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November 2011
Superior Audio Equipment Review

ADAM Audio Columns Mk. 3 Floorstanders
Highly revealing and extremely musically coherent speakers.
Review By Rick Jensen

 

ADAM Audio Columns Mk. 3 Floorstanding Loudspeakers  ADAM Audio is a speaker company that is likely new to most North American audiophiles. Based in Berlin, Germany, ADAM has been producing speakers for the professional market since 1999. Founded by a physicist, Klaus Heinz, and a partner, the company was called ADAM for its Advance Dynamic Audio Monitors.

Heinz, who is the CEO of ADAM, had started in speaker design almost two decades earlier as a result of discussions with Dr. Oskar Heil, inventor of the Air Motion Transformer. Those of us old enough to have watched the first moon landing may remember the ESS AMT-1, which around forty years ago was the first speaker to use Dr. Heil's unusual tweeter. I remember the AMT, versions of which are being produced today, as being very fast and sweet, indeed far faster than the other drivers in the original speaker. A number of manufacturers have either used the AMT driver or produced modifications of the original design. Over time, Klaus Heinz’ elaborations of that design has been further refined. ADAM's original version is called the ART, for its use of "Accelerating Ribbon Technology". The newest version is called the X-ART.

ADAM produce three principal ranges of speakers for the home audio market using the ART tweeter, as well as a no-holds-barred version called Olympus. The Column Mk3, the subject of this review, is at the head of the Classic (Mk 3) series, which include ADAM’s most popular speakers.

 

Setup
The Columns are available either active (powered) or passive (without amplification). The pair I auditioned was conventional, and thus powered by my Music Reference amplifier. The Columns are medium-sized floorstanders, with a pleasingly narrow aspect that would fit well into most home environments. They measure 47.5 x 9 x 12 (HxWxD in inches) and weigh just under 70 lbs. each. My pair was finished in a high-gloss black and the quality of the finish was impeccable. They arrived very well-packed and well-protected without requiring crates that could be moved only by a powerlifter. As with most speakers, you need to take some care in removing them from the boxes, but there is little chance of a mishap if you take your time. The speakers stand on some very fine supplied spikes, which add a couple of inches to the height. I found the spikes as easy to install and adjust as any I have had – I did it once and they were quite stable.

ADAM Audio Columns Mk. 3 FloorstandersI had one quibble with the physical design, and that concerns the terminals on the rear panel. The Columns allow for bi-wiring and consequently have a jumper between the two sets of L-R posts. I did not bi-wire and had some difficulty attaching the spade lugs on the various cables I used (Goertz AG-3, Kimber Select, Transparent Reference, and an unnamed custom cable). It may be that other lugs would work better, or that I was just not smart enough to figure out the sequence for attaching everything securely. For me, the jumper kept getting in the way of the best position for the lugs. This was only a minor annoyance, but if you plan to switch out the speaker cables frequently, you will want to find connectors (perhaps some high-end banana plugs) that are easy to attach.

Roger Fortier, the VP of ADAM Audio USA, delivered and helped with the setup of the Columns. He advised that, unlike many speakers, the Columns are designed to be toed in so that the drivers are pointing pretty much directly at the listening position. I set them about 7 to 8 feet away from my seat, well out (by necessity) from the rear and side walls. I wound up going with Roger's recommendation on toe-in after some brief experimentation and then began listening.

 

Technical Data
The ADAM website describes in great detail the design of the tweeter, in particular. It is well worth going to the site for a comprehensive explanation. Very briefly, the X-ART membrane, much like the original AMT, consists of a pleated diaphragm in which the folds compress or expand according to the audio signal applied to them. Air is drawn in and squeezed out, like the bellows of an accordion. The X-ART diaphragm compresses and forces the air faster in or out of its folds than (a) conventional drivers and (b) the folds are moving themselves. The goal of the increased speed is increased clarity and transient reproduction.

In addition, the X-ART tweeter's pleated membrane avoids the typical breakup/distortion and subsequent dynamic limiting at higher frequencies of stiffer voice coil designs, such as those found in dome and cone tweeters. Another positive result of the X-ART design is that the driving "stripes" are in direct contact with the outer air and are cooled immediately. It is worth noting that all of the tweeters are made in house, and are unique to ADAM Audio.

The change in the X-ART driver is said to derive from the folding of the X-ART diaphragm into the third dimension. In this way a larger foil can be used, to increase the acoustically effective area of the diaphragm. Relative to the earlier versions of the AMT, the result is higher dynamic output and wider dispersion. I myself remember the limitations of dispersion in the original ESS speaker. But they were at least in part offset by the sweet extended treble.

In addition, the latest version of the Columns uses new drivers for the bass and lower midrange that are the same as those in the high-end Tensor range. The choice is active or passive. ADAM's opinion, per Roger Fortier, is that the active speakers sound much closer to what the recording engineers and artist hear in the studio, since the active speaker has dedicated amps for each driver with the crossover done in the active domain. On the other hand, the listener is free to use any amplifier desired via the passive design, and such an arrangement may meet the listener's needs more precisely.

