Audio Artistry Beethoven loudspeaker system Page 2

On the faceplate you'll find a blue operating LED and a button labeled "Video." Pressing this button minimizes subwoofer excursion when playing back very loud explosions on some laserdisc and DVD soundtracks, or the intense subsonic rumble occasionally heard on LPs. This is accomplished through a gentle 6dB/octave rolloff from 40Hz on down.

On the rear of this chassis are a DIN connector for attaching the external power supply, and switches to turn each subwoofer on or off. Separate woofer-level knobs are also provided for up to 12dB of adjustment in order to match the system to amplifiers of different gain structures and/or to a wide variety of rooms. Also, a pair of jumpers located on the circuit board allow an additional 10dB of woofer-level control, though I've never heard of anyone needing to use that feature.

The active crossover is fitted with XLR connectors and a superbly balanced interface topology comprising a pair of Jensen JT-10KBD input transformers and a clever output circuit design, resulting in a true universal interface. In other words, the crossover is equally happy receiving or driving a balanced or single-ended source or load. Jensen's transformers are highly linear, wide-bandwidth devices that present an input impedance of around 39k ohms for the driving preamp. A version of the crossover employing an RF filter and actively balanced input stage is available as an option in place of the input transformer. The crossover circuitry was optimized for maximum dynamic range and signal/noise when used only between a preamp and amplifier. Don't feed a high-output (over 2.7V RMS) source component directly into the crossover.

As with the passive crossover, only first-class components are used. Every resistor is a Precision Resistive Products high-precision, low-noise design with 0.1% tolerance and a 10 parts per million temperature coefficient. In addition, 2% custom film caps are used throughout the audio signal path. The board contains extensive local power-supply filtering and decoupling, along with effective RFI filtering applied at each input and output. Audio Artistry chose Burr-Brown's excellent-sounding OPA-2604 amplifiers to handle EQ duties.

While the Beethoven system is a true full-range design and contains far more components than the typical speaker, it is not visually imposing in a listening room. The low-profile woofers can be located along either side wall, and the elegant main panels are very easy on the eye, blending well even into rooms of modest size.

Sonic splendor
Though the Dvorak reviewed last year was designed to a price point, I came to prefer it over many more expensive models, even if some had a slight performance edge over the Dvorak in one particular area of another. My preference stemmed from the open perspective and overall naturalness with which the Dvorak portrayed so many forms of music despite several minor flaws, among them a less transparent resolution of soundstage detail compared to the very best, and an upper midrange that, while certainly not overtly bright, leaned a bit in that direction.

That first-generation Dvorak was an excellent work-in-progress, but the Beethoven is a milestone achievement. It possesses every positive attribute of the Dvorak (except its lower price), yet manages to improve on each of those assets while either minimizing or eliminating that speaker's shortcomings. Beethoven virtues—such as an enhanced sense of rhythmic swing, awesome transparency, effortless resolution, and a more solid, dynamic bass—expand upon the Dvorak's reduction in room-induced colorations (footnote 2).

Compared to previous box speakers used in my room, the relative lack of standing-wave excitation and midrange masking from the Dvorak and the Beethoven produced a pronounced feeling of being enveloped in the soundfield of good recordings. The music seemed to flow out from the soundstage, fill my listening room, then decay back into the silence from whence it had come without the usual sensation of the room pressing in on me from all sides during dynamic passages—a quality that greatly enhances the sense of "being there." Most significant, though, the Beethoven brought to the party some extraordinary refinements I'd not experienced in any other speaker.

But to keep things in perspective: We're still a good distance from flawless sound reproduction, and likely will be for the considerable future. The limitations imposed by two-channel stereo remain the foremost barriers. Nevertheless, the Beethoven is the current prime candidate for Low-Distortion Champ when replaying full-range music at realistic levels—especially when all forms of significant masking and room interaction are taken into account. However, Siegfried Linkwitz is quick to acknowledge that the search continues for components of even lower distortion. Further improvements in driver construction and crossover design remain to be realized, along with solutions to a number of other challenges.



Footnote 2: As more affordable direct precursors of the Beethoven, both the Dvorak and smaller Vivaldi have recently undergone significant revisions resulting from the trickle-down of insights Audio Artistry gained while developing the Beethoven. Currently I'm also using a pair of revised Dvoraks in my second reference system, and can report that the change to a soft-dome tweeter, new 8" midbass drivers, and changes in the crossover produce an upper midrange/treble that's cleaner, smoother, and more transparent than the original version. Also, the Dvorak's overall tonal balance is now closer to the Beethoven's.—Shannon Dickson
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Audio Artistry
8312 Salem Dr.
Apex, NC 27502
(919) 319-1375
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