1961 Tower review- Audioholics

"I am impressed now. Really impressed. To this veteran’s ears and eyes, the Arendal 1961 Towers are truly special, really way above the norm.

The 1961 Series is Arendal’s more “value”-oriented line. We wanted to see how one of their so-called “lesser” products would hold up under close scrutiny. Did they cut too many corners? Do their design choices make sense? Their 1723 Series establishes a very high benchmark. We wanted to see how the 1961 Towers would do, both on an absolute level and on a relative level for their size and price.

In terms of similar speakers (mid-sized/mid-priced towers) that have passed through my esteemed listening room over the past few years, the Arendal 1961s at $1799/pr. are a tad less than the RBH-55Es at $2000/pr., the B&W CM8’s at $2700/pr., the Atlantic Technology AT-1’s at $2500/pr., the NHT Classic Fours at $2700/pr., and the Paradigm Prestige 75F at $3000/pr. Arendal is a direct-to-consumer product; the others are a mix of direct and brick-and-mortar products (to whatever extent brick-and-mortar still exists these days), so the Arendals should have a little lower price without the retail “middleman” markup. But in perfect candor, I consider all of these speakers to be in the exact same price category and I will make my comparisons on that basis.

It’s a shame that “good” retail brick-and-mortar audio stores are essentially defunct these days, because, in addition to not being able to do in-person A-B speaker comparisons, consumers are now faced with the prospect of having to repack and ship large speakers for return credit if they are unhappy with their purchase. Simply bringing them back to the store was a much easier proposition many years ago. But the times are what they are, and this is the way higher-end audio business is done today.

Arendal offers free shipping to buyers in the U.S. They also offer a 60-day in-home trial (that includes free shipping on returns!), which they say is double the trial period of anyone else. Speakers are guaranteed for 10 years from the date of purchase. Arendal will even honor the balance of the 10-year warranty to subsequent owners, provided they have the original bill of sale that proves the original purchase date. In my experience, this is unique.

Design Overview

The speakers arrived in cartons covered in security plastic. The plastic itself was perfectly intact and the cartons didn’t have any dings, gouges, or tears. The best thing about the cartons is that they weren’t too big, as seen in the photo. These are modest-sized speakers, which in my post-retirement years is a very welcome thing indeed

What a nice packaging job! The speakers are nestled deep inside what appears to be polyethylene foam blocks (dyed black—nice touch), not the cheaper, more “crumbly” Styrofoam. This may be about the biggest ratio of “External carton size to internal speaker” that I’ve yet seen. There is a lot of foam buffer zone around the speaker, which I guess is to be expected for speakers coming from overseas to America.

The speakers themselves were shrouded in a nice black cloth bag, as was the two-piece grille. The grill attaches to the speaker’s baffle board with neodymium magnets, so there are no clunky pins and receptacles to ruin the look. I give Arendal credit—the grille has a plastic mounting area for their logo both on the bottom of the grille and in the middle of the long dimension of the grille. It looks like the same grille used on other Arendal products as well, likely their 1961 horizontal Center speaker and 1961 Monitor in addition to this 1961 Tower (two grilles for the Tower). Just a different logo location. Tooling for a plastic grille is expensive—when a manufacturer has to tool something (a grille frame, tweeter faceplate, whatever), they will complain that tool is a “four-letter word!” Full credit to Arendal for using a common tool for a grille that can be used on a few different models. That’s something I would notice, having been on the “inside” of speaker development at major companies for all those decades.

The bottom of the speaker has machine screw inserts to attach the metal outrigger feet—six inserts (two rows of three). Given the cabinet’s under 7-inch width, it’s definitely overkill to put three inserts there when two would have done just fine. But three inserts is typical of the way that Arendal designed and built this loudspeaker. Everything is just a bit better than it has to be, just a little more than you expect.

