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Adagio loudspeakers: Living with Excellence ...Maturing
as reviewed by Jim Merod
I've seldom written "follow up" reviews of audio products because the pressure of incumbent audio assessment largely squeezes time from my calendar …like air driven from a balloon. My analogy here reminds me that many audio products—especially cables and speakers—mature over time with use. Their improvement can be thought of as a kind of "fermentation." As grapes to good wine, speakers stand in relation to great music reproduction. You cannot accurately hear the dynamic force and textural delicacy of Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony without superior speakers. Some improve slowly over time. Others reach their peak performance early on in one's time with them and then halt.
I'm writing today to proclaim my semi-astonishment at the slow but steady and thoroughly continuous sonic improvement that Acoustic Zen's Adagio speakers have made across the whole of my more than six months with them bundled into place. I'm writing to express both joy and surprise that a speaker, so very good at the outset, continues to grow more open and relaxed and detailed by incremental steps.
The Adagios are not "normal" speakers in so far as they offer a deep look into the sonic field whether they are cranked high or barely nudged. To begin with, that ability is the sign of a champion speaker, and yet when such a pedigree continues to enhance its transparency and authority, one doffs the proverbial cap toward its creator—in this case the venerable and cherubic Robert Lee—and quaffs several toasts to the beasts themselves …as if they were conscious of praise.
Today is Halloween and I'm restless with unearned youthful energy no doubt stolen from my innate curmudgeonly cantankerousness. I don't care. Just don't mess with my Adagios since they've been blowin' all blues away after the recent southern California fires that raged too close. I need this respite from hauling tons of stuff to safety. I need the Adagios' charm. They've truly provided me with an extended Halloween season filled with the innocence of musical hayrides.
Robert Lee has made considerable noise about his "under-hung" speaker design, and who am I to doubt that it well may be part of the enigmatic, ongoing improvement I've been impressed with for several months. That habitual sonic enhancement has not yet shown any sign of abating, though I must admit that I the last two weeks or so I've noticed a slight tapering off in the absolute degree of added relaxation and effortlessness that repeated attention to the classic Bill Evans-Miles Davis version of "Green Dolphin Street" discerns.
One expects a plateau at some point of improvement in anything—fermentation, personal maturation, sonic reproduction ...you name it. But my expectation of that plateau's arrival was already alert four months ago.
How to account for this? I asked ace design guru Steve McCormack that question recently. He suggested that improved materials in various components may have a longer break-in period. He also noted that Richard Vandersteen long ago noticed that his 3A large speakers often would come back into his hands for modification or repair with midrange drivers that were not yet (after long use) fully broken in. That discovery led Richard to change the way he prepares those drivers at the factory so that an overly long break in period might be avoided or at least reduced.
Relaxing in the barn
In the case of Robert Lee's Adagio speakers, I suspect a combination of material strength and the inherent settling fully into place of his under-hung design elements may play into this rather miraculous ongoing improvement of a great speaker to an even (ever) greater speaker. I intend to track down Robert Lee to pursue this issue, but for the time being I want to emphasize one small (perhaps merely eccentric) fact.
I probably spend as much time in the presence of music—live and reproduced—as humanly possible. That is a confession, not a mark of personal distinction. I've noticed over the years that I "hear" music (and sonic fields as a whole) both pre-consciously and self-consciously. That awareness is, in itself, a topic for an essay, yet my point here is simple. My first realization of the Adagio's ongoing sonic improvement over time came not wholly as a "conscious" data point:
Nope. I become "aware" that I was hearing more details and better reproduction in a nearly beneath-the-radar awareness. It was almost as if I "felt" the improved sonic realization and then began to settle myself in front of the Adagio's musical staging in order to verify that.
My amazement has now abated, replaced by added respect for what these fairly modestly priced speakers are capable of achieving …respect for precisely what they do, in fact, accomplish as a speaker that delivers a hologramic sound stage that replicates the effect of "thereness" while, also, offering glimpses into the specifics of individual elements within the musical performance—elements which suggest not only a "you are there" experience, but an "open your bloody ears and catch these cats enjoying themselves on stage" experience.
The Adagios seem designed to impress you simultaneously with dynamic slam and emotional intimacy. What I've enjoyed in a special way over the last set of months has been their generosity and warm hearted willingness to give more and more …taking more of me into their relaxed and compelling sonic world. Jim Merod