ADAM Audio is a speaker company that is likely new to most North American audiophiles. Based in Berlin, Germany, ADAM has been producing speakers for the professional market since 1999. Founded by a physicist, Klaus Heinz, and a partner, the company was called ADAM for its Advance Dynamic Audio Monitors.
Heinz, who is the CEO of ADAM, had started in speaker design almost two decades earlier as a result of discussions with Dr. Oskar Heil, inventor of the Air Motion Transformer. Those of us old enough to have watched the first moon landing may remember the ESS AMT-1, which around forty years ago was the first speaker to use Dr. Heil's unusual tweeter. I remember the AMT, versions of which are being produced today, as being very fast and sweet, indeed far faster than the other drivers in the original speaker. A number of manufacturers have either used the AMT driver or produced modifications of the original design. Over time, Klaus Heinz’ elaborations of that design has been further refined. ADAM's original version is called the ART, for its use of "Accelerating Ribbon Technology". The newest version is called the X-ART.
ADAM produce three principal ranges of speakers for the home audio market using the ART tweeter, as well as a no-holds-barred version called Olympus. The Column Mk3, the subject of this review, is at the head of the Classic (Mk 3) series, which include ADAM’s most popular speakers.
I had one quibble with the physical design, and
that concerns the terminals on the rear panel. The Columns allow for bi-wiring
and consequently have a jumper between the two sets of L-R posts. I did not bi-wire
and had some difficulty attaching the spade lugs on the various cables I used (Goertz
AG-3, Kimber Select, Transparent Reference, and an unnamed custom cable). It may
be that other lugs would work better, or that I was just not smart enough to
figure out the sequence for attaching everything securely. For me, the jumper
kept getting in the way of the best position for the lugs. This was only a minor
annoyance, but if you plan to switch out the speaker cables frequently, you will
want to find connectors (perhaps some high-end banana plugs) that are easy to
Roger Fortier, the VP of ADAM Audio USA,
delivered and helped with the setup of the Columns. He advised that, unlike many
speakers, the Columns are designed to be toed in so that the drivers are
pointing pretty much directly at the listening position. I set them about 7 to 8
feet away from my seat, well out (by necessity) from the rear and side walls. I
wound up going with Roger's recommendation on toe-in after some brief
experimentation and then began listening.
In addition, the X-ART tweeter's pleated membrane avoids the typical breakup/distortion and subsequent dynamic limiting at higher frequencies of stiffer voice coil designs, such as those found in dome and cone tweeters. Another positive result of the X-ART design is that the driving "stripes" are in direct contact with the outer air and are cooled immediately. It is worth noting that all of the tweeters are made in house, and are unique to ADAM Audio.
The change in the X-ART driver is said to derive from the folding of the X-ART diaphragm into the third dimension. In this way a larger foil can be used, to increase the acoustically effective area of the diaphragm. Relative to the earlier versions of the AMT, the result is higher dynamic output and wider dispersion. I myself remember the limitations of dispersion in the original ESS speaker. But they were at least in part offset by the sweet extended treble.
In addition, the latest version of the Columns
uses new drivers for the bass and lower midrange that are the same as those in
the high-end Tensor range. The choice is active or passive. ADAM's
opinion, per Roger Fortier, is that the active speakers sound much closer to
what the recording engineers and artist hear in the studio, since the active
speaker has dedicated amps for each driver with the crossover done in the active
domain. On the other hand, the listener is free to use any amplifier desired via
the passive design, and such an arrangement may meet the listener's needs more
Let There Be Light
I moved to "Telegraph Road", a much louder,
fuller cut. All the precision remained, with the speed of the piano notes a
pleasant surprise, but I again thought the bottom notes lacked some heft.
Something unamplified was required. I put on "Lady Be Good" from Jazz at the Pawnshop (OK, laugh at me now, but it is a fine recording…). The club noise, the glasses clinking – never better; you are really in the club. The sax solo comes through utterly without strain and with the greatest ease, and I noted the vibes were "almost perfect". Granted, the Swedish jazz does not contain a lot of bass information at all. That said, the consistent impression coming from the Columns was one of precision, detail, harmonic accuracy, and a little lack of weight.
Needing to check my benchmarks, I switched out
the Columns and put my own speakers (Ars Aures Midi Sensorials – over twice
the price of the Columns), into the system. Immediately we heard a loss of
transparency in the highs – not dramatic, but noticeable to all in the room.
There is no doubt that the X-ART tweeter is as fast as advertised, and as
comparably fast as I remember the original AMT. At the same time, the Midis were
"richer" and seemed more balanced through the whole of the musical range. Again,
the price difference doesn't make this a fair comparison – and that is not the
point. What the Columns really did was to cause me to question my baseline
notions of what sounded "right" and "true" from the upper midrange on up. And it
is not only from the upper midrange on up, although the highs contribute so
notably to the impression of transparency. From top to bottom, the Columns are
exceedingly clear; they make many other dynamic speakers sound sluggish in
Further listening tended to confirm my initial
impressions. On "Chuck E's in Love", Rickie Lee Jones' voice was young and fresh
via the Columns. With my own speakers she had more substance, but sounded a
little shaded, with less snap. From the same era, Steve Forbert's debut album, Alive
on Arrival, tended to the bright side (which it is, albeit
well-recorded) but was as dynamic as I have ever heard it. Donald Fagen's The
Nightfly had a see-through quality, with each instrument placed just
so across the stage. At the same time, the lower midrange seemed a
bit overshadowed by the highs, as though it had moved to the back of the hall.
His voice, just like female voices, emerged without any extra adornment or
baggage, as natural as if he were standing next to you.
Fortier had suggested, based on his experience, that my Nordost SPM Reference
interconnects might not be an ideal partner for the Columns and that I might
want to try another cable. I did change to both the Goertz TQ-2s and older
Transparent Reference cables. Both cables added a little weight without any loss
of clarity and seemed to reduce a very faint nasal tinge I had noticed on female
One additional note that underlines just how revealing these speakers are: pitch variation and warps were very clearly audible, whereas usually those defects do not bother me much at all.
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