Right above the slot vent are the terminal plate and connection binding posts. This whole area is very nicely done. The terminal plate itself appears to be made from brushed metal, and the binding post knobs are made from beefy metal, not cheap plastic. The posts themselves are spaced too far apart to use a standard banana plug adaptor, but I found the extra-wide spacing to be a benefit that gives the user some nice “working room” to connect the speaker wire. Good job, well thought out on Arendal’s part.

The surrounds extend into gaskets that cover the mounting screws, making for a very clean look. The two lower woofers are low-passed at 120 Hz, a very low frequency. This frequency ensures that the lower woofers do not intrude on the midrange at all, preserving the cleanest, most interference-free radiation possible. The upper woofers extend to 1500 Hz, where they hand off to the tweeter.

It’s worth noting that 1500 Hz is a very low tweeter crossover frequency and it means that a larger portion of the audio spectrum is being handled by the lighter, “faster” driver than would be the case in a conventional 2-way with a crossover frequency an octave or so higher (around 3000 Hz). The choice of a 1.1-inch dome—which is meaningfully larger in circumference than a 1-inch dome (11% bigger) enables this tweeter to reach down to this low frequency easily and is indicative of the intelligent, thoughtful engineering on Arendal’s part. The tweeter is essentially the same 1.1” soft dome as in their more expensive 1732 Series, but the 1961s utilize a less expensive ceramic magnet instead of a neodymium magnet.

“This kind of “overkill” is the way Arendal does things.”

The cabinet is made from HDF (High-Density Fiberboard) instead of the more common MDF (Medium Density Fiberboard). This gives the enclosure great strength and rigidity and considering that this is a pretty compact cabinet with no dimension exceeding 33 inches, the entire unit seems as solid as the proverbial bank vault. The front panel is a full 25 mm thick, which gives it plenty of “beef” to be routed for the drivers and still has enough thickness to be strong. Naysayers will point out that the ultra rigidity of HDF actually contributes to a little more “ringing” in the panels compared to the softer, less dense MDF, which some people think is actually more acoustically absorptive. One distinct, undeniable advantage to HDF, as Arendal points out, is that it’s able to be machined more precisely and cleaner than MDF during the manufacturing process. In any event, this is quite an impressive box, and it’s amazingly heavy for its size.

Another surprisingly nice touch was the fact that Arendal uses six machine screws with reciprocal threaded inserts to mount the woofers to the baffle. This is amazing attention to detail and it costs Arendal more money to do it this way.

However….a former boss of mine at a speaker company I worked at in the 90’s would always say, “Don’t give away invisible gifts. If there is something good about the product but it’s not readily visible to the customer’s eye, make a big deal about it in the brochure or on the website.” Listening, Arendal? Point this out.

The finish, too, is noteworthy. It’s just a textured matte black paint, but it’s quite obviously applied with care and it exudes quality. Between the neo-attached grilles, the brushed metal terminal plate, the metal binding post knobs, the solidity and weight of the cabinet, and the perfectly done paint finish, the Arendal 1961 Tower comes across as a no-excuses, top-quality product. First class, all the way.


I set up and listened to the Arendal 1961s in a two-channel music system. The room is a very large 24 x 26-ft. “great room” with a 14-ft, tray ceiling. One wall is open to an adjoining 14 x 23-ft. kitchen. This is a large acoustic space and it really puts extreme demands on a set of speakers if they are to “fill it up.” The room is an almost perfect mix of absorptive/reflective surfaces and the angularity of the tray ceiling contributes nicely to the total lack of annoying resonances or “dead spots” in this room. It’s a great-sounding space, even though it’s very large.

Excellent recordings, especially of small-scale ensembles like jazz trio or solo piano, can sound almost live in this room. I have tremendous confidence that this room allows equipment to sound as good—or bad—as it can.

The 1961s were set up about 1 ½ feet from the wall behind them and about 6-7 feet from the sidewalls along the 24-ft. wall. That means the speakers were 10 feet apart. I experimented with placement by moving them closer to the wall behind them but found that the balance got a little ‘tubby’ when the speakers were within about 6 inches to a foot off the wall. The speakers have pretty good horizontal dispersion and toe-in was modest—perhaps 10˚ or so. Set up this way, the speakers threw a very solid, well-defined image with a good phantom center. Even though the 1961 is an M-T-M design that somewhat restricts the vertical dispersion (presumably intentionally), there was not any noticeable change in tonal character whether the listener is seated or standing.
Another thing that surprised me—pleasantly—was the fact that even though the tweeter is barely 27 inches above the floor—well below the typical 35-38 inch ear height of a seated listener—the speaker’s highs were not “missing in action” or diminished in any way. I can think of two factors that contributed to this agreeable outcome:

  1. The 1961’s cabinet has a “leaning back” shape that throws the speaker’s HF output a bit higher than a straight up-and-down cabinet would. Another good design choice by Arendal.
  2. The tweeter’s waveguide really does what it’s supposed to do and the tweeter propagates the entire HF spectrum quite uniformly into the listening area.

These are not placement-sensitive speakers and I would confidently guess that that’ll sound quite good in a very wide range of reasonably sane locations.

Associated Equipment

The rest of the system is simple but straightforward, and very high quality. The pre-amplifier/power amp combo was Parasound’s New Classic 2100 pre-amp and 2250 power amp, rated conservatively at 200/385 watts per channel 20-20k, into 8/4 Ω loads, respectively. The 1961s are rated at 4 ohms, so they have access to the 400 watts per channel available for them here.

The CD player was the NAD 545 with Burr-Brown DACs. Despite the imposing size of the listening room, this is more than enough clean, distortion-free power to ensure that the electronics never intruded upon the listening sessions in a negative way. Speaker wire was simple 14 ga. twisted-end, inserted into the holes in the binding posts. Basic Monster interconnects between the pre/power and the CD/pre. Nothing lunatic-fringe about the connectors and speaker wire, and more importantly, nothing that could even remotely be considered a defining or distracting influence on the sound.

Woofers and Crossover

Although Arendal doesn’t spell it out explicitly in the brochure or on their website, I’m going to make the assumption that all four woofers are identical, and their operating bandwidth is dictated/controlled by the crossover, not by the drivers’ characteristics.  Similarly, their published information doesn’t specify the crossover slopes or other specifics of the network, but when I asked Arendal, they told me the lower woofers were rolled off above 120 Hz with a 2nd-order slope (12 dB/oct.), while the upper woofers and tweeter were integrated via reciprocal 4th-order (24 dB/oct.) low-pass/high-pass slopes. This is unusual (and better) than average. Most 2 ½-way speakers simply use a single inductor (1st-order) low-pass on the lower woofer section.

The crossover uses high-quality components, including air-core chokes in the listening-sensitive tweeter circuit that can take higher input levels without saturating compared to ordinary iron-core chokes. They also use good quality polypropylene capacitors and high-power resistors. The entire subject of crossover capacitor type is a controversial topic that strays pretty far into ‘snake oil’ territory, so I’m going to leave that to others to argue over. Suffice to say that, along with ‘boutique’ connector cables, extreme speaker wire, fancy internal speaker wiring, cabinet spikes, amplifier anti-vibration feet, AC power conditioners, and all the other things in the “peripheral” audio category, I consider myself an agnostic on all these matters. Or perhaps I should simply invoke my late Jewish grandmother’s pet phrase: “It couldn’t hoit.

The woofers utilize a beefy stamped steel basket with good reinforcement and appear to have a 1-inch voice coil. The magnet is large and substantial. Remember, there are four woofers splitting the heavy lifting of the current-heavy lower frequencies, so combined, they should be able to handle any reasonable input power scenario. They should also be able to handle pretty much any unreasonable input power scenario as well. Combining the actual piston area of the four woofers, we get to around 72 sq. in. By comparison, an average 10-inch woofer (9-inch piston, assuming a ½-inch surround) has a radiating area of about 63 sq. in., so the 1961‘s four woofers combined are a shade larger than a 10-inch woofer. That should yield some solid bass and it does, as we’ll see in the Listening Impressions.


