The enthusiast's audio webzine

JWM Acoustics Alyson AML II

When the newly activated Austin Audio Society held a couple of meetings in 2017, I was lucky enough to spend extended time with some new gear in rooms more typical of domestic listening environments than one experiences at an audio show. As luck would have it, at two consecutive meets of the group I got to hear the same pair of JWM Acoustics speakers driven by a couple of different amps. I was impressed enough with the sound of these speakers, the Alyson AML II, and the good conversation I had with company chief Josh to request a pair for review.

JWM Acoustics is a small company that specializes in handmade audio products, particularly but not exclusively loudspeakers. Based in Austin after relocating in 2016 from Hawaii (not an easy place for a speaker manufacturer who has to ship large boxes), Josh and the team are a little different than many loudspeaker companies. Rather than offering a fixed product, they work more as a custom shop, focusing on handmade designs of select components and tailormade solutions for specific customer needs. While this sounds like a difficult way to connect with a broader audiophile community, it does mean that JWM are pushing through designs that are meaningful to Josh and which have a unique, bespoke quality lacking in mass-produced designs.

While the focus of this review is the Alyson AML II stand-mounted monitor, JWM Acoustics also produce turntables. On first appearance they might seem like modified Regas but in reality they are a mix of more advanced and heavily tweaked components coupled with beautiful and functional plinths designed and built in house. Having heard several versions of these comparatively affordable tables (ranging from $1500 to $6000) I understand why some people think highly of these designs. I can’t imagine their top table ever being the weak link in an analog system.

With a background in pro-audio, Josh has an ear for accurate sound, which he brings to the design of his speakers. The Alyson AML II employs a modified D’Appolito (midwoofer-tweeter-midwoofer) driver system loaded in a custom hybrid band-pass/transmission line cabinet, finished in a range of wood fascias. Now don’t be fooled by that ‘fascia’ word. The wood here is solid, deeply grained and truly furniture-grade. While there are many similar designs, JWM goes further than most, not just by providing beautiful cabinetry, but by customizing the drivers in-house.

Sourcing the parts from Scanspeak, providers of drivers to more name-brand loudspeakers than you could easily count, Josh hand-assembles these to achieve the sonic results he wants and tweaks the crossovers to get the best match for each pair. There’s no production line formula operating here. Lead time is 6-8 weeks and the future owner has ample opportunity to shape the look to their taste. When JWM Acoustics tell you their designs are customized, they mean it literally. This is old school manufacturing at heart, but the results are contemporary and very sophisticated. While looks are always a matter of taste, I think the JWM Acoustics gear that I’ve seen has an organic, modern look that is unique among audio products.

Setting them up

I’ve never had the benefit of a manufacturer personally deliver a product for my listening but Josh did drive these to my house and do the basic set-up in my room. If you think this conveyed some special treatment, think again. Josh is a relaxed man and just asked me where I would put these, then he positioned the stands, made sure the spikes on the bottom of the speaker sat cleanly, let me fire up some tunes to make sure all was good, and left. He made no comments or attempts to position or otherwise influence the set-up, but headed off and told me to let him know if I had questions.

For the next two months I ran these daily, playing everything I normally play for my listening pleasure, with only occasional reconnection of my reference Von Schweikerts to give me specific comparisons when I felt the need. But to be honest, I rarely felt that need. Once I’d made some final adjustments to the layout, the speakers were a little over 8 feet apart and nearly 6 feet from the front-wall, with very slight toe-in. This placement was not difficult to determine – the Alysons don’t seem to be too fussy but a little room to breathe all around made for a well-balanced and even soundstage.

The Alysons are biwire-ready which is how I ran them (they come with excellent metal jumpers otherwise). They also have carpet piercing spikes which I did not use, opting instead for the rubber feet option on the stands to ease placement and save my own floors for the review period. Stand to speaker interface was spiked, the custom stands having precisely placed receptacles for the sharp points.

Rear view showing biwire posts and port


Sometimes you put a component or speaker in and you just note the change immediately. With the Alysons it was more a case of recognizing their true qualities after I removed them, so seamlessly did they work in my system from the start. I typically find speaker changes induce the greatest initial adjustment in my room but that did not seem to be the case here. First impressions confirmed what I’d heard in the local shows: these were extremely musical and clean sounding. Yes, they are perhaps slightly bass-light compared to my floorstanders but from the start I found them to perform at a level that did not draw attention to a change in sonic presentation as might be expected when changing a floorstander to a standmount.

Within a day or two, I was so used to the musical presentation emanating from my rig that I ceased thinking in comparative terms and found myself just playing music. To be honest, it was the visual sight of the white and wood cabinets that captured more of my attention than anything else. Every time I looked at the rig, this was the change that jumped out at me as the striking physical looks of the Alysons just seemed to complement my decor and invite me to stare.

