SB Acoustics is not a familiar name to many Audiophiles although they are one the largest OEM speaker suppliers in the world. A collaboration between Danesian Audio of Denmark and Sinar Bajar Electric in Indonesia, SB Acoustics brings affordable and technologically advanced speaker drivers to the market by marrying the considerable design experience of Danesian and Sinar Bajar's 27 years of transducer manufacturing.
Manufacturing in Surabaya, Indonesia would result in certain cost efficiencies, and the lucky beneficiaries are cash-strapped audiophiles like you and I ! It's well worth to have a look at the factory visit done by AudioXpress to find out more about their manufacturing quality (Link here).
The Ara is sold overseas as a kit, but available in Singapore in fully assembled form. My review sample came in Gloss White, and has a visually interesting cabinet, with a chamfered corner (mirror-imaged for each pair), and a backward tilt of about 7 degrees which time aligns the drive units. The cabinet is very well made (18mm thick MDF panels), with a single pair of sturdy binding posts and magnetically attached protective grills - no DIY or homemade looking kit here.
The Ara is a bass-reflex design with a rear port with a flared opening. The standard Ara kit comes with the Ring Dome Satori TW29R tweeter and Satori MW16P-4 woofer. An option is also available to swap out the tweeter for the top-of-the-range Satori Beryllium tweeter. The crossover circuits are slightly different though, so it would be best that you make your selection at the outset.
The speaker crossover is a 12 element design and comes fully assembled on a PCB that fits at the bottom of the cabinet. Crossover parts are decent, with all capacitors being Jantzen cross cap metallized polypropylene capacitors, save for a single electrolytic capacitor. The large inductors are air-core, while sand-cast resistors are used throughout. Those handy with a soldering iron are free to swap components, but limited space will necessitate some creative mounting for some over-sized aftermarket capacitors.
The Ara's specifications are as follows :-
Nominal Impedance : 4 ohms
Sensitivity : 87 dB
Frequency Response : 45 - 25000 Hz +/- 3 db
Crossover point : 3000 Hz
Recommended power : 40 - 150 watts
My own experience suggests that you need a fairly powerful amplifier to drive these speakers. The best amplifier match for these speakers in my room was the Mivera Audio Purepower-Icepower 1200AS2-2 amplifier, which delivers 700 watts per channel into 4 ohms.I preferred this match compared to my usual Conrad Johnson ART monoblock amplifiers. The Mivera was driven directly from my Totaldac DAC using digital volume control.
The Ara was set-up on 24 inch Partington Dreadnought Broadside stands, and placed in open space with minimal toe-in. The fairly long footprint (388 x 190 mm) of the Ara would probably require you to have a customised top plate for maximum stability.
Any worries that the Ara kit would sound anything less than a finished commercial product were quickly put to rest after my initial listening sessions. The Ara is a very pleasing and easy going speaker, that combines a smooth tone with a detailed sound. You get a seamless presentation with very good integration between the two drive units. The Ara resists a common trend in bookshelf speaker voicing - a mid-bass hump and tipped up treble. Instead, you get very civilised and even behaviour throughout the frequency range.
The Satori drivers used in the Ara are from SB Acoustic's flagship range and offer remarkable performance for the money, even exceeding the performance of some other more expensive drive units I have used previously. No surprise then that the Satori has also been used by a number of leading audiophile speaker manufacturers.
The Ara has decent low frequency grunt for a bookshelf speaker, albeit a fairly large volume one. Tight, tuneful and agile, bass notes are fast enough to avoid being lumpy or one-note. Double-bass is reproduced with good articulation and detail. However, you cannot avoid using a subwoofer if you want to enjoy large orchestral works in their full glory. In any event, you are probably better off going for the floorstanding version of these speakers if you are pursuing that route.
Midrange is smooth, with a subtle warm tone. Presentation is laidback, with vocal presentation further back in the soundstage. While sounding distant, this also creates an illusion of depth.
Treble quality is very good, with a silky quality, that is very fluid yet detailed. Some listeners may prefer a bit more bite, but if you like a pleasant and easy-going tone, you will love this. If you don’t, SB Acoustics still has you covered, just read on !
Where the Ara wipes the floor with it's competition is soundstaging ability. Both width and depth are class-leading, with excellent dimensionality. While the competition is able accurately place voices and instruments in the soundfield, they do so in a flat manner, unable to flesh out sonic images with the palpability of the Ara.
I also had a quick listen to the Beryllium tweeter equipped version of the Ara in another setup. There is a significant improvement in low-level detail, clarity and air. The tweeter sounds subjectively "hotter" than the fabric dome tweeter, so some may actually prefer the stock version, especially if you favour listenability over details and precision. While I found driver integration to be still very good, the two drive units do not speak with the exact same voice, and the tweeter does call a bit of attention to itself. I found this effect to be subtle, and not disconcerting in practice.
The choice of tweeter will ultimately depend on what you value more. A more forgiving and easy-going sound, or a high resolution warts-and-all approach ? If you are interested in the Beryllium version, stay tuned - I bought the kit and will be assembling it once I have all the crossover parts on hand. The assembly process will of course be covered in a separate blog post.
How does the Ara stack up against the competition ? Very well indeed I must say. It ran rings around my KEF LS50 speakers in terms of resolution, detail and dimensionality. The only area where the LS50 was able to trumph the Ara was in terms of imaging specificity, which is not surprising given the coaxial driver used.
The Ara is an excellent buy at it's price range. You get very high quality sound for your money and a speaker that is able to withstand a fair amount of upgrading in the rest of your system chain.
Buying the kit is probably the highest level of endorsement I could give it, so enough said there - Best Buy.
I would like to thank Artisan Acoustics for arranging this review.
SB Acoustics Ara Kit
Price - POA