ADAM Professional Audio A3X

Device Type: Active 2-Way Bass-Reflex Speaker
Input: XLR, RCA, Stereolink RCA (Cinch) Connector
Output: Stereolink RCA (Cinch) Connector
Amplifier: 2 x 25W RMS (40W Peak) Class A/B
Frequency Response: 60Hz - 50kHz
Dimensions (H x W x D): 10 x 6 x 7.5" (252 x 150 x 185mm)
Weight: 10.1 lbs (4.6 kg)
Availability: through Authorized Dealers and Online Retailers.
Price: $329.00/each
Manufacturer’s website: www. adam-audio.com

Temptation
I reviewed the ADAM ARTist 3s back in October 2011 and while I very much enjoyed them, the built-in DAC which is limited to 16/48 playback gave me pause. I wondered aloud if the Adam A3Xs might be the more interesting option for the music-loving powered desktop speaker seeking audiophile seeing as it leaves out that DAC, does away with the 3.5mm minijack connection forcing you to get a DAC to sit in between your computer and speakers which is a good thing for you and your music (trust me) while it keeps pretty much everything else, all stuffed inside a less fancy cabinet. Yea, you could just get a 3.5mm to Stereo RCA cable to connect your computer to the A3Xs but that's like feeding a thoroughbred astroturf. My hunch was I'd love the ADAM A3X, you know love in a manly hi-fi kinda way, and I'm not afraid to tell you up front—I was not wrong.

The ADAM A3X hail from ADAM Professional Audio's Pro side of the house whereas the ARTist 3s reside in Multimedia (the ADAM Column Mk3's which Kal Rubinson reviewed in the August 2012 Stereophile hail from their Home Audio line. Spoiler Alert: he liked them). I'm going to completely avoid this distinction of Pro versus Multimedia or Home since this review is focused on using the ADAM A3Xs on a desktop for the simple purpose of musical enjoyment. If you want to know how they function as a studio monitor, Google will lead the way to many reviews. But if you like the idea that because you're buying a Pro product you're hearing what a recording or mastering engineer heard, or that you're getting closer to what the musicians intended, or that you're getting a more accurate speaker, or you revel in the notion that Pro Audio gear represents better value than Audiophile gear, then by all means let me emphasize—the ADAM A3Xs are Professional Studio Monitors.

If you've read my ARTist 3 review, you already know a lot about the A3Xs since their specs are identical. But let me cover the basics. The A3Xs employ a carbon fiber 4.5" mid-woofer with a 1" voice coil and the star of this show the 4" (diaphragm area) ADAM X-ART (eXtended Accelerating Ribbon Technology) tweeter which is based on the famous Heil Air Motion Transformer. Each driver has its own dedicated 25W A/B amplifier, and each speaker has a single XLR and RCA input. There are also two RCA "Stereolink" connections for each speaker (input & output) that allow you to operate a pair in a master/slave relationship in terms of volume control. Just connect the output of one speaker to the input of the other and the master's volume control will control both.

There is also a control around back for "Tweeter Level" which you can use to adjust the frequency range (unspecified) by dialing the tweeter level in or out + or - 4 dB. To finish out the backside we only need mention the IEC outlet for the included power cord. Up front is the on/off switch, volume control (why anyone would put the volume control on the backside of a powered desktop speaker remains a mystery to me) with a detent for the "0dB" position, a green LED power indicator, and another LED (also green) that lights up on the Master when connected using the aforementioned Stereolink setup. You'll also see a pair of ports up front which is another deviation from the ARTist 3s which wear theirs around back. The cabinets are finished in a matte black vinyl veneer with beveled front edges up top and I think they're handsome (in a rugged manly way of course).

It's Good To Be Left Right
Connecting up the A3Xs is simply a matter of picking a DAC. I used the Wavelength Proton, Schiit Bitfrost, as well as the new AudioQuest DragonFly connected to my iMac running the free Audirvana player. So the connection scheme looks like this for the Proton and Bitfrost - iMac > USB cable > DAC > RCAs > ADAM A3X, and I used the Masterlink for the DragonFly since I only had the AQ Bridges & Falls "Big Sur" cable (1x Male Stereo 1/8" to 2x Male RCA) which combines the left and right channel in one jacket so the RCAs can only reach and connect to one speaker. I fiddled with the tweeter level controls around back and settled on "0" (but you probably already knew that). After some setup fidgeting, mainly with toe in/out which is a snap since the A3Xs are at arms' length if I lean in, I settled on seeing their inner thighs sides which placed the music inside my head, more or less. ADAM recommends getting the A3X's tweeters to ear level or if lower tilting them up up front. I did both.

