Adam Audio S3V Review
A long time ago in a land far far away......I used to design and build my own speakers, who’d have guessed! ;-)
Yes actually I studied Acoustics for a year at the University of Hertfordshire where they had a great (and huge) anechoic chamber I spent way too much time in! Acoustics was an optional module of my degree in analogue and digital electronics but boy am I happy I took it.
By way of some further ‘qualification’ as to why you might chose to read my reviews, I also founded my first company while at University with a friend on the same degree course as me. It was called ‘Optimum Acoustics’ and I remember my parents being less than thrilled about their garage being turned into our production workshop! :-)
We designed built and installed custom audio equipment (predominately speakers and amps) for venues such as gyms, clubs, schools, local theatres, etc, but also some monster systems for cars too. Those were the days when it was fashionable to remove the rear seats of your Ford Cosworth and fill the entire rear of the car with custom designed speakers and enclosures - not to mention kW of amplification!
I used to do everything by hand at the start, including calculating the Thiele & Small parameters but later moved into using specialist enclosure design software. We’d then rock on down to the workshop (garage) and start construction with various bits of marine ply and MDF.
So time to get down to the business of actually reviewing the Adam Audio S3Vs.....
These are the first pair of Adam’s I’ve owned. I took my time and came close to trying (buying) a pair of two way near field A series, first having heard how good they sounded in various other locations I’d come across them but in the end I’d heard and read enough to feel confident about taking the (expensive) plunge directly to the S3Vs as I really wanted a set of three way monitors….. well, let’s just say I’ve not looked back so far!
The Adam S3V is an active tri-amped professional three-way mid-field monitor with built in DSP and has both analog and digital inputs an OLED control panel to access and change the DSP settings as well as a programming app you can install on your computer.
A good friend of mine who’s a technical wizard currently building his own customer designed pair of transmission line speakers has been slowly working on me over the years to move away from the warm glowing analogue world of class A and into the digital world of Class D amplification, FIR filters and DSP control.
Now, I’m very familiar with the digital world having studied digital signal processing back at Uni, so I get the technical arguments in its favour but I’ve always loved the warmth and impurity of the analogue world because to my mind that’s always been the best medium to store and deliver sound originally created by an acoustic instrument. Not to mention later to be listened to by an analogue human!......Digital humans sounds kinda scary to me at the moment! Think Terminators, Skynet, The Matrix etc…. ;-)
That said, the digital world has come a long way since the early and mid 1980s when digital really started becoming mainstream in the musical universe. Back then a lot of the digital equivalents of analogue equipment were either questionable sound quality or required a bank loan and a large studio.
Today we in the music world enjoy the knock on benefits of the mass digitisation of almost everything in our lives. Thus the demand for digital components has driven the cost down and the advances in computing hardware and software have enabled digital to take a firm hold within almost every traditionally analogue domain not just sound reproduction....and by the way there is no turning back now!
The other thing about digital is it can not only reach the same capability point as analogue but because of the very nature of the digital domain, it can and already has in many areas, already surpassed what’s even possible the analogue domain alone.
It may sound like I’m already a convert....but wait....my ears are still analogue devices and honestly that’s how I judge music reproduction devices, by what I hear, not what a spec sheet or set of measurements say….having said that, I just spent the weekend with REW and a calibrated mic to ‘voice’ my S3Vs.
Let’s talk about my listening environment for a moment because it’s less than perfect, as the room isn’t a dedicated studio (hint, it has a bed in it too!) but it’s at least 2/3rd’s studio. It’s a complex space with a far from simple geometric shape.
Being a one-man composer, producer, mixer, etc, I’ve got a basic level of acoustic treatment thanks to GIK Acoustics, but it still suffers a little with low frequency standing waves. Thanks to a weekend of measurement and speaker placement experiments with REW, I’ve got those down to an acceptable minimum.
Prior to the Adam’s arrival my primary monitors were a set of near-field Yamaha HS5’s. I like the HS5’s they’re bright, reasonably clean reproduction but a little muddy in midrange clarity and of course the low end weight is missing, but you really can’t expect that from such small drivers.
Nonetheless they’ve served me well for the last year…and they will continue to serve me well in their near-field role now I’ve got the Adam’s set up in their role as mid-field monitors.
So, we had to get here eventually!..what do the Adam’s sound like?
Well the good news is, they don’t sound like speakers!
While they are pretty large and imposing within the context of a small home studio, ‘they' sound invisible to me, which is exactly what I want. I want to hear the music not the speakers.
I guess another way of describing that is they the sound they produce doesn’t feel like it’s contained either within the enclosure or even that the sound is emanating from them - the sound stage they setup is much, much bigger than their size implies and has a depth that allows me to sit at my desk a feel like Sting is actually sat on a stool a metre in front of my singing and playing his guitar, not the flat brick wall that’s actually half a metre away!
