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Adam S3A
4.4 4.4 out of 5, based on 2 Reviews

Excellent Tools for the Professional

23rd March 2012

ADAM Audio S3A by andrplx

  • Sound Quality 4 out of 5
  • Ease of use 5 out of 5
  • Features 5 out of 5
  • Bang for buck 4 out of 5
  • Overall: 4.5
Adam S3A

ADAM S3A monitors

When I reached 40 my old JBL 4208 monitors reached their retirement age (at least from my studio ? ) so I started looking for a new pair of monitors that would upgrade my setup of the 4208 and a beefy if gentle Luxman amp.
I was very interested in ADAMs line and wanted to get a loudspeaker that wouldn’t need a separate subwoofer, one that could integrate as best as possible the whole range from a good and real 40Hz upwards, so as to avoid all phase traps you can fall into with separate subs.
I looked at my wallet, looked at ADAMs line and chose the P33 as my target.
The P line has since disappeared, but was a sort of mid-level active line and the P33 was the S3A’s younger brother. The S3A being the professional speaker that took the market by storm with the revolutionary A.R.T. tweeter.
The local ADAM agent set up a visit to a local hip studio that had a pair in their professionally designed control room and I was about to sign the check, when one morning I read an interview with Sir George Martin and at some point he mentioned that since his 60s he had noticed a clear decrease in his hearing, especially the highs of course.
Suddenly it dawned on me that being 40 I would only have another 20 years of reasonable hearing before me, and had been studying and trying to become good at all the steps of recording and mixing music for the last 20.
So I figured that if I was going to buy new monitors, they had to be the very best I could afford.
So I moved my aim over to the more professional S3As and eventually managed to gather the resources and buy a pair.
The first time I plugged my new pair of S3As at my semi-pro studio, I knew I had made at least a good decision. Listening to a series of recently finished mixes originally made with the 4208s, I was absolutely amazed (and scared!) with the ADAMs ‘version’ of those.
Through the S3As it was very easy to identify the specific ‘sonic signature’ of each mix and in some cases the dramatic differences between them.
The scary part was the fact that this was recent work all for the same album and had sounded pretty much consistent in overall ‘sonic colour’ through the JBL monitors.
The ADAM S3As showed without a hint of diplomacy, that a certain song was too midrangey, another lacked serious bass, or yet another one’s treble region wasn’t ‘gluing’.
Even scarier was to understand that this was not a question of more or less bass or treble in the reproduction through a specific loudspeaker, this was about the sonic ‘character’, the overall ‘timbre’ of the mix. This was about quality in absolute terms.
Of course, the ADAMs have their personality, most attributable and generally attributed to the A.R.T. tweeter.
Its speed, resolution and extension translate to my ears as excellent ‘Ferrari’ transient response, detailed reproduction and clear highs.
You do have to live with them to start to get to grips with their high-end, because it tends to sound quite ‘lively’, but this doesn’t mean untruthfull or over-hyped in any way, and after comparing them systematically with different professional systems I’ve come to trust its consistency.
Now, I just have to get three more of them and an ADAM sub to make the most detailed, ‘earthquaking 5.1 system for my sound design work.

7th September 2013

ADAM Audio S3A by blackcatdigi

  • Sound Quality 4 out of 5
  • Ease of use 5 out of 5
  • Features 5 out of 5
  • Bang for buck 4 out of 5
  • Overall: 4.5
Adam S3A

*the following is an article I was asked to prepare for the now discontinued S3A version monitors. They have since been replaced with the S3HX version. For what it's worth, I still use these S3As and have incorporated a pair of Velodyne subwoofers into the setup.

ADAM S3A Monitors

January 7, 2007
Product Price
$5350 per pair

Product Specs
3-way active bass reflex speaker
Woofer - 186 mm, HexaCone®
A.R.T. tweeter
Freq. response (± 3dB) 32Hz - 35kHz
Front panel controls -
Input Sensitivity (+/- 10dB)
Tweeter Level (+/- 4dB)
Room EQ >6kHz (+/- 6dB)
Mid Level (+/- 2dB)
Room EQ <160Hz (+/- 10dB)
Power - 240W (sin), 360W (RMS)
Inputs - Balanced XLR
W x H x D - 500mm x 240mm x 320mm (20" x 9.5" x 13")
Weight - 16 kg (35 lbs)
Warranty - 2 years

First Impressions
Every engineer has struggled with translating what one hears during the many phases of recording production to what the end listener hears on any given playback device. I have owned and/or used the majority of popular monitors over the years, so given the initial very positive reception ADAM received when the speakers arrived in America, I was excited to try them out.

The S3As are a 'quasi' three-way design featuring separate amps for each driver. The speakers are not a true 3 way design, nor are they a typical 2 way system, either. The second of the subs is lowpass filtered at 150Hz to improve low frequency response. There have also been a couple of revisions to the amplifiers over the lifetime of the product. The initial version of these monitors contained three 100 watt amps. These versions, while much lauded for their accuracy, suffered from a slight lack of headroom and available output volume. Consequently, some users were boosting input gain to squeeze a little more volume out of the speakers, resulting in some clipping distortion issues. ADAM subsequently redesigned the amps to offer a more robust 150 watt per driver output rating. These are the versions reviewed. Recently, ADAM implemented another change in their amps, and the current product features switching-type amplifiers. Output wattage has also been increased to 250 watts per driver, peak.

