All my rather short life I have been a headphone guy, IEMs on the go, headphones at home and right now my headphone systems are at the top of the game and they sound AWESOME. Yes Inearspace has been reviewing speaker related stuff lately but if you look they are all handled by Josh, the lucky sod has a listening room so he gets to play with speakers and headphones. Well I guess I have also been lucky for the past few months as I have to got to experience some speakers of my own, no they aren’t towers but they have offered me some different experiences and that’s what we are here to talk about today. As one of the major reasons I haven’t done speakers being my lack of usable space for a system, this was of course not going to have to be something I could use in a different environment, such as in a near field set up on my desk.
Before we get on to how I have found living with both speakers and headphones in my desktop set up, I want to talk about the gear I have been using because obviously this is vital, with bad gear this would have left negative impressions and so forth. Both the speakers and amplification are very cute with small real estate and simple appearances, they also both bare the Amphion branding. We actually combine both Amphion’s Enjoy and Create outfits or if you don’t know them that well, their consumer and pro lines. While Amphion do very well in Hi-Fi, with Josh even giving their Argon1 speakers our Good Buy award, they are HUGE in the pro audio scene, with an 1800 reply thread on GearSlutz and if you look closely to a lot of studios you will see their monitors, which is the more obvious good sign.
Enjoy – I guess we could have used one of the pro line speakers as near field is their main game, but it is clear that both lines share principles and I ended up with the Argon0 (£720), the little sibling to the Argon1 (£1140-1200) Josh has just reviewed. They are very similar loudspeakers, I have had them next to each other and in almost all ways, the 0s are just a more space conscious version. They share a tweeter, which I recommend reading our Argon1 review to learn a bit more about (as Josh gets to talking about the wave guide and technologies in a lot more detail) and the 0 just has a smaller mid/woofer cone being 4.5 inches instead of 5.25, but it still shares the choice in material being aluminium. They also use the similar and smart 1600hz crossover point that was one of the big talking points of Josh’s review so from that frequency up, you are essentially getting the same thing, of course I wasn’t born yesterday and things aren’t that simple but you get the jist.
Their modern look is great, the piano white finish compliments my 21.5 inch iMac that sits in between just great, especially as they both have black accents. You could also opt for these in white or if you are a bit funkier, even get different colour grids, but I’d rather keep things simple. They are also just the right size for a desk, as far as I am concerned, not looking puny but not demanding to much space at the same time. To visualise you better have the official dimensions of 259 x 132 x 220 mm.
Create – I am sure a lot of people go to active options for their desktop listening solutions but we have chose to go the old fashioned way and the method I prefer as I like having control over amplification, its fine tuning of the sound you can’t beat. Obviously a perk too active is the whole space thing and you don’t want some behemoth amp on your desk, that’s just gonna cause problems on its own. Luckily recording studios are obviously space conscious as well and the Amp100 mono amplifier has that in mind, with the two rectangular units being the smallest boxes I have on my desk, they are the same size as my DAC’s power supply. These are actually marketed as the portable version of the larger Amp100, which is pretty much identical in terms of circuitry, just a single bigger unit.
Seeing double, mono blocks are just plain cool!
Usability is as simple as it gets, you can’t do anything wrong, there is a power input, a single XLR line input and the speakON output so every single one is a very simple plug in, no fiddling about. The only annoyance for me here is the power switch being on the back so you have to give both units a reach around whenever power is needed or you’ve had enough of them, they get a bit toasty if you leave them on. The Create side of Amphion is certainly less focussed on looks, with simple and task orientated designs while the Enjoy are fantastic and modern. Thats not to say the monos look bad, they are just understated and simple, brushed metal, a small logo and a LED on the front. Being pro amps we don’t get the fancy specs you are used to in the audiophile world but with this amp you can expect the THD to be linear with the frequency response, 50Wrms into 40 ohms and 120Wrms BTL into 6 ohms (all Class D) and decent 115dB dynamic range. More important than all that though is its made with Amphion monitors in mind and that can only be a good thing in terms of synergy.
Obviously being mono blocks with only an XLR input, you will need a DAC or pre amp with a balanced output to control the volume so throughout this review I have used a few different DACs all with pre functionality such as the Yulong D200 (£430), Northstar Incanto (€1800) and totaldac d1-tube-mk2 (€9,900), mainly them three as they represent three price points and too see where the limits where. The price of the amps is €530 per channel, making a set just north of a grand and just south in pounds.
I am obviously going to be referring to the combo of the two products, I haven’t compared amps so am hearing the pairing. Now being familiar with the Argon1s that Josh reviewed and agreeing with everything he had to say on them in that review, I have to say I am hearing these in a very similar manner. I am not just saying this because I am lazy, I honestly mean that and this was only to be expected seeing as they use the same tweeter that also covers a lot of the midband.
The front end
While I do hear them similar I am thinking these may just be a little warmer with a touch more decay in the mid-bass and also dryer and less lively in the midrange. In all though it is balanced sound, with an obvious bass and a clean midrange through treble, with no offence through out the frequency responses. The sound is a little on the soft side although pairing with the Northstar offered bite and energy neither of the other two DACs could, even the totaldac. Considering how small they are paired with me sitting a foot away, the bass response has certainly impressed me,it gets deeper that I expected, using a Dr. Chesky demo disk I actually found while very faint, 20Hz was to be felt while 50Hz had a much more obvious pronunciation. While I won’t say that when listening you actually get to experience anything below 50Hz, to get that low ain’t shabby and I am more than happy with these sub woofer less. The Argon1s bigger woofer did indeed get lower as one would imagine. The mid bass seems rounded and slightly ahead of the mids. It hits a touch weak, not something I would say has slam but it is pleasant and easy, with controlled but relaxed decay.
