||"...it is the collection of all of these traits at a mid-level
price that makes it an exceptional speaker."
Amphion Argon2 Anniversary
by S. Andrea Sundaram
||"Fast, clean, and
evenly balanced" -- "not, however, sonically identical to their predecessors."
"The first thing that struck me about the Argon2 Anniversary's performance was the bass,
and I mean that it literally struck me.... I felt the bass drum thwacks in my chest.
That's not a sensation that one typically associates with minimonitors." The midrange is
"admirably neutral," and "the new tweeter [is] quite a bit smoother-sounding
than the original."
||"The upgrades to
the latest model are things that cannot be seen. It shares the same SEAS 6 1/2"
aluminum-cone midrange/woofer as the original, but the tweeter is now the SEAS titanium-dome
design...used for Amphion's flagship speaker.... To accommodate the new tweeter, the crossover
has been redesigned, though the crossover point is still an astonishingly low 1200Hz. The
waveguide carved around the tweeter was redesigned in 2006 and has been used on all Argon2
speakers since that time." "The back, sides, and top of the speaker are made from
MDF, with the front baffle being made from Finnish birch on the birch- and cherry-finished
||"With a claimed
sensitivity of 86dB/W/m and a nominal impedance of 8 ohms, dipping only to 7 ohms, the Argon2
Anniversary remains a relatively easy load for most reasonably powerful amplifiers, tubed or
solid state." "Their controlled dispersion makes the Argon2 Anniversary speakers
relatively forgiving of placement."
||"While $3000 on up
per pair isn't cheap, it is actually on the low side for a minimonitor with this kind of
In 2002, SoundStage! publisher Doug
Schneider reviewed the Amphion Argon2 -- the successor to the company's original Argon
minimonitor. It was largely based on Doug's praise of the speaker that I sought out a pair
to hear for myself. To put it succinctly, I found the Argon2's speed, clarity, and neutral
tonal balance to be a revelation at its modest price -- then $1600 per pair. In the years
since that purchase, I have heard other speakers that do this or that better, but the
Argon2s have remained a worthy reference, both in terms of absolute performance and value.
Ten years after the introduction of the original
Argon, Amphion has made a major revision to what was an excellent speaker. Did they strike
the proper balance between continual improvement and doing no harm?
If I needed to disguise a system upgrade from a
non-audiophile significant other, I'd almost be able to do it with the Argon2 Anniversary
($2990-$3490 USD per pair depending on finish). Aside from the cherry stain being a little
darker and more lustrous, the new model looks identical to the original. Each speaker
measures 15"H x 7 1/2"W x 12 1/4"D and weighs 25 pounds. The back, sides,
and top of the speaker are made from MDF, with the front baffle being made from Finnish
birch on the birch- and cherry-finished versions. This wood has a beautifully fine grain
that will help it to blend into most decors. On the back of the speaker there is a port
located behind the tweeter. The only visible change from the original Argon2 is the single
pair of high-quality WBT binding posts -- there used to be two pairs.
The upgrades to the latest model are things that
cannot be seen. It shares the same SEAS 6 1/2" aluminum-cone midrange/woofer as the
original, but the tweeter is now the same SEAS titanium-dome design, dubbed "the
Integrator," used for Amphion's flagship speaker, the Krypton2. Interestingly,
Amphion checks each tweeter by ear, saying that they have not yet found a measuring system
that can do this. To accommodate the new tweeter, the crossover has been redesigned,
though the crossover point is still an astonishingly low 1200Hz. The waveguide carved
around the tweeter was redesigned in 2006 and has been used on all Argon2 speakers since
With a claimed sensitivity of 86dB/W/m and a
nominal impedance of 8 ohms, dipping only to 7 ohms, the Argon2 Anniversary remains a
relatively easy load for most reasonably powerful amplifiers, tubed or solid state. The
low end of the Argon2's frequency response is still 40Hz, but the new tweeter extends the
high end to 30kHz. The greater high-frequency extension is less about faithfully producing
information that humans can't hear and more about pushing the tweeter's break-up frequency
far beyond where it could have any effect on those sounds that are audible.
