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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Audiophile Review!
Artisan Audio Nautical
Single-Driver Loudspeaker

Price: $1,795 (per pair)
Likes: great visual appeal, sound
Dislikes: need a sub for deep bass
Wow Factor: with tripods, you bet
More Info: Artisan Audio

by John Gatski
  At the 2015 Capital Audio Fest in Rockville, MD, I was perusing the various display rooms and found an interesting speaker company: Artisan Audio Electronics. This company based in North Carolina produces single-driver speakers, based on the Trinity Engine driver. What caught my eye, was the round, tripod-mounted Nautical Series. These speakers had an aesthetic appeal that was simultaneously high-end, attractive and space saving in their appearance. A minimalist kind of speaker that still commanded the room.
  I had the Artisan Audio crew play my Hi-Fiman portable, filled with hi-res music. And I sat down and listened for a few minutes. Wow! I was impressed. Nice articulation and phase coherence in this one driver design. There was not an abundant amount of 60 Hz and under bass, but i was intrigued by the ability to easily position the Nautical's on their tripods perches. The drivers had a well-proportioned midrange and a nice airy top end. Ultimately, the Artisan Audio crew let me take the Nautical's home and spend a few weeks for a full-fledged review.

  The Nautical consists of a 4-inch driver wrapped with either brown or black leather. It uses the original Trinity Engine Series single driver design, now termed the Alpair 7 Gen. 3. This high-performance, single driver has an advanced damping system. It is claimed to deliver a “near flat” response across its range. Useable frequency response in a box speaker design with this driver can achieve 40 Hz to 32 kHz frequency response with SPL in the mid-to-upper 85 dB range.
 The driver also employs a rear ring, clamped suspension system and a new torque loaded rear suspension (spider). Both of these components add pre-tension to the power-train. These features are said to improve linearity and damping on the moving components, which nets out a very clean delivery of mid/upper bass and the critical midrange frequencies.

A lot of sound from Alp7 Gen. 3 single-driver

 In the Nautical's — without subwoofer reinforcement — my measured low-end response was -3 dB at 70 Hz, with the speakers free standing in the room and about -5 dB at 60. Still enough bass to make it acceptably full range with acoustic instruments. Adding a subwoofer can get you as much bass as you want to augment these dandy tripod-mounted speakers (More on that later).
  According to Artisan Audio, the driver’s rear magnet cover can be removed. The cover's magnetic attraction keeps it attached to the main driver body. Simply pull it away from the driverʼs main body, no tools are needed to do this job. The ability to remove the cover helps speaker manufacturers who design shallow cabinets or wish to optimize internal box volumes. The performance change with the cover removed is small, so the installation choices for the end user is optimal. The frameʼs front cover is also made removable. This driver is used by several models in the Artisan Audio line, including a variety of its “box” speakers.

Love the natural-wood tripod option

  As implemented in the Nautical's, the Alpair 7 is installed in a cylinder and wrapped in leather. The bottom of the cylinder has bolt slots so it can be mounted on the tripod. Artisan Audio offers two tripod options. The costlier choice is a special, high-end, all-wood, nautical camera tripod, at $600 each. These really are quite attractive, and, to my eyes, showcase the Nautical’s in their best  visual light. Tripod option B is a pair of high-quality, painted-black tripods that are $300 for the pair. The lower-cost tripod is just as effective a mount as the high-end tripod and is half the price. However, I think the Nautical visual impression is at its most impressive via the wood tripods.
  It is easy to set up the Nautical's. Attach them to the top of the tripods and adjust the height level via the lock knobs on the tripod legs to where it corresponds best to your listening position.  The leather pouches can be filled with sand, which provides a stable, acoustically dead way to display.

The setup
  Initially, I installed the Nautical's upstairs in my main living room with real oak hardwood floors. I spread them 7 feet apart and listened to them at about 10 feet to the listener position. I set their height at ear height. The speakers were about six feet from side walls and six feet from the rear wall. Because the bass is minimal without a sub, I  eventually moved them to within a foot of the back wall to get as much linear bass out of the Nautical's as possible.  With my RTA and warble test tones, I had fairly tight response to 70 Hz, but it fell off quickly below that point.

