ADAM Audio S3V by Arthur Stone
This is going to be a relatively short review; what is written is no substitute for auditioning the S3V's (or any other monitor) yourself in your own room, local studio, or friendly pro audio store.
The Adam S3V monitors are 3-way (bass/mid/ribbon tweeter), powerful and have onboard DSP (32-bit floating point) for room correction/preference EQ, safety limiting, and, to control the crossover points for each speaker. Analogue audio entering the S3V via XLR goes through analogue-to-digital conversion at 24-bit/96kHz. The S3V accepts an analogue XLR input, an AES3 digital input (XLR), an AES3 out (XLR), and has facilities for future expansion options; a USB port allows the DSP to be controlled from a computer (in addition to a rear panel rotary push-button/OLED interface).
ADAM S Control remote software connects to the S3V via USB and it's possible to control the S3V's DSP and create, store and manage presets from your computer.
The S3V's are part of Berlin-based ADAM Audio's new S-Range and sits between the S2 and S5; the S-series benefits from new design and technological advances.
I fed the S3V's analogue audio from a KRK Ergo (my usual monitor controller feeding Focal CMS40 monitors) and then connected the power cables (the S3V internal power supply self-adjusts to local supply). The S3V's need to be run in for some time so I just started with some YouTube videos: discussion and some Bjórk music. My immediate thought was that the soundstage now filled my room rather than being in a small window; it felt more effortless and natural than my Focal CMS40's (as one would expect).
The analogy I would use to describe the immediate difference in soundstage is that of different paintings in a gallery: the fabulous CMS40's reminiscent of an Impressionist masterpiece such as Claude Monet's Water Lillies or his View at Roules. Le Havre (1858) (faint in comparison, non-jarring, pleasant) whilst the S3V's soundstage draws the viewer in with it's size, detail, potential and power – I was reminded of the great artist Johannes Vermeer (with dramatic interplay between dark and light, perception of depth, attention to detail) but no smearing or lack of resolution like a Turner or hint of character like Peter Bruegel.
If we look at Vermeer's Painter in his Studio (1666-8) or 'Girl Holding Trumpet' as I call it, we see what art historian Blankert describes as “...flawlessly integrates naturalistic technique, brightly illuminated space, and a complexly integrated composition.” That perfectly describes the S3V in comparison. Remember, the analogy is about the differences between monitors rather than the monitors themselves having that character. Still...
The differences between the CMS40 (or monitor x) and the S3V are accentuated in close-up. Both paintings represent a coherent wide standback image but close-up we see that the S3V is much more detailed and the Monet is a lot rougher and more vague in close detail. The Impressionists rely on the viewers qualia to fill the detail whereas the Vermeer fills it in for you. Of course, both are IMO beautiful and skilled paintings but if I needed a benchmark in my studio it would be the S3V.
Anyway, that was my initial impression of the S3V and it's soundstage; like entering a gallery and being subsumed into a vast painting full of detail, colours and vibrancy – in a similar way I was reminded of my first visit to a large-screen cinema as a young child.
Down, Down, Deeper Down:
I started to listen to music on YouTube: Sonic States, Nick Batt, performed live on a Novation Circuit and Jupiter 6: the Circuit drums were just as deep and colourful as I remember in use. When the Jup6 bass kicked in my immediate thought was “F#ck” or similar. Incredible detail in the lower octaves.
What was clear were deficiencies in the YouTube audio: whereas the CMS40's made everything sound like organic honey the S3V's clearly let you know there's an issue or sonic defect in the programme material – but not in a bad way; although the S3V lacks the CMS40's obvious velvet touch it doesn't make the listener suffer. These are not punishing monitors (as some Gearslutz members report that digital monitors can be), they are quiet (zero self-noise or 'electro-magnetic buzz aura)', non-fatiguing, pleasurable, and stress-free. An honest politician.
I knew the S3V's would have an extra low octave over the small Focals and most near-field monitors but it sounded like two octaves. Earth-shaking (if required) with zero distortion. This is new territory for me.
