A.R.T. Loudspeaker Stiletto 6
This is what value is all about.
Review By Nels Ferre
here to e-mail reviewer.
A.R.T. Loudspeakers may be a
new name to most readers. They were a new name to me, but it turns out
that the brothers that founded A.R.T. Loudspeakers, Derek and Ramsay
Dunlop, have a long and rich heritage. They are members of the family that
founded and operated Systemdek, the British turntable manufacturer. In
fact, Peter Qvortrup of Audio Note UK bought the plans for one of the
Systemdek models and successfully sells it today as the Audio Note TT1.
Upon Systemdek's demise, the Dunlop brothers decided to concentrate on the
other end of the system chain. A.R.T. Loudspeakers was founded in Scotland
The Stiletto 6
The Stiletto 6 is a relatively compact floor standing
tower, measuring 37.75" x 8.5 x 7.75" (HxWxD) . When I helped the UPS
driver bring them to my upstairs condo, I was a bit surprised. The with
their birch cabinets, the speakers were quite a bit lighter than I
expected, weighing in at 39 pounds each. The top section of the front of
the speaker holds a 6" doped paper woofer with a rubber surround, and a 1"
horn loaded fabric dome tweeter. Around back is a single pair of heavy
duty binding posts sourced from Germany's WBT. Below the binding posts is
a small port.
The first order crossover is populated with Clarity
capacitors from England, as well as air core inductors which are
manufactured in house by A.R.T. Loudspeakers. The speakers rest upon four
stylish spikes, for better coupling to the floor. A few thoughts on the
design: the second order crossover results in an easy load on the
amplifier, and the horn loaded tweeter is very efficient, so the speaker
should be able to be used with a wide variety of amplifiers. On their
website, the Dunlop brothers state that the Stiletto 6 can be used with
flea powered SET amplifiers, with which they have an affinity. They are
designed to be used with amplifiers as small as 8 watts, and have a
nominal impedance of 8 Ohms, with the minimum of an easy to drive 6.5
Ohms. Additionally, the woofers utilize a rubber surround, which adds to
longevity: foam surrounds will deteriorate over time. I have had to
replace the woofers in my Infinity speakers for that exact reason. The
grilles are held to the front baffle magnetically, which provide a clean
appearance when the grilles are removed.
Cabinet Construction 101
The relatively lightweight cabinets made me do a lot of
thinking about cabinet construction and speaker resonance. Most speakers
are made of MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard.) MDF is basically wood chips
bound with glue, and manufactured into sheets. It is the preferred
material for cabinet construction for a couple of reasons. First, it is
inexpensive. More importantly, it reduces resonance. The thicker the board
used, all things being equal, the lower the amplitude of the resonance.
Usually the cabinet is reinforced with additional MDF. On the surface of
the cabinet, veneer is applied to make the cabinet visually appealing.
The Stiletto 6 is manufactured differently. The cabinet
is manufactured of multiple layers of birch, not MDF. Of course the
cabinet is more expensive to manufacture. No manufacturer tries to make a
product be more expensive to manufacture: most build to a price point.
Keeping manufacturing costs low, of course, increases profit. So why use
real wood, as opposed to MDF?
I think it all comes down to cabinet resonance. I can't
see a way to truly eliminate them, without going to a cabinet made of some
type of stone, which would be hideously expensive, not only to
manufacture, but also to ship. MDF is a great compromise, inexpensive and
easy to work with, but does it really work? Resonance is a slippery thing:
it can't be eliminated, only reduced and shifted to a frequency that
hopefully is less noticeable. It is not unlike a woman's girdle: it
changes her shape, and hopefully makes her more attractive, bit at the end
of the day, nothing has really changed: she still weighs the same and has
the same body type.
If I am reading the design of the A.R.T. Loudspeaker
Stiletto 6 correctly, they have used Birch in an attempt to work with resonance
instead of attempting to eliminate it. I certainly did not hear anything
untoward, resonance wise, in the months I lived with them. Another thought
occurred to me: many musical instruments are made with wood, not MDF -- the
exact thing we are trying to reproduce. The difference between a
conventionally built speaker and the Stiletto 6 can easily be seen around
back, at the cutout for the crossover/binding post assembly. The edges of
the cutout are not finished, and it is easy to see the layers of birch
used in the construction of the cabinet.
As I currently own a small condominium in the city, I do
not have the luxury of a dedicated listening room. The living room is
exactly that- where we live. The electronics are housed in a low boy
Scandinavian style rack, with my SOTA Star Series III turntable and Bella
Extreme Signature 3205 tube power amplifier placed on top. The speakers
flank either side of the rack, above and behind the rack is a wall mounted
Sony 40" flat panel LCD monitor.