the ADAM X-ART (eXtended Accelerating Ribbon Technology) tweeter. Ooh La La

Do you know Jimi Hendrix's Axis: Bold As Love? The first track "EXP" runs circles around the soundstage, at least in the stereo mix, as if the spaceship sounds are orbiting around a center point/planet and if portrayed in a convincing way its a neat sonic trick. With the ADAM A3Xs on my desktop set up in inside my head mode, I nearly felt nauseous after "EXP" finished its trip around my head. Are you experienced? Since I'd used the Wavelength Brick DAC with the ARTist 3s, I pretty much knew what to expect with A3Xs in terms of their super-fine level of detail and delineation of music's micro-stuff and this precision also conveys a wonderful sense of scale right down to drum sticks hitting cymbals, hands clapping from the first enthusiast out to the entire audience, filling the hall and your head with that same sense of space and scale.

I mentioned Fritz Hauser's name in the ARTist 3 review but I did not mention Solodrumming his album from 1985 on hat ART that was recorded live in the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin. The reason this recording keeps coming to mind when I review an ADAM speaker is not because ADAM Professional Audio is also headquartered in Berlin, its because Solodrumming is a favorite recording and it also happens to be a great recording for getting a sense of space and scale (and time). Hauser plays in and with the natural reverberations of the Martin-Gropius-Bau's architecture throughout 74:34 minutes of pure percussive magic. The ADAM A3Xs bring the Martin-Gropius-Bau to you or you to it, whichever you prefer and the experience, and I recommend experiencing this in the dark, is time-shifting. Every thwak, crack, ding, dong, splash, crash and more as well as their accompanying reverberation, decay, and criss cross with newer sounds are captured, delivered and conveyed in a completely convincing and thrilling manner. Yes thrilling. I will clarify that the A3Xs aren't adding anything to this equation, they are delivering the music un-diluted.

If you enjoy vocals, ya know people singing, I think you'll appreciate the A3Xs way with words. There's plenty of air, chest, throat, mouth, lips, and guttural growl making the vocalist of your choice resident. Physically so, down to the spittle on lips sans sibilance. We're not talking overly etched or hyped or severe or any of those other negatives typically associated with this level of resolution. There's nothing sharp or hard about the A3Xs upper frequencies. They just flow like breath. And the rest of the sonic spectrum is delivered as part of a seamless package.

Bass is tight and tuneful but if you want room rattling sub-sonic response you'll want a bigger driver. I'd rather have bass that sounds natural and part of the mix as opposed to special effects and the A3Xs deliver the former. For people with more room and an appetite for a more physical presentation, I would not hesitate to point you to the A3X's bigger brothers - the A5X ($499/each) and A7X ($699/each) even though I've never heard them. But if size and budget are a concern, for a street price of around $649/pair the A3Xs are not cheap but boy are they easy (to enjoy).

ADAM's Tempting
I'm going to agree with, by editing, myself. Here's what I said in the ARTist 3 review, "A practical take-away is if you want to tweak the basic goodness of the ADAM sound, the A3Xs may be a better choice." And the only thing I will change is that "may be" to "are". The A3Xs are a great choice for a powered desktop speaker if you don't mind having to add your own DAC in between your computer and the A3Xs and you really shouldn't mind since you'll end up with better sound. Yes, you could skip the DAC by using a 3.5mm to Stereo RCA cable but then you'll only be hearing a tiny fraction of what the A3Xs can do (which also means you'll only be hearing a tiny fraction of what your music sounds like).

I'll even offer up an under $1k package—the AudioQuest DragonFly (review in-the-works) at $250 makes a very nice companion piece for the A3Xs (if you don't mind its 24/96 limit) adding up to one helluva musical desktop.

So its clear that I like the ADAM A3Xs and I knew I would based on my time with their upscale cousins the ARTist 3s. While I don't miss the things the A3Xs leave out and really prefer not having them, I wonder if there are some sonic differences but I no longer have the ARTist 3s here and it has been too long to offer a meaningful comparison. If I still suffered from Audiophile-angst, I might be frozen in place at the thought of "different and/or better"? But thankfully I got over those comparative compulsions long ago and the A3Xs do not leave me wanting in any department all things considered. Can we get deeper bass with a larger speaker? Yes. Can we get cheaper or more expensive speakers that sound different? Sure! Is different better? Maybe.

The point I'd stress is you need to hear a speaker to know what it sounds like which is also the only way you'll know if you like it. So if you're looking for a powered desktop speaker in this price range, I'd suggest you give these ADAMs a listen.



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COMMENTS
Vincent Kars's picture

What about a SX1 with a build in DAC:

http://www.adam-audio.com/en/technology/da-converter

Michael Lavorgna's picture

We're looking at $2,590.00/pair for the SX1 plus the cost of the DAC ($500?) which makes for a pricey desktop.

