Earlier this past week I went down to visit a good friend of mine in San Diego, and along the way I had to make two stops. The first one was at the Stone Brewery
, makers of some of the finest beer in the country. I bought a t-shirt and a couple of big bottles of their Old Guardian barley wine to enjoy later on with my friend. The second stop was at the Acoustic Zen headquarters. I had been hearing good things about their Adagio speakers, and had a couple of people recommend them to me. I tried contacting my nearest dealer several times by phone and never got an answer or a call back, so I contacted Acoustic Zen directly. I wound up speaking and meeting with Robert Lee himself, and he turned out to be a great guy. Very helpful, and very proud of his speakers, and rightfully so:Acoustic Zen Adagio
Robert played through a few demo tracks before he let me pop in my music. Not a problem for me as I was busy looking around at all the empty shells that would become Adagio's and Adagio Jr.'s once they were wired up and had their drivers installed. All of the finishes were beautiful. My two favorites were the walnut burl, and golden burl. The pictures on their web site give you a pretty good idea of the finish. They are a fairly large speaker, compared to the ones I have been listening to, about the same width as the Aerial 7B but standing a bit taller. I should also add that I listened to these speakers in a sectioned off space of the warehouse, so there was a ceiling about 20 ft up and only a fabric covered divider for the left wall, and wide open in back. Not an ideal listening room, but enough to get the gist of their sound, and range. On with the really important stuff...
Playing Grant Green, I first noticed their imaging was very nice. The acoustic bass sounded full and tight, not accentuated or pushed forward but accurate. These speakers typify what I keep getting out of the Transmission Line cabinets, especially with acoustic bass. Full, resonant, hollow bodied sound, just like the real deal. I felt that the tone of the guitar was excellent, maybe a bit forward on the higher notes. These speakers sport a unique (to me at least) circular ribbon tweeter, and they excel at reproducing cymbals. Crisp, clear, and real sounding. Snare drum also sounds very good on the Adagio's. Piano resonates nicely and has a percussive quality to it. As with a few other speakers, these reveal the tape hiss from the original analog recording, it is not annoying or anything, just present. Saxophones are reedy and smooth, you can feel the low notes of the sax. Lots of detail with these speakers. When the vibes come in they sound realistic and have a nice tone.
The highs are crisp, tight and clear with Fela Kuti. Once again these speakers prove outstanding with cymbal work. The bass has some impact here, I would imagine that it would be more in a better room. Brass is handled nicely, doesn't come across harsh except when three horns are blaring at the same time at loud volume (I know from experience that this would most likely be a harsh sound in real life, too). Double kick drum beats are separate and distinct. I noticed, for the first time, the sound of one of those gourd and wooden bead shaker-things (not sure what they are actually called). Trumpet sounded natural during the solo, nice tone.
Erykah Badu's deep bass was nearly all there, the Adagios seemed to only miss the absolute lowest note. Rim shots were definitely wood on metal real but I thought they were a little too forward. Her vocal was nice, smooth, separate, and distinct. Bass remained tight to the bottom of it's range, no flab here. Again I noticed the amount of detail these speakers reveal.
With the Beatles Come Together drums stand out with distinct clarity, and cymbal work is top notch. Surprisingly I feel like the bass is subdued on this song. It is still tight but it just doesn't blanket like it should. I think this is a direct result of the lousy room acoustics and ultra high ceiling. Fingers have audible slides on guitar and bass strings. Vocals sound great, and guitars sound excellent. Overall there is a good balance to the sound of this song. The End sounds good on the Adagios, nice imaging, and great drums. However, the vocal sounds a little edgy and guitars sound a little loud. Could be my ears are beginning to feel some fatigue? listening levels were a bit louder than usual for me, so this may very well be the case.
Next I tried Fu Manchu and they sounded good and MEAN
! Very nice aggression on the guitars, vocals were slightly back in the mix as they are meant to be. It is easy to separate the bass and guitar sounds. The Adagio's did very well with heavy rock.
The last song I brought for this audition was The Girl From Ipanema. I got the chills from this song on the SongTowers, so I wanted to see if the Adagios could duplicate that mark of midrange magic. The male vocal at the beginning of the song was excellent, as was Astrud's. Guitar and cymbals were tight and detailed. The saxophone of Stan Getz was nice here, but ultimately failed to give me the chills. In all fairness Astruds vocal did make the hair stand up on the back of my neck, but it didn't quite have the sweetness of the Salks.
After I ran through my tracks, Robert played a couple more that really showed off the strengths of the Adagios. One of them was a drum track that was simply awesome; very fast, tight, and realistic response on drums. I think reproduction of drums and percussion are the single most impressive achievement of this speaker. Another track he played was an electronic piece that illustrated the range of the speakers very nicely. And finally a very clean recording of acoustic bass that sounded very real indeed, probably what this speaker does second best would be acoustic bass.
These were certainly some fantastic sounding speakers, and I don't think that anyone would accuse them of being too warm. I don't think they would be considered cold and overly analytical either. They are a revealing speaker, and capable of playing very loud. I found the circular ribbons (made by Acoustic Zen) to be smoother than the linear ones that I have heard. The under hung mid woofers were fun to watch when they really get moving, reproducing drum sounds and acoustic bass among the best that I have heard. Electric bass, however, seemed to be missing some of the fullness that would most likely improve in a better room. Over all, I would say that these are a technically excellent speaker, that for some reason I did not quite connect with. Could be for lots of reasons: 2 hr drive before listening, so many other speakers rolling around in my head, not a very good listening room, high expectations... If you are in the market for speakers in this price range I would highly recommend that you audition the Adagios, you may just want to take some home with you. I know that I would like a second listen...Jump to Round 12Music used during my auditions:(part 1)(part 2)(part 3)