I think once you heard the new Be tweeter, you would never be able to live with the older series Utopia.
I owned both and sold the Altos to get the Utopias. The Utopia filled my room better with mids and bass, however having a bright room they eventually became very fatiguing, had very simillar results with the Wilson Sophia too. The Altos just didnt sound right to me, very lean and dissapointing bass. Could have been my associated gear or just poor accoustics in my room but they didnt perform to my expectations. Im much happier with scanspeak or seas tweeters, both the Audes Orpheus and my current Focus FS88's were more pleasing to my ear.
Jaymarshack,in keeping with your exact question,please allow me to chime in.I have heard both speakers quite a few times,with different components.Both analog and digital,so I have a fairly good impression of both.The Alto is the newer design,with the Utopia as the more vintage design,but NO slouch!!
I have NO JM Labs stuff,yet have always been fascinated by these products.What got me interested was going to a dealer,to hear an Avalon Eidolon,and being able to A/B the original Utopia with it.I was shocked,as to how much more real sounding the Utopia was,as opposed to the rather "thin",in comparison,Eidolon.Yet the Eidolon is still a superb design,and worthy of it's reputation.
That was the beginning of my admiration of the JM Labs "big boys"(Utopia line-up).I have heard even the Mini Monitors,which are real giant killers,IMO.BTW-this is all only my opinion,yet the products are superbly made,fairly easy to drive,and are convincing music reproducers.
To be specific,the Altos are a wonderful design,and can fill a fairly large room,with a good,yet modestly powered amp.Truthfully I believe the Berillium tweeter is very good,yet the marketing campaign is overstating it's significance.It is very good,but many of the better tweeters(from silk dome to other types)will sound just fine if the designer voices his product properly.It's about getting a good balance,with good harmonics,and timbres.All in a full range sounding design,that does not pose too high a demand on the amp.
The Alto will probably keep anyone quite happy,unless the room is huge,or you are bass obsessed.It does not have the best "mid bass" definition,but that's nit picking.A nice design,and a beautiful looking box.I like it.
The UTOPIA(not the Nova,though I have heard it a few times)I have heard on loads of occassions,and am absolutely convinced that it was/is a "CLASSIC"!I actually had the pleasure of hearing it at Jonathan Skull's home,some time ago.He was the reviewer for Stereophile.I thought he got good sound,from it,but at the time he demoed it for me,he was using a 100 wpc Cary stereo amp.It sounded very dynamic and warm(in a good way),with room filling sound.Very nice.However it had a midbass hump,that I attributed to the amp.Not enough control of the woofer.Large room,and it was very far out into that room,btw.Great, high ceilings,too.
I heard this speaker driven with every type of amp,and the best I ever heard it,by far,was with a 200 wpc Yves Bernard Andre unit.On two occassions.In different systems and rooms.The first time was with a superb VAC tube line/phonostage,driving the YBA solid state amp.The second time with all YBA stuff.I suspect the amp must be of paramount importance,in controlling that woof!I know Jonathan Skull preferred solid state,here.REALLY good solid state.As in "pricey",but WOW!BTW,I like both tubes,and solid state.It is the speaker/room that tells me which sounds best.The Utopia needs woofer control,and there are good tube choices too.The newer VTL stuff,as one example.
On the first occassion, where it sounded great,I brought my own LP's and CD's for reference.The sound was stunning.Really "real" sounding.Gorgeous tonality,and perfect midbass/bass,with no bloat or colorations.The speakers were closer to the back wall than at all other times,which probably gave a better solidity in balance.Room related,I guess.I LOVE this speaker,and if you find a nicely kept pair,in good condition,you will be in love too.
The Nova is a highly rated speaker,but(only my opinion,remember)it suffers from way too much marketing hype of the Be tweeter.It is not as good sounding a speaker as the original Utopia,IMO.It is lighter(cabinet weight)and more agressive sounding.Dynamic,detailed and NOT as Gorgeous sounding as the Utopia.Music is gorgeous.It should be conveyed as such.The Utopia will still sound gorgeous(assuming you feed it good equipment,and a good room)ten years from now.Not coloration "gorgeous",but musical gorgeous!You know what I mean,if you are a music lover,first!
I ran into Mr. Skull(a nice guy,btw)at a recent audio event,and reminded him that I had heard his Utopia system some time ago.I asked if he still had the Utopias,as he is an equipment lover,and he may have gotten newer stuff.He claimed that he felt the Utopia was superior(in his opinion)to the Nova,and still owned/loved his pair.I agree!!
Hope this helps you,and it is all true!
Best of luck!
I have the Alto Be and can say they are the best speakers I have heard for under 20K.Of course, they do reveal the sonic deficiencies of the componants used in the system.It is crucial to match everything to your particular tastes.They love a big powerful,dynamic SS amp and a neutral,full bodied pre.Once again,system matching is critical and crucial, but worth the effort.
I've heard the Utopias in a shop and thought they were superb and powerful, but I ended up buying the Altos because of the beryllium tweeter. I think the older line Utopia series is excellent. I've also heard the Mezzos, but the new series is really something special. I think the Utopias might be the ticket in a larger room where more bass is needed. I think the Altos are the choice in a smaller space. it's a tough call. it really depends on your sonic preferences and musical choices as well as amplification, sources and cables. I recently upgraded the power cables on my amps and sources to Purist Dominus and the supposed deficiencies on bass response with the Altos simply went away. Now I have more than enough bass, so I'd be careful about making too many judgements on the Altos until the rest of the chain in the system is complete.