Next I listened to WAV tracks I had made myself; I was familiar with the material but unsure how the bottom octave would sound; in fact, it wasn't too offensive or bloated but rather sterile as if the bandwidth existed but hadn't been used in the original mix.
Three days in and I've adapted to the S3V's and integrated them into my studio workflow; the big surprise is how similar they sound to the CMS40's at low-level, near-distance on general media, finished tracks. The S3V's sound better, much better (clearer, stronger, less smearing, no cabinet character) and, of course, there is another bass octave to hear but the transition was smooth and that's a credit to the Focals.
I tuned the speakers manually using the rear OLED display and rotary push-button encoder, trying the UNR voice preset (Adam's proprietary setting) but preferring the flat Pure voicing in the nearfield setting. Three user setting presets are available in addition to the UNR and Pure (default) and these can be tweaked using a six-band EQ with additional bass and treble shelving filters; everything sounded perfect at default. I lowered output by 4dB (then 10dB) as I'm listening close (3 feet/ 1 metre) and didn't need the full SPL and also wanted to avoid gain-bunching on the KRK volume dial. Later I tested the Audiolinear Axis passive monitor controller and that stayed on for the remainder of the review; I felt that the S3V's improved noticeably with the quality of the input signal/chain.
At moderate listening levels – enough to feel excitement in a rock mix or feel a low dub bass – the capabilities of the S3V started to emerge; soundfields that monitors like the CMS40's and even larger models could not physically or technically compete with.
Part of this muscle-power is evidently in the cabinet design, particularly the weight, which enables the S3V to push out the excitatory energy into the studio environment...to be heard by ears and felt by the body. At no point did the cabinet appear to strain or tremble. Firm. Anchored. Still.
At greater SPL's the S3V's can shake the room and be heard across an entire apartment block. Small rave; no problem. At perfect fidelity – without breaking a sweat. The linear quality (of tonal character and dynamics) from low-level to banging was really useful in practice. At no point did my ears hurt; zero fatigue apart from natural tiredness alleviated by breaks. The system remained on, often 24/7, for a few months with zero issues or heat. Not even a pop!
Price: £1999 per monitor
Max power consumption: 550 W
Max SPL per pair @ 1m: >124 dB
Freq. Response: 32Hz-50kHz
I/O: Analogue XLR input @ 48 kOhm impedance and +24 dBu max input level;
digital AES3 (XLR) in and out.
USB input for DSP control.
Port for future expansion.
Everything needed for operation without too many unnecessary gizmos.
Materials and components:
Cabinet: Not sure of the exact composition/material of the cabinet; ADAM say they are “solidly constructed from thick, vibration resistant material to reduce unwanted resonance and colouration, even at the highest listening levels.”
Aesthetically, the S3V has a more diffuse radius than the previous versions/series which were more angular; lights plays off the diffuse surface and facets, and the features are well proportioned. Neutral. Distinguished. Sexy.
Woofer: 9” Hexacone with 2” (50mm) voice coil powered by 500W PWM amp. The technical innovation associated with this speaker is the ELE or 'extended linear excursion' produced by 'symmetrical magnet assembly or SMA). Nice tight and punchy (when needed) – moves air. Remarkably clean but present bass representation; the CMS40's sounded distorted/fuzzy in comparison. Range: 32-250Hz
Mid: 4” (100mm) Laminated carbon-composite 'dome-cone hybrid' or DCH – this design incorporates the mechanical strength and wide dispersion of the dome design (a disadvantage of the narrow-field cone design) and the low distortion, fast response, and low resonance of cones. The 2.4” voice coil powered by 300W PWM amp. This is more familiar territory for me with the CMS40's which also have a 4” cone. If a track was perfectly silent below 300Hz and I compared them I'd say the S3V's were more detailed without harshness – like the Focals were missing some info...the nuances of reverb for example. Range: 250Hz-3kHz.
Tweeter: Adam's apple – the S-ART ribbon powered by a 50W Class A/B amp; the S-ART is an updated, more precise version of the much-loved X-ART tweeter, of the previous monitor ranges. Dispersion is also assisted by a new 'high-frequency propagation system' or HPS, which is milled from a block of aluminium and minimises resonance and acts as a heat sink/transfer.