Pablo's picture

I must say that you nailed it. I use the A3X+Audiophilleo 2+Lavry DA11 and I totally agree with you, the vocals are really something special with this monitors, clear and full of life. Its amazing the level of detail they extract without ever sounding harsh, also making so,so recordings enjoyable/listeneble. Trhow at them any genre and they will rock out. When they are positioned  on what I call "lock.mode", the experience with some albums can be similiar to a binaural recording.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Nice.

..the experience with some albums can be similiar to a binaural recording.

Yes, well put.

Pablo's picture

Can I suggest you to try James Blake- James Blake album? Fenomal for this.

Esprit's picture

My main system is based on S3X-V (They have replaced Dynaudio + Bryston)smiley

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I'd like to hear those 3-way ADAMs too.

eliotic's picture

Reading the hifi sites this year for the first time, I've been surprised how rarely powered monitors are discussed, and I'm not sure why that is — whether, perhaps, a preference for passive speakers is mostly a matter of tradition? These may be the first powered monitors I've seen reviewed, and they certainly sound good enough to buy. I just may, given your review.

But I wonder, beyond putting a DAC between my Mac and these, might sound quality be enhanced by adding instead a preamp+DAC, like a Peachtree GrandPre for instance? Or is that just going to get in the way, smoothing out the sound without making it more accurate?

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I think the ADAM A3Xs sound good enough to buy but that decision needs to be based on listening, imo. Since you can buy these speakers from a number of on-line retailers, you can always return them if you don't agree.

Whether or not a given preamp inserted into the chain will help or hurt will obviously depend on the preamp but I do not view the addition of a preamp as being necessary. That said, you do have to consider how to handle volume control and using the A3X's may not be practical depending on physical setup, i.e. they'd need to be easy to reach.

So a DAC with volume control may very well be a good practical solution. This is why I highlighted the AudioQuest Dragonfly since it includes an analog volume control. While I have not had the Peachtree novaPre/DAC here, I'd be inclined to think it would also work very well and it provides additional inputs and a headphone output if that's important to you.

tyejason's picture

First off great site michael! i love how you've seted up a small community that genuinely love audio and review them based on solely what they are. 

I think these are amazing speakers, i'm starting to feel that this ribbon technology really triumph in near field listening, being able to achieve frequencies that normal cone tweeters struggle to. (Having their small sizes in mind). 

I am still looking into it, but have you tried the Emotiva Airmotiv 4? Hardware and spec wise they are rather identical, however the price tag to obtain both the Adam A3X is nearly twice the price of a pair of Airmotiv4. As much as i think the A3X looks heaps better, but i'm really curious on how the Airmotiv4 would stack up to these.

Hopefully you'll have one to test out soon. I'll be keeping an eye! 

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I have not heard the Emotiva's but they are on my "to do" list. 

tyejason's picture

Whilst i'm still doing my research. Please do get them A.S.A.P. I really value your impression. :)

highstream's picture

Too bad you didn't get a chance to audition the two together.  I won't either, but taking it from the horse's mouth (email):

  "The A3X and the ARTist 3 sound similar in many ways and the only difference other than the connections and finish is a slightly tighter bass and a bit more mid resolution due to the cabinet construction. Highs are the same. I use the ARTist 3s for my desktop base on both looks and sound."

JLM's picture

Greatly appreciate your review as the A3X seems to be the ideal fit for my 'needs' and tastes after 40+ years into stereo/audio.  Suggest to try a Schiit BiFrost DAC with them.

The F5 seems a tad big for desktop use to my eye while the A3X is supposed to be capable of "impressively filling a good sized room."  (I'm looking for temporary casual use in a large space for now and more serious desktop use later on.)  Suppose anyone in the nursing home will 'appreciate' a A3X/BiFrost/iMac system?  ;)

Wonder if you've had a chance to compare.  While the F5 goes slightly lower (specified 50 Hz vs. 60 Hz), cost $150 less, and is slightly bigger, the ARTist 3/A3X is supposed to have better drivers, more robust (possible legacy piece) overall (all German) build, and enhanced sound.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

...but I have not had a chance to hear them...yet. I enjoy A3Xs every day and they are a nice size for a desktop, imo. They also respond very well to better DACs. I'm currently using the Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC with them for DSD on my desktop. Sweet.

Suboceanico's picture

Jjj why do you have a hammer on your desk?smiley

Michael Lavorgna's picture

That hammer was my grandfathers. He was a carpenter and that hammer reminds me of him and the importance of doing a good job no matter what it is we do for a job.

kenniGT's picture

So.. another good job!

Like a wrote below Meridian DAC review. I listen now (should really go to bed...) to A5X for 4h and I love them. I do forget I am in front of my PC. High recommendation.

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