Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

For more than two decades, Amphion has designed and built loudspeakers in Kuopio, Finland. Their stated goal is to offer affordable speakers for the home and the recording studio that are sonically truthful rather than imposing on the music any sort of “house sound,” and that are also of timelessly tasteful appearance.

Amphion’s definition of affordable includes more than the final retail price. They also take into account the associated equipment and the room by making their speakers not difficult to drive -- speakers that, they say, sound good “regardless of room acoustics, loudspeaker positioning or listener location.” After all, even the poorest listening room may still be the most expensive component of an audio system. I appreciate this -- I live in an apartment, and can change little about the room I listen in.

Amphion sells three ranges of speaker models for the home: Helium, Argon, and Krypton. The Krypton “line” consists of a single model, the floorstanding Krypton3, the company’s flagship or reference loudspeaker ($17,000/pair, all prices USD). The Helium and Argon lines both comprise minimonitor, center-channel, and floorstanding models.

Features

I was sent for review a pair of Amphion’s Argon1s -- the middle minimonitor model of their middle line of speakers. The Argon1 costs $1400/pair in its standard finishes of white or black paint; add $100/pair for real-wood walnut veneer. The smaller Argon0 ($1000/pair) and the larger Argon3S ($2500/pair) are both available in black or white; only the Argon3S is also available in walnut. All three Argons are two-way designs, with differences: The Argon0 and Argon1 each have a small port on the rear panel; the Argon3S has no port, but instead a 6.5” passive radiator.

Amphion

When I unboxed my white review samples, I was struck by their density -- a speaker measuring just 12.4”H by 6.3”W by 10.4”D but weighing 17.6 pounds -- and even more by their elegant, classically Nordic appearance: sharp lines, flat planes, and searing sky-blue grilles (Amphion calls these “grids”) over the drivers. Regardless of the finish chosen, the grids are offered in eight standard colors -- Stone Grey, Traffic Red, Sky Blue, Turquoise Blue, Heather Violet, Yellow Green, Sulfur Yellow, Beige Brown -- or a custom RAL color of your choice. Grids can be later replaced for a mere $30/set. Clearly, these speakers are customizable to suit any color scheme. I placed the review samples atop Target FS speaker stands, but Amphion also offers black or white wall-mount brackets ($130/pair). The build quality of my review samples was excellent.

Amphion calls the Argon1 a “reference-grade minimonitor.” It’s a two-way, rear-ported speaker with a 1” titanium-dome tweeter and a 5.25” aluminum-cone midrange-woofer. Amphion CNC-machines the cabinet from MDF and specifies the drivers, which are made for them by Norway’s SEAS. The crossover frequency is an uncharacteristically low 1600Hz, as in all three Argon models -- Amphion believes that this makes the transition between the drivers less audible, in part because so low a crossover frequency moves the handoff out of the 2-5kHz range in which human hearing is most sensitive.

The tweeter is mounted at the center of a shallow-coned waveguide of the same diameter as the midrange-woofer below it, which puts the tweeter itself a bit behind the surface of the front baffle. Amphion says this waveguide assists the integration of the drivers’ outputs by managing the directionality of soundwave dispersion and aligning their outputs in time, to make the overall sound more uniform across a wide variety of room sizes and shapes. In other words, the speakers are less dependent on a specific room’s acoustic than they might otherwise be. (For more information about Amphion’s waveguide, see our SoundStage! InSight video on YouTube featuring Amphion’s founder, Anssi Hyvönen, and speaker designer Martin Kantola.)

Amphion

The Argon1’s specified frequency response is 45Hz-25kHz, -6dB; its sensitivity is 86dB/2.83V/m and its impedance is 8 ohms. These specs are typical of minimonitors, though 45Hz is rather low for a 5.25” midrange-woofer; the Argon0, with a 4.5” mid-woof, goes down to 50Hz, -6dB; and the Argon3S, with a 6.5” midrange-woofer augmented by a 6.5” passive radiator, reaches down to 38Hz, -6dB.

Each Argon1 connects to an amplifier via a single pair of canted-up binding posts -- it can’t be biwired. The speaker’s recommended range of amplification is 25-150W.

System and setup

I connected the Argon1s to my NAD C 356BEE integrated amplifier using homemade speaker cables with conductors of 12-gauge, oxygen-free copper terminated with banana plugs. I listened primarily with my Music Hall MMF-CD25 CD player and Cambridge Audio CXN (V2) network player, using the latter’s DAC for both sources. Via a Gigabit Ethernet network, the Cambridge reads ripped and bought audio files stored on a Synology NAS. My listening room measures 20’L x 11’W and is carpeted wall to wall. I typically position speakers 8’ apart and aimed them at my listening seat 9’ away. Unless otherwise noted, my descriptions of what I heard were with the Argon1s and I in those positions.

