Adam Audio ARTist 3 speakers' radical tweeter design takes the sound to another level.
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
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.
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.