Archt One Review
|Pros||Omni-Directional sound, easy setup, good quality audio|
|Cons||Needs iOS for setup, soundstage isn't as clear as with stereo speakers|
|Summary||If you want to fill a room with audio, but don't want to be tied down to a seat, the Archt One does a very good job. They need to make it compatible with non-iOS devices for setup, but overall it is a very nice package that is easy to setup and use.|
Moving houses is awful. You have to pack everything from your life inside of a box, live without it for a while, and then unpack it and set it back up. I had to go through this again this year and part of packing up means no audio system. The speakers go away, the Sonos system gets boxed up, and you try to live with headphones or, egads, the speaker output of your smartphone. Except right as I was moving this year, the Archt One speaker arrived for review.
The Archt One is an omnidirectional speaker that uses WiFi, AirPlay or Bluetooth to stream music from your devices. You can use a Line In jack on the rear as well for wired sources, but most people are going to use it for wireless audio. Unlike most speakers, the Archt One sends out music in an omni-directional pattern so no matter where you are sitting relative to it, you are getting the same sound. For what it aims to do, the Archt One does a good job of creating music that is enjoyable to listen to with a couple of features that are unique to it compared to other wireless speakers.
We see room correction all the time on receivers, but not on wireless speakers. The Archt One manages to do this calibration by using a microphone that you already have on you, the one built into your iPhone. The frequency response characteristics of the iPhone microphones are well known. It won’t be as accurate as the calibrated microphones that Anthem uses in their receivers but likely equal to what you get in a $500 receiver.
Setting up the 5-band EQ is easy. You can do it manually, but probably will use the automated method. All you do is fire up the Archt software and choose the Archt One auto optimizer icon. Then once you select begin it will make a series of measurements at your position and correct the EQ based off that. I can’t stress enough that you should either put your phone down and leave the room or wear earplugs for this section, because two of those test tones are loud. Once it makes the measurements it applies that to your Archt One and it is ready for listening.
360 Degree Listening
The key feature of the Archt One is that you can use it for 360 Degree listening. You can put it in the corner and it will spread out evenly across the room, or place it somewhere like your kitchen island and no matter where you are it will sound good. Surprisingly enough, it works. I did my initial listening with it in the place of where my center channel speaker would go and it sounds good, so I turned it around. Even with the back of the Archt One facing me, the sound was identical. Looking at the design, this should be expected.
The Archt One pairs an 80mm full-range driver with a 120mm bass driver and 150mm passive radiator. The full-range and bass drivers face each other while the passive radiator faces downward. The sound array design then distributes the sound waves in an omnidirectional pattern around the room.
Listening to my usual array of test tracks, the Archt One does a remarkably good job. The bass line off Beck’s “Lost Cause” is much better than I expect from a speaker of this size. Most of the vocals and instruments come from the Archt One, but with good clarity for a full range driver. The atmospheric effects have a bit of spaciousness, more than you expect for a single speaker thanks to the omni directionality. You don’t get the same sound stage and location that you do from a pair of stereo speakers, but you get much better audio than I expected to hear.
Running through the rest of the test tracks, the Archt One proves capable. The only track that causes an issue for me is “Hoppipolla” from Sigur Ros. As the song builds to its crescendo, there is a sound effect in the mix that causes the full range driver to strain and sounds akin to a whistle. I don’t know if it’s a combination of the sounds during the track, or that I pushed the volume too much, but for 30-45 seconds I wanted to skip ahead to a different track.
After all my usual test tracks, I went to my favorite album of 2014, Spoon’s They Want My Soul. Streamed to the Archt One I just kicked back and enjoyed the music. The opening guitar chords on “Do You” could have a bit more heft to them, but the soul of the music is captured by the Archt One. As I carried it around the house from room to room, unpacking box after box, the Archt One kept me from living in a quiet silence. I can unplug the Archt One, carry it to a different room, and have my music with me. Even before I had WiFi setup I used it in Bluetooth mode and streamed audio through my iPhone.
What sounds fantastic through the Archt One is M83’s album Saturdays = Youth. The opening track “You, Appearing” has a solo piano where the keys register with the proper weight. As the track builds and vocals join it, the image grows in size despite coming from a little tiny speaker. Its the piano that sticks with me as it is the only instrument I ever learned to play. Knowing how it should sound, and hearing a speaker get that right, is what my ears love to hear.
The one feature I didn’t get to test on the Archt One, because I only have a single unit, is to use them as a stereo pair. Inside the Archt One app you can assign one to be a left speaker and one to be a right speaker. Then you can stream music to them over Bluetooth and have clear channel separation. With the 360 degree sound distribution I imagine you will get a large soundstage and image with a stereo pair, but I can’t tell you for sure.
The main downside to the Archt One is that it favors iOS. Setting up WiFi requires iOS so if you have Android, you are out of luck. You’ll need to borrow a device from a friend for the initial setup so you can get it onto your WiFi network. Once it is on WiFi you can use it as a DLNA target, so it doesn’t need iOS or OS X after that. I was able to use the media player on my Synology NAS to send audio to it once it is on my WiFi network, but I can’t do that without using iOS first. Listening to 10,000 Maniacs this way, Natalie Merchant sounds great and I can completely control it through my DLNA device.
I also had a few dropouts over AirPlay while using the Archt One. It always reconnected and worked fine, but they did happen sometimes. I don’t know if my iPhone was dropping over the network or if it was something else. I know it happens more when I’m streaming lossless FLAC files than when I’m using Spotify and its compressed streams, so it is likely a bandwidth issue on my home WiFi network. Bluetooth suffered from fewer issues as long as I was within range of the Archt One, so my network is the likely culprit.
I also wish that there was an optional battery for the Archt One. Being able to take it outside in the backyard without a power cord would be great. The omnidirectional design makes it well suited to put it outside for a BBQ but as it is you’ll need to have a cord for the outlet. Maybe they can make an optional battery base to take it outside, but it would be nice to have the option.
Measurements on the Archt One are done using the Aux input and RoomEQ Wizard with a UMIK-1 calibrated microphone. I make a series of measurements around the room and average those together to get a good representation of the in-room frequency response. The measurements are uncalibrated as the iOS calibration app was not available when these were taken.
With the Archt One, we see unevenness in the response. Since they are using their omnidirectional method to distribute audio I expect to see a bit more variation than I would from a regular speaker. The bass offers plenty of response down to 40Hz but falls off quickly after that. Frequency response extends out to 20kHz without an issue but there is a dip at 10kHz in the measurement. I didn’t hear that dip when listening so it might be an artifact from the speaker design, but I’m uncertain.
Simple Room-Filling Sound
The Archt One arrived at an ideal time for me, saving me from silence as I packed and unpacked a house. It fills a room with audio, even when placed out of the way in the corner, and is easy to take around the house with you. It can’t do the imaging that a pair of stereo speakers can, but it also doesn’t confine you to a single sweet spot in the room. If you want a way to listen to your audio wirelessly, but don’t want to sit in a single position to get the best results, the Archt One sounds nice. Their Kickstarter campaign is winding up now but early next year you should be able to go out and listen for yourself.
|Pros:||Omni-Directional sound, easy setup, good quality audio|
|Cons:||Needs iOS for setup, soundstage isn't as clear as with stereo speakers|
|Summary:||If you want to fill a room with audio, but don't want to be tied down to a seat, the Archt One does a very good job. They need to make it compatible with non-iOS devices for setup, but overall it is a very nice package that is easy to setup and use.|