SoundStage! Network publisher Doug Schneider dropped off Amphion’s
Argon3 bookshelf speakers at my place for review, I had never seen,
let alone heard, one of the company’s designs. My familiarity with
Amphion stemmed from a review of the Argon2 that Doug wrote eight
years ago. The Argon2 Anniversary replaced the Argon2 in 2008, and
its successor, the Argon3 (starting at $2795 USD per pair), is
Amphion’s newest iteration of a loudspeaker that has received
considerable praise in the audio press.
Amphion’s reputation led me to have some
expectations of the Argon3s. It took me less than ten minutes to
unbox them, position them on stands, and get some music playing to
hear what all the fuss was about.
Amphion Loudspeakers Ltd. is based in
a picturesque city in southeastern
almost completely surrounded by a lake, Kallavesi. Amphion began
designing and manufacturing loudspeakers in 1998, and presently
offers 15 models. All of their speakers are made in
something of which company president Anssi Hyvönen is extremely
proud. Although he noted that a lot of hard work and a steep
learning curve were necessary to get the designs just right, he
feels his company is at a point where they are “finally getting the
hang of all the little things involved in building speakers with
waveguides.” And if you’ve ever seen an Amphion speaker, you’ll
immediately realize that it’s their use of waveguides that sets them
Waveguides are hardly a new idea in loudspeaker
design; many of Amphion’s competitors use them in one form or
another to help control the dispersion of their tweeters’ outputs.
Amphion has continually refined their waveguides; the Argon3’s is
made of MDF, with a shape subtly different from the waveguides of
the Argon2 models. Amphion claims it performs better, offering
better integration of the drivers’ outputs and lower distortion.
The photo of the Argon3 reveals that its
tweeter is recessed so far into the waveguide that its voice-coil is
actually on the same vertical axis as the voice-coil of the
midrange/bass driver below it. This means that the voice-coils of
the two drivers (i.e., their acoustic centers) are roughly
equidistant from the listener’s ears.
Mostly, the waveguide works to control the
tweeter’s dispersion, which makes for a smooth transition from the
tweeter to the midrange/bass driver. It also increases efficiency,
and allows Amphion to use a low 1600Hz as the crossover
point, which is below the most critical range of human
hearing: 2000-5000Hz. Amphion touts a technology called Uniformly
Directive Diffusion (U/D/D). Their goal is to make the speaker’s
off-axis frequency response similar to its on-axis response, with
the highest frequencies tapering off gradually the farther you move
to the speaker’s side.
Amphion uses in the Argon3 a 1” titanium-dome
tweeter from SEAS called the Integrator, the same model they use in
their flagship model, the Krypton3, which costs over six times as
much. Amphion tests all of their tweeters by ear and, as Hyvönen
informed me, discards a ridiculously high percentage of them for
failing to meet their stringent specifications.
For the midrange/bass driver, Amphion chose
another SEAS driver, a 6.5” aluminum cone that has been used in
every iteration of the Argon since the Argon2. Aluminum was chosen
because it is stiff and light; in addition, Amphion claims that
aluminum’s natural tendency to resonate at 3000Hz is inaudible,
owing to the Argon3’s low crossover point and steep filtering.
Argon3 measures 15”H x 7.9”W x 12”D and weighs just over 24 pounds.
The cabinet is solidly constructed, as one might expect given its
considerable weight -- a solid rap of the knuckles against any side
returned merely a dull thud. On the rear panel are a port and a
single pair of high-quality, gold-plated WBT binding posts. Foam
plugs (supplied) can be used to block the ports if the Argon3s must
be placed close to the front wall, or if the listener wishes to
attenuate the bass by a few dB.
The Argon3 comes in a choice of five veneers:
Cherry, Birch, and American Walnut (all real wood, add $200 per
pair), and black or white paint. The review pair came in walnut, and
at first I wasn’t impressed. For some reason, the appearance of the
wood struck me as a bit dated. However, this impression soon faded,
and within a few days of my setting up the Argon3s on stands, their
appearance had grown on me. First impressions aren’t always
The Argon3’s lines are extremely simple and
clean looking, and perfectly embody the minimalism I grew to admire
so much about them. Even my fiancée, who has been extremely critical
of some speakers to which I’ve introduced her, quickly grew to like
their appearance; the walnut finish blended very well with the
listening room’s décor.
Amphion claims that the Argon3’s frequency
response is 36Hz-30kHz, ±3dB. Extending all the way down to
a remarkable feat for a bookshelf speaker, let alone one that uses a
6.5” midrange/bass driver. The sensitivity is a claimed 87dB, the
impedance 8 ohms -- a pretty average load for an amplifier. Amphion
recommends driving the Argon3 with 30-200W of amplification; because
the speaker’s impedance remains relatively high, tube amps should be
able to drive the Argon3s to suitable levels.
