Finnish ingeniousness

By Sven Bilén


The following is a translation from original review from Swedish www.nomono.se and Danish www.nomono.dk  

Sven Bilén is one of the leading Scandinavian reviewers. 

Before establishing Nomono Mr. Bilén served  years as Editor-in-Chief of High Fidelity, a respected Danish highend magazine.

 

Ever since the beginning days in 1998, but in particular during the latter years, Amphion have been working on creating a "different" loudspeaker. Well, different is perhaps not the right word, rather they have attempted to create a loudspeaker that functions in a normal living room, in the home environment of the user, as well as in the context that they play music. That means they are building loudspeakers that function well when used with a computer, that works with a TV, a loudspeaker that blends in interior design wise, leaving an elegant impression in every way - but without sacrificing it's sound quality. Does this sound like mission impossible? We are taking a closer look at one of the physically smallest loudspeakers from Amphion, that are firmly marketed to work in different musical environments. Ion is their name. Amphions homepage heading states; Finnish Your Quest, - clever play with words, referring to it's origin as well as the fact that the search for a loudspeaker that does it all is over. Is it so?

Ion and Icon


Amphion Ion is not an entirely new loudspeaker. It is however a loudspeaker with a potential to operate in several different contexts, something that the company is trying to capitalize on, by integrating it in different environments, and with different functions in those milieu's. This means among other things, that they work with colors, that is, the speaker it self can only be had in black or white (with an incredibly fine finish), but the small metal grills placed in front of the drivers, can be had in several different colors. This is a dream for an interior design architect, who may now have hard time finding excuses why he/she was not able to fit in a pair of Ion in an elegant way in any milieu. To me, this is a speaker that visually speaking, awakens the "want to have" desire within me - I find it stunningly beautiful. Not something that can be said about many small speakers, not at all.

 

Amphion states on their own, that Ion is hard to classify. "Interior designers love it, high end reviewers praise it, and recording engineers use it" - as they say. This is taking to big words, but certainly excellent from a marketing point of view. Amphion has recently started to market Ion together with the minuscule Nuforce Icon amplifier, as a small and simple system for desktop, TV or even for the small room. This concept started in Finland, but will spread, be certain about it. Nuforce Icon is a small amplifier/DAC/headphone amp that is based on Nuforce own class-D amplification technology. In this small amplifier they are using a down-scaled version. We tested the first incarnation of Icon, but with an updated power supply. The amplifier has been released in revision 2, that is more powerful, and somewhat improved. Matching these two products was a ingenious move! What you get is a small och simple system, that accomplishes big feat. This is exactly the move needed to reclaim or win back the lost sound generation! It is no doubt fine people to enjoy a system costing a million, but we have to start on an economically feasible and understandable level in order to spread the message of good sound and get people to understand that they too can hear the difference! We have of course tested this setup, but the speakers where certainly matched with various other amplifiers, from very big to very small.

Low Sensitivity qualities


Ion is a small speaker, measuring 268x134x220 mm (HxWxD), but the weight still hits the scale at 4,7 kg. The speaker is equipped with an 1" titanium dome as tweeter, and a 4.5"bas midrangedriver with a paperbased membrane. The crossover frequency is 1600 Hz. The small bass reflex port is placed in the rear, above the binding post terminal, which is equipped with a pair of binding post of excellent quality. No bi-wiring consequently, which for me is logical, for a speaker of this kind. Biwire is by the way something that we see more and more of manufacturers omitting, even on their prestige models. The frequency response is specified to 55-20.000 Hz, and you need crank it up seriously to make them sing - the sensitivity is specified to 86 dB. This might sound as a potential problem, but we have however not encountered difficulties with any of the amplifiers in relation to Ion. The general impression of the speakers is one of a quality product far above the normal.