Amazing to think that a 0.17g of mass can produce the impression of such an extensive and detailed acoustic space. Outstanding; mistakes are heard in detail but the listener is not punished. My thinking was not 'I must change that hi-hat frequency or remove that sibilance as it is painful' but more a question of 'I think the sound will improve and the instrument better represented if I make this change.' Range: 3-50kHz.
Each speaker is inset in a waveguide which in turn is inset into in the cabinet body; these are very effective in dispersing the sound evenly and dissociating the sound from the physical monitor.
The PWM Class-D amplifiers on the woofer and mid are efficient, low heat and noise-free; in simple terms, a switch turns the signal/power on and off very quickly, whereas the Class AB amp for the tweeter has an always active circuit. To be honest it was unclear which speaker (woofer/mid/tweeter) was producing which frequencies especially at the expected boundaries (250Hz/3kHz); not an issue but the result of superb digital crossovers which are tuned to the cabinet.
Ports: The two front-facing ports are rounded parallelograms with bevelled edges and the design aim was to not choke the bass. There is no air-noise, chuffing or farting; the bass is tight and has more of a sealed-cabinet sound but without hype. The digital control of the crossovers and PWM amp, paired to the materials and shape is another factor in keeping things tight in the bass.
Dimensions: H x W x D/21.1” (536mm) x 11.5” (293mm) x 15” (380mm)
My friend who worked on dub sound systems told me that they built their own cabinets in 2 forms: longshot and shortshot (as described to me). The longshots project the bass into the packed bodies of the audience producing that familiar 'deep G' sensation. As soon as I unboxed the S3V's I noticed their longshot form (much deeper front to rear than width) and, indeed, they project the bass effortlessly, without hype, and without the cabinet breaking sweat.
One consideration is the height of the tweeter to the listeners ears. Ideally, for a permanent install, I would have lowered the monitor base/stand around 4 to 6” from their desktop height but the S3V's are not toweringly tall. The S3's also come in a horizontal version, the S3H, with a lower tweeter and this has two 7” woofers per monitor (in contrast to the S3V's one 9” woofer) and a wider stereo field.
Weight: 55 lbs/25 kg
Reassuringly heavy and solid. Nothing loose feeling. The weight and form function to produce the sound without any noticeable cabinet stress or strain. Firmly anchored and not reliant on the support for kinetic energy; the monitor itself has enough mass to contain itself.
The S3V's are quite heavy (lift-able but two is a no-no) and they will need damn good stands (if required). During the review I placed them on cabinets with a cork underlay; my impression is that they have sufficient mass and design that they might be less susceptible to mounting and placement problems or rear wall-coupling as long as the base has support and solidity to bear the 25 kg (sack of potatoes) weight.
Warranty: The warranty is 2 years with 3 years optional on product registration.
There is a lot more technical detail and charts on ADAM's excellent website; I've just presented a rough outline here. I also recommend the S3V review by Anslem Goertz in Sound and Recording which I read in preparation for this review. https://www.adam-audio.com/content/u...cording-en.pdf
Let's talk about DSP:
The DSP/digital conversion and digital and analogue inputs cover most bases and studio configurations. The sound of Adam's conversion is very, very good and specifically-matched with the DSP to the cabinet. One could argue (perhaps philosophically) that the S3V sound, however excellent, will not be exactly the same sound that is recorded if, for example, you are recording to a different converter. In theory, this bothers me; in practice, in my opinion, the difference is not enough to be significant or adverse to workflow. A digital out (w/ monitors network-linked) would allow a post A/D digital capture but that isn't how the S3V was designed to function.
I'm kind of an 'analogue guy' and have to admit I was initially sceptical about the digital conversion but my experience is that the importance is in how the S3V sounds and performs rather than how it achieves this. I do think the S3V's sound 'digital' (not in any sense of bad digital, rather a perfect sound)– that is my subjective opinion – but I would still prefer them over many 'analogue-only' monitors.