System and setup
The Argon3s were connected to my Bryston B100
SST integrated amplifier via AudioQuest Type 4 speaker cables
terminated in banana plugs. An AMX Optimum AVC 31 coaxial cable
linked the digital output of an NAD C542 CD player to the Bryston’s
onboard DAC. A Thorens TD-160HD turntable fitted with a modified
Rega RB250 tonearm and Dynavector’s DV-10X5 high-output moving-coil
cartridge performed analog duties. All electronics were plugged into
an ExactPower EP15A power conditioner.
I ended up positioning the Argon3s so that the
front baffle of each speaker was 46” from the front wall and the
tweeters were 68” apart. I sat 6’ away and toed them in so that
their on-axis outputs summed just behind my ears. This produced the
most focused three-dimensional soundstage.
One of the first discs I played through the
Argon3s was Spiritualized’s
and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space
(CD, Dedicated 07822-18974-2), and what first
caught my attention was the bass. The weight of the bass in “Cop
Shoot Cop” was perfect in my room -- I was stunned by how full and
clean it was for a speaker of relatively modest size. I realized
that if I were in a blind listening test and the Argon3s were behind
curtains, I’d have guessed I was hearing a pair of floorstanders.
This was because these little dynamos were able to energize the room
as I’ve heard only larger speakers do. As I decided what to play
next, I found myself smiling.
Moving on to “Heat Miser,” from Massive
Circa 8 39883 2), I was again amazed by how easily the Argon3s
filled the room with nearly prodigious low end. They managed to
combine greater bass extension than I’d ever before encountered in a
bookshelf speaker with exceptional clarity, not just down low but
across the entire audioband. For a little while now I’ve been
considering buying a pair of floorstanding speakers for, among other
things, their visceral impact. With the arrival of the Argon3s, I’m
beginning to wonder if that’s even necessary.
Before doing any further listening, I decided
to plug the Argon3s’ ports to hear if I preferred the speakers that
way. What I heard was a truncation of their bass extension that was
hardly subtle: on “Your Rocky Spine,” from Great Lake Swimmers’
Ongiara (CD, Nettwerk 30691 2), the
port plugs robbed the music of some of its weight and impact -- it
didn’t seem to hit me in the chest quite as hard as when the ports
were open. This wasn’t a bad thing per se, and some listeners will
prefer to tailor the sound this way. But for me, the copious amount
of bass the Argon3s were able to reproduce was so clean, detailed,
and refined that it never seemed overpowering. Rather, it struck a
perfect balance that brought a sense of scale and breadth to the
music without ever sacrificing quality.
The Argon3s were neutral -- they did very
little editorializing on the music they were fed. Regardless of what
signal I sent them, I always had the impression that what they sent
back was an honest rendition of the recording. Some poor recordings
and compressed MP3 files sounded terrible, and I appreciated that
the Argon3s weren’t sugarcoating anything. As reviewers will
sometimes say, they revealed everything, warts and all. I prefer a
more neutral sound, so I appreciated this.
However, I would never describe the Argon3 as
sounding boring or analytical. On the contrary, it was the most
musical and engaging speaker I’ve ever heard in my listening room. I
found myself pulling out all sorts of CDs and LPs, just to hear how
they sounded through the Argon3s. I felt I was rediscovering my
Although I’ve discussed the Argon3’s excellent
performance down low because that was what first caught my
attention, I think the speaker’s greatest strength was its
transparency. Not since reviewing Usher Audio’s X-718 had I heard a
speaker that could unravel so much musical detail. The Amphion’s
midrange was as clear as day, and made me aware of things I’d never
before noticed. For instance, while listening to “Darko,” from
German electronic duo Booka Shade’s excellent
(CD, GPM CD006), I became aware of faint voices in the background
that I’d never heard before. When I later hooked up my reference
speakers, a pair of PSB Platinum M2s, I could now hear the voices,
though not as clearly as through the Argon3s.
The Amphions’ pristine clarity had me listening
to another set of voices, this time in the form of Polyphony,
directed by Stephen Layton, performing Morten Lauridsen’s
Madrigali: Six Fire Songs on Italian
Renaissance Poems (SACD/CD, Hyperion
SACDA67449). The Amphions’ rendering of this a cappella chorus was
beyond reproach: the voices emerged effortlessly from the speakers.
There are moments during these poems in which the singing moves from
soft to loud in an instant, and it was obvious that Polyphony’s
dynamic energy was being well served by the Argon3s’ dynamic
prowess. The extraordinary ease and tidiness with which the Amphions
handled such passages had me turning up the volume, and their
pristine clarity made it very easy to hear deep into the recording.