Having seen several ads for the speakers, I was surprised to find them much smaller than the pictures would lead one to believe. Despite their compact size, they feel quite solid and are of considerable heft. Upon initial playback, I immediately noticed that the speaker's imaging is deep and wide with excellent front-to-back depth. Low-level detail is clearly and concisely resolved. While not being quite capable of putting out massive dB levels, the ADAMs can get louder than most users will ever need. Additionally, all ribbon based designs exhibit greatly extended high frequency response (over more traditional designs). I'll not elaborate on the theory that any frequency content beyond our actual hearing ability is beneficial. However, I will offer this: It has been my experience that all ribbon based tweeters do in fact respond to transient information substantially faster than traditional designs, and consequently these speakers sound much more realistic or natural. Recordings are reproduced with much sharper, more lifelike transients than a dome tweeter is capable of reproducing. In fact, ribbon designs can scare you. They can fool you into thinking that something is in the room with you. I was eager to hear them on my current 'nightmare' mixing project.

In Use
Prior to receiving the S3As, I was working out of a horrible little 12X10X8' control room with rather massive acoustical problems. I had invested considerable expense into a myriad of acoustical treatments and had tried half-a-dozen or so various reference monitors. Still, nothing was translating with any degree of predictability. The room had some severe room nodes resulting in extreme boosts and nulls. At that point, I was burning 10 to 20 (or more) versions of every single mix just to arrive at a reasonably 'acceptable' final mix. Not a very favorable situation to say the least. I had reached a point where I absolutely couldn't trust anything I heard in that control room. Forget tweaking tones, I was having massive issues just getting relative balances correct. I was miserable. Around that time, I happened to speak to an engineer friend who had recently started using S3As, exclusively. During the course of our conversation, I mentioned my difficulties completing mixes for a current album project, and also that I was only halfway done with the record, but I was already on my second spindle of CDs; He laughed and asked me: "Why don't you just buy the ADAMs and be done with it?"

So, the ADAMs became my last ditch effort to try and get that room useable for mixing.

The ADAMs replaced the speakers I had previously been using, so I just placed them horizontally on my existing speaker stands. I threw up some previous mixes to see how the ADAMs would respond. Suddenly, I was able to hear some problems in what had previously been 'best' versions of my laborious earlier mixes. Encouraged, I tried a few quick test mixes and Eureka! The test mixes actually resembled what I was hearing back in the control room! Balances were spot on. I could even attempt a little sonic 'sweetening' with some modicum of confidence. In fact, the only area I had any difficulty with whatsoever (regarding their tonal characteristics), was in acclimating myself to their low end response, which tends to be very tight and punchy, and perhaps even a bit lean (at least relative to the monitors they replaced). I've not verified their stated response (-3dB @ 32hz according to the manufacturer) but I can state that if you are used to a big, flabby, booming low end, you will need to adjust to their response in that particular area. You could always add matching subs for more prodigious amounts of low end, if required. Personally speaking, the ADAMs were a revelation to me, and offered a big improvement in both speed and quality of output in my little mix room.

Shortly thereafter, I moved into a new studio. The new control room was much, much larger, and had been constructed (from the ground up) as a properly designed acoustic environment. A vast improvement over my last setup, to say the least. I initially placed the S3As in the same orientation I had used in the previous room (horizontal, in the nearfield) and ran some test mixes. Upon checking these tests, I noticed that my mixes were coming out a tad heavy around the 120Hz range, so I dialed up a 3dB boost on the front panel 160Hz bass control, and tried a few more quick balances. These mixes translated much better, with a much more accurate low frequency content. Further room analysis confirmed my suspicions; There was a big dip centered at 120Hz right at my mix position. While I was initially pleased with this setup, after a few months in the room, I began to notice that the ADAMs didn't seem to have quite the same extended frequency response I had previously become accustomed to. They just sounded a little flat, for lack of a better description. So, I began to experiment with moving the speakers around the room, inch by inch and also reorienting them. After much experimentation, I wound up with the speakers placed vertically and in more of a midfield setup. Imaging and front-to-back depth seemed to really open up in this placement. I did a few more mixes and proceeded to check these on other playback systems, both in the studio and at several other locations. As always, there were no surprises when I took these mixes anywhere.

As my familiarity and confidence with the monitors (and the new room) grew, I began to further experiment with placement tweaks of the S3As. Eventually, I began to perceive some of the more subtle differences in details, based on both their placement and their orientation. While the stereo imaging and depth was increased in the vertical orientation, this placement slightly reduced the inherent 'punchiness' and the overall midrange detail. Conversely, when placed horizontally the S3As were very punchy, extremely detailed in the midrange, but slightly less extended on the top and bottom extremes. To simplify my observations further: Vertical placement seemed to result in more of a "smiley-faced, hi-fi consumer-curve" type reproduction. Horizontal orientation produced a somewhat flatter but punchier sound, with a more detailed midrange.

