Analysis Audio Amphitryon Planar / Ribbon Loudspeakers
The greatest two-channel music-listening experience I have ever had.
Review By Wayne Donnelly
here to e-mail reviewer.
We audio reviewers can be a fickle lot,
being constantly tempted by the parade of glittering new toys constantly
passing before us. I have never considered myself a gross "gotta have it"
offender — I pride myself on choosing equipment upgrades carefully,
selecting products with high value for cost and long-term staying power.
But admittedly the appearance of this article, just seven months after my
rapturous review of the Analysis Omegas, suggests a certain flightiness.
(I urge the reader to go back to the Omega article as prelude to the
present piece by clicking
My Omega review ended, "The Omegas are simply the most satisfying
speakers, for every musical genre, that I have ever reviewed. Yes, I'm
afraid they have permanently displaced my beloved Blue Heron 2s, and I
expect to be listening to them for a long time!"
And I meant every word.
But I kept wondering about the bigger ones, the seven-foot-tall
Amphitryons. How much better could they be? And after all, my new
listening room in Chicago was plenty big enough to accommodate them
comfortably. Might I be missing out on something truly spectacular?
After a month or so of worrying the topic, I caved. I telephoned Analysis
distributor Mike Kalellis and requested a pair of Amphitryons for
audition. A couple of weeks later, two massive seven-and-a-half-foot-tall
wooden crates arrived, and the great Amphitryon adventure began.
Many of you must be wondering — as I certainly was — who or what
the heck is an Amphitryon? Well, according to my Webster's, in Greek
mythology Amphitryon was a king of Thebes whose wife was the mother of
Hercules. Ol' Herc was fathered by Zeus, who seduced her by taking the
form of Amphitryon. Oh, you say, that Amphitryon.
I found that information a bit puzzling. Were these my mind-blowing
top-of-the-line loudspeakers, I don't think I'd choose to name them after
an obscure mythological figure whose claim to fame was being cuckolded,
even if by the head god himself. But there may be more to the story than
my five-minute one-entry research turned up. And anyway, these speakers
would sound just as great if they were named for Bozo the Clown!
Physical Description & Technical
First the basics. All four Analysis models are two-way planar-ribbon
designs. The Amphitryons stand an inch less than seven feet tall, 28 inches
wide, and just under three inches deep. Each panel is firmly supported by
two sturdy feet that elevate the bottom edge of the panel about three
inches off the floor. The review pair are solid black, which gives them a 2001-esque
monolithic presence that I find very attractive. The wood frames can also
be ordered in gray or natural wood finishes, always with black cloth
covering the bass panels. The speakers are mirror-imaged, with the nearly
full-length ribbons to the inside. Bi-wire 5-way speaker terminals are
located at the bottom rear of each panel. Altogether, the pair are a
visually graceful presence in my room.
Analysis Audio asserts that to their knowledge their proprietary planar
bass panel is the only such design that features a flexible suspension
attaching it to the frame. That system eliminates most of the distortions
associated with direct membrane clamping, used by other planar builders.
The driver membranes are among the lightest in the industry. The unique
physical attributes of the driver membranes and ribbons, coupled with the
use of a huge and very powerful magnet structure, make the speakers both
highly accurate and easy to drive. Analysis distributor Mike Kalellis
comments that, "In my large showroom with a high ceiling, I typically use
a pair of 60-watt monoblock tube amps. The use of lower-power amps is
typically unheard of with full-range planar-ribbon speakers."
(A quick aside: although I have heard the Analysis loudspeakers driven
to very robust playback levels with modestly powered tube amplifiers, for
this review I used two high-powered amplifiers: the solid-state 'Class D'
Spectron Musician III, and the superb VTL Siegfried tubed monoblocks
(review coming), both of which deliver 800 wpc into 4 ohms. The Analysis
speakers can also soak up lots of power, and play incredibly loudly
with no sense of strain.)