I'm going to return to Vermeer's 'Girl with Trumpet' painting: you see the candelabrum? Notice the way the light reflects from the points and curves. The reflections are specific to a particular time of day; how did Vermeer manage to capture them so precisely? He couldn't have positioned them so quickly and accurately in one sitting. Did he use a camera obscura or some alchemist's technique using silver nitrate and photons? Is it a photographic memory or a real memory?
Either way, however he achieved this, the end result is what counts – and that's my take on pure analogue vs digital in this case.
(Nothing) Lost in translation:
Apart from the workflow advantages and personal listening enjoyment the S3V's needed to translate to other systems and if not immediately, I needed to be able to understand or educate myself through listening and correct my technique or environment.
I'm fortunate that much of my musical work is sent to the Analogue Cafe in Hawai'i where it is monitored on a range of high-end gear: Focal, Barefoot, Neumann, etc. - if there is a problem I cannot hear (on CMS40's or AKG K702 headphones) they will let me know: to date they mostly just tweak a bit and that's usually cuts in bass frequencies. With the S3V's, for the first time, I felt assured that my monitoring was in the ballpark (at least) of the best studios I work with.
A week into the trial and I realised I could not go back to the CMS40's – or any 2-way monitor; at least, it would have to be an exceptional 2-way. I was suddenly looking at ATC, PMC, Neumann (post K+H), Barefoot, the Ones. Price-wise, the S3V's sit in the middle of comparable monitors.
App for that:
The app needs to be (downloaded, installed and) used to compare and contrast preset voices or make EQ adjustments from the listener's sweet spot; the rear controls are easy to use but obviously off-axis.
The video accompanying this review shows the app and using it in more detail; it's very straightforward with no drama, glitch-free - just connect a USB cable from each S3V to the host computer, open the app and tweak.
There are: presets/library, source-switching, gain, and a 6-band fully-parametric EQ with additional high and low shelving filters.
The same functions are available via the high-quality push-button rotary encoder and OLED display on the rear of each S3V: the menu system is straightforward and it's intuitive to use with practice. An example of the EQ menu system below:
The best option is software control as that's where the listeners sweet spot is but the rear panel controls are useful when a computer isn't accessible.
The experience is not of two monitors but rather immersion in a soundfield that is independent of the S3V's – a large and broad soundstage with depth, height (helped no doubt by the vertical orientation), very much like ones field of vision...more oval than rectangular, and with blurred gradients into distant horizons leaving no sense of containment or claustrophobia. There is room for movement within the soundstage but the stereo 'pinpoint' is quite exact. Very good 'side' information; tangible rather than a ghostly representation at 90 degrees left and right. The stereo field remained intact until the sound disappeared with the monitor fully attenuated. Didn't notice (or test for) 360 degree rear info.
As a reference, the S3V sound and soundstage translated well to AKG K702 headphones: plenty of detail; low lows; and, a wide fatigue-free ambience, albeit the S3V's had a lot more power under the hood in terms of what they could physically represent in comparison. In fact, the soundstage and image never felt under-powered or strained.
Once in a while I would hear a bass note when using media that would sound a bit funky...more emphasised than other notes. I was hearing my room; and the S3V was closer to the rear wall than the recommended 12”/0.3m. I decided to take 1 or 2 dB of bass away using a shelf filter.
Coincidentally, I was reading Bob Katz's Mastering Audio and he discusses sub-woofer set-up being validated by consistent notes on a I-IV-V scale in the key of G1 and recommends passages in audiophile music (Chesky) as source material: Spanish Harlem sung by Rebecca Pigeon in particular the bass notes: 49/62/73 – 65/82/98 – 73/93/110Hz. This is a good test to try with your current monitors for comparison.
Despite the sub-woofers being integrated into the same cabinet, I decided it was a fair test as one would want that consistent result whichever gear is used. I needed to adapt the test to the S3V: G1 is at 49Hz whilst the S3V has a Adam-cited lower limit of 32Hz. The S3V's replayed a consistent level across the bassline with no sense of hype or drama.
What happens in these frequencies is important e.g. electric 4-string bass is 41.204Hz on the open E string and 30.868Hz on the B of a 5-string bass. A kick drum will be lower perhaps to 15-20Hz and below the threshold of hearing and into bodily sensation.