Sound

I found the Amphion Argon1s well suited to large-scale orchestral works, and very much at home when given a bit more amplifier power than I typically feed speakers so small. I played a recording of Sibelius’s Kullervo by the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Sir Colin Davis (SACD/CD, LSO Live LSO0574). This work, scored for mezzo-soprano, baritone, chorus, and orchestra, is a mix of symphony, cantata, and tone poem. Sibelius set to music parts of one of Finland’s national folk epics, composing at a time of romantic nationalism in Finland, as signaled by the fanfare on massed brasses of the motif of the hero, Kullervo. As I played this disc’s 16-bit/44.1kHz tracks on the Music Hall CD player, the Argons handled the multiplicity of voices, instrumental and human, with no hint of congestion, and cast a deep and intricate soundstage. The brass fanfares in the fourth movement, Kullervo Goes to War, were particularly exciting, ringing through as they filled my listening room. Likewise in the final movement, Kullervo’s Death, in which choral and orchestral motifs are interposed over a constant, undulating pulse. The Amphions presented all of these elements in tight formation despite their sonic mass, using all the breadth of the soundstage. The Kullervo motif in the brass surged over strings. Throughout it all, the Argon1s’ reproduction of the music was seamless, maintaining time and texture as themes were handed off among instruments of various registers.

Amphion

Through some speakers, a trumpet theme in the third movement, Kullervo and His Sister, can be a bit too bright and sparkly, but through the Argon1s it blended well with an enveloping midrange and less-forward treble. I found the Argon1s as advertised: In terms of tonality and imaging, they were pretty much indifferent to their positions in my room -- the precision of the soundstaging and tonal detail didn’t change as I moved them about. They retained their good acoustic attributes even when I shrank the listening triangle to mimic a desktop setup, with the speakers 3’ from each other and 2.5’ from me.

I returned the Argon1s to their original positions, 8’ apart and 9’ in front of me, and watched a Metropolitan Opera performance of Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia conducted by Michele Mariotti, streamed on the Met Opera On Demand Roku channel using a Roku2 streaming player plugged into the NAD integrated’s built-in DAC via a Monoprice HDX-401TA HDMI switch. Coloratura mezzo-soprano Isabel Leonard’s voice was clear, reproduced with wide dynamic range as she navigated the mixed emotions, from quiet deliberation to forceful vow, of “Una voce poco fa.” “Ma signor,” which features orchestra, chorus, and most of the principal soloists, was reproduced with aural images of voices placed across the soundstage in accurate alignment with the images of the singers onscreen. The act ends with what is probably its best-known aria, “Largo al factotum” -- baritone Christopher Maltman’s combination of rapid singing, precise diction, and tight, rapid-fire harmonies sounded precise and uncongested. Rossini loved writing storm scenes, or “Temporale,” and the one in Act II did not disappoint -- it sounded both evocative and well balanced by the instrumentation through the similarly well-balanced Argon1s.

Amphion

The Argon1s were a bit too revealing of the weaknesses of my older, mass-market Pioneer DV-563A universal player. I played a recording of an arrangement for two pianos of Bartók’s ballet The Miraculous Mandarin, performed by Jean-François Heisser and Marie-Josèphe Jude (SACD/CD, Praga 250 184). As I listened to the DSD layer of this disc, the pianos’ tonalities lacked realism and crispness. In a rambunctious work such as this, piano keystrokes need separation and thus require rapid decays -- they were lacking in this playback. The Argon1s revealed the weaknesses of my upstream gear.

Playing the CD layer of this disc in my Music Hall player treated me to such an experience and, with it, newfound energy. But without that characteristic, the sound was a bit of an unengaging mess, leaving the Amphions unable to demonstrate their strong skills of midrange imaging precision and clarity. I don’t blame the speakers -- I’ve heard these problems when using the Pioneer with other speakers -- but the Argon1s made them even more obvious. While the Argon1s don’t require you to spend a lot of money on a high-power amplifier to drive them, if some of your gear is of middling quality -- such as my Pioneer SACD player -- speakers this transparent may leave you wanting to make some upgrades.

The small jazz combo that performs “Autumn Leaves” on double-bassist and singer Casey Abrams’s Jazz (24/192 AIFF, Chesky) filled the soundstage and my room with intimate resolution. Abrams’s voice and Jimmy Greene’s saxophone resonated from their precise corners. Abrams’s voice and Giveton Gelin’s trumpet had nicely forward presentations, well timed together, with an engaging tonality on the voice and a raw, authentic-sounding edge on the trumpet. In fact, reproduction of brasses and voices were consistent strong suits of these speakers. But while the midrange was presented with openness and transparent detail, Abrams’s double bass sounded a bit amorphous -- I felt I wasn’t hearing all of the core fundamental of each note plucked on the lower strings. The bodies of notes weren’t ideally taut, and the leading-edge bite of the bass line in “I’ve Got the World on a String” was somewhat subdued. If you want linear reproduction of the entire audioband, you may need to mate Argon1s with a music-oriented subwoofer.

