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Review: Arendal THX speaker – surround sound from Norway

4.4 - 9 vote[s]

Arendal is a name that probably sounds unknown to you, or you must have already made a trip to the High North. But when it comes to audio, then almost certainly no bell will ring. Perhaps that is because the Norwegian loudspeaker builder initially aimed at Scandinavia and Germany with his direct-sale model. But now it also ships its spectacular THX speakers to the Low Countries.

Introduction Arendal THX speakers

Arendal is a relatively young loudspeaker company from Norway, shot from the online hi-fi store L-Sound. Just like rival Teufel, Arendal sells directly to the consumer, although the Norwegian range is more limited and more focused than among the Berliners. And also: the Arendal speakers are really the brainchild of the founder, engineer Jan Ove Lassesen. At the same time, this is a professional company, not a one-man show. The way in which the products are packaged and their high-quality construction leaves little doubt about that.

The interesting thing about Arendal is that their loudspeaker line-up contains very interesting products that do not bear extreme prices. Unlike many speaker families, these speakers are also primarily made for home cinema use, although that does not mean that they are unusable for hi-fi purposes. For example, the 1723 S series, of which we deal with a number of models in this review, bears the THX label. This is of course not a salvation nor does it say anything about the sound character, but it does indicate that these speakers are designed to fit into an ideal home theater as THX sees it. One of the important elements here is that the representation off-axis (so if you are not in front of it) remains balanced (so high, middle and low remain balanced). Even with speakers with a broad appearance it does not sound as good at a large angle, but THX wants that decrease to be gradual. Not that by moving a little to the left or right in the seat you would suddenly notice a major change in sound quality. These are principles that we fully agree with. All in all, we think the THX label is a valuable label, if you are looking for a “real” cinema experience.

The S models that we see here are the more compact versions of the larger 1723 family, with smaller drivers. Well, these speakers aren't really small. Even these more compact S-speakers are large and weigh well.

The biggest asset is the price. The Arendal set that we are viewing here is very competitively priced for what we receive. About 4,500 euros for 5.1 at a high level and with speakers that are well finished, that is not bad at all.

  • Arendal 1723 Monitor S THX: 1,599 euros / pair
  • Arendal 1723 Surround S THX: 1,299 euros / pair
  • Arendal 1723 Center S THX: 799 euros / pair
  • Arendal 1723 Subwoofer 1: 899 euros

Surprisingly arrive

The first thing that strikes us when UPS delivers a pallet of boxes to us : the weight. Speakers always weigh a lot, but this still seems a bit heavier than expected. When we unpack, we immediately see why. The Arendal speakers are packed very well, not in cheap polystyrene foam but in a heavy, sturdy plastic. In addition, each loudspeaker is individually packed in a luxury bag from a glossy, thick textile and you will even find a pair of white gloves among the accessories. You could say: this is not all that important. You are then not entirely wrong. But if you do direct sales at competitive prices, then packaging and presentation is really important. It must give a good impression. When the boxes arrive at your home, there simply is no quality check by a retailer in advance or there is no one who gives some explanation about what you actually receive at home. In any case, the Arendal speakers are better packed than many speakers from your local HIF store and give them a strong pride-of-ownership feeling even when they are unpacked. Pure emotion, but that is what it is all about.

There is even more unusual about Arendal. If you go to the website of the brand – and that is also the store where you can buy them – you will not see much promotion talk. The emphasis is strongly on the audio technology used, with figures and graphs if required, with a lot of explanation about crossovers, the philosophy behind the housing and how the drivers were created. Everything has been done to make it clear to you that these loudspeakers were created with a lot of science – and were not just ordered as a ready-made speaker in China. Incidentally, they were actually manufactured in that country, but the design comes entirely from Arendal itself.

For those who wonder where the name '1723' comes from: Arendal itself takes its name from the Norwegian city of the same name where it was founded, and 1723 is the year that Arendal received its recognition as a city.

Violent build quality

We wrote it already: despite the S-label, these are rather loud speakers. That “S” definitely does not mean “small”. We did not receive the floor stands from the series, but we did receive the Monitor S THX – a large loudspeaker that you place vertically on a stand. The word “monitor” does not mean something tiny that you park on a bookshelf, believe us. The size of 57 x 24.5 x 32 cm is really something, especially in combination with a weight of 18.7 kg. The Monitor S is not a plume weight, and that has a lot to do with Arendal's choice of the heavy HDF (high density fiber) instead of the much more common MDF (medium density fiber) wood. As the name implies, HDF is a much heavier composite where the wood fibers are pressed closer together.

The Center S is actually the same speaker as the Monitor S, but with a logo in a different place. This way you can place it horizontally. It is also available as a single speaker while the Monitor S is sold in pairs. There is also a more compact Bookshelf S THX, but we have not tested it.

