ADAM A8X Powered Monitor Review8.5-INCH, TWO-WAY UNIT WITH RIBBON TWEETER 7/01/2011 5:00 AM Eastern
ADAM speakers have been employed in pro audio applications for more than 10 years, having grown and evolved out of Dr. Oskar Heil’s highly original concepts—namely, the Air Motion Transformer, aka the ribbon tweeter. Since then, ADAM has become a pre-eminent supplier of this technology to the pro audio (and now home audio) world. I have been most-impressed with the higher-priced models, most significantly the now discontinued S3A and S2.5A. The A8X brings this technology into a more affordable arena.
The heart and soul of an ADAM-designed speaker is its tweeter. This technology, known as X-ART, or eXtended Accelerating Ribbon Technology, is explained on the ADAM Website: “The X-ART membrane consists of a pleated diaphragm in which the folds compress or expand according to the audio signal applied to them. The result is that air is drawn in and squeezed out, like the bellows of an accordion.” All of the technical indications point to a more efficient and accurate reproduction of the upper frequencies. These motors do sound different than conventional dome tweeters or horn-based transducers and “take some getting used to.”
The A8X is a two-way, front-ported design comprising an 8.5-inch carbon/Rohacell/glass-fiber woofer and a 56mm X-ART tweeter (equivalent to a 2-inch conventional diaphragm). The woofer gets 150W RMS, with the ribbon receiving 50W RMS from the onboard amplifiers. The conventional woofer reproduces all information below the crossover frequency of 2.3 kHz, with the tweeter extending the upper range out to 50 kHz—most impressive. This transducer definitely represents the “air” in your recordings. Its front-loaded, dual-port design significantly extends the LF response down to 38 Hz. The woofers have a good thump; right out of the box, I noted how “fast” they sounded with kick drums and percussive-style bass guitar. This is no doubt attributed to the woofer cone’s lightweight design.
Rear panel inputs are balanced XLR or unbalanced RCA. Both are active so you’ll need to use one or the other; there is no switch to select XLR or RCA. The back panel also offers EQ and tweeter gain controls. The high shelf is set at ±6 dB @ 5 kHz, while the low shelf is ±6 dB @ 300 Hz. The tweeter gain is ±4 dB so there should be enough control for fine-tuning your listening position. The front panel also offers an input-sensitivity potentiometer that has a variance of ∞ to +14 dB.
PLAY THAT FUNKY MUSIC
After playing different sources and types of music through these speakers, I have good news and bad news. The good news: These speakers have really good imaging and a large sweet spot. I didn’t have to place my head in one position and stay there. Virtually all instruments’ upper harmonics sounded exceptional, but this could be because the critical midrange is slightly receding.
I like the extended bass response; it really fills the room. You can feel the air coming out of the dual front ports. This low-end response will make many mix engineers very happy because 38 Hz from this sized box is quite a feat. When playing The Beatles’ LOVE CD and DVD-A version, downmixed via a MultiMAX, the speakers reproduced the lower octaves with aplomb, yet vocals and guitars seemed to recede from the soundstage. The bad news: Piano fundamentals and percussion also appeared to recede. To my ears, the tweeter “whistles” at certain upper frequencies. I also noted this in the original series, which is a reason I stayed with conventional titanium designs. Some may say this is simply the original audio being reproduced with more accuracy, but I found a majority of the other speakers I referenced did not reproduce these anomalies.
While listening to opera, primarily female sopranos, the definitive fundamentals were not as pronounced. Midrange strings recede as the cellos fall into the background and the vocalists seem slightly distant. However, low-register horns—tubas and trombones—were faithfully reproduced. With electronica, there was an exceedingly great kick drum response, which is attributable to this speaker’s extended low end. When listening to heavy-metal guitar work, there is a definite difference in midrange reproduction as compared to my conventional titanium-designed tweeters: Guitars recede with the ribbon while they are much more forward with the titanium. Your artist may ask for more guitars and vocals, causing you to add more of those “presence frequencies” than your mastering engineer would like to hear.
I tracked drums against a film cue using the ADAMs and found them to be very punchy—they simply move a lot of air. The toms were reproduced accurately and the kick was fast, with plenty of low end and snap. The upper cymbal harmonics sounded like what was happening in the room. The artist was very happy with the representation of his kit. Another engineer in the room thought they sounded a bit too bright in comparison to the speaker system he had been using. He also noted that same “missing midrange.” The cymbals’ initial hits were missing the LF swells, with the upper harmonics being a bit more emphasized, giving the overall sound a brighter soundstage.
Oddly enough, I like listening to these speakers. As a hi-fi listening experience, they sound classic; as a critical tracking tool, I’m hesitant to make recording decisions based on the recession of the critical midrange. There’s that classic dip in the middle that a novice mixer or casual listener will revel in. This could lead to a more experienced engineer attempting to compensate for “what they’re used to hearing” in a conventional design.
AND IN THE END
The A8X is a very modern-sounding speaker that can be easily learned and is easy on the ears. I experienced no ear fatigue after hours of continuous listening. There is no question that its design will reproduce sound differently than conventional dome- or horn-based tweeter designs because it does. This doesn’t make it a bad speaker, only different, and worthy of a good, critical listen. Find a dealer, take your favorite references with you, compare these speakers with your favorite conventional design, and you just might like what you hear. Many award-winning professional engineers have made the switch to ADAM, working with them on a daily basis. The A8X shares some of the legacy of the company’s higher-priced models, and, in some regards, it sounds very similar. This could become your next favorite speaker in this price range.
Bobby Frasier is an educator, audio engineer and Beatles fanatic.