The Archt One (it's pronounced “arc”) is something of an anomaly, and not just because this self-powered speaker is shaped like an artillery shell crowned with one of Saturn’s rings. The Archt One is the result of a Kickstarter campaign that kicked off in October 2014, blew past its $70,000 goal (having raised $242,000 by its conclusion in December), and shipped to backers on time in March 2015. The speaker went into mass production early last month, and the manufacturer sent us one for this review.
The Archt One can play music from an Android or other device via Bluetooth, from an iOS device or Mac via AirPlay, or from any DLNA-compatible device on your Wi-Fi network. Finally, you can also connect any analog source to its 1/8-inch aux input. The speaker has a USB port for charging portable devices, too. I auditioned it using an HTC One smartphone with Bluetooth first, and then with and an iPod touch via AirPlay. I found sound quality to be superior with the latter, but connectivity more reliable with the former. I’ll go into more detail on its audio performance later.
Most speakers, including all-in-one designs like the extravagant Naim Audio Mu-So and the more down-to-earth Wren V5PF, use left and right drivers in order to produce a stereo image. That’s how the vast majority of music is recorded, after all; but one of the problems with this solution is there’s invariably a very narrowly defined sweet spot where the music sounds best. The reasoning for the Archt One’s unconventional shape, its manufacturer says, is to deliver an omnidirectional sound stage that doesn’t have a limited sweet spot.
To achieve that goal, the Archt One has one down-firing 80mm full-range driver in its nose cone and an up-firing 120mm subwoofer hanging from the underside of that ring. You’d think the output from one would cancel out at least some of the other's, but examine the speaker more closely and you’ll see that the ring is more like a flying saucer, with domes on its top and bottom directing the sound waves from those two drivers out in all directions. There’s also a down-facing 150mm passive radiator near the bottom of the enclosure, hanging above the circuit board that hosts its amplifier and other electrical components. The dome idea is replicated there as well.
Using a single full-range driver for the upper register and one for the lower register is a sonic compromise necessitated by Archt One’s goal of delivering omnidirectional sound. It’s much easier to reproduce the full range of musical performances when you deploy drivers dedicated to reproducing specific segments of the audio spectrum: Tweeters for reproducing high frequencies, mid-ranges for the middle, and a woofer for bass. But this type of enclosure can't accommodate that.
The Archt One’s unconventional shape also dictated that Archt use plastic instead of one of the most common building materials for its enclosure; namely, MDF (medium-density fiberboard). MDF isn’t pretty, and it limits your design choices to boxes, but it doesn’t resonate nearly as much as plastic. And the Archt One is made from the kind of glossy black plastic that readily shows fingerprints, something you’ll soon find all over this speaker because there’s no convenient way to pick it up aside from that ring.
Lifting it that way just seems like asking for trouble because it’s not a load-bearing structure. Plus, there are capacitive touch controls for play/pause, volume up, volume down, and input selection at the four points of the compass on the ring.
Archt offers Android and iOS apps that use the microphone in your device to perform some basic equalization for your room, similar to what you’d get with a mid-priced A/V receiver. Hold the device so its mic is pointed at the speaker, press a button, and the software will calibrate the speaker by playing five test tones.
The calibration software doesn’t display what values it has tweaked, but I didn’t like the results it produced. You can override the result with preset EQ values for pop, rock, classical, jazz, or vocal arrangements. You can also play around with five EQ sliders to come up with your own settings. I used the sixth preset—flat—for my evaluation.
When I played the London Symphony Orchestra’s recording of Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4 (encoded in Apple Lossless), I found that I needed to crank the Archt One up to nearly its maximum volume to hear the quieter passages, and the Archt One doesn’t like to be pushed to its limits.
It sounded pleasant enough rendering the violas, cellos, and woodwinds, but things turned a bit ragged when the French horns, trumpets, and timpani lent their contributions to the performance. I was able to back things off before it distorted badly, and the speaker was able to fill my 13x9-foot home theater with sound, but I expect more from a $600 audio system.
I found other types of music to be more forgiving. The hi-hat on the opening of Steely Dan’s “Jack of Speed,” from the band’s Two Against Nature release, came across with all the sizzle it should, and the bass line was pleasantly throbbing. But the absence of a stereo sound stage left the song sounding oddly one-dimensional. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker are known for their meticulous attention to detail in the studio, and this speaker reduced their efforts to background music.
Now that’s all well and good if you’re just looking for a party atmosphere, or something to liven up your home while you’re doing household chores. Archt Audio would also be more than happy to sell you two Archt Ones that can be configured as a stereo pair, but I’m having a tough time hearing a reasonable price/performance ratio with just one of these speakers.