Ribbon-tweeter speakers have seen a renaissance in the last few years. I used to own a set of Apogee Centaurs in the 1990s. I still use the Legacy Focus 20/20s, which combines a ribbon and titanium done for high frequency, and the powered Adam S3As and the no-longer-made Genelec S30Ds are great loudspeakers. The AAD (American Acoustic Development) Model 7001i tested here is in a class all by itself. Its small size, advanced ribbon tweeter design and incredible bass from a small enclosure make it comfortable in recording studio/mastering control rooms or an audiophile's living room. It ain't cheap at $12,500 per pair but those with some jingle in their pocket (or maybe plastic in their wallet), will not mind the price.
The 7001i was designed by AAD Founder Phil Jones, a noted speaker designer who designed the Acoustic Energy AE-1, Boston Acoustics Lynnfield 300 and 500 monitors, the critically-acclaimed Platinum Audio Solo and Reference One speakers, and AAD 2001. He went into business on his own in 1998, making high- performance, budget-priced hi-fi and home theater speakers. The 7001i, however, is something else. The AAD 7001i utilizes a neodymium magnet horn ribbon tweeter for the midrange/high frequencies and a 5.25" front mounted bass driver coupled to a 6.5" rear-mounted passive radiator. The 12dB/octave crossover operates at 3kHz Factory rated specifications include a 25Hz to 60kHz, frequency response (+/-2dB). Impedance is 8 Ohms nominal. Internal wiring is from Transparent Audio.
The enclosure should be a lesson in speaker inertness. The baffle and rear panel are made of 0.5" aluminum with the rest of the cabinet constructed of 1.5" MDF. Inside, 1/8-inch lead sheets line the cabinet walls to add that extra rigidity to make sure those blurring resonances are totally eliminated. Yes sir, this is one heavy cabinet weighing more than 70 pounds each. Dimensions are 16.5" tall by 16.5" front to back and 9" wide. The speaker's rear panel includes extra large binding posts and removable jumpers for bi-wiring. Cabinet finishes include stained cherry, flamed maple and black gloss lacquer.
Ribbon tweeter designs often have a seductive sounding, pleasing quality in the ear's most sensitive frequencies, but not a lot of extension in the high treble. The AAD ribbon, however, has been spec'd to 60kHz, which means it can deliver well over 20kHz quite easily. Incidentally, the internal crossover sports the best parts available including wire wound resistors, polypropylene caps and air-core inductors.
Despite the small driver size and the smallish vertical height of the cabinet The key to the 7001i's bass performance is the cabinet's front-to-back proportions combined with a long excursion woofer/passive radiator tandem that are said to deliver audible bass to 25Hz. Passive radiators are non-active voice-coil woofers that operate from the pressure inside of the cabinet. In my opinion, the cabinet tuning combined with the moving passive woofer cone make for tighter and deeper sounding bass than a typical port. I have always been a big fan of passive radiator systems. Note that AAD designs and manufactures their own technology "in-house" and does not have to outsource for its drivers, cabinets etc. like many other speaker companies. As for internal cabling…
"Everyone understands using high quality cabling 'to the speaker' is very important when you start getting into speakers capable of extremely high levels of resolution", states chief designer Phil Jones on the AAD website. "By using the highest performance cabling inside our speakers we've just taken the next logical performance step and carried that level of sonic quality through the speaker directly to the voice coil for the absolute lowest resistance the purest signal transmission possible.
The new internal cabling, developed jointly by AAD and Transparent Audio, uses an ultra-low noise Teflon dielectric with the purest grade oxygen-free copper in a multi-strand construction. AAD states that even though the cable used inside our 7001i and Silver Reference loudspeakers, in most cases, will actually be 'better' than what the customer has running from the amplifier to the speaker, the end result for that customer will still be a substantial sonic improvement overall."
