Ancient Audio Studio Oslo

Device Type:Powered Desktop Speaker
Input: 2 pair RCA (1 Vrms and .5 Vrms), 1 pair XLR, RCA Link (connects right and left speaker)
Output: Subwoofer Output, hard-wired RCA Link (left speaker)
Dimensions (W x H x D): 100 x 239 x 210 mm
Weight: 5 kg (11 lbs.)/shipping weight
Availability: through authorized dealers
Price: $1,250.00/pair
Website: www.ancient.com.pl
US Distributor: www.stereodesk.com

Being Single
Single driver speakers have some fairly straight-forward pluses and minuses—they only use a single driver to reproduce everything. So that means no crossover which, contrary to some adherents of the single driver way, is not necessarily an evil one way or another but most single driver speakers I've heard, and I've heard a bunch, tend to do at least one thing really well and that thing is immediacy. But what does immediacy really mean? From my way of hearing, it means that the sound of the music coming out of a single driver speaker sounds incredibly present as if the music is caressing your ears, intimately. Single driver speakers can sound seductive. The Ancient Audio Studio Oslo powered speakers use a single driver.

The exact driver in-use in the Ancient Audio Studio Oslo is the Dayton Audio RS100-4 4" Reference Full-Range Driver. Parts counters will easily discover that the cost of these drivers run about $57 and change per pair. Whow! How do we get from that price to the Studio Oslo's $1,250? First we have to account for all of the other parts including the single 30W Class A/B amp that lives in the right speaker, the included analog filter that compensates for the Dayton driver's frequency non-linearity, the bass and treble controls, the cabinet, the included flight case that protects the Studio Oslos whenever they journey, the time it took to design them, manufacturer markup, and finally dealer markup. Of course there are other costs that I have not factored in including the cost of running the businesses involved and we have yet to talk about the most important aspect of any loudspeaker which is how it sounds.

The Ancient Audio Studio Oslos come in a very sturdy flight case and also come in your choice of finishes including Palisander Santos Veneer, High Gloss black, white, red or blue. Additional finishes and colors are available for an additional charge. The review pair came in the High Gloss blue which looks nearly purple and quite nice, imo. There's a black wooden block under their front face and a single metal spike toward the back that give the Studio Oslos some lift for their down-firing port. As you can see from the pictures, the Oslo's profile form a parallelogram giving them a rear-leaning rake pointing their single drivers at your ears. I chose to lift them up off of my desk with my handy plywood stacks.

The left speaker comes with an attached cable that terminates with a single RCA connector which plugs into the right speaker from which it gets its power (there's a connection diagram on the bottom of the right speaker as well as in the manual). The right speaker houses the 30W Class A/B amp, on/off switch, bass and treble controls, two pairs of RCA inputs (1 Vrms and .5 Vrms), a single pair of balanced XLR inputs, subwoofer output, and the external power supply socket for the included external power supply. Around front resides the Alps volume control and a red LED power indicator. Ancient Audio offers a matching subwoofer for $1,100 which I opted to forgo for this review. Connecting the Studio Oslos was a breeze and I mainly used my Audioquest Dragonfly USB DAC connected to my iMac running Audirvana as the review setup.

For those unfamiliar with Ancient Audio, the company is based in Kraków, Poland and headed up by Jarek Waszczyszyn. The rest of their product line-up consists of CD players, amplifiers, and floor-standing speakers.

The Sound of Being Single
Did I say seductive? Nearfield listening has its own set of priorities and one of the first and foremost is imaging. How well does a given speaker disappear from the desktop. Here, the Studio Oslos perform as you'd expect a single-driver with a baffle that's as wide as its driver which is exceptionally well. The Studio Oslos throw your music away from themselves with nary a hint of their origin unless the recording purposefully sticks sound in either or both channels. But most music hovers as if fixed somewhere between the two. I found that with the appropriate toe-in which allowed me to see a bit of their inner sides, I experienced music pretty much inside my head. As if those single-drivers were coupled directly to my ears. And that is a good and very engaging thing.

