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Archt One all-in-one speaker review: Call it the anti-stereo

Michael Brown | July 15, 2015
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'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.

Listening tests

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.


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