The living room is approximately 17'x12' with an
eight-foot ceiling. The room opens to the dining room and galley kitchen
in the right when facing the system. There is a short hallway behind the
listening area that leads to the bedroom and bathroom. The
floors are hardwood laminate, with soundproofing material between the
planks and the cement sub floor. The walls are drywall over cement block.
Furniture is sparse, with a leather sofa and leather recliner/rocker
facing the system. In front of the sofa is a small wooden chest, pressed
into service as a coffee table.
The Stiletto 6 speakers were placed in approximately the
same place as my Infinity speakers, two feet out from the front wall, with
a slight toe in. This was well inside the manufacturer's specification. As
the A.R.T. Loudspeaker Stiletto 6 is rated at a nominal impedance of 8 Ohms,
I wired them to the 8-Ohm tap on the 3205 Signature. The system is set up
along the short wall, firing across the length of my listening space.
When the speakers were set upon the supplied spikes, the
tweeters were perfectly aimed at ear level, as they should be.
The Stiletto 6 saw a fundamental change in my system,
which is PC-based audio. During their extended visit here, I decided to
take the advice of a few friends and give PC audio a go. I have to tell
you- I love it. As I write this, about 60 percent of my collection has
been converted to Apple Lossless Files, stored on an external USB hard
drive. The discs have been placed in storage, giving me added space in my
small digs. I tried the much-touted Exact Audio Copy, converting the WAV
files to FLAC, but I found the occasional dropouts (one or two a day with
Foobar 2000 as a playback program) bothersome. On a whim, I decided to
give I Tunes for Windows a try, and I prefer it by far. It's easier to
use, and works perfectly- no dropouts at all. And, in its latest 7.X
release, it sounds great. Feeding a Trends Audio 10.1 USB to SPDIF
converter with my Dell Inspiron 2200 laptop (1.4 GHz Intel Celeron
processor, 1.2 GB RAM, Windows XP Home) then on from there to an Entec
Number Cruncher 205.2 DAC with a JPS Labs Digital RCA cable, it has
changed the way I do digital, and greatly increased the variety of music I
listen to. My collection is all right there, at worst, a second or two
away. Because my CDs are migrating to my storage unit after conversion, I
will no longer be listing catalog numbers in my reviews from this point
forward. Although I have switched to PC based digital, during the review
period, my listening from digital sources were split primarily between the
JoLida JD-100A and the Naim CD-5x, with the optional, and highly
recommended Flatcap 2x power supply.
There is a lot of sonic goodness packed into the
Stiletto 6. Initially, I thought they were a bit hard sounding in the
upper midrange, but I realized that I had never used the 8 ohm taps off of
the amplifier, and that section of the output transformers required break
in. A week or so later, and all trances of the hardness had disappeared. I
doubt it was an issue of driver break in, as the review samples had
clearly had been previously used. While the speakers themselves were in
perfect condition, the boxes gave up that they had been used and repacked.
While I have no idea how many hours were on them, their character did not
change after the first week of heavy use.
Stiletto 6s produced a very together, cohesive sound. Although, they are
just a bit on the cool side of neutral, and are more forward than I am
used to, I could, and did, listen to them for extended periods of time,
not only with music, but movies as well. What is really surprising with
the Stiletto 6 is its prodigious bass output. Although the specifications
clearly state a response down 3dB at 34Hz, I take tat with a grain of
salt. Lots of components measure well and sound terrible (and vice versa.)
This wasn't the case with the Stiletto 6. These had gobs of bass, with no
sense of strain, if the recording called for it. But it wasn't just the
amount of bass that made the Stiletto 6 special, but how it was presented.
Visiting The Jam on "Start" from their 1980 release Sound Affects,
the bass is presented in a distinct fashion, with the bassist plucking the
strings hard with one hand, and his fingers coming off the strings with
his other hand quickly to
make the bass line "pop." This is the way it is supposed to sound, but
with the Stiletto 6, the sound did not localize from the bass driver,
instead, it sounded as if it started there and ran all the way down the
front of the cabinet all the way to the floor.
Drums sound very alive and real, and are easily heard at
the back of the sound instead of on the same plane. This, of course, is
how it should be- but not all speakers are created equal. Lorenna
McKinnet’s The Book of Secretsis a must have if you are into
Celtic music at all. The music is great, and so is the recording. The kick
drum that is in the opening track was reproduced with proper scale (read
grand) and because the instrument isn't plucked as it is with an electric
bass, the speakers virtually disappeared. Of course your brain knows the
sound is coming from the cabinets, but close your eyes, and the precise
location of those cabinets becomes somewhat blurred. Bass content in
movies was very hard to localize, just as it is in the theater, my wife is
about movies as I am about music, and we watch a few movies a week here.
