ADAM Professional Audio ARTist 3

Facts:
Device Type: Active 2-Way Bass-Reflex Speaker w/Built-In USB DAC
Input (per speaker): 1 Adaptive-mode USB (44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, up to 16 bits), XLR, RCA, 3.5mm, Stereolink RCA (Cinch) Connector
Amplifier (per speaker): 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: 11 lbs (5kg)
Availability: through Authorized Dealers and Online Retailers
Price: $1,000/pair (2) 2m Stereolink cables included
Options: comes in High Gloss Black (as reviewed) and White. Desktop Stands $49/pair
Manufacturer’s website: www.adam-audio.com

Background
I have to admit that prior to this review I didn’t know ADAM from Adam (I know you saw that coming but I couldn’t help myself). I received an email from Roger Fortier, V.P. ADAM Audio USA asking if I’d be interested in reviewing a speaker from their Multimedia line. I perused the line which includes the subject at hand, the ARTist 5 which is a larger monitor, the floor standing ARTist 6, a sub and a center channel. I selected the ARTist 3 mainly because my domain in terms of speaker reviews extends to the edges of my desk. That is until someone decides to put a USD DAC into a floorstander.

ADAM (Advanced Dynamic Audio Monitors) Audio GmbH was founded in 1999 as a Pro Audio company. “Ah ha” I heard some of you think as if the words “Pro Audio” indicated a sonic signature apart from Hi-Fi. At first blush this distinction between listening for business and listening for pleasure seems a bit odd. Why would they be at odds? Aren’t we all after the same thing? I’ll have to leave that question unanswered for now except to say no, we’re not all after the same thing. Not even the people who just buy Hi-Fi or those who just buy Pro Audio gear.

The ARTist 3s tweeter was inspired by Oskar Heil and his Air Motion Transformer (AMT) which was first used in a consumer loudspeaker in 1970 by ESS (ElectroStatic Sound) in their ESS AMT-1. ADAM Audio GmbH spent years developing their own improved version which they’ve named X-ART (eXtended Accelerating Ribbon Technology):

In summary, X-ART tweeters have a high efficiency (approximately 96 dB/W/m), a perfectly linear impedance (3.9 ±0.21), an equally perfect phase response (±1° within the utilized bandwidth), excellent directivity characteristics and a superb power handling capacity; plus, the neodymium magnets and yoke (ring) utilized in the X-ART units result in perfect magnetic shielding.

The ADAM X-ART design overcomes the piston-like motion of all conventional drivers and their inevitable problems by achieving an improvement in air loading by a factor of 4 over conventional transducers. To illustrate the basic principle by a comparison: When you breathe, your thorax is moving slowly whereas the air is moving comparably fast. Similarly, the X-ART diaphragm presses the air faster in or out of its folds than they themselves are moving. This markedly superior ”motor” is responsible for the unprecedented clarity and pristine transient reproduction that can be heard with the ADAM X-ART drive units.

Think an accordion-like motion.

ARTist 3 Credentials
The ARTist 3’s appearance offers some obvious hints at functionality – a self powered, rear-ported two-way with a 2” X-ART ribbon tweeter (4” diaphragm area) and a 4” woven carbon fiber mid-woofer in a high gloss black cabinet (i.e. fingerprint magnet). Beyond the inclusion of a USB input, 1 balanced XLR input, a 3.5mm input up front along with a volume control, you’ll see three RCAs around back. Two are clearly marked “Stereo Link”, one of which is used to create a master-slave relationship between your pair of ADAM ARTist 3s by connecting the Master’s Stereo Link Output to the Slave’s Unbalanced input. Either ARTist 3 can act as master or slave and you have to understand how difficult it is to leave this alone (not to mention not working Eve into the picture).

Once connected via Stereo Link, the master controls the volume for both speakers and it’s also where you want to connect your source(s). There’s also a voltage gain control for the tweeter amplifier around back so you can tweak your tweeter +- 4dB to your room and taste.

