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Floorstanding loudspeakers
ART Emotion Classic 12 Signature

Price: 12 000 £ (Signature), 7000 £ (Standard)

Manufacturer: ART Loudspeakers

3 Dukes Road | Troon | Ayrshire | Scotland KA10 6QR
tel./fax: (00)44 01292 319 416

Polish Distributor: Pełne Brzmienie

Country of origin: Scotland

Manufacturer’s website: ART Loudspeakers

Text: Marek Dyba
Pictures: Marek Dyba

I suppose that there are some tube aficionados among you, and among them there are also those who prefer SET amplifiers above all others. I am a SET aficionado myself – the sound of 300B SET is as close to my personal perfect sound as it gets (to be perfectly clear – that’s my personal preference not objective reviewer’s statement!). Using 300B SET implicates using also some high efficiency loudspeakers, like my own horns that offer sensitivity of more or less 100dB. Horn speakers have a lot to offer – wonderful musicality, amazing palpable midrange just to name a few. But there are downsides too, like limited performance in bass range, or tonal balance that is far from being neutral.
Both me and other SET aficionados are aware of the downsides but we accept them because there are more upsides that we love so much. Would we want a perfect loudspeaker without any downsides? Sure – bring it on! Something that would allow retaining all SET advantages while adding well extended, powerful bass.
Hypothetically there are two options. One is a more powerful SET that could drive some heavier loads; option two are big three-way floorstanders, with possibly huge bass unit (most likely with paper cone) but very easy to drive so that 8W from 300B SET would be enough. Option number one is doable if you can afford it – a SET that I would immediately recommend is Austrian Ayon Crossfire II, that on one hand was able to make my horns sound like speakers with a huge woofer, and on the other is capable of driving much more difficult loads. It delivers 35W per channel, offers beautiful midrange (very close to the one of my 300B SET) with amazing dynamics, and fantastic (SS-like) bass. The question is if the second option is really doable? Sure there are some large monitors like the ones from Audio Note, or even Avcon Avalanche Reference Monitors – both of them can be driven by 8W from 300B SET but if you double that output power it will do them even better (especially the Avalanche). But we are looking for big floorstanders and not monitors, and regardless how long I look I can’t find any.

But the day has come – I was to receive for a review a pair of speakers that might fulfill my expectations. Where could these came from if not from A.R.T. Loudspeakers Company, that, as some say, specializes in making speakers for tube lovers?
Derek and Ramsay Dunlop, sons of the founder of Systemdek brand, have been making loudspeakers since 1995 and I think (but can’t be 100% as I don’t know all their models) that most of them were easy loads that could be driven even by not so powerful SET amplifiers. For this particular review the distributor delivered a new addition to company’s offer - ART Emotion Classic 12 Signature (when I was writing this text this model wasn’t even on manufacturer’s webpage). So in fact when I started my listening sessions I did not even know the basic parameters of those speakers (which has its upside – no particular expectations), only knowing they were designed for use with SET amplifiers. The Distributor – Piotr Bednarski – told me one thing (that made me very happy): „it’s a big, 3-way design that is quite easy to drive so possibly also your Symphony II should be a nice match”. When they finally landed in my room the smile on my face grew even bigger – I didn’t realize two things before. Firstly - this model came from the Classic line, which stands for “classic” cabinet (unlike those in Moderne or Deco line, that, to be honest, were never my favorites). Secondly – the ‘12’ in model’s name meant 12” woofer and it was supposed to be not so difficult load for 8W SET! Too beautiful to be true, right?! Only listening session could verify that but considering a recently acquired upgrade of my Symphony II amplifier (Tom Willis from ArtAudio replaced transformers with those used normally in Diavolo) I was hoping for positive verification of Distributor’s suggestion. Sure I noticed also one downside (in my opinion of course) – a huge bass-reflex port on the back side of the speaker that could suggest problems with “boomy” bass in my room.