The AAD sites provides more details by saying this decision did not come about lightly or quickly but after some very long listening sessions and debate, I know it's the right thing to do for our loudspeakers and our customers, according to Jones, who says "Giving the most performance to the customer for their money is something I take very personally."
Because of the size and weight, AAD recommends heavy-duty stands, the company shipped along a pair of AAD's custom 21-inch stands, which are made from heavy-duty aluminum and can be filled with sand for optimum floor decoupling. The base plates are custom sized to fit the 7001i loudspeakers. The stands are included as part of the speaker package.
When I received the 7001is, my first observation was the sheer weight of such a small speaker at about 70 pounds; they are heavy. I also noticed the quality. The inert cabinet, the finish, the smooth aluminum front and rear and rear baffles, the exquisite binding posts — all reminded me this was a $12,000-plus speaker system. I set up the AADs in my listening room in a couple of different arrangements; I first placed them free standing in the middle of the room on the supplied stands about seven feet apart, angled in slightly. I also used them in my home recording studio as closefield monitors. Placed on my Apollo custom stands about five feet apart in front of a console. The speakers were placed eight to 12-inches from the back wall.
In the first setup, I connected the 7001is to different amplifiers to get a read on how they sounded with a variety of designs. Amps included a Pass Labs MOSFET X350.5 (350 wpc), the bipolar output Bryston 14B SST (600 wpc), a new Pass Labs XA30.5 30-watt Class A MOSFET amplifier, a set of Rogue Audio M-120 cathode-biased KT-88 tube amplifiers, two-channels of a cost-effective Parasound surround amplification and Nelson Pass' wonderful First Watt F3, a singled-ended solid-state (MOSFET again) 7-wpc stereo unit.
Preamps included the ultra-transparent Legacy/Coda High current preamp, Pass Model 99 tube preamp, Audio-by-Van Alstine FET Valve and a Bel Canto Pre-6. Audio sources included my Esoteric Audio DV-50 universal DVD-A/SACD/CD player with upsampling PCM converter, TASCAM DVRA-1000 DVD-R high-resolution DSD/PCM recorder and several DACs, including Benchmark DAC1 USB and the Lavry DA10. I linked the speakers and amps with Alpha-Core solid silver speaker cables, Alpha Core solid silver balanced and unbalanced preamp-to-amp interconnects and Westlake Low PE component interconnects. AC was routed through an Alpha-Core balanced power distribution box (preamp and sources) and a Shumyata Hydra box handled the amp AC.
For comparison I listened to a number of speaker systems, including a pair of Legacy Focus 20/20s, Legacy Studios, Lipinski L-505s, and Westlake LC-8.1s. The Studios, L-505 and Westlake are all closefield monitors. Normally, I burn in a pair of new speakers for a week or so, but these speakers had been demo'd plenty of times before I got them, so I got into them right out of the gate. Initial listening was done via the Pass X350.5 amplifier. I immediately went to high-resolution music with the Anthony Wilson Trio, a Groove Note SACD [GR1008-3], of hollow body jazz guitar, bass guitar, drums and Hammond B3 organ. The SACD delivered up warm, detailed jazz guitar with the excellent percussion transients and an organic fullness of the Hammond organ and jazz guitar; it is very much a live sounding recording that the 7001is showcased quite convincingly.
The 7001i did an incredible job of reproducing the various cuts from the SACD. Warm upper bass, dimensional cymbal transients and amazing depth and width in the stereo image. The inertness of the cabinet resulted in a total lack of color in the bass or in the midrange. I put several brass SACDS to see how the ribbon tweeter reproduced the high modulated trumpet and trombone recordings. Very real reproduction with those complex horn harmonics, but no ear grit I have heard with dome tweeters, especially titanium domes.
Accurate piano reproduction is the tell-tell sign of cabinet design. Coloration added by the poorly designed, poorly braced cabinet often brings out a hollow ringing tone that is not accurate. The 7001is relayed the piano of Steve Davis Quality of Silence SACD [DMP SACD-04] as well as I have heard piano. The tinkle in the upper register combined with the room reverb of the recording could be heard plainly — just like my reference Legacy 20/20s towers. Jazz piano fans should really like these speakers.
