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Arendal Sound 1961 Tower Listening Impressions & Conclusion


Like many people in this business, I have listened to a lot of speakers over the years. Reviewers and designers alike develop an acute sense of critical hearing when it comes to evaluating a speaker’s sound. In the very recent past, I’ve had some really excellent mid-sized mid–priced floorstanding speakers pass through these parts, such as the Atlantic Technology AT-1, $2500/pr. (Stereophile-recommended for several years, Class B up to $20,000/pr., with their revolutionary H-PAS bass technology), the B&W CM8, $2500/pr., the NHT Classic Four with its dome midrange and ¾-inch dome tweeter $2700/pr., the Paradigm Prestige 75F $3000/pr. and most recently, the RBH Impression Series R-55E, $2000/pr. All of these speakers are similar in size, price and general acoustic quality. I’d be happy to live with any of them on a day-to-day basis.

But they’re not the same. They have their individual character, their strengths and weaknesses, and their particular colorations. Now along comes the Arendal 1961 Tower. How does it stack up, both in an absolute sense considered on its own and in comparison to other speakers of similar size/price that I’ve heard?

The 1961 Series we looked at is a $1799/pr. tower in matte back. For real hi-fi aficionados like Audioholics readers, we’d consider that mid-priced. For the average Joe/Jane on the street whose idea of home music listening is to say, “Alexa, play Allman Brothers,” speakers that cost $1799/pr. are clearly intended only for the lunatic fringe, a relic from another time, incontrovertible proof of the seriously misplaced priorities of anyone who labels themself an “audiophile.”

I used a wide range of contemporary and older CDs, all very well recorded, mostly jazz, pop, and classical. I did not concentrate on super low-frequency material, because the 1961s aren’t subwoofers and they make no claim about having meaningful response much below 40 Hz. I have an SVS 3000SB subwoofer in my system, but for this review, I turned it off and ran the Arendals full-range. I also did a quick A-B with my reference Legacy

Signature SEs, just to get a quick relative gauge on the 1961’s performance against a much larger, more expensive (over four times as expensive, three times the size!) speaker whose performance is well-known and accurately cataloged.

Compared to SE 1 

Unfair comparison: The Arendal 1961s and Legacy Signature SEs

Quincy Jones, Walking in Space

This is a 1969 (!) recording of surprisingly excellent tonal accuracy, with outstanding bass reach and detail. The background tape hiss betrays the 1960s-era vintage of the recording, but everything else is first-rate. This is a studio big band of jazz heavyweights, led by Music Director Jones in a collection of remarkably noteworthy performances. The actual tonal quality is superbly realistic. Grady Tate’s tasteful, swinging drumming throughout is marked by his understated approach, punctuated by instantaneous explosive fills. On a good speaker, you can get a sense of the floor tom’s head resonance in a three-dimensional space and his snare drum rimshots have a distinct feel of ‘air’ and liveliness. Likewise, when properly reproduced, Freddie Hubbard’s Harmon-muted trumpet has great growl and buzz, but it should never get overly edgy or piercing. On the entire album, bassist Ray Brown is all over the place (on both electric and acoustic bass) with melodic runs and fills up and down the bass spectrum. The clarity of the bass and the ability to follow every note no matter how “busy” the band is above the bassline is a major part of this music’s interest.

The 1961s came up big on this album, delivering every bit of excitement, detail, and space that I know is there.

Jones Walking in Space   Williams Civilization 2

Williams is probably best known for his stint as the drummer in the never-equaled-again Miles David Quintet from 1964-1968. This album dates from 1989 and is a particularly terrific recording of one of Williams’ best post-Miles bands. The opening cut, Geo Rose, is noteworthy for the amazing sharpness of Williams’ hi-hats and ride cymbal, and the depth and power of his bass drum. There is a lot of very high-frequency energy on this tune and a speaker with even the slightest tendency towards HF emphasis is going to be a non-starter here.

Once again, the 1961s displayed their excellence. The tune was lively and exciting, but there wasn’t the smallest hint of edginess or shrillness. None. This tune is an extremely difficult tune to reproduce correctly, but there were no complaints on my end. Tough to believe that this kind of sound was coming from a 33-inch-tall speaker, effortlessly filling a 24 x 26-foot room. Switching to the Legacy Signature SEs, sure, you could hear that the reproduction could be deeper and a bit more detailed and spacious, but not that much more! The cliché “Punching above their weight” is trite and over-used. But if ever it applied, it applies here.

Weather Report, Heavy Weather

The jazz fusion group Weather Report is well-known for their many adventurous and creative albums over the years and the non-stop string of outstanding musicians that rotated around the group’s founding core of keyboard player Joseph Zawinul and saxophonist Wayne Shorter. This 1978 version of the group is one of the best, because it features the incredible bass playing of Jaco Pastorius. The tune I used here was Teen Town. A furious, uptempo, syncopated funkfest, this is exciting, pulsating music that typifies Weather Report’s amazing musical energy. It’s very well-recorded also, with Pastorius’ bass and some strong bass drum kicks venturing well below 40Hz. I addition, there are some snare drum transients that you swear are going to deposit the midrange driver in your lap when you play them at an extremely high volume. This cut is 2:51 of non-stop visceral impact.

