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- Written by Philip Beaudette Philip Beaudette
- Category: Full-Length Equipment Reviews Full-Length Equipment Reviews
- Created: 01 March 2014 01 March 2014
Note: Measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.
Not only is the Argon7L the third speaker I’ve reviewed from Finnish manufacturer Amphion, it’s the third to bear the name Argon. Readers with a background in chemistry will know that argon is one of the six noble or inert gases found on the right side of the periodic table of elements. Under standard conditions of temperature and pressure (i.e., 273° Kelvin, 0 atmospheres), these gases share similar physical properties (all are colorless and odorless) and an important chemical property: their low reactivity.
What does this have to do with loudspeakers? Not much, perhaps -- but given that the terms colorless and odorless are, in the context of sound reproduction, very close in meaning to another adjective, neutral; and considering that “low reactivity” could be taken to mean “stability,” in the sense of being disinclined to become anything else, one might assume that Amphion has given this line of speakers the name Argon to indicate their sonic character. A bit of a stretch, maybe, but based on my experience of Amphion Argon speakers, it seems plausible.
The floorstanding Argon7L ($6000 USD per pair) is one of the tallest and most striking loudspeakers to have graced my listening room. This is because the review pair, and their pedestals, waveguides, and metal grilles, came finished entirely in white. The front wall of my listening room is painted Amalfi Red, a dark tone that created a stark contrast with the speakers and made them all the more prominent. The fact that each Argon7L is just under 4’ high made the pair of them even more conspicuous -- everyone who saw them seemed compelled to comment on their appearance. Those who’ve read my review of the Argon3L know that I admire the clean lines and minimalist design of the Amphion aesthetic, and though I previously thought I’d never own a pair of white speakers, the Argon7Ls have changed my thinking. I can only imagine how much better still they might look in a room with more modern décor. The 7L comes in two other painted finishes: standard white (with black pedestal and waveguide) and black, as well as real-wood veneers of birch, cherry, and walnut.
The 7L measures 45.25”H x 7.5”W x 11.9”D. The combination of this height, narrow width, and shallow depth gives it a slim profile whether viewed head-on or from the side -- the speakers didn’t feel as obtrusive as some I’ve had here. The two 6.5” woofers are crossed over at 1.6kHz to the 1” titanium-dome tweeter positioned vertically between them (all drivers made by SEAS). The crossover frequency is kept low to get it out of the midrange (2-5kHz), where human hearing is most sensitive, and where anything less than a seamless transition between drivers could degrade the sound.
The tweeter is mounted at the bottom of a deep, conical waveguide, which increases its efficiency -- the waveguide’s entire surface radiates sound -- and makes feasible the low crossover frequency. The waveguide also helps to control the tweeter’s dispersion, to improve the transition between it and the woofers.
The 7L is a two-way design -- both woofers cover the same frequency range, from 1.6kHz down. With a claimed frequency response of 28Hz-30kHz, ±3dB, the 7L should need no help from a subwoofer.
Amphion recommends 10-150W to power the 7L, which seems reasonable, given its claimed sensitivity of 93dB. Only a few watts are needed to play them at high volumes -- Amphion even suggests partnering them with lower-powered tube or class-A amplifiers. However, the 7L has a nominal impedance of 4 ohms -- although you won’t need many watts to get them singing, you will need an amp with a decent power supply that can produce lots of current. Power is fed to the 7L through a single pair of binding posts that are unique in my experience. The posts themselves don’t protrude much from the cabinet, but are surrounded by plastic cylinders that are screwed down against spade lugs (if you use them). Although plastic might sound cheap, these cylinders didn’t feel cheap, and should perform as well as more conventional posts.
Each 7L weighs 66 pounds and, like other members of the Argon family, is solidly constructed. The pedestal is slightly wider than the speaker’s base, to make it less likely to tip over. The four little spikes that screw into the underside of the pedestal are barely visible. If your room isn’t carpeted, these spikes sit atop small metal cups so you won’t scratch your hardwood or laminate floors. As nice as this looks, it’s difficult for one person to position a 66-pound speaker with its spikes in the cups. I wish Amphion would include some sort of rubber-coated metal peg that could be used in lieu of the spikes; that would negate the need for the cups altogether for those, such as I, who regularly move speakers in and out of a system but who don’t always have a second pair of hands to help.
