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Reviewer: John Potis
Analog Sources: Merrill-Scillia Research MS2 table, Hadcock GH Export arm, Ortofon Kontrapunkt H cartridge; 1985 AR turntable with Merrill mods/Hadcock GH Export Arm, Garrott Bros Optim FGS Cartridge
Digital Source: Accustic Arts Drive 1/Audio Aero Prima SE DAC
Preamp: Bel Canto Pre2P, McCormack MAP-1
Power Amp: Art Audio Carissa, Bel Canto e.One REF1000 Monos, Canary CA330 monos, Opera Audio Cyber 211 monos, Musical Fidelity A5 Integrated
Speakers: Tidal Audio Piano, Thiel CS 2.4, Ohm Acoustics Walsh 4 with 4.5 mk.2 upgrade, Hørning Perikles, Klipsch LaScala II
Speaker Cables, Interconnects and Digital cables: JPS Labs Superconductor 3
Power Cords: JPS Labs Power AC, Analog AC, Digital AC, Aluminata and Kaptovator
Powerline conditioning: Balanced Power Technology 3.5 Signature Plus with ZCable Cyclone Power Cord
Sundry accessories: Gingko Audio Mini-Clouds, Sound Mechanics Performance Platform, 2-inch Butcher Block platforms with Quest for Sound Isol-pads, Vibrapod Isolators and Cones, Ultra & Heavy ZSleeves, Viablue QTC spikes under speakers, Auric Illuminator
Room size: 12' by 16' with 9' ceiling
Review component retail: $3,500/pr; $250/pr for matching stands

One of the more highly accoladed speakers in recent years has been the Acoustic Zen Adagio reviewed, among other writers and publications, by Chip Stern for 6moons who fell hard for their considerable charms. I'd talked to Chip many times and at considerable length about the Adagios. I'd heard so much about them over the course of the last year and a half, I almost felt as though I'd already lived with the speakers. For almost as long, Chip's been nudging me to get my hands on their little brethren, the Adagio Jr. It wasn't until I finally got them into my room and playing music that I truly understood why. In at least one respect -- possibly two -- these are groundbreaking loudspeakers.

Speaker design isn't a new wrinkle for cable house Acoustic Zen. Actually, the Adagio and Adagio Jr. loudspeakers have been coming for about 10 years. It was that long ago, with Acoustic Zen a very small fledgling company still, that Robert Lee first started designing the speakers he wanted to bring to market. Their design came spontaneously as Lee saw them both as players in the expanding multichannel market. He also reasoned that the purchase of a pair of either the Seniors or Juniors would allow further expansion into multichannel at a later time. Hence it was of paramount importance that both speakers be cut from absolutely the same cloth. The two speakers must sound the same, with the only difference being bass extension. Unfortunately, building and moving large speakers is back-breaking work. A serious back injury forced Lee to sideline the entire project. Eventually Acoustic Zen housed enough employees for Lee to delve back into speaker design, delegating the heavy lifting to employees. To the delight of many who had already heard his designs, it was now time to enter the already overcrowded speaker market.

At $3,500 per pair, the Adagio Jr. falls at the upper end of what I consider the sweet spot of the stand-mounted speaker price/performance curve. While they are designed for stand-mounted use, there's nothing mini about the Adagio Jr. - or its performance. The Juniors stand 23 inches tall. When perched upon Acoustic Zen's stands, they tower 49" in the listening room, making them the tallest stand-mount speaker I've ever used. At 9" wide by 13" deep and 38lbs each, it'll take two hands to handle these whoppers. My review pair came in a gorgeous Burled Walnut veneer with a suitable satin finish. Acoustic Zen mounts their mid/woofers on satin black bezels which, to these eyes, blend beautifully with the dark Walnut cabinet for a rather unique appearance. Aesthetically, the Adagio Jr. avoids looking just like any other box speaker while it avoids garish glitz to boot. It's just large and unique enough to make a statement but it doesn't dominate the room or call undue attention to itself. Fit and finish are first class as well and even the woofer covers are finished in a fine weave cloth.

The matching stands raise the Adagio Jr. 26" off the floor and the top plate dimensions match those of the speakers - 9" x 13". The bottom plinth equipped with adjustable spikes measures 11.5 inches wide by almost 15.5 inches deep. With an electric screwdriver, the user will have the 5-piece stands assembled in a matter of mere minutes. They're solid and nicely finished in black satin. My only reservation was aesthetics. I wondered why the top plinth couldn't have been shaped to exactly match the curved sides of the Adagio Jr. And since the speakers stand 49 inches tall -- tall for a stand-mount -- I wondered why Acoustic Zen didn't follow the example of a speaker like the Merlin VSM, a two-way monitor mounted in a tallish box, the bottom half of which serves nothing more than to lift the speaker off the floor. My flawed assumption was that these stands were priced between $500 and $600 a pair. I reasoned that the money could have been better spent on a sand-fillable enclosure. When I realized that the stands were an exceedingly low-profit $250 concession to the buyer to become an extremely cost-effective solution to the challenge of bringing to customers a less costly alternative to the larger Adagio that would deliver the lion's share of its performance, these stands suddenly made a ton of sense. I was impressed by Acoustic Zen's commitment to servicing their customers. If you're wondering why my thoughts
ran in the direction of making a floorstander out of a stand-mount, you'll understand if you've already heard them. If not, I'll get to that momentarily.

