Buchardt Audio A500 by Solidtrax
At the start of this year, Buchardt Audio announced the A500, a set of active and wireless monitor speakers that look a lot like the S400 from Buchardt Audio. The S400 have accumulated a lot of praise from users and reviewers across the globe. We also wrote an in-depth review last year after using them for many weeks in a studio setup and we gave them the full 5 stars! You can find our Buchardt Audio S400 review over here: Buchardt Audio S400
The Buchardt Audio A500
Let's take a closer look at the A500. As mentioned in the intro, the A500 is a wireless and active monitor speaker, which means that there is no need for an external amplifier and no need to connect them with an audio cable at all. Inside the A500 there are a total of three 150W RMS Class-D amplifiers, each of them taking care of one of the three drivers that are housed inside this compact cabinet. With a combined total of 450W RMS, this means there is a lot of power available with headroom in spades. On top of that, they feature a quad core DSP that will, among other things, handle signal optimization for each individual driver, to make sure they reproduce recordings with the utmost precision.
If we take a look at the front of the speaker, the first thing that really stands out is the large aluminium waveguide, which houses the 0.74" textile dome tweeter. This tweeter and waveguide is identical to the one found on the S400 and is designed to get an excellent off-axis response, which allows the speakers to deliver an exceptional in-room performance with a very wide sweet spot. Contrary to the S400, in the A500 you will find this tweeter positioned at the top, as it is no longer needed to have them at the bottom for time and phase alignment, the DSP will take care of this.
Below the tweeter there is a 6" linear long stroke paper cone woofer, with an identical one also placed at the back of the speaker as well. These woofers are in their own separate chambers inside the cabinet, to make sure they don't interact with each other. If we continue to take a look at the back of the A500, you will find a XLR input (balanced/unbalanced) in case you don't want to connect the speakers wirelessly. You will also find an USB port which allows the user to upload different master tunings to the speaker, something we will talk about more later in this review. The back also provides an on/off switch, a plug for the power cord and a sensitivity switch. Lastly, you will find a panel that allows you to connect the speaker wirelessly to a compatible WISA hub, which is also (optionally) provided by Buchardt Audio. Something you will not find anywhere is a passive radiator or bass reflex port, the A500 is a sealed design. It also features an automatic standby functionality, so there is no need to reach around the back and find the on/off switch all the time.
The speakers are compact, they measure 365 x 180 x 280 mm (H x W x D), making the height and width identical to the S400, but they are a bit deeper, as the depth has increased by 40 mm, to create room for the internal amps and to provide some additional room for the 6" woofers to "breath". Something else that has increased substantially as well over the S400 is the weight, which is now a solid 25 kg for the set.
When you take a look at the specifications for the A500 on the Buchardt Audio website, it mentions that it can be either a 2.5-way speaker or a 3-way speaker. This is made possible because the A500 accepts different master tunings, an amazing feature of the A500 that we've not seen before (to this extent). By default, the A500 ships with a 2.5-way tuning that will offer 25 - 40.000 Hz +/- 1.5dB with variable bass tuning. In this mode, both woofers will handle (sub) bass frequencies, while the front woofer will also be responsible for the mid range up to around 2.7kHz, where it will crossover into the tweeter which will take it from there all the way up to 40kHz. Variable bass tuning means that at moderate levels, the speakers are basically flat down to 25Hz, but as soon as you start to drive the speakers louder than 93dB SPL, the tuning of the bass will dynamically adapt to make sure the cone excursion of both woofers stay within safe limits. This is not an uncommon feature, we've seen something similar in for example the Kii Three studio monitors.
But it doesn't stop there. Buchardt Audio has been developing (and will continue to develop) new master tunings that serve different purposes. Think of a tuning where max SPL is most important, which can be done by limiting the amount of bass frequencies that the speaker has to reproduce. Or a tuning where high SPL is not needed, but very deep lows are, all the way down to 22Hz for example. Buchardt Audio has told us that they will listen to their clientele and based on their feedback, will create a wide variety of master tunings, to make the A500 the ideal compact speaker setup for a lot of people and their different expectations and wishes.