I connected the Argon7Ls to a Bryston B100 SST integrated amplifier using AudioQuest Type 4 speaker cables. An NAD C 565BEE CD player served as a transport for a Bryston BDA-2 DAC linked through an i2Digital X-60 digital coaxial cable, while a MacBook computer running Audirvana software provided the DAC with digital content via an AudioQuest Forest USB cable. The DAC was linked to the Bryston B100 with Kimber Kable Tonik interconnects. A Thorens TD-160HD turntable with Rega RB250 tonearm and Dynavector DV-10X5 high-output moving-coil cartridge played LPs, and all electronics were plugged into an ExactPower EP15A power conditioner-regenerator.
It didn’t take me long to realize that the 7L is cut from the same sonic cloth as its Argon siblings. It possessed all the Amphion trademarks: a top-to-bottom transparency that combines a clean, detailed sound with a full bottom end. Like the other Amphion speakers I’ve heard, the 7L made it easy to hear what’s going on in a recording without imprinting the music with much character of its own. And similar to the smaller Argons, the 7Ls could play plenty loud -- their substantial output is better suited to a room of medium or large size, where their ample low end won’t overload the space.
Their total of four 6.5” drivers allowed the Argon7Ls to dig deep, producing bass that managed to rattle the windows during one of my more boisterous listening sessions. I’d turned up the volume while playing “Guild,” from Earl Sweatshirt’s Doris (CD, Columbia 88883 75170 2), a track that features a rumbling bass note that blooms into the room. Do I want my windows to rattle when I listen to music? No; it spoke more of my need for a bigger listening space than of any deficiency in the Argon7L. If you have a smaller to midsize room, you might want to consider the Argon3L.
Although their low-end output was at the upper limit of what my room can handle, the Argon7Ls weren’t brutes. Despite my rattled windows, they never sounded sloppy or fat; rather, their energy in the low frequencies was disciplined and dexterous, with a speed that made their bass sound tight and nuanced. For those who want a clean low end but don’t want to sacrifice the power of a full orchestra, the explosiveness of a rock show, or pounding hip-hop beats, the 7Ls delivered all of those. What’s more, they maintained their composure even at uncomfortably high volumes. Although most of us probably don’t play our music at obscene levels, it’s nice to know that, when you feel like letting loose, your speakers can handle it.
As fun as such rowdiness was, the Argon7L was equally enjoyable at lower volumes -- the sound was very transparent, and I could easily hear into the music. Amphion has consistently produced some of the cleanest-sounding speakers I’ve heard, and they have again in the 7L. From the lowest frequencies to the highest, the Argon7L sounded fast and precise, making the leading edges of notes, such as the twang of a mandolin, resonate clearly, and thus giving instruments a tangible sense of presence and vitality. Furthermore, music played through the 7Ls seemed as if set against a black backdrop, making lower-level detail more clearly audible; for example, the decay of notes from a Bösendorfer piano seemed to linger a touch longer through the Amphions before disappearing altogether.
The Argon7L’s high resolution made listening to denser musical passages a pleasure. XO, arguably Elliott Smith’s best-sounding album (CD, DreamWorks DRMSD-50048), features more complex musical arrangements and production than some of his earlier work. There’s a lot happening in some of these tracks, particularly with the strings, and the 7Ls were adept at keeping things distinct and well delineated across the front of the room. They were capable of unraveling a recording and laying it bare for me to hear, but sounded so coherent and musical that I never felt they were sonic scalpels dissecting each track to the point of distraction. Instead, their sound was highly cohesive, with an involving character that simply let me enjoy music without feeling the need to nitpick and look for flaws.
Recently, I’ve been listening to Portishead’s Third (CD, Mercury 0251766400). When the album was issued, in 2008, it had been 11 years since the band’s last studio album, Portishead, but here they sound as if they haven’t missed a step -- Third retains their dark, atmospheric trip-hop ambience, and its indisputable focal point: Beth Gibbons’s sublime, sometimes haunting singing. When I put this CD in the tray, I’d planned to merely check out a few tracks; instead, I wound up listening to the entire 49-minute album, so captivating was its sound through the Argon7Ls. The Amphions reproduced a deep, often cavernous soundstage within which voices and instruments were sharply outlined, their individual sounds and their relationships to one another presented with amazing lucidity.
