Ho boy where to begin?
Background: I caught the hifi bug when I purchased a pair of Vanatoo T0s for my PC desktop setup. And holy crap those things are jaw dropping. Like we are talking a soundstage that extends 6’ beyond the speakers while maintaining pinpoint 3D holographic imaging across the whole thing. The center vocal image is so convincing you feel like you can reach out and strangle the singer with your eyes closed. Then if you hear footsteps or a door opening to stage left or right which is almost behind you it sounds so real you snap your neck around to make sure someone isn’t in the room with you. I’ve been trying to recreate that experience in a full sized living room setup ever since. My room is 16’x35’ with a 130" projection screen fed from a home theatre/gaming PC so I don’t have much room left to work with so dipole speakers like Magnepans or open baffles were out.
I started with a pair of Kef Q150s fed from a Schiit Modi Multibit DAC into a Crown XLS 1002 amp then later upgraded to a Schiit Vidar. The Q150s had a decently wide soundstage but, at least in my room, the imaging was horrible. Tons of vertical blurring in the center vocal image. Then I got a pair of JBL Studio 530s on sale ($250) with a generous trial period, warranty, and free return shipping it was too good to pass up. I can see why Z described them as end game. They got darn close. Just still a little 2 dimensional sounding and they lacked a little oomph in mids. Wasn’t too worried about bass since I’m running two RSL Speedwoofer 10s subs and even in my large room barely go beyond 15% of the volume pot without it being overbearing and rarely listen beyond 85db SPL. I believe my listening position is like 8-9’ back from the speakers and screen.
Review: Since I can’t really accommodate floor standers with my furniture layout and stand mounts typically image better anyways I decided to go that route. I’m rather poor and figured if a budget of $2000 couldn’t get the job done then its just not worth it. In that price range the Kef LS50s R3 and many others are an option. And considering how poorly a wide dispersion Uni Q driver performed in my room before I was hesitant to go that route to say the least.
The Arendal monitors, at least the 8" non-S version measured pretty flat with good off axis response and had much better sensitivity than the JBLs and thus likely to do dynamics much better. Along with the the glowing reviews and crazy 60 day trial period including free return shipping with a 10yr warranty I figured what the hell. The Tekton Impact Monitors were also tempting but considering the sketchy behavior of the owner/designer I was once again hesitant.
What can I say? I just got the Arendals today and am nowhere near the 50hr recommended break in time and I’d already say they knocked it out of the park. They still don’t have the crazy imaging and soundstage of the Vanatoos (those are usually tradeoffs) but they get a lot closer than the JBLs. I’m chalking the rest up to room interactions which are much more at play than a nearfield setup. Like the JBLs being a controlled directivity speaker you can do time/intensity trading (extreme tow in/crossing the streams) and get a very wide sweet spot. Which is nice when running a traditional 2.2 system without a center channel and 130" screen.
The dynamics on these things are crazy. I can see why people said their larger brothers sound more like a tower. The highs are sparkly without being fatiguing. The midrange is much more pronounced than the JBLs and the upper bass region is thunderous. Overall they sound very even keeled across the entire audio band and exceedingly flat and neutral. Usually I’d say such a response is boring but with the dynamics these things have and the ability to truly energize the room that is just not the case. The nice thing is these are chameleons and convey the sound of your electronics and source material VERY well. They don’t do fine grain texture in the mid and bass region quite as well as say a paper woofer but they are also marketed more as a home theatre speaker.
I listen to all types of music and hot damn are these suckers really good all rounders. Everything sounds good through them. They don’t make poor recordings unlistenable but will also scale very well with higher quality recordings. If say intimate jazz recordings are your thing and you don’t need the output probably look elsewhere. But I have never heard symphonic classical music sound so good. But they are just as at home doing heavy metal. =)
The soundstage doesn’t really extend past the speakers but I also have them in a time/intensity trading setup (extreme tow in). And in my case I don’t really need them to go wider since they are a good 14’ apart. I’m not a purist and really appreciate how well these things take to EQing when the itch to make adjustments hits me. For being a good bit more sensitive than typical bookshelfs (about 90db/m) they certainly have more headroom. They get pretty darn loud but not as much of a difference as I thought it would be. I’d say 95db from 9’ away. More than enough but still curse the inverse square law lol.
That being said I wouldn’t consider these “bookshelf” speakers at 2’ tall 14" deep and 8" wide while weighing a hefty 50lbs each. Had to order new stands. The ones I have now are sketchy at best. They are constructed with 1" thick HDF and have stupidly thick high quality painted finish on them. You can get them in either a satin finish or piano gloss. While I love me some piano gloss I figured that could be an utter disaster with a projector. So I went with the satin in white to match my white RSL subs. I know not the best color for a projection screen but I don’t have a dedicated home theater so fuck it.
So again not as laser focused and wide as the Vanatoos but close enough and the absolutely massive scale to the sound they produce more than makes up for it. RSL has a suspiciously similar speaker (cg25) right down to the curved metal grills just without the waveguide on the tweeter and with compression guide front slot ports instead of dual rear ports. I’d imagine those are more of a wider dispersion speaker and I’m very interested in comparing them when they come back in stock at the end of the year. They are also half the price ($1000) to boot.
With live recordings these things capture the room/space very well. I finally get why people are into that kind of thing lol. I think if you are looking for a great all rounder standmount with crazy dynamics these are a keeper. Add in the quality these exude and the generous return policy and warranty these are a no brainer if within your budget. If not I’d say looking into the RSL CG25 monitor/center channel speakers would be a good bet.
Sorry I can’t go more into tone. I don’t have well trained ears. Did a ABX test between MP3 and FLAC. I got a like 45% while by boyfriend who’s a musician but also 100% def in one ear and 80% def in the other got like 85% lol. I’d just say the frequency response graph on Arendal’s website seems accurate. It feels like you just get a very clear idea of what your recordings actually sound like. There’s good layering with these. Sometimes the center vocal image is pretty forward sounding other times its stepped way back depending on the recording.
They blend MUCH better with my subs than the JBLs did. And there’s really no need to do a high pass filter on them with their THX certified output. These things are gonna be really fun to try out new amps and DACs with as well a different tubes in the the Schiit Freya preamp I’m using. That is if tubes ever come back considering how things are going with Russia/Ukraine. =(
So yeah I give these a big ol’ thumbs up if you are looking for an allrounder for all kinds of music and home theatre use and need a monitor style speaker that can hang with floor standers