Arendal Sound 1961 Tower Speaker Review
- Design: 5-driver, 2 ½-way floorstanding vented (with vent sealed option)
- Crossover: 120 Hz (lower woofers), 1500 Hz (upper woofers in MTM around tweeter)
- Frequency Response: 39 Hz-20 kHz ±3dB vented; 49 Hz-20 kHz ±3dB sealed
- High Frequency Driver: 1.1" (28mm) Silk dome, ferro-fluid cooled, in waveguide
- Low Frequency Driver: (4) 5.5" (140mm) polypropylene cone, rubber surround
- Sensitivity: 87 dB (2.83V @ 1 meter)
- Impedance: 4 ohms
- Recommended Amplifier Power: Up to 350 watts RMS (minimum not specified)
- Finishes: Matte Black or Matte white
- Weight: 40 lbs. (17.9 kg)
- Dimensions: HWD 33 x 6.4 x 11.2” not incl. feet
- Warranty: 10 years
- Smooth overall sound with better-than-expected bass impact from a very compact floorstander
- Solid imaging with excellent inner detail
- Can play very loudly without audibly objectionable distortion
- Beautifully sculpted, useful spike foot set
- Magnetic grille attachment
- HDF cabinet material provides commendable rigidity and inertness
- Very slight “boxiness” on some program material prevents speaker from being totally neutral
- No bi-amp terminals if that is important to you
Arendal Sound is a relatively new speaker company based in Norway that sells direct to the end user, shipping their products across the pond to their U.S. warehouse and from there to their American-based customers. It takes some real stones for a prospective customer to lay down a substantial sum of money to get speakers shipped in from halfway around the world, sight unheard. But Arendal has established itself as a speaker force to be reckoned with and despite the general downturn in the component audio business these days, the company is enjoying some real success. Audioholics has reviewed their 1723 monitor (a large ‘bookshelf’ speaker, with dual 8-inch woofers and a 1.1” tweeter in their proprietary waveguide) and found it to be beyond excellent and the 1723 Tower S, which was similarly great.. Likewise, we’ve reviewed three of their subwoofers (the 1723 2V, the 1723 1S/1V, and the 1961 1S/1V) and found them to be unimpeachable in their engineering execution and superb sonic performance in their respective size/price categories.
As we said in our review of the 1723 Monitors:
Over the past few years, Arendal Sound has been building a reputation as a loudspeaker manufacturer that makes high-performance but affordable home theater-centered speakers. They are a Norwegian company whose main market is Europe, but they ship worldwide, and they are set up to be easily purchased and shipped across the globe. They make THX-certified speakers that look nice enough to not be out of place in an upscale living room. Many of the speakers that have that level of performance married to that level of looks tend to cost a fortune. Arendal’s loudspeakers are not the least expensive out there, but they are shockingly low-priced considering what they promise to bring to the table.
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. As their website says,
“Our products represent a high-value to-performance ratio, and returns are rare. Thus we are very comfortable offering double the standard time you get to spend with our speakers.”
(Ed note: Actually, SVS offers a 45-day trial with their products and there are probably others. Still, Arendal’s 60-day period is laudable.) Their 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. They do say on their website that they prefer sending the user a replacement driver or module, rather than having the customer send the entire unit back to them, which is quite understandable. Although the idea of spending a considerable sum of money on audio products that you’ve never seen, touched, or heard may seem preposterous, Arendal’s website goes a long way towards putting those doubts to rest, with a long string of “consumer-first” statements and policies. This one, to me, was the best:
“We are not the right match for you if you want average products.”
Okay, so that’s a bit of background and context on Arendal and their way of addressing the market. Sounds nice and everything. All the right words. But it’s time to put those nice words to the test.
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. When I got my Legacy Signature SE’s three years ago, I looked at them in my garage, pondering how I was going to get them into the house, thinking the whole time, “What the heck have I done?” (Okay, maybe I didn’t say “heck.”)
Arendal 1961s in garage—manageable size Legacy Signature SEs in garage—what the heck was I thinking?
