Art Loudpeakers is a small, Scottish manufacture, almost completely unknown in Poland, that finally found a way to our country. This was possible by the passion and personal involvement of Mr. Piotr Bednarski, who imported a few sets of those speakers, more for his friends, than with the idea of trading them, and he did not foresee that those will “catch” on so quickly. And in that, maybe not fully conscious way, he became the distributor of that brand. Being busy with something completely different, he devoted his heart to that brand. This is unusual, as normally the process goes the other way round – in the first step someone takes the decision to become a distributor, and then he or she chooses the brands that are available and are easy to implement on the market and in the press. And then he or she tries to love them. The way chosen by Mr. Bednarski is for us, potential clients, better, but for the distributor more risky. But love does not choose…
The company A.R.T. was founded in 1995 by the brothers Derek and Ramsay Dunlop that worked earlier for the family company Systemdeck, a turntable specialist led by their father – Peter. The brothers chose their own way and found A.R.T. Loudspeakers. The name is an acronym to Acoustic Reproduction Technology. Its catalog is not very broad, but the accents are visibly placed. We can choose between seven models in four sub-groups: the most impressive model (one of a kind), Impression, with modular buildup, where every driver has its own module, Emotion, then two models being actually big stand mount speakers with integrated stands, then the model Expression V6 and the Stilette series, where the model 6 occupies the middle place. This is not a big company, but – similar to our Polish manufacturers like Ancient Audio – the prizes are not low. I state it even differently: this is a small manufacture, those are specialists, and this is why the prizes are not low. Against that background, the Stlilette 6 are one of the more affordable offers.
This model is built based on the Stiletto, that should keep the same tonal balance, using a bigger mid/bass driver with 180mm diameter. This is a two-way construction, with a coated paper woofer and a soft dome tweeter located in a sort of ‘wave guide’, a tube, improving the efficiency a bit, but most of all controlling the propagation of the high frequencies. As usual with minimalists, a first order cross-over was used. But the most important information is the one about efficiency and impedance – the brothers Dunlop are tube fanatics, and they don’t hide that. That is why they make loudspeakers for such kind of applications – the model Stiletto 6 has a nice, but surely not outstanding efficiency of 88.5 dB (1W/1m) but also a brilliant impedance curve, that does not go below 6.5 with 8 nominal impedance. This is a dream of every tube amplifier…
I remember well the sound of the loudspeakers of this company I heard during the Audio Show 2007. Just after a few moments of listening there was no doubt that the people behind those speakers know what they want, and – what is maybe even more important – they have good hearing. I mean, to be precise, I did not remember the sound very well, but firing-up the Stiletto 6 it came back immediately – the same aesthetics, the same sensibility and emphasis on similar elements of the sound. Those are no “me too” loudspeakers, but an effect of serious thinking about the reproduction of music and choices made. In this case this means a departure from full neutrality and accuracy in the name of subjective perception of music. For some time, at the beginning of the test, the ART played jazz music, as they arrived at the same time as the package from Japan that contained K2HD discs from the company Bethlehem, with among others Art Blakey’s Big Band (Bethlehem Records/Victor Enterteinment, VICJ-61487, K2 HD, CD) and Mel Tormé at The Crescendo (Bethlehem Records/Victor Enterteinment, VICJ-61461, K2 HD, CD). Great music and really good sound. Anyway at first jazz was the king, and I liked the way it was presented by the Stiletto 6. That what was overwhelming in the more expensive loudspeakers, the fullness and intensity of the reproduction, with “palpability”, that was a bit reduced here, but it could not be mistaken for anything else. Also the internal coherence and the very good tempo of the recordings were preserved. The second piece on the Tormé disc, named What Is This Thing Called Love starts with drums played with the hands. This was shown in a dynamic, strong way, with a slightly rounded attack, but also very natural, easily “coming in”. The first line was quite close, but not in front of the speaker line. The voice was strong, big and located in the first line. I mentioned jazz, because this character combined well with this kind of music. The rhythm, flow, timbre and connections between musicians were really splendid, resembling that what I heard from the loudspeakers Penaudio Alba. I think that this is no coincidence, that both companies make enclosures from plywood and use (look in Description) the same mid-woofer, and that what I heard is in some way a derivative of this choice. On the mentioned disc, and also on a disc I play often lately, Intensity from Art Pepper (Contemporary Records/Universal Music [Japan], UCCO-5114, CD), the timbre of all instruments was brilliantly captured.
Because this is probably the biggest asset of the ART: the natural timbre of everything what is thrown at them. The brothers Dunlop captured the most important thing in music – regardless of the fact if it is live or recorded: the spirit of it and its continuity. This is an interesting thing, especially for me, as besides the singular phenomena like timbres of individual instruments, I always try to catch some general regularity that would allow for a broader look at audio as a whole. And it is interesting, because in many cases it is so, that some kind of communicativeness, naturalness, being true to the spirit of the recording does not go in pair with accuracy and narrowly regarded fidelity. I say more: if we do not stay in the stratosphere of prizes and quality, the approach from the same side as that of Spendor, Accuphase, Penaudio, Kondo, 47 Labs, Wilson Audio in the loudspeakers Duette, or ART seems more natural, I mean this kind of deviation from fidelity, and they are always present, are easier to accept. Even more: Stilette 6 sound in a so unconstrained, natural, one would say “analog” way, that knowing how and what they change in the sound we just accept this and just listen to music. Those departures from neutrality are not big, but they go in a different direction than those in loudspeakers like Audio Physic or Triangle, where the basis for the sound is a perfect attack, speed and space.
