Gilding the lily…

What does Stenheim’s Alumine 5 Signature tell us about studio monitors and their domestic relevance?

Roy Gregory

The world of pro-audio and studio monitoring has always held a strange and, frankly, difficult to understand fascination for the audiophile community. Audio manufacturers in general seem keen to claim the association – and customers continue to be impressed by the idea of ‘Studio Monitors’. Yet despite the obvious physical and operational similarities, the qualities that make a great studio monitor are distinctly different from those associated with a domestic design. The cynics might say that the primary requirements for a monitor are “that’s it cheap, consistent, hard to break and easy to fix – oh, and did I forget cheap?” In fact, the advent of digital mixing and the home studio has placed ever-greater financial pressure on recording studios, with a further withering affect on their equipment budget, making high-zoot monitors if not a thing of the past, then certainly increasingly rare. Indeed, it could be argued that the evolution of the most successful high-end speaker in history, the Wilson WATT, tracks its development from a compact location monitor into a (very different) near full-range floor-standing domestic system. The opposite ends of that particular journey are way, way apart, but that doesn’t really answer the central question: What exactly are the differences between a domestic speaker and a studio monitor?

Stenheim’s Alumine 5 has enjoyed a meteoric rise to high-end prominence, with both the standard and the SE version (enhanced crossover components, internal cabling and connectors) standing comparison with their best competitors from the most established manufacturers. As well as garnering plaudits from critics and customers alike, the medium-sized Stenheim now has another string to its bow: time to meet the Alumine 5 Signature, a genuine studio monitor – as opposed to a domestic speaker that has adopted the ‘Studio’ tag. It’s the perfect opportunity to look at the sonic and musical distinctions that separate the domestic and professional worlds.

Outwardly similar to the standard and SE versions, the Signature cabinet is, like them, larger (in terms of internal volume) than it seems – the benefit of its thin-wall cabinet construction. At 130kg it is also around 30kgs heavier, thanks to a massive and massively damped internal base element. The space for that extra damping comes from removing the crossover and filling the void it leaves with a mixture of sand and other materials. But the thing that really separates the Signature from the standard models is that it features separate, re-voiced, external filter networks each housed in a narrow, upright, floorstanding cabinet that sits behind the speaker, connected via a three-way umbilical. Re-voiced? The clue is in the Signature name. This version of the 5 has been tuned to the requirements of recording engineer J.C. Gaberel which is – you guessed it – what makes it a studio monitor.

Separation – sonic and physical…

The rationale for the separate crossovers is partly mechanical and partly practical. The tuning of the crossover to M. Gaberel’s requirements meant using exotic (for which read larger) components and distributing them more widely. It was way easier – and sonically preferable – to house the resulting, enlarged networks in independent accommodation rather than shoe-horning them inside the standard cabinets. Other changes include revised wiring and cabinet damping throughout and leather trim on the front baffle – which performs both a visual and damping function.