 

Let There Be Light
Almost from the first seconds, the Columns painted a picture of great clarity, as though each sound was highlighted. My initial impression was that the overall balance was a little bit light. Not bright, but (was I listening "for" the speed of the tweeter?) the mids and highs just didn't seem completely balanced by the lower registers. The first cut I listened to was "Private Investigations" from Love Over Gold. I had just heard it at AXPONA in New York on the Revel Salon 2s, where it sounded terrific. I thought it was lighter and even faster on the Columns, though maybe without some of the weight I had heard on the Revels. The slow guitar picking had an eerie presence, a real you-are-there feel, though I wondered if there was enough foundation to complement the airy highs.

I moved to "Telegraph Road", a much louder, fuller cut. All the precision remained, with the speed of the piano notes a pleasant surprise, but I again thought the bottom notes lacked some heft.

Something unamplified was required. I put on "Lady Be Good" from Jazz at the Pawnshop (OK, laugh at me now, but it is a fine recording…).  The club noise, the glasses clinking – never better; you are really in the club. The sax solo comes through utterly without strain and with the greatest ease, and I noted the vibes were "almost perfect". Granted, the Swedish jazz does not contain a lot of bass information at all. That said, the consistent impression coming from the Columns was one of precision, detail, harmonic accuracy, and a little lack of weight.

Needing to check my benchmarks, I switched out the Columns and put my own speakers (Ars Aures Midi Sensorials – over twice the price of the Columns), into the system. Immediately we heard a loss of transparency in the highs – not dramatic, but noticeable to all in the room. There is no doubt that the X-ART tweeter is as fast as advertised, and as comparably fast as I remember the original AMT. At the same time, the Midis were "richer" and seemed more balanced through the whole of the musical range. Again, the price difference doesn't make this a fair comparison – and that is not the point. What the Columns really did was to cause me to question my baseline notions of what sounded "right" and "true" from the upper midrange on up. And it is not only from the upper midrange on up, although the highs contribute so notably to the impression of transparency. From top to bottom, the Columns are exceedingly clear; they make many other dynamic speakers sound sluggish in comparison.

Further listening tended to confirm my initial impressions. On "Chuck E's in Love", Rickie Lee Jones' voice was young and fresh via the Columns. With my own speakers she had more substance, but sounded a little shaded, with less snap. From the same era, Steve Forbert's debut album, Alive on Arrival, tended to the bright side (which it is, albeit well-recorded) but was as dynamic as I have ever heard it. Donald Fagen's The Nightfly had a see-through quality, with each instrument placed just so across the stage. At the same time, the lower midrange seemed a bit overshadowed by the highs, as though it had moved to the back of the hall. His voice, just like female voices, emerged without any extra adornment or baggage, as natural as if he were standing next to you.

Roger Fortier had suggested, based on his experience, that my Nordost SPM Reference interconnects might not be an ideal partner for the Columns and that I might want to try another cable. I did change to both the Goertz TQ-2s and older Transparent Reference cables. Both cables added a little weight without any loss of clarity and seemed to reduce a very faint nasal tinge I had noticed on female voices.

One additional note that underlines just how revealing these speakers are: pitch variation and warps were very clearly audible, whereas usually those defects do not bother me much at all.

 

Blue Sky
The Columns are startlingly transparent speakers, with a speed that is unusual for a unit that is mostly dynamic – the big exception being that X-ART tweeter. They caused me to recalibrate my idea of what sounds right. I still believe that, compared to speakers costing much more, the Columns in passive form give up the last ounce of bass extension. At their price of $7000, they are a bargain due to representing a window on "truth" in reproduced sound that is usually reserved to all-out assaults on the state of the art at far higher pricing. Anyone interested in the Columns might do well to listen to the active version, where the amplifier is optimized to the speaker. In either case, paired with components that are both suitably revealing and musically coherent, the Columns can be counted among the excellent choices in a very competitive category. One wonders just how good ADAM's more ambitious speakers can be – I can't wait to hear them.

 

Further Notes
ADAM Audio's web site is most informative, thorough, and well-organized. In addition, if name dropping impresses you, the list of professional studios, engineers, and musicians who use ADAM equipment is truly impressive.

 

 

Specifications
Type: Reference four driver loudspeaker
Tweeter: X-ART with a velocity transform ratio 4:1 and diaphragm weight of 0.17 grams
Midrange X-ART with a velocity transform ratio 3.5:1 and diaphragm weight of 0.7 grams
Woofer: two 7.5" HexaCone
Frequency Response: 33 Hz to 50 kHz 
Crossover frequencies: 150 / 800 / 2800 Hz 
Impedance: 4 Ohm 
Power handling: 200 W / 300 W 
Efficiency: ≥90dB/W/m
Weight: 70.5 lbs.
Dimensions: 47.5 x 9 x 12 (HxWxD in inches)
Warranty: 10 years 
Price: $7,000 per pair passive as reviewed ($10,000 per pair active/amplified)

 

Company Information
ADAM Audio GmbH
Ederstr. 16
D-12059 Berlin
Germany

Voice: +49-30 / 86 30 097 - 0
Fax: +49-30 / 86 30 097 - 7
E-mail: info@adam-audio.de
Website: www.adam-audio.com 

 

United States Distributor
Roger Fortier
V.P. ADAM Audio USA

Voice: (516) 681-0690

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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