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This review first appeared in the June 2007 issue of and can be read in its original German version here. It is herewith translated and presented to an English-only audience through a mutual syndication arrangement with whereby they will translate and publish select reviews of ours while we reciprocate with one or two of theirs each month. As is customary for our own reviews, the writer's signature at review's end auto-links to his e-mail should you have questions or feedback you wish to send. All images contained in this review are the property of - Ed.

Reviewer: Ralph Werner
Source: Audiodata 8000CD, Myryad T-10, Benchmark DAC 1
Amplification: Accuphase E-212, Classic 6.6, Dussun V8i, Lua 4040C
Loudspeaker: Sehring 703 SE, Zu Audio Druid Mk4
Cables: Funk BS-2, van den Hul Integration Hybrid, Zaolla Reinsilber NF interconnects; Fast Audio Compact M6, Ixos 6006 Gamma, Zu Audio Libtec speaker cables
Review component retail: €1,300/pr

Okay, I fess up. I dig cool retorts. I read one recently which I spring on whoever pokes fun at my 7-year old cell phone: "I consider myself a neo-reductionist." Wowie. That's useful for all manner of scenarios, say in the subway in the morning while a tabloid-reading fella opens his first beer next to ya. Feign interest and politely ask him whether he too views himself a neo reductionist. Nice one - but sadly not for me.

Enter the Sonics Argenta. There I'm fixing to fix spades to its terminals and discover that a/ I'm having a hard time tightening 'em and b/ something turns inside that shouldn't. Granted, one needs a good grip to notice but hey, that still shouldn't be. While on nits, let's mention the protruding screw heads on the driver mounts. Industrial. And the tweeter could have been fitted tighter by a millimeter without betraying an open Ply edge. Nothing major, mind you, just cause for my favorite slogan: "Another neo-reductionist!"

Truth be told, it was none other than Joachim Gerhard, designer of the Sonics Argenta box and one of Germany's most highly regarded loudspeaker makers who uttered that term during an interview on his craft. I used the term box and not loudspeaker, transducer or speaker deliberately, too. I can't quite figure out whether to view the Argenta as ironically charged, DIY-reminiscent counter manifesto to Gerhard's usual slim, backwards canted designs now being considered passé; or patently ugly. Regardless, it isn't mainstream and thereby, quite possibly hip again. Or perhaps it's rebellion against his Audio Physic past. Or perhaps it pays the bills since there'll be punters celebrating any anti-establishment stance as long as hype is afoot and costs are modest?

I was admittedly in a funk by the time I hooked up this smallest Sonics model. I'd heard my fair share of advance hype that floundered and flopped. Add a spinning terminal and Neo-Reductionist philosophizing. Good grief ...

But not so fast. This ugly duckling waddled a mere three bars and it got obvious in a hurry that spatial expanse was sensational - not just for the
money but period! It was abnormal, on target and truly outstanding. Should I preview what remains under the table -- or be asked, 10 years from now, "remember the Argenta?" -- I'd retort: "Sure, would that that darn thing had disappeared cosmetically as completely as it did acoustically!" Don't fear, I'm not about to join the chorus line of those who outright fete this speaker. But should someone quip "I need its air, its fine resolution, its freely gushing mien, with those qualities I can tolerate all manner of other shortcomings - and don't you dare propose I take out a second mortgage!..." ... well, I'd have a handy reco.

Technicalia & finish
The Sonics Argenta is a 2-way bass reflex monitor. That sounds as it looks: 24/7 common. But there are details that transcend the ordinary. Obvious is the offset tweeter. Usually drivers align vertically to obey path length matching especially in the crossover region. Argenta's asymmetry offsets the tweeter by ca. 4 centimeters, purportedly to minimize edge reflections and their concomitant nonlinearities in the frequency response and with phase behavior. There's no arguing that this box is beset with corners and edges. A side effect of the offset is the placement option of tweeter in or out, something I was familiar with already from Sehring's designs. Such setup flexibility can net minor dividends.

Beyond customary is enclosure construction. Not to dismiss the material which is used in far more elevated company but to expect anything other than MDF at €1,300 would be rather cheeky. Yet here we encounter a three-layer affair of two Ply sheets of dissimilar damping which are lined internally with ceramic plating to countermand chassis resonances. Forget vinyl cladding for the final flourish, there's real wood veneer on the outsides. So far, so solid.

