There are many famous audiophile designers who have become a type of 'Gold Standard' as it were for design and engineering. Think of Nelson Pass for amplification, Gordon Rankin for digital / triode tube, Andrew Jones for loudspeakers, John Curl amplification, etc., and add in Phil Jones for loudspeakers to the mix of legendary audio designers. Over the past few decades I've had the honor to meet each one, and dare I also mention Henry Kloss and others, yet let's stick with modern-day history. As I said before, we can add Phil Jones to the list of famous audio designer / engineers that have produced some of the most beloved and admired high fidelity audio designs of all time.
Who Is Phil Jones?
For over 45 years Phil Jones has enjoyed a glorious love affair with the electric bass. He first picked one up and began learning to play at the age of 13. It was the time of Jimi Hendrix and Motown. With money being a bit tight, Phil ran out of opportunities of borrowing and had no choice but to build his own instrument and sound equipment. He studied all he could about bass construction, amplifier electronics (including winding bass-guitar pickups on his Dad's gramophone) and how loudspeakers worked.
After graduating from college in electronics in the early 1970's, Phil enrolled into The Welsh College of Music & Drama in Cardiff, Wales. Fast-forwarding a bit, Phil Jones was playing in Rock, R&B and Jazz groups in bars, nightclubs, and did some studio work for the BBC TV company in order to pay for his music tuition. Being frustrated with his current gear's sound, which was never up to the sound that he envisioned, like many musicians he began the search for the elusive 'Holy Grail' of great bass tone. Phil learned about loudspeakers from a true pioneer of audio, the late Mr. Reginald Solomon who was a cinema sound engineer who worked most of his life for Western Electric. This led Phil to becoming a pro-sound engineer working first for Vitavox, a respected and old British Loudspeaker company that manufactured huge horn cinema speakers. After this, he started his own sound reinforcement company in London.
Eventually a gig with Acoustic Energy came along and his design later became the Acoustic Energy AE1, now considered a milestone in the evolution of hi-fi and also in the recording industry. Renowned recording label GRP used AE-1's and eventually the famed Abbey Road studios did too.
In 1990 Phil moved to USA and worked briefly for Boston Acoustics in New England designing their premier loudspeaker range, the Lynnfield series. As we already mentioned, in 1994 Phil founded Platinum Audio, which made high-end home hi-fi speakers and recording / mastering studio monitors. During that time period, Phil designed probably the world's most expensive and massive home loudspeaker system: the Air-Pulse that sold for $175,000 a pair! And right here is where Phil and my life really begin to intersect. I recall meeting Phil at his design studio in New England at this time and we both shared many musical passions. The large Air-Pulse horn-speaker appeared on magazine covers and was featured within show reports worldwide. The Japan Audio Society praised the Air-Pulse as the best loudspeaker ever developed in the 100-year history of loudspeakers! Ok, let that sink in a bit. The prestigious JAS considered his loudspeaker design to be the best... Cool, so you got that. Ok, so we're now at 1997-ish....
In 1998 Phil founded American Acoustic Development (AAD) which is the parent company of PJB (Phil Jones Bass) manufacturing bass amps and speaker cabinets.. Today, with a staff of over 150 employees within a 200,000-sq. ft. facility dedicated to designing, manufacturing and marketing of loudspeakers and amplifiers for home, Phil happily adds pro-audio gear too of course! All PJB products are made within Phil Jones' factory with pride and passion under his careful guidance. And today, Phil Jones is once again entering the home audio market with the AirPulse Model-1 active speakers.
In May 2005 Enjoy the Music.com assessed the Acoustic Energy AE1 Mk III loudspeaker where the late great reviewer Alvin Gold said, "This is a design that helps define what can be achieved from such compact dimensions just as its predecessor did almost 16 years ago." Phil also did work with TLG, and here's where you can see some of his genius in action. In 2007 John Gatski, a longtime and very well respected pro-audio reviewer, gave his assessment of the AAD 7001i monitor and said, "The AAD 7001i ($12K SRP) is a top-of-class small high-end speaker that speaks with accurate finesse, detail and can put out surprising amount of low bass for such a small bass drivers. Since this is my first exposure to AADs, I would like to hear the lower cost versions to see how they compare to the competition. This speaker shows what you can do at with higher price limits."