I enjoyed listening to Third so much on CD that I then played side 2 of the vinyl edition, and quickly realized that the Argon7Ls did a great job of extolling the virtues of both mediums. Most of the time I listen to music from CDs, or files on a hard drive -- it requires less effort than playing LPs. But when I placed Third on the platter and dropped the needle in the lead-in groove of “Deep Water,” the 7Ls reminded me of why I bought a turntable in the first place. The ukulele still sounded pretty incisive (though it lacked the precision of the CD version), but now it emerged from a warmer backdrop, with its reproduction sounding fuller than its digital counterpart. Likewise, Gibbons’s voice was sharper from CD, more rounded on LP. During the time the 7Ls were here, I found myself listening to a lot of vinyl -- the 7Ls’ superb clarity made it possible to still hear a high level of detail from well-recorded music, while offering the slightly warmer sound that is synonymous with analog.
Although Amphion claims that the “Argon7L has ruler flat response,” I suspect that it doesn’t -- a “ruler-flat” response is very rare. We’ll see how the measurements look when they’re published alongside this review. Regardless, I found the 7L pretty faithful to the signal it received; it did a good job of revealing differences in recording quality between albums and within the same album. An example of the latter was Mazzy Star’s She Hangs Brightly (CD, Capitol CDP 7 96508 2). This disc’s sound quality is inconsistent, to say the least. Some tracks have a semblance of depth, artificial or otherwise, such as the reverb-laden “I’m Sailin’,” while the title track’s stage also manages to sound a bit bigger, extending slightly past the outer edges of the speakers. However, the drum kit in “Halah” and the guitars in “Blue Flower” are flat, almost two-dimensional in character, making them a bit lifeless. The Argon7Ls were disinterested in their portrayals of such things, doing a good job of doing nothing to add to or detract from the music. This was also true of “Past the Mission,” from Tori Amos’s Under the Pink (CD, Atlantic 82567). I listened to this song because I wanted to know if the 7L’s squeaky-clean character would make it possible to hear Trent Reznor’s backing vocals more clearly. No dice. Buried under Amos’s voice, Reznor’s is subtle -- not even the 7L’s clarity could bring it more to the fore. Even when I would have preferred a bit of spotlighting, the Argons wouldn’t indulge me.
I compared the Argon7L with Amphion’s smaller floorstander, the Argon3L ($3995/pair), which has been my reference speaker for over two years. The 7L and 3L use SEAS drivers of the same size, except that the 3L has only a single 6.5” woofer to the 7L’s pair. The 3L is 7.5” shorter than the 7L, but otherwise has the same dimensions.
As alluded to earlier, the Argon7L’s sound bore a strong family resemblance to those of the Argon3 and Argon3L. Its clarity, from the bass through the midrange and into the highs, was characteristic of the Amphion sound, as were its precision and speed. Both the 3L and 7L responded well to being played loudly, maintaining their composure and clean, open sound.
Of course, there were differences -- to be expected, if only because of the speakers’ different sizes. While the 3L can handle power and sound big, the 7L, with a taller cabinet and one more woofer, sounded bigger still. What I didn’t expect was how much the two models’ sounds diverged in the deepest bass. With Earl Sweatshirt’s “Guild,” the 3L portrayed a fatter bottom end than the 7L, which sounded tighter in comparison. In absolute terms, the 7L still played deeper and was capable of moving more air, whereas the 3L sounded a touch looser. I enjoyed this track through both pairs of speakers, but I suspect the 7Ls’ reproduction of it was more accurate -- they’re designed to play lower and with more volume at those frequencies, whereas the 3Ls reached their extension limits. More than any other variable, the size of the listening room is likely to be the basis on which the buyer will choose between the two models.
Amphion’s Argon7L appeals to my desire for a clean, detailed, transparent speaker that can produce solid bass, and that retains all of these qualities at high volumes. Their sense of coherence, and their ability to create a large, well-delineated soundstage, were as good as any I’ve heard in my listening room. Combined with its modern, minimalist appearance and solid build quality, the Argon7L ticks all the right boxes for me. Like the Argon3 bookshelf and the Argon3L floorstander before it, the Argon7L is an easy recommendation.
. . . Philip Beaudette
- Speakers -- Amphion Argon3L, PSB Platinum M2
- Integrated amplifier -- Bryston B100 SST
- Sources -- NAD C 542 CD player; Thorens TD-160HD turntable, Rega RB250 tonearm, Dynavector DV-10X5 high-output moving-coil cartridge
- Speaker cables -- AudioQuest Type 4
- Interconnects -- AudioQuest Copperhead, AMX Optimum AVC 31 coaxial
- Power conditioner -- ExactPower EP15A
Amphion Argon7L Loudspeakers
Price: $6000 USD per pair.
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
Amphion Loudspeakers Ltd.
P.O. Box 6
Phone: +358 17-2882-100
Fax: +358 17-2882-111