Updated: Dec 10, 2019
I seem to have found a common theme running through some of the speakers that have been catching my attention recently, which was only realised whilst researching some of these models for more in depth information about them. I'll elaborate more on later though. One such brand is Amphion, who design and build their entire domestic and pro loudspeaker ranges in Finland. They have quite a following as their pro side are used widely in recording studios worldwide. And having lived with some of their domestic models for the last few months, I can fully understand their enthusiasm for the brand, hence why I decided to take them on board as one of the main speaker brands here at the little audio company.
Amphion produce two ranges of domestic loudspeakers - Helium and Argon - alongside a 'stand alone' floorstanding model called the Krypton 3. Unlike many other brands, prices are very reasonable, and the top of the range Krypton 3 isn't even as expensive as some high end brand's entry level model...
The Argon 0 is a compact, rear ported bookshelf speaker of the sort of size that virtually
anybody could accommodate. It's a simple, no nonsense design, ignoring bi-wire and other superfluous fetishes. If you tell the uninitiated that both drivers are metal, they'll more than likely jump to a conclusion about how they're going to sound - believe me, these sound nothing like you'd expect based on that basic information. The mid/bass is provided by a 4.5" aluminium driver, and higher frequencies from a 1" titanium dome tweeter. The latter is assisted by a clever waveguide, concentrating on the even distribution of sound over a wider area than usual, which is designed to reduce the speaker's interaction with the room, so you hear more of the speaker and less of your room. And it works. My listening room is basically a solid cube, with glass covering two thirds of one of the surfaces, with very little damping or absorption. It's all fairly reflective, not overly, but enough to notice when listening to numerous loudspeakers. That's not their fault though, that's the room. One of the first things I noticed about the Argon 0s was that even with minimal toe-in, they weren't exciting the reflective aspect of the room in the same way as the other speakers - there seemed to be a distinct lack of even the first reflection point, which is quite some feat! So if you're a fan of minimalist decor, I would highly recommend your first speaker audition to be an Amphion - it may well save you a hell of a lot of time and possibly hassle.
As I mentioned earlier, for the most part, they don't sound anything like you'd expect a
full suite of metal drivers to sound. There's no harshness, no brightness, no lean or thin sound - they're beautifully balanced across the whole frequency range, with no exaggeration. This particularly comes across with heavier rock/grunge. Loud, distorted guitars usually take over, but on the Amphions they just don't. Everything can be heard, plain as day. It seems a little weird at first, as many of us are used to speakers with a bit of "character", which tends to suit particular music genres because of their peaks or troughs in the frequency range. The Amphions with their clean and honest presentation seem to suit anything, and don't allow anything in the mix to drown anything else out. Well, not unless it is supposed to.
Their soundstage is three dimensional and belies their size. Many speakers at this price
point tend to sound like they're at this price point. Many of them are far from neutral, by nature or nurture. So to hear this level of balance and clarity under £1,000 is pretty rare, particularly in a speaker so small. They have a transparency and immediacy that I'm used to hearing with single driver speakers and active speakers.
One area they DO sound as expected though is speed, and part of this is down to one of
the reasons I like them. It seems I like speakers that have a lower than usual crossover point between the LF and HF drivers - I blame being spoiled by KEF's coincident UniQ design, with more focus on a central point. Many speaker's crossover point between treble and bass tends to be anywhere between 3kHz and 5kHz. To understand the effect this has, you need to remember that the majority of frequencies we hear are directional - the higher they are, the more directional they are. It becomes harder and harder to locate frequencies the lower they get, and by the time you get down to 100Hz, our ears struggle. But in this case, the important range is around 2kHz to 5kHz, which is the region our ears are most sensitive to. Setting your crossover point somewhere within this region is inviting numerous detectable issues, with more of a chance of producing a speaker that doesn't sound quite right, particularly if the mid/bass driver isn't particularly well behaved in this higher region. Usually the crossover point is somewhat dictated by the behaviour of the weaknesses or strengths of the drivers used.
So with a crossover of 1.6kHz, the tweeter in Amphion's loudspeaker designs reproduces the whole frequency range our ears are most sensitive to. This also means that much more of the directional higher frequencies are emanating from a single point, improving imaging and coherence. Smaller drivers are also able to stop and start more quickly, which aids the speed in which the signal is reproduced, which I feel adds to the vividness of certain instruments. Plus, more of the frequencies you hear will be utilising Amphion's waveguide, which is
obviously a (demonstrably) good thing.
Sensitivity is to be expected for their size at 86dB, although they don't give any impression of
being power hungry. Their frequency response of 50-20,000 +/-3dB is pretty impressive from a speaker just 26cm tall and just over 13cm wide - that's lower than the Q Acoustics Concept 20s and ATC SCM11s - both of which are much larger loudspeakers.
As you can see below, there are a number of options with regards to the colour of the child proof "grids" on Amphion speakers - the metal grilles covering the drive units and protecting them from wandering fingers. Full frontal, conventional fabric grilles can be supplied at time of order, although who would want to hide such a lovely looking speaker, I don't know. Any colour from the RAL Colour chart can be specially ordered for the grids.
The sub £1,000 price bracket is usually dominated by more mainstream brands, and it is extremely rare to find anything made outside of China. The Amphion Argon 0s - along with a couple of other models here at the little audio company - have opened my eyes as to just how good a speaker in this price range can be when you move away from the usual suspects. I'm looking forward to getting a permanent 'hands on' with the Argon 1 this week - review to follow.
Listening sessions with the Argon 0s have been with the Cyrus One amplifier fed with a Bluesound Node II streamer via AudioQuest Cinnamon interconnect, and AudioQuestType 4 speaker cable. Source material was a mixture of CD, high resolution and MP3 downloads, and TIDAL streaming (standard and Masters).
davidf @ the little audio company