Recordings used for this test (selection):

  • The Ray Brown Trio, Soular energy, Pure Audiophile, PA-002 (2), LP.
  • AC/DC, Back in black, SONY, B000089RV6, CD.
  • Dire Straits, Love over gold, 25PP-60, LP.
  • John Lee Hooker, The best of friends, pointblank, 7243 8 46424 26 VPBCD49, CD.
  • Eva Cassidy, Eva by heart, Blix Street 410047, CD
  • Renaud Garcia-Fons, Arcoluz, ENJ94782, CD.
  • Metallica, Metallica, 511831-1, 4 x LP.
  • Marek Dyjak, Jeszcze raz, CD.
  • Al di Meola, John McLaughlin, Paco de Lucia, Friday night in San Francisco, Philips 800 047-2, CD.
  • Isao Suzuki, Blow up, Three Blind Mice, B000682FAE, CD.


I’m not going to lie to you – I was excited – after all it doesn’t happen every day to get a chance of meeting one’s personal ideal (not only in audio of course). Although on the other side experience teaches us that when we finally meet this ideal the relations might be much more difficult than expected. Emotion Classic 12 Signature are really huge, heavy, 3-way speakers – when I looked at them I couldn’t really believe that 8W might be enough to drive them. But I wasn’t there to believe or not to believe but to find out. I started my „relations” with the 12s by moving them as far away from the back wall as I could – obviously trying to avoid problems caused by rear ported BR. I began my listening session with the above mentioned, upgraded ArtAudio Symphony II, which is a 8W SET with Western Electric 300B tubes. The recent upgrade which included replacement of output transformers with those from top model (Diavolo) resulted mostly in better presentation of bass range. There is more dynamics, energy, and the low tones are better controlled. When I started my listening session I didn’t really pay attention to bass (it didn’t bother me so it couldn’t be that bad). I was totally attracted to rich, smooth, colorful midrange, and amazingly tuneful, vibrant but at the same time naturally soft and sweet treble. As you might have already figured out I didn’t start my listening session with Metallica recording but rather with some vocal recordings. The sweet, melancholic voice of Eva Cassidy kept me on my couch for a long time bringing autumn mood upon me – Indian summer, last warm glimpses of the summer sun, colorful leaves falling from the trees – it was all there, painted in front of my eyes. Marek Dyjak’s recordings delivered this extremely intense passion of his, his involvement in singing with all he got, all the emotion exploding straight from the speakers to my ears – amazing experience. The voice, its timbre, structure – all was amazingly well portrayed which I could compare to live performance I attended in more or less the same time.
While listening to this kind of music I was amazed by how smooth, liquid and natural midrange and treble sounded. There was a lot of air, great spacing and the presentation sounded absolutely unforced. As for bass – well, it didn’t play leading role in those recordings – double bass was there, in some of them but it never took the lead, so I did not much care about quite soft/rounded presentation of this instrument. But when I started to analyze the low end I realized that it was just like some people describe „tube bass” – not too fast, rounded, slightly bloated, and with audible BR.
I tried some other music – Dire Straits with their strong electric bass guitar present in every song, or Ray Brown’s double bass – those proved to me that if there was large presence of bass instrument in a recording then Symphony II was unable to keep bass in line. Bass was beginning to overcome the whole recording not necessarily in a way music’s makers wanted it to. There was a lot of bass, and it was well extended but it wasn’t well controlled. So I had to do something about it.

Part 2: HOW ABOUT…

Looking for some solution that would allow to keep Symphony II’s midrange and treble magic and at the same time to control bass in a much better way I decided to try a “non-purist” solution – I used my integrated amplifier together with Modwright LS100 preamplifier. I hoped that the additional gain would allow to deal with this slightly „loose” bass (which might also suggest using a „proper” set consisting of an amplifier and preamplifier). Well, it turned out that it still wasn’t enough. Yes, it was a move in the right direction, good enough for me to start enjoying Dire Straits or John Lee Hooker’s recordings without being distracted by boomy bass. Pace and rhythm actually also improved but it still wasn’t perfect. But let’s be honest – if you pay £12.000 for loudspeakers you don’t expect them to sound good, not even very good, you want them to sound extraordinary, amazing, perfect!

