First launched in 2009 at Musikmesse, the ADAM S3X-H is the successor of the jewel in the crown of its previous product range. But is it really an innovation or just an upgrade from the German manufacturer? R&D is back...
ADAM AUDIO has enjoyed a great reputation for a decade thanks to its active loudspeaker range making use of ART ribbon tweeters (ART stands for Accelerated Ribbon Technology, a patented technology conceived and developed by the German manufacturer). The inherent advantages this technological choice provides have been widely approved by an ever-growing user community and have also helped reinforce the singularity of the brand as the only one in this particular market to use ribbon transducers. The new X (“eXtended”) series builds on the main features of the previous product line, but brings some real improvements with itself.
First of all, the new X-ART tweeter is still based on a low-mass, folded ribbon; however, this new system offers an extended frequency and level response in the high end. The new tweeter actually features a higher frequency response (up to 50 kHz at –3 dB) and a higher level (+4 dB / +3 dB SPL) compared with the previous version!
New technology deserves new amplification… ADAM AUDIO developed a new, very low distortion class AB power amp for the X-ART ribbon tweeters that matches their efficiency level and allows them to make the best use of the full frequency range available.
Finally, the HexaCone woofers, based on a rigid honeycomb Nomex structure coated with two Kevlar layers, give the cone more rigidity making it more resistant to deformation. This results in a very high definition of transients and a better low frequency response. Moreover and unlike the previous model — the S3X-H (where H stands for “Horizontal” since the monitor is also available in “Vertical” format) — it features a 4" HexaCone speaker to reproduce mid frequencies, which in turn ensures a better spectral separation. As a consequence, the manufacturer converted its 2-way flagship into a 3-way loudspeaker — which is quite rare for a “compact” monitor speaker.
With so many improvements over the previous A Series, this new monitor range promises a very interesting sound performance…
The Golden Ribbon
Although described as a near-field or mid-field monitor, S3A fans will notice that this new model has slightly larger dimensions: 11" × 21" × 12.5". Considering the additional midrange driver, the new amplification system and the sturdiness of the product, we expected it to be much heavier (it weights 43.2 lb., which is only 6.6 lb. heavier than the S3A).
The cabinet’s finish and the overall design also changed. The rounder edges and the matte black finish give it a very modern look. Everyone will have its own opinion when it comes to aesthetics, but I for one like this evolution!
When it comes to transducers, a pair of 7.5" HexaCone woofers ensures the symmetrical low-frequency dispersion, improving on the previous series. And they are perfectly combined with the famous X-ART ribbon tweeter (0.17 g…) for high frequencies and the new midrange 4.5" HexaCone transducer we already mentioned above. Two bass-reflex ports surround the midrange speaker.
Both woofers and the midrange are powered by three class D PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) amplifiers that deliver 250 watts RMS (300 W peak) with low heat dissipation. The tweeter is driven by a 50-watt RMS class AB power amp (100 W peak). The frequency response ranges from 32 Hz to 50 kHz at +/-3 dB and the sound pressure level goes up to 116 dB SPL (126 dB peak). With so much power you’ll have to be twice as careful with the volume!
The manufacturer also added a comprehensive control panel on the front side of the monitor. Here you can find a Coarse input gain control ranging from –20 dB to +8 dB in 4 dB steps, a second input gain control ranging from –1.5 dB to +2 dB in 0.5 dB steps to fine tune your settings, an EQ section to increase the gain from 0 dB to +6 dB at 80 Hz in 1 dB steps, a low shelving filter to attenuate/amplify frequencies below 150 Hz (up to 4 dB in 1 dB steps), a high shelving filter to attenuate/amplify frequencies above 6 kHz (up to 4 dB in 1 dB steps as well), and a control to vary the ribbon tweeter level up to +/-2 dB in 0.5 dB steps. Thus you can optimize the response depending on the room acoustics and your taste!
On the rear panel, you’ll find a standard IEC socket, an on/off switch, a balanced input on an XLR connector, and a new feature: a blind plate that covers a slot for a an optional digital card including AES/EBU XLR and S/PDIF input connectors plus a Wordclock socket for digital sync. On the front panel there’s a blue LED that lights on to indicate that a card is inserted.
After this brief overview, let’s turn on the speakers and see what they are really made of.
ADAM Split Three Ways
To turn the speakers on simply use the rear panel switch. A small yellow light on the front panel indicates that the monitor is on but not yet active. Press the standby switch on the front panel and the indicator turns green to show that the monitor is active. And then the first big surprise…!
You’ll immediately notice the huge output volume the monitor can produce. In spite of the slightly larger dimensions compared to its predecessor, the S3X-H delivers much more output power at the same input level (and with flat settings on the control panel). The sound pressure level produced by these monitor speakers really surprised me — the difference with the S3A is pretty obvious. Even though I had read the technical documentation several times and was expecting a difference, it really shocked me!
Second surprise: the high-end response. The new tweeter really sounds more accurate. What a change compared with the previous model! To be totally honest, it really caught me off guard because I didn’t expect such a difference in the frequency response (once again with flat settings). Personally, and considering the acoustic color of the control room where I tested the monitors, I had to attenuate their overemphasized brightness because it could become fatiguing after a long listening session. I set the high shelving filter to –2 dB and the tweeter gain to –1 dB to restore the subjective frequency balance.
These slight corrections are only a matter of taste. Depending on the music style and the energy and dynamic range of the source signal, each user will have a subjective perception and different personal expectations, especially during mixdown sessions. The main asset of this new model is that the user can tune the response accordingly to his taste and to the acoustic characteristics of the room where the speakers are placed.
The stereo imaging of the S3X is simply incomparable with the previous model. Every sound source is perfectly defined in the stereo panorama with an exceptional precision. The stereo center is also very accurate, probably due to the new midrange driver. The sweet spot is very wide so you can be sure you’ll get a well defined stereo imaging regardless of the room (within certain limits, of course…).
If the high and mid ranges immediately revealed their qualities, the low end isn’t bad at all. On the contrary, the low frequencies are stunningly accurate and give the stereo image an additional dimension. Once again, the pair of woofers (the crossover is set at 300 Hz and 2.8 kHz for the midrange) is mainly responsible for this accuracy in the lower frequencies. Listening to some pop/rock productions, the bass drum and the bass guitar reveal all their power and deepness with much subtlety. And with more “pulsating” music styles like hip-hop, metal and electronic music, the speakers provide excellent sensations! The low end kicks pretty darn good but not too much, so it stays always accurate and easily perceptible in the stereo panorama. I love it!
Long sessions with the S3X are not a problem because the speakers keep the same energy/spectral precision ratio regardless of the listening level. This is a huge advantage because you can alternate between long sessions at low volumes and shorter periods at very high levels without being “disoriented” in the mix. Everything you need to do a good job.
Once again, ADAM AUDIO distinguishes itself from other active monitor manufacturers by offering a compact, 3-way loudspeaker with outstanding accuracy and still based on its ribbon tweeter technology. Fans of the previous series — especially the S3A — might be really surprised by this evolution, considering the difference, in every aspect, between both models. The accuracy, spectral definition, stereo imaging, increased output power, and improved overall design of the S3X make it a perfectly reliable active monitor that can certainly find its place in any serious setup.
With a five year warranty and a price tag somewhere around $3,500, ADAM AUDIO has struck a decisive blow once again!