Brad Watts gets his hands on these pleasant-looking passive models from a certain Finnish monitor manufacturer – but not the one you might think.
It’s a bit of a rarity to come across passive monitors these days. In a world where convenience is king, every new studio monitor design has an amplifier jammed into the design specification.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot going for amplifier integration with monitor cabinets: besides the convenience you know the amp is designed specifically for the drivers, and you know powered monitors will sound the same should you need to jump to the same monitor in another studio. Plus, you’re not sullying your signal path with inferior and extended length speaker cable – there’s a line level signal straight from your DAW or console to the monitors.
However, there are issues with the powered monitor concept. Perhaps most apparent is the precious cabinet capacity being impinged upon by the addition of amplifier components, along with the associated and somewhat space-hungry heat-syncs and power supplies. There’s also inevitable compromises required when designing an amplifier to fit within the confines of a nearfield monitor cabinet. In order to meet these constraints many manufacturers use Class D amplifiers. While far superior to the Class D designs of yore, this style of amp is still not regarded as the ultimate choice for monitoring.
On the plus side, a Class D amp makes it very easy to introduce a digital input to the monitor. That said, you may prefer a different amplifier topology, but with a powered monitor you’re stuck with the manufacturer’s choice of amp. Then there’s the issue of the vibrations from the drivers gradually shaking each and every solder joint and component in the amplifiers to pieces. Or, if one amp decides to pack it in, your monitors are rendered useless until they’re shipped out to the repairers – there’s zero chance of switching out the amplifier with a spare to get you through the mix.
It’s clear there are both disadvantages and advantages with each style of monitor design, but if a passive monitor is required a new monitor range from the far-flung Republic of Finland is filling a section of this gap. Amphion has been in the audiophile market for some years now, with an established range of speakers for the audio aficionado and those looking for quality surround and theatre systems.
The Amphion monitor range includes no fewer than five quite distinct models – the One12, One15 and One18, along with the larger Two15 and Two18. The One series utilises 4.5, 5.25 and 6.5in low-end drivers respectively, with the Two range providing dual low-end 5.25 and 6.5in drivers in a D’Apolito format. While the dual designs will certainly require larger spaces, it’s the One18 that will no doubt be the initial source of reference for potential buyers of the Amphion monitors. It’s this model I was given the opportunity to audition recently, along with Amphion’s 100W-per-side amplifier.
So let’s have a look at the specs of the One18s more thoroughly. The One18 uses a 6.5in Seas aluminium bass driver and 1in titanium high-end driver. At first I’d imagined the driver choice to be somewhat overbearing for my tastes, however the One18s didn’t seem to ‘wear’ my listening stamina like titanium endowed monitors I’ve used in the past.
According to Amphion’s founder ?Anssi Hyvönen, the philosophy behind the One and Two series designs is to ?have every possible physical attribute of the monitor as close to optimal as possible. These tolerances primarily take into account alignment of upper and lower drivers.
Apart from the large waveguide, the other interesting aspect behind the One18 sound is the use of a passive radiator on the rear of the cabinet. This is basically a speaker cone without a transducer. As the ‘active’ low-end driver pushes and pulls, the radiator reacts in sympathy. It’s almost like having two low-end drivers, but this concept provides a far more controlled bass response, without relying on porting. That’s right; these cabinets are sealed.
The sound is not hyped in either low or high end; in fact at first they can seem a little flat – even bland. That said, after settling in to the One18 sound I did warm to these monitors. There’s a lot of focus on midrange, and with our predominantly midrange listening range, this makes a lot of sense. It also makes sense considering the raft of midrange-centric playback mediums one must mix for these days.
It didn’t take long to become impressed with the accuracy, and what’s more, they kept this level of accuracy even at low volumes, which is where I prefer my master volume knob set. With this in mind, I couldn’t help but imagine these monitors could be the next [Yamaha] NS10. It’s perhaps ironic that the One18 looks similar to the aforementioned workhorse monitor. Not that these sound like NS10s – perish that thought entirely – but the midrange accuracy and flat response tends to put these speakers into that same workhorse category.
For a bit of a giggle I went so far as to place the One18s on their sides, NS10 style, and was even more encouraged as to the NS10 comparison. Yes I know, horizontal alignment of two drivers is a no-no, but it did reinforce my opinion. These monitors would easily replicate what you may love about your ageing Yamaha stalwarts, albeit with terrific bottom end.
I could go further into specifics and specs, but to get a solid handle on how beautifully honest the One18 is, you must audition a pair. Put them with your favourite amplifier, or avail yourself of Amphion’s ‘Amp100’ bespoke design, which I’ll add, is a Class D design – an approach Amphion feels is where further accuracy lies. I did try the One18s with my modded Quad 405 and my favourite Rotel, but returned to the Amphion amp pretty quickly. So save your pennies, and I assure you your mixes will translate.
Brad Watts has been a freelance writer for numerous audio mags, has mastered and mixed various bands, and was deputy editor of AudioTechnology in Australia. He is now digital content manager for Content and Technology.