I will say, the reviews I read prior to purchasing almost all said that the S3Vs maintained an amazing level of soundstage and linearity of sound almost irrespective of the playback volume level.
Anyone who is aware of equal loudness contours should be aware that volume at which we listen has a big impact on how we ‘hear’ the music and it is the reason why we had the ‘loudness wars’ with the advent of digital media and streaming music. 'Louder is better’…they said...but wait...
The S3V’s, I’m pleased to report, sound amazing at both low, medium and high listening levels and at no stage do they lose their composure, control or ability to effortlessly create a laser sharp, broad and deep sound stage.
The great thing about the human ear and the human brain is that we really can make almost anything sound great and we’re so easy to bias to either a positive or negative view on what sounds great and what doesn’t.
So I’ll admit here I was absolutely positively biased going into my first real listening experience post-purchase but having heard them from ‘cold’ in a listening room prior to purchase and before I really knew anything about them, I was as blown away now and I was then.
I should point out for those of you who may be wondering at this stage, my first week with the Adam’s, I’ve really only been using the UNR (Uniform Natural Response) EQ curve which is one of two factory presets from Adam (the other being Flat or what Adam call Pure).
As of this weekend I’ve now after much measurement, calculation and experimentation have located them in their final (for now) locations and on their their permanent stands, which I might add were a bit of a ‘concoction’ as most of the usual monitor stands just weren’t got to cut it and flying them from the ceiling just wasn’t an option at this stage.
With my deeply non-symmetrical room I now also have non-symmetrical EQ settings on each speaker (wow I can already hear the purists out there screaming with horror about how such a think is sacrilage!) but that’s what I needed to do to get a roughly equal response from each monitor and an acceptable combined response.
Actually the combined response didn’t work out too bad at all both from a measurement and listening test perspective.
Anyway, not having been an ADAM Audio owner/user before this, I don’t have anything to say about how they might compare against any of the other ADAM Audio monitors out there but I can tell you that so far I’m very pleased with the sound reproduction, especially for mixing, which is now a joy thanks to clearer imaging and much cleaner reproduction of mid and high frequencies and depth of field.
I’ve also listened to a lot of great commercial tracks and albums as I’ve been using them for general playback and listening to music in general and I have to say they’ve handled everything I’ve thrown at them so far, which has been reggae, rap, EDM, Classical, Jazz, Ambient plus a whole lot more.
Despite their size and power capabilities, I’ve found myself listening at lower volumes than the Yamahas and even my Q Acoustics in my living room. I can totally see longer mixing sessions happening with lower overall ear fatigue.
Any Adam Engineers out there - This is the part you should read
So far I can’t say enough good things about the S3V’s and I’m certainly happy with my purchase….but nothing is perfect in this world so here’s a few small items that I’ve decided to itemise below in the hope that Mr Adam is listening and taking notes….perhaps I should just email them the link to the review!
1) Really for what I paid for them, a long USB cable (or any USB cable!) shipped in the box would not be asking too much.
2) The flying points aren’t located at the centre of gravity - this seems odd or maybe there is a good reason for it?
3) The OLED display, well it wouldn’t be hard to have the monitor know which way up it was mounted and to auto rotate (or even let the user manually rotate) the OLED display for when the monitors are mounted upside down.
4) The control knob under the display is WAY too sensitive to the touch and thus rather annoying and frustrating to use when dialling in the settings you want. This should be an easy fix as it’s clearly a rotary encoder.
5) The Mac (I only tested the Mac software not sure if the windows version is the same) software for configuring the DSP with EQ settings etc….well…I will try not to be too rude here…it is a case study is non-intuative UI/UX design. Once I’d figured it out (the manual didn’t really help much either) I explained how it worked to my head of software testing and he just sat there in disbelief. Looking forward to V2.0 where this will all be fixed right… :-)
6) I’m informed, after asking Adam what the standby power consumption was, that the S3V’s chew through 27.5W each when ‘idle’. They certainly get decidedly warmer to the touch (the metal plate on the read - which I presume also doubles as a heatsink) than 27W might imply but in any event leaving them powered on and consuming 50W between the two monitors is really not an option in my book and quite honestly Adam….shouldn’t be in your book either! We’re supposed to be at least trying to lower our environmental impact aren’t we? It can’t be good to know that every pair of S3V’s out there is burning 50W while doing absolutely nothing. So I’d request a user configurable idle to ’true standby’ setting in a firmware update so for at least the non Trump voters we can chose not to burn away the planet!
So all in all and perhaps until the 6mth or 12mth review point, I’ll end by saying this…if you are in the market for a pair of three-way mid-field monitors, you’re not in the ‘digital is evil’ corner and you have a few extra pounds/dollars/euros during a hole in your wallet…go for it…and don’t look back!