In determining how a speaker works in my room, I throw all genres of familiar music at it and try to sense how well they compare to my reference pair. I also tend to buy new music regularly so it’s possible during any review to hear some recordings for the first time on the review product before hearing them on my reference. I find this combination of listening experiences to be most useful when trying to evaluate what I am hearing.

First listens with the JWMs involved some older jazz references such as Coleman Hawkins, Archie Shepp and Kenny Burrell on CD and LP. From there I moved on to more contemporary recordings that I know intimately, such as Ronnie Earl, Pat Metheny and Tord Gustavsen. After that, it was “come what may” as I played what took my fancy on any given day, which ranged from choral to metal, ancient to modern. Viktor Uzur’s solo cello work is as important to me as Count Basie’s big band swing. I never got the idea that some speakers are best for certain kinds of music. I need mine to do it all.

Characterizing a speaker’s ‘sound’ is far from simple but let me try to convey what I heard with these in my room for several months. Typically, people invoke a spectrum from warm to bright, or concentrate on bass or upper frequency details to convey sonics. I understand the tendency but it’s not really how I hear music. For me, the whole is more than the sum of the parts, and more important too. I only find myself thinking about details such as extension or resolution when I make myself listen for such qualities. For the most part, I want to hear instruments and humans that sound real to my ears.

The Alysons deliver on this primary attribute in spades. Strings, brass, percussion and vocals have a palpability that is realistic and engaging. If it’s on the recording, the Alysons let it through, be it female jazz vocals, hard bowed cello strings or finger picked guitars. The timbre of real instruments comes through pleasingly and from there, it became easier for me to start really listening in a way that allows for dissection of the constituent elements audiophiles seem to cherish.

So let’s take the Alysons apart sonically. As monitors, you might worry about limitations but these speakers provide room filling sounds that never, ever, feel strained, even at loud volumes. Of course, I was using high-power amps but the ease of music coming from the Alysons was pleasing at all volumes. Pick your usual terms (soundstaging, lack of distortion, ease etc.) and these not-so-small speakers always felt as if they were operating comfortably, without strain, to deliver an ear-pleasing and full scale sound in my 25x18ft room.

Further, their sonic signature is detailed but never harsh, with a resolution and air that matched my reference Vons on the mids and uppers. When the term ‘resolution’ is applied in audio it can mean different things to different people. For me it refers to a reproduction that is revealing of small nuances in the music that can be blurred or missing in some set-ups. It does not mean bright or accentuated treble but might be thought of more as the sound of Pat Metheny’s fingers shifting on the neck of his acoustic guitar, the slight intake of breath from Archie Shepp in a saxophone solo, the soft brush of Paul Motian’s cymbal that accentuates but never displaces a foregrounded piano note. These are the kind of details that make recordings come to life, but they need to be presented naturally, as part of the musical content without the speaker sounding as if such details are emphasized over timbre, instrumental decay or accompanying musical lines. When delivered correctly, as they are with these speakers, recorded music can draw you in to the experience of the performance, resulting more in pleasure with the sound than admiration for accuracy.

If the Alysons are pleasing on jazz, let me tell you they also sound tremendous on rock. Even though the Alysons might not plumb the lowest depths, there’s a punchiness to the sound that gives great drive to music and transports you with the beat. It was during this period that I listened to Deep Purple’s latest Infinity album, and while I was slow to appreciate its qualities at first, as I moved the JWM’s into the rig the album grew on me, with great swathes of Hammond organ and Steve Morse’s frenetic lead guitar swirling around in classic Purple fashion. In a similar vein, Gretchen Menn’s Abandon All Hope has become a regular listen over the last few months. Her fretboard dynamics on this album of heavy instrumentals invited cranking, and the speakers responded in style. Fear not rockers, the Alysons will deliver the goods.

During this time I also got to hear the latest Roger Waters release, Is this the life we want, and while the absence of guitar on a Waters album still disappoints me, I found myself being sucked into the music to the point that had me pulling out earlier Waters solo albums for comparison. Yes, Waters has chosen to explore a more contemporary production to match the current affairs themes of the songs but listening in the fuller context of his body of solo albums via the Alysons, I found myself appreciating (again) how important an artist he is.

Vocals through the JWMs were uniformly excellent. Sure, Holly Cole always sounds present but so did Tom Waits, Van Morrison and Leonard Cohen. Yes, that goes for Anna Netrebko also, whose Sempre Libera SACD on Deutche Grammaphon came off the shelf after a long break to remind me of her quality. In each case, I found myself listening closely to vocal articulation and felt I could hear the lyrics cleanly and with a sense of a real singer appearing between the speakers. In fact, I started to enjoy Cohen’s You Want it Darker more with the Alyson’s than I had when I first listened, although I can’t explain why this is so other than I heard the man singing and it captured me. Had his death softened me up? I don’t think so, the album sort of did not register fully with me before, but listening to it seriously with the Alysons got me hooked.