This was the only cut where the 1961 came up a little short. Jaco’s bass and the kick drum hits were both just a little below the effective lower cutoff of the 1961 and the tune only sounded very good, not great. The Legacy Signature SEs really pulled way ahead on this cut. Back in the 1960s, Acoustic Research (AR) was the leading American speaker brand and their products received one great review after another. Their best speaker was the AR-3a, a 12-inch, 3-way, acknowledged by most critics and reviewers at the time (1967-68) to be about the ‘best’ speaker around for deep bass extension, low distortion, and smooth, linear frequency response. In 1969, AR followed up on the 3a with the AR-5, using the same dome mid and tweeter as the 3a, but with a 10-inch (not 12-inch) woofer in a slightly smaller cabinet and at a lower price. High Fidelity magazine (one of the Big Three magazines of the day that included Stereo Review and Audio) said in their generally favorable review of the AR-5 that (in a large room), ”…the AR-3a sounds like a masterful, authoritative reproducer, while by comparison, the AR-5 sounds like a very good medium-priced speaker.”

That phrase sprang to mind as I switched between the two speakers on Teen Town. This was the only cut that made me really aware of the 1961’s limitations. But if the Legacy Signature SE wasn’t there for direct comparison, the 1961’s limits would’ve been far less noticeable, if at all.

Heavy Weather.jpg.     aja

Steely Dan, Aja
This is a nicely-recorded pop CD, with Steely Dan’s trademark clarity, solid deep bass and crisply-etched vocals. Everyone knows this disc well. In its day, it set a new high-water mark for clarity, spaciousness and bass impact. Even today, only the best speakers can keep Steve Gadd’s explosive drum fills on the title track clear and well-defined under Wayne Shorter’s tenor sax solo. (Plus, your amplifier has got to have the stones to not run out of juice during those loud floor tom fills, especially in a large room like mine. Luckily, no sweat there with the Parasound 2250.) The 1961s did very well here, never losing their composure, even at near-uncomfortably high SPLs. They never got screechy or edgy and maintained a nice warmth and musicality at all times. It was on this album that the 1961s first evidenced that slight trace of midrange boxiness, but it was never objectionable and it was really only evident in the totally unfair comparison with the four-times-as-expensive Legacy Signature SEs.

Lee Ritenhour, Festival

A really terrific recording on the now-defunct GRP label, Festival has the typical GRP sonic signature—superb, natural midrange clarity and astonishingly deep, organic bass. Although much of this album is eminently forgettable, formulaic “smooth jazz,” there is some real musical goodness here too. Especially notable is the track Odile, Odila, a Latin-flavored vocal ditty with an infectious pulse and some really deep bass tones. This cut, played back at a fairly high level on speakers like the 1961s, powered by gobs of ultra-clean, distortion-free Parasound wattage, is truly striking and the sound defines what “high fidelity” is all about. I was shaking my head in disbelief listening to this kind of sound coming from such diminutive, unassuming compact floorstanders like the 1961s.

Ritenhour Festival      Telarc--Firebird

Robert Shaw, Atlanta Orchestra and Chorus, Firebird Suite and music from Prince Igor

The Telarc label had, in my opinion, the very best classical recording quality of any label I’ve heard. A true “audiophile” brand, their recordings have become legendary over the years, especially for deep, natural, uncompressed/unrestricted bass. Who can forget the warning they printed on their “1812” CD, warning the user that the cannon shots went down to 6 Hz and not to play them too loud because you could damage your speakers? But it was the absolutely sonorous, sumptuous quality of their midrange/string sound that really won the day. Gorgeous, organic, realistic sound.

This CD is no exception. The massed coral sound on Polovetsian Dances is stunning, and never gets smeared over or lost in the orchestral mix. The bass drum strikes during the climax of Firebird are majestic. On truly excellent speakers, this recording will send chills down your spine. With the 1961s, I definitely reached for my scarf, even without the 20-40 Hz octave.

Confession: Although I didn’t use my SVS 3000SB subwoofer at all during my time with the 1961s, I just couldn’t resist trying it on this CD with the Arendals. The addition of the sub pushed the 1961’s sound into “Ok, that’s about all I’d ever need” territory,

Melody Gardot My One and Only Thrill


Gardot is one of the “new breed” of female jazz vocalist with a breathy, sensual voice and a commanding musical presence. Her albums are meticulously produced affairs, with well-recorded, natural instrumental backing. My One and Only Thrill is a 2 CD album from 2009; one disc recorded in the studio, the other a segment of a live concert in Paris.

The last cut on the studio disc is “Over the Rainbow.” This is a great rendition of that classic tune and an equally great recording. Taken at mid-tempo with a modern 8th-note semi-funky/Latin-esque feel, it starts with a percussion vamp and then follows with a deep and powerful bass line, before Gardot’s vocals enter the scene. She is very close mic’d, but there isn’t a trace of harshness or grain. The 1961s convey the power and depth of the bass with surprising impact and musicality, and the vocals soar over the instrumental backing with effortless clarity. This is a very demanding recording and the Arendals passed the test with flying colors.