While it is no problem to connect the A500 with a balanced (or unbalanced) XLR cable and use them the "traditional" way, in order to take advantage of the room correction software that Buchardt Audio provides, you will need to connect them wirelessly to a WISA hub. If you buy the package deal (A500 + Hub & Remote), you will get a significant discount compared to buying them separately. At the time of writing this, the discount is a large €450,- and, as you will find out later in this review, we really recommend the hub. As of now, the room correction software only works with the Apple iPhone 6S or newer, but Buchardt Audio will release an external measurement microphone later this year, which can be used with any brand of smartphone/tablet. The app will also receive an advanced EQ, to allow the user to shape the sound to taste.
Before We Start
We've been lucky enough to have been working on this set for a few months now, as Buchardt Audio kindly sent us one of the first sets available of a pre-production run. We've been testing a lot of beta master tunings and provided Mads from Buchardt Audio with our feedback. Because we've been able to incorporate the A500 in our daily work for some time now, which is mostly sound design, sound editing, producing and mixing (and some demo mastering), we really feel we know them inside and out by now.
Test Setup Studio 1
We have tested and used the A500 in both our studio's. Studio 1 is roughly 5,5 meters long by 4 meters wide, with some broadband absorption panels and a few bass traps, but it's still far from the perfect space when it comes to acoustics. In this studio, the speakers are on sturdy stands behind the desk, with roughly 1,6 meter of space between them and there is the same amount of space between the speakers and the listening position. Both speakers are toed in, with them pointing roughly 40cm behind the listening position. We have placed the speakers at a height that makes the tweeter roughly as high as our ears. Because the speakers are tilted slightly backwards by design, this makes the middle of the speaker basically point directly to our ears. In practice, this gave us the best result, after trying a lot of different setups. When we received the A500, we used an XLR cable to connect them to an RME Babyface Pro FS interface, as we did not yet have a WISA Stereo hub. During this time, we used the default 2.5-way tuning which the A500 ships with to their customers.
At first, we spent a lot of time listening to songs we are very familiar with, to hear how all these different songs are reproduced. We've critically listened to some of our favorite songs from Peggy Lee, Donati, London Grammar, Pensees, Azaleh, deadmau5, Anne-Marie, Khalid, John Mayer and many more. Search for Buchardt Audio A500 Test on Spotify and you will find the playlist that we've used a lot.
In Use Chapter 1
Once we started playing the very first familiar song we could think of (London Grammar - Hey Now), we were shocked to hear how grown up these compact speakers really sound. We can think of some compact monitor speakers that really sound bigger than they appear, the S400 from Buchardt Audio comes to mind of course. But with the A500, it's on a completely different level. They create the feeling of listening to a set of monitors with a perfectly integrated subwoofer, or as if you are listening to some midfield studio monitors that are easily up to 4 times the size of the compact A500. And it's not a boomy kind of bass that tricks you in believing that the speakers have a great bass response, it's totally in control, never over done, but simply digging very very deep. Where many compact monitor speakers in practice start to roll-off fast way before they reach 40Hz, these seem to have no issue at all with going much lower than that, even at levels that we consider way too loud in a nearfield setup. While doing a sine sweep test, it became clear that these speakers, in this particular room and setup, sounded basically flat down to 34Hz, after which they gently started to roll-off. Once the sine sweep dropped to 25Hz, it became pretty much inaudible to us.
Another unique behaviour that caught our attention was the incredible bass performance when listening at moderate levels. Often, speakers need to be driven loud enough to "wake up" the bass frequencies, but the A500 doesn't need that at all. Even at lower listening levels, they still give you those deep lows that you will need for a full range experience.
Having said all that, there is much more to the A500 than just insanely impressive (sub) bass performance. The A500 is capable of providing you with an expansive stereo soundfield, with a great sense of depth. In this particular room, we would describe the A500 as being fairly neutral. Nothing seems to be pushed up front, but everything seems to be very well balanced over the entire frequency spectrum, in combination with the agility to present you even the smallest sonic details, but at no time we felt it became overly analytical. The highs are clear, but in a mellow fashion, making it possible to work on a daily basis with them without any ear fatigue. The neutral and transparent music reproduction capabilities of the A500 reward you with very realistic sounding male vocals, something we also experienced with instruments like guitar and piano for example. When listening to some of our favourite female singers, we occasionally had the feeling they could use just a tiny bit of extra sparkle to make them breathe a bit more. As we quickly found out, enabling the EQ on the RME interface and boosting a high shelf just 1dB at 4kHz solved this tiny problem completely for us, something which can be done directly in the Buchardt Audio app once the advanced EQ is added. It's totally possible that the speakers are not the ones to blame though, our ears might need some time to adapt and we understand the room plays a very big part in the equation as well!
