A Desktop Champion: The Adam Audio F5 Page 2


I set up the F5 monitors just as I would any other desktop speaker—using 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 tracks—Battery, The Thing That Should Not Be, Disposable Heroes—were rendered with striking dynamics and excellent tone from top to bottom. I was particularly impressed with the cymbal work—the X-ART tweeter was very extended and crisp without being overly sharp. To gain some perspective, I threw on another version of the same album—the original Elektra release from 1986—and 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 version—just as a studio monitor should—while 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 do—I 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 Mirus—a state of the art $5k DAC—and it didn't feel terribly out of place. Granted, the Invicta Mirus is probably a more realistic match for the F5s more advanced/expensive siblings—perhaps the Classic Column Mk3—but 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 retrieval—the 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-up—they 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 intended—it'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 features—there'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!

ADAM AUDIO home page and F5 product page.
Tech pages on the X-Art driver and A/B amp module.

ADAM Audio GmbH
Ederstr. 16
D-12059 Berlin
+49-30 / 86 30 097-0

Guitarist9273's picture

the JBL LSR305? They're a lot cheaper, but I hear good things. 

John Grandberg's picture

...they did seem nice enough. Not as refined as the models from ADAM or Emotiva, which in fairness are more expensive. The JBLs are pretty good for the price though. Rear porting will make placement more difficult. 

rrahman's picture

If you are going to have a desktop wall of fame section, then I would like to request review of the Magnepan Mini's.  Then if you have time, the KEF LS50.

John Grandberg's picture

I'd definitely like to explore those for the more expensive end of the Wall of Fame. Also the Sennheiser/K-Array Piccolo system. Not sure about the LS50 - I've heard 'em, and love 'em, but they have been covered extensively elsewhere and I'm not sure there's much to add. Plus that big rear port makes them less qualified for desktop use. 

grizzlybeast's picture

I am rockin adam f7's and lovin em. Like all/most near fields they may need a sub to reach down low. Specially the f5's

John Grandberg's picture

The F7 is probably the one I'd go with if I had a large, open desk with no worries about spacing. I find that in a near field setting I don't miss the lowest bass as much. In my 2-channel rig I've come to expect it (based on always running big full range speakers and/or subs) but for desktop use it doesn't work out that way. There is a good range of ADAM subs though, including an F series model coming out soon. 

Sorensiim's picture

You guys should check out the Adam Artist 6. Floor standing active speakers, top of the ARTist line. I bought them for my living room and I just can't wipe the silly grin off my face, they are SPECTACULARLY good!

John Grandberg's picture

...that those things sound brilliant. I'd love a pair. They don't really fit with our stated focus on "personal audio" though. Between those and your Noble Kaiser 10, you've got all your bases covered. 

coreying's picture

I own the A7X - the next series and next size up. I use them on my desk for music, guitar playback (via a Kemper Profiling Amp and Roland Octa-Capture) and PC games. They are outstanding no matter what you throw at them.

I've even had them in my living room next to my full-sized floor standing home theater speakers, from a well known reputable brand, costing 5 times more than the A7X's, and the A7X's rival their sound - better in some areas, close in other areas. But the fact that they're even comparable to a speaker costing 5 times as much and multiple times the volume and weight is astounding.

Like Sorensiim above, I'll definitely be considering Adam Audio when its time to replace my living room setup :)

Nepenthe's picture

Nice writeup! I own a pair of airmotiv5s -- I use them in my small living room setup currently (with a Definitive Technology (RIP) 10" sealed subwoofer). I also had the pleasure of auditioning a set of Adam Column Mk3 Actives in my home for about a month last year. These were *fantastic.* The detail, the ambience, the tightness of the bass, and the customizability of the sound were all stunning. Listening to them was a thrilling experience.

Unfortunately I lost my job around the same time and even at 25% off (for demos) - $7500 - I couldn't swing them. Now I'm looking in the $3K to $4K range and wanting to move the airmotiv5s back to my desk. But I'm so sold on active amplification and the active crossover (not to mention the neat things you can do with a really flexible digital crossover like time domain stuff), as well as with planar (AMT, ribbon, ortho, or electrostatic) extending down below the customary 2500 or 2800 that most of these AMT tweeter speakers (smaller Adams, GoldenEar, MartinLogan Motion series, Unity The Rock, Emotiva, etc.) do (the Column Mk3 Actives have an AMT midrange that crosses down at 800 Hz). Anxious to see what the Janszen zA1.1s are like and if he offers an Active design (though they'd be over my price range anyway).

