My desktop ran local and cloud files through Audirvana Studio set to x 4 upsampling, a Singxer SU-2 USB bridge then iFi iDSD Signature DAC. As promised, Kenaz gave me instant sound controlled by the DAC's fully balanced analog potentiometer. Compared to my usual setup, the Taiwanese were lighter in the sense of being less weighty or dense so not by feeling more illuminated. On imaging and layer specificity, they were even finer. On bass reach they equalled the M1's rear ports. On bass power and overall grip, they were slightly stronger in general. Alas, the AD36 also suffered narrow-band hollowness as triggered by particular bass frequencies. Those beats and pedals stood out for being more resonant and bloomy. Yet placing hands on a box's sides betrayed no expected bigger mechanical feedback. Whatever the cause, it acted like an untreated internal 'line' resonance. Whilst the speaker otherwise behaved admirably linear, fine-boned and informative, I soon got stuck on those isolated yet consistent textural discontinuities. To confirm them being exclusive to the AD36, I reverted to our legacy M1. Despite being ported so functionally more resonant, it didn't exhibit the same spotty hollowness.
Before the AD36 vacated my office, I ran them through a variety of bass-heavy fare to check the pulse of Train's small internal woofer. It really showed off unexpected muscle and grit to warrant not even a fleeting thought about extra reinforcement in a nearfield setup. How would this parlay to greater sitting distances and larger air volumes?
With eight meters of room depth to support low long wavelengths, I in fact thought the upstairs tonal balance slightly bottom heavy so a bit muddy overall. Unlike my usual 2.1 array with active hi/lo pass filter at 80Hz/4th-order, here I enjoyed zero control over relative bass balance. I had to play luck of the draw on how the speaker decided to bed into the room. My way or the highway. I really thought that Train's train had prematurely departed Grand Central station. With full DSP and eight presets on hand, why not program tunings like less bass, more bass, less treble, more treble etc? I imagined the proud design credo emblazoned over his front door: "I enjoy flexibility any designer of passive speakers would envy but take pride in not exploiting it." Color me flummoxed. But then reviews are supposed to be critical. Having things to disagree with makes for livelier copy than fawning adoration. From flawed finish to mismatched cloths to unmarked pots to making active speakers non-adaptive to charging an absolute premium for concept and execution, the AD36 certainly added spice to this equation. For some balancing sugar, let's now focus on the strong points.
As previewed on the desktop, soundstaging belongs on that list. Smaller coax pairings tend to ace that and the AD36 was no exception. On a xylophone accompanying a Brazilian clarinet, it was child's play to hear how each bar located in a very specific spot along the left/right axis. Even when the mallet moved over just a half tone to the closest neighboring bar, where that new sound originated in space moved over with it. On a densely populated track I heard equally excellent delineation at the stage edges behind each speaker. These tones didn't occupy a vaguely back-there vicinity. They localized as keenly as those huddled across the greater center. Bass firmness and reach belonged on the same sugar score. Other than its separate attenuator, I really didn't miss my usual 2 x 9½" force-cancelling Dynaudio sub. That surprised but lent credence to Train's insistence of calling his compact hidden driver a subwoofer.
Not being a fakir was another sweet finding. By that I mean trying to cozy up to sharp needles aka transient pricks. Certain class D was—continues to be?—tuned for overdamped clipped sharpness. The AD36 had none of it. Given prevailing preconceptions, that too surprised. It parallels studio-monitor notions. Home users often equate such monitors with brightness and hyper crispness. Because studio monitors are virtually always active, also active home monitors can trigger identical notions. Here they'd be misplaced. Should we credit Train's mysterious 'dirtiness'? His Birch ply construction? Why not loop in Sven Boenicke whose compact integrated also runs Powersoft modules to sound nothing like cold glassy class D? It's immaterial to break down how Train accomplished it, only to know that he did. His tuning also diverged from my usual MonAcoustic SuperMon Mini in this room. That's a €2K/pr aluminium-cab 4" isobaric with rear port and miniature AMT. I combine it with the €1'390 sub. The Korean minis are quicker, more widerbander direct and energetic. The AD36 was more relaxed and slightly set back. By virtue of already being down 6dB at 80Hz, the Mini also doesn't trigger the room the same. Neither does the sub across its bandwidth. With the Kenaz I had significantly more bass build-up in the front corners. Another sugar point was absentee self noise. It's where many active speakers trip up. When nothing plays, they constantly hum or hiss just a bit. The AD36 did not. And while at very low SPL the green status light on the back didn't light up or barely flickered on peaks, I still had proper sound despite remaining below the threshold voltage that would have turned the signal LED a solid green. That too differed from signal-sensing Hypex-based actives I reviewed in the past. Those only recognized signal above a certain voltage before they came out of standby to make actual sound. Unlike them the AD36 seemed whisper freak certified.
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