Another thing a single-driver speaker will do is present a nearly uncanny and seamless musical picture. You feel as if you can reach out (or in) and touch it. Dynamics are also life-like and snappy and bass response, which according to the Ancient Audio website goes down to 38Hz! but I'd suggest that that's down a whole army of dB, is taught if lacking in slam. Bass is, to be blunt, light weight. The Oslos are therefore very fast-sounding speakers, and capable of delicacy and resolution to match even the subtlest of musical stuff. So chamber music is delectable and most anything that's well-recorded and doesn't rely on music's lower octaves is delightful. Again there's a clarity and focus to the presentation that is very engaging.

Where every single-driver speaker that I've heard do not excel is with large-scale music, bass-heavy electronica, dubstep, techno...and with any music one would describe as being bad-ass. Through the Studio Oslo, Grinderman, who fall into the latter category, sound as if they've been picked a bit too clean and lean for their own good and symphonic music also gets a bit lean-sounding in the biggest, boldest parts. If you want visceral, you'll want more than what a pair of 4" drivers driven by a single 30W amp can deliver, even nearfield. My ADAM A3Xs (see review) provide much more wallop, grind, and full-bodied grunt with their dual drivers, quad of amps, one for each driver, and their ribbon tweeters do a pretty terrific job of pulling a disappearing act.

There are a lot of appealing powered desktop speakers out there and a lot of them come in well under the Ancient Audio Studio Oslo's price. Some, like the aforementioned ADAM A3X, also deliver a lot of the same goods and more for less. I'd say that the A3X's ribbon tweeter goes a long way in matching the immediacy and imaging capabilities of the Oslo's single driver. Where the Oslos have an edge is in the overall seamless single-driver presentation which also accounts for its shortcomings. Nobody said being single was perfect.

A Singular Voice
The Ancient Audio Studio Oslo is an intriguing speaker and a master of clarity, tone, and immediacy. Some will even be attracted to the Oslos refined looks and small footprint. If these traits rank high on your wish list, and you're not interested in bass slam or gut-wrenching wallop, you may want to consider going single.



Associated Equipment

COMMENTS
labjr's picture

They look cheesy and home-made.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

They look better in person.

hotsoup's picture

Way off topic, but back around 1996 I had a Jackson electric guitar in that exact shade of royal-ish blue. I kind of like it.

kensargent's picture

Interesting review.  I am intrigued by the plywood stacks you reference.  Can you tell me more about how you came to develop and use them?

I do appreciate the quality of some of Dayton's efforts, and use their drivers often in commercial applications.  As you mention, it does indeed seem like a stretch to get from Dayton's wholesale cost to the retail price of these loudspeakers, but I believe you would find exactly the same stretch (or nearly so) if you could determine the actual cost of the driver(s) used in most loudspeakers from most manufacturers.  Dayton just happens to be easily accessed.

By the way, the plural of "Oslo" is "Oslos," not "Oslo's."  ( I suppose the case could be made for "Osloes," but that is off the point.)

You know, it just makes us all look a little better.

Michael Lavorgna's picture

Are remnants from the equipment rack that's in my library system.

JLM's picture

I've not heard these, but Serene Audio offers three ported desktop sized uniquely styled cabinet shapes finished in bamboo and leather, passive ($395/pair) or active ($495/pair) utilizing semi-custom 3 inch driver with large underhung neodymium magnet, emphasis is on low harmonic distortion, amps are 20 wpc digital with DSP and subwoofer outputs (auto sensing 120 Hz cutoff), F3 = 70 Hz with baffle step compensation.  (Hint for next desktop speaker review.)

As an advocate of single driver designs I know they have a hard time hiding from the quality of the driver (or the driver versus package cost as you pointed out above).  The Serene seems to provide better value in that regard while (by all indications) providing good performance.  But as you say, limited dynamics/bass/room filling capabilities will be expected with small/single drivers designs (but not bad compromises for desktop or casual use and a suitable subwoofer could go a long way towards addressing these shortcomings if deemed necessary).

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