Another important feature of these speakers is the first-order
(6dB/octave) crossover. The impedance curve is very flat, which
facilitates the use of mid-power tube amplifiers. This crossover design
allows the two drivers to work in concert with a smooth transition,
instead of having to accomplish a sudden "hand-off" from one
driver to the other, as would be required by a steeper crossover slope.
I judge this design to be extremely successful — in all my listening to
the Omegas and Amphitryons I have never been able to detect any distortion
artifact around the 650Hz crossover point. These speakers are truly
seamless from top to bottom.
The rated sensitivity of all Analysis speakers is 86dB/W/m — on the face
of it, hardly a high-efficiency number. That being so, how can they play
so loudly with medium-powered tube amplifiers? Because attenuation of the
sound wave traveling through the air is reduced due to the much larger
dimensions of the planar membranes and ribbons. Theory stipulates that
with the exception of a small area close to the sound source
("nearfield"), the sound wave experiences an amplitude drop of
6dB for each doubling of distance to the listener. Within the nearfield
the attenuation is only 3dB. The nearfield extends to roughly three times
the dimension of the driver. Although this is negligible for an ordinary
tweeter (a few centimeters), the nearfield for a 2-meter-tall ribbon
tweeter reaches about 6 meters. The following table compares loudness for
two different drivers of the same rated sensitivity, according to the
distance from a listener:
1m 2m 4m
86dB 80dB 74dB
2 meter ribbon:
86dB 83dB 80dB
This means that at a one-meter distance both drivers' outputs are about
the same, but at four meters the planar loudspeaker sounds twice as loud.
Review System & Loudspeaker
My listening room is a 23 x 15 x 9.5 (feet) space whose back area
(behind the listening seats) opens out to a large dining room on the left
side and a generously sized foyer to the right. The back (kitchen) wall is
broken up by a large pass-through opening. (In fact, the balance of sound
in the kitchen is quite extraordinary.) The floor throughout the apartment
is solid oak laid over 12 inches of concrete. This configuration provides
excellent focus, with the soundscape defined principally within the 15-foot
width at the system end, opening into the very large area behind the
The Amphitryons were driven by my VTL 7.5 line preamplifier, Modwright/Denon
3910 all-format player, Ray Samuels Emmeline phono stage (a 2005 Blue Note
Award winner, on loan from the manufacturer), Basis 2800 vacuum turntable,
Graham 2.2 pickup arm, Transfiguration Temper cartridge, and cables from
Jack Bybee as well as from Acapella and JPS Labs (reviews coming on both
of the latter brands). The Spectron Musician III (which received from me a
2006 Blue Note Award) saw the most service, with briefer appearances by
the VTL Siegfried monoblocks.
I placed the Amphitryons in the same position the Omegas had occupied,
a little under four feet from the back wall, with the (mirror-imaged on
the inside) ribbon drivers about seven feet apart with a slight toe-in, My
primary listening sofa is about 10 feet back from the plane of the
speakers. With those proportions I have a very broad sweet spot,
perceiving a well-developed soundscape from any of the three seating
positions on the sofa. The vertical orientation of the bass panels and ribbons, and the 7
height of the speakers, make the Amphitryons a line source; therefore the
tonal balance doesn't change noticeably whether I am sitting or standing.
Another benefit of a line source is that there is very little reflection
off the floor, ceiling or side walls, as is typically associated with cone
drivers in enclosures — and which tends to complicate and blur spatial
clarity and image presentation. The Amphitryons produce very stable images
within a soundscape that ranges wall-to-wall and beyond, as if melting
away side and back walls.
Listening Room Trade-Off
Dipole bass is very different from even the quickest and tightest box
speakers, even the best transmission-line designs such as the
aforementioned Meadowlarks. The Amphitryons (like the Omegas) go down to
22Hz, but the lower notes do not have the familiar box boom "whomp." I
have always liked slammy, visceral bass, If it is also tight and well
controlled, but I have grown to love the sheer speed and resolution of the
Amphitryons' low frequencies, and the speakers' seamless tonal coherence
throughout the full frequency spectrum. Still, I do not hear (feel?) 22Hz
in this setup, and I think I know
why. My wall behind the speakers is mostly filled by two huge (62 x 72
inch) double-glazed windows — which constitute an acoustic "hole" which
acts as a depression for low bass frequencies. I know that the Amphitryons
produce deeper bass than I am hearing, because I have heard them in a
different room having totally solid back and sidewalls. The loss of those
lowest notes is the only really significant negative associated with this
room. And, given the extraordinary precision and resolution of the in-room
bass response, it's a tradeoff I am willing to make.