So I needed to do more. I had one SET amplifier in mind that in my opinion would do the job – Ayon Crossfire II, but I didn’t have it at my disposal. So I came up with another tweak. The distributor delivered the ART speakers with very nice Soundcare Spikes. But in the same time I received for a review some new products of Franc Audio Accessories - FatDiscs (somehow similar to Ceradiscs from Finite Elemente, as these also use ceramic balls for resonance transfer). FatDiscs had almost identical height as the Soundcare Spikes so it was relatively easy (considering the weight of the ART Speakers) to replace the latter with the former. This was another small step in the right direction.
Since all I gained so far was only some improvement in bass control there was only one more thing left to do – use a solid state amp. At the time of this test I could not use my own Modwright KWA100SE so I could only hope that I get for a review some nice SS amp. A couple of days before I had to send the 12s back I received an integrated solid state amplifier. It was the RI-100 Vitus together with a silver SC and IC by (also Danish) Argento. I had to give it a try.

Part 3: WOW!

All of you, tube fans, realize how painful it was for me to use a SS amplifier for speakers that were supposed to be my Holy Grail, but I was desperate. This particular amplifier from Vitus is their least expensive model, which means that one has to pay for it more than 30 thousand PLN. But even though it’s the cheapest product its manufacturer claims it is a high-end device (unlike more expensive lines that belong to Extreme, Supreme or Platinum high-end). I can’t tell anything about more expensive products as I’m about to listen to them yet, but judging by the RI 100’s performance the manufacturer was right – this is high-end!
300 W (at 8 Ω) per channel should be enough to keep every and any woofer in line. With the ART Speakers the Vitus did not deliver so incredibly three-dimensional, palpable soundstage as my 300B amp did, and the temperature of emotions cooled down a bit but still the presentation was as smooth and liquid as from any great tube amp. The tonal balance became more neutral but it didn’t mean that the sound became cold – it simply wasn’t slightly warmed up as it was with the Symphony II. Bass became punchy, taut, showing real muscle but keeping also wonderful, colorful timbre, which finally allowed me to fully enjoy my favorite double bass recordings. There was one more thing left to make me 100% happy – I could still hear the BR port in action. If such a powerful amplifier wasn’t able to help me with that I could be pretty sure that it was my room to be held accountable for it. I realized very well that my room wasn’t acoustically perfect and surely the ARTs would benefit from a bigger room too, but I had to deal with what I had.

After talking to the distributor I followed his advice and tried to find the best positioning for speakers. He claimed it was possible to find such a “sweet spot” in each room. I pushed them even further away from the back wall, played with different toe-ins but I was unable to find this perfect placement, even though I finally found one that was better that any before.
There was nothing else left to do but the last resort – man’s best friend – Google. One of the first found links gave me an interesting hint. Some guy who already had a chance to listen to those speakers a few months ago wrote something like this: “of course you have to place them very close to the back wall” (just a reminder – the BR port is in the rear) and „toe in, if any, should be very small” (that’s surely more room dependent). Pushing the 12s even closer against the back wall sounded almost crazy as you only do it when you need more bass which was not what I needed. But since every other solution failed I had nothing to lose.
Yes, you guessed right – that was the best possible (in my room of course) solution – the back of the speaker was only around 30-35 cm from the wall, and I had both speakers toed in very slightly. Now all I had to do was to play Isao Suzuki piece called „Aqua Marine” from Blow up that we enjoyed so much on the Hansen Prince v 2 because of extremely deep, perfectly delivered, bass. The Hansen speakers delivered it, in my ears at least, just perfectly even in my imperfect room. The ART Emotion Classic 12 Signature were the first speakers I listened to in my own room capable of delivering (almost) the same level of performance as the Hansens in this particular piece. Almost, as even though bass was equally deep and powerful, the Hansens delivered yet more taut, and even better defined bass tones. Of course the system used with the Hansens was different – then I used the Tenor 175S, which was couple of times more expensive than the Vitus, and the Prince V2 are also almost 4 times more expensive than the 12s. So in fact I was comparing two systems from two different price levels which was hardly fair.
Another small but important element of this whole puzzle were the Argento cables that were surely much better match for the system’s performance than my own ones. These were extremely smooth sounding silver cables without any sign of brightness or harshness that happens often with cables made of this precious material. Treble was tuneful and vibrant and the bass very well extended and defined. Hooking these cables up was the final touch, a small but very important one because only after that the ARTs finally delivered performance fulfilling my expectations.