The midrange seems linear through from the bass transition all the way to the upper mids, maybe owing a nod to the 1600Hz crossover, allowing for no interruptions. It boasts good focus, clear centre imaging and easy detailing. The treble seems a bit more casual than it is because of some quick decay. In reality it is positioned quite well and does the right thing, not offending but keeping up with the rest. I actually found the speakers/amps to be quite transparent as well from the treble performance. When switching between the smooth and effortless totaldac and the brighter, more energetic Northstar, its was clearly shown in the speakers performance, with the treble being a lot livelier in the latter set up.
In the price range and for the uses I think these speakers will serve, the signature seems spot on, it shows balance and ability but isn’t something critical, something too revealing or brutal, it made things sound nice, be it music or a movie.
For me this was always going to be a new experience. I know HiFi pretty well through Josh’s listening room and attending shows but I have never owned a real system. This is different all over again due to the set up. Being a headphone guy I know the traits and perhaps even limitations of a great headphone system. My reference system is amazing and pushes the limits of what headphones can do, but it has a presentation that is very typical to headphones, even with my very open sounding Sennheiser HD800s, the projection of the music isn’t that of a speaker. Now the staging and imaging in Josh’s system at the moment is mind blowing but this is different again. Its not as expansive due to being so close to the speakers but it positions the music in away a headphone will never pull off. It is a curtain of music that is strewn out in front of you and while I wont say in my current configuration that the speakers disappear completely, the music is clearly coming from an area much larger that the speakers. Everything is a bit bigger and channels flow together more naturally because both your ears are hearing both channels, although one has a time delay, with headphones each ear only hears its respected channel. Things just don’t perceive as expansive.
Now I am never directly going to compare a speaker and a headphone, they are playing the same game but follow different rules. That being said on a clearly technical level of these compared to one of the top circa 700 quid headphones I own I do find these at a disadvantage. Obviously this is a hard and perhaps futile idea to explain but in sheer terms of things like transparency and detail I would say we are just a bit behind but seriously, these are the more entry level side of loudspeakers and being compared to almost the most expensive of headphones. Obviously things will change as soon as you factor in your preference of desired presentation choice….
Choosing between a headphone or near field speaker system may come down to your environment. Can you have music blasting without annoying someone? Do you want to isolate a noisy environment? Do you want to share your music? For me the harmony between both systems has shown me that both are worth owning. When writing or working on my computer I will go with the speakers every day. I am not critically listening and the Amphions compliment that perfectly. On top of that I am easily reachable to my family, I am still attached to their world. I also like sharing music and my Dad can do his thing on the computer behind me and we can sing along together, no he isn’t in the sweet spot but this is not about that, its about enjoying music with your family and he can still appreciate these are good quality. In fact, my Dad has never wanted me to keep a product I have reviewed more than these. Some of my mates love them too, they hate getting trapped into headphones but we can check out new music with this and chat at the same time. On the other hand sometimes my Mum needs to concentrate on work, or has a headache, thats when my headphones come in, the same goes when my sister tries to get the TV as loud as possible, closed back cans for the win. During owning them any critical listening to gear reviewing has been done through headphones, I know them better and for sheer sound quality, I still pick them. But the longer I have the Amphions the more I appreciate what they can do. I tell you what, me and my Dad ended up watching more movies and TV shows on my iMac than on our TV because the sound was better. He never wanted to with headphones, even when we had a pair each because we were so isolated from each other.
In fact I want to talk more about using these for a bigger variety of applications because they take to most very easily. These have enhanced my life for any of my computing activities, be it messing around YouTube, checking out new music on Soundcloud or streaming a HD movie online. These aren’t brutal with the sometimes lesser audio codecs of these applications and always sound full, dynamic, and have more than enough volume without getting close to distorting. Sometimes my headphone system are a bit too revealing and make the material hard work, thats never the case here, movies are grand and music is sweet. Headphones don’t capture the grand scale of movies as well either.
Now of course with speakers I did have the added complication of set up, gone is the simplicity of throwing some headphones on your head and getting the best sound. Now I had things to consider, where shall I position the speaker, where shall they face, what should they sit on? Having them face directly forward made the soundstage blotchy, with gaps in the sound, toeing them in gave me great coherency, I like them like that. Using the sticky feet that come with the speaker gave off an awful rattle from my desk when the bass hit, adding some Music Works Peek Cone 10’s (£14 per cone, I am using 8) reduced that heavily although the desk is still resonating in the slightest. The cones while effective also were quite fiddly in setting up, I had to get my little sister help, her smaller hands seated the cones much easier.
Music Works Peek Cones
Headphones Deserve to Live with Speakers
I don’t know why there has been such a segregation between the two technologies, it makes no sense, both have a similar goal, both aim at a similar audience, they just do it differently. Living with near field speakers has been a dream and while still unique in its presentation, it has only increased my hunger for a true loudspeaker system. I obviously have to sing the praise of Amphion as it is there gear that have left such a positive impression of this sort of system and also making a classy and compact pair of products. This is certainly an area of the industry I plan on looking into a bit more and I will always remember Amphion as the break through. Moving on it seems that at £720 a pair, less than I was originally informed that these speakers would be seem like a solid purchase, more so for this use but also has a cheaper alternative for the Argon1s. While I do have a bit more of a limited experience with speakers, I have tried a few in the price range and while the similarly priced KEF LS50 are much more my thing, I just don’t see myself fitting them on my desk, that being said the PSB Imagine Mini’s (£600) we reviewed were a similar price, but there underwhelming sonic performance hardly warrants a serious comparison.