The Stiletto 6s were very convincing while enjoying movies on the Sony
Both female and male vocals were presented with some of
the most natural and lifelike sound I have heard. I have mentioned Les
Paul in many previous reviews, but I have been remiss, as I have not
mentioned his late wife Mary Ford. Her voice, to my ears, was as close to
the sound of an angel as I can imagine here on earthh, and the
Stiletto's don't disappoint. On "Sentimental Journey" from their box set The
Legend and the Legacy, the track is portrayed so well, that you not
only get an excellent performance, but you can almost smell the cigarette
smoke along with the sound of her lovely alto voice.
Dynamically, the Stiletto 6 is very fast. The low mass
of the Norwegian SEAS drivers are a big positive here, allowing each
instrument or voice its own place in time and space. Massed voices are
very clearly reproduced, each voice, and the differences between them,
clearer than I am accustomed to. Listening to "Because" from the Beatles
last album Abbey Road, it is easier to pinpoint each member's
addition to the track. Or, better yet, try the Capella version from
Anthology 3, there is beauty on that version that could give Mary Ford a
run for her money.
highs were certainly more extended than my Infinity loudspeakers and
although the tweeters are horn loaded, I had no issues with them. They are
smooth when the music calls for it, but can certainly bite when necessary.
I would recommend, however, pairing them with smooth electronics. These
speakers will not smooth out harsh associated electronics.
This is the part. in the review where the reviewer
goes on and on about clarity and detail "I heard things with the speakers
that I have never heard before." Sorry, I am going to disappoint you, it
did not happen. The Stiletto 6 is about the whole experience, not minute
detail after minute detail. Sometimes, I wonder what we are really trying
to accomplish in this hobby? The sound of a gnat fart, as one
manufacturer terms what I call hyper detail or music. The sound of live
music in ones home is a losing battle, unless you are a member of a garage
band. The real goal, I believe. is enjoyment- as in "Did I really enjoy
myself, did I get off on the music, maybe relax and forget life's worries
for a few hours?" Maybe the question is "Do I get as good of a taste of
the music as the recording allows?" If
those are the questions, then the Stiletto 6 is a resounding success.
Of course, there is the matter of money, as I am not
convinced one has to spend 5 grand on a pair of speakers to get there.
What the Stiletto 6 speakers do have convinced me is that my time
with the Infinitys is coming to a close. I've been happy with them for 15
years now, but progress marches on, and there is no longer factory support
for them. It will be like saying goodbye to an old friend.
The Stiletto 6s are very versatile. While I did not have
a single-ended triode amplifier here during their stay, I really wish I
had gotten to hear this combination, as I am sure the results would have
been excellent. While tubes did power them for much of the time, a
push-pull ultra linear amplifier like the Bella Extreme 3205 Signature
will sound completely different from single-ended triode. The kind folks
at Naim did send a full compliment of Naim solid-state gear while the
Stiletto 6s were in house. I did not expect synergy: it has been my
experience that speakers designed by tube lovers do not find sonic bliss
when powered by solid state. I was wrong on this one. I actually preferred
the Stiletto 6 driven by the Naim stack as opposed to my reference system.
Music and voices simply sounded more alive, more real, with the Naim
electronics. The Naim gear was awarded an Enjoy
The Music.com Blue Note Award for 2007.
The Naim synergy came up in a recent telephone
conversation with Yujean Kang, A.R.T. Loudspeakers' U.S. Importer. He told
me that he was not surprised at my finding. Apparently, many Naim owners
have discovered A.R.T. Loudspeakers, and they are becoming a quite popular
pairing. I totally understand why.
The only negative I can find with these speakers, in
direct comparison to my trusty but aging Infinity Kappa 6.1s is a clear
and distinct lack of body. By this, I mean that listening to an acoustic
guitar, for example, the A.R.T. Audio Stiletto 6 highlights the sound of
the strings, and glosses over the sound of the body of the guitar. I am
reminded of a black and white photograph of John Lennon working in the
studio at Abbey Road circa 1965. In the picture, Lennon's tobacco sunburst
Gibson acoustic is close mic'ed, with the microphone inches from the
strings. My Infinity's, by comparison, cannot hold a candle to the
Stiletto 6 in the areas of clarity, frequency extension at both ends of
the spectrum, or micro dynamics. But the old Kappas (the last series of
speakers designed by A.R.T. Nudell) have body and soul. One easily hears
not only the strings, but also the actual body of the instruments. This is
especially true with wooden ones such as guitars, violins, and cellos for
example. They are more "mid hall" in presentation, and reproduce much more
spatial cues from the recording. I do want to stress that many may not
notice this shortcoming with the Stiletto 6, even after extended
listening. It will, however, be easily heard in direct comparison to a
speaker that is superior in this aspect. Some may prefer the more direct
sound that the Stiletto 6 provides.