What you can’t see is the pair of Class A/B amps inside each ARTist 3 and the Texas Instruments 2704 DAC chip which provides the Adaptive USB input and the 16 bit / 48 kHz output. What you also will not see in any of my photos are the included grills because to my tastes they’re superfluous and I enjoy seeing that glistening X-ART tweeter. In terms of setup, the ARTist 3s are plug and play; USB cable—I used an AudioQuest Forest USB—from your computer to the Master, included Stereo Link cable to create the Master-Slave relationship, plug each of em in, set your software to point to “USB Audio DAC” and press Play. On the user-friendly feature front, the ARTists 3s go into sleep mode when they don’t receive a signal for “about 10 minutes” and wake up again when they hear music coming their way.

Immersed in the Nearfield
I listened to the ADAM ARTist 3s on my desktop connected to my iMac and mainly used Audirvana’s free player set to Exclusive Access with no forced upsampling. Due to the rear port, the ARTists 3s sounded best roughly 7” out from the rear wall which put the X-ART tweeters about 39” from my ears more or less depending on my posture, the hour of the day and how far into the music I wanted to feel. I should mention that I asked Roger Fortier to include a pair of the ADAM desktop stands, which I used throughout the review process. They’re also nice and solid just like the speakers they hold.

Psst lean in cause I’m going to whisper—I nearly feel that calling this a review is misleading. The reason being I enjoyed listening to music through the ARTist 3s to such an extent that it was very difficult to stay in reviewer-mode as opposed to damn! this is fun, what should I listen to next mode. I actually made each of my family members come in, sit down and listen (causing more eye rolling than any sentence beginning “When I was your age…”). “Point to where the sound is coming from”, I’d say like a giddy audiophile and inevitably my wife and daughters pointed at the iMacs screen dead center. Then, "Wait, it's coming from...inside my head. It's like headphones!" Welcome to the nearfield.

So what, some of you may be thinking. Imaging is imaging. And I’d agree. What’s more with the ADAM ARTist 3s is they add an uncanny ability to hear into the recording on a micro-level that I can only call captivating. I’m obviously referring to the accordion-like in-out air-moving 4 times as fast as it otherwise would break-neck transient hyper-speedy output of the X-ART ribbon tweeter and its ability to capture and present micro-detail at a truly extra-ordinary level. It really takes some getting used to and even then, when you think you are accustomed, you’ll find yourself fascinated when some aspect of a recording you know well reaches out, or perhaps better stated as it has you reaching in, to find the music has got you completely captivated.

The closest thing I can think of to describe this peering into layer after layer of ever more detail is that scene in the movie Men In Black when that guy’s head opens to reveal a tiny alien. Actually that entire movie played with a sense of scale flipping and flopping between macro and micro worlds. Listening to the ADAM ARTist 3s is kinda similar. If that helps.

In other implementations that use ribbon drivers I’ve heard a bit of difficulty in terms of the handoff between a ribbon tweeter and its more traditional driver-mates—a shift in tonal flavor like someone slipping a scoop of frozen yogurt in with your ice cream – the flavors just don’t mesh. Here, I did not hear any grinding of different sonic gears although bass had a slight looseness, a bit of tubbiness that could be dialed in or out more and less depending on distance from the rear wall but not completely removed. I’m speaking on a critical level because on a listening-enjoyment level this actually added pleasure to the listening experience. Some big bottom to go with your tight top. Not ice cream and yogurt, rather more like music.

What’s missing from this review is any meaningful comparisons to similarly-priced competitors. The only thing I currently have in-house that’s even close is the Audioengine 2s and because of their size (2.75” woofer) I don’t feel this provides for a real-world alternative. In other words, someone willing to spend $1,000 on a pair of desktop speakers with an in-built USB DAC is not the same person that would consider buying a $199 pair of powered speakers. For those few who might, I’ll say the ADAM ARTist 3s sounded like more.

A Listening Party At My Desk
Grinderman, Mozart, Devendra Banhart, Pump, Wicked Messenger, Sonny Rollins, Beethoven’s Late String Quartets, Charalambides, Skip James, Fritz Hauser and more. Can you tell I was having fun? There were some nights I’d given myself a listening curfew that I inevitably blew off for just a few more songs. And that’s one possible issue with any desktop system – if it’s so good that you can’t do anything else while you listen, whatever else you planned to do is going to have to wait. Depending on the size of your music library it may have to wait a long time.

