A Desktop Champion: The Adam Audio F5 Page 2
I set up the F5 monitors just as I would any other desktop speakerusing IsoAcoustics ISO-L8R155 adjustable stands to raise them up off the desk and angle them slightly upward towards my ears. I played with left to right spacing for a while, but ultimately arrived back where I started: a roughly equilateral triangle between my ears and each speaker, and toed in so each driver fires directly at me. The ADAMs were not particularly picky though, and it's not a big deal if you only have room to place them immediately flanking your display.
I initially ran the ADAMs connected to my Windows 7 desktop over USB via the Questyle Q192 integrated DAC/pramp. I figured the current-mode architecture of that unit was just what the doctor ordered when dealing with a highly-resolving tweeter like the X-ART. I was not disappointed. From the very first notes of Metallica's Master of Puppets (DCC Gold Edition, remastered by Steve Hoffman and HIGHLY recommended), I could tell the F5 was going to deliver the goods. Any expectation of a clinical, sterile "studio monitor" sound was washed away in a torrent of bass thwacks and thrash riffs. These things could Rock with a capital R. I was so mesmerized that I played the whole album though before moving on to some more "respectable" audiophile choices. All my favorites tracksBattery, The Thing That Should Not Be, Disposable Heroeswere rendered with striking dynamics and excellent tone from top to bottom. I was particularly impressed with the cymbal workthe X-ART tweeter was very extended and crisp without being overly sharp. To gain some perspective, I threw on another version of the same albumthe original Elektra release from 1986and immediately noted a sense of harshness, along with a sort of grainy "film" over the music. The ADAM F5 did what it was supposed to do in showing the strengths and weaknesses of each versionjust as a studio monitor shouldwhile doing very little editorializing of its own. I initially worried about integration problems between the advanced tweeter and the more traditional woofer, but after listening hard for potential issues there I'm happy to report my fears were unfounded. There's a sense of coherency here that really speaks to me, especially as a headphone listener who normally deals with a single driver covering the full spectrum. The ADAMs never faltered with vocals, piano, or any of the other situations that can often reveal crossover deficiencies.
After taking a break to do some other stuff around the house, I returned to the system, cued up an old favorite for non-critical listening (the self titled album from Suicidal Tendencies if you must know), and noticed something odd. There was a silence inserted into the beginning of the first track; maybe 2 seconds or so. I'd been using this same DAC for months and had never heard this before. I started the track over, and everything was fine. "Probably just USB gremlins", I thought to myself, but made a mental note to listen for this behavior in the future. Sure enough, even after swapping out the Questyle DAC in favor of my Anedio D2 (feeding the ADAMs with XLR connections), I still heard this silence on more than one occasion. It wasn't a huge deal, but at the same time it bugged me because I couldn't figure out the cause. As a last resort, I did what few self-respecting audio geeks will ever condescend to doI actually read the manual. There it was, plain as day, on page 5:
All models of the F-Range are equipped with a signal sensing circuitry. In order to cut power consumption to a minimum when not actually in use this circuitry switches the device into a standby mode when no signal is present at any input for a time longer than approx. 20mins.
Bingo! That was the culprit. Apparently, just by coincidence, a lot of the albums I played had a soft intro or fade in, which allowed the delay to go unnoticed while the speakers came out of standby mode. There really isn't any way around this issue and I find it slightly annoying, but now that I know the mechanics of it I can more easily work around it. The trade-off is superb sound, such as I've never experienced for anywhere near this price.
The ADAM F5 is characterized by a very smooth and effortless presentation. I don't mean smooth as in "glosses over details" but rather smooth as in "free from peaks, glare, and harshness." It's suitably "studio monitor neutral", yet in that neutrality it manages to avoid being thin, lifeless, or boring, such as I've heard from others in this space. I largely attribute this to that X-ART tweeter which takes on performance characteristics similar to other AMT variations I've experienced. You want transparency? The F5 has it in spades, easily scaling to new heights when I switched to higher end sources. I even went so far as to pair it with a Resonessence Labs Invicta Mirusa state of the art $5k DACand it didn't feel terribly out of place. Granted, the Invicta Mirus is probably a more realistic match for the F5s more advanced/expensive siblingsperhaps the Classic Column Mk3but I nonetheless enjoyed what this mismatched combo had to offer. I spent hours getting lost in everything from Doug MacLeod's "There's a Time" (Reference Recordings HRx) to "World of Funk" by Shawn Lee's Ping Pong Orchestra, to "The Machinations of Dementia" from technical metal supergroup Blotted Science. Throughout this wide range of material, the F5 kept up far better than a $550 desktop speaker had any right to. I've spent time with the Audioengine 5+ in my system (pretty good), as well as the Emotiva airmotiv5 (very good), but despite their similar sizes and pricing neither of these can match what ADAM has done with their budget offering. This is almost certainly among the best desktop audio I've yet experienced, right up there with the Salk WOW1 monitors driven by the NuForce HAP-100 preamp and STA-100 amplifier. That combo goes for roughly $2500 and is definitely more versatile, but on my desktop the ADAM F5 sounds similarly excellent.
The Emotiva airmotiv5 is a particularly appropriate comparison. Both models use their own interpretation of the Heil Air Motion Transformer. Both models are priced and sized very similarly, with the ADAMs coming out slightly larger in both respects. The Emotivas seem to go down the same sonic path, but stop a bit short of reaching what the F5 achieves. They might even hit slightly harder in those last few Hz prior to roll-off, assuming placement is just right. But the F5 trumps them with more realistic imaging and even better detail retrievalthe Emotiva system is no slouch in those areas, so we're talking about a very high level of performance here. While both models have similar build quality, the front ported design of the ADAMs makes more sense in this type of application. It's worth noting that Emotiva offers a 5 year warranty to ADAM's 2 years, so that's something to consider. Still, if given the choice, I'd recommend the slightly more expensive ADAMs every time.
Compared to the Audioengine A5+, the ADAMs dig much deeper into the mix, making the otherwise well-regarded A5+ seem muddy and lifeless in direct comparison. I was considering giving the A5+ a write-upthey sound plenty nice, and outperformed several other desktop solutions I've tried over the past 6 months. But then the ADAMs came along and turned the A5+ into an "also ran". No disrespect intendedit's a well done product, but just seems to bump up against a superior technology in the F5. The Audioengines use traditional silk dome tweeters as opposed to the folded ribbon X-ART, and traditional amplification with passive crossovers instead of active bi-amping. The A5+ may well be the best speaker possible within the confines of that technology and price point, but the limitations become apparent when contrasted with something more advanced. I can comfortably recommend saving the extra $150 needed to step up to the ADAMs, even if it means delaying your desktop audio purchase for a while. The difference really is that big.
Having said that, I see no other option but to place the ADAM Audio F5 active monitors on the Wall of Fame. As desktop audio solutions go, it really doesn't get much better than this without spending significantly more. You do give up some whiz-bang featuresthere's no Bluetooth or AirPlay, no digital inputs, no piano black or real wood veneer. Instead, ADAM Audio gives us surprisingly full-bodied, accurate sound, with a sense of cohesion and ease that belies their $550 price tag. This is affordable desktop audio of the highest caliber, and earns my top recommendation.
Editors Note: Looks like we're going to have to get hopping on a "Wall of Fame" page for desktop speakers. Coming soon!