Power from Arendal

Sure, I am aware that I am taking a chance with such a heading, but after all these speakers do come from Arendal… Let me firstly say that Arendal 1723 Bookshelf S represent everything else than short minded knuckleheads. Here is enjoyment and tolerance all the way!

Anyways I did not grab the heading from just thin air. For there is a underlaying power, and a presence that can’t be denied with these speakers. But I am already about to say too much too early, so let’s rather start with saying a little about the speaker’s technical side. Firstly: They can of course be bought in other finishes than white gloss, if you want a more anonymous speaker compared to the relatively vibrant, elegant boxes we have tested.

Secondly, they are quite different from the well-known Tower-speakers that really put Arendal Sound on the audio-map. 1723 Bookshelf S (for Small) are actually sealed speakers. Not at all a typical principle these days, also quite surprising when we know the bigger brothers as general madness and loud volumes as its most displayable features. Typical sealed speakers are BBC-designs with “stiff upper lip”, how can this fit with Arendals rather brutal image?

As for example with the legandary BBC-monitor LS 3/5A, also 1723 Bookshelf S has low sensitivity, with its modest 84 dB / 1W / 1 m. Furthermore, it also has a pretty low impedance, with its nominal 4 ohms. Hold these specs together and the result certainly points in the direction brutal power amplifier on the menu, with big letters. But in clear contrast to the mentioned LS 3/5A, 1723 S has headroom in bucketloads, and will not at all hit the wall in the same fashion as the rather vintage BBC-speakers. Here we can just add on power, Arendal allows up to 250 W / speaker, but again, notice that the number is at 4 ohms, which is the speaker’s nominal impedance.

The tweeters are mounted in so called waveguides, a sort of megaphone, that is amongst other things meant to raise the efficiency. The drivers are crossed over as low as 1500 Hz, this solution also offers very good control of the dispersion, and the speakers are therefore not picky on placement by nature. They can handle walls and furniture in relative proximity, but as always, I recommend some toe in for an optimized result.

The important factor with this speaker is to balance the output from the two drivers, so that no part of the frequency range is exaggerated, and exactly this is something the designer has worked a lot with. The woofers are coated paper with 6.5” in diameter, the cabinets are very solid and stiff, while the terminals are pure high end. There is option for bi-wiring for those that have that sort of needs, I have personally not used this option.

On the other hand, I have used amplifiers from a good 15 all the way to 250 W (in 4 ohm) on these speakers, and my observations are that even if none of them do poorly, the 1723 S profits from an amplifier with solid power. Finally, I found the speakers that made my Micromega PW-250 to fully open up! The last point is actually not as easy as one should think; this amplifier has shown itself to be notoriously boring together with the type of speakers I usually surround myself with, that is easy load, high sensitivity and high impedance. The Micromega amplifier thrives when it has to break a sweat for some results, and so it has to when really waking up the Arendal 1723 Bookshelf S!

The preliminary rounds show us a very harmonic speaker, I am not going to assert that these range amongst the most transparent and airy speakers I have heard, but that it is in an excellent balance, there is absolutely no doubt about. Fantastic coherence between bass and tweeter, I am barely able to discern where the crossover is, the 6.5” is exceptionally good together with the top range here. And this despite that the tweeter feels fast and border-line explosive, not Klipsch level, but with lots of attack non the less.

It is the midrange that excel. A lot is due to the controlled behaviour in the deep end, typical for sealed enclosures, the midrange is expressed with beautiful insight and details in abundance. Brass instruments and its likes shine free and open, so we have an incredibly exciting bookshelf speaker as a result. On many levels a pretty mean competitor to Roksan TR5 S2, because where the last mentioned is soft, very refined and elegant, the 1723 S is tougher, drier, more aggressive. At the same time the Arendals are also considerably more power hungry, in many ways they are qualitatively on the same level, yet almost as sound wise opposites. Both have the ability to pull the listener in to the music, but with completely different ways to do so. Fascinating.

Arendal states a frequency response of 65 Hz – 20 kHz within +/- 3dB, but I would really characterize this as very conservatively stated. A frequency measurement shows that in my room there is more or less even output all down to 30 Hz, completely useable at 25 Hz, fairly discernible at 20 Hz, and even down at 15 Hz there is something that absolutely contributes in the music playback. This is truthfully abnormally good for a pair of bookshelf speakers!

There are still two things to note; that a moderately sized driver in a sealed enclosure does not move a lot of air, plus this is not a scientific measurement, just a subjective comparison with everything else that I have coming in here for test. My room adds some extra boost in the 40 – 45 Hz area as well, which suits the 1723 S perfectly, considering their slow roll-off. And before I forget; these speakers are THX-certified, obvious choice for home cinema enthusiasts. If you are using them as fronts, I suggest letting them work together with one of Arendals brutal subwoofers.

When we start playing some music, I am not surprised that these speakers have some very good all-round characteristics. On the other hand, I am quite surprised of how much I enjoyed classical music on them, as they don’t have the organic elegance and credibility of the speakers that tend to give me the best classical music experiences. Like Response, that is something completely different than the Arendal 1723 S, just to make that clear. But let’s go back to the relationship between the Micromega PW-250 and Arendal Bookshelf S, I really feel like sending my regards to Arendal for suddenly making this amplifier play music with might, control, and life, something it haven’t shown a lot of in my long line of reviews.