The Jr. Adagio's cabinet is constructed of 1-inch MDF. Its tapered and curved cheeks are said to reduce internal standing waves and also redirect the rear wave of the drivers to minimize their direct reflections back through the cones. The Jr. Adagio sports a single pair of binding posts and the rest of the accoutrements are said to be identical to the larger and more expensive Adagio: same 6.5 -inch mid/woofers constructed from a fabric layer sandwiched between two skins of ceramic doping; same 1.8" circular ribbon tweeter with a shielded 3.5-oz high-flux, highly temperature-resistant magnet structure. The ribbon's diaphragm is said to be of less mass than the air in front of it, implying it's unusually responsive to the input signal and won't ring as a metal dome nor store energy.

While the ribbon tweeter may be what catches most people's eyes, much of the success of the Jr. Adagio will be owed to the unique and proprietary woofers manufactured in Germany for Acoustic Zen and only Acoustic Zen. Robert Lee didn't invent the underhung motor assembly, with several other notable companies such as Thiel and Wilson Audio
having championed them for years. Yet Acoustic Zen does have their own take on the subject, with drivers of their own design. Basically (no reason for eyes to glaze over on such an important yet simple concept), the voice coil is what propels the driver's diaphragm. It's a wire-wound bobbin at the 'throat' of the cone that moves positively or negatively (back and forth) in reaction to an alternating signal being applied to a magnetic field. Generally, a long voice coil moves through a fairly short magnetic gap. The coil ends routinely move outside the control envelope of the magnetic flux field. This can mean distortion. An underhung motor assembly places a shorter coil inside a longer magnetic field. Regardless of excursion, the coil will never move outside the magnetic gap's control force. The result is said to be less THD, greater transient speed, reduced overall bass distortion and increased detail.

As a two-way speaker, the 3-driver Jr. Adagio utilizes two 6.5-inch mid/woofers with 2.5-inch underhung 7-ounce rare earth Neodymium motor assemblies in a midrange-tweeter-midrange arrangement also referred to as a D'Appolito array. The woofers are mounted to the aforementioned bezels, creating physical time alignment as well as a thicker wave launch foundation due to the combined 1.5-inch stack of enclosure baffle plus added bezel.

Nominal impedance is said to be 6 ohms and sensitivity is 89dB at one watt, one meter - all in all, not that difficult to drive. The crossover hands over to the ribbon tweeter at 3kHz with a 3rd-order 18dB/octave slope. Acoustic Zen rates the Adagio Jr. as having a frequency response of 35Hz -25kHz ±3dB and a power handling of between 50 and 200 watts.

The only difference between the Adagio and the Adagio Jr. is the cabinet and bass loading then. While the larger Adagio runs a transmission line to maximize efficiency and bass extension, the smaller Adagio Jr. gets by with a simpler rear port system.

Fresh out of their shipping cartons, the Junior Adagios are impressive. Robert Lee suggests how they won't come
into their own for 100 hours but even factory fresh, these speakers need apologize for nothing. Lee promised to expedite a horn-type lens to attach to the speaker's face around the tweeter. It'll lift tweeter output by about 0.3dB. That doesn't
sound like much but a single decibel of tweeter lift can spell disaster with coherence and musicality. I'm quite taken already by the sweet treble balance. So many speakers with ribbon tweeters have a tendency for showy treble that turns into hardness and fatigue over time. This most certainly is not the case with the Jr. Adagios. Time will tell if the forthcoming mini lift is for me or not but hey, options are always good to have. In larger, more opulently furnished rooms with greater HF absorption, this boost could be a welcome addition.

One area where the Adagio Jr. seems to be breaking new ground is in the bass. With true bass extension to 35Hz, the Adagio Jr. competes with a lot of larger floorstanders and on paper at least, wins. In my room, these speakers are already delivering bass performance that will make the addition of a subwoofer not only an option but, depending on your listening habits, perhaps a hard-to-justify extravagance. Many stand-mounted speakers sound big because of a huge soundstage. These Acoustic Zen monitors sound like big speakers, period. They generate deep, propulsive bass that is both generously textured and detailed. With two Genesis Advanced Technologies G928 subwoofers in-house for review, it seems like sacrilege to even consider adding them to the Juniors. This is so not what I expected. With the Juniors and the right kind of music and SPLs, things can combine for a cardiac massage. Which leads me to another thing these speakers can do exceptionally well - play loud.