Finnish manufacturer Amphion have quickly established themselves as a premium player in the studio monitor market with a raft of rave reviews both in the press and among users. Although relatively new to pro audio, the company have a long and respected 20-year history in Hi-Fi, with a reputation for mid-range detail, excellent stereo imaging and a natural, unhyped bass response. Amphion has become one of our most popular monitor brands, distinguished by their unusually low crossovers, passive radiators and distinctive white tweeter waveguide. We talk with Amphion founder and CEO, Anssi Hynöven…
Amphion describe their monitors as “beautifully honest”. How do you see the function of a studio monitor?
The most important question is, does it get the job done? Will it allow you to work long hours without fatigue and help you reach your goals quickly and with confidence? Amphion ́s aim is to open a large clean window into music. If we do our job properly the speaker disappears and leaves you with only the music. Actually the slogan comes from an email from an early customer, Grammy nominated vocal editor Lars Fox. He emailed me after testing the speakers: “I am done with brutally honest. These are beautifully honest."
The studio market is dominated by active monitors - is there a reason your designs are passive with a separate amplifier?
Longevity: The only way to hit the price/performance point required is to use D-Class amplification. While the crazy development speed of digital provides us with better, more affordable products, it also prematurely dates everything it touches. By keeping the digital component separate from the speaker we can maximise its lifespan. We feel it is much better for customers to be able to easily upgrade their amp when something better becomes available than to lose money on the whole speaker system because it is integrated. Performance: Active speaker manufacturers are quick to talk about the potential benefits of active designs. But nobody talks about what happens when you put the amplifier transformers inside the box close to the voice coils. This easily leads to all kinds of stray electromagnetic fields and interferences. Is a closed, heavily vibrating box really the correct place to house electronics? It is technically better to use an external enclosure, but this means sacrificing the cost savings achieved by going down the active route. Sonics: The amplifier has a major impact on the sound of the speaker - whether passive or active. While up to 90% of customers choose the recommended Amphion amp and cables to go with our speakers, there are always some who prefer to experiment with other amps and cables to find the combination they feel is best. Naturally, this is not possible with actives. I personally feel that a certain upper mid-range hardness that is quite often present in modern active speakers, at least partially, stems from the sonic signature of the amps used.
Our customers often comment on how well mixes made on Amphions translate between rooms - something of paramount importance to artists who produce and mix in their own personal studios - often with non-ideal acoustics. Which design features do you think most help to achieve this?
All Amphions work in a point source manner, with controlled and even dispersion so they behave well regarding off-axis response. They load the room correctly energy-wise due to their passive radiator designs, allowing them to keep their character in all rooms. This means they tend to work especially well in untreated spaces and close to room boundaries.
When developing a new speaker, how do you balance hard measurement data with critical listening tests and the more “human” need of listening as a music lover?
Rupert Neve once said that excellence in measurements does not automatically mean excellence in performance. Listening is a crucial part of our development testing, as the human ear is extremely precise in evaluating certain aspects of sound, which the measurements struggle with. Examples of these are phase correctness, timbre/tone and energy transfer.
Monitor design typically involves a compromise between acoustic design considerations and electronics (crossover points etc). Do you think one of these is fundamentally more important than the other?
A loudspeaker is a transducer, ie. a device that converts an electrical signal into movement. Hence we can never separate the two components. Good acoustical engineering leads to natural driver integration - both physically and with regards to dispersion. The more elegant and correct the product is acoustically, the fewer electronic corrections are required. For Amphion, acoustics comes first. Both in the product, as well as in the room.
Your HF crossover point @1600Hz is significantly lower than most speaker manufacturers who typically run @2 to 5kHz? What's the reason for this?
I often wonder why other manufacturers put their tweeter crossovers in the worst possible place, ie. in the middle of the most sensitive hearing band. Does a chair manufacturer put the seam in the middle of the seat for everyone to see, or do they prefer to hide it to the side? Integrating drivers in as seamless a way as possible is fundamental to building a good speaker. The seam (ie. the crossover point) is unavoidable, so where you place it is of crucial importance. Human hearing is not linear - it is most precise at 2-5 kHz. Therefore, in our book you either put the crossover above or below this range. Putting it below means that we can use the lightest, fastest, best controllable driver to produce those frequencies, where the human ear is at its most discerning.
The new FlexBase25 bass extension turns Amphion’s 2-way monitor range into a 3-way full range system. Why did you decide on a stereo sub rather than the more typical mono unit found in a 2.1 configuration?
The use of a mono sub comes from the film industry - it is not necessarily correct for music. In music production, we need to retain stereo information all the way down. FlexBase25 not only reproduces the low frequencies, but also enhances the performance of the satelite monitors. Moving the bass frequencies to the 10" woofers benefits power handling - especially in the upper bass and lower mids - and further improves imaging, which is known to be one of Amphion's core strengths. This stems from reduced intermodulation distortion of the mid woofers. FlexBase25 is not simply a subwoofer. It is a synergistic system, where the benefits of a small, fast, room-friendly nearfield are seamlessly integrated with the physical impact of clean, fast bass. This makes FlexBase25 a great choice for those working in smaller rooms who are looking for a full range monitoring solution with great translation.
Do you have plans for a large main studio monitor?
We already showed one on the 1st of April and it was enthusiastically received! https://www.instagram.com/p/B-cV1MrhSEC/ Joking aside, this is a double-edged sword. While I have no doubt there would be customers for Amphion main monitors, I question if this is the best place to allocate our R&D resources. Selling mains is often connected to the room design and penetrating old relationships is always expensive and time consuming. A really good sounding pair of mains is a rare find and it concerns me that the average customer is often looking for SPL quantity over sonic quality. But never say never - the trend is now clearly towards smaller home-based setups and we are naturally looking at what could work as a mains type solution in such environments.
How would you sum up Amphion’s ethos?
The Greeks used the word "ethos" to refer to the power of music to influence human emotions and behaviour. Music has the ability to touch and even change people - and the connecting and healing powers of music are needed today maybe more than ever. At Amphion, we are trying to do our small part by creating tools which ensure the undiluted transfer of emotion from the artist to the end listener - so that they can experience their music in a deeper, more exciting and memorable way.