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February 2012
Superior Audio Equipment Review

World Premiere!
Jaton REAL A3 Loudspeaker
German technology wrapped in Chinese clothing.
Review By A. Colin Flood

 

Jaton REAL A3 Loudspeaker  This is my 16th, and most expensive, loudspeaker audition. My last loudspeaker review was the $2000 single-driver Supravox Carla towers (seen here). As I learned with the Carlas, such precise positioning opens up a vivid soundscape. There were only two problems with the Carlas. As single driver towers, the Carlas have wonderful mid-range, but they donít have treble or bass extension. Ok, make that three problems. I also thought they had lots of stiff competition at their $2000 price point.

At just over three feet high, the Jaton REAL A3 loudspeakers are $12,000 and appear squat and chunky. They are only a foot wide and about 1.5 feet deep. Yes, the best height for the tweeter is higher, just a little above the ear when seated.  So, the A3s are available with two-inch, deep black gloss platform bases. Jaton can also provide two-inch black cones to screw into the bottoms of either the platforms or the loudspeakers. They recommend using the cones to reduce vibration. The bases and cones can adjust the A3 tweeters to the height of typical tower loudspeakers (about 43" high) and therefore, the listenerís ear.

 

Enter Really Sweet Three-Way
The new REAL A3 speaker is Jatonís new flagship speaker. There are separate compartments inside the cabinet for high, mid and low range drivers. There is also an enclosed section for the crossover on the very bottom. There is some foam damping materials inside the entire cabinet. Since its foundation in 1986, Raimund Mundorfís German corporation garnered a solid reputation for large, expensive crossover and amplifier components. (Since before WW II, the Germans excel at metallurgy.) In addition to a 6.5" Mundorf mid-range driver, the Jaton REAL A3 loudspeaker also has a 10" Mundorf mid-range woofer. The key to the A3 sound however, is the Mundorf ribbon tweeter.

The 4" Air Motion Transformer (AMT) is a tweeter with a flat-face that costs as much as a common bookshelf speaker. Dr. Oskar Heil invented the AMT. ElectroStatic Sound used the AMT first, in 1970. Their four-sided omnidirectional pyramid put them on the audiophile map. Another company using a type of Heil AMT is Martin Logan (under the name Folded Motion Tweeter).

The AMT moves air using a folded sheet (made of polyethylene, polyester or polyimide), positioned in a high-intensity magnetic field. Along with the strong Neodymium magnets, the low mass diaphragm foil features high efficiency and fine microdynamics. It attains remarkably high sound pressure levels while maintaining a very low distortion ratio. The manufacturer claims "the AMT is "holographically" precise in its depth, clarity, and transparent music performance, incorporating a cylindrical wavefront constructed with painstaking craftsmanship."

 

Thweely Thweet Thweeter
With the Mundorf ribbon tweeter, the A3s extend up to 42 kHz! Logic tells me that such extension shouldnít be necessary. I have seen for myself that voice and musical notes have multiple harmonics extending both higher and lower in frequency. A single note extends down to 20 Hz and up to about 13 kHz. I havenít looked for evidence proving that super-tweeters improve the sound. Yet I have heard it.

First, with Axiom Audioís dual tweeter Millennia M80Ti (up to 22 kHz, +/-3dB for $1100!). Then, at AXPONA, with Acapella's High Violoncello II horns and their ion plasma tweeters (adjusted down to 40-kHz, for $80,500!). In either case, loudspeakers with extra-high end extension never fail to sound happy and sweet. Though I fired questions at George Cheng, Product Manager, as quickly as a tennis-ball machine, he fired them right back. He said the A3 is a big improvement over Jatonís first loudspeaker, the 803. (It is!) First, all components are changed to German Mundorf, including drivers, capacitors, coils and the inner wires. They "got the design reference from them and did some things."Jaton moved the crossover into an exclusive area at the bottom of the cabinet instead of the area behind the drivers as in the 803. Cheng expects "the German parts will have much longer life time [than] the parts inside the 803s.One thing that I know," he says, "is Mundorf ribbon can stand more popping noise than regular tweeter before breakdown."

Cheng says there are no special handling instructions for the tweeters, except to burn them in over a weekend. They do not need to be cleaned. And they don't wear out at all. "Once in a while," he says, "I still listen to my original O. Heil ESS AMT (1978) for sentimental reason, and they perform perfectly." If necessary, the ribbons be replaced easily and "within a minute." 