I mentioned the fit and finish of these speakers already but it’s worth reiterating, these attributes are more than just good looks. The Alysons possess a real solidity with a curved shape that serves to launch the sound into the room in a smooth, unruffled manner. The matching stands give the whole speaker a sort of modern, sculpted look that gives the appearance of an art piece rather than a speaker cabinet. On looks alone, you can tell these are not cookie-cutter designs like so many other ‘drivers-in-a-box’ that fill the marketplace. But the looks are ultimately not why audiophiles make purchases, it’s the sound that counts (or so we all claim). On sonic measures alone, I consider the Alysons to be exceptionally good. The looks just complete the package.

Amp-wise, I found the PS Audio BHK monos to be a superb match, the resulting sound being huge, detailed but easy on the ears. The BAT VK500 easily drove them too, but with a warmer, softer manner that lost something of the BHK’s soundstage size. I’ve now heard these speakers in various settings with more than half a dozen amps, from low wattage integrateds to large solid state monoblocks, and I don’t consider these speakers to be a difficult load.


When I think of all the speakers I’ve heard over the years, the correlation between sound quality and price seems less than perfectly positive. Most expensive turntables I’ve heard are better sounding than cheaper options (with all the usual caveats) but I am not so convinced by speakers above a certain price point. To my ears, the best speakers have a coherence, timbral realism, and ease that allows music to flow with the ease one hears from live instruments. No amount of volume handling ability, bass extension or detail can make up for a shortfall in those key elements – at least for my enjoyment – yet it is often more bass or greater volume handling that you are offered when you spend more. Give me timbre anyday.

So where, you might ask, do the JWM Alyson speakers fit in the grand scheme of things? While not floorstanders, the Alysons sound as if they are, and not in some overachieving, bigger-than-they look kind of manner – they really do sound full-range. They might technically be standmounts, but they are not small speakers by any measure and it’s hard to compare them as such. My favorite small speakers are the Harbeth P3ESRs I reviewed a couple of years and raved about for their musical qualities. The Alysons sound way bigger than the Harbeths (and they physically are!) but have some of the same magical realism that makes them a joy to hear. It’s more fitting, I believe, to compare the Alysons to excellent standmounts from Prana Fidelity or Bryston that I have reviewed over the last few years. I really liked both the Fifty/90s and the Mini T’s as they made music that sounded right to me, but I think the Alysons might have the beating of both in my room. Yes, the Alysons are that good.

Suffice to say, when I had to let the Alysons go and I returned to my reference, I was somewhat surprised to notice that in some small ways, I missed what the Alysons brought. Specifically, they might be a little more resolving in the upper mid-range and treble frequencies. Of course, that comes at a cost in terms of bass resolution and sheer body which the Vons excel at in my room but then, you can’t have everything. Josh might say otherwise – he has plans for an upgrade that will replace the Alyson stands with a woofer module that might just be the icing on the cake.

Shortly after returning these speakers, I heard them again at this year’s RMAF where Josh had them paired with some super expensive Constellation monoblocks. It was fascinating to have another chance to hear the very same pair I reviewed with new amps and a new room after months of home use. While people always say that show conditions are a terrible way to judge products, that did not apply here. If anything, the Denver set-up sounded better than I had imagined it could. Sure, we were talking $50k+ amplification but the Alysons rose to the occasion and I was not the only person impressed at the show. They simply sounded superb. At $8250 a pair, these speakers get you into a level of reproduction that for many will be all they ever need. Keep an eye on JWM Acoustics – in my view their products are very special.


  • Frequency Response: 35-25,000 Hz
  • X-Over frequency: 2,500 Hz
  • Impedance: 6 Ohms
  • Sensitivity: 89 dB SPL
  • Short term max. power: 400 Watts
  • Long term max. power: 250 Watts
  • Recommended amplifier: 40-400 Watts
  • Weight
    – Speaker: 35 lbs
    – Stand: 30 lbs
  • Size
    – Speaker: 22 1/2″ tall, 9 1/2″ wide, 16 1/2″ deep
    – Stand: 23 1/2″ tall, 14″ wide,  21″ deep

Manufacturer: JWM Acoustics

Retail Price: from USD8250 (depending on finish and options)

Associated equipment

  • Digital: PS Audio PWT/PWDII
  • Analog: Artisan Fidelity Garrard 401, Ikeda 407 arm, Charisma 103 and Ikeda 9TT cartridges
  • Preamplification: ARC Ref 2SE phono, SMcAudio VRE-1 preamp
  • Amplification: PS Audio BHK300 monos, BAT VK500 SE.
  • Cables: Spectron Thunderbolt, Wireworld Platinum, and Absolute Fidelity power cords, Von Schweikert loudpseaker cables, PS Audio, Harmonic Technology, Purist Audio, and High Fidelity interconnects.

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