Hi everybody. I took a chance on the A1's a few days ago and they arrived at my house last night. These are not the A1R's, just the A1's. I started writing a friend of mine an email about them and it turned into the review below. I won't spoil the fun by giving away the ending. Thanks for reading.
I picked up the box last night at UPS. Tiny little box. I think they only fit one of the Beta 20's I used to have in a box the same size. But I brought them home, opened the box, and the speakers were right there (no double boxing), in good shape and packed pretty well in plastic bags with styrofoam corner blocks. Upon taking them out of the box, I noted how heavy they are...hints that the cabinet problems I was expecting aren't really going to be an issue. The grills are nice and the cabinets are covered in the usual vinyl veneer. Grills on, the front and sides are unremarkable. The back shows one of the 2 "high-end" aspects of this humble little speaker. There are attractive bi-wire posts back there.
Pretty neat for a bookshelf. There's also a port with a nice "screen" on the inside that would keep cat's paws, kids' toys, etc. from getting in them if you, I don't know, put them on the floor or something.
So get to it...what about the tweets?!? OK, OK, already. I took off the first grill and I don't know what I was expecting but I was neither impressed nor disappointed. Visually, the A1's have a typical (5" aluminum) silver-colored driver with a nice-looking black phase plug in the middle and solid rubber surround. It does NOT look like a driver a cheap speaker would have.
Then the "money-shot"...an interesting-looking but not incredibly awe-inspiring planar magnetic tweet. At the time, I guessed it was one of those things you just have to hear to be impressed (and I definitely was, more on that later). The construction of the front face was OK but showed the flaws that a $160 speaker is gonna have...some adhesive showing around the tweet mounting, some crowning around the screws holding the tweet mounting down, etc. No big deal.
So visually they're neat but not any more than a $160 speaker should be.
Dammit, get on with it. How do they sound?
After screwing around for WAY too long trying to get my HK 3385 to put out any sound at all (one must remember to keep the little jumpers that go between the Main In and Pre Out terminals on one's receiver...or else one ends up having to use an old RCA cable), I finally got them going.
Initial impression: Clarity. With a capital C.
I had Nickel Creek's This Side
in and the recording sounded as good, if not better, than it ever has on any speaker or even headphone I've ever heard. Sara Watkins's voice was amazing (as always) and the guys sounded pretty good, too. The sound in the highs and upper mids was, for lack of a better phrase, *ruthlessly* accurate. I could hear pick attacks I'd never heard outside of my headphones before (and even on my cans they weren't as pronounced). The imaging was fantastic and the sound in those upper registers was very detailed and full in even the most complicated passages. I'm not gonna lie...I said "Wow!" under my breath several times. Tonally, things--especially notes in the middle midrange that were held for any extended period of time sounded very clear but (and this is where my experience started to change) almost "wavy" in some spots. It was a strange phenomenon that only seemed to pop up when I listened VERY critically. I've never heard anything quite like it. I figured, "OK, this is a 'reference recording'...maybe I should dumb things down a little...I need to be fair to the little guys right out of the box."
So I put in Ray LaMontagne's Trouble
(one of my faves) and kicked back. If you've never heard this recording, it can best be described as "musical but not analytical". His voice never seems like it's the centerpiece of the song (strangely). And when you get down to it, it seems like Ray's sibilants never lose their h's and there's lots of variations in clarity and recording quality throughout the album. But the music is really good. I figured if anything would give the A1's a fighting chance, it would be this album.
It was during this album that I conclusively noticed the A1's major shortfall: bass.
As clear and revealing and precise and I'm just gonna say it--beautiful--as the highs and upper mids of this speaker are, the low mids and bass are..."severely stunted" is the best phrase I can think of to describe it.
I was a bit worried about the 5" aluminum woofer's ability to reach way down but coming from a pair of active monitors with 5" polypro woofers that reached pretty low, I figured the low end would be at least solid. I wish it wasn't true but these speakers just can't get down there. And when you try to make them, they sound restrained (NOT strained as much as REstrained). Even the lower mids on the many good acoustic guitar strumming passages on Trouble
sounded like mere shadows of themselves.
Ray's voice sounded great, albeit much more grainy than on even my Sennheiser headphones. The accuracy in the highs and upper mids was still stunning. But those lows...oh, the lows. I even tried to turn up the bass tone control on my HK. It improved things a bit on the bottom end...but it introduced a muddiness in the mids that I just couldn't tolerate for longer than 10 seconds. I tried pushing them back up against the wall. I tried bringing them forward. I tried spreading them out. Nothing seemed to help. So I went to bed.
I put in Buddy Guy's Sweet Tea
this morning to see if it was just a tired mind that couldn't find the lows last night. The second track, Baby, Please Don't Leave Me
, starts out with some of the richest, thickest, most in-your-face bass on any album I've ever heard. (The only thing that compares is a Chevelle song whose title I can't remember for the life of me.) I sat in anticipation through the first song...which is just Buddy singing with a few bluesy guitar pickings here and there, about as opposite the second song as you can get...and I was struck again with how awesome those planar tweets are!! It's cliche as hell but I'm not ashamed to say that it absolutely sounded like he was right in the room with me.
So the second track starts...here we go..."One...two...one, two, three..."
Nothing. There was *some* lower mid action but nothing at all to write home about. Mostly what I got was some anemic "thudding" from the woofer (no, it wasn't that overdriven "popping" sound) and something that probably sounds like low end if you turn your hearing aid way up. I felt the back of the speaker at the port and it wasn't moving much air at all back there, either. Even the Samson monitors dug deeper with their polypro woofers. MUCH deeper. Their ports came alive on the same song with 20w to the woofer vs. the 80w coming from my HK to the Acculines.
Conclusion: I'm gonna listen to them a bit more but things don't look good. As much as I LOVE the tweets (and I REALLY do), the rest of the frequency range is just not adequate. I don't know if it's that the tweets are soooo good and soooo forward (efficiency-wise, they DO seem like they're MUCH better than the 88dB they're rated at) that you don't want to turn it up any more to flesh out that bottom end or what. Maybe they benefit to a surprising degree from a sub. But I don't have the room in my setup for a sub so that's not an option.
When it comes to planar tweets, I'm sold. But the Acculine A1's will have to really "come out of their shells" in the next few days in order for me to not take advantage of Audio Insider's 30 day satisfaction guarantee.