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a AudioPhileDate Reviewed:
April 24, 2012Bottom Line:
I am not going to beat around the bush here, so if you don’t want to read all the way to the end of this review you don’t have to! Put simply, the Adagio’s are the finest loudspeaker that I’ve ever owned, period. And they are also one of the greatest values I know of in all of audio. I know that for most folks, the Adagio’s price of $4500/pair may seem high for something like speakers, but in the rarified air of audiophilia, they are a bargain like no other. Are there better speakers out there? I’m sure there are, and there are some that quite honestly I’ve heard personally that could go in that bucket, but almost all are at a price point that is many multiples that of the Adagio, some by order of magnitude. How much better some of those are, is debatable, as many afford minimal gains in performance for substantial cost. So better becomes a very relative term. Ultimately, I know of no other loudspeaker that possesses the Adagio’s level of performance for anywhere near the price.
I think that before commenting on almost any piece of gear, one needs to live with it for a while. I’ve had the Adagios in my system for well over a year now so I feel like I’ve come to know them extremely well, and considering how I’m usually itching to try different equipment, it’s kind of amazing how long I’ve had them. I believe that’s due to the speakers character, or maybe I should say lack of character, and how they reproduce musical signals. I think that’s really what I love more than anything else about them, their complete lack of adding or detracting much of anything from the sound they are fed. I have found them to be very consistent, coherent, and cohesive in their sound and they have an ability to make you forget you’re listening to an electronic “system” of any kind. They also have what is probably the lowest distortion of any speaker I’ve ever had, the most truthful timber, and outstanding dynamics both macro and micro even at lower volume levels.
The Adagio’s are designed and manufactured by Mr. Robert Lee, famous for his line of audiophile cables (lots of which I also own). The design utilizes a D’Appolito MTM array at the top of an approximately 49” tall, somewhat narrow cabinet, with sides that gracefully curve from the front to a narrower back to reduce reflective, parallel surfaces. The driver complement is two 6.5” mid/bass drivers on extended front panel plinths flanking a circular ribbon tweeter in a time aligned array. A large oval port for the system’s transmission line bass loading graces the bottom front near the floor. A single pair of high quality, five way binding posts can be found on the back panel and spikes are provided for coupling the substantial cabinet to the floor. The cabinet appears to be constructed of thick MDF and is finished in real wood veneers, which are quite gorgeous, especially at this price point.Internal bracing appears to be extensive. Claimed sensitivity is 89db/1W/1M and impedance is said to be nominally about 6 ohms, so they are relatively easy to drive (although I do not have a way of doing a full spectrum impedance curve, so I’ll take the manufacturer’s word for it). Crossover is a 3kHz/18db/octave (3rd order) Linkwitz Riley type. Construction is first rate all around.
My musical tastes are widely varied from classical to jazz to rock & pop, and I could care less about what is “audiophile acceptable”. Although I do own some of those audiophile approved selections, it’s what I enjoy listening to that counts and I really don’t give a rip whether any of it is acceptable to the prevailing audio cognoscenti. So with that in mind, I’ll make no apologies for some of my listening notes. One of the first things that became apparent to me with the Adagios is how natural and coherent they sound across the entire frequency spectrum and the ability that they have to make instruments sound like, well, instruments. Guitars sound like they should, drums have the impact and resonance they ought to posses, strings have the rosiny sound of the bow drawing across them, and horns have the timbral brightness as well as body you expect. In other words, things just sound right and natural. In listening to Mark Knopfler’s “One Take Radio Sessions”, you get the sensation of sitting in the studio itself as you can hear that certain rasp and harmonic body that a tube guitar amp creates. Eric Johnson’s “Bloom” has the warmth and broad tone spectrum that you hear from him if you get to see him and his band live. I love the Simon Rattle recording of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” because its finale is massive in scale and the Acoustic Zen’s have no challenges in reproducing it to an extent that it takes my breath away. There are few if any speakers that I’ve had the pleasure of owning that have ever been able to do this across the entire spectrum of my music library. It make little to no difference as to whether the source is analog, CD, SACD or a ripped file, the Adagios always perform. I’ve heard this type of smoothness and coherence before, especially from various panel type speakers like electrostatics and planar magnetics, but that’s usually at the expense of natural dynamic contrasts at differing volume levels. One of the things that I truly love about this speaker is that it sounds just as dynamic and realistic at low volumes as it does when playing at natural, and even unnatural, levels. To the former, listening to internet radio in the background while I’m working at my desk is exceptionally satisfying and to the latter, crank up a little ZZ Top and have some fun! This speaker has clout and can provide just about all the visceral impact you’d want. Listen to “The Bug” or “Heavy Fuel” from Dire Straits “On every Street”. “Heavy Fuel” has drum and guitar impacts that it should and will punch you square in the jaw, and “The Bug” propels you forward and forces your feet to tap whether you want to or not.
Truthfully, I find it difficult to describe the Adagios with some sort of “character” because they quite simply have none. They are a truthful transducer of the finest kind. It’s not just a matter of the middle registers sounding correct as they do in other speakers that are described as natural sounding either, but extended out into the frequency extremes as well. Cymbals and high strings have the sheen and crystalline clarity they should without being harsh or out of balance and the transmission line bass system displays power and body while at the same time being punchy and tight.
The Adagios throw an excellent soundstage that spreads beyond the outter edges of the speakers themselves, but not unnaturally so and they also have the ability to give you a perception of the depth of the venue as well so that what you hear is not just a flat picture but one that has appropriate dimensions to it. the DG/Archiv recording of Haydn's "The Creation" with the Gabrielli Consort & Players conducted by Paul McCreesh has the size and depth that it should with the players and chorus in the right places, and they stay firmly rooted and stable throughout.
Essentially, whatever the music demands, the Adagios deliver. Listening to the Speakers Corner vinyl reissue of the Verve release from Jimmy Smith & Wes Montgomery, “Jimmy & Wes; The Dynamic Duo” is simply stunning and I cannot get over how much the pure joy of this recording gets pumped into the room. The detail of Montgomery’s fingers plucking strings and the “click” of the keys of Smith’s organ are all there. But all that detail is not there in a clinical fashion; it’s part of how the music should sound and not some sort of antiseptic reproduction. The Adgio's appeals to the heart as well as the head and has the soul and life that music should while delivering it with honesty and accuracy.
Ultimately, a speaker for the music lover AND audiophile, if you can belive that. Hats off to a stunning acheivement by Mr Lee!
Used product for: More than 1 year
Duration Product Used: AudioPhile
Product model year: 2009
Reviews 1 - 1 (1 Reviews Total)
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