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Reviewer: Jeff Day
Digital: Sony PlayStation 1 SCPH-1001 with Furutech G-320Ag-18F8 power cord, Esoteric UZ-1 universal player [in for review]
Preamplifiers: Leben RS-28CX [in for review]
Integrated amplifiers: Leben CS600 with Furutech G-320Ag-18 IEC power cord, Leben CS300X Limited, Almarro A205A Mk1 & Mk2
Amplifiers: Fi 2A3 monos, Leben CS-660P [in for review], Pass XA30.5 [in for review]
Speakers: Harbeth Super HL5 with 18" Skylan stands, Merrill Zigmahornets, ART Emotion Signature [this review]
Cables: Auditorium 23 speaker cable; various SilverFi interconnects & digital interfaces; White Lightning Moonshine DIY interconnects & speaker cables; Nirvana interconnects & speaker cables; Audio Tekne ARSP-500 speaker cables and ARC-500 interconnects [this review]
Stands: McKinnon Bellevue Symphony walnut media cabinet, Skylan isolation platform [in for review]
Room sizes: Room 1 - 20' L x 17' W x 17' H; Room 2 - 11' L x 11'W x 9' H
Review component retail: $18,850/pr; Audio Tekne ARSP-500 4-meter speaker cables $700/pr; Audio Tekne ARC-500 1-meter interconnects $300/pr.

The Loudspeaker ART
The Acoustic Reproduction Technology Loudspeakers company was founded by Derek and Ramsay Dunlop in 1998. They are the sons of Peter Dunlop who founded the well regarded Systemdek turntable line years ago. The Systemdek turntable design was certainly a good one and is still coveted by LP-spinning music lovers today. Audio Note UK currently manufactures a very nice version of the Systemdek under license, testament to the enduring musical prowess of Peter Dunlop's original Systemdek design.
One look at the ART Emotion Signature loudspeakers with their exquisite craftsmanship was all I needed to know that audio is a multi-generational passion with the Dunlop family. I had a nice telephone chat with Derek and asked him what it was like growing up in a HiFi family. Derek told me they had a lot of fun and that he and his brother Ramsay really enjoyed growing up and working with their father in the Systemdek business. Sadly, Peter Dunlop passed away just a few months
ago at age 81 while out playing golf. He will be greatly missed by all. I truly admire what a wonderful legacy Peter provided for his family, instilling in them a life-long love for music and audio, which is a wonderful heritage to have for sure.

I asked Derek how he and Ramsay got interested in designing loudspeakers and he repeated it was all about fun: "Turntables were fun but since CD has come along nicely, the loudspeaker is now where the real fun is to be had. Drive units have advanced dramaturgically, and with the quality of components available now, you can make really fine loudspeakers that wouldn't have been possible some years ago." Derek told me that he felt the SEAS Crescendo tweeter was a big advancement in tweeter design: "The SEAS people from Norway showed us a prototype of their Crescendo tweeter. It's a great design that can cross over at a very low 1.9K which is remarkable, and it allowed us to develop a 2-way design with a simple crossover that gives a lovely, natural full-range presentation."

The Scandinavian Electro Acoustic Systems Crescendo tweeter is an ultra-quality 29mm soft dome that uses a magnet system with six radially magnetized NdFeB magnet blocks said to provide efficient ventilation and damping behind the diaphragm. The tweeter dome with integrated surround has a 6mm front plate with moderate horn-loading for a sensitivity of 92.5dB. According to SEAS, "a generously underhung voice coil with flexible lead-out wires ensures low distortion even with low crossover frequencies. The central part of the horn is made from chrome-plated precision-machined brass. A substantial injection-moulded rear chamber made from zinc eliminates unwanted chamber wall resonances and conducts heat away from the magnet system. The rear chamber and the front plate are Nextel painted to obtain a durable and attractive finish."

The high-tech SEAS Crescendo tweeter with its low crossover point allowed Derek & Ramsay to pair it with a 10-inch SEAS mid/woofer to cover the rest of the frequency range and create a full-range loudspeaker from minimal parts. These drivers combined in their fine-tuned cabinet with a simple and ultra-quality crossover using Jensen coils and paper-in-oil caps and Kondo internal wiring resulted in a full-range loudspeaker with a simple and elegant design that performed remarkably well with high-quality and low-powered single-ended-triode (SET) amplification. Thus the ART Emotion Signature loudspeakers were born.