Amphion

In rock recordings, the Argon1s’ reproduction of the bass sounded just fine for a minimonitor, so long as the volume was high enough. “Another One Bites the Dust,” from Queen’s Greatest Hits I & II (CD, Hollywood HR-62042-2), was reproduced with a definitively constant pulse from John Deacon’s electric bass. Given enough juice, the Amphions could fill my listening room to deafening levels, but I preferred them at “just loud enough”: ~75dB peaks. Perhaps owing to their lower-than-usual crossover frequency and waveguide, the Argon1s again excelled with voices, which sounded smooth and forward in “Play the Game,” and vocal harmonies were tight and melodious. Lead guitar, in the same general bandwidth, sang out similarly.

Comparison

I appreciated the Amphion Argon1’s attention to detail across a variety of musical genres. Yo-Yo Ma’s cello sounded smooth and lush in “Gabriel’s Oboe,” from Plays Ennio Morricone (16/44.1 FLAC, Sony Classical), with a tone consistent across the instrument’s range. However, in level-matched comparisons, this recording lacked some of the rich reverberation I heard from it through my Sonus Faber Principia 3 speakers ($699/pair, discontinued), which also placed the cello more forward in the mix. With “The Falls,” from the same album, the Amphions provided even treble extension -- the Principias’ treble veers toward brightness -- and more pronounced decays.

In “Choctaw Hayride,” from the CD layer of Alison Krauss + Union Station’s New Favorite (SACD/CD, Rounder 11661 0495 6), Ron Block’s banjo plucks sounded more delicate through the Argon1s -- well, as delicate as a banjo can sound -- their quick decays and images also more precise. There was less driving punch and fullness to the sound through the Amphions than through the Sonus Fabers. Krauss’s voice in “Crazy Faith” was sweet and natural through the Argon1s, but the ends of phrases tended to disappear into the sounds of her band in a way that didn’t happen with the Principia 3s.

Amphion

The Amphions presented the percussion line in “The Calling,” from Santana’s Supernatural (CD, Arista 07822 19080 2), more crisply and with a better-defined image than the Sonus Fabers -- I heard a distinct point of origin for the sound of each instrument within a surrounding space, whereas the Principias filled the gaps between those sounds. The Sonus Fabers were less forgiving of my precise seating position, never offering the optimal imaging that the Amphions did. The Argon1s were more consistent than the Principia 3s in another way: Whether I sat in my listening chair or stood near it, images and soundstages remained essentially unchanged; the Principias’ sweet spot was a lot smaller, and existed only when I was seated.

Wrap-up

The Amphion Argon1s delivered impressive resolution, seamless blending of their drivers’ outputs, and alacrity in dynamics and limning soundstages. Another strong point was their tonal neutrality, especially in the midrange; they were less compelling in the lower region of the audioband. However, that same neutrality could be a bit lacking in excitement, especially at low levels, and less than forgiving of weaknesses in the signal chain. I could hear in the Argon1s aspects of reproduction often associated with professional studio monitors -- hardly surprising, given Amphion’s strong presence in that market.

The Argon1 fulfills two of Amphion’s stated design goals: truthfulness of reproduction and timelessness of design. As for the company’s third goal, affordability, I’m less convinced -- many very good-sounding minimonitors are available at lower prices, and the Argon1 must compete with them. But someone might be willing to pay $1400 for a pair of Argon1s for their powers of resolution and imaging precision alone, especially when their statement-making aesthetic design and attention to build quality are taken into account. Based on those sonic and physical attributes, the Amphion Argon1 is well worth an audition.

. . . Sathyan Sundaram
sathyans@soundstagenetwork.com

Associated Equipment

  • Speakers -- Sonus Faber Principia 3, Wharfedale PowerCube 10 subwoofer
  • Digital sources -- Music Hall MMF-CD25 CD player; Cambridge Audio CXN (V2) network player; Monoprice HDX-401TA HDMI switch; Roku2 streaming player; Pioneer DV-563A SACD/CD player
  • Analog sources -- Goldring GR1 turntable and Elektra cartridge, Rega Research RB100 tonearm; Cambridge Audio 540P phono preamplifier
  • Integrated amplifier -- NAD C 356BEE with NAD MDC DAC2 DAC
  • Speaker cables -- homemade, with 12-gauge, oxygen-free copper conductors terminated in banana plugs
  • Power conditioner -- APC Line-R LE1200

Amphion Argon1 Loudspeakers
Price: $1400 USD per pair; Walnut veneer, add $100/pair.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.

Amphion Loudspeakers Ltd.
Vitostie 1864
70800 Kuopio
Finland
Phone: +358 17-2882-100

Website: www.amphion.fi