Honestly beautiful. Performance with our German Autobahn amps naturally had to invert Amphion's tag line of 'beautifully honest'. Unlike Anssi Hyvönen, I can't listen to masters at the very consoles where they were made. I can't claim 'truth' or 'honesty' or 'an open window on the recording' as some reviewers imagine they can. Without replicating Anssi's opportunities, such statements remain imaginary and hypothetical. Without visits to the original locales, with the actual masters not commercial versions on hand, all we can do is listen in our space and describe that. It will invoke comparisons and be informed by all our prior experience including a grasp on what our room and ancillary gear contribute. But basically, it reports on replay per se, on its own merit. It does not include recognition of compliance with, or deviation from, a fixed global reference or truth. That's just the usual review small print though it's worthwhile to mention on occasion.


That said and another truth told, I was frankly astonished by the bottom-up perspective which these four 6.5" mid/woofers plus four matching ABR generated from our potent amps. Regardless of track, if there was any recorded bass at all, it had just slightly more in-room power and weight than a purely 'flat' response would give. Perhaps because the passive radiators operate as the quasi half-way of a 2.5-way whose mid/woofers see augmentation in their low end via a secondary low-pass octaves below the main filter (even if here this secondary low-pass is purely mechanical), this quality didn't intrude on the clear lucidity of the mid and treble bands. Those were barely warmed up and just lightly enhanced on texture. They were quick, precise, articulate, spatially sorted and without audible signs of drag or ballast. They stayed clear of 'slow'. Yet the <160Hz registers behaved as though bigger-than-actual woofers moved not inconsequential air. With a headphone like the affordable Meze 99 Classic/Neo, such a bassier presentation is usually called fun. I did in their review. It's a slightly peculiar label for being both undeniably true—they are, hands down, massive fun—and for acting as underhanded qualifier. Attached to that is the unsaid 'but'. It's as though truth, fidelity and fun couldn't coexist; as though fun had to remain specific to more budgetarian plebeian efforts. If so, the implication is that the more we spend on hifi to presumably advance/refine its quality and ascend to high-end credibility, the more fun will be upgraded to (exchanged for?) high fidelity. But if it's no longer fun, what's the point?


That question the Argon7LS didn't ask. It simply was the answer. Home playback isn't about listening critically for a living. It's about persuasive entertainment and getting involved or carried away. If rather than powerful low bass, a bright forward lower treble were synonymous with groovy enticement and a physical/emotional response, don't you think club and dance music and their venues would be oriented accordingly? Relative to far pricier speaker examples I've heard and/or owned over the years to have an informal reference for what's possible, the Finns combined a high level of resolution, clarity and insight with that undeniable pleasure factor. It comes from powerful strong non-lumpy bass. It's about low registers which can kick and slap, which will growl and pummel, which can suggest subliminal dread, evoke primitive tribal feelings or simply enhance the spatial scale and realism of a musical scene. Shopping with just the eyes to take in small drivers, zero dedicated woofers and relatively compact dimensions in a perfectly non-exotic form factor, this tuning was arguably unexpected. But whether I cued up big Hans Zimmer-style drums by way of Jamshied Sharifi; the synth chicanery of Mercan Dede; the infrasonics of Mychael Danna's soundtrack to Kamasutra; or the freewheeling electric bass of soloing Patrick Chartol... the Argon7LS acted a lot more bass mature than looks let on. Yet their overall resolution was such to immediately parlay the differences between our Aqua Hifi Formula, COS Engineering D1 and Fore Audio DAISy1 converters. And let's face it, expensive DACs are more similar than different these days. Given the Finns' minorly bassy and sunny rather than Nordic disposition, I settled on our most lit-up 'silvery' rather than earthy COS DAC as my optimal source companion. Again, this was unexpected but plainly the case and thus, appropriate. At no time was I even secretly tempted to fire up our tall Zu Submission subwoofer. Nor did I look at the burly Pass Labs XA-30.8 class A amp to enhance body. And all that in the <2.5-metre nearfield to mock up a quasi 'pro' perspective without the egg cartons on the wall or the recording console in front of me.


Just honest? To get even closer to that pro polarity, I swapped in our nCore 500-based class D monos from Nord Acoustics, then fitted the Acoustic Imagery discrete opamps to their input buffers. Those were driven XLR-direct from the COS Engineering D1. In my previous review of Anssi's One18 pro monitor, he'd included their Amp100. That's an Anaview class D design which, in stereo and mono versions, Amphion sell to their pro clients. For those Anaviews, our Hypex/nCore monos were the closest stand-ins on hand. Not unexpectedly, they instantly dried out the sound across the bandwidth by applying far higher damping. That reduced the wonderfully elastic bass weight and power but in turn increased unwavering vise-grip control like a pit bull's lock jaw. Now I had what I might imagine pros call a neutral maximally resolved sound. Whilst I could appreciate the hear-everything exactitude and checkerboard sorting, I missed the textural generosity, the temporal pliancy and, yes, the fun bassiness. In short, my core conversion from home to pro had far less to do with speaker positioning and far more with my choice of amplification.


That said, the great lesson of recording-console conventions which we as home users fail to cash in on—it's entirely free—is positioning. Listening in the nearfield, with the speakers steeply toed in, has a number of benefits which also apply to the old Audio Physic setup routine championed by Joachim Gerhard. 1/ it takes more of the room out of the equation by maximizing direct sound and minimizing reflected sound. 2/ it's innately more enveloping to require lower SPL to 'make contact' and feel compelling. 3/ it reduces acoustic distance losses and, for the same SPL, increases low-level detail.


By habit, audiophiles create more distance between themselves and the sound. That now can't help but feel more over there than here. This disconnect causes the natural urge to increase loudness until the sound jumps across the distance with enough energy to tickle us. This greater distance allows far more of the room to intrude on the response. It also masks/blurs the finest signal with overhanging reverb. All of it requires larger rooms to begin with which often leads to larger more expensive speakers. Meanwhile better more convincing and higher-fidelity results could be achieved in a smaller room, by sitting closer and using smaller speakers. If nothing else, it's here where audiophiles could learn from the recording professionals who do this for a living every day. [Amphion pro monitors at left.]
 

This section's "just honest?" header deliberately had that question mark added. Without doubt, changing amplifiers altered the gestalt, milieu or feel of the presentation. But was it any less beautiful for it? Hearing everything so clearly, cleanly and unwaveringly sorted/separated was beautiful in itself. Ultimately the difference for me came down to the music feeling beautiful (LinnenberG amps) versus the act of hearing being even easier (Nord amps). The latter shifted beauty to the process of perception, thus away from that which was being perceived: action versus content if that's a distinction which makes sense to you. It seems fitting in that recording/mastering is process oriented whilst home listening—unless we mean to look the recording engineer over the shoulder—confronts the total result of the many process decisions to enjoy the artwork, not the mechanics of how it was made.