Hands On: Adam Audio ARTist 5 Active Monitor
Adam Audio's ARTist 5 active monitor incorporates RCA, XLR and USB connections to facilitate its use in a residential, computer-based audio system, and in applications in the pro audio market.
A few years ago the German manufacturer Adam Audio entered the residential market after having successfully navigated the pro audio world.
Aiming for the prosumer category, which includes a new breed of computer audio enthusiasts, home recording enthusiasts and professionals who need smaller and cost-effective speakers for alternative applications, Adam Audio made a big splash with its A3 and A5 active speakers.
After reviewing a pair of the A5s in a computer audio system and in a recording environment, I thought the Adam product offered a lot of value. Adam offered me an opportunity to check out the replacement products for the A5: the ARTist 5. The ARTist 5 is one of several new ARTist series products and this medium size active monitor like its predecessor can be used for multimedia and recording.
The ARTist 5 includes RCA, XLR, a 3.5mm and USB inputs to provide a variety of connection options. The speaker also incorporates Adam Audio’s Stereo Link option that allows both speakers to be controlled via a single front-mounted volume control. Internally the speaker features two 50-watt amplifiers that are set up to drive the company’s proprietary X-ART ribbon tweeter and a 5.5-inch carbon fiber woofer.
I used the speakers in a computer audio system that included an iMac connected via USB, and in a recording system using hardware from PreSonus and Apple, as well as Apple Logic Pro software.
In the first scenario I connected the ARTist 5 with my iMac using iTunes. Setup was simple: I ran a USB cable from the input of the left speaker and ran RCA cables to the Stereo Link connections to enable single volume knob controls and I went into my iMac’s System Preferences to choose the ARTist 5 output option, which appeared in the computer’s audio menu.
My initial impression of the speaker is that it’s much more consumer friendly thanks to the inclusion of the USB input, which eliminates the need to buy an external DAC.
I think the speaker sounds much more balanced than the A5, and it’s much smoother too. After letting the speakers break-in I began evaluating and found the speakers to produce an airy top end with a variety of AIFF, WAV, Apple Lossless and AAC files. In addition, the speakers produced a focused image that delivered a lot of detail. I did hear a slight bit of ripeness in the 200Hz to 400Hz octave, but I suspect room interactions may have contributed to that.
Getting into some direct comparisons, I listened to a few tracks from Michael Jackson’s Thriller on vinyl and then listened to the same tracks as iTunes downloads (and yes, I realize it’s not quite a fair comparison format-wise). I thought the ARTist 5s did a great job in reproducing the low-resolution files without taking away from the enjoyment of the music.
The Adams didn’t pump up the bass or add shrillness to the tracks’ top end. I also found the speakers locked into MJ’s vocals and presented them right down the center of the image along with a reverb-soaked snare drum. Panning slightly left on the mix of “Beat It,” Eddie Van Halen’s guitar solo was reproduced with space and warmth, and as a whole the speakers never missed a spatial cue or transient effect.
Getting into lossless audio, Steve Morse’s cover of Rush’s La Villa Strangiato provided an awesome listening experience through the ARTist 5s. Cues such as the shift in soundstage focus from the song’s Flamenco-influenced intro into the riff-based verse were nailed with guitar and drums pushed to the edges of the left and right image. Other songs affirmed the speakers’ dynamics and displayed nice low-end extension without compression or sloppiness, while fast drum fills maintained their tonality and impact.
In a formal recording environment at Sarrin Music Studios, my friends Chris Maggio and Mike Blewitt helped me create two tracks from scratch. The first track is a Flamenco, Al Di Meola-influenced song that was recorded live using two condenser microphones. They hammered out the chord progression on the spot, with Maggio playing a nylon-string Takamine classical guitar and Mike playing a Taylor 314CE acoustic.
The second song was a song I wrote and it’s a 1980s-influenced song that uses a lot of the chords I ravaged from players such as Randy Rhoads and Eddie Van Halen. On this song I used a Gibson Les Paul and a Jet City JCA20H head, a Marshall 1912 cabinet and a TC Electronic Dark Matter distortion pedal.
Blewitt engineered and produced both songs, with the goal to maintain the live feel of the Flamenco jam he and Maggio created. During the recording and mixing of the Flamenco piece the track was virtually left unchanged other than adding a touch of compression and reverb, which we were able to clearly hear through the resolution capabilities of the ARTist 5s.
My track was much more involved due to the use of multitracking (we recorded takes for the left and right channels of the mix). The song showed how nicely the speakers can be used as a pro tool. We employed the ARTist 5s to help with mic positioning, which included the placement of a Shure sm57 on the Marshall cabinet, as well as an MXL condenser mic used for room ambiance. With the ARTist 5s we listened for mic phase issues and changes in tonality and room ambiance.
Getting into the mixing, we were able to dive and fine-tune the EQ and compression used on the drums and bass to help flesh those instruments out of the mix, and to set tonality so the drums sounded like authentic 1980s-era drums. We also used the speakers for other things like adjusting the amount of flange (a modulation effect) used on the chorus section of the song.
Overall for computer audio and recording, I think Adam has seriously stepped up and delivered a product that is reasonably priced and much better than its previous prosumer products. The ARTist A5 provides nice octave-to-octave balance to deliver a focused and detailed image that in a near-field listening environment will fill a seating area with dynamic, uncolored sound. Throw in its variety of connection options, attractive finishes and front-mounted power and volume controls, and the ARTist 5 adds up to a killer product.
Song Notes and Free Music Downloads
To listen to a lossless copy of the songs, click on the song titles.
The Campy 80s Song was recorded with a Gibson Les Paul run through a Jet City JCA20H head connected to a Marshall 1912 cabinet and the amp was overdriven with a TC Electronic Dark Matter distortion pedal. We placed a Shure sm57 microphone on the Marshall cabinet and a MXL condenser microphone a few feet away for ambiance.
The song is in the key of G (a syncopated alternating pattern of G/A, G7, and the chorus is an Eddie Van Halen E, Esus4, D, Dsus4, C, Csus4 type of progression). The song was produced and engineered by Blewitt who also played bass and added the first guitar solo before the breakdown on the song. Blewitt recorded directly into the Apple Logic software using plugins for the bass and his Ibanez guitar. When listening to this song listen to the slap echo on the snare drum, the tonal differences between the Ibanez and Gibson guitars and the amount of bottom end the bass line takes up.
Flamenco Jam is actually a demo that we decided not to re-record because of the spontaneity of the track. The song alternates between Am and E7 and it was recorded by placing MXL condenser microphones just off the sound holes of each guitar (Maggio plays a Takamine nylon string acoustic and Blewitt plays a Taylor 314ce acoustic).
The fun thing about this song and the reason why we kept the track is that the song wasn’t rehearsed. It was a first take jam. Maggio and Blewitt admit they didn’t play it perfectly, but their energy and playing skills made a song a keeper. When listening to the song notice the tonality difference of the nylon-stringed guitar in the right channel and the steel-string guitar in the left channel.
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