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Mid-October 2006
Superior Audio Equipment Review

Analysis Audio Amphitryon Planar / Ribbon Loudspeakers

The greatest two-channel music-listening experience I have ever had.

Review By Wayne Donnelly
Click 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 here.)

Analysis Audio Amphitryon Planar / Ribbon LoudspeakersMy 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.

 

Amphitryon Who?
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 Concepts
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:

 

        Distance:                       1m       2m      4m

        Ordinary tweeter:         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 Placement
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 listening seats.

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 foot 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 "Mimeticas" 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.

 

 

Specifications
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

Sensitivity: 86dB/W/m

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

 

Company Information
Analysis Audio USA 
385 Forrest Hill Way
Mountainside, NJ 07092

Voice/Fax: (908) 233-0988
E-mail: info@analysisaudiousa.com
Website: www.analysisaudiousa.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
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