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Arendal 1961 Monitor Loudspeaker Review

by April 21, 2023
Arendal 1961 Monitor Speaker

Arendal 1961 Monitor Speaker

  • Product Name: 1961 Monitor
  • Manufacturer: Arendal Sound
  • Performance Rating: StarStarStarStarStar
  • Value Rating: StarStarStarStarStar
  • Review Date: April 21, 2023 13:35
  • MSRP: $ 1,999/pair shipped
  • Buy Now
  • Frequency response: 73-20,000Hz (±3db) Woofer: 2 x 5.5”
  • Tweeter: 28mm
  • Crossover frequency: 1,500Hz
  • Enclosure: sealed, high-density fiberboard
  • Impedance: 4-ohm nominal
  • Sensitivity: 87dB/2.83v/1m
  • Finishes:  black matte, white matte
  • Size (W x H x D): 16.7” x 6.4” x 5.9” / 42.5H cm x 16.3W cm x 15.0D cm
  • Weight: 23 lbs. (7.25kg)


  • Excellent response neutrality
  • Wide dynamic range
  • Great build quality
  • Relatively small sized
  • Very reasonably priced


  • Does need subwoofer


1961 mtm21The Arendal 1961 Monitor is Arendal’s second least-expensive stand-mount loudspeaker: not cheap, but not super-expensive either at $1100/pair. Arendal impressed us very much in our review of their 1723 Monitor, their flagship stand-mount speaker, so we have decided to take a look at what they bring to the entry-level end of their monitors. We also wanted to take a look at what the stand-mount end of 1961 line could do after having been deeply impressed by the 1961 Tower Speakers.  ‘Monitor’ is somewhat strange wording here, but Arendal had to classify it as something, and they didn’t want to call it a bookshelf speaker, presumably to avoid confusion with their stand-mount speakers that only have one woofer, which is the form factor that most people think of for the phrase ‘bookshelf speaker.’ The word ‘monitor’ has some ambiguity in the loudspeaker industry; the word seems to derive from studio speakers that sound engineers would use to monitor the sound mix, but any functioning speaker is capable of that (although an accurate loudspeaker is usually required to do the job well). I just consider it a large stand-mount speaker, although it can easily be mounted on a wall using its VESA 100 mounts or its keyhole mount bracket. Regardless of whatever you want to call it, its use is clear, and in this review, we will look at how well it attempts to accomplish its intended function.

Packing and Appearance

The Arendal 1961 Monitors box arrived wrapped in a thick plastic jacket with the edges covered in security tape. Within the box, the speakers were nested in thick foam blocks with a center block supporting piece. The speakers were covered in cotton fabric sleeves to protect them against moisture and scuffs. Overall, the packing is very good as we have come to expect from Arendal.

1961 mtm box       1961 MTM packing

Once unboxed, the 1961 Monitors present themselves as some nice, clean-looking stand-mount speakers. They can be had in black or white matte finishes, and I received them in white. The finish is of a good quality- not as satiny as the 1723 matte finishes but still smooth. Some aspects that contribute to the clean appearance are the slight rounding of all edges and corners as well as trim rings around the driver frames to hide the screws. The woofers have a smooth concave geometry that also adds to the clean, uncluttered styling, and the spherical geometry of the tweeter waveguide assists in this respect as well. All of this detail can be hidden by the grille, which blanks out the front of the speaker, but I do think the 1961 Monitors look better without the grille. As stand-mount speakers, they are relatively tall, and that might draw some attention over typical bookshelf speakers, but the clean styling does a lot to alleviate that. Thanks to the rear-mounting elements, they can also be used as on-wall speakers, but they would protrude out a bit versus other in-wall speakers because of their 6” depth.

1961 mtm w grilles3      1961 mtm

I think that their simple, clean styling would make them a good fit in a wide variety of environments, and even more upscale interiors. The industrial design here is sensible and restrained, and I can’t see many people having problems with their aesthetics.