From a practical perspective, $1,000 for a pair of desktop speakers, even with an in-built USB DAC is pushing the envelope for some people’s budgets. I’d also think that the more serious Computer Audio listener may balk at buying into a 16/48 DAC. That’s why I asked Roger Fortier about the ADAM A3X from ADAM’s Pro Audio line. The A3X uses the same drivers as those found in the ARTist 3 but it houses them in a less fancy cabinet (vinyl veneer), leaves out the USB DAC and mini-jack but reportedly delivers very nearly the same sonic dish. The A3X is also a front-ported design, which allows for placement closer to the rear wall which is a potentially handy option on a cluttered desktop. The ADAM A3X retails for $760/pair.

From a somewhat less practical but none-the-less pertinent perspective, I inserted the Wavengeth Brick v3 (see full review) into the equation by connecting it directly to the ARTist 3s via the Unbalanced inputs using my Shindo interconnects. I say somewhat less practical due to the Brick's price but performance-wise this was a clear step up. The most significant difference being a softening of the upper frequencies giving violins a sweeter richer tone. A practical take-away is if you want to tweak the basic goodness of the ADAM sound, the A3Xs may be a better choice. But if you want a simpler less cluttered solution, and once you get done adding in the price of an external USB DAC and interconnects the price difference won't be as wide, the ARTist 3s are clearly the more attractive option.

I’m hesitant to use the word accurate without backing that statement up with measurements so I won’t. What I can say is the ADAM ARTist 3s allow you to hear subtle, slight and super-fine detail that at no time during my listening party ever became harsh or over hyped. Coupled with some real-world boogie factor and a your-desktop-becomes-the-soundstage (and/or takes up residence inside your head) presentation, I’d say if you’re in the market for a great excuse to ignore whatever else it is you do at your desk, lend the ADAM ARTist 3s an ear, preferably two.

COMMENTS
Stephen Mejias's picture

Dear readers:

If you're wondering whether ML's desk is always that neat, the answer is: "Yes, it is."

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Just before I took that picture one of the pens was crooked. I mean really crooked.

Once I straightended it out, the soundstage improved.

Stephen Mejias's picture

Ah, the old "crooked pen tweak."  Works every time.

deckeda's picture

"I’d also think that the more serious Computer Audio listener may balk at buying into a 16/48 DAC."

An understatement, and a total non-starter here.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

..is a viable alternative. Essentially the same sound, bring your own DAC.

slim's picture

... but thanks for the encouraging review!

I have been waiting for the ARTist 6 floorstander to hit the market for building an all digital system in a very small listening room (2.30x3.50 meters). Would combine it with Mac mini, DACmagic+ and probably a digital ipod dock. 

Unfortunately, the ARTist 6 is not yet near the horizon. Received mail today from ADAM audio that they can't tell a thing ... so ARTist 3 might be an alternative (if only to get the room as tidy as ML's desk :-)

Hope the announced DACmagic+ won't turn out to be vaporware, too.

Pdaddy's picture

Saw that you did not know to compare the ADAM's too so try:

 

Emotivapro.com

RGibran's picture

Wassup with that? smiley

RG

nunh's picture

I love that you have the Wire magazine on the desk - I think that is one of the best music magazines - right up there with Stereophile, The Absolute Sound, and Tone magazine.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

It's my favorite magazine on music and a highlight of the month when it arrives.

btw - thank you for all of the positive comments!

Suboceanico's picture

hi! really nice review! i enjoyed reading it. 

i have a few questions if you don't mind:

1) how do you compare the artist's 3 to the arimotiv's 4?

2) are these the best 4¨ desktop speakears you have tried?

3) Is the included DAC decent enough or do you recomend getting another DAC?

thanks in advance.

Humberto.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Thanks!