Those huge windows do also factor into the speakers' overall tonal and
spatial performance. With the heavy wooden blinds raised, the speakers can
sound a little "hot" from their back wave reflecting off the glass. For
serious listening sessions I always lower the blinds to dissipate that
back wave, significantly improving focus and image specificity. With that
done, the Amphitryons produce very stable images within a soundscape that
ranges wall-to-wall and beyond, as if melting away side and back walls.
Then, so spatially revealing are the Amphitryons that it is easy in most
cases to discern the size of the recording venue and the type of
microphone setup used.
Omegas To Amphitryons:
The Listening Transition
The specifications for the Omegas and Amphitryons are essentially
identical — e.g., the low frequency limit of 22Hz, and 86dB/W/m
sensitivity. So, what differences did I expect to hear from the upgrade?
Primarily, based on the increased bass radiating area and substantially
longer ribbon of the Amphitryon, I was hoping for a bit more "grip," and
if not deeper bass, then a sense of greater amplitude and authority in the
lower frequencies — in effect, the ability to fill my listening room
more completely, especially with the large-scale symphonic and operatic
recordings so dear to my heart. Those expectations were fulfilled,
although that fulfillment was slow in arriving.
The Omegas had needed about 100 hours of playing time to reach 90
percent of their full sonic capability, and perhaps another 50 hours for
complete break-in. The Amphitryons were a different story. Through
about the first 250 hours, I sometimes found myself wondering if the bass
panels might be defective; there seemed to be less, not more bass weight
than I had heard from the Omegas. But finally, after what I estimate was
about 400+ hours, the big guys opened up, and I knew I had made the right
call. Now my room morphed instantly into a well-fleshed-out semblance of
the opera house, concert hall, chamber venue, rock arena or intimate club
captured on the recordings. Fine as the Omegas had been, in this listening
room the Amphitryons created even more multidimensional magic. Here at
last is the greatest two-channel music-listening experience I have ever
had. And not just spatially — this is also the most tonally dead-accurate
musical reproduction I have ever experienced.
Don't think that large-scale music and big performing spaces are the
whole story. Smaller-scaled, more intimate music is rendered flawlessly as
well. I was surprised time and again by how the Amphitryons captured the
subtlety of small, quiet performance, whether vocal or instrumental. I
recall thinking once that these speakers should be called something like
— playing on the Greek term mimesis: representation of reality.
So, the perfect speaker? After years of reviewer conditioning, I
know to say "No — no equipment is perfect." But there is a part of me
that wants to scream "hell yes!" Of course they are not literally
perfect, but they come closer to it than any speakers this guy has ever
encountered — even those six-figure audio fantasies that populate our
hobby these days. So, to paraphrase something I said a few months ago, I'm
keeping the Amphitryons, and I expect to be listening to them for years to
come. The loudspeaker that can make me change my mind has not, I think,
been invented yet.
Type: Two-way floorstanding planar-ribbon dipole
Woofer: Planar magnetic with effective area of 840 square inches
Midrange/Tweeter: Direct-coupled ribbon with effective area
of 62 square inches
Frequency Response: 22Hz to 20kHz
Crossover: First-Order (6dB/octave) at 650Hz
Impedance: 6 Ohms
Recommended Amplifier: 50 Watt minimum, 600 maximum
Dimensions: 83 x 28 x 2.8 (HxWxD in inches)
Weight: 190 lbs. each
Warranty: 3 years, non-transferable
Price: $24,000 per pair
Analysis Audio USA
385 Forrest Hill Way
Mountainside, NJ 07092
Voice/Fax: (908) 233-0988