We continued to use them in this setup for a few weeks, until a package arrived with the WISA Stereo Hub and we also received the first incarnation of a studio master tuning, designed to make the A500 become as good as it gets for professional studio work. We first loaded the studio master tuning to both speakers, which is as easy as it can get basically. You put the master tuning file on an USB. Shutdown the speaker. Insert the USB stick. Power on the speakers. Wait for the lights to blink rapidly one by one. Repeat with the other speaker. Done!
We also immediately incorporated the WISA hub in the setup, so we could ditch the XLR cables. All in all it was a very straight forward process that was done under 10 minutes easily. We decided to connect the RME BabyFace Pro FS interface with an optical digital cable to the WISA hub and we put the output of the RME at maximum level without clipping (0dB). We used the remote control from the WISA hub to set the levels. Thankfully, Buchardt Audio just had the first beta of their smartphone app available, so we could start playing with the room correction as well!
We're not totally sure why, but before actually using the room correction feature, we didn't have very high expectations with it. It uses the microphone of an iPhone 6S or higher and how can that be good enough to measure the room correctly, we asked ourselves. So we started the app, connected with the WISA hub, opted for the room correction feature and we pressed "start". Now we suddenly had our room filled with loud noise and we had to walk around with our iPhone for a minute, while the app would do its thing. After the minute was over, the noise stopped and the app started calculating for maybe 7 seconds or so before it showed us the room measurement and a correction curve. Judged by the picture of the before and after curve, there was a lot that needed to be fixed and we couldn't wait to hear it in action. Before we continue, please understand that the room correction focuses on everything below roughly 300Hz.
The result was simply astonishing. While we were already impressed with the bass performance, once we had the room correction activated, it became so much better. It was seriously mind blowing. Now, every bass note sounded equally as loud (as intended), where at first, you noticed some difference between them. One note could sound slightly louder or softer than the other, depending on the note they were playing. With the room correction, this was completely fixed. Kick, bass guitar, synth bass, you name it, everything was so much more in control and it was so much easier to distinguish different elements in the lower frequencies. The app allows you to instantly enable or disable the room correction and the difference was so apparent when toggling between them. So with this new studio master tuning and room correction applied, we did a new sine sweep test. This time, the speakers sounded basically flat down to 33Hz from where they started to roll-off gently, until we couldn't hear them anymore once they reached as low as 22Hz. An extremely impressive feat in our opinion!
While the low frequency reproduction improved a lot, we also had the feeling we could hear a subtle improvement (to our taste) in the mids and highs, most likely because of the studio master tuning we had applied. To our ears, the midrange gained clarity and focus, allowing us to disable the 1dB high shelf boost we had set up before on the RME output. We listened to male vocals, female vocals, guitar solos, violins, cello, you name it. Everything was presented with a very high sense of realism and detail. While mixing, we could easily identify changes we made to reverb settings and setting up EQ and compression for example was a breeze.
Now we felt it was time to install the A500 in our second studio and hear how it performs in a different environment!
Test Setup Studio 2
Pretty similar as in studio 1, we've placed the A500's on stands behind the desk, with roughly 2 meters between them and a distance from speakers to the listening position of 1.8 meter. Both speakers are toed in, again pointing them roughly 40cm behind the listening position. Compared to Studio 1, this room features much more broadband absorbers, diffusers and bass traps, which significantly improved the sonic properties of the room. Having said that, even though it's our best room by far, it's still not the perfect room. Most people with a studio probably can relate that it's very difficult or even impossible to get a room with the perfect acoustic conditions, especially if the room is not that big. This particular room measures 5,5 meter long by 3 meter wide and features an asymmetric roof. We had the studio master tuning loaded and the room correction from studio 1 was disabled. We connected the WISA Stereo hub with an optical digital cable to the output of an RME Fireface UFX+ interface.
