Choosing their own roads
The Norwegian startup Arendal has completed its model range with a series which fits best in not too large rooms – 1961.
By Magnus Fredholm.
– Awesome build quality
– Exceptional cinema sound
– Flexible system
Arendals first speaker series, 1723, works now in retrospect to be a largely uncompromising home cinema series, designed without special thought for anything else than really awesome cinema sound.
The successor 1723 S is a slightly slimmed down variant of the same concept, while the new 1961 series one size further scaled-down variant. 1961 series has also been given a slightly simpler finish and boxes with simpler design, which allows prices compared with the 1723 models to be significantly lower.
It is interesting that Arendal has chosen to keep drivers and filters at the same level through all series. There are thus by no means any cheap drivers in 1961, only smaller woofers, and with slightly simpler baskets.
These smaller drivers (5.5 inches compared to 1723 S which has 6.5-inches and 1723 which boasts 8-inchers) is probably the largest the reason why 1961 has lower sensitivity (the sensitivity of the tower model is 87 dB to compared with 89 and 93 dB respectively for 1723 S and 1723).
The treble is thus the same 28 mm variant as in other series, but with a smaller waveguide diameter to match the midrange drivers. Another difference is that the 1961 series
consistently runs with a single pair of speaker connectors per box, unlike 1723 which has possibilities for bi-amp / bi-wiring.
The stylish, very discreet speaker fronts are also simplified, the fabric is stretched over a plastic frame instead of metal as it is in 1723.
The more I spend time with the 1961 series, the more I feel that these speakers were actually created by real home theater nerd, people who have a genuine interest in offering speakers that works well both today and in 20 years from now.
In addition to the fact that the speakers themselves are really well built, with the highest possible density of the fibrous material (HDF) is that all drivers screws are screwed in with metal threads, which means that you can retighten the screws as many times as possible and in addition, the speakers can be disassembled and reassembled hundreds of times without appreciable wear.
And if we look at the filters, the conditions of it very durable plastic film type while the coils are air-wound with a substantial wire thickness.
Arendal 1961 is a fantastically high-performing speaker system that is easy to place, with a very attractive price tag!
The whole series
I have had all the models in the series available during the review, but because I only had one Center (in pairs it is called Monitor) I can not comment on Monitor in more than general terms. As for the subwoofers, I will not write so much about them because I tested them in HemmaBio 10/2019, but this time I have only used the smaller Subwoofer 1S.
In the front stage we have the 1961 Tower, which leans slightly backwards and is a floor stander that can be run both sealed and ported. Should Tower be used alone (in a stereo system) I think using it in ported mode is preferable, it goes a little deeper and above all more physical bass reproduction. In the home theater, however, I prefer Tower sealed, as the definition in the bass becomes something better that way. They work best to my ears with subwoofer support from 50 Hz, but it depends of course on the room too. Here you can also choose between soft rubber feet or spikes, and for the ones that know me you know that it is 100% soft rubber feet that wins when I get to choose, but for those who want spikes there are nice ones included!
Image comment: For all of us who prefer rubber feet, Arendal even has a solution that comes in the box, namely their own, logo-bearing feet!
Image comment: In order for the Tower model to stand firmly, it is equipped with outriggers and solid spikes.
1961 Center is a center in exemplary format. The width is the same as normal home theater amplifiers, so for those who want to put it in the rack can easily fit it there, while the depth is only 15 cm, which means that the speaker will not look out of place under a modern tv. It is also easy to hang on the wall thanks to double keyholes and bracket mounts for two wall brackets. This sealed speaker came to thrive best crossed over at 80 Hz, a crossover point I by the way chose for all speakers except Tower.
1961 series is a superb choice in the price range!
Bookshelf is the classic satellite speaker, and had I been less spacious at home, a couple of these could easily replace the Tower! Low sensitivity is the only possible downside, while the flexible format and possibility for wall hanging both flat against the wall and with using wall brackets makes Bookshelf an ideal speaker for live surround sound.
Image comment: The bookshelf model, like the rest of the series, has a pair of terminals of confidence-giving quality, keyholes for quick hanging and also four recessed threaded nuts for the standard type of adjustable wall brackets. Also worth noting is the generous cable channel which allows Bookshelf to sit snugly against the wall even if you connect the speakers with really brutal cables.
Image comment: Neat and elegant on the element front, both treble and midrange / bass have an impeccable finish and fit.
Surround is a three-sided speaker with the same main equipment as Bookshelf, but with three-inch side drivers directed to the right and left (in relation to the main baffle) which ensures that they get a really wide soundstage. This in turn ensures that they work extra well as a side surround, then they «connect» the sound between front and rear
surround in a wonderful way. The side speakers are high-pass crossed at 200 Hz, and all sides are connected in the same phase.
Height then finally, it is slightly wedge-shaped and the upside-down version of Bookshelf, and it thrives just as well mounted up in the corner between wall and ceiling as lying on the Tower. Or why not as a pair of speakers in another room, for those who have not yet begun using the zone options in their amplifier.
Image comment: If you are going to use the Height model as height / Dolby Atmos / Dts: X / Auro-3D, they can be mounted in this way, but there are more ways to use them.