Answers:

1. I have not heard the Emotiva speakers.
2 & 3. I recommend getting the ADAM A3X (see review) which use the same drivers as the ARTiist 3 in a less fancy cabinet and no DAC. This gives you more flexibility since you get any DAC you want and odds are you're going to get one that can handle higher resolutions than the 16/48 capability of the ARTist's DAC. I bought the review pair A3Xs.

I hope  that helps,
Cheers.

Suboceanico's picture

Thank you very much for your answers they really help. One more.

Do you know if the 3.5 mm and the xlr output of the artist 3 bypass the DAC?

Michael Lavorgna's picture

....the 3.5mm, RCA, and XLR inputs are all analog inputs bypassing the internal DAC.

Suboceanico's picture

thank you very much for your answers. have you heard the KEFS X300A ?

yeah its a shame that the artits have the 16/24 limited DAC i maybe end up buying them just because of looks, i already have the dragon fly, do you think it sounds better than the included DAC of the artist?

Thank you.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

> i already have the dragon fly, do you think it sounds better than the included DAC of the artist?

Yup. And it gets you 24/96 playback. I think they make a very nice pair.

Suboceanico's picture

Michael, thanks a lot for your answers!

highstream's picture

I just rearranged my desktop to get the Artist 3s out 6.5" from my monitor's edge, vs. 4.5" before, and am now at times getting some of that headphone effect you mentioned.  The soundstage is also wider and more filled in, however the overall focus of instruments and voices doesn't seem quite as sharp, i.e., more free floating.  (The speakers' inside edge sits just in front of the monitor, angled in about 20 degrees, with me another 20 degrees in, and the back edge is 7.5" out from the wall.)

Based on experience, I have to wonder if you are getting the most out of desktop speakers with those desktop stands, per the photo. With my Emotiva airmotive 4 speakers, I tried three positions: 1) large AE stands on the desktop; 2) AE stands on top of two wood blocks, 2" and 4" together; and 3) Isoacoustic stands (small version) with the 4" wooden blocks underneath.  With the latter two setups, midpoint between the drivers was at mid-ear level.  What I discovered was those Isoacoustic stands opened up and relaxed the sound noticeably, tightening the bass, allowing more detail to come through.  That's the way I'm listening to the Artist 3s right now (Ciunas Dac, Darwin ICs) and am not hearing the loose bass you described. Here's a photo of one set up on the Isoacoustics: http://i41.tinypic.com/2qncfm0.jpg.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

...are the ADAM stands that are offered with the ARTist 3. It made sense to review them as well, imo, so I had them here for the review. I typically use stacked ply supports which are what my ADAM A3Xs sit on.

highstream's picture

Yes, you're A3X set up is a good one, but the Artist 3 also comes with those lifters, not stands. Nothing against trying the stands as part of a review, since Adam does sell them.  However, unlike Audioengine's stands, which are well known and readily available, if you check the online sites selling the Adam 3 and A3X, you'll be hard put to find them listed; i.e., for most purchasers who haven't looked them up, the lifters or something else are it. In any case, please consider the Isoacoustics for a review.  It would be interesting to compare them with the Adam lifters, on a block and free standing. http://www.isoacoustics.com/

Suboceanico's picture

hello Michael. hows it going? i already received my artist 3 (white) they are really a nice pair of monitors, but as you know they don't have a sub out. i want to save the hassle and connect the sub via the stereo link out. could that be possible?

cheers.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

From the ARTist 3 manual:

If you want to use a subwoofer in your setup, connect the sub to your audio source first and then connect the ARTist speakers via the balanced XLR or
unbalanced RCA inputs.

Olaf Tehrani's picture

I think I'll follow your advice and buy a couple of these beautifull speakers.

But... resently I returned a pair of Audioengine 5. First of all because the level of hiss from these speakers was unbearable. Secondly because cell phones lying near the speakers would regularly induce the well known 'cell phone transmission sounds'. Finally because these speakers were delivering loud 'pops' every time the automated system would set the speakers in sleep mode. 

How are the ARTist 3s in these respects?

Michael Lavorgna's picture

I own a pair of the ADAM A3X and they are dead quiet. I also keep my cell phone on my desktop near the speakers and there is no interference.

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