For the rest, the Center S is completely identical to the Monitor S. That means, among other things, that it has a height of 24.5 cm, which is a few centimeters more than a typical center speaker. Something to take into account if you want to place it on a TV unit in front of your TV. In our setup we have provided 22 cm for a center speaker, which to date has never caused a problem. The Center S was slightly over the bottom edge of the TV, although we found that less disturbing. Fortunately, our Samsung has a silver strip just below the screen, so that the display panel itself was covered for just a few millimeters. It is only to indicate: if you want to build a home cinema on a high level, you have to think of many things.

Interestingly, the Monitor S and Center S are virtually closed out of the box. There are two bass ports, but they are fitted with thick plugs as standard. If you remove it, you can dive a little deeper (59 vs 66 kHz, -3 dB), with a small loss in terms of tightness. Although we didn't really notice the latter when we removed the two crams with some messing around. However, the Monitor S immediately sounded slightly fuller. By the way, we left the plugs in place at the Center because we place that speaker very close to the wall. [17659004] The 1723 S series is available in four colors: matte black or matte white, or those two colors with a glossy lacquer. The glossy versions do bear an additional cost (around 100 euros). Each model is provided on bi-amping with the exception of the Surround S. We received the matt white version. That looked great; not as luxurious as, for example, the satin-white finish on the Monitor Audio Gold 100 that we recently tested, but certainly not cheap either. The Subwoofer 1-sub that was sent along was, incidentally, finished with the white glossy lacquer – and it looked just as good as the glossy lacquers that we see with established brands.

Made for home theaters

The Surround S also has four speaker terminals, but they are used differently than with the other 1723 S models. The Surround S is a true triaxis home theater speaker that you can connect in two ways. Actually it is meant to hang on the wall, and preferably a bit higher than a normal surround speaker. Get your best drill, plugs and screws up, because the speaker weighs almost 14 kg and you have to anchor it very well. According to Arendal, the Surround S can also be used as a height channel and can even be placed on the ceiling. Anchoring then becomes even more crucial, because that weight is really heavy to hang over you. On the ceiling in our 100-year-old town hall we would not dare.

Once hung up, the Surround S shows three planes: a center with an 8-inch woofer and the typical Arendal tweeter, with a side panel on the left and right. its own 4-inch full-range driver. One of the side woofers is connected out of phase; in a 5.1 setup, it must point to the rear of the room. If you use the speakers for surround back channels, the out-of-phase drivers must face the outside. It follows logically that a Surround S-set consists of a left and a right speaker. When placing you have to take this into account, because if you place the left speaker on the right (or vice versa), you will get a much worse surrounder experience. You can choose to connect the front and side drivers with two separate cables or to control all drivers with one cable.

The reason for working with the more complex Surround S speakers is that the tri-axis approach (where sound is spread through three axes) creates a much wider, expansive surround field. For the sides and / or rear, that is an interesting option, certainly with 5.1, because classic speakers can still sound too much like discrete channels. Movements through the surround field are not seamless, but – in the worst case – jump through the space. Tri-axis speakers help by setting up a broad field. Arendal is not the only manufacturer that does something similar. Monitor Audio, for example, has similar FX models in the Bronze and Silver families. For us, this class of speakers are somewhat more difficult speakers to test well because we cannot hang them completely according to the rules.

Well-considered design

If you examine the ideas behind the Arendal speakers , you discover two things: there is indeed a reasoned design philosophy, with in-depth arguments for every aspect of the speakers, and the people behind the company are maniacal audio geeks. The choice for the more expensive HDF, for example, is already a good indication of all this. This material is used relatively little, precisely because it is more expensive and weighs much more. But it does make speakers more solid and resonant. Also noteworthy is the tweeter, from Kurt Mueller, placed deep in a large, soft waveguide. You can't ignore it; if you take a quick look at the speaker, the tweeter waveguide looks more like a large midrange driver. The waveguide, however, is part of the “secret sauce” of Arendal. Examined closely, it turns out to be something very flexible and a bit bulky, and above all quite large. It ensures that the sound that comes from the small, light dome tweeter is radiated correctly. The high detail becomes less directional, the higher midrange is just bundled more. In short, the waveguide turns that dome just a little more into a horn.

The common thread at Arendal is “little coloring”. Hence the choice for the unconventional HDF – the speakers' cabinets are very solid and inert. Arendal claims that its housing has a small Q, indicating that if a certain frequency is played, not too many adjacent frequencies are processed. This is combined with a short impulse response, so that the driver does not vibrate for a long time when a sound is generated. The result should be that the speakers play very accurately and tightly – interesting, because those are features that are a good starting point for room correction software such as Dirac .

You may not be surprised that a brand with a big heart for home cinema has also paid a lot of attention to subwoofers. You can get four models at Arendal, of which even the 1723 Subwoofer 1 that we are testing can be called a seriously big thing. But to be honest: if you compare this 49.2 x 33.5 x 45 cm and 24 kg subwoofer with its big brothers, then it's just a smaller thing. The mighty Subwoofer 3 ticks at 60 kg and is 70 cm high. Well, then a 24-kg subwoofer suddenly appears to be a miniding.

