Technology

ADAM A5 Desktop Monitors Review

COMPACT, TWO-WAY POWERED SPEAKERS WITH A FEW SURPRISES 2/01/2009 7:00 AM Eastern

The ADAM A5s feature RCA and XLR inputs and linkable volume controls on the front.

ADAM Audio is known for its studio and consumer speakers, all of which use its ART (Accelerating Ribbon Technology) folded ribbon tweeter. ADAM's most recent release is the A5 two-way active reflex monitor targeted for studio and multimedia applications. The front-ported A5s feature a 5.5-inch carbon fiber/Rohacell woofer, the ART tweeter and two 25-watt amps, all packed into an 11-pound, 6.8×11.2×7.9-inch enclosure. The front has a power switch and rotary volume pot, and a light denoting whether the Link control is active (more on that later). At the rear are balanced XLR inputs, unbalanced RCA ins and controls for maximizing the monitor's response to various room properties. Three rotary knobs adjust high frequencies (±4 dB), mids (±6 dB at 6 kHz) and lows (±6 dB at 50 Hz).

I first used the speakers in a small, nearly square office with a carpeted floor and an 8-foot ceiling. Far from acoustically inspiring, this environment is more and more de rigueur in home studios, editing stations and DAW-based music creation suites. I mounted the A5s on 10-degree upfiring Primacoustic RX5 Recoil Stabilizers, which help provide a rock-solid and centered stereo image but also aim the tweeter at the user's head in close-field, desktop listening situations.

A floor-to-ceiling bookshelf behind my listening position — packed with randomly sized boxes, books and other items — offered a fighting chance to downplay rear-wall kickback. I left the room-correction controls flat and never had to touch them for the entire test.

I listened to a variety of sources from an Apple MacBook's 1/8-inch unbalanced output plugged directly into the A5s RCA inputs. Tracks included full resolution PCM mixes played from Pro Tools LE and a variety of CDs burned into iTunes using Apple Lossless encoding. The Stereo Link function worked very well, allowing me to change the volume of both monitors from either speaker's rotary control. This works by plugging both left and right inputs into one of the speakers and then linking the second A5 via an included RCA cable.

No matter the audio source, I was struck by the monitors' smooth top end, even on sources such as AC/DC's Black Ice, which came across as strident on other monitors. In every case, the center remained rock-solid with a lush stereo field that sometimes seemed to expand beyond the boundaries of the cabinets. Another surprise was the A5s' impressive degree of bottom end. George Duke's Dukey Treats rocked the room with some serious LF reproduction and great mix detail. I did notice some distortion on certain tracks, which I attribute to the MacBook's sound card. When iTunes was stopped, the output would buzz and I could hear zipper noise while I was using my mouse. To take the test up a notch, I employed Apogee's Duet FireWire interface as the audio output for my computer and everything improved tenfold. Distortion and zipper noise disappeared and a slightly smoother top end was evident when I used the Duet to feed the A5s. Keep in mind that this was still an unbalanced hookup.

Next, I popped the A5s on top of a Solid State Logic SL 4000E in a proper listening space, patched the balanced monitor outs from the patchbay into the speakers' XLR inputs and sourced a number of mixes and tracks from Pro Tools. The A5s were stellar in this situation and provided a great secondary source for evaluating tracks when jumping from larger monitors.

Having this level of quality for less than $800 a pair nearly made me feel guilty using the A5s. I've listened to them for hours on end without fatigue and am nothing short of astounded by their balance, smoothness, imaging and detail.

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