A new high in desktop speaker sound quality?

Adam Audio ARTist 3 speakers' radical tweeter design takes the sound to another level.

I've known about Adam Audio for a long time, but for one reason or another I never reviewed one of its speakers. Adam (Advanced Dynamic Audio Monitors) may have started as a pro sound company, but it now also makes audiophile speakers. To get a handle on their sound I started with Adam's least expensive model, the ARTist 3, a compact desktop monitor. The company was founded by physicist Klaus Heinz and electrical engineer Roland Stenz, in Berlin in 1999.

The Adam ARTist 3 speaker Adam Audio

It was in the early 1980s when Heinz met Oskar Heil, a decade after the good doctor caused quite a stir with the introduction of his Air Motion Transformer drivers. Oskar Heil passed away in 1999, but Heinz never stopped developing and refining the driver technology, which he now calls X-ART (eXtended Accelerating Ribbon Technology).

Instead of vibrating back and forth like other tweeters, the X-ART's "pleated" diaphragm compresses and expands with the audio signal. Air is drawn in and squeezed out, "like the bellows of an accordion," and the tweeter's high-frequency response extends beyond the range of conventional dome tweeters. The X-ART has a much larger radiating surface area than a dome tweeter, which is one of the reasons why it produces less distortion than dome tweeters. Adam Audio designs and hand builds its tweeters in its Berlin factory.

The ARTist 3 is the company's smallest speaker, it has a 4-inch carbon-fiber woofer and an X-ART tweeter; it's a bi-amped design, so each speaker has two 25-watt Class A/B amps, one for the woofer and a separate one for the tweeter. The speaker is available in high-gloss black and white finishes. Connectivity options include RCA, XLR, and a USB 1.1 port (for the speaker's onboard 48-kHz/16-bit DAC) on the back panel, plus a 3.5mm jack input up front. The rear panel has a tweeter level control, and a slotted bass port near the top of the rear panel. I used the ARTist 3 with a Halide DAC HD with my Mac Mini computer, but it could also be used as a hi-fi speaker.

The clarity of these speakers is remarkable, so when I play recordings I made myself, I hear not only the sound of the singers and players, I hear the room they were performing in. That sort of quiet resolution of fine detail sets the ARTist 3 apart from merely good desktop speakers. Large-scale dynamic punch is well above average for a small speaker. Bass definition is exceptional, so you can easily distinguish between bass guitars' low notes and bass drums' beats. Deep bass is in short supply; small speakers with 4-inch woofers never really shake the room, so if you love bass, add a subwoofer.

The ARTist 3 shares a similar design concept with the Emotiva airmotiv4 speaker (which features a similar tweeter), but when I compared the two speakers side-by-side, it was no contest. The Emotiva is still a superb $400 (a pair) speaker, but the Adam is a significantly clearer and better-sounding speaker. It's also twice as expensive, and if you can afford to spend $800 for a set of desktop monitors, the Adam ARTist 3 is absolutely worth it.

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