What follows are Arendal’s actual in-house frequency response and dispersion graphs for the 1961 Tower. Based on my listening experiences and comparing these curves with the ones made by Audioholics’ own James Larson of the 1723 Monitor and the 1723 S Tower, I have no doubt that these curves are totally valid and are a good representation of what the user is likely to hear. The very slight “boxiness” I heard on occasion is evidenced by the fairly rapid falloff of the mids and highs off axis, which would cause a slight “chestiness” of “boxiness” to occur.

Likewise, the diminished bass below 40 Hz that I noted on Teen Town can also be clearly seen here, with the mid-30 Hz level being around 12-15 dB below the 100 Hz level. Before anyone screams, “But room gain will lift the bottom end,” yes, that’s true to some extent. But…it’s true of all speakers, including those with a native response that extends strongly below 40 Hz. So these FR curves tell a real, true story. These are not made-up, fabricated curves. Overall, these show the 1961 to be an accurate, uncolored loudspeaker with a uniform, predictable off-axis response, one that might benefit from some extremely subtle, judicious EQ should an educated user want to go that route. For a speaker that sells for well under $2000/pr., this is remarkably good performance.

The impedance curve shows that these are legit 4-ohm speakers that require (and deserve!) quality amplification. I commend Arendal for not calling them something bogus and vague like “Compatible with 4 and 8-ohm outputs” or something meaningless like that. They’re 4-ohm speakers and Arendal calls them what they are.

These are absolutely honest curves and my hat’s off to Arendal for publishing them.


The Arendal 1961s are definitely first-rate loudspeakers by any standard and all the more remarkable when one takes into account their reasonable price and modest size. I am a 40+-year veteran of the consumer electronics business with extended tenures at Panasonic, Bose, Boston Acoustics, and Atlantic Technology.

I’ve been involved with the conception, design, engineering, and marketing of many of the industry’s best-selling and most highly regarded models. I know what goes into product design, I know what the compromises are, and I can spot when a manufacturer has made the right choices or the wrong choices. I don’t get impressed or carried away by run-of-the-mill products.

I am impressed now. Really impressed. To this veteran’s ears and eyes, the Arendal 1961 Towers are truly special, really way above the norm. Over the years, I’ve seen ‘em all and I’ve heard ‘em all. Arendal should be arrested for offering speakers of this quality for $1799/pair. This is what high fidelity is all about. Perfect? Of course not. A trace of midrange boxiness here and there and less than subterranean bass extension. But these are minor misdemeanors, not major crimes.

I’d like to put the amazing price/performance ratio of the 1961s into a slightly different context: $1,799 is what you might expect to pay for a pair of really good stand-mounted “bookshelf” speakers. There are any number of 5 ¼-inch or 6 ½-inch 2-ways out there for $1,800, $2,200, or even $3,000/pair. And they’re all perfectly good speakers, worth their asking price. But for $1,799, Arendal has given you a set of 5-driver 2 ½-ways with impeccable build quality, beautifully finished, and with great attention to detail (like the rugged outrigger/feet and metal terminal plate and metal binding post knobs). Plus, the 1961s are floorstanders, so you don’t have to buy a set of $300 stands to go with those $2,200 bookshelf speakers.

The 1961s are compact, unobtrusive, built like a tank, have all kinds of small things that surpass your expectations and….they sound great. My wife looked at them next to those huge Legacy Signature SEs and said, “They sound great to me. I wish we had those.” I think the Arendal 1961 sets a new standard for floorstanding speakers around $2000/pr. for smooth, natural sound, great build quality, décor-friendly appearance, and unexpected luxury flourishes. This is an exceptional product.

Reviewed speakers
View original