Of course, not being content to leave well enough alone, I then attempted to rectify and reproduce the respective pros and cons of either orientation, via the front panel controls. With the speakers placed vertically, I boosted the midrange control attempting to bring back the loss of midrange punch I perceived. I also tried to extend frequency response with the speakers placed horizontally by boosting both the high and low room eqs. In the end, neither proved optimal. I returned the speakers to a far(ish) nearfield, horizontal placement, and returned all the front panel controls to flat. Over time, I had grown to prefer the improved midrange detail and punch, over the wider imaging and extended frequency responses in the vertical placement.

As we all like to hear things differently, one could certainly use these characteristics to tailor the S3As towards ones own personal listening preferences, as well as tailoring them to any given environment's acoustics.

Furthermore, I have since moved to yet another studio. In my new room, the speakers are currently placed in the nearfield and vertically oriented!

There is another factor that I'd like to point out, here. Anyone even considering spending this amount of money on any such high resolution monitor speakers should first make absolutely sure that as many of their acoustic-based room problems have been sorted out, as well as possible. All rooms suffer from acoustical problems, and no speaker, no matter how excellent, can overcome terrible acoustics. It has long been my opinion that any money spent on improving room acoustics is perhaps the single best investment one can make, and with the greatest returns in terms of improving the relative quality of work.

This is the section of the review where I'll depart from the norm and deliver a bit of a personal rant: In my opinion, studio monitors are a highly misunderstood, often misjudged breed of equipment. I often hear of users auditioning prospective monitors in stores, of them listening to a variety of recordings to gain perspective on their characteristics followed by subsequent descriptions of their various impressions based on such listening sessions. Pshaw, I say to you... Much "Dancing about Architecture" to reference the late Frank Zappa.

It is my opinion, that how any reference monitor reproduces any given recording in any environment, is of little to no consequence and practically no value. There are many fine reproduction systems available for casual use and enjoyment. I personally own and enjoy several. My one and only concern with any studio monitor can be summed up in a very easy to understand mission statement: How does the work I do in my own environment translate to every other playback medium? After all, we don't purchase studio monitors for our personal listening enjoyment. We purchase them to aid in our each and every production decision. All eight gazillion, eight billion and eighty-eight million of them... At the end of the day, I really don't care if I've particularly enjoyed listening to the monitors during the process; All I care about is: Has my every decision (based upon what I've heard from my most important tool, my REFERENCE monitors) led me to make the correct decisions, or have they influenced me to make incorrect decisions? Have they told me what I needed to know, or have they lied to me at every possible junction? Have they sugar coated the truth or have they been brutally honest, sparing no-ones' feelings?

Excellent reference monitor


It is my opinion that the ADAM S3As are a brutally honest reference and will perform admirably in most any acoustic environment, from the worst to the best. If your work sounds good on these monitors, then you've done good work. Simple as that.

The ADAM S3As are the finest reference monitors I've ever used. I've given them my ultimate recommendation: I bought them... twice.


13th January 2016

ADAM Audio S3A by Analogue rocks

  • Sound Quality 4 out of 5
  • Ease of use 5 out of 5
  • Features 4 out of 5
  • Bang for buck 4 out of 5
  • Overall: 4.25
Adam S3A

I love these!!!!
I put Admas S3A in my writing studio. In the large console studio there are Tannoy Golds

I run the monitor eqs all neutral. S3A's are slightly bass light, THIS IS NOT A PROBLEM. If I get a mix so I can clearly hear the bass, but not mix the bass to the level I would normally want to hear the bass at, this translates to a perfect bass weight on most other systems. This is part of learning your monitors, whoevers they are!
Actually with the golds we just mix til we get the sound we want, and that translates, but golds do not have the detail of the S3's.

So where the S3's really shine is that mix that just wouldn't come right, you can hear everything across the whole sound spectrum.
I can print a mix whack it in the car it will be fine , whack it on a club pa fine again, they are so easy to mix with.

Fatigue, ribbons, my well used and abused ears can do a 10 hour day on these (with breaks), no more fatiguing than other monitors.

Buy a pair they are such good value. They are heavy buggers, mine were used as top end midfields, perfect. I am now using them as near, nearfields, real near.

Abuse, they have suffered one very bad overload (real Bad) the C24 had the master fader in the all group ( my default templates deselect volume) and well, bang. But the Adams overload protection saved the day.

You would never want to dual purpose these, and use them to enjoy listening to your favourite musac (with Golds you can), they are too brutally honest, not harsh, or crystalline , just honest.

I would not want to be without them now I have had them.

ps If you do try and boost the bass on the monitor trim eq under 150Hz it messes with the low mids. That is why I leave it all neutral and learnt to get the bass where I can just here it but not properly feel it. Bingo it translates perfectly, and less headache inducing than a day mixing pumping bass.


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