The Vent Plug

Like many manufacturers, Arendal equips these speakers with a vent plug that negates the ported aspect of the design and turns them into a “sealed” speaker. Sealed is not “Acoustic Suspension,” as I wrote in my article, so one wonders why the user has the option to seal the vent at all. Doing so will raise the effective lower cutoff frequency by quite a bit and make the speaker incapable of full-range operation. Some people say that sealing a tower speaker gives it a 12/dB/oct. LF rolloff that is easier to integrate with a subwoofer, and if you’re using a sub, you don’t need the main L & R speakers to go much below 80-100 Hz anyway. In my opinion, this is bogus reasoning. If the main L & R speakers (like these 1961s) can respond strongly down to 40-50 Hz, then you can use a lower LP crossover for your subwoofer. That greatly increases your sub placement options by reducing its localizability, since it’ll be fed only the totally non-directional frequencies below 50-60 Hz. And from a practical standpoint, it makes zero sense to spend good dough on full-range floorstanders and then throw away their bass performance. Most manufacturers, unfortunately, do not give the end user good, complete information on when and why port sealing might be a good idea, nor do most manufacturers give the end user any theoretical information on the difference between ported and sealed, 4th-order vs. 2nd-order low-frequency rolloff, localizability, phase integration between mains and subs, etc. Arendal missed the boat here. There should be more complete info on the pros and cons of vent sealing and also some info on the best way to remove this very tightly wedged-in vent plug.

If I was with Arendal in product development and marketing (and I was in that position for decades at many speaker companies, such as Bose, Boston Acoustics and Atlantic Technology), I simply wouldn’t include vent plugs at all. The 1961s are vented loudspeakers, and damn good ones. Just let them be what they are and don’t confuse the issue.

Editorial Note: by Gene DellaSala

I generally agree with Steve on his sentiments about a port plug on tower speakers. However, IF you are running sealed subs in your system then there can be advantages to sealing the towers to better align LF response IF you aren't bass managing the speakers and running them full range.


First, I need to offer full credit to Arendal. Very few, if any, speaker companies these days publish detailed performance graphs. In the “old days,” when high-fidelity had a huge enthusiast following of knowledgeable, informed hobbyists, many companies did publish performance data, because much of the consumer market could understand and appreciate such information. These days, most people who would’ve owned a good component stereo system in the 1980s had they been 30 years old then have a six-inch long Bluetooth speaker or some other anemic-sounding streaming device. They wouldn’t understand real high-fidelity graphs and charts if they tripped over them.

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.

1961 FR family

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.

1961 impedance

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


1961 hero shotFinally, I just want to restate here what our James Larson said before about the 1723 Monitors, because it certainly holds true for these 1961 Towers. I’ll unashamedly steal his words:

Indeed, by all indications, Arendal has been very successful in the European market. Based on what I have seen in the 1723 Monitors, I believe that if North Americans discover what Europeans have already been shown with these speakers, Arendal will have similar success here. Highly recommended!

--James Larson - Contributing writer, Audioholics

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.

The Score Card

The scoring below is based on each piece of equipment doing the duty it is designed for. The numbers are weighed heavily with respect to the individual cost of each unit, thus giving a rating roughly equal to:

Performance × Price Factor/Value = Rating

Audioholics.com note: The ratings indicated below are based on subjective listening and objective testing of the product in question. The rating scale is based on performance/value ratio. If you notice better performing products in future reviews that have lower numbers in certain areas, be aware that the value factor is most likely the culprit. Other Audioholics reviewers may rate products solely based on performance, and each reviewer has his/her own system for ratings.

Audioholics Rating Scale

  • StarStarStarStarStar — Excellent
  • StarStarStarStar — Very Good
  • StarStarStar — Good
  • StarStar — Fair
  • Star — Poor
Build QualityStarStarStarStarStar
Treble ExtensionStarStarStarStar
Treble SmoothnessStarStarStarStarStar
Midrange AccuracyStarStarStarStar
Bass ExtensionStarStarStarStar
Bass AccuracyStarStarStarStarStar
Dynamic RangeStarStarStarStar
Laika2 posts on February 26, 2023 14:36
They sound very much the same other than bass, I am talking S Towers, Non S THX towers and on THX Monitor so, I have no experience with THX S Monitors.

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.
nigio posts on February 25, 2023 19:15
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.
dutchholic posts on February 23, 2023 22:23
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
Golfx posts on February 23, 2023 16:00
You Sir have a gifted and fun way with the written word. Arendal is fast becoming a go to brand for trusted quality that receives excellent professional reviews.
Danzilla31 posts on February 22, 2023 03:50
dutchholic, post: 1591883, member: 96854
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.
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.
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About the author:
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Steve Feinstein is a long-time consumer electronics professional, with extended tenures at Panasonic, Boston Acoustics and Atlantic Technology. He has authored historical and educational articles for us as well as occasional loudspeaker reviews.

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