Amphion Argon 7LS Loudspeakers Review
David Price auditions a top floorstander from a distinguished Finnish line…
Argon 7LS Loudspeakers
AUD $7,999 RRP
I first set eyes upon an Amphion loudspeaker back in 2007 and was struck by how different it looked to most things on sale at the time. It was – very unusually for back then – finished in matt white and had a strikingly minimalist, Dieter Rams-esque look about it. I later met the Finnish company's founder Anssi Hyvonen, who I found to be quiet and self-effacing but razor-sharp with it.
“The beauty of music is too precious to be kept in audiophile circles only, so at Amphion we design for people from of all walks of life”, he tells me. “As with many smaller high end manufacturers, our customers tend to be people who have learned to trust their own senses, and like hearing exactly what is in the recording. While the aesthetics matter, we do not make sonic compromises to reach them…”
Since first meeting him all those years ago, Anssi's brand has gone from strength to strength – it's almost as if speaker design has moved towards Amphion's striking aesthetic rather than the other way round. The company is now approaching one-quarter of a century old, and seems more in tune with the hi-fi zeitgeist than ever before, without it moving a millimetre. Whilst we audiophiles may think of speakers as a collection of drive units in a box, let's not forget that our partners regard them as furniture within the home. That's why it's getting ever more important for them to be styled and packaged as such.
Anssi has known this for a very long time, but the hurdle he has come up against is that in some sections of the audiophile community, domestic acceptability is regarded as proof of sonic inferiority. Apparently, something can't sound any good unless it's plug-ugly. These days though, that snobbery – largely a relic from the nineteen eighties British hi-fi scene – is on the wane, and Amphion isn't complaining. “We never wanted to make shiny toys for boys”, he told me. “The aim was always to come up with something that allows people to experience the true beauty of music in their own homes without any major sacrifices, be they aesthetic, financial or whatever.”
Launched at the Munich High End Show in 2018, the Argon7LS is an interesting beastie. It's a tall, slim floorstander that's beautifully designed, built and finished in Finland. Yet, it costs just £4,000 per pair ($7,999 in Australia), which appears keen value considering its size and weight (1,160x191x305mm and 30kg respectively). Of course, that's not cheap, but there are many speakers on sale that superficially, at least, offer less for more. Indeed it's an interesting take on a conventional two-way floorstander. “Our design goals were driver integration,” says Anssi, “plus a sufficient amount of driver area to move good amount of air from an enclosure which has plenty of volume without looking overly bulky.”
Working together with its twin 180mm aluminium coned mid/bass drivers, are a pair of similarly sized passive radiators, also with aluminium cones. The 25mm titanium dome tweeter crosses over with the aforementioned cones at 1.6kHz – a little below the most sensitive human hearing region, in Anssi's view. It features a specially designed waveguide to give better dispersion and drive unit integration. The crossover is said to be as simple as possible, with just two resistors, three capacitors and four coils – plus “one very special ultra high end component, which we do not talk about much!” Internal wiring is multistrand silver-coated copper. Binding posts are by Argento, and were “chosen over those generally used by most manufacturers after comprehensive sonic evaluation”, says Anssi. The cabinet is heavily braced MDF of variable thicknesses – 25mm for the front baffle and 20mm in the side walls.
Interestingly, the result is a speaker with higher than average claimed sensitivity – at 91dB it will go loud with lowish powered tube amps and also work nicely with Class A solid-state. Yet it has a quoted nominal impedance of 4 ohms, meaning it won't be universally at home with all modern amplifiers; whatever your amp's output power is, it will need some grunt. Amphion's recommended amplifier power is from 50 to 150W. Adequately driven, the manufacturer claims a frequency response of 28Hz to 25kHz (at -6dB points) for it, which is very wide indeed.
Considering the Argon 7LS's not inconsiderable size, I was surprised to find that my review pair were easier to position in my room than I'd expected – yet still, there are some caveats. I found that the speaker's treble response is a wee bit more directional than some, so I had to toe-in the left and right boxes carefully so that each beamed at me. There's also the issue with the passive radiators; this speaker doesn't sit happily rammed against a rear wall and instead needs to sit a little into the room. Not much – 30cm or so in my room – but still, that's an important thing to bear in mind. Indeed, in truth, you need a larger than average sized listening room to get this speaker to give of its best; it's really in its element at high volume levels, pushing enough air around to flap your flares.
So does what Anssi calls “Scandinavian form-follows-function design” deliver sonically? Based on my time with the Argon 7LS, I'd say undoubtedly yes. There's always a nagging doubt that speakers as elegant as this will end up disappointing, but it didn't happen here. One of my wretched, guilty hi-fi reviewing secrets is that I try not find out the price of product before I listen to it – if I possibly can. My first impression was that I was sitting in front of a rival to Spendor's big D9.2 floorstander. Despite it being of very similar dimensions of real sonic ability, the Amphion turned out to be half the British speaker's price.
In the Argon 7LS we have a large, powerful and gutsy floorstander, making an impactful yet sophisticated and musically enjoyable sound, despite being thinner than an aspiring supermodel. I found very little that was obviously wrong with it – instead, the Amphion is a very capable all-rounder, especially when you remember its retail price. It's clean and open enough to handle a wide range of music, yet you'd never characterise it as analytical. It images exceptionally well and has excellent handling of frequency extremes. It goes loud gracefully, refusing to compress even at high volumes, yet is also surprisingly nice to listen to at lower levels.