Design Analysis

The 1961 Monitor is a stand-mount or wall-mounted speaker for instances where users want a bit more dynamic range than the usual bookshelf speaker but do not want a full tower speaker. A speaker like this would be good for a small dedicated home theater or a moderately-sized living room setup. They might also do well as side or rear surrounds in a moderately large home theater. The inclusion of the second woofer really helps, because the woofers in the 1961 series aren’t very large. It uses 5.5” diameter woofers, but a 5.5” woofer only has about ⅔ the cone area of a 6.5” driver. However, two 5.5” woofers have almost as much cone area as an 8” woofer. The advantage of using multiple smaller woofers over a single large woofer is that the smaller woofers can reach higher frequencies with a lot more linearity than large cones. Since the 1961 Monitors have a 1,500Hz crossover frequency, that wouldn’t be a huge advantage, but it’s nice to know that any bending or break-up mode of the cones is being filtered out well below any point where they could become even slightly problematic. Another advantage of multiple smaller drivers over one large driver is that the system now has multiple motors to help disperse heat instead of a single motor, and that can help to reduce heat-related problems like thermal compression.

1961 mtm woofer

The woofer cones themselves are made from a long fiber pulp with a proprietary coating, and such a composition should be light, stiff, and well-damped. The motor is designed extensively with FEA modeling for high excursion without sacrificing a lot of sensitivity. A great deal of work was put in not just modeling the electromagnetic circuit but also the suspension components and the result is a 5.5” woofer with 6.5mm of one-way linear throw, an excellent level of linear excursion for the size. Arendal uses an aluminum voice coil instead of copper. While copper is more conductive than aluminum, it is significantly heavier, and Arendal has determined that the greater conductivity is not worth the weight penalty. Arendal has used copper in the shorting ring to combat induction-related nonlinearities. Many manufacturers use aluminum for shorting rings since copper is more expensive, but copper is more effective towards this end, so these decisions were driven by achieving performance targets rather than cost-cutting.

1961 mtm tweeter2

The tweeter is a 1.1” synthetic soft dome loaded into a spherical aluminum waveguide. The waveguide should help control dispersion by constricting the lower end of the tweeter’s band but also widening the high end. This is done so that the dispersion remains more consistent than what normally occurs for dome tweeters without a waveguide, which is a very wide dispersion at their lower end that ends up becoming narrow at the top of the tweeter’s frequency range. The 1961 tweeter has most of the same design features as the 1723 series, including copper and aluminum shorting rings, ferrofluid cooling, an aluminum heatsink, and a damped rear chamber to mitigate resonances from backwave radiation. The one respect in which it departs is that the 1723s use neodymium magnets while the 1961s use ferrite. Neodymium is much more powerful for the same mass, but it is also far more expensive. Manufacturers can still make a powerful motor magnet out of ferrite, but it takes a lot more of it.

1961 mtm rear panel2As we stated before, the crossover frequency between the woofers and the tweeter is 1,500Hz. This is accomplished by using fourth-order filters between the woofers and the tweeter. Fourth-order crossovers require a very beefy crossover circuit to achieve that sharp 24dB/oct slope. There is also a first-order high-pass filter on the woofers to protect them from being over-driven. On the subject of driver integration, the MTM (midwoofer-tweeter-midwoofer) arrangement of the drivers will make vertical placement important here, because MTM loudspeakers tend to have a lot of off-axis cancellation on the plane where the drivers are aligned. That means users will want to set up the speakers so that the tweeters are aimed at the listeners’ ear level. If the tweeter is aimed too high or low with respect to the listeners’ ears, there will be a major deficit of energy in the woofer’s bandwidth, which happens to be a very important frequency range. We will take a close look at how much vertical coverage this speaker offers in the measurements section.

The enclosure is sealed, so the 1961 Monitors are definitely going to want to be paired with a subwoofer. Sealed enclosures do not normally produce much deep bass, especially in loudspeakers with so much cone surface area relative to the box size. Arendal makes it pretty clear that these are intended to be used with a sub on their product page, so that shouldn’t be a problem for anyone. The cabinets are made from high-density fiberboard (HDF) rather than MDF. HDF is a tougher material that will likely last a lot longer than MDF. It does give these speakers a heft at 23 lbs. The front baffle is 1” thick and the side-panels are ¾” thick. The cabinet is jam-packed with acoustic stuffing, so there shouldn’t be much problem with internal panel resonances. There are no feet, but Arendal provides some soft rubber adhesive pads that can be optionally applied.

There is a keyhole-slot-mount for those who want to put the 1961 Monitors on the mount with a simple screw, or users can also use the VESA mount holes for more flexibility and angling in their on-wall mount positioning. There is a slot underneath the binding post plate where wire can be routed for mounting them flush against the wall. VESA mounts can allow these speakers to be mounted high and angled, and that can come in handy for systems for height channels, but ceiling mounting is not possible.