Their controlled dispersion makes the Argon2
Anniversary speakers relatively forgiving of placement. I did experiment somewhat, but,
unsurprisingly, I found that the speakers were at their best where I had placed their
predecessors. All of my critical listening was done with the speakers' front baffles
39" from the front wall, 6 1/2' apart, and toed so the drivers' output crossed just
behind my listening position. I placed the speakers atop 30" Plateau stands and
connected them to my integrated amplifier with DH Labs Q10 speaker cable.
Often when I set up a new pair of speakers, it
takes me some time to adjust to their sound. Coming to the Argon2 Anniversary speakers
from the Thiel SCS4s, however, was like coming home. The new Argon2s are, in broad terms,
very similar to the originals. That is to say that they are fast, clean, and evenly
balanced. They were not, however, sonically identical to their predecessors, and after a
few weeks of listening to them I came to a solid understanding of what those differences
The first thing that struck me about the Argon2
Anniversary's performance was the bass, and I mean that it literally struck me. On Poems
of Thunder (Naxos World 76002-2) -- a collection of Chinese percussion pieces -- I
felt the bass drum thwacks in my chest. That's not a sensation that one typically
associates with minimonitors. At first I thought that the bass weight of the Argon2
Anniversary was only notable when compared to that of the somewhat lightweight Thiel SCS4,
but when I eventually compared it to that of the original Argon2, I found the new version
to be weightier. No, the new speakers cannot deliver the same physicality as large
floorstanders, or as Wilson Audio's über-monitor, the Duette, but their low-frequency
weight is remarkable for their size.
Loudspeakers Amphion Argon2, Esoteric
Integrated amplifier Graaf
Digital Ayre Acoustics C-5xe
universal audio player.
Analog Michell TecnoDec with
modified Rega RB-300 tonearm and Shure V-15X cartridge, Trigon Audio Vanguard phono stage
with Volcano power supply.
Interconnects QED Silver Spiral,
JPS Labs Superconductor, AudioQuest Sidewinder, DH Labs Revelation.
Speaker cables DH Labs Q-10.
Power conditioner Equi=tech Son of
That impressive bass weight doesn't come at the
expense of definition. The Argon2 Anniversary could deliver bouncy walking bass lines with
adequate separation between notes. Those individual notes also had easily identifiable
pitch and tone. I find that playing any recording with a good acoustic bass line -- such
as the Andrea Pozza Trio's Sweet Loraine [Venus TKJV-19154] -- can uncover whatever
problems may exist in a speaker's low end. Through the Argon2 Anniversary, no notes were
emphasized or de-emphasized, and the tone of the instrument was consistent throughout its
range. That indicates to me that the speaker will not only have an even anechoic response,
but it will behave itself in a real listening room.
Moving up to the midrange, the Argon2
Anniversary's was admirably neutral. I've heard audiophiles refer to some speakers as
having a seductive midrange, which implies to me a certain amount of pleasing coloration
to everything. The Amphion speakers aren't like that. Instead, they give back exactly
what's on the recording. Diana Krall sounded seductive and Alison Krauss sounded angelic.
Male vocals were also rendered naturally, with no undo chestiness. In the upper midrange
the Argon2 Anniversary corrects a very slight coloration in the original, resulting in an
even tonal palette equal to the very best.
When I first started listening to the Argon2
Anniversary, I hadn't yet received any product literature. The tweeter in this version
looks the same as that for the original, and I thought that it was the same. I was,
therefore, a little surprised to find the new tweeter quite a bit smoother-sounding than
the original. Over the years since I bought my Argon2s, I've heard other speakers, some
less expensive, with extraordinary high-frequency refinement that made the original Argon2
sound slightly harsh in comparison. In perceived extension, some tweeters that are found
in more expensive speakers seem to edge out the one used here, but the new titanium
tweeter in the Argon2 Anniversary is as smooth as any I've heard.
