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THE AIRPULSE A80 active desktop speakers - short review with measurements

P1020955.thumb.jpg.7a829246f9d32a4c710b0bad112f5e6a.jpgThe Airpulse A80 horn-loaded Ribbon Tweeter design active desktop speaker is the youngest and smallest sibling of the Airpulse family designed by Phil Jones, produced and marketed by Edifier International. It may be available in the US starting 599 $. European prices are around 699 €.

While her inner values are broadly identical with the recently reviewed Airpulse A100, the Bluetooth stack of the A80 has evolved to BT 5.0 with aptX (do not confuse with AptX HD) which accepts up to 16bit - 44.1/48kHz. That won't be enough joy of frequency for most members here, although I can ensure you that my teenage son doesn't mind missing HiRes when listening to his favorite music via BT.
Using the familiar tweeter design of the Airpulse A series, the A80's woofer notably uses an overhung design at a size of 4.5 inch in contrast of the slightly bigger underhung design of his sibling's woofer.  To be honest, I wouldn't have noticed this difference by design peering closely at the driver for evaluation. For other it seems to be more obvious and I am happy to reference
Gordon Lyn's explanation (HifiReport) on the subject:
 
"Underhung is a short voice coil and long magnetic field design. The voice coil will not exceed the magnetic field during the piston movement and is carefully controlled by the magnetic field. Therefore, the repeating stroke is more linear, the distortion is lower, and the accuracy of the sound is better. However, underhung has less sense of low frequency. In contrast, overhung is an extended voice coil, which is a typical long-stroke design. When the voice coil is operating, both ends will exceed the magnetic field and become uncontrolled. Although the sense of low frequency is rich, the linear performance and distortion are also relatively weak. It can be seen from this that underhung or overhung may not necessarily be stronger or weaker but depends on the design"

In short, to circumvent  the physical limitations for the smallish woofer the use of overhung design allows better low end performances, which weren't necessary for the A100 and upwards.

What's in the box only differs by more modern bluetooth set (which I may use only seldomly) and the underhang design of the 4,5' aluminum woofer with the 30mm diameter voice coil noted above. The electronics are otherwise identical and the equipment that comes in the box is no different from the A100. They share the same Horn loaded Ribbon tweeter and the internal cabling from Transparent.

The A80 established themselves as my first choice desktop speakers because I could not notice any significant difference in performance between them and the A100 other than they gave me the impression to be a tiny bit more dynamic. I file that under bias, because the measurements did not provide notable deviations. My personal preference derives mainly from the more delicate footprint the A80 offers, no overhang on my desk and clearly no itches from the cable connectors at the wall. And I am fallen for the  color. Pastel Blue with a touch of turqoise.  I drive them with either a desktop DAC for DSD/DXD source material through the analog input or directly from one of my PC's USB ports. For the ecologic footprint and the ease of use, I can live perfectly with the 192kHz/24bit resolution in the near field

Both sets of 2 way back ported speakers have some characteristic I have described in the A100 review, they show transparency and clarity of tones, dynamic bass down to 50hz, detailed mid range and delicious highs. I happened to be surprised about the sometimes voluminous yet balanced performance they offered with the  corresponding material, which was kind of unexpected given the size of these darlings. Eventually it helped that the reflex port now has some more distance to the back wall.  As a matter of fact, if I want more bass below the advertised 52hz in my near field, I could use a subwoofer with them. However, at 6 feet two, my preference to find comfortably space for my feet below the desk rules clearly over the bass mantra. In a living room setup / TV setup the use of a sub definitely improves the experience. For a profound bass reception they offer a subwoofer out, which can conjure magic moments of joy in the faces of the youth, seen last time with the A100 at my son's 17th birthday party with one of my XTZ  10.17 Edge subs.