On classical recordings, the ribbon tweeter made violins come alive, revealing the subtle bowed textures of Jascha Heifetz on the CBS Living Stereo SACD of Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D. The richness of the cello was also evident when I played the Mercury Living Presence [SACD 470-644-2] Janos Starker Bach: Suites for Solo Cello. I played a number of pop SACDs and DVD-Audios including Toby Keith's Shock ‘N Y'all dual-disc [Dreamworks 80004529-82] at 24-bit/96kHz. This is a very open and dynamic pop recording. Keith's rich voice and the country rock production make for a lively, but not harsh listening experience. I could not get over how much deep bass Phil Jones gets out of these small drivers.
Yes' Fragile DVD-Audio [Warner-R978249] also sounded as good as I ever heard it, revealing the extra separation from the 24-bit/96 kHz remaster. The dimensionally of the opening acoustic guitar intro to "Roundabout" is rendered very accurately by the 7001i. Speaking of acoustic guitar, the AAD's ability to reproduce those tones and frequencies was clearly shown by my own 24-bit recordings of a vintage Martin D-35 (using a True P2 Mic Preamplifier fed into Benchmark A/D into a TASCAM DVRA-1000 recorder). I could hear that little tinge of room reverb decay, and the finger squeaks were as real as a recording could be.
Compared to the lower-priced Westlakes, Legacy Studios and the Lipinski's, the AADs had a bigger, wider soundstage, deeper bass below 30Hz. But for $12,000, you would expect the 7001i to have an advantage over the lower cost speakers. However, the AAD's ribbon tweeter does have that classic lack of vertical dispersion when you move your head above the transducer. Stay in the sweet spot at ear level, and it is fine. Off-axis dispersion is not a problem, which is why it makes a good recording studio monitor as well.
In my small basement studio, I configured the AADs on my Apollo speaker stands at the ends of my Trident analog console, the 7001is were a wonderful mixing or editing tool with the Trident mixer or the Macintosh computer DAW playback monitoring (digital audio workstation). The midbass got a little bit emphasized when placing the speakers too close to the wall, but moving them out to about a foot cured that.
For comparison purposes, I did listen to the AAD versus my Legacy 20/20 towers, the $8,000 six driver Focus, have some sonic advantages including louder deep bass (what do you expect from three 12-inch long-throw woofers) and bit of extra transient shimmer due to the ribbon/titanium tweeter top-end. I imagine, however, if you combine the AAD with a subwoofer to handle the low bass SPL, the margin between the two different speakers shrinks.
By the way, the AAD stands are incredible stout and a necessary part of this system. The speaker's mass requires a heavy-duty stand that cannot be tipped or knocked over. This speaker would hurt if it landed on your foot.
The AAD $12,000 7001i is top-of-class small high-end speaker that speaks with accurate finesse, detail and can put out surprising amount of low bass for such a small bass drivers. Since this is my first exposure to AADs, I would like to hear the lower cost versions to see how they compare to the competition. This speaker shows what you can do at with higher price limits.
John Gatski is a long-time audiophile equipment tester and is founding editor and current publisher and executive editor of Pro Audio Review magazine.
Type: Reference monitor loudspeaker
Tweeter: Horn loaded ribbon tweeter with neodymium magnet
Midrange/Woofer: 5.25" aluminum cone with 50mm voice coil and neodymium magnet.
Passive Radiator: 6.5"
Frequency Response: 25Hz to 60kHz (+/-2dB)
Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
Power Handing: Up to 300 watts
Dimensions: 16.5" x 9.8" x 16.5" (HxWxD)
Net Weight: 77 lbs.
Standard Finish: Piano Black or Cherry
Optional Finish: Aquamarine Tiger Blue Maple
Price: $12,500 per pair (stands Included)