The grilles are curved plastic pieces that have acoustically transparent fabric draped with a perforated lattice. They will probably cause some mild acoustic diffraction but likely not enough to impact the sound in any significant way. They use magnetic adhesion to stick on the front baffle, and you do have to give them a good pull to remove them. The curvature plus the lattice structure really enable the grilles to protect the speaker diaphragms. It wouldn’t be easy to damage the drivers when the grilles are applied.

1961 Monitor plate badge2 

The overall design looks promising for a stand-mount speaker with a wide dynamic range, but let’s now see if the 1961 Monitors live up to their promise in some real-world use…

Listening Sessions

In my 24’ by 13’ (approximately) listening room, I set up the speakers with a few feet of stand-off distances between the back wall and sidewall and an equal distance between the speakers and the listening position. I angled the speakers to face the listening position. The listening distance from the speakers was about 9 feet. Processing was handled by a Marantz 7705, and amplification was handled by the Monoprice Monolith 5x200. The speaker stands were some Monoprice Monolith 24-inch Steel Stands. Equalization was used but not automated room correction equalization. The subwoofer used was a Hsu Research VTF-15h mk2.

Music Listening

A magnificent recent release from Caroline Shaw and the Attacca Quartet entitled “Evergreen” provides a shining example of a beautifully recorded vocal. In addition to being an award-winning composer and violinist (she is the youngest recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Music and also has a Grammy), Shaw is a talented singer as well. This album serves as an exquisite demonstration of her singing and songwriting skills. All of the compositions are hers, and she performs alongside the Attacca Quartet in a handful of these pieces. This outstanding release from the Nonesuch Label is superbly produced, and I streamed it in hi-res on Qobuz.

The first three pieces in this album are a trio of essays played by the Attacca Quartet with no vocals. The definition of the instruments and their imaging was presented terrifically by the 1961 Monitors. I could hear the viola leaning to the left of the soundstage and the cello leaning to the right, but the action took place mostly around the center stage. Shaw’s singing comes in on the fourth track, and her voice is imaged dead center of the soundstage. Her high alto range voice has a smooth, rounded quality that is exceptionally easy on the ears, and the 1961 Monitors articulated this gorgeous recording of her voice with clarity. One striking moment was the impassioned peak in track 6, “Other Song,” which contrasted the gentle, delicate passages that preceded and followed it. Shaw’s voice soared with intensity and then fell to nearly a whisper, and the 1961 Monitors tracked these dramatic changes with equanimity. Many other moments in this album share this transition from calm to explosive and back to calm, and the dynamic range of these speakers delivered the intent of these passages with ease. The last track, “Cant voi l’aube,” gives a beautiful demonstration of Shaw’s control over pitch, and the 1961 Monitors exhibit this quality with aplomb. “Evergreen” demonstrated the 1961 Monitor’s proficiency with a solitary human voice, at least in Shaw’s range, and I was eager to see what else it was capable of.

Evergreen     Mattaus Passion

There are many good recordings of Bach’s St Matthew Passion, but one recent release has garnered much acclaim, so I decided to give it a listen on the 1961 Monitors. “J.S.Bach: St. Matthaus-Passion, BWV 244” was released on the reliably good Harmonia Mundi label in March of 2022. It was performed by the Pygmalion Ensemble orchestra and Maitrise de Radio France choir and conducted by Raphael Pichon. This is a sumptuous treatment of the St Matthew Passion and is a terrific album to see what a sound system can do for classical music. I also streamed this from Qobuz in a 96kHz/24-bit resolution.

The famous opening was gorgeously recreated by the 1961 Monitors, and the complex layering of the choral elements was deftly woven together without blending into ambiguity. This is a large-scale performance in a symphonic hall, and so the soundstage is fairly broad but not very precise for instrumental sections, but single performers imaged with excellent precision. One good example is the recitative between the Evangelist, Jesus, and Judas in track 26; each has their distinct position within the soundstage, and the 1961 Monitors conveyed that scene as if the singers were standing on a stage in front of me. Indeed, the speakers transported me to the performance space; it sounded like I was sitting in the best seat in a concert hall for this performance. Tonally, everything sounded natural, human voices and instruments alike. This recording would be good for spotting tonal aberrations since it uses so many singers and instruments that cover so wide of a tonal range, but I never heard anything off or odd. The choir and lead singers were given prominence over instrumental playing, a sensible choice by the recording’s sound engineers, so they were easier to scrutinize. I didn’t listen to this album at live levels, but during certain moments I did crank the volume to get a taste of what the 1961 Monitors could do at loud levels. They didn’t seem to break a sweat even during choral crescendos, and they could certainly stay clean at a louder level than I would listen to this album at for more than a few moments. This is the kind of dynamic range I have come to expect from Arendal. I enjoyed this performance of “St Matthew Passion,” and the 1961 Monitors were not at all lacking for a recording of such high quality. I am sure classical music lovers would be quite pleased with these speakers’ capability. 

