Hi there! Today I would like to invite You for a review of a speaker I was awaiting quite anxiously. The reason for my anxiousness was, for one, the very promising tech specification of the speaker itself, and for two, the fact that it was designed and engineered by no other than Mr. Phil Jones, a man responsible for few groundbreaking speakers like Acoustic Energy AE 1 and AAD 7001i to name two. The speaker we are talking about today is AirPulse A200 or AirPulse Model One if You are in America. My main question for this review is this: is the premium price (999$) of AirPulse A200 justified by its performance, or is the involvement of Mr. Jones just a marketing gimmick used to rip You of Your hard-earned money? Let’s find out!
AirPulse A200 (this is the name I will use for this review) is first standalone model created by Phil Jones in full cooperation with Edifier. Together, under AirPulse brand, they aim to create high end active speakers with impeccable sound quality at reasonable price. AirPulse A200 is a two-way active speaker, designed around big 3inch ribbon tweeter (like the one found in much more expensive AAD 7001i speaker) recessed into a big horn and moved by strong, rare earth magnet. Horn is used to improve efficiency of the tweeter and to control the directivity of the soundwaves coming from the ribbon, thus helping to reduce the diffractions from nearby surfaces like desks and ceilings, that would negatively impact the sound (how this impacts the sound of A200 will be mentioned later in the listening section). As a partner in crime for the ribbon tweeter, Jones chose a 5.5 inch aluminum woofer, again moved by big, underhung magnet, to deal with low to mid frequencies. Each driver used here has its own amplifier. Each ribbon tweeter is powered by modest 10W amplifier and each woofer by beefier 55W amplifier. This gives a total of 130W of power for whole system. Signal coming to the amps is split by active crossovers and those crossovers are controlled by Digital Signal Processing module. To feed the signal we can use a whole plethora of inputs including both digital (coaxial, Toslink, and wireless Bluetooth 4.0 with Apt-X) as well as analogue ones (RCA and XLR). Too bad Aipulse, in Edifier style, omitted the USB input that would make this speaker a total feature beast. There is also a lack of dedicated subwoofer output, which is pity again.
All that jazz (drivers and electronics) are enclosed in two big (for a two-way speaker with only 5.5inch woofer) speaker boxes. Those boxes are built from 1 inch (!) thick MDF, with additional internal bracing and sound deadening foam used inside to further reduce the impact of enclosures on the sound. This thing is solid. One thing I do have to admit thought is that I expected a bit more stylish look from A200. What I found instead is rather restrained speaker that looks more like a pimped-up studio monitor than Hi-Fi speaker in terms of esthetics. It is not bad looking speaker at all but certainly will not win any beauty contests either. Cheery wood vinyl used to cover side panels look OK and overall A200 is an example of function over form.
AirPulse A200 comes double boxed, and the speakers are additionally protected by fabric cloth and plastic bags. Inside the boxes, except for the speakers and remote, we will also find two connection cables (RCA to 3.5mm jack and RCA to RCA) as well as toslink cable and solid, 6 meters long speaker cable used to connect master speaker with its slave. To control the functions of the speakers we can use either a small remote, made of good quality plastic, or the dials on the back of master speaker. Remote itself is very compact and has ergonomic shape. Also, rubber buttons on remote have nice feeling to them. My only gripe with remote is that I would like to see use of aluminum instead of plastic. Unlike the Edifier S2000 Pro I reviewed few months ago, A200 has no EQ profiles to choose from so the only way we can impact the sound of A200 is by two dials on the back of master speaker, one is responsible for treble and the other is responsible for bass. All dials are made of nicely machined aluminum and look very good. Again, too bad that dials on the back are so nicely done while remote we will touch and use very often is made of plastic (good quality plastic but still…).
After setting up the speakers and connecting them, I checked the hiss level, and I am happy to report that the hiss level is very low (significantly lower than JBL LSR305 or KRK RP5 G3 for example). A200 is a speaker will not be a problem even from very close range in quiet rooms. Big relief.
After few days of casual listening and letting the speakers loosen up a bit, I already knew that all the technological gibberish from the description of the speakers has a purpose and that it delivers very good sound quality. How good? Well, let’s start with describing the overall character of Airpulse A200, which in fact is almost no character at all. A200 is inherently neutral and lightning fast from top to bottom, it transforms from track to track from album to album, giving very honest representation of the actual sound music reproduced. Artist wanted to give his track a dark and moody tone with thick warm bass? Here You have it, A200 plays exactly that. Someone decided to add too much upper midrange and top end, making the music sound a bit too bright? You will hear it on A200 perfectly. A200 is like chameleon in this regard, it will sound wonderful with well-produced tracks, but with those badly produced things may get ugly. This is another thing about A200, except for looks, that brings them closer to good studio monitors than to typical Hi Fi speakers. It is not a speaker that makes everything sound nice or inoffensive while taking away the real character of the music in the process.
Let’s focus now on each sound characteristic separately. Bass response? Deep, deepest from a speaker with 5 inch woofer I have experienced. What about the tone of bass, the details? Also, top notch, bass is very tight, focused and tuneful, stops when it needs and has very little coloration (no bass reflex noise even on high volume). When necessary, bass is fast and impactful or warm and cozy, whatever the track demands. Midrange? Very clear and transparent with excellent detail, realistic and focused. Even when playing complex levered music, it never loosed composure or coherence. Top end? Again, very detailed, well focused and extended far higher than most of the speakers I have heard. If I wanted to be picky than I would say that in the neutral tone setup the top end draws a bit too much attention to itself, but that is easy to adjust using tone controls for treble to reach desirable balance. Ribbon tweeters have a reputation of producing very good soundstage and A200 further solidifies this. Soundstage produced by A200 is the best I have heard yet, word holographic comes to mind and for a good reason. Height and width are very impressive, but what is even more impressive is the depth A200 produces. Sound appears in front of the speakers, in line with the speakers or in layers far behind them. Images are always very well defined and focused, detached from the speakers themselves. Impressive stuff.