U/D/D


Amphion has in my opinion a fundamental advantage in its construction work. During all the years, they have been working with a wave guide for the tweeter, which is a really good idea, that I do not understand why no more manufacturers are implementing. Further on, this has an advantage being able to place the different drivers on same vertical axis, thus accomplishing better control in time domain between the drivers. The radiation being controlled via the wave guide, results in the speaker being easier to place in a normal room - something that Amphion has set as it's fundamental goal. Amphion names their principle U/D/D, which stands for Uniformly Directive Diffusion. This results in the speaker "working in unison with your room, rather than against it", as Amphion expresses it.

Placement safety


During extended period of testing, the Amphions where placed on a speaker stand, in a window frame, on furniture, on a shelf, on the desk, and i have probably forgotten some of the other places, strikingly it is not very difficult or fuzzy getting them to play fine, irrespective of placement. Using the speakers with a computer, placing them on a table, there is a need for small stand, in order to raise them somewhat in height. Amphion is at this moment working with matching stand, but Anssi Hyvönen at Amphion says, that same height as an Illycoffe jar is perfect (wonder where he got that from).Since we are anyway having us some espresso coffee... Some 20 cups later, I can declare, that i fully agree with Anssi - the height is perfect. If you try the speakers on a desktop, you should pay attention to place the speakers on the same plane with the screen or your laptop. If the speakers end up slightly behind, you might risk messing up the stereo perspective due to the fact that the speakers are partially reflected by the screen. 

 
 
 

On the desktop


We might as well start with the working table. In this setup, Nuforce was assigned for the amplification, a Mac Book Pro was connected via USB, and the result was to say the least surprising. Not only did the speakers sound balanced and neutral, ney, it was the perspective that knocks you of your feet - well, you are already sitting down on your chair at the table, so.. The stereo image is razor sharp, voices are precisely positioned and the sound stage is in general large and incredibly stable. All of a sudden, it is an experience of enjoyment, listening to the music at your desktop. The only other system that even came close in my listening place, was Adam Audio studio monitors. Compared to Nuforce own SP1 loudspeakers, these are in another universe. As we mentioned before, Amphion is marketing at present the Ion together with Icon. This was started in Finland, and as far as I have understood, the purpose is to further develop this collaboration on several other markets. Excellent choice in my opinion. For those interested in having a music around their working space, as "initiation rite of passage" for the smaller room, or a proper sound system for the ultra-thin LCD or LED TV, that per definition sound crap (it is simply not possible to get good sound from such a flat construction - there are some fundamental physical laws!), for all above, this is a spot on system - equally esthetically appealing, easy to place and position, and affordable.

For TV


For my TV system, I tested the speakers connected to Icon, Sonos, Cain MT-iP40 as well as Audio Analogue Crescendo. In this setup it is a great advantage that the speakers are easy to place. It is certainly not difficult to get decent sound from your Flat TV. The TV sound comprises very often from speech and voices, which is almost their forte and specialty. The speech intelligibility is exceptionally good. Should you desire to watch a movie, a reasonable 2.1 system is most of the time to be preferred to a surround system in same price range, in my opinion. The better the speaker are, the greater the experience. Sheer amount does not help, two good always beat five mediocre. The attentive reader will note the .1 in above text, which stands for a sub-woofer. Certainly a subwoofer helps, especially when listening to music DVD's or watching a movie - all such material that is produced for surround systems. I would almost like to say that it is a must, in order to get that right feeling. It is not that ION isn't producing good bass for it's size and price range, it is both quick and distinct, but it cannot be asked to reach the abysmal depths. That would be against the laws of nature.

Coloration?


It cannot be avoided that some of my above statements have been colored (the statements, not the sound!) slightly by the fact that I simply are pleased by Ion playing in a way that I allways feel the desire to listen to more music, and the fact that the size of the speakers constantly amazes. Considering it's size, it is not really a cheap speaker, but both finish and soundquality, by far margin lives up to the asking price. Furthermore, being one of the most flexible loudspeakers from a usability point of view that I have had to do with, makes it even better. Together with Icon, it is simply a coup, a steal, offering a destkop system of a seldom seen kind.

But don't believe my words - go and listen for your self!