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S.O.'s simple ingredients are upstaged by experience. Brains trump endless resources, basic recipe meets expert implementation. That's today's secret sauce and how it spells out. No crossover equals open-throated immediacy. Close-boundary port loading equals effective LF augmentation. Active tone controls and direct drive for built-in compensation square the circle and tidy up loose ends. Without lending ears, audiophile inspection disses the hard-wired cheap transfer cable connecting slave to master box. Size (easily gripped by a man's hand across the top) seems insufficient to get serious. Lack of socketry markers causes exasperation. Polish time (controls whose effects increase counter-clockwise) adds raised eyebrows. The laptop-type SMPS for the master box feels as lo-fi as possible. Clearly prior commentators praising this effusively were inebriated, paid shills or irresponsible jokers. Next.

Aura Vivid connected via XLR; alternately AIFF-loaded iPod Classic 160GB via Cambridge Audio iD100 into Vivid as DAC

After boosting baffle rake for eye-level image height on the desktop, lending ears finally sobers up snobs. More midrange-centric than Gallo's Strada 2 and bassier than the twinned balls even without touching the bass control, the S.O. also is texturally warmer and softer. It shows lower treble dynamics and lower ultimate SPL stability. There's less extreme stage contrast/sculpting and a minor propensity for cabinet involvement or light boom at higher levels. Post QR (qualifications rendered) but prior to sub addition, the Ancients and Gallos overlap considerably at the core whilst diverging literally on details or magnification power. The most fundamental shared quality is the Mark Felt effect coined for the FBI's former associate director aka Watergate's Deep Throat. Deep-throatedness becomes a terrific sense of intimate connection with the tunes. Call it full-throttled directness. It's much of the Strada 2's gushing quality. The S.O. exhibits it as well, albeit at a clearly lower level of resolution. But by comparison standard fare still sounds more or less reticent and reluctant. Held back. Filtered. A bit through a curtain.

Hookup without sub yet (that connects to the lowest left RCA socket)

That's key. It overrides any added sophistication costlier drive units, snazzier tweeters or perfect linearity might offer in trade. It simply takes the foot off the brake to let 'er rip. With it you forgive how the downfire port energizes the desktop if it's tempered glass. That transmits some vibes into your keyboard-positioned forearms on it. You forgive that the treble can get just a bit splashy (tweaking the strategically hinged tone controls does offer broad trim options). You forget that the Gallos focus/image better, have the more defined articulated midbass and none of these box-sound reminders in the lower mid/upper bass region at all. But then you remember how those cost twice as much and still need amplification and volume control to make any sound at all. Now you marvel at how huge and coherent these tiny Poles sound up close, how potent their cleverly tuned upper bass is to convey shocking oomph and fetching warmth. Your inner judge even admits to how a light twist on those forbidden low-hanging tone controls really is eminently practical and useful. As long as you say nothing to nobody, your audiophile credibility won't tarnish. Whoa, close call!

In the farfield, the limitations of most single-driver solutions get obvious. They become easy game for detractors. In the extreme nearfield meanwhile the equation flips particularly if our widebander is actively powered/EQ'd. Now your standard multi-way speaker is disadvantaged and easily faulted. Whatever it might do measurably better on the test bench pales by comparison to the directness and fully cooked coherence of the single driver in an app where a multi's vertical spread needs greater distance to gel and its crossover wants higher playback levels to overcome 'inertia'. This is all about the right tool for the job. It's about job-specific priorities, not absolutes. Whilst I would not promote the S.O. for big spaces and 'faraway' listening distances despite Jarek's Warsaw demo—it cannot move sufficient air and vacates its comfort zone—it's a delightful 'un up close. Or on a beside table bracketing a 17" MacBook to watch an installment of The Good Wife or Body of Proof. Or in the kitchen fronted by an iPod whilst eating or cooking. US retailer StereoDesk aka AudioPrana puts it nicely: "We yearn for tunes at any moment and in any space: in the office; in bed while others sleep; near someone who has the nerve to focus on something other than music. So we offer an interesting array of diminutive solutions for those subjugated to music black-out". That's the S.O.'s playground. And probably exactly why StereoDesk carries it.

With some Artesania Audio rack couplers repurposed as speaker lifts to increase rake angle and raise image height

At such up'n'close distances and with music or character-driven talkies rather than submarine rocket launches, this tiny tot requires no sub to feel complete. Adding the sub obviously shows bass that was MIA before. But shy of such reminders you won't really notice. The 12:00 sound (tone controls centered) is so cannily balanced that, though ultimately a sleight of hand, one buys into it. Like the ace illusionist who appears and disappears elephants from thin air, its creator is good. Your mind knows it's smoke and mirrors, your eyes—or ears in this instance—tell you different. So it's a bit of the proverbial elephant in the room. A €750/pr of tiny active boxes from Poland aren't peanuts. They'd sell for a lot less if they were manufactured on a grander scale by JBL & Co. But this review isn't about socio economics. It's about audible results. And at one meter or so those really kick hard and into high gear.