Big credit for such a great soundstageing is due to the ribbon tweeter and the horn used to project the sound, but as with everything in life this must come at a price. The price here is that sound of Airpulse is very directional in the vertical axis. Horns beam the sound coming from ribbons to vertically narrow, well defined space, so if You move outside of it that sound becomes dull. Horizontally situation is much better, and there is wide sweet spot where You can move to the sides of the center without compromising the soundstage. Airpulse A200 works as well nearfield as it does midfield, keeping all the good characteristics in both setups. A200 has no problem of filling bigger spaces with authoritative sound. Even though it has modest 65W per speaker, it is very efficient speaker using every drop of power to its advantage. I often found myself listening to them louder than I would normally do without realizing it, at least until I tried to speak or someone was trying to speak to me. This is a testament on how little distortion they have across the whole frequency range even at high volumes.
During my tests, I have compared AirPulse with three different speakers. Two of them You already know from my previous test, they are Klipsch R15PM and JBL LSR305. The third speaker was brought especially for this occasion. Because the speakers I have available for comparisons are significantly cheaper than A200, I felt that to give it proper opponent I need something closer to its price level. After some consideration, I decided it is a good opportunity to finally get my hands on KEF X300A Wireless. KEF will be briefly mentioned here, but the full review will come next month.
Let’s start with weakest link in this trio, Klipsch R15PM. From build quality stand point of view AirPulse feels much more solid. A200 is much heavier and the box feels much more rigid. Soundwise, AirPulse clearly showed all the limitations R15PM has, namely very weak bass response, a bit of honky colorations to midrange, flat soundstageing and flat dynamics. First off, the midrange of A200 sounds much more natural and realistic, with more details and focus. Treble of A200 extends much higher, has more air and details. AirPulse also has lower extended bass that can kick much harder with more dynamic slam and precision. AirPulse can reach much higher volume levels without any changes to sound quality, focus or dynamic ability. A200 is clearly a superior speaker to R15PM.
Next one for comparisons was my long-time budget benchmark, JBL LSR305. As with Klipsch, the difference in build quality was very significant, and it was expected considering the price difference. Especially the plastic front panel of JBL sticks out as a sore thumb in comparison. AirPulse also produced significantly less hiss than JBL. Soundwise, JBL managed to come much closer to AirPulse than Klipsch, especially in the bass department, where JBL showed that it can reach almost as low, at least on normal levels, with authority. The biggest difference in bass between A200 and LSR305 was the overall focus and tightness. A200 rendered the kick drums and bass guitars more realistically with better separation. Moving up to the midrange, when switching directly from A200 to JBL, I could hear the plastic front panel in JBL coloring the sound slightly. AirPulse has faster, more open, more focused and more realistic midrange with more presence in upper ranges. JBL’s top is less airy and rolls off earlier leaving the overall sound signature slightly darker. A200 also produces more impressive soundstage with more precise and better defined images, more height and depth. Both can play loud, but A200 goes few decibels louder without any distortions. Overall Airpulse is a big improvement over JBL in terms of build quality, features and more importantly sound quality.
KEF X300A Wireless, unlike JBL and Klipsch, is a speaker that comes much closer to AirPulse in price, so I expected it to perform on similar level. After comparing them side by side I must say that X300A sits somewhere in between JBL and AirPulse when it comes to sound quality but it is closer to JBL though. Esthetically KEF is more pleasing than AirPulse, especially in white finish, while the build quality is on comparable level. X300A is more compact speaker, which will be important especially in nearfield setups. Soundwise, X300A is solid performer but trails a bit behind A200 in few key areas. For one, KEF has its own sound signature, it is not as neutral as A200 is. There is more presence and weight in lower midrange in KEF, while upper midrange is slightly recessed and the top end is rolled off compared to AirPulse. Bass quality in both is similar but A200 has a touch more focus, punch and extension. Vocals on KEF are rendered more forward and a bit heavier with a hint of nasal and honky colorations. KEFs top end rolls off much faster than in A200, AirPulse is much more open and airy in comparison. KEF throws nice soundstage but lacks a bit of height, depth and precision to compete with AirPulse. Overall A200 is more neutral, more balanced and more precise speaker.
AirPulse A200 is fantastically neutral speaker, with open, detailed and transparent sound from top to bottom. Add to that very solid build quality and rich set of features, and suddenly its steep price becomes much more reasonable. I was reluctant to return them, I wish I had them for longer. AirPulse A200 lands on top of my wish list to become my new benchmark speaker soon (gotta start saving those pennies), and from now on I am looking forward to next products from AirPulse and Mr. Phil Jones without any anxiety;) Highly recommended.
Overall score 9,25/10
-Transparent, honest and neutral sound
-Very good bass response, tight and punchy
-Very good build quality and lots of useful features
-Good value for money
-Looks more like a studio monitor more than a typical HiFi speaker
-May be a bit too much in the top end for some
-USB input and sub out would be nice
-Vertically narrow sound dispersion