In Use Chapter 2
So without applying room correction at first, we auditioned the A500 in studio 2. We could quickly tell that the room acoustics here are much better than in studio 1. The stereo image seemed a bit bigger than before and much more stable with also a razor sharp phantom center. The balance between the lows, mids and highs sounded really good to our ears, we didn't feel the need to apply any EQ changes in the RME interface. All in all, even without the room correction applied, we really enjoyed the performance of these speakers in this particular room. So after a while we felt it was time to try the room correction. While the result showed us that studio 2 clearly needed less extreme correction, there was still some room to improve upon and we quickly started listening to the changes it made. We could easily hear some sonic improvements in the lower regions again. The biggest difference for us was again the ability to better distinguish different instruments competing in the bass frequencies. This showed us that even in a room that has some significant acoustical treatment, the room correction provided by Buchardt Audio still manages to improve the bass response.
Curious as we are, we ran the sine sweep test again, to find how the lows behave in this room. The difference with studio 1 was subtle, with them being basically completely flat down to 32Hz, after which they started to roll-off gently. Once the speakers reached 22Hz, they became inaudible to our ears.
Different Master Tunings
While we were testing the A500 in both our studio's, we noticed some latency when playing a soft synthesizer for example. While discussing this with Mads, he mentioned that the DSP processing inside the A500 takes roughly 20ms, which is something that is potentially noticeable when using MIDI. He promised a special 3-way low latency tuning and within a few days we received it. With this low latency 3-way tuning, the front woofer is no longer helping with the lowest frequencies anymore, the woofer on the back has to do all the heavy lifting now. As a result, you will not get the same wide frequency response as the 2.5 way tuning, but it potentially offers increased sonic transparency in the critical mid-range, as the woofer in the front doesn't have to work nearly as hard since it doesn't have to recreate the bass frequencies. With this tuning, the frequency response is said to be 48 - 40.000Hz +/- 3dB. With regards to the latency, this is supposed to be lowered to just 1ms, which should really be inaudible.
When we loaded this tuning, we immediately did a re-calibration of the room, as the correction should not be based on measurements done with another master tuning. We started listening again to some of our favourite songs. While we clearly could hear a difference in the amount (and depth) of the bass, it sounded really in balance still, with more bass than we expected based on the frequency response numbers. A possible explanation for this is that the speakers roll-off much gentler than a speaker that relies on a bass reflex or passive radiator. Of course we couldn't help ourselves and we had to do the infamous sine sweep test again. This time, the speakers seemed to be basically flat down to 42Hz, becoming inaudible once it reached 30Hz. While not as impressive as the 2.5-way tuning, we still believe it's a very commendable achievement, knowing that only the woofer on the back handles the lows. But something that also grabbed our attention is that we experienced the mid-range to be ever so slightly more up front, something that we quickly started to appreciate. But in all fairness, it is possible that this is caused by the fact that our perception has changed now that the amount of bass frequencies has lowered. And as far as latency goes, this has become a non-issue, we really couldn't hear or feel any added latency whatsoever. Job very well done!
The A500 is a very impressive set of compact wireless monitor speakers. One of their most unique qualities has to be their ability to offer you a genuine full range sound, as if you are listening to a set of monitors with a subwoofer that is perfectly integrated into the setup. But let this particular quality not stand in the way of all the other amazing qualities this speaker has to offer. It's fast, dynamic, transparent, it reveals the tiniest details and you can listen to them all day without the fear of getting ear fatigue. They give you lots of insight, but they don't become boring or over analytical. And on top of that, you have a speaker that has the ability to load different master tunings, which makes them very versatile and flexible. When we look at all these different qualities, we can't really think of a competing speaker in the same price range. Once you start increasing the price, speakers like the Kii Three and Dutch & Dutch C8 come to mind, but we don't think it's a fair comparison, with them costing over three times as much.
We are not saying the Buchardt Audio A500 is the best monitor speaker we have ever heard regardless of price or size. But in it's price range - and even a substantial amount above it - we seriously can't think of a set of studio monitors that can compete on all levels. This makes the A500 a game changer in our book and very highly recommended.
For more information about the A500, please visit the product page on the Buchardt Audio website: https://www.buchardtaudio.com/products/a500black