Aside from being smoother in the treble, what I
noticed with the Anniversary version in comparison to the original was a slight
improvement in the harmonic structure of higher-voiced instruments -- violins, flutes and
oboes. I also marveled at the Argon2 Anniversary's ability to preserve the tonal shading
of brass instruments. Since Amphion is a Finnish company, one of the first LPs I played
through the new Argon2s was Sibelius's Symphony No. 2 with Pierre Monteux conducting the
London Symphony (RCA LSC-2342). Living Stereo LPs are not where I would typically turn to
find accurate instrumental timbres, but I was struck by the contrast between the forlorn
sound of the trumpet solo toward the end of the second movement and the same instrument's
fanfare-ish stridency elsewhere in the piece. The grave misfortune of this recording is
that the tonal balance seems to shift abruptly in the last minute or two, becoming thin
and slightly hard. The Argon2 Anniversary didn't cover up this flaw, but it wasn't quite
as unpleasant as I've heard through other speakers, including the original Argon2.
Soundstaging was one of the strengths of the
original Argon2, and the Anniversary edition carries forth the tradition. Images extended
slightly outside the speakers laterally and from the speaker plane to far behind the front
wall of my listening room. On the same Sibelius recording, the trumpet solo in the second
movement was at once present -- in that I could hear every detail -- and set well back
behind the rest of the orchestra. The sound of French horns shimmered off walls still
farther back. While not as holographic as the very best I've heard, the instruments and
voices were thoroughly solid and believable. I could reach out to touch various sections
of the orchestra, but not individual violinists. I am one who thinks that soundstaging
does add to the listening experience. While I am occasionally in awe of the ability of
some speakers to produce holographic images, the Argon2 Anniversary casts images
voluminously and precisely enough to satisfy me.
Macrodynamics are never really a strength of
minimonitors in absolute terms, but some designs can handle the big swing from soft to
loud better than others. My standard test for macrodynamics is a CD of the Sibelius Violin
Concerto (BIS 300500). This disc has an exceptionally wide dynamic range and a number of
instances that show it off. At about one minute into the first movement, a held high note
in the solo violin is followed by a sforzando in the brass. In a concert hall, this note
is startling, and should also be so through your audio equipment. When the dynamic range
of a speaker is compressed, this note just doesn't "pop" the way Sibelius
intended. Through the Argon2 Anniversary, it "popped." At seven minutes into the
same piece, in the first cadenza, the violin is interrupted by a crescendo in the brass
followed by another sforzando. The linearity of the crescendo is something that few
smaller speakers can get right, but the Argon2 Anniversary can. The Amphions don't
redefine macrodynamics for small two-way speakers, but they are squarely situated near the
top of that particular heap.
Macrodynamics are important, but without good
microdynamic performance -- the smaller shifts and shadings in loudness -- music loses its
expression and nuance and becomes merely sound effects. The Argon2 Anniversary is highly
accomplished at conveying the subtleties of voices and instruments. And, unlike with some
other speakers, you don't have to turn the volume way up to uncover these details. Whether
the inflections of the human voice, or the variations in the way a bow was drawn across a
string, the Argon2 Anniversary didn't obscure these details so crucial to making
recordings come alive. On his first recording of Bach's Suites for Unaccompanied Cello
(CBS M2K36867), Yo-Yo Ma plays so precisely and flawlessly that one might think the
playing is being done by a computer. It is not the tempo rubato that tells you that
you are listening to a human being -- and the modern master of his instrument -- but the
shading and inflection of each note. In audio terms rather than musical ones, shading and
inflection are just small changes in amplitude. A speaker must be able to reproduce those
small changes as accurately as the larger ones.
For me, the other thing that makes reproduced
music come alive, or at least sound more like it does live, is transient response. I'm
very sensitive to a speaker smearing the leading edge of notes. Electrostatics usually win
such a competition, but among dynamic speakers the Argon2 Anniversary, like the Argon2,
outlines the beginning of each note with exceptional clarity and precision. Not only does
good transient performance make a speaker sound more like live music, but it is part and
parcel of good time-domain performance -- what the Brits call pace, rhythm, and timing.
The Argon2 Anniversary would please a number of Brits.
As with many well-designed speakers, my
criticisms of the Argon2 Anniversary's performance are less about what it does wrong --
nothing really -- and more about what it doesn't do quite as well as some other speakers.
At $6000 per pair, the Esoteric MG-10s cannot quite be considered direct competition for
the new Amphions, but they are very instructive in discovering where the Argon2
Anniversary measures up to the best and where it falls short.