Some Thoughts On Value
The A.R.T. Audio Stiletto 6 retails in the United
Kingdom for 1995 pounds sterling. So why are they $5000 for the pair in
the United States? Unfortunately, the dollar is very weak presently, at
approximately two dollars to the pound. Add another $1000 for the pair to
the U.S. Distributor, who covers shipping, duties, and warranty repairs
and we get to five grand. Blame it on exchange rate that is current at approximately
£1 to $2 or you can blame it on economies of scale, as smaller
manufacturers can not absorb the hit from the exchange rate as well as
larger manufacturers can. Price increases are affecting all of the British
manufacturers right now. The situation is what it is, deal with it. If you
must blame someone, blame the politicians. Elevated fuel costs are also
causing higher transportation costs. (Again, "fat cat" politicians.) And
don't think that waiting it out will change the price in your favor: the
British made record cleaning machine I have lusted after for years was
introduced to the U.S. at $1299, now it is $2235. I hardly think the price
is going to go down. That $1299 looks like a bargain now: if I had only
known. At the end of the day, for those who decide to bring a pair of
Stiletto 6's home, the sting of the price paid will fade over the years,
while the level of enjoyment received for the money spent will not. That's
what value is all about.
I have thoroughly enjoyed the time I have spent with the
Stiletto 6's. They are well built and should blend easily into most
decors. They will please those who value a "front row presentation." While
I am certain that I can find a speaker that I prefer for $5000 a pair,
they most definitely deserve an audition. They just may be what you are
looking for. I would like to thank Yujean Kang of Tangram Audio for his
generous loan of the A.R.T. Audio Stiletto 6 Loudspeakers.
I would like to thank Nels for his very informative
review on this Stiletto 6 model from A.R.T. Loudspeaker of Scotland. In
this review, Nels really shows a very good picture about how these
speakers are built and a correct description of their basic sonic quality.
This sonic quality of the Stiletto 6 is a quality that
is present in every model in the A.R.T. Loudspeaker line, which is to
present the most musical presentation that will make the listener feel as
if he or she is right in front of the musician. However, a music
presentation is combination of the entire system. When Nels described the
different experiences between pairing with Naim system vs. his own
reference system, you can imagine that the possibilities of a third or
fourth system pairing will result complete different sonic experiences. In
this review, I totally agreed with Nels' view according with his own
experience. But I would like to share a little of my own experiences with
this speaker since I also had them for a good amount of time.
At home, I set up the Stiletto 6 with my Acoustic Plan's
power and pre-amp (these are hybrid amplifiers with triode input and
MOSFET output) plus my old personal CD player from 47 Labs. What I hear
besides the detail, which Nels described in the review, is genuine body
and soul. Well, a big part of the fun in this audio game is to search
for the most desirable pairing, isn't it? I'm not trying to challenge Nels
for his nice review. I just want to share my own experience with Nels and
One thing I'd like to point out is that the US version
of Stiletto 6 is slightly different than the U.K. version. As Nels pointed
out the upgraded WBT binding post and so on, the price is slightly higher
(US$5000) in comparison with the U.K. version. I believe the sonic quality
of the Stiletto 6 could easily compare with many other speakers that are
much more costly. When paired with high quality electronics and source,
they clearly and neutrally put out what was put in them from the
electronics and the source.
Type: 2-way floor standing loudspeaker
Tweeter 25mm fabric dome with acoustic
Midrange/Woofer: 180mm treated paper
Frequency Response: 34Hz to 20kHz (±3dB)
Impedance: 8 Ohm nominal, 6.5 Ohm
Crossover: Bi-wirable, 1st Order network
Internal Wiring: Premium quality OFC copper
Binding Posts: Bi-wirable gold plated
(Note: U.S. version is not bi-wireable)
Cabinet: Internally braced birch plywood cabinets with hardwood trim.
Dimensions: 960 x 215 x 195 (HxDxW in mm)
Weight: 14 kilos each
Price: $5000 in wood, Piano finish is $8,800
3 Dukes Road
Scotland KA10 6QR
United States Distributor
3131 Piccolo Street
Pasedina, CA 91107