Image comment: Fine filters with polypropylene capacitors, air-wound coils and ceramic power resistors.
Temporary solution with duct tape
The set-up of the system is traditional, Tower with Height on top of the front along with Center, and Surround to the right and left with Bookshelf as the back surround and the subwoofer on the same wall as the screen.
If I had a choice, I would have replaced the two Bookshelf speakers with Surround, as the wide dispersion in midrange and treble is addictive. I also tested driving with Height mounted in the joint ceiling / wall, and it worked perfectly! However, I must admit that I did not have them there for more than a quarter of an hour, because my only option to mount them was with duct tape, not ideal.
I’m laughing so it’s almost ridiculous watching the latest Jumanji movie…
Since the sensitivity of the system is low, I want to recommend it to those who feel insecure to set the Tower level to -3 dB and then adjust the whole system according to them. It is of course possible to run them at 0 dB, but depending on the distance and location of the surround speakers, these may otherwise need a little too much gain.
I will not devote many words to the subwoofer, but an important feature is the effective (steep) crossover filter and the very low levels of harmonics, which gives you a little extra freedom on placement. S1 is simply a little harder to locate than many price-comparable subwoofers at the same crossover frequency.
Arendal recommends 50 hours of break-in, but I do not think there were any drastic differences during the test, at least none I can reliably deduce from the recording. This reminds me that I would someday want to test already broken-in against unused ones, too often I get it in my head that speakers bloom after 50-100 hours, but equally I often suspect that it is actually mostly that I «learned» the speakers.
Image comment: A speaker built in China can look from great to horrible inside, everything from pure disasters to constructions like this, where everything is clean, neat and exemplary. Nice for me so I did not have to scratch my head when I assembled the speaker again after photography.
Image comment: It’s great to meet machine screws when unscrewing speakers! The smaller dimension holds the treble while the thicker one holds the woofer, six screws for each driver. That it is Torx T15 to the base and 3 mm hexagon to the treble feels most like a comic surprise and does not affect the function at all.
Image comment: In order to be able to adapt the floor-standing Tower (which, in addition to the subwoofer V1, is the only model in the series which is ported) it comes with a piece of foam rubber which can be removed to make it a vented cabinet.
I’m laughing so it’s almost ridiculous watching the latest Jumanji movie, so I’m watching it first. And after a slight lowering of the center (1dB compared to the measured level) and a few dB extra in the rear surround channels, I have to state that Arendal really know how to deliver home theater sound!
During the test I mostly used the Denon AVR-X4700H that I tested in the previous issue, but also Focal Astral 16 has been included, and wow what an amplifier it is! Strange? No, certainly not, but it’s always fun when fairly simple components rise when you give them better conditions! But I switch back to Denon fairly quickly, and after a few minutes of initial getting used to it, I am happy with the Denon / Arendal / Oppo combination.
…makes me lose my breath.
Well, back to the movies, and I’m watching Chapter 6 of Fantastic Beasts, a chapter that starts off fairly calm and then becomes really intimate and lastly explodes into an absolutely wonderful Atmos-cascade. Arendal 1961 rules with praiseworthy calm through the magic, and at the same time keeps the pieces in the calm part together even at low volume.
Thanks in particular to the Surround speakers on the side walls, the feeling is wonderfully enveloping, and this despite the fact that I only have two, also bouncing, Atmos speakers. I know I was a little naughty in the comment to Denon earlier, but the combination of amplifier and speakers here show that the previous issue’s fine ratings for the Denon machine were not empty.
Image comment: Height is primarily intended to be used hanging high up on the wall, and Arendal shows how they feel you should mount the cable, upwards of course for a clean installation! Note the thick, muted rubber mat means the Height is also safely located on top of the Tower.
Musically, it will not be a real highlight, but it’s mostly because the only film I find like this in the middle of the summer is Lady A’s Christmas life, and it’s not very fun. However, I know it well, and the 1961 system really brings out every nuance of the performance, and the separation when all three in the band sing at the same time gives an eerie sense of presence.
An old treat, chapter three in the first Deadpool movie, makes me lose my breath. The short car chase and the subsequent mass execution contain so much of movements, large and small sounds that coincide with dialogue, and 1961 in combo with the Denon 4700 delivers a magnificent presentation of the material. The separation, the details and the big bangs are handled in an obvious and relaxed way, while it is damn fun!
With 1961, Arendal has a system that not only is considerably cheaper than the 1723 sisters, there are also speakers that fit perfectly in everything from really small to fairly large (25-30 square meters) room, and you can probably get the system to work in even larger rooms but I did not have the opportunity to test.
The build quality is very good, the shortcuts taken (simpler boxes, single wire, plastic grilles) is all through sensible, and as a cinema system, the 1961 series is a superb choice in the price range!
Image comment: A «finesse» with the center is that it is as wide as normal home cinema equipment, so it fits in all common racks, very flexible.
+ Awesome build quality
+ Exceptional cinema sound
+ Flexible system
– Low sensitivity
= Arendal 1961 is a fantastically high-performing speaker system that is easy to place, with a very attractive price tag!