression of the real world, but (ok, I know it was only a doorbell) I’ve not been fooled quite as completely as this, ever.

Conclusion
The Almira does a number of things supremely well. It certainly builds on the Lowther heritage, staying true to the ethos of transparency and high efficiency. But in terms of musical engagement and enjoyment it really excels. Sound quality is particularly high. It has the uncanny ability to convey the whole orchestra experience, the rock band gig, the intimate salon event, and the real world with disarming ease. 

But sound quality is not the only factor to consider. The Almira has the ability to connect the music to the listener on an emotional level as well. The pathos of the piano sonatas, the anguish in Belinda’s dying aria, the heartache in so many of Adele’s songs, the list goes on, they’re gin-clear. 

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In terms of dynamic impact, the Almira excels. Despite my best efforts (and without boosting the bass) I couldn’t get the drivers to sound stressed, and I wasn’t far off making my ears bleed either. They don’t lose their clarity, don’t become shouty and don’t harden up as the input level rises. Their ability to differentiate small level changes is exemplary, and as a result it appears that so many more small elements of the music come through, making each new listening a revelation. And yes, the cannon fire in the 1812 can be worrying loud.

A word needs to be said about the finish. The veneer matching and grain markings are the only things which give away where the joins are in the cabinetry. If you couldn’t see the grain you’d never feel the joins, or be able to work out where they are. The cabinet has that lush almost silky feel, with sharp-but-rounded edges which are so precise but not aggressive. In themselves they are real works of art.

Styling; to a degree, the form follows the function. Some may not see the benefit of easing a supertweeter into the front face (and I suppose, without removing it for comparison the listener would never know) but it certainly seems to add a clarity to the very highest upper reaches without compromising the DX3’s exemplary performance. This is not a cheap speaker, nor is it a forgiving speaker. Play rubbish on it and it won’t sound good, and it would not be a wise move to partner it with anything less than high quality sources and amplification.

Room dependency? I didn’t find my two rooms significantly different. There was a slight bass difference, and very minor soundstage changes but that was all. They still made music, still grabbed the emotions, and still stood like Darth Vader with attitude. 

Specifications: 

Type: quarter wave horn loaded 2-way floorstanding loudspeaker
Crossover frequency: not specified
Drive units:
Full range: 8 inch Lowther DX2
Supertweeter: horn loaded 
Nominal impedance: 8 Ohms
Connectors: single wire 4mm sockets
Sensitivity: c.98dB
Dimensions HxWxD: 1200 x 300 x 330mm
Weight: not specified
Finishes: In The White, American walnut, figured maple, crown ash, oak plus premium veneers

Price: 
from £12,000 when tested
Manufacturer Details: 

Lowther
T +44 (0)208300 9166
www.lowtherloudspeakers.com