Yes, but can dirty (high distortion) power burn them out? "In all the years (since 2004), we had exactly 18 burned diaphragms out of many hundreds and, including all the very demanding Pro- and Car audio applications. As far as we've been told by our customers, in most cases the midrange drivers had been blown before the AMT was under a serious threat." 

Originally I thought my amplifiers were not enough to drive the A3s, so Jaton sent their new Operetta amplifier and pre-amplifiers. I reviewed the A3s with this amplifier, although it was the 803s that turned out to be the problem. Cheng thought the even more powerful amplifier coming from Jaton will provide even more of the low and mid-bass than the Operetta AP2300. Jaton will have a new 450-watt mono amplifier next year that is, he says, "better matching up amp for A3." He thought the AP2300 is better suited for the next loudspeaker lower in their line, the AV-803. Chung said he has "no bundle discount yet," for buying a complete Jaton system, but he is "open for requirement."

The A3 has a double set of posts to bi-wire them. There is a bridge blade on each speaker jack which shunts the mid-high and low drivers together, thus reducing nominal impedance to 4 Ohms. Cheng says which wiring method sounds better "really depend on few things, for example, the height of your listening zone. Yes, 4 Ohm will have more power than 8 Ohm. But 8 Ohm has more resolution to me."

 

Above Average Blues
When I review, I consciously listen to a variety of music including various Test Discs, reference recordings, etc. With the A3s in the same location as the Carlas, and using my tube amplifier with Jatonís Operetta A2300AX amplifier, I experienced the same semi-somatic bliss of audio nirvana as I did with the Carlas. It was this configuration, with tube amplifiers, that thrilled me. The combination was wonderful.

On the Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine grading scale, five Blue Notes "are the very best regardless of price." When it comes to sound quality, four Blue Notes is better than the average speaker that I have auditioned for Enjoy the Music.com. I really enjoyed the A3s and spread four Blue Notes all over their categories. The A3s are a far more complex and expensive speaker than the elegantly simple Carlas. They have a much wider frequency response and require a more powerful amplifier. Yet I see that I have slathered their report with Blues Notes also. So while the Blue Note rating usually appear at the end of a review, will post them here first and then the full review below that.

Tonality

Sub-bass (10 Hz - 60 Hz)

Mid-bass (60 Hz - 200 Hz)

Midrange (200 Hz - 3,000 Hz)

High-frequencies (3,000 Hz on up)

Attack

Decay

Inner Resolution

Soundscape width front

Soundscape width rear

Soundscape depth behind speakers

Soundscape extension into the room

Imaging

Fit and Finish

Self Noise

Value for the Money

 

Tonality
Although many of the same things said about the Carlasí mid-range could easily apply to the A3s, the fact of the matter is that the Mundorf tweeter colors everything. This doesnít mean it paints the mid-range sweet or bright. But unlike the warm, cotton-soft feel of single drivers like the Carlas and Omegas*, the tone of the A3s is a long-lasting polyester-blend. Over-all flatter, extended and accurate, its sound is more akin to the Axiom M80Tis than to the single-drivers.

 

Sub-bass (10Hz Ė 60Hz)
Of course, one would expect the deep, 30-Hz rated bottom of the full-range A3s to also effect tonality, but this is not the case. The 10" driver provides what is missing from the mid-range rather than adds to it. Cheng kept calling it a sub-woofer. Indeed, the 10" goes surprisingly low.

The A3s do have deep bass that can shake your seat. I didnít play with settings on my ACI Titan*. I barely used the sub. With the Operetta amplifier, special movie effects on the A3s surprised me, so much that this is one of the first amplifier/loudspeaker combinations that made me think that I may not need a sub-woofer.

 

Mid-bass (80Hz - 200Hz)
Crossing over at a surprisingly high 500-Hz, even the mid-bass is handled by the 10í woofer. The additional drivers extend the A3s response compared to the Carlas. The wider frequency range is within about 5dB, but the lower range seems smoother than the high frequency. On Dire Straitsí classic "The Man is Too Strong," not only did the biting crescendo have impact, but the mid-bass and the mid-range was full and deep. Where many combinations choked on this rasping guitar riff, the Operetta and A3 combo had no trouble isolating, separating and clearly articulating it from the other instruments. The A3 did not have the snappy bass of the CAR Cinemas Ensembles*, but I didnít miss it.

 

Midrange (200Hz - 3,000Hz)
The combo tempted me not only into late-night listening sessions, but also movie and other music watching. Where most systems skew your listening preferences towards their capabilities, the Jaton combo did not. Where small group ensembles thrive on lesser systems, the better a system becomes, the more competently it reproduces all kinds of music. The better the system, the wider your musical choices can evolve. The real value of a high-end system is not just better enjoyment of music, but competent respect for all sources. The Carlas are four-stars in many categories, but tweaking audiophiles may soon yearn for more capabilities.