The A80 has no need to hide behind their bigger siblings for their performance in the near field, though there is one single aspect  in favor for the A100, their mid field presentation seemed to profit from the plus of body volume when staged in the room. On the other hand, I would not want to have the big boys (A300 pro - review's on the way) on my desk if I can't change simultaneously  to the great palace I may deserve .. ;-)


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The listening experience:

When it comes to  pastel blue in combination with music, most audiophiles may remember Nina Simone's exceptional album "Pastel Blue"  from 1965.
Personally, I like to think about my pastel blue opal stone from Australia I was wearing around my neck in my twenties. I lost it during dancing in the crowd with 10th of thousands of excited people at one open air somewhere in Belgium. Which consequently leads me to the choice of 5 Australian born artists performing my music selection for this review (for the record: I have already used Sinnerman from Pastel Blue in the 2019 Summer Breeze review)

My choice of 5 songs includes Midnight Oil and their collaboratrice  Alice Skye,  Louis Tillett, Nick Cave, Mick Harvey & Anita Lane. I happen to have a soft spot for music from the 5th continent and New Zealand, about which I wrote for some years a bi-monthly column called "Flaschenpost aus Ozeanien" (translates as "message in a bottle from Oceania") a long time ago. So today it's Australia only.

Louis Tillett - Parchman Farm - Return To Sender Festival Tour  - 1994
In the early 90s Louis Tillett  played the German Club scene solo and with fellow Australian guitarist Charlie Owen. He was the first musician I ever interviewed in 1989, and I was in the Markthalle crows in Hamburg 1992 when the song was recorded. Pls. note: I wasn't the guy who was laughing after the last verse ...
Louis did a pretty good job making this classic intense and darkly funny. The A80 did a good job to display that to me, but they demanded some power to bring out the atmosphere and details from the limited "Return To Sender"- sampler from 1994. The version was ripped from my personal CD.

 

Midnight Oil - Gadigal Land - The Makarrata Project - 2020
Gadigal Land reminds a lot at the period of Midnight Oil where they had worldwide success with the records "Diesel & Dust/Blue Sky Mining" although they evolved from early sloganism into the more substantial concept by inviting First Nation artists to collaborate with them (and to profit from their stardom for the cause). The song is the full Monty of power rock, serving to return and appreciate  the identity of the Gadigal/Cadigal/Eora people who once were nearly extinct and as a clear messages to all Australians. It has been the bands first single in nearly 2 decades and profits will support the "First Nation's Voice".
It was with this song when the A80 started to really impress me with the speed, dynamics, clarity and depth of presentation.
The Diesel & Dust album however is on a list for having a blog entry in the future.

Alice Skye - Melbourne - Friends with Feelings - 2018
I heard Miss Skye first with  Midnight Oil's last year's output "The Makaratta Project" on a bizarrely  beautiful song called "Terror Australia" which made it into the Airpulse A300pro review. Alice Skye is an Wergaian woman and lives in Melbourne. She has won acclaim on several Australian music portals and distributes her first album worldwide through bandcamp.
Alice Skye got a wonderful tender and energetic voice and I tip her to be one of the Australian top singer/songwriter in the coming decade. Melbourne has an forward beat and a pronounced piano sounding like a hymn to the city but turns out to be a metaphor for a failed love affair. Great work, the A80 got the beat and give her voice the air to articulate tenderly.

 

Mick Harvey & Anita Lane - Harley Davidson - Intoxicated Man - 1997
I have read today that Mick Harvey has been credited with the international appreciation of Serge Gainsbourg's ouevre (ROON) and was wondering if the Bollock Brother's Harley David, son of a ... doesn't count too much for receiving such an appraisal. They did it 1987, a decade before Mick Harvey, Nick Cave's friend for more than 4 decades and his former musical director during his participation with the Bad Seeds, collaborated with Anita Lane, Cave's former muse and girl friend, to give Brigit Bardot's single "Harley Davidson" an overhaul. The song is funny in the French original and a great song - musically - in this version. Walls of ringing guitars, high speed drums in the background, a distorting piano at 1:40 and the sweet voice of Anita Lane make it an interesting aspect for the Gainsbourg conservation society they had founded then in Berlin. Harvey's creditentials after he left the Bad Seeds inlude the collaboration on & the co-production of the critically acclaimed "Let England Shake" album by PJ Harvey (no family relations) in 2010.

Nick Cave - The Ship Song - Idiot Prayer (Nick Cave Alone At Alexandