Review: Audience The ONE Loudspeaker | iLounge

Review

Review: Audience The ONE Loudspeaker

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Highly Recommended

Company: Audience

Model: The ONE

Price: $995/pair

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Guido Gabriele

We've reviewed plenty of "premium" and "flagship" products over the years. As you venture into the world of really high-end audio, however, you start to encounter a new term: "statement." Usually, a statement product is where manufacturers put their most cutting-edge technology; we see speakers with multiple drivers in wild-looking cabinets and with even wilder price tags. Audience, a small California-based speaker and cable company, makes the opposite kind of statement. Sure, they can build you one of those huge speakers with 16 or 32 drivers that costs into the five figures, but that's not their most interesting product. Audience's statement speaker, it seems, is The ONE. It features just one driver and, yes, it makes a statement.

The ONE is just 7 inches high, 5.5 inches wide, and 7 inches deep; our review samples featured a beautiful, gooey gloss blue finish on seamless cabinets. On the back of each speaker are a set of binding posts and a four-inch passive radiator. Although the inclusion of a passive radiator slightly undermines The ONE’s name, we’ve seen that these can work wonders on improving bass response on small speakers. Included with each speaker is a set of magnetic fabric grilles; our review samples also shipped with a set of angled speaker stands ($75 separately) and a set of Audience’s OHNO III speaker cables (starting at $199 per meter). We don’t usually worry about fancy cables, but Audience wanted to ensure as much of a clean test environment as possible, so we were happy to oblige. The ONE has an 8 ohm impedance by default, but can be configured in 4 ohm or 16 ohm impedances upon request. They’re not terribly efficient (84 dB), but we found that very little power is required to make them sing — they sounded just fine out of an amplifier that maxes out at 12 watts per channel.

The ONE is a minimalist showcase of Audience’s A3-S driver technology. This three-inch driver has some impressive specs: a titanium cone with a mass of just 2.5 mm and a maximum excursion of 12 mm. We have a pet theory that driver speed is the key to realistic imaging and sound — a driver can’t mimic real life unless it is extremely well-controlled and can accelerate and decelerate quickly, and low mass is a crucial part of that formula. What makes The ONE a “statement,” however, is its simplicity. Other bookshelf speakers we’ve reviewed in the past have used clever engineering to get around the problems created by multi-driver setups. With just a single driver, The ONE doesn’t have to deal with phase, crossover quality and frequency, time-delay, or distortion; there’s no need to mimic a point-source driver because The ONE is a point-source. If there was any doubt as to Audience’s faith in the A3-S driver, it’s the same one they use in all their speakers — they just use more of them. We should note, however, that Audience asks you not to push the A3-S too hard — too much power can damage them, so The ONE are best used as personal, near-field speakers with amplifiers up to 50W.

We listened to The ONE over a few weeks in a desktop setup, with one speaker on either end of a monitor. We tried them at desk height using Audience’s angled stands, and at ear height on isolating stands. In short, The ONE, with its A3-S driver and passive radiator, sounds amazing. These speakers are extremely neutral, resolving, and detailed, and produce an absolutely holographic stereo image. Audience claims a frequency response of 50 to 21,000 Hz, and every bit of that comes through when listening. This is the point where we usually throw in our caveat about how a subwoofer is needed to complement and fill out the sound of this bookshelf speaker, but things are different with The ONE. The low-end performance of this speaker is superb; it goes lower than just about any bookshelf speaker we’ve reviewed, without a reflex port and without distortion.

This is not to say that The ONE is without limits — there are plenty of songs that demand lower and louder bass than The ONE can handle — but for a near-field setup we were extremely impressed by how truly “full range” The ONE seems to be. Perhaps the most notable weakness of The ONE — other than its volume and power limits — is that it’s more sensitive to positioning than many other speakers we’ve tested. Unlike the waveguide-assisted JBL, Amphion, and KEF speakers we’ve reviewed recently, there is definitely a “sweet spot” created by The ONE, and venturing too far out of it will change the sound significantly. These perform best in near-field setups, in small-to-medium size rooms, with the drivers aimed directly at your ears.

So, what statement is “The ONE” making? We think it’s “driver quality matters.” Not exactly a controversial statement, but The ONE makes clear just how much it matters. We’ve seen lots of small full-range drivers that claim superb audio quality, especially in portable Bluetooth speakers; none perform like Audience’s A3-S driver. It’s easy to call The ONE “small”, but after spending a few weeks with these speakers, that word seems a bit reductive. They’re really “space efficient,” in that they pack an incredibly articulate and truly full-range driver into a cabinet that can be placed just about anywhere. That’s a lot of sound in a small box. If you have the chance, make sure to give The ONE an audience.

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Editors' Note: iLounge only reviews products in "final" form, but many companies now change their offerings - sometimes several times - after our reviews have been published. This iLounge article provides more information on this practice, known as revving.

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