What counts as loud and full there doesn't generate sufficient internal pressures to set off the boxes. It allows a quality small driver breathing through a long narrow pipe—the Dayton's diameter actually equals the flat TangBand tweeters of my €15.000/pr Boenicke Audio B-10—to act full range without hitting limits of overdrive distortion and insufficient air motion. The trick was voicing and eq'ing the S.O. It gives the typical widebander's 2-6kHz runaway range the stiff middle finger followed by a cheery wave good-bye. That required active drive with built-in analog compensation and works a treat. You get the good (speed, point-source coherence, direct-coupled immediacy, great openness) without the bad (uptilted response, brightness, thinness, raggedness). Again, recipe and ingredients are simple. It's clever execution which sets it apart. That apartheid required a mature set of ears, solid experience on what really matters and plenty of prototyping, i.e. inconvenient grunt work not on simulation software but by hand.

S.O.B. Studio Oslo with bass. Its downfiring orientation has the companion sub cause zero textural breaks unlike Gallo's 10" front-firing TR-3D did with the Strada 2. There I had to turn the sub sideways and get it up off the ground to tame excess wiriness and strong mechanical feedback through the floor. By eliminating xover controls altogether, Jarek prevents his users from screwing up his perfect-outa-the-box recipe. In fact the floor-facing sub attenuator on my loaner could go dodo. Upon connecting sub to master monitor, the latter's LF tone control already acts as sub control. No need for two. The S.O.'s is also easier to reach (start it at 3:00 from where it powerfully increases towards 9:00).

For all conceivable music duties expected of tiny monitors, the 6.5" woofer is ideally matched to the small widebander. THX-style home theatre buffs will obviously consider this subwoofer a toy and look elsewhere. As they should. It's about the proper tool for the job again, not excess for its own sake or spec-driven brainwashing.

Our s.o.b. story's incomplete conclusion. Ancient Audio's Studio Oslo seems costly until you hear it. Then you understand. It won't expunge the usual realities of small-volume boutique maker vs. corporate giants. Performance simply delivers and custom finish options ought to clinch more than one deal. The stereodesk moniker exploited by retailer Fred Crane hammers it home. The desktop or otherwise nearfield milieu is this particular playground. Stereo as true 3D soundstaging at high resolution becomes the very grown-up entertainment which these quite serious hifi toys enable.

Due to size and built-in power, it's quite a portable proposition too. And the fact that all inputs are live (there's no selector) allows scenarios like inputting your digital piano to play together with pre-recorded music. The optional active subwoofer arrives perfectly pre-calibrated to expand uses to intimate movie watching, effects-laden gaming or to take music off the desktop where the sub isn't essential and into a den, studio or bedroom and increase listening distance to a few meters. I'd think of the sub as bass extender not because it won't do most subular things. It's because in the intended application it's uncommonly well integrated, works higher up than usual and doesn't displace massive air. It acts as less of an add-on spectacular and more of a fine completer.

Where the S.O.B. system goes the extra miles vs. usual 'computer speakers' is the type of unplugged directness and unglued energetic transmission one expects from the best widebanders like Rethm and Ocellia whilst actually sounding fuller. It applies the same one-way rationale to the nearfield. This transcends usual LF limits and mitigates HF attenuation over distance. Then it adds active compensation, active drive and well-hinged tone controls. Users thus get the breed's best attributes without suffering its shadows (unless one spent seriously more). An important but to me open question is how pro-derivative small powered monitors from Genelec and A.D.A.M. compare. Or hifi equivalents from Dynaudio, KEF and Paradigm. Lacking exposure, any conclusion would be incomplete. I simply harbour a personal suspicion. Jarek Waszczyszyn might be just a bit late to this party and too small to compete against the majors and their resources. At the high end of the hobby, exclusivity and pricing are a bonus. There Ancient Audio is well positioned. In this arena where shoppers go hard on price, the same profile becomes a barrier. But where sound and customizable gosh-they're-cute looks are concerned, the Studio Oslo definitely belong in the running.
Quality of packing: Needs improving.
Reusability of packing: At least once.
Ease of unpacking/repacking: Until there are proper foam inserts or clam shells, the insides will be messy the next time.
Condition of component received: Flawless but subwoofer quickly broke off one of its merely glued-on stand-offs. Those joints need to be screwed or anyone pushing the subwoofer sideways will break legs.
Completeness of delivery: Perfect. Includes all cabling required (the hardwired master/slave leash is 3 meters long).
Human interactions: Very good.
Pricing: Slightly high for the concept but a necessary function of small-scale manufacture in a market segment that's dominated by corporate giants which raise the price/return expectations against which specialty makers can't compete.
Final comments & suggestions: My custom lacquer samples were finely finished except for the (not visible in use) termination of the downfiring port.

For a full-featured 2nd review, click here.

Ancient Audio website