You donít need above average loudspeakers for simple tasks like mid-range vocals at moderate volumes. You need them for the rumbling moan of tympani, sonic boom of kick-drums, POP of gun-shots, liquid quaver of piccolos and tingle of triangles. (See Our Reviewing Standards for frequency range chart.)

The Jaton combo didnít narrow my musical focus; it widened it. I moved joyously from disc to disc, streaming to movies, with nary a worry of weakness. Everything sounded good. Where the Carla mid-range felt like a spectacular mountain peak (their chart says no), the A3s was more of a wide plateau. Their flutes were more metal than warm sounding, their easy delivery of reed rasps on Getsí and Gilbertoís smooth Latin jazz classic was delicious. Their texture and details flowed over me like dark honey.

From 500 Hz to 4 kHz, the mid-range driver handles a good portion of the hyper-critical range. A sheer delight to hear, the A3 mid is clear, crisp and delicate. This was the first time I heard the nuances and details I love with my Big Ole Horns in my own abode. In my notes, I checked to see what wine I was drinking. This wonderful combo tempted me to listen, and drink, the whole bottle. Starting with Cassandra Wilson*, I strolled through many of my CDs again.

 

High frequencies (3,000Hz on up)
The Mundorf ribbon takes over at 4-kHz.Like many above average speakers, the A3 ribbon treble doesn't jump out at you with a splashy entrance. Neither looks nor sizzle grab your attention. They are smoother than the M80Tisí treble, replacing them as the best treble I have heard on cone loudspeakers. They donít sizzle, but they do crackle crisply. The A3s do not sound sharp or bright. Nothing is missing here either. A3 treble was not wearisome or tiresome. Most importantly, I never wished for a knob to dial it back either.

Neither can I describe A3 treble as sweet. There simply wasnít too much sugar in their tea. Instead, the A3 high-end feels right, balancedÖOK, neutral. It isnít overly sharp and bright, like a newly minted college student, but it isnít muted or rolled off either. Instead, the Mundorf tweeters feel competently suited to their task. They are merely there to fill in the high-range. And indeed they do. I will certainly pay more attention to ribbon tweeters from now on. I would love to hear these up against Acapella's 40-kHz plasma tweeters.

Brass instruments have bite, just not the "blat" or "blare" that the metal of my Big Ole Horns does so well. They donít have realistic ringing either. It is only because of these artifacts, which I crave, that I do not award the A3 treble with five Blue Notes as the best Iíve ever heard regardless of cost. I bet the huge crowd of cone lovers disagrees with me. It is easy to describe what the A3 Mundorf tweeter is not. It is not your typical retail off-the-shelf treble that drunk-punches unsuspecting consumers by claiming to be "quality audio." For 12 thousand smackers, it shouldnít be pedestrian either. So donít expect A3 treble to be: harsh, hard, clinical, sharp, jarring, jangling, screeching, or ringing like sirens. With the Mundorf tweeter, the A3 leaves those problems behind.

 

Attack
Perhaps it is their above average components, and resultant price, but here again, the A3 was better than most of the speakers Iíve auditioned. Not as fast as my uber-dynamic horns, but the front side of notes on the A3 was a fast and sharp incline.

 

Decay
The Operetta and A3 combo certainly sustain notes as long as anyone might wish. Some of this ability comes from solid bass response. With their amplifier, I found the A3s have no problem with sustaining notes.

 

Inner Resolution
Orchestras are enjoyable on the A3s, as is everything, even large numbers of instruments are clearly distinct and separated. Even without proper placement intially, it was obvious that articulation, separation and soundstage was excellent.

 

Soundscape Width Front, Rear, Depth & Extension
Probably because of my listening room (see Reviwersí Bio*), but none of the speakers auditioned here project sonic 3D holographs into the room. The A3s did not do this either. Yet soundstage is another area where the chunky boxes shine. Centered in my room, the A3s exhibited wonderful imaging and sound staging. But so did the Carlas. The A3 soundstage did not wrap around to the sides, as the Vince Christian E6c system* did, but that room was more enclosed.

The nitty-gritty though, was that the A3s could define not just where instruments were located in the spatial plane, but also the nuances, textures and details of instruments at the same time. Whether small rock group or large symphony orchestra, their soundstage was wide at the front and rear, deep at the back. Singer and musicians displayed in a realistic sound stage, just not forward, in front of the speakers.