Clearly, the SEAS Integrator tweeter used in
both the Argon3 and the Krypton3 is of very high quality. As I heard
during several passages on the Lauridsen recording, the Integrator
sounded not only quick, but also clean and composed as it soared to
the upper limits of my hearing. This made it easy to engage in long
listening sessions; the tweeter’s smooth, even response never became
bright or fatiguing.
Returning to Great Lake Swimmers’
I was made aware of another strength of the Argon3s: their wonderful
ability to create a wide, three-dimensional soundstage. The front of
my room was occupied by precisely placed, sharply outlined images,
and that exquisite clarity of which I’d become so enamored. The
plucking of the bass strings on “Put There by the Land” was so
articulate that the only way to improve on it would have been to
have had the instrument in my room. The Argon3’s ability to play
loudly with ease brought such an amazing sense of scale to the music
that I’d wager it could very well hold its own against more than a
few floorstanders currently on the market.
I compared Amphion’s Argon3 with my longtime
reference, PSB’s excellent Platinum M2 ($2000/pair). Both are
two-way designs in which a 1” tweeter is married to a 6.5”
midrange/bass driver. In the PSB’s larger cabinet, aluminum and MDF
are combined to create an incredibly rigid enclosure.
The PSB has compared favorably with most of the
speakers that have passed through my listening room. While some
designs might have done this or that a little better, I always found
the M2 held its own quite well. However, with the arrival of the
Argon3, the M2 may have finally met its match.
First and foremost, the Argon3 was more
transparent. I don’t know if this is because of its solidly
constructed cabinets -- the PSB itself is pretty darn sturdy -- but
the Argon3 had an even lower noise floor than the M2. Through the
Amphion, music emerged from a completely “black” background, which
made everything sound clearer and easier to sort out. This was
particularly true with more complex musical passages, where the
Argon3’s speed and clarity made it easier to hear the leading edges
of notes. Although the PSB still sounded very detailed, certain
musical subtleties were more apparent through the Amphion.
Their transparency meant that the Argon3s were
also more adept than the Platinum M2s at creating a tangibly
three-dimensional stage. Low-level details were carved out in space
with an almost eerie precision that made it easy to close my eyes
and hear exactly where sounds originated.
The other major difference between these
speakers was in the quantity of bass. The PSB sounds full and
weighty down low, especially when you consider that it’s a bookshelf
model, but it couldn’t play as deeply as the Amphion, or with the
smaller speaker’s impact. Time and again, I was amazed at how well
the Amphions were able to energize my room with bass that not only
went deep but was fast and articulate.
I heard examples of the Argon3’s superior
transparency and bass performance on “Wish You Were Here,” from
Echoes: The Best of Pink Floyd (CD,
Capitol 5 36111 2). Through the Argon3, the strings of David
Gilmour’s guitar sounded a bit crisper than through the Platinum M2;
I could hear Gilmour’s fingers as he coaxed each note from his
instrument. When the bass kicked in, it sounded full and weighty
through the M2, but through the Argon3 it just dug a bit deeper.
These differences were subtle, but it was the combination of
improvements brought about by the Argon3 that led me to prefer it.
Although I feel that, even seven years after its introduction, the
PSB Platinum M2 remains an excellent loudspeaker, the Argon3 raised
the bar for what I’d thought possible from a two-way bookshelf
It’s impossible to know if Amphion’s use of
waveguides and the resulting lower crossover point were responsible
for the Argon3’s breathtaking performance, and it doesn’t matter.
Although I find technical details interesting, my job is not to
design speakers, but to evaluate how well they reproduce music.
The bottom line: Amphion’s Argon3 is the
finest-sounding bookshelf speaker
ever reviewed for the SoundStage! Network. It has outclassed my
longtime reference, PSB’s Platinum M2. The torch has been passed.
Other than its inability to reproduce extreme
low frequencies and ground-shaking dynamics (something that no small
speaker can, owing to limitations imposed by physical size), the
Argon3 left me wanting for nothing. Granted, some listeners might
prefer a little more sizzle up top, or a more upfront sound.
However, if you value hearing exactly
what’s on your CDs and LPs, then you’ll want speakers that just get
out of the way and let the music speak for itself, and you’ll need
to hear Amphion’s Argon3.
Now that I know what all the fuss is about, I may have to consider
taking a second job to keep the Argon3s here. I sure don’t look
forward to sending them back.
. . . Philip Beaudette
Amphion Argon3 Loudspeakers
Price: $2795 USD per pair
in black or white (add $200 per pair for real-wood veneer).
Warranty: Five years parts
Amphion Loudspeakers Ltd.
Phone: +358 17-2882-100
Fax: +358 17-2882-111