Arendal regularly likes closed cupboards, and that also applies to his subwoofers. The Subwoofer 1 is a completely closed design, the slightly more expensive Subwoofer 1.5 can be opened more (just like the regular 1723 speakers). The big advantage of the closed approach, according to Arendal, is that the roll-off (the extinction of the lowest tones) is more gradual and therefore disappears less abruptly. With both subwoofers, the 13.8-inch woofer is powered by a 500-watt class D amplifier. You also get something that is not always found in this price range, but with more expensive home theater subwoofers. An XLR input and a pass-through for placing multiple subs in a chain, for example. The seamless phase setting and the reference level option are also not always found. Arendal also offers two EQ options: a more neutral one and one in which the lowest basses are somewhat amplified. It is intended for larger rooms – or if you just like an imposing layer.

Large and neutral

To test the Arendal setup, we first closed it on the Yamaha RX-A1080 receiver that we recently tested, and then on the Denon AVR-X6300H. Because of the technical characteristics of the speakers, we found it advisable to choose a receiver that still has more power, and that is the case with both devices. But for unclear reasons we did not get the set fully adjusted with the Yamaha, perhaps because of the tri-axis Surround S. Via the Audyssey MultiQ app and with 8 measurements, we do get excellent measurement results with the Denon. Among other things, they show that the Monitor S, Center S and Surround S are really well coordinated.

As usual, we use an Oppo UDP-203, Panasonic DP-UB824 and an Xbox One X as sources. That way we can switch between different types of content very quickly, including our fixed reference fragments. One that we would like to highlight is the opera scene from “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation” (Ultra HD Blu-ray, Dolby Atmos), in this case not because it has a great spatial Atmos mix. After all, we did not include our fixed height channels in this test, and only test the Arendals in 5.1. When the opera ‘Turandot’ plays in the background, the music is very prominent or more at the back of the mix. Turandot is a very dynamic piece of music anyway, but changing focus makes it even more of a switch from silent to loud. The 1723 S-speakers can handle that dynamic character well, even if we push the volume to neighbor-unfriendly levels. The large format, very solid housing and the drivers form a good combination in that regard. There is really little coloring.

What is striking, even when we look at other fragments, is that the Arendals strive for a very neutral representation. The warmer glow of the Sonus faber Sonetto's or the brighter Bowers & Wilkins 700 Series is something completely different, let alone the heavy base extension of last year's Definitive Technology BP9000 speakers. There is certainly something to be said for Arendal's hyper-correction approach. To begin with, they perform better and better when you play them louder. They sound best at real cinema levels.

We were unable to set up the Surround S in an optimal way in our test room (they were placed at ear height instead of the prescribed 10 cm higher positioning). Nevertheless, we already found the tri-axis approach impressive. If the weather starts to derail in the otherwise very moderate “Geostorm”, and Rio de Janeiro freezes, the Surround S speakers provide a very large rear sound field. Fragments, pieces of ice and frozen seagulls – don't ask – fall down around our ears. It may not be entirely accurate, which is partly due to our suboptimal placement, but it is grand. In our opinion, it will be problematic to place the Surround S properly in normal living rooms. You actually need an open wall on either side of your seating position and a greater distance to your seat.

What continues to affect us is that the Arendals have a very pure view, with indeed little coloring and a tight response. They resemble the KEF sound somewhere. That is something you have to get used to. At first it seems a bit characterless; but we increasingly find that an incorrect first interpretation of ourselves. They are speakers that you can tweak very well, to end with a home theater that impressively films films without woolly, thumping bass. That purer sound – which, incidentally, you can make more American like through EQs – also turns out to be an asset if you listen louder. It remains pure and controlled. If you then watch a movie such as “Guardians of the Galaxy vol.2”, with a lot of music, then you notice that this more neutral view makes music sound very good.

Conclusion

The Arendal speakers are speakers for people who want to build a real home theater. Also people who want a lot for their money and can place larger speakers have to investigate the offer of the Norwegians. Even the “compact” S versions are still quite substantial. The speakers are a bit too massive and too large for small living rooms. If you have the space to position them well, then the Arendals are very handsome speakers that will immediately appeal to the purists among the surround lovers.

The build quality and finish is nothing short of excellent for the price, and the speakers are very thoughtfully designed. The gloss lacquer finish in particular is very attractive. And you also notice that in the sound; dynamic jumps are effortlessly made and a wide surround field is created. Sometimes we missed some accurate placement of effects, so that the front channels in particular formed a large wall. That is a huge plus (= strong integration) and a weakness (less pronounced movement of effects) at the same time. It depends on your taste. The final report is very positive. The Arendals offer excellent value for what you pay.

Cons

  • G a compact product
  • E just direct sales

Advantages

  • T HX certification [19659053] Price-quality is very good
  • P effortlessly remains at high volumes
  • Z A neutral display, ideal for room correction software

Homecinema Magazine
Rating
8.5 [19659061] 10 Jamie Biesemans product

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