As mentioned, I have played with a few amplifiers on these speakers, while the setup I mostly refer to in the following chapter is: APL player/DAC directly to the Micromega PW-250, from there to the speakers, simply put. Finally, this class-D amplifier shines like it can, it is really a beautiful match! That said; well renowned PRaT-amps from Great Britain and Hungary (the latter is a Heed, of course) lends their ability to making Arendals rhythmic and playful expression of Arendal even more so, but instead some of the brutality will be lacking.

We start soft, with “Trip Hoppin”, K&D Dub; I guess you can describe this as the elevator subgenre of chillout, but its recording quality is very high. Arendal responds with precise and exact playback, although I think there is a slight lack of “juice” and timbre. The tones aren’t endless, it is a little drier and, in your face, compared to how “spherical” and eternal as such a song can be. Dynamically speaking though it is very present. It is also very well organized; placement and details are solidly performed.

Considerably worse is the quality of the 70’s song from Rainbow called “Long Live Rock’n’Roll”, which puts the speaker through a completely different set of tests. And it sounds thin, obviously, as is this recording, yes, it may actually profit from Spotify quality rather than high quality CD format, as the Spotify recording is a little more fat and forgiving. It is interesting how the recording of a SHM SACD from japan, is still made worthy a listening session by the Arendals anyways. Despite a recording beyond rescue, it is played back in some sort of harmony, with a relatively open, understandable midrange. I often miss the fat and oversimplified 70’s stereo systems on this recording (and for Deep Purples “Burn” by the way), Arendal isn’t there, either, but they yet manage to create a proper presence and atmosphere on the Arabic inspired song “Gates of Babylon”. Interesting!

Over to some high worthy culture… (?). Arendals own (yes, the city, not the company) internationally praised jazz vocalist, Inger Marie Gundersen, singing “A taste of honey” with great empathy. Here are a lot more colours than the last example, but again feels a little short, and not that much “juice” in the delivery. In a whole, this tendency of stinginess is a clear trait, but on the other side that brings forward the phenomenon and precision and clarity. It works very well, and the instruments get their proper characteristics, despite the slight lack of organics. This is more German than British, to describe it in another way. I remove myself from the fine cultural and go over to the alternative’s spheres, where “Sweet Wilderness” from Medwyn Godall delivers bass notes from hell. Arendal 1723 Bookshelf S impress formidably! They play the deepest tones with a beautiful dignity, completely free of artefacts of any kind. OK, they don’t move big amounts of air, they don’t show the size of the deepest octave, understandably, but it is still the best I have heard from bookshelf speakers on this song, end of story. What a dignified elegance they represent, the balance is wonderful, this is simply solid as a mountain.

Now over to a theme that should be Arendals real strength, dynamics. We use “Moten Swing” with Big band Basie; an absurdly explosive song on the best setups, but the difference on especially speakers are formidable on this song. The dynamics from these Arendal speakers is fine, but not more than that. Again, it is handled with ease and dignity, but directly impressing I would refrain from saying it is. I was in many ways expecting more of these with brass instruments from this type of semi-horn-speakers, it’s in many ways brass instruments that should be its favourite. Sure, the brass sounds very nice, but they don’t explode in my face, as brass instruments in real life have a tendency of doing.

We continue with “A Dark Knight”, Hans Zimmer’s masterful movie music. And again, Arendal sets almost a new standard, uhm, a bookshelf speaker shouldn’t be able to do this!? 1723 S floats on a magnificent ability to handle challenges, as well as a wonderful balance in everything it delivers. This is grand, well organized, and yet again I feel the need to use the expression worthy, to describe the calm and solidity these speakers convey.

I was mentioning this about classical music, of causes I am a little unsure why, I enjoy the way Arendal 1723 Bookshelf S conveys classical pieces. It is probably the balance and control that does the main part of the job for me, I think. We are listening to the melancholic choir “Misére”, masterfully recorded by Harmonia Mundi, and yes, it is nice listening to this, so definitely. The challenge is resting on the lack of that last piece of emotion, that could lift the choir from beautiful to poignant. It becomes maybe a bit too simple from Arendals side, but they pass the test on pure and sheer control over the events.

Now over to one of Vivaldi’s swinging pieces, this time “Konsert I G-moll for 2 celloer”, where Harriet Krijgh is playing one of the cellos. This shows in a great way why I like classical music on these speakers. It is that worthy (there it is again!) and organized reproduction, nothing is wrong, there is nothing to point my finger at, it just plays without any worry. It is rhythmical and playful, it isn’t very organic in the sound, but it is unimpeachable in its tidiness, and if one does it like that, the precision treats the orchestra with control and balance.

Arendal has created a very interesting and all-round speaker with its slightly unusual construction in the shape of 1723 Bookshelf S. Not the most detailed, elegant or refined speaker in the world, but extremely tolerant and well balanced it certainly is. If you give them solid power and a good source, they will answer by playing everything you can throw at them with a large sense of obviousness. For those of you that have read the entire text, you will see that I often refer to the expression “dignity” in the description of these speaker’s way of playing music. With that I mean that they handle any difficulty in a solid, reasonable fashion, there is never any cheating or exaggeration, but a fantastic balance that carries every challenge on its strong shoulders without hesitation.

You are relatively free to choose amplifier, depending on what you want to achieve, but I recommend enough surplus of power on tap, these are not the first choice for low powered tube amps. Class D or British amplifiers in the higher spectrum are my personal first choice, but as mentioned many amps will fit these speakers. All summed up a beautiful, lifelike and totally solid speaker from Arendal!

By Håkon Rognlien. Read the full version here.