“Hinterland” by Strange Cargo (an alias of William Orbit with some vocals by Beth Orten) has long been a favorite album of mine ever since its release in 1995. It was a rare electronic pop music release with high production values. Most electronic music from the mid-90s was dance music made in bedroom studios, but William Orbit had been producing polished, professional music since the early 80s and owned and operated a commercial studio by the mid-90s, so he had a leg up on many other artists producing in this genre. The result is the lush, clean sound exemplified in “Hinterland.” The music itself is dark and moody and not easy to classify; calling it ‘electronic pop’ music is far too glib for the rich atmospheres that Orbit conjures. The music structure is somewhere between pop music and house music, but the sound resembles the score for the hippest science fiction movie that was never made in the 90s. It’s a great listen on a hi-fi stereo system.

The first thing I noticed was, again, how superlative the 1961 Monitors could image. Lead instruments were dead center of the soundstage, with various percussion instruments leaning left or right and atmospheric effects swirling around the soundstage like phantoms. The soundstage presented by the speakers was enveloping and panoramic, which is exactly what it should be for this album. A terrific example of that occurs on track 2, “She Cries Your Name,” where a vocal emanates from the center, and ambient synths wash over the width of my listening room. More fun synths come in on track 4 where a pulsating square wave generates a strong reverb that bounces back and forth between the left and right sides of the stage. The 1961 Monitors did a great job in demonstrating the clean and superb manner in which this album was produced; I expected to find some seams in giving them a critical listen but didn’t hear anything that gave away the limitations of recording and mixing techniques of the era. If this album was released today, I don’t think anyone would realize it was made 28 years ago, a time before studios had gone through the full digital transition where all mixing and mastering is now happening on a PC with the Pro Tools software suite. All the instruments sounded crisp and clear, whether those instruments were electronic or acoustic. I had a lot of fun revisiting “Hinterland,” and hearing it on such a high-fidelity sound system uncovered new aspects of this music that I hadn’t noticed before. The 1961 Monitors turned out to be a great vehicle to give a fresh presentation to this old favorite.

Hinterland   Acid Disk 2

To see how the 1961 Monitors could handle something a lot more rambunctious, I threw on “Acid Disk 2” by G Jones and EEPROM. This is electronic bass music mixed to a very loud level so that the full scale of the digital signal is almost always heavily compressed and maxed out. The music itself takes many of the sounds of classic house music and overlays that into drum’n’bass breakbeats, but the rhythms are heavily cut-up and syncopated, so this isn’t really danceable but rather just ear candy that plays with rave music conventions. It is very aggressively mixed and will exhibit the limitations of any weak system when played at a loud level, so I set out to see how the 1961 Monitors could withstand this attack…

I cranked the volume, and right away I knew these speakers had a very healthy dynamic range. Some of the tracks on this album use a squelchy Roland TB-303-inspired sound, much like the classic techno and acid house tracks that it is paying homage to, and on the 1961 Monitors, this crunchy bassline positively shredded. Likewise, percussion sounds rapidly burst with a visceral impact. Hats and cymbals sizzled and cracked with searing intensity, while toms and snares snapped and popped like automatic machine gun fire. A particularly fun and bizarre track was “Flex Acid,” which was an intricately sequenced acid-house bassline that was arranged into a highly-syncopated composition itself with hardly any percussive accompaniment. The last track served as an anthem for this album of modern electronic music with old-school motifs, and it sounded alive and vibrant on the 1961 Monitors. Throughout the album, I never heard anything resembling distortion or compression, and the speakers retained their composure for its duration. These speakers can hit hard, and they can do so cleanly. They can be used for loud music easily, but just make sure you have a good sub that can keep up with them.