The ART Emotion Signature was the first in the Emotions series, but because of its use of ultra-quality components and cabinetry, it turned out to be quite expensive (UK £9000). Derek and Ramsay decided to offer a version of the speaker with the exact same drivers and cabinets, with good quality but less expensive crossover parts and wiring. They introduced the new ART Emotion at the much more affordable price of UK £5000. Then the brothers decided to see how far they could take their design in a no-holds-barred ultimate effort to build the absolute very best version of the speaker. This resulted in the ART Emotion Silver Signature, which uses Jensen pure silver foil Inductors and Jensen pure silver foil paper-in-oil type capacitors, Kondo KSL SPz silver internal wiring and pure silver conductor binding posts. There are over 5 kilograms of pure silver in the crossover alone.

Derek told me that you can upgrade your Emotions for just the price difference between models plus shipping. If you decide at a later time that you want to go for the more expensive model, your original investment is preserved. To upgrade, all you have to do is send your speakers back and they will perform all the upgrades, test your speakers to make sure everything is working perfectly, then return them to you. That's a really cool way to do business and takes the worry out of which model to select - a nice touch for the customer.

I asked Derek what music and HiFi gear he has been listening to lately over his speakers: "I listen to a wide variety of music at home. This last week I've been digging out my old Steely Dan albums and The Nightfly by Donald Fagen. I even downloaded the Chet Baker version of My Funny Valentine. I went to Warsaw, Poland for a HiFi show last week and the great thing was that people brought a lot of their own music so you get to hear a lot of great stuff that you don't know about. For equipment, I've been using a 300B SET amp, a Sudgen amp for solid state, various vinyl and CD sources and Kondo interconnects and speaker cables - I particularly like their silver ones."

The ART Emotion loudspeaker line has been getting a lot of good press in the UK lately and Derek is happy that word about them is getting out. He will be at CES in January at the Venetian with Yujean to expose more people to the ART Emotion magic. "People come from all over the world to CES so it's a very important show for getting to know people and to let them know what we're doing." I told Derek I'd stop in and visit. I've got my travel arrangements made and I'm looking forward to going. I haven't been to CES for a couple of years now so it should fun again.

You might be wondering who the Yujean mentioned above is. That would be Yujean Kang of Tangram Audio, the new US importer for ART loudspeakers. Yujean provided a pair of the exotic and stunningly beautiful ART Emotion Signature loudspeakers for my review which he imports from Scotland. Yujean is a true gentleman, friendly and polite, and has been a pleasure to work with during the review process. I told Derek that he was fortunate to have such a fine ambassador for ART loudspeakers in the US. Yujean also imports the premium brands of Acoustic Plan from Germany, Audio Tekne from Japan and Da Vinci Audio Labs from Switzerland, and you can check them out at his website. I'm looking forward to visiting with both Derek and Yujean while at CES this year.

The ART Emotion Signature Loudspeakers
The ART Emotion Signature is an ultra-high quality medium-large (42" H x 13.4" D x 13.4" W) two-way bottom-ported bass-reflex loudspeaker with integral stands. ART says that because the reflex port of the Emotion Signature is located on the bottom of the cabinet, the speakers can be placed close to walls without sound quality being compromised, which should please those listeners who want near-wall placement for domestic reasons. I did find that the Emotion Signatures worked just fine placed where I normally place my loudspeakers, about 36 inches out into the room, so speaker placement is apparently very flexible.

As I mentioned earlier, the driver complement for the Emotion Signature consists of a SEAS 1-inch soft dome Crescendo tweeter with a radial neodymium magnet assembly, and a SEAS 10-inch treated paper bass-mid driver with a 2-inch voice coil. The crossover uses Jensen copper foil inductors and Jensen copper foil paper-in-oil capacitors, all internal wiring is copper Kondo KSL SPC and the binding posts are WBT Platinum Signatures. Sensitivity is 90.5dB with an impedance of 8 ohms. A minimum amplifier power of 8 watts is recommended. The frequency response is claimed to be a full-range 24Hz - 25kHz ± 2dB.

The Emotion Signature cabinets are superbly crafted braced birch ply with hardwood trim. My review pair was finished in an extremely tasteful and beautifully book-matched walnut veneer top to bottom that matched my walnut McKinnon furniture to perfection. The Emotion Signatures are the most attractive and finely crafted loudspeakers I've ever had in my home and they exude a sense of hand-crafted quality that is second to none. Their build quality is the equal of my hand-made McKinnon furniture and that's saying something. The integral stands of the Emotion Signatures deserve special mention. They too are finished in the same attractive walnut and are permanently mounted to the bottom of the speakers. That's a really nice way to do stands as they match perfectly and due to their being integral, they're much easier to move around in the listening room than your usual stand-mounted loudspeakers. Every loudspeaker manufacturer who produces stand-mounted loudspeakers should take note of this superb integral stand design and emulate it - it's that good. The Emotion Signatures will also be offered with metal stands in the US but it's the classy and beautifully implemented integral wooden stands that light my fire.