 

Imaging
Although the singerís image is not forward of the speakers, when tubes and loudspeaker placement combine to create a 3D phantom, the illusion is incredible. It easily replicates the cozy cafe or intimate studio recording session that many tweaking audiophiles seek. The best angle for the A3s was a gentle toe-in. This nails the singer to middle of the soundstage. It creates an image with such realistic height and depth that it feels three-dimensional. Better than the Carlas in the completeness of their presentation, the A3s in this combination also brought the emotional thrill of music right into my living room. But the A3 image included deep and high range instruments the Carlas couldnít replicate. Picture a Princess Leia holograph, "help me, Obi-wan Kenobi," in my living room!

 

Fit and Finish
The cabinets are from a Chinese factory, though Jaton does some of the final work on the A3 loudspeakers here. There is but one kind of finish on the A3s, versus four choices on their 803 loudspeakers. I thought my A3s had a Rosewood tinge, which I loved, but Cheng said it was the walnut. He said they add the dark transparent high gloss paint on top of the existing veneer. Perhaps it was the angle of the sunlight, but I noticed their deep luster every time I walked by.

No other nits to pick. No complaints here. The "speaks" came as many do, doubled boxed in two inches of foam with a thin Styrofoam wrap. I think a plastic layer is a better moisture barrier.

The Mundorf speaker cable binding posts are huge! Big plastic wing-nuts. The largest of any loudspeaker I have auditioned. As a reviewer, constantly reaching behind to swap out cables, I loved the convenience. As an owner, you can "set 'em and forget 'em." My stiff Coincident rattlesnakes though have angled spade connectors. While the A3 wing-nuts held them easily in place, the blades did not lie flat. If I owned the A3s, I would want spade connectors with as much surface area as possible touching the binding post.

 

Self Noise
The A3s play night-club LOUD, without mashing the sounds together. Using a analog Radio Shack SPL meter, on slow C-weighted scale, they do not become harsh even in the 100 decibel range. The tweeters were quiet. I did not hear noticeable electrical, tape noise or CD hiss.

 

Value for the Money
Because the A3 came with their own amplifier, and the 803s did not sound good with my bass amplifier, plus Chung thought Jatonís new, larger amplifier would be even better, I did not audition the A3 with other amplifiers. With or without their own amplifier, the A3sí price point is a very real concern for miserly me. With a wallet big enough, I would modify my Big Ole Horns with new lens and crossovers or consider horns from Volti Audio. I might also go another ten and get Klipsch Palladiums*. Because of their price, I canít award yet another Blue Note for the A3s in this category.

 

Enjoyment
In my own category, Enjoyment, the A3s, with their companion amplifier, are indeed a fourth Blue Note -- above average. I was thrilled many by several aspects of their performance. The Jaton combination yields a surprisingly competent loudspeaker with endearing musical qualities. They are an enjoyable combination. I did not think multi-driver cones could perform as well as my tubes and horns do.

The A3s are my new reference for what cones can achieve. In late night sessions, with the smooth jazz I adore, the combination was jaw-dropping startlingly fantastic, as few Gifts Of The Gods systems can be. Most importantly, I enjoyed the music!  Jantonís REAL A3 speakerss have a chunky demeanor, solid construction, beautiful finish and excellent drivers. The manufacturer claims for holography, depth, clarity and transparent music performance stand verified. This, gentlemen, old stereo-farts, is what a wonderful stereo system is meant to do - induce the tipsy self-satisfied state of Rumple Minz shot with beer-back! In the proper configuration, the Jaton amplifier and A3 loudspeaker are a Blonde on Blonde superb combination.

 

Specifications
Type: Three way floorstanding loudspeaker
Driver Compliment: One each 4" Mundorf ribbon tweeter, 6.5" German midrange and 10Ē German woofer.
Efficiency: 89dB/W/m
Frequency Response: 30 Hz to 42 kHz
Handling Power: 70 Watts to 400 Watts
Impedance: 4 Ohm with single amplification, 8 Ohm via bi-amplification
Input Connection: Single or bi-wired with five-way binding posts
Finish: Real wood with ultra-high gloss dark Walnut lacquer
Dimensions: 45 x 15.75 x 15.5 (HxWxD in inches)
Weight: 140 lbs.
Price: $12,000 per pair

 

Company Information
Jaton Corporation USA
47677 Lakeview Blvd.
Fremont, CA 94538

Voice: (510) 933-8888 
Fax: (510) 933-8889
E-mail: sales_av@jaton.com
Website: www.jaton.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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