Nautical closeup

   I ultimately brought a subwoofer, an Episode Triple 10, a great powered sub I reviewed a couple of years ago, featuring an active 10-inch driver and two passive radiators. The powered sub has a lot of features, including speaker hi-pass and adjustable crossover. I adapted it into the system via speaker output, setting the crossover at 80 Hz. That setup really made the Nautical's a full-range system. Artisan Audio said it is planning a matching subwoofer for the Nautical's, but so far nothing in the catalog.
  The primary playback system consisted of a Pass Labs X30.5 Class A Supersymmetry MOSFET amplifier, Benchmark DAC2-DX DAC/preamp with variable line output. and an Oppo BDP-105 universal player. I used Wireworld Eclipse cables for analog and speaker connections, and connected all the AC cable devices with Essential Sound Products Essence II Reference cables, all terminated into an Essence Reference II power strip.

The audition
  First, up was the one of my favorite acoustic guitar SACD’s, Gene Bertoncini Body and Soul, an open, detailed, nylon-string guitar album full of jazz standards — all done in DSD. I often use this recording to listen to a speaker’s dynamic range, timbral accuracy, etc. From the first note, I could tell the Nautical's were serious speakers. Great articulation on the guitar string plucks and imaging was very wide — with good front to back depth cues. Without the sub, the bass was a bit lean, but it still managed to have decent bottom end. When I set up the Episode sub, the extra bottom end bloom of Mr. Bertoncini’s acoustic got a bit more prominent, more like a full range classical should be.
  On the Tom Jung-recorded Warren Bernhardt — So Real SACD., another recording I use for reference. the Artisan Audio Nautical's projected the “So Real" cut with vibrant energy, a quick and spacious presentation of the drum cymbal sheen and Steinway piano. 

  On the Tom Jung-recorded Warren BernhardtSo Real SACD, another recording I use for reference. the Artisan Audio Nautical's projected the “So Real"cut with vibrant energy, a quick and spacious presentation of the drum cymbal sheen and Steinway piano. Unsubwoofered, the 4-inch round Natural’s, did not get all the electric bass or drum kit toms, but adding the Episode Triple 10 gave the full bottom spectrum of the recording. Shy-bass notwithstanding, this single driver is impressive in its precision of the upper bass, critical midrange and transient top-end character. And it sounds clean. The speakers are not the most sensitive, about 86 dB at 1 watt, 1 meter, but most amps will be able to power them to satisfying levels.
  For a vocal, I listened to Judy Collins' new hi-res recording Strangers Again. With the sub connected, the system really meshed. Ms. Collin's ageless voice sounded up front, yet smooth with no strident aberrations or excessive sibilance. Her co-vocalists and the impeccable hi-resolution recording, by noted pro engineer Alan Silverman, all made for a satisfying listening experience. Plus, as the music plays, you get to look at the classy, high-end  tripod speaker system well placed there in your room.

The verdict
  With all the “me-too” products in the hi-fi world, it is great to see that Artisan Audio has come out with atypical, single-driver speakers that can complete in a world of two-ways, three-ways and more exotic technologies, such as electrostatics and planars.
  By themselves, the Nautical's are not as full range as some of Artisan Audio’s other “box” speakers (I have one of the other models in for review), but the high-optioned tripod mount puts it in another category when it comes to its architectural appeal; they look really classy. The wife may be much more inclined to let you put ‘em in the living room. The whole system with the wooden tripods is about $3,000, but it is so cool looking!
  By themselves, the Nautical’s have a phase-accurate stereo image, a smooth midrange and present treble that is pretty accurate. On acoustic instruments, there is enough bass to listen to guitar, solo violin, spinet piano, horns, etc. If you combine it with a quality small sub that reaches down to 40 Hz, then you have a really cool-looking, great sounding speaker system. I am giving the  Nautical’s an Everything Audio Network Stellar Sound Award.
  John Gatski has been evaluating consumer, audiophile, home cinema and professional audio gear since 1988. In 1995, he created Pro Audio Review, and he has written for Audio, Laserviews, Enjoy The Music, The Audiophile Voice, High Performance Review, Radio World and TV Technology. Everything Audio Network is based in Kensington, Md. Articles on this site are the copyright of the ©Everything Audio Network. Any unauthorized use, via print or Internet, without written permission is prohibited. John Gatski can be reached via

1 comment:

Bob Rapoport said...

I really like them John, thanks for your reporting on Nautical. They have a certain "war of the worlds" thing going on too, unlike any speaker in my memory. Very crafty design.

Bob Rapoport, CEO
Essence For Hi Res Audio