I'd love a scaled-down Adam Column, maybe an Artist 8 that included the AMT midrange but a much smaller form factor and lower power than the $10K Column Mk3. Ultimately I'll probably have to sacrifice either active or planar midrange.

John Grandberg's picture

The new JansZen ZA1.1 is very exciting to me. The list of speakers designed to go right up near the wall, instead of sticking way out into the room, is very small. I'm satisfied with my Sjofn HiFi (the clue) but I keep a short list of speakers with similar requirements in case I ever upgrade. The JansZen is now on my list - along with the Von Schweikert VR-22 and the Larsen Model 6.

thegunner's picture

Nice review!


Have you had the chance to try the gen 2 airmotiv 4s ($400/pair) or 5s($500/pair)? Emotiva has taken some elements from the Stealth series and incorporated them into the 4s and 5s. Perhaps the new airmotiv 5s can stand up to the adam F5 or be better than it? I've been thinking of getting a pair of speakers for near-field use, and the F5 seems to be a better option due to the front bass port.

John Grandberg's picture

I noticed the Airmotiv line got a facelift - odd that the 4 and 5 models did, but not the 6. I was under the impression that it was merely aesthetic but maybe I'm wrong. 

RussellD's picture

-and  they cost $300 a pair. See a comparison between the Adam and the JBL here:



You can listen to a direct comparison here (1/3 way down the page):


John Grandberg's picture

... definitely has some strengths. Low end impact is really nice. Imaging is also quite good. They also hold their composure at high volumes better than most. Their weaknesses, to my ears, are the upper mids and high being a little peaky and harsh. I'm not talking "honest", either, but artificially harsh. I see why people enjoy them though, and for some people they actually may work out better than the ADAMs or Emotivas. 

Nathan8159's picture

Hi everybody, 

I've been searhing around now for about 8 months for a pair for really good computer speakers. For listening to Music, Movies, etc..  and I have no Idea what to do. I like the look of the Adams F5, A3X but I'm worried about the "Studio Monitor" bit, since I won't be mixing.  could you guy's help me out ? And there's no possibility for me to go give a listen which is why I'm more hesitant.





John Grandberg's picture

Don't let the "studio monitor" bit get in your way. Generally speaking, that term gets you built in amplification and a mostly neutral sound signature. That's all.

If you choose a consumer oriented model like the B&W MM-1, Paradigm Millenia, or UFi UCube, you tend to get a more sleek appearance and maybe some extra options (like USB input). Something labeled as a studio monitor will probably be larger and more boxy, but likely end up sounding better in the process. 

dumbo's picture

Dude, if you think the Adams are revelation you NEED to check out Genelec. While their simple active monitors are stunningly good, their top of the line DSP active series are state of the art in music reproduction. For 15 years I was  an rabid audiophile who spent 10s of thousands on equipment such as Thiel, Classe, Audible Illusions, Sim Audio etc etc etc. Not only did I own very good equipment but, I've auditioned virtually ALL the very best and most expensive gear available. I then discovered Genelec (which is considered the top tier in pro audio). The Genelec 8240  DSP active monitors and 7260 sub that I currently own complelely trounce ANY audiophile dac,speaker, preamp and  amp combitnation under $200,000 and ...they do it by a WIDE margin (at a fraction the price). I now realize that the audiophile world is nothing more that a con. 

Tyll Hertsens's picture

...the Genelecs have always sounded to bright for me. Been a while though. Anybody have recent experience?

JRAudio's picture

The point, that the Genelecs sounded a bit to "cold" was over 10 years ago. In the meantime I have had 4 different models, and growing up every year and ended up having the 6280A at my table. This 3-way system, with 10 Inch bass, coaxial mid-high speaker, with digital input, DSP with GLM auto calibration sounds terrific and does sound very, very far from too cold. The coaxial system gave me a fantastic sound stage and localisation and the 10 Inch bass extends to 22 Hz without any audible limitaion (in near field).


dumbo's picture

Audiophiles generally equate accuracy with a bright aggressive sound. My 8240s are not even remotely bright. In fact the sound is so inviting it's almost "warm" while at the same time EVERY nuance in the recording can be heard. I honestly don't know how they've pulled this off but...they have. Even more importantly you've NEVER heard a properly integrated sub until you've hear one of Genelecs DSP full monitor/sub systems. I ALWAYS hated subs until I heard what Genelec was doing. Don't take my word for it....use your own ears and get your local Genelec dealer to set up a top of line DSP active monitor/sub system for you to hear. I promise you it'll be like NOTHING you've ever heard before.

tony's picture

Oh my , now we have our Steve G doing the comparison .  Hmm , the $500 pair Race is on ! 