Beginning with the low-end, the Amphion and the
Esoteric speakers have similar extension, but the Amphions do exhibit noticeably superior
weight. The MG-10s have excellent bass for a minimonitor, but the Argon2s give up very
little to small floorstanders. In a modestly sized listening room, the Argon2 Anniversary
will most likely come the closest to full-range sound that you'll get without the
room-treatment headaches of larger speakers.
Perhaps partly due to their exceptional bass, the
Amphion speakers can also play significantly louder than the Esoteric speakers without
signs of strain or tonal shifts. When the MG-10s are played at very high volumes, the bass
doesn't seem to quite keep up with the treble. The Argon2 Anniversary speakers have no
such trouble. Eventually they will start to compress -- as will any speaker -- but at sane
to moderately insane levels they hold together well. I rarely listen to my music at high
volumes, but it's nice to know that a pair of speakers can deliver when called upon to
perform at nearly rock-concert levels. The increased loudness capability of the Argon2
Anniversary also makes it suited to use in larger rooms than those in which the MG-10 is
Where the MG-10 justifies its higher price is in
its astonishing speed and transparency. Even though the Amphion speakers are themselves
very good at these things, the Esoteric speakers are simply in another league. Whereas the
Argon2 Anniversary can reproduce a string being plucked, the MG-10 can indicate which part
of the player's finger was used to do the plucking. The sound of that plucked string then
dies away a little more naturally through the MG-10s than through the Argon2
The harmonic textures of instruments are also
ever so slightly truer through the Esoteric speakers than through the Amphion. Through
either speaker one can easily distinguish between different types of instruments and
between different instruments of the same type. But those accustomed to hearing acoustic
instruments live will notice that the MG-10s just get a little closer to that sound.
Earlier I mentioned that the Argon2 Anniversary
can be bettered in soundstaging. It can, given a good source, create a vast and
well-defined soundstage, but the MG-10 is phenomenal in this respect. While the greater
bass of the Argon2 Anniversary makes the venue seem slightly larger than when heard
through the MG-10, the Esoteric speaker can create images that are positively holographic.
No speaker I've heard can compete with the MG-10's sense of transporting you to the
In absolute terms the differences between these
speakers are quite small, and recordings that possess the detail necessary to highlight
the differences are unfortunately quite rare. You may wonder, then, why you should pay so
much more money for detail you'll only rarely hear. Simply, when it's there, it can take
your breath away. The purpose of fine audio equipment is to reproduce sounds exactly as
they are on the recording -- good, bad, or indifferent. The MG-10 gets closer to that
goal, albeit at a hefty premium.
Compared to the older Argon2s, that I own, the
Anniversaries are better in most respects. The original speaker has a slightly leaner
sound that will be preferable to some listeners. The design team at Amphion obviously
feels that the majority, however, will prefer a little weightier bass, even if it is
perceived as slightly slower. I like both, but I would choose the Anniversaries. The
original speakers were also a superb value, and the Anniversaries are still very
competitive in the crowded two-way minimonitor field. The improvements that have been made
-- particularly the new tweeter -- justify a higher price, but largely thanks to the fall
of the US dollar, the current price does not make the Argon2 Anniversaries the steal that
the Argon2s were a few years ago at $1600 per pair.
Sometimes an audiophile or a reviewer will fall
in love with a particular speaker because of one aspect of its performance. There are many
ways in which the Argon2 Anniversary is an excellent speaker -- its speed, tonal
neutrality, and voluminous soundstaging -- but it is the collection of all of these traits
at a mid-level price that makes it an exceptional speaker. While $2990 on up per pair
isn't cheap, it is actually on the low side for a minimonitor with this kind of
When one stops the dissection of a component's
sound into audio minutiae, one is left with the question, "Is the product musically
satisfying?" In the case of the Argon2 Anniversary, the answer is a resounding
"yes." These are speakers I could live with for a long time, both as an
audiophile and as a music lover. If you give them an audition, I wouldn't be surprised if
you find yourself living with them too.
...S. Andrea Sundaram
|Amphion Argon2 Anniversary Loudspeakers
Price: $2990 USD per pair in white or black, $3490 per pair in birch or cherry
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.
Amphion Loudspeakers Ltd.
P.O. Box 6
70821 Kuopio, Finland
Phone: +358 17 2882 100
Fax: +358 17 2882 111