Removing the security plastic revealed a fairly nondescript kraft carton, refreshingly bereft of any gaudy graphics. Just the model no. and company name. Actually, a bit too plain: An “Open this end first” or some other instruction would have been nice, since the user has no idea how the speaker is oriented inside the carton and thus doesn’t know the best way to unbox them. Nice thick carton walls, however, very rugged.
Plain kraft carton and rugged carton walls
However, I could see from the clear tape running the length of the box (no staples—Yay!) that the speakers are meant to be opened “coffin style,” not from the ends. So I dutifully sliced the tape and opened the carton flaps.
Carton opened “coffin” style
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.
Generous foam packing
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.
Speaker in bag and neatly tied bag closure
Tooled plastic grille
The inside carton foam has a cut-out spot for the spike feet kit. I’d have liked more complete instructions on how to attach the spikes and more identifying pictures with callouts. I could figure everything out easily enough, but a less experienced speaker buyer might be a little confused. There was a cursory mention of “spikes” in the 1961 brochure that came with the speakers, but it was just a very general overview. Arendal needs to provide more complete spike/foot attachment info, with callout pictures, and it needs to be in the spike kit box.
Spike feet box and brochure
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.
Machine screw inserts and foot outrigger
The slot vent at the bottom rear of the cabinet came “pre-sealed,” with a chunk of foam very snugly jammed into the slot vent. There were no instructions on how to remove it (it was so tightly jammed in, I thought I was going to tear it trying to get it out), nor was there any discussion as to why it was there in the first place, why you would or would not want to leave it in the port, etc. I will speak to this subject at length later on when I discuss performance and listening tests, but just from a setup standpoint, the user needs more and better information on why the vent plug is there and how to best remove it.
Vent, with foam ‘sealing’ insert
Right above the slot vent is 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.
Brushed metal terminal plate and beefy metal knobs
From an actual acoustic design standpoint, the 1961 is a 5-driver, 2 ½-way system. There are four 5.5-inch woofers, which Arendal describes as follows:
…long fibre pulp paper with our proprietary coating that ensures covering a wide frequency range from the deepest bass to well above 1500Hz without any hint of cone resonance. The cone material also makes it inherently self-damped which results in a natural sound without coloration throughout the frequency band. The entire surround of the driver is designed to follow the same curvature as our waveguide, so the entire baffle of the speaker has a sleek appearance. No screws or cheap plastic to hide them.
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. Here’s what we said about this tweeter in the 1723 Monitor review:
The tweeter is a 1.1” synthetic soft dome loaded into a circular 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. Arendal’s literature states that the tweeter uses a neodymium ring magnet, copper and aluminum shorting rings, ferrofluid cooling, as well as an aluminum heatsink and a damped rear chamber to mitigate resonances from backwave radiation.
--James Larson - Contributing writer, Audioholics
I will add that although theoretically a 1.1-inch dome will have a CDF (Critical Dimensional Frequency, the point at which a driver becomes dimensional and ‘beams’ its output forward like a flashlight)) of 12,327 Hz compared to a 1-inch dome’s CDF of 13,560 Hz or a ¾-inch dome’s CDF of 18,080 Hz, in a practical sense the difference is far less than a half-octave and the frequency range is so high that there is very little program material there anyway. Plus, Arendal’s well-done waveguide will ameliorate those dispersion differences to a large degree, so overall, this is an extremely well-conceived and well-executed high-frequency section. A lower mid-to-tweeter crossover is definitely worth sacrificing a tad of theoretical dispersion at the (virtually inaudible) extreme high end. This was the right design choice.
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 have 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. It would be expected—and perfectly acceptable—that the drivers would mount into the baffle with four wood screws directly into the MDF. But no—Arendal uses six screws and they fasten into threaded inserts that will never strip out the wood material (remember, Arendal uses HDF, not MDF) the way wood screws will after a while. This is amazing attention to detail and it costs Arendal more money to do it this way. The fascinating thing is that they certainly didn’t need to mount those small 5.5-inch drivers this securely (wood screws would’ve been fine), and with four woofers sharing the bass duties equally, no single woofer is going to be driven that hard and vibrate too much. This kind of “overkill” is the way Arendal does things.
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.