I explored the lower reaches that only a piano, synthesizer or percussion would appear: for example, the low A on a (modern) piano is 27.5Hz and the occasional Bosendorfer down to 16.5Hz. Remarkably I was perceiving clear detailed information (perhaps as harmonic overtones with a missing fundamental), below the Adam-cited 32Hz – and it sounded great; I used Arturia's excellent Analogue Lab synths and piano even hearing the (square-wave?) tremolo/beating of the low A0.
The upper bandwidth limit of 50kHz was only noticeable by it's absence; kinda like looking up into a deep blue cloudless sky and wondering where it ends. The S3V literally covers the entire audio spectrum at least in terms of what can be reproduced and what we would want (or be physically able) to hear and feel. For the musician, monitoring with the S3V's is a real treat as there's no guesswork; everything is defined, instruments – even VST – come alive in their full glory.
I did think the S3V's might be too large or powerful for my room (14' x 12' x 9' semi-treated) but they were perfect even at 3-4 ft listening distance and within the recommended distance to wall of 1ft – listening 8-10 ft away on the couch was obviously a huge improvement on the CMS40's but also due to the linear response which gave a near identical soundstage as near-field. Although the S3V's full power might never be utilised in a smallish room such as mine, there is no sense of being overwhelmed, either in the room or in close proximity of e.g. 1ft. Super-quiet too; a pleasure to use through the night.
Did the Earth move for you Darling?
Towards the end of the review period I decided to whack up the levels a bit and just enjoy the power of the S3V's. I waited until the weekend daytime so as not to disturb my neighbours unduly: the sound can easily travel through several apartment blocks (if needed). This testing coincided with the largest earthquake for maybe a century – a 4.4. It lasted around 2 minutes. My neighbours were pale and visibly shaken; their first response was to ask me what I was doing with the Moog.
Although the S3V's can be an equivalent to a small high-quality earthquake they are also precise and present at lower volumes and I was able to use them 24/7 in close range with no loss of oomph or fatigue-inducing proximity; but what you hear is completely linear – just quieter or louder. There is never a sense of 'being contained' with the S3V's; no upper air boundary or bass limit. The transition to other dimensions of frequency - infrasound and ultrasound – is seamless.
At the end of the review period I switched back to the Focal CMS40's: in comparison I noticed distortion in the mid-bass and treble and a lack of bottom octave and I missed the point where sound becomes physical sensation. In fairness to the CMS40's (at 1/8 the price of the S3V) it is remarkable how close they are: still smooth and comfortable but without as much detail and presence...but then the S3V sounds much, much better and it is another level of gear beyond the CMS40.
There is less distortion, more detail, a larger soundstage, palpable dynamics that can take your breath away. The S3V adds a sense of realism to music and brings awareness of any problems without punishing the ears.
The earth did move and it felt and sounded superb.
Sound quality: 5/5 Stunning. Powerful. Vermeer-esque. Linear. Perfect. Enjoyable and pleasant on the ear. Well-judged bass and not at all harsh. The analogue-to-digital conversion does not compromise the sound whatsoever as far as I can judge.
Features: 5/5 The DSP facilities are straightforward and not too deep. Although the S Control remote software doesn't offer auto-room calibration it is flexible enough to be effective, and the general utility is excellent and non-buggy. No post-A/D digital out for a digital recording from the ADAM conversion.
Bang-for-buck: 5/5 This is well-placed on the diminishing returns spectrum. Excellent value given what the S3V can do for one's enjoyment, workflow and career. Nothing flimsy about the S3V's; solid build with superb engineering and finish. The price is acceptable - less than a decent car hi-fi system.
Ease of use: 5/5 It sounds great out the box on default settings and the ability for fine-tuning is there when needed. Sound is linear at different listening levels. The S3V is tolerant of hasty positioning or a bad room but then the soundstage is less expansive. One strong person can carry or move an S3V; needs a secure base/stand.
Credits and references:
Tweeter - Wikipedia
Double bass - Wikipedia
By Claude Monet - "CLAUDE MONET: Life and Paintings": website, info, picture, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/inde...curid=11617942