Perhaps the most impressive attribute of the Argon 7LS is its even, yet gutsy sound. Across the frequency scale, from top to bottom, there are no obvious nasty peaks and troughs, and the cabinet never intrudes to add its own particular sound. Indeed it's a very well damped and controlled speaker, yet not a boring one. I found its tonality was hard to fault; it was neither skewed one way or the other, and there's a handy +1dB level switch around the back of the speaker for those wishing to tailor the balance to the room.
I cued up a hi-res rendition of Rush's The Camera Eye, only to be impressed by the clean and orderly way that the speaker served up the sound. There was little sense of colouration – maybe a slight softness and warmth, but not much – and instead I heard a smooth and even yet detailed sound that for a speaker of this price at least, was bristling with detail. It's a pretty densely recorded track, with a typically dry tonality that every late rock recording seemed to share back then. The Amphion rendered the close-miked vocal sound of singer Geddy Lee very well, perhaps with the slightest hint of nasality – but nothing untypical of a speaker of this price. It carried the super-tight snare drum sound with firecracker speed and dynamics and gave a smooth rendition of the lead electric guitar track and the fulsome yet dry bass guitar.
I was taken by the scale of this speaker; it was able to really fill a room with sound with no apparent sense of strain. Tracks with lots of deep bass, such as the slamming techno of Nookie's Give A Little Love weren't so much an ordeal as a pleasure; the Argon 7LS was able to thump out vast tracts of sub-bass, despite its small drivers and narrow baffle. It seemed so unfussed by it that I pushed the volume levels higher to see what the speaker could really do, only to start worrying about some hairline cracks in the plaster on my ceiling getting worse. This is what we seasoned hi-fi hacks call a “big banger” – it's got lots of punching power. Indeed, if it ends up in a fight with your power amp or your room, it's them that's going to lose.
The Argon 7LS's expansive sound wasn't just a function of it being able to soak up lots of watts and go loud. It's a natural 'out of the box' performer, and that was clear to hear with relatively simple tracks with a strong vocal presence. Rose Royce's Wishing on a Star sounded rather lovely, this speaker conveying the studio's recorded acoustic clearly and in three dimensions. It set the backing bass guitar, drum and piano a good way behind, with the lead singer bang in the middle and the chorus's soaring strings all around. I found the imaging between the speakers to be good, but it really improved the more you turned up the volume; there's a sense that despite being an efficient design on paper, the Argon 7LS likes plenty of watts to play with.
Perhaps the least impressive aspect of its performance was with acoustic and/or orchestral music. It was still very good, but I was reminded that it wasn't an £8,000 (AUD ~$14,200) speaker on programme material such as this – on account of its slight lack of true low-level detail resolution. It has many of the airs and graces of a true high-end design, so it's unfair to criticise it when things come back down to Earth a bit – but I found it just a teensy bit coloured with the modern jazz of Donald Byrd's Street Lady. Were it a high-end design I'd be marking it down for lack of translucence across the mid and treble, but it isn't, so I shall merely remark upon it. Treble lacks the hear-through clarity of pricier designs with ribbon tweeters like the Kerr Acoustic K320/3, for example. As the track's ride and hi-hat cymbal work showed, that dome tweeter is good but doesn't quite have the sparkle and air of the best.
Bass is great, up to a point. It's pert and taut, and there's no lack of it, yet it doesn't quite have the tree stump-pulling torque of speakers with larger bass drivers. The Donald Byrd track's low end sounded tuneful and nicely syncopated with the rest of the percussion work, yet appeared just a touch over-damped to me. Perhaps that's just my taste coming into play; having extra control is no bad thing when this speaker will find itself in medium-sized rooms that are just a little smaller than is ideal. There's no faulting the extension, though; this speaker goes very low and is even with it – I couldn't hear any particular 'sweet spot' being engineered in to give it the impression of extra heft, as is so often the case.
Musically the Argon 7LS is highly satisfying if not quite the most exuberantly emotional performer you can buy at the price. It has a measured, even-handed and grown-up feel to how it makes music; transients are good and fast, and all that heft from the twin mid/bass drivers and their passive radiators adds to the drama. It feels to me like those aluminium cones aren't the lightest around, yet they're very controlled and linear. This makes for a speaker that doesn't change its character the more power you feed it – the result being a dynamically articulate and expressive sound that's always entertaining. Its voicing sits on a well-chosen point between the thrills and spills of a big JBL and the civility and tidiness of a large Spendor.
“Our philosophy focuses on opening a large clean window to the music. We believe that whatever we can remove from the signal path increases resolution and transparency”, says Anssi.
I think he's put it better than I can here – because the Argon 7LS does exactly this. For the price, it is a hugely capable floorstander that, by virtue of its great ability, invites comparison with speakers twice as expensive. It gives a clean, enjoyable and musically insightful sound across a really wide bandwidth and can dish out high volume levels with consummate ease. Yet it's very elegantly styled and expertly finished, with no visual gimmicks and a timeless aesthetic.
My advice to those seeking this sort of speaker is not to overlook Amphion.
David started his career in 1993 writing for Hi-Fi World and went on to edit the magazine for nearly a decade. He was then made Editor of Hi-Fi Choice and continued to freelance for it and Hi-Fi News until becoming StereoNET’s Editor-in-Chief.
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