Solid also covers the driver mount screws which, as mentioned, protrude and may be readily re-tightened with a proper key. Rather rustic, that. The mid/woofer is an 18cm treated paper cone and a 25mm silk dome takes over at 2.3kHz. The 18er is suspended rather softly and the effective diameter is closer to 13.5. I don't quite understand why installation cut-out diameters get quoted these days. It's obvious how at elevated levels, this driver works up a sweat by pushing excursions in lieu of displacement surface.

Bass is reinforced by a frontal port and -- considering the main driver's size
-- a baffle that's rather wide at 25cm. Baffle step bass attenuation as a function of dimensions is lessened as baffles broaden. Argenta further employs a specially tuned Diffraction Control Module. As part of the crossover network, this is claimed to nullify baffle step effects. In the above referenced interview, Gerhard in fact claimed that his proprietary DC-Module renders the behavior of his speakers completely independent from external dimensions.

That Sonics doesn't build its own drivers for once isn't reason for shamed silence. And why should it? I find it rather refreshing to see mass production presented as an asset for a change. It eliminates long-winded discourses on parts selection, stringent matching protocols by stating instead that mass production on the tweeter allows for tighter tolerances. Fine. Incidentally, the tweeter voice coil is damped and cooled by thin ferrofluid.

I've had my say already on the cosmetics so let's leave it to personal taste. Though rustic, actual construction is extremely solid yet it could be the output of a hobbyist's basement workshop. I'm admittedly not smitten with the terminal cup. Far better solutions exist and while it's perhaps a personal neurosis of mine, nobody can tell me that you can't design one that's far more ergonomic, more robust and plain bigger. If you really want to set me off, hustle me with spring-loaded clip terminals...

The Argenta isn't an easy date. While 15 minutes are often sufficient to sense whether a component will rock your boat or not, here it's not so clear cut. Make no mistake, 15 minutes are sorely insufficient for a comprehensive assessment. I'm talking first impressions. About which, how did the Argenta fare?

To make room, I had to carry off the Zu Druid while fully anticipating a return to sounds sticking to boxes and saying "later, alligator" to the phenomenal soundstaging of those Yankee widebanders. Hence "Sayonara Zu" it was and "Howdy, Argenta!" But then Howe Gelb's guitar rushed through my digs like greased lightning, his voice a bit higher and clearly separated to the left, all of the background din and doings so precisely localized. Nothing stuck to the boxes whatever. Not bad at all! It was just a bit freaky in fact how these affordable monitors threw open the window on staging excellence.

On second thought though, why not. The transducers are grouped tightly and halfway to point source. There's speed aplenty, with dynamic crests not toned down but scaled with clearance - points arguably also for the tweeter which kicks in rather early and covers all three top octaves. Perhaps even the DC Diffraction Control Module is at work as long as it also allows for excellent off-axis dispersion. On which subject the Argenta is no temperamental diva. On axis, off axis, there's little difference in staging. I personally always favor modest toe-ins since they sound more open to me. Consequently, my Sonics tweeters pointed outwards though the effect was admittedly minor.

The frequency extremes are handled well. The highs above 5kHz are airy and free, clearly articulated but not annoying, rather soft in fact though the Sonics react keenly to cable and electronic changes, with the tweeter very transparent to the character of whatever precedes it. And that's as it should be and a distinction of quality. The bass too is fun - spacious, liberated and quite agile. Centrally panned bass drum kicks arise in the middle with grip and articulation. Of course don't expect massive attacks from a 140cm² diaphragm surface. Techno devotees and closet organists don't buy monitors. Those who do must eat crow.

The two bottom octaves are clearly MIA and therewith absent isn't just boom and pow but all manner of ambient micro detail. That's part and parcel of the monitor choice. Below 100Hz, the bass rolls off but above, it is satisfyingly present. True, bone-dry or of Dussun V8i caliber it ain't but who cares? Have you ever encountered bone-dry bass in a concert? Case closed.

Everything's perfect then, full of breathtaking dimensionality, with agile and accurate bass, pleasant highs? Yes indeed though what doesn't keep up, at least to my ears, are the midrange and presence region. "Color saturated" is how I've seen the effect described elsewhere, by admirers of watercolors perhaps. Something isn't quite right here. There's insufficient vocal warmth. Rather, tongue smacks are highlighted and with it the spittle sprays - which, in combination with the terrific focal lock, could be somewhat fascinating in a reach-out-and-touch fashion. That part I appreciate and view as important. It supports the live illusion. But why is the voice itself so clinical, so anorexic as though made up of mere mouth and tongue? Presence is lovely but hyper presence wrecks the nerves over time. And though it pains me to say, I believe quite a few will react accordingly. Take guitars; accelerated, fiery, open and impulsive but also flat, disembodied and steely. Great on transients when the strings are plucked but so hard, it ain't real without the woody resonance of the body.

