An Arx A5 Initiation Listening Party
by Wayne Myers
by Wayne Myers
It was a special pleasure to be able to co-host an Arx A5 speaker initiation listening party recently. This involved a brand new pair of A5's, the second pair I have been exposed to. My introduction to the Arx A5 speakers came in August of this year at Sonnie Parker’s Two-Channel Speaker Evaluation Event for Home Theater Shack at his home in Alabama. I heard that same pair again in November. On both occasions, I was impressed that the A5’s are an incredible value and some of the best-sounding speakers that can be had for up to three or four times their retail price.
This brand-new pair of A5’s first went through brief measurements to ensure matching and proper functionality, then of course some private listening time. I do not know who would have the willpower to run a pink noise burn-in without listening for awhile first, but I surely do not possess patience of that sort.
The above set of curves was taken with Room EQ Wizard (6th-octave smoothing). A point in the room was arbitrarily designated for initial measurements - this test was mainly to see good matching between the two speakers of the set. Two measurements were taken, one with each speaker sitting at the exact same point in the room, without the measurement mic being moved at all. The unused speaker was also at the same point several feet away during each measurement. This was then all done again at a different measurement point in the room.
You can see the speakers match very well. Over most of the curves they overlay each other perfectly.
On the day of the party, the A5’s were set up in the living area designated for the party. The details of the room and the setup process will be documented shortly as an example post for the Home Theater Shack Two-Channel Speaker Setup Guide for a Deep Soundstage.
The room was fairly live with hardwood floors, a medium-sized throw rug, and no special acoustical treatment. The spacing was wide and speaker angling was well outward from on-axis with the listener. We were very happy with the soundstage and imaging given us by the A5’s, and by their tonality in that room. We had followed “golden mean” guidelines for their positions in the room and for the Primary Listening Position (PLP), or “hot seat,” which ended up being a small office chair for lack of an easily-movable comfy chair. One guest took a turn in the hot seat while the others sat on one of two large sofas.
Here is the frequency response we ended up with at the PLP, Left (red) and Right (green), 6th-octave smoothing.
Media Sources and Amplification
Our available sources were:
- Laptop running foobar2000 playing files from an external hard disk drivr (HDD), Fiio E7 used as DAC
- FiiO X3 media player
- Pro-Ject Essential turntable with Ortafon OM5E cartrige
- Denon AVR-790, 90 W / 125 W into 8 ohm / 6 ohm
The guest list must remain confidential to protect the innocent and the not-so-innocent. It included the individual who at one time had the Internet’s largest file sharing repository of Dream Theater tracks, and who was actually served notice by Geffen Records to shut it down. Cool! (Not downloading, but cool having him with us!) Obviously, we were to hear some Dream Theater tunes.
Overall Sound Quality
With very little trouble, we were able to achieve an excellent soundstage and sharp, stable imaging. The soundstage had nice depth and good depth acuity, or clarity of specific depth in the soundstage. Tonality was very good, with strong bass and even highs.
The Tracks and Impressions
ZZ Top, Eliminator album, including
- Gimme All Your Lovin
- Got Me Under Pressure
- Sharp Dressed Man
- I Need You Tonight
- I Got the Six
Porcupine Tree, Arriving Somewhere, Not Here, 16/44 FLAC from HDD. I was in the hot seat for this one, an all-time favorite track that I only listen to on special occasions. This piece covers a wide dynamic range from quiet ambient effects to crunchy metal. The A5’s are effortless in their handling of dynamic range and high volume. They seemed happy to be paired with our 100 W/ch Denon. We had all the power we asked for, never pushing the volume much above 100 dB SPL (peak reading of the slow-averaged, C-weighted scale on our SPL meter, not true peak), although our fairly live room helped make it easy to reach those volumes.
Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon album (all tracks), from 180 Gram Heavyweight Vinyl - first playing of this freshly-opened record. I sat in the hot seat for Money and Us and Them. The saxophone and the vocals on those two tracks had a sheen about the tonality that I had never noticed before. I really enjoyed it, even though it was subtle. Was it the clarity of the A5’s revealing something new, or an element accentuated by the vinyl or the vinyl mastering process? Or both? Like it or not, the A5’s are not about to hide sonic detail. In this case it was a good thing.
The B-52’s, Ain’t it a Shame, 16/44 FLAC from HDD. This is one of my standard test tracks, in this case used to demonstrate the sharp, rock-solid imaging coming from the A5’s. One listener commented on his inability with eyes closed to locate the speakers in the wide soundstage.
Nickel Creek, Ode to a Butterfly, 16/44 FLAC from HDD. Another standard test track for imaging and soundstage. The room is one of the livest I have set up speakers in for critical listening, and is totally untreated. The A5’s both fill it with soundstage and manage to keep its components separately defined. This track has lots of empty space between instrument locations, and the A5’s with their tight control of the soundstage kept those spaces empty.
Dream Theater, Home, 16/44 FLAC from HDD. We pushed this track LOUD, and the SPL meter got to 100.2 dB SPL (true peak was probably 6 dB or more higher). Solid bass and crystal highs make tracks like this one tempting for the volume rider to push and push and push some more. I gave the hot seat listener a nudge of encouragement for that last few dB.
Iron Maiden, Wasted Years, 16/44 FLAC from X3. This is not the clearest recording for demonstrating speaker quality, but we were there to have fun. Having great speakers properly set up spoils you for great sound really fast. Without both of these conditions met at least fairly well, all recordings sound mediocre or worse. With decent speakers and a good setup, many listeners learn over time to steer away from low-quality recordings, even old favorites. A party atmosphere can lower listening standards, however. Ah, well, we were there to have fun, right?
Captain Beefheart, Dachau Blues, 16/44 FLAC from HDD. Someone saw this on the HDD and asked what it was like, so we played it. The A5's did not freak out over the Zappa-esque 60's weird rock, simply allowed me to hear it more clearly than ever before, and perhaps sounding a little more lively, too.
Muse, Knights if Cydonia, 320K MP3 from HDD. Another track insisting on higher volume levels, in this case a max reading of 101.1 dB. The listening position was close enough to the speakers that the liveness of the room never overcame their ability to keep the soundstage present, cohesive. The overall sound was lively but never out of control, even at high volumes.
King Crimson, Happy With What You Have To Be Happy With (EP version), 320K MP3 from HDD. There are still some higher quality mp3's lurking in the old hard drive collection here and there, and while I normally insist on FLAC or WAV files for critical listening, an occasional fun MP3 never hurt anyone. Did I say that out loud?
Dream Theater, Constant Motion, 224K MP3 from HDD. Dream Theater’s recordings are about as expertly-mixed as they come for heavy, complex music. While hard driving music is never a problem for the A5's, the low-distortion components chosen for the A5’s are, in a word, CLEAN. Together, they make loud sound like the “new soft.”
Shins, Phantom Limb, from Vinyl. The Shins’ recordings are all so snappy and -- have I used the word clean yet? Once or twice? You could not even tell this came from vinyl, which is intended as a complement to the medium’s ability to be transparent. A somewhat bright mix, the mid and tweeter drivers put on their shine for the Shins.
Gorillaz, Rhinestone Eyes, 16/44 FLAC from HDD. The instant-on / instant-off nature of the synthetic rhythm sounds can use the A5's a chance to show their quick responsiveness.
Postal Service, including
- the district sleeps alone tonight
- such great heights
- sleeping in
- nothing better
- recycled air
Arx speakers may never have the household name status of some prominent brands, but they will certainly be known by those who hear them properly as experience speakers. “I had an Arx experience at a friend's place recently. Wow.” They make it hard to go back home.