My sound level pressure meter suffered sudden death a while back so I wasn't able to measure the ART Emotion Signature in combination with my Stereophile Test CD but after extended listening I'd say that the claimed frequency response of 24Hz - 25 kHz ± 2dB seems entirely reasonable. What sets the Emotion Signature apart from most loudspeakers is that in addition to the normal 2-way litheness you would expect, it's also a full-range heavy hitter that is sensitive enough to be powered by relatively low-powered single-ended-triode amplification - a rare combination of desirable traits indeed. Both my Fi 2A3 monos (3 watts) or the Shindo F2a Cortese review loaner (10 watts) had enough power to get the music jumping at the levels I listen at. My Leben CS-300X Limited integrated amplifier (EL84, 15 watts) and Leben CS600 (6L6GC, 32 watts) also drove the Emotion Signatures nicely and would be a good choice for those looking to create a low box-count ultra-quality system.

The performance of the Emotion Signatures remained consistent across differing amplification devices I had on hand - Shindo Monbrison & Cortese, the Leben RS28CX preamplifier & CS660P amplifier, the Leben RS28CX pre & Pass XA 30.5 amplifier, the Leben RS28CX pre & Fi 2A3 mono amps and the Leben CS600 & CS300X Limited integrated amplifiers. The Emotion Signature loudspeakers appear to be a very well designed and relatively non-finicky when it comes to amplification, leaving the choice largely to the owner's preferences. The colorful, warm and laid-back voicing of the Shindo Cortese was a particularly nice match with the neutrally voiced ART Emotion Signature loudspeakers and provided a smooth and natural-sounding presentation that would likely delight many listeners with hours of fatigue-free listening. Yujean particularly likes the combination of the ART Emotion Signatures with the Audio Tekne electronics, so you should give those a listen at CES if you have the opportunity.

While not being particularly fussy about amplification interactions, I did find the ART Emotion Signature speakers to be a bit fussy about cable choices if I didn't want to limit enjoying lesser quality recordings. For example, with the Shindo Cortese & Monbrison, the Shindo silver interconnects and Auditorium 23 speaker cables are voiced to provide a synergistic match and when mated with the Emotion Signature, allowed enjoyable music listening across a spectrum of recordings of varying quality. However, when used with the other amplification devices on hand, the Auditorium 23 & Shindo silver interconnects were too bright and edgy sounding with poorer recordings to be musically enjoyable (although the A23 and Shindo cables did manage to still be quite impressive on better recordings). So if you've got Shindo gear, stick with the Auditorium 23 and Shindo cables but you'll probably want to look elsewhere for cables with non-Shindo kit. I needed to use warmer-sounding copper cables for the greatest flexibility in enjoying less well-recorded music.

Yujean sent along a set of the Audio Tekne speaker cables and interconnects that he recommends as a good match. Mr. Kiyoaki Imai of Tokyo/Japan is the creative force behind Audio Tekne and has been crafting audio products for 25 years. Currently he offers a source-to-speakers line of HiFi gear as well as a number of accessories that can be used to fine tune the performance of a system. Mr. Imai's Audio Tekne ARSP-500 speaker cables and ARC-500 interconnects utilize 500-strand pure copper Litz wire with minimal insulation, small inductance and identical plus and minus geometry - all of which he insists is necessary for the most natural sound quality. The speaker cables are rather unique in that they include a separate ground wire from the cable shield that is supposed to be grounded to the speaker frame and amplifier. Mr. Kiyoaki Imai says there is about 1 volt of potential difference between speaker frame and amplifier and that by grounding them together through the cable shield, the S/N ratio improves for quieter backgrounds. The ART Emotion Signatures do not offer an extra ground point on the drivers so I used the ground on the amplifier end instead (see the Leben photo above for example). The interconnects are made identical to the speaker cables except without the additional ground wire.

What doesn't come through in the earlier photos as well as I would like is how beautifully made these cables are, both in appearance and quality of construction. Take for example the sheath enclosing the ultra-flexible conductors: it is a striking and finely-woven metal sheath that is an almost iridescent green and red for the left and right channels respectively. The interconnects are finished with a nicely contrasting gold finish with a flexible wire wrap that protects the conductors as they enter the RCA connectors - a high quality, technically adept and attractive implementation.

As you might expect, the Audio Tekne cables were indeed a very good match for the ART Emotion Signatures and better than anything else I had on hand. They provided a more natural and musical sound while maintaining the formidable sonic strengths of the loudspeakers. Yujean told me that when the ART Emotion Signatures are combined with Audio Tekne amplification and cables in his own system, the result is the most musically natural performance he has experienced from a hifi. I'd also say that at their prices, the Audio Tekne ARSP-500 4-meter speaker cables ($700) and Audio Tekne ARC-500 1-meter interconnects ($300) are a bargain from a cost-versus-performance perspective, performing at a level way above what their relatively modest price would suggest.