I initially suspected break-in but after a few hundred hours, nothing changed. Sure, things overall improved but the core traits remained. Hence I called the Argenta a challenging date earlier. On the one hand, she is transcendental in her disappearance act. On the other hand, she tends to grate a bit and -- depending on electronics -- gets quite wan and colorless. What gives? Tweaking!

Tweak scene
When tone's amiss, the high-ender reaches for cables. To be honest, I've always remained suspicious. If that's how you spice your stew, don't dismiss equalizers. But perhaps it's a matter of degrees. A bit of fine tuning isn't all bad. Enter Zu Libtec and Fast Audio Compact 6M for speaker leads; and van den Hul Integration Hybrid and Zaolla's pure silver wires for interconnects.

Results were mixed and hence, supportive of my equalization stance on cables. The Zu cable had its customary speed but with the Fast in place, the Argenta lost some of its sharpness while the bass softened up as well. Sadly, no advances in tonal body were gained. Ditto for the interconnects. The silver wires were more silvery -- nothing this speakers needs help with -- and the VdH more balanced. Ergo, while differences were audible, nothing really clicked. A complete cable mismatch thus cannot explain why the Sonics sounded as they did. Plan B reached for amplification.

With the Dussun V8i, everything lined up cleanly. Bass was dry and fast but nearly too hard. Piano attacks for example turned out nearly too hammered, preferable to sleep-walking alright but overcooked nonetheless. One wants credible ringing out and timbral flesh or else all becomes staccato. Voices seemed nasally breathy, quite seductive with certain songstresses but five minutes later, the effect gets old and refuses to charm. Dussun be gone.

Since a colleague had the CEC AMP 5300 under his microscope, I borrowed it and it wasn't at all bad. The iron-clawed hardness of the Chinese amp had left the building. The highs were more finely resolved as was the bass though it arguably grew a bit paler too. In toto, a lighter sound without the rocky hardness yet still occasionally peaky. And pale. No true lift-off after all.

Enter valves for a last chance, the LUA 4040C. Expectedly one gained warmth and some harshness diminished. Vocals received an injection of bodiliciousness and finally turned rounder, softer and more believable yet lacked kick. It wasn't really intimate. Rather, a misgiving had been damped without eradicating the problem at the root.

Things remained a bit flat. Bass softened but gained warmth and fullness to transcend the transistors. The highs no longer
sparkled the same, however, with cymbals becoming partially imaginary where before they were fully visible. Mixed results then. I fancied the Lua combo the most not because it added magic but because the rounder upper mids and bass balanced out the overall presentation better.

Truth be told, things were pretty good on a whole, just not my personal cup of Java. I still found these boxes too bright and the valves sadly stifled transients and cut soundstaging back to normal, weakening where the Argenta excelled while injecting harmonic sex life where she was less impressive.

For setup, these speakers can be spaced surprisingly far without collapsing the center, a distinct advantage to stretch out the presentation laterally while retaining stunning focus. I placed the Argenta about a half meter from the front wall for sufficient bass augmentation without foreshortening stage depth. Toe-in is variable of course but just like tweeter positioning, far less critical than usual. In short, the Argenta fits free placement, narrow placement or near-field monitor use.

Occasionally one is none the wiser at the end to feel dissatisfied. What to think of Sonics' entry-level effort? The hype kicked in about 1.5 years ago and diverse comments were penned, including on Internet chat rooms, most of it complimentary. Sadly, I can personally only follow such assessments halfway. On the plus side, I applaud liveliness and spatial resolution. To find its equal in this price class would be tough, real tough. That explains the spontaneous enthusiasm this speaker inspires on first encounters. It's outright electrifying.

Over time, the midrange presentation can get fatiguing, however. At least to my ears, it's too hard, too present. I often found myself turning down the gain. I know, that sounds quite negative but shouldn't entirely. It's really quite astounding what kind of detail and ambient recovery one can enjoy here at rather subdued levels. Plainly put, the Argenta returns the fun to background
volumes, something that's far from a given when many speakers need to get pushed for their wake up call. With tubes, a clean source and cabling that's not overly analytical, the Argenta can be a good choice. She can convey the live vibe at moderate levels and will refuse to bore you, ever. For that, she's too sprightly.
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