Meet the new champ of desktop speakers: Adam Audio F5
Move over Audioengine and Emotiva; the Adam Audio F5 is coming on strong.
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.
My first encounter with one of Adam Audio's smallest speakers, the ARTist 3, took me by surprise last year. That little speaker is still in the line, but when I learned Adam just introduced a less expensive, but slightly larger desktop speaker, the F5, I was eager to get it in for review. The ARTist 3 has a better tweeter, bigger amps, a more robustly designed cabinet, and it's a lot nicer looking. The F5's black vinyl-covered cabinet is strictly business, and at $499 a pair it lists for $300 less than the ARTist 3.
Adam's rather unusual tweeter, the X-ART air motion transformer, is made in the company's factory in Berlin, Germany. The tweeter'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 most 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. If you've only heard domes, the F5's treble will be a revelation.
The F5 uses a 5-inch fiberglass-paper woofer, sourced from outside suppliers, but made to Adam's specifications. Each F5 speaker is bi-amplified: there's a 25-watt amp on the tweeter and a 35-watt amp for the woofer. Rather than go with an off-the-shelf Class D digital amp, the F5 has superior-sounding Class AB amps, which audiophiles prefer. The speaker is 11.5 inches tall.
The rear panel has bass and treble controls as a well as a master volume control, which is my only gripe with the F5's design. That rear volume control is a minor annoyance, but since it's a desktop speaker you can use your computer to control the F5's volume. The speaker has XLR and RCA inputs, and if you want to use a subwoofer, there's a built-in, switchable filter for the F5. The front-mounted bass port will make the speaker somewhat easier to place close to walls, than speakers with rear ports.
I've raved about Emotiva and various Audioengine desktop speakers many times on this blog, but the F5 is better -- it's my new desktop reference. It's a higher resolution speaker, it's more detailed sounding, has fuller bass, and a more open, boxless sound than the competition in its price class. I used a Micromega MyDac digital converter for most of my F5 desktop listening tests.
Daft Punk's new CD, "Random Access Memories," is loaded with thumping basslines and palpable textures, and they came through like gangbusters. The F5s can definitely play loud without sounding like they're working hard.
The speaker is remarkably clear but somehow avoids sounding harsh with any decently recorded music. The warm-ish sound balance flatters a wide range of genres, and the F5 has a more open quality that I've heard from any desktop speaker I've tested at home. Brian Eno's "Small Craft on a Milk Sea" album revealed new layers of spatial depth, and the bass definition and low-end drive on Bob Marley's "In Dub, Vol 1" album was pitch-perfect. Switching over to the Emotiva Airmotiv 4 speakers, the sound was brighter, more immediate and present, but also smaller, with less bass extension. The F5s' sound is more refined, and dare I say it, relaxed. I listened for hours at a time, and the F5s never irritated. I could also listen at quieter volume levels than with the Airmotiv 4s and never feel like I was missing detail or resolution.
Alternately, the F5s can be used as hi-fi or TV speakers. They just need to be hooked up to something like the Audioengine D1 digital converter, or anything with variable analog output jacks. The F5 is available from Sam Ash, Guitar Center, and other musician and pro audio-oriented sites.