SB Acoustics ARA Muse & Review

Ara Ls50

SB Acoustics? Ara? Whaat?

Yup. Haven’t heard of SB acoustics before. Not until I read about Buchardt Audio and their proudly touted great value for money speaker designs. Meaning that they use high end drivers in their speakers which usually should cost many many times their retail prices from usual branded speaker manufacturers.

That led me to doing some research into speaker drivers. And to the revelation that Buchardt uses drivers made by Indonesian speaker driver maker SB Acoustics. And that a quick search on Carousell yielded results that SB Acoustics drivers and speakers can be bought right here in Singapore!

What’s even more intriguing is that a search in xtremeplace forum revealed that the SB Acoustics speaker ARA ($2746) has been mentioned to sound way above its price class, more akin to speakers in the $6000 and above range, such as the Dynaudio C1 with its revered Esotar2 tweeter.

So I went to have a listen to the ARA. After about 20 minutes of auditioning, I bought it. Brought them home, and then proceeded to sell my long serving pair of Dynaudio Focus 110. The ARA is easily better than the 110 in all aspects of performance, hence the easy sale. Not to disrepect the 110, which were legendary during its time and price point (pity the sticky tweeter coating which dust just flocks to). The 110 were just downright fun with R&B and Rap music. However, when compared to the ARA, the 110 had a hardness in the bass where the ARA just sounded more organic. Can’t think of another adjective LOL.

Why the photo showing another legendary pair of speakers, the Kef LS50 ($1800) side by side with the Ara? Because I have a pair and I can do some AB comparisons, although it’s not entirely fair to the LS50s due to their smaller drivers cum cabinet size, and since my hall is pretty large, it’s just too much to ask the puny sized LS50s to fill it up with satisfying levels of deep bass. BUT, was I pleasantly surprised by what the LS50s could muster given the appropriate content.

Now finally to the ARAs. They use the SB Acoustics SATORI 6.5″ MW16P mid bass drivers and the famously dimpled TW29R tweeters. These drivers are supposedly of ScanSpeak Revelator and Illuminator level. I was told that a lower end version of this tweeter is used in the ($40000?) Von Schweikert VR44 floorstanders, and that actually SB Acoustics was formed by a group of Scanspeak best who resigned after the protracted and ugly restructuring of Tymphany. Oh well…

I played classical, metal, pop, rap, jazz, soundtracks in Flac, Wav, DSD formats in my simple AB comparo. The LS50s are well known to be image kings, and indeed they are, but gosh was I gobsmacked when the vocal imaging just SNAPPED dead centre through the ARAs even though I have a 65 inch tv and a large center speaker in between! Both the Dynaudio Focus 110 and LS50s couldn’t achieve the vocal image specificity of the ARAs. Another surprise was when I played Metallica’s HardWired (in 24-96 Flac). The kefs sounded noisier while the ARAs separated the instruments so well to the point where I could follow individual instruments and sounds properly. Hmm…so metal is not just noise after all. Treble on the ARAs is superbly extended, airy and wetter than the LS50s too. Bass through the ARAs was deep, musical, punchy, Organic. But the BEST aspect of the ARAs sound for me is its vocal purity and intimacy, somewhat akin to the vocal accuracy I tend to hear through Stax headphones. Overall, the LS50s sounded brighter in my setup. In a smaller room though, the LS50s would still amaze if driven and placed properly I believe.

Oh, I also had a short listen to a pair of Dynaudio C1s which were not broken in, driven by a $6000 CD player and a $2000 Chinese integrated amplifier, using dunno what cables at an acquaintance’s place. Hard to come to fair conclusions given the very different setups, but I still have a nagging feeling that the vocal imaging specificity of the ARAs is better. Anyone with a pair of C1s to lend to me? 🙂

Alrighty then. The above are just some of my personal musings. YMMV 🙂

Equipment:

Wyred 4 Sound mAMP monoblocks. Emotiva UMC-200. Oppo BDT-101CI. IsoAcoustics ISO-L8R155. Transparent The Wall Reference Speaker cables. Cardas Hexlink Golden 5-C interconnects.

Link to the ARAs:

http://artisanacoustics.net/product/ara-kit/

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