When we use the Stiletto 6 to listen to the disc of Jack Johnson Sleep Trough The Static (Brushfire Records, 756055, CD), that I also warmly recommend to everybody, where we deal with a natural recording, without contrive, etc. then that what is most important in music reaches the first plane: fullness, warmth, coherence, some way of interaction between the musicians, that apparently had a great time while recording. This all is instantly communicated by the ART loudspeakers. This is helped by a slight underlining of the midrange, that is present regardless of the fact if we use a tube amplifier, like my Leben CS-300, or a solid state one like the Luxmana M-800A. So it is worth to search for an amplifier that does not emphasize on this element. It is necessary to bring out their internal tension, that makes even the more commercial discs, like the Courage Paula Cole (Decca, B0008292-2, CD), or Too Madity (Couch Records, CR 20472, CD) sound splendidly, with a pulsating rhythm, and at the same time without underlining the realization flaws of those discs. This is helped by the slightly laid-back treble of those speakers. It is not that there is no treble, or that it is hazy. I cannot explain that, but on some recordings where there is a lot of the treble, but at the same time it is clean and just good, like on the disc In Rainbows Radiohead (XL records, XLCD 324, CD), then they sound strong. On the discs of Cole and Madity, where the treble is a bit too strong and not so clean, there it was laid-back. It just sounds that way…
The bass is not reaching far down and for most of the listening session one could have the idea, that a large stand mount speaker plays. But if we listen to the ART without any prejudice it will turn out, that actually the bass extension is just like I wrote, but at the point where in a stand mount speaker the bass-reflex starts to ump air, changing the character of the sound in that frequency range to a more strained one, here we sound free, as if a closed enclosure would play. It can be easily heard, that this is a conscious choice – better less and good than more and not so good. We just have to accept, that the enlargement of the enclosure does not lead to the increase of lower bass, but improvement of its part, that we would get from a stand mount speaker. Only worse. The manufacturer suggests to place the loudspeakers close to the back wall – 300mm – suggesting that when needed they can be placed as close as 100mm. This means that they are easy to set up. Placing them close to the wall increases the bass without droning. One could fear that the sound stage will be destroyed that way, but there is nothing to fear, partially due to the earlier choices made by the engineers, as the sound stage is not very deep regardless of their placing. All those things do not change the absolutely positive perception of the Stiletto 6 by all people that can sacrifice resolution and transparency for the sake of timbre and coherence. But they must be listened to before buying, due to the sound stage issue, because as I wrote this is not very deep. The imaging in breadth is splendid, and even such volatile things like the choir from Cole’s disc singing the phrase comin’ down, comin’ down in the first piece, and is located exactly in both speakers, sounded phenomenally here, as the voices came even from outer sides of the loudspeakers – I believe just like it should sound. But the planes into the depth are not clear – there is perspective, breadth, but it comes not from thorough positioning, but from nice operation with dynamics.
So this is not the sound for everybody. It has its characteristics that can be easily identified, and set against each person’s expectations. Those ore no “hi-fi” loudspeakers, they are not suitable for in-depth analysis of the recordings from the technical perspective, they will not go down so far and enthusiastic on the bass like the, otherwise splendid, Chario Constellation Pegasus. On the other hand, they can be driven by any amplifier. One just has to remember, that this cannot be an especially warm device (it cannot be warmed) and it can easily be a tube amp. Against the suggestion made by the technical data, they will sound fine with a solid state amplifier. My Model 5 Avantgarde Acoustic (for sale!), with its ultra-clean, precise sound and a power of 27W per channel turned out to be their ideal partner. Those are ones of the cheapest loudspeakers from that manufacturer, but certainly as interesting as the more expensive models, and absolutely worth the sin of a long listening session.
The model Stiletto 6 of the Scottish company ART Loudpeakers is a two-way, floor standing loudspeaker with a bass-reflex enclosure, venting to the back plate. The shape is very attractive, as the loudspeaker is very lean. The cross-section of the enclosure is almost square, with the front baffle narrower than the depth by 20mm. To stabilize the speaker a black varnished MDF plinth was attached. The loudspeaker is standing on four spikes with nylon, instead of metal, countering screws. The enclosure is made from plywood enforced with wooden inserts and corners and it is finished with natural veneers. Additionally the enclosure is enforced with a grommet running through the whole height of the enclosure parallel to the front baffle.
The drivers were factory modified to fit ART requirements: the tweeter in Peerless and the mid-woofer CA18RNX from the Prestige series – exactly the same like in the Penaudio Alba loudspeakers – in SEAS. The tweeter dome, with 25mm diameter, was acoustically loaded with a small tube, that has to improve efficiency and facilitate the crossing between the drivers. The woofer has a diaphragm from coated paper suspended on a rubber, quite soft, fold. The cross-over is mounted on an additional plywood plate and glued to the back plate, just behind the SEAS driver. We find there two very large air coils, wound on large carcasses, three resistors and two, brilliant British polypropylene capacitors ClarityCap from SA and PX series. Double wire terminals, solid, but without exaggeration, are located below the bass-reflex port. Upon additional payment better terminals and different veneers are available.
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