Baffle is 25 mm thick, and uses machine screws with threaded inserts
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.
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.
1723 S Tower crossover (1961 Tower crossover is very similar in layout and componentry)
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.
There should be some clues below BUT so far my favorite setup is THX S Towers and Non S THX full sized center for all but large rooms, towers are clearer as they have a midrange more or less (2.5 way vs 2 way). Looking at the towers (S) and the monitors (Full, non S) you are 500 bucks short, to me this is a no Brainer if you can budget it. Of course we are talking my room and my ears ( and REW). If you disagree, you can ship them back on their dime within 60 days, only downside. Unboxing, reboxing and maybe stairs.
If you must be close to a wall, say 2 feet and have a small room room gain on the S's. is easy to deal with, not as easy with the 1723 but can be done with crossovers and a bit of work.
After playing with them for a year that seems to be the rule, small room and/or close to the walls, S, big room, can pull them away from the walls, non S.
In a small room you will get all the bass you want from the S's. The non S tend to overload a room at higher volumes.
nigio, post: 1592279, member: 94770
How close do you think 1723 vs 1723s are in performance (dynamics,clarity etc) ? I am trying to decide between 1723 monitors + center vs 1723 S monitors + center.
Laika2, post: 1591234, member: 100387
After about 20 mains and centers over the years (many double the price point of Arednals, some 3 x higher)this was my endpoint, have 1723 THX Center and Towers, 1723 THX Rear surrounds, 1723 THX S Towers and S THX Center. Can't say enough great things about them. They do nothing perfect, one would have to spend far more BUT they do everything with excellence, so well balanced any flaws are so minor you really don't notice them. Most speakers in this and higher price ranges I could always single out a flaw I planed to eliminate in my next purchase, one that bugged me with certain material. That has not happened in the two years I have owned these (two setups). The only downside with some music is they do not hide a flawed recording, they don't have that midrange hump that makes even flawed recordings sound good but the upside is most music of all types sound fantastic, the close your eyes and you are there feeling. Darn speakers made me dig out my LP's that have been in storage for 25 years and buy a turntable. Old recordings sound great, I'm hearing such clarity and solid bass that I am enjoying details in music I have never heard before even though I listens to the LP/CD 100's of times. (Background In 4 months Triton 1Rs' to Revel 208's to Arendal 1723 THX Towers and centers,)
How close do you think 1723 vs 1723s are in performance (dynamics,clarity etc) ? I am trying to decide between 1723 monitors + center vs 1723 S monitors + center.
Danzilla31, post: 1591888, member: 85700
As he said at the end of his review Arendal publishes measurements of they're speakers. And since @shadyJ has reviewed the THX line and his measurements matched Arendals own measurements. I'd imagine due to the reviewers age that he decided hoisting those towers up in the air to measure would not be necessary with all the data that was already there.
I can understand the choices he made for the review in thar type of scenario.
I was excited to see this review to see how they perform in the distortion department at certain dB's to see if they are suited for both music and movie watching at loud dB's.
Proper distortion measurements are not provided by Arendal to my knowledge and for me personally it are one of the most important measurements besides frequency response on/off axis(which is provided by Arendal).
Why? Because both of these subjects are really audible and can make or break the sound of a speaker. The lowest possible distortion and the most neutral possible frequency response on and off axis is what I'm always looking for.
But good news guys, I have an update regarding this: at Google I found some great distortion and other measurements of this speaker. Looks great for it's pricerange so it's a nice advertisement for Arendal. So if you guys are looking for an addition to this nice review with proper measurements, just Google it
dutchholic, post: 1591883, member: 96854As he said at the end of his review Arendal publishes measurements of they're speakers. And since @shadyJ has reviewed the THX line and his measurements matched Arendals own measurements. I'd imagine due to the reviewers age that he decided hoisting those towers up in the air to measure would not be necessary with all the data that was already there.
Looks like a great speaker and I would even say: a great speaker brand for it's pricepoint.
But with all due respect, this review disappoints me. I would really like to see (distortion) measurements as detailed as possible. Subjective reviews can be found everywhere, independent measurements not.
I can understand the choices he made for the review in thar type of scenario.
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