This final effect „tasted” even better as it required a lot of time and effort – I spent the last couple of days with the ARTs listening to as many recordings as I only could, and it all ceased to matter – genre, recording quality, and artist – from this moment on, all was only about the music. I listened to the same Eva Cassidy’s CD one more time and I loved it even more than before – not only was the presentation more colorful, more precise but even the smallest subtlety of her voice, her singing became… obvious. And even though, as I mentioned before, all emotions were cooled down a notch I still thought I could hear more emotional content of music than I had heard before. Guitar strings started to sing as passionately as the vocalist did. This instrument sounded very realistic in both Eva Cassidy’s pieces or in the Friday Night in San Francisco– I literally compared this sound to my own guitar’s so this impression wasn’t just my fantasy.
Another of my favorite instruments – double bass, either in Ray Brown’s or in Renaud Garcia-Fons hands was transformed into a large, powerful beast delivering amazingly wide spectrum of sounds. The ARTs delivered very well both strings and soundboard sound proving one more time that the former couldn’t really exist without the latter, only together they make double bass sound complete. It took 300W of the Danish SS amp to ensure perfect control over the ART’s woofers that allowed the right definition of each transient attack and decay. Each drum stick strike had this immediacy and energy that I knew from live concerts. Luis Armstrong’s trumpet could sound momentarily very rough but always rich, full and never too bright or grainy that could ruin all the pleasure of listening to Satchmo’s recordings.
Not even Dire Straits or Metallica created any problem for the ARTs – they delivered proper punch, drive, great pace and rhythm, and this very low, very powerful bass that you could feel in your guts rather than really hear it. And while the bass was very well extended and was very energetic right to the very bottom it never really dominated the rest of frequency range. That reminded me of the Hansens again – huge, powerful bass but perfectly combined with the rest of the range. That allowed even me, a guy who was used to a limited bass presence in my music because I used horn speakers for years, to enjoy the presentation without being overwhelmed with this amazing bass power. Just on contrary – I really loved it.
The ART Emotion Classic 12 Signature driven by the right amplifier (and even though they sounded great with the Vitus I still dare to claim that with some powerful SET amp these speakers could sound even better) prove that they are worth every penny spent on them. Unlike other designs with smaller woofers, they are fully capable of delivering large, open and unrestrained sound. The Scotsmen managed to combine it with amazing rest of the frequency range, which results in very coherent, detailed, smooth and liquid sound that above all is very natural. These are ones of very few loudspeakers that might cure their owner from „audiofilia nervosa” – yes, you need to pay a lot for them but when you finally do you gain a sound that is really hard to beat so maybe the ARTs will be your last speakers as you will keep them for lifetime. Exactly the same thing I would say about the Hansen Prince v2, and maybe also about the Avantgarde Duo Omega – I could keep each of the above mentioned pairs for my lifetime.


The ART Emotion Classic 12 Signature are a top model in the Emotion range. Classic in model’s name stands for classical cabinet type, and 12 is a size of bass unit (inch).These are large, three-way loudspeakers with a rear ported cabinet.
A driver set is composed of a 12’ bass unit with paper cone, a 5’ middriver and a 1’ softdome tweeter. The latter seems to come from Seas, I’m not sure about the other drivers. Basing on what I know about other ART Loudspeakers I guess these two woofers also come from Seas and are modified by ART.
These loudspeakers sport single binding posts by WBT.
Instead of regular spikes the customer gets very nice Norwegian Soundcare Spikes that need to be screwed in to the black plinth. All versions are finished with natural veneer – the quoted price includes one of the below mentioned colors, but for an additional fee the customer may choose other color, too. The quality of the finish is outstanding which makes these speakers a great, nice looking addition to any room. The Signature version (the one I received for this test) differs from the standard version with some components used – the internal cabling is a copper Kondo and capacitors and coils come from Jensen. The crossover is inaccessible for the owner – it is placed in a sealed box that if necessary can be removed from the cabinet and sent to the manufacturer.

Technical data (according to the manufacturer):

Sensitivity: 91,5-92 dB
Nominal impedance: 8 Ω (never below 6.5 Ω)
Weight: 50 kg
Frequency range: starting at 22 Hz
Finish: natural veneer: Italian walnut, palisander, cherry, light oak (other colors available upon request)

Polish distributor: Pełne Brzmienie

Contact: tel.: (048) 695 503 227



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