My point being, Phil has been hiding under the audiophile 'radar' for the past decade or so. It brings me joy to have Phil Jones producing a great, value-priced, and extremely flexible, powered monitor with DAC and Bluetooth. And so this (finally) brings us to the AirPulse Model-1 active speaker.
Phil Jones' AirPulse Model-1 includes his signature 5.5" Signature Woofer, which features a dual-layered hard anodized magnesium alloy cone combined with a large "underhung" (more expensive) edge-wound voice coil. A large neodymium motor provides a high magnetic flux that covers the entire voice coil resulting in 3x to 4x lower harmonic and inter‐modulation distortion than conventional "overhung" (less expensive) designs. The voice-coil is thermally coupled to the alloy woofer cone, which acts as a heat sink. This cleverly dissipates heat from building up in the voice-coil, reducing thermal compression. Phil's speakers play louder and cleaner for longer periods of time than conventional designs.
On A Personal Note
Back To The Design
AirPulse's Model-1 includes Bluetooth AptX 4.0 so you can stream from your smartphone or any Bluetooth enabled source. This means anything you want to hear from these devices can be played through the Model-1 speakers without a wired connection. In addition, unbalanced RCA and Balanced XLR analog inputs are included for those who desire a hardwired connection. The internal TI 24-bit/192kHz DAC can be employed via Optical or Coaxial inputs. The digital preamp includes Bass and Treble EQ. There's a wireless remote control so you can easily choose inputs, raise or lower/mute the volume, and turn the system on/off. All inputs are easily accessible from the rear control panel, which is made from black anodized aluminum and inset for a flush / elegant fit.
Amplification is via bi-amp'ing to ensure each driver gets the power it needs. There's a good 20 watts x 2 for the Ribbon tweeters and 70 watts x 2 Class D amplification to drive the midrange/woofer. Professional audio makes it way into the design as DSP for crossover and error correction play their part. 1" thick HDF cabinets with internal bracing and damping are quiet, no vibration or resonance to color the sound. Modern times, at times, require modern everything.
AirPulse recommends that the Model-1 is mounted at the proper height relative to a typical sitting / listening position, with them toe'd in and aimed straight at your sweet-spot listening ear-level location to minimize interference from reflections. "Equal arrival time from each channel at the "sweet-spot" listening position is an essential requirement for realistic, transparent stereo imaging. When done right, the speakers disappear and the musicians are spread out in front of you over a panorama, with precise placement of each voice and instrument" and I fully agree. Do not that the built-in amplification works great... to a point. AirPule's Model-1 will not crank out the tunes at ear-bleed levels, yet for normal listening there probably enough amplification headroom for most people.
If you need stands, AirPulse offers quite attractive optional Cherrywood stands that match the speakers. These stands seamlessly integrate to increase the aesthetic appeal with high-end sensibility. Of course the speaker can simply be used as bookshelf, desktop, or nearfield monitors for your digital audio workstation (DAW). AirPulse's Model-1 stands are made with 100% natural MDF material. Thickness of the bottom plate is 1", top plate is 0.75", and they weigh a hefty 33 lbs. You can feel free to sand /lead fill them to further increase the mass / rigidity. IMHO the stands themselves are a bargain at $200 the pair!
If there is something I cherish about Hi-Res Audio / Hi-Res Music, which I've not liked one bit as 320kbs mp3 or Apple 256kbs ACC, is that instrument layering we musical artists desire remains intact. Compressed music seems to eliminate more of the subtle layering of music/instruments than what I feel is appropriate. To get the best from AirPulse's Model-1 active monitor, you'll want to use online streaming services such as TIDAL, 2L, etc that deliver uncompressed hi-res music. Of course lossless FLAC files, balanced XLR hardwired input, or a great turntable rig are some of the finest sources to hear the best from loudspeakers like the Model One.
Having heard a wide variety of tweeter designs within my room, AirPulse's custom 3" ribbon tweeter is not only fast and clean as expected, it produces excellent imaging too. Upper frequencies never sounded aggressive or harsh, unless that's what's within the recording. Chimes and bells had a clarity easily rivaling that of designs 3x to 4x the price of the Model One active monitors. You can also easily hear musical instrument layering within recordings, and to the extent that louder instruments do not 'bury in the mix' those sounds that are not as 'up front' as the 'main' and/or 'lead' ones. Of course a fast tweeter needs to be mated to an equally as capable midrange/woofer driver.