Emotiva vs. Adam F5  , maybe too close to call ,  the Tenn. Boys have more extra stuff available and Free Shipping to USA .  

I was just at the point of ordering the F5 but the Emotiva seems to be tipping the scale . 

They actually answer their phone and speak English to boot .  

Well now , is the Emovica Dac at $270 with Headphone Amp and Remote control any good ? ,  is it up to the Odac ? , the Bifrost ? , certainly inexpensive enough to try , especiall with ebay just around the corner to sell the stuff that doesn't make the cut .  

We consumers have interesting options and exit stradegy available . Tyll and Steve G . , thank-you-both for pointing-out all these useful product offerings , don't think I could do much without your wisdoms . 

Tyll Hertsens's picture

...but he's got more experience than I with this type of product so you're better off with his opinion anyway.

tony's picture

This is a triple win here , none of you lads seem to be Shills for any manufacturer which translates to integrety , us consumers are the winners , thank you .  

Back in the day I owned Esoteric Audio in Mich.  I was a Meridian dealer , Active loudspeakers on offer , didn't sell but they were superb , the big Glossy reviewers dumped on them but loved anything Bose , Quad or any other manufacturer's advertised products .  Monster was my best selling product line .  

Somehow , the manufacturers haven't be able to land you lads in their boat , thanks for trying to be clear and accurate , the three of you are both a treasure and breath of fresh air , I love reading your stuff .     

Today , I am a manufacturer but as a consumer I'll buy all ya all a beer to keep you in our boat .   

Ben Halsey's picture

Would these be good for a small house party of about 10-15 people across one or 2 rooms. I know its not inteded for this use but I cannot seem to find the middle ground between big active PA speakers and nearfields. 

Bill B's picture

The F7's would be in that middle ground you seek. 

utopianemo's picture

Mr. Grandberg, I'd be interested in your thoughts on comparing the Airmotiv "5s" to the Adams as well. Guttenberg compared them (http://www.cnet.com/news/emotiva-airmotiv5s-speaker-review-audiophiliac/) and seemed to feel it came down to low-end output vs. low-end accuracy.....and he didn't pick a "winner".

It sounds like the winners are us.

John Grandberg's picture
I think the ADAMs are slightly better overall, but it's true that the Emos seem a little more "visceral" down low. Both are very good for the money.
dry509's picture

Please advise where to buy the Adam Audio F5? Thanks. I am in Texas.

John Grandberg's picture
Just search for "ADAM F5" and you'll get results. Online shops include Musician's Friend, B&H Photo, Guitar Center, and a bunch more. You can look for actual brick and mortar stores in your area but I'm not sure how likely that would be. Depends on your area I suppose.
JML's picture

I've been searching for speakers to use at my desk, and think these may be unique in several ways. Probably what I'm going to end up buying. Most "computer speakers" for desktop use are set up for direct computer connection via USB, connection via a 1/8" phono plug, or wireless, and many have a built-in DAC. I don't want any of those, but need something that I can connect to a desktop amp/DAC purchased for headphone listening, such as the Oppo HA-1 I'm waiting to order. The Oppo is a balanced preamp, basically, and the only active speakers that can match with something like that are the pro audio monitors like those from Adam, Emotiva, etc., that have built-in amps and balanced XLR connections. But many are rear-ported, except for the Adam F and Ax lines, which means they can't be close to a wall. I even tried the Mini-Maggies, but they can't be close to a wall, either, despite the thin design of the units and stands; of course, they need a hefty power amp.

In my case, and I suspect many others', the desk is against a wall, not in the middle of the room. Because of the depth of most monitors, they won't fit on a desk, or even a desk with a riser (my desk is wood, with a riser that's 8" deep). The Adam F lineup can be used with wall-mounts, which will probably solve the problem for me. The Emotiva F line has wall mount brackets, but the ports are on the rear, and the mounts don't seem to have much extension. Plus they have a dedicated subwoofer, which no one else seems to have in a line that matches the other needs I have.

The problem is listening. Few pro audio stores have the Adams in stock or set up. I was able to hear the Adam A5x and A7x, which are too big for my projected use. I'll probably end up ordering the F3 or F5, and trying them out as best I can without mounting them on the wall.

JML's picture

I meant the F5 or F7; there is no "F3." There are A3x, A5x, etc., models in that other Adam line, plus a sub that can go with the Ax speakers (and wall-mount brackets, too).

ahaywood's picture

Where is the video review?

Actually I read the whole article twice. But I love the video reviews.