While I didn’t hear any deficiency in mid-bass while listening with a sub, it can be hard to tell what the bass capability of the speaker alone would be like when it is paired with a sub as capable as my Hsu Research VTF-15h mk2. While there is no official classification of what is considered low-bass, mid-bass, and upper bass, I would say that mid-bass starts at around 70Hz because of the difference in sensation that these frequency ranges seem to have. That means that with a typical 80Hz crossover frequency, the main speakers are going to be responsible for the vast majority of the mid-bass range. To get a better sense of their bass capability, I re-listened to some tracks with the sub off and the speakers running full range. The mid-bass capability was certainly there, although low-bass was mostly absent. That is what I would expect and hope for in a speaker like this which was built to be used with a sub; trade low-frequency extension for mid-bas dynamic range.

Movie Watching

I had been mildly interested in the 2016 comedy “The Nice Guys” since its release but never made a concerted effort to see it since there have always been other movies that were more accessible. It recently arrived on Netflix, and I figured that it would be a good opportunity to see what the 1961 Monitors could do for a big-budget Hollywood movie. The movie is about a barely functioning alcoholic private eye played by Ryan Gosling who is hired to investigate the disappearance of an adult movie star in 1977 Los Angeles. In typical noir fashion, the job becomes labyrinth and murky when more murders impede his investigation, and the situation is complicated by partnering up with another private eye, played by Russel Crowe, whose methods are much more blunt. As a movie written and directed by Shane Black, the dialogue should be fast, witty, and vulgar, so this movie should be a great evaluation tool for dialogue intelligibility.

“The Nice Guys” turned out to be a lot of fun. The film’s highlight was the snappy patter between Crowe and Gosling, and all of the banter was crystal clear on the 1961 Monitors. Also clear was the music score which was a mixture of original work by John Ottman and David Buckley along with funk, disco, and soul tracks taken from the era by artists such as The Temptations, Kool and the Gang, and Earth, Wind, and Fire. The original music was the kind of jazzy funk that would have been heard in cop movies of the 70s, and it sounded great on the 1961 Monitors. The car chases and shoot-outs were reproduced with exuberance. I was hoping for at least one really good sustained car chase a la “The French Connection” or “Bullit,” especially from a movie about a conspiracy centering on the automotive industry, but we did get to see some car action, although it was mostly just drunk driving accidents. The 1961 Monitors recreated the sounds of late 70s Los Angeles along with its colorful characters with detail and vitality. “The Nice Guys” is an entertaining movie and deserves to be seen with a good sound system like what Arendal has provided here.

The Nice Guys     Gretal and Hansel

One movie that looked like it could have an interesting sound design is the 2020 horror film “Gretel and Hansel.” I hadn’t seen it, but it looked to be more on the atmospheric and abstract side of horror, which is always a rich vein for sound engineers to mine. The movie’s plot is an artistic and adult variation of the old Germanic fairy tale that was popularized by “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” in the early nineteenth century. Two young siblings are forced to fend for themselves in a forest after running away from home due to their mother’s madness. They find an inviting but eccentric older lady who offers them a feast in her home, but they find out that she has less-than-altruistic motives. As the title indicates, this does put a spin on the old fairy tale, not surprising coming from director Oz Perkins who has been involved in a host of clever modern horror films including the brilliant possession film, “The Blackcoats Daughter.”

“Gretel and Hansel” had a highly stylized visual motif as well as a distinctive soundtrack. The movie was more psychedelic than I was expecting, and the dreamlike atmosphere was greatly facilitated by the sound mix. This elaborate sound mix was beautifully rendered by the 1961 Monitors, and the subtle echoes and whispers that underscored many of the more surreal passages were soft yet still clear with this sound system. The imaging abilities of the speakers gave these scenes an almost surround sound sensation, and one example was when the children, desperate in hunger, decide to eat some mysterious mushrooms in the forest and suffer an intense hallucinatory episode. Dream sequences and realms of magic also cause the soundtrack to shift into a phantasmagorical gear, and the 1961 Monitors conveyed the waking dream effect intended by the sound engineers. The ominous score by Robert Coudert was recreated with chilling force; it was a mixture of analog electronics and primitive acoustic instruments that invoked the primeval magic aura of the setting. To add to the effect of an age-old tale, the dialogue uses antiquated phrasing, but its intelligibility was always distinct and unmistakable on the 1961 Monitors. Much like Perkin’s previous movies, “Gretel and Hansel” exceeded my expectations, and it was well-served by such a capable sound system.

About the author:

James Larson is Audioholics' primary loudspeaker and subwoofer reviewer on account of his deep knowledge of loudspeaker functioning and performance and also his overall enthusiasm toward moving the state of audio science forward.

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