It is easy to hear that Phil Jones' custom 5.5" bass driver is an achievement on its own. Everything from the majority of midrange to bass down to about 45 Hz, many crucial octaves, need to have speed and accuracy or course. This driver also must integrate with the ribbon tweeter, which any seasoned speaker designer can tell you takes quite a bit of talent to get spot on perfect. Here's where Phil knows this driver so well that you can 'hear' this man's decades of engineering in action.
Both female and male vocals are rendered cleanly, without being etched or rose-colored glasses augmented even-order harmonics. Furthermore, the ability to follow dynamics, both big and small, especially the small and micro while larger/louder instruments play atop them, are far beyond what I expected from this $995 per pair design. Orchestral music is especially revealing of how well the Airpulse Model-1 very easily unravel the many instruments within the whole. Small jazz ensembles are given life and breathe, as you can hear the small details as each musician plays off the other within the music. It is also nice to hear the space between them within the studio/mix. You get a great sense of the performance hall/studio space and how the musicians are placed within it.
While speed and clarity are AirPulse Model-1's strong suit, those who insist on the bottom octave of deep bass will need to add a powered subwoofer. We're talking physics here and there's only so much you can truly achieve with a 5.5" midrange/bass driver. IMHO, it is better to keep accuracy and less deep bass output versus gaining another octave or so of bass (yet with added distortion in trying to achieve those lower frequencies). Phil Jones does not design speakers to give that false sense of bass, as he prefers accuracy over editorializing. Thus listening to pop, rap, and modern music aurally demonstrated a lack of deep bass below 50Hz, yet as I said before, that is easily solved by adding a powered subwoofer. Room size plays a role, the Model-1 has very nice bass in small to medium rooms, especially in the near field.
There's without a doubt more to the magic of the Model-1 as imaging was outstanding! Many of us can agree a modestly-sized monitor has an advantage over big box designs due to the small footprint. This is why many point-source drivers are heralded for their ability to produce great imaging. The Model-1 goes a step further as you can hear instruments outside the speakers' outer edges! With certain high quality recordings, the soundscape extended further left of the left speaker and beyond the right for the right speaker. Here's where positioning and toe-in, with good room and overall system setup play key. Yet once you have everything set, especially when on stands, you get this solid 3D imaging and soundscape that may be elusive to all but the very best loudspeaker designs.
A Bit About Features
Also of note is that a hefty umbilical cord connects the right and left speakers. Typically these types of wire between the speakers seem to be a design afterthought, yet not with AirPulse. Here we have well-respected Transparent Audio wires and a special, highly durable connection between the right and left speakers. Sure the remote control is small and plastic, yet it is easy to see and use, even for a guy with 'old eyes' such as myself. All buttons are labeled clearly. Don't take that for granted, as over the years I've seen remotes so illegible that....
Before I forget to mention this, the optional $199 per pair ST-200 speaker stands are not just afterthought items. They are solid, can be sand / lead filled, and you can bolt the speakers directly to the stand for added overall system rigidity. They are made with thick MDF wood, yet constructed in such a way as to be extremely solid on their own. Add in some sand / lead and you have one heckova solid, non-resonant base. AirPulse's ST-200 stands are wrapped in textured black on most surfaces for a neutral look, yet have matching Cherrywood grain on the larger side surfaces. As a speaker/stand system, they look great together.
With a sound that mates accuracy with a wide and precise localization of instruments within the soundscape, AirPulse's Model-1 active speakers easily plays its part with high-end audio aspirations, yet at a down-to-Earth $995 price. Add in the bargain-priced $199 stands (lead / sand fillable!) and I'm at a loss to think of another stand-mounted powered speaker system that does so much, and offers this high a build quality, at this price level. With a generous free shipping and 60 day return privilege, there's no reason not to try these speakers within your home if you're seeking a mid-sized small monitor for your home or office. That you can use any streaming music service via Bluetooth or direct wired input adds to ease of use. Add in a turntable with phono stage if you'd like, as there are multiple inputs to choose from. If that's not convenient enough, there's also a remote control too!
The AirPulse Model-1 active speaker produces great sound, has many excellent features, plus is easy to use and priced right. If you love imaging specificity, these speakers are for you. If you love accuracy yet have a modest budget, these speakers are for you too. Those of you who read the entire review know the future of these speakers within my humble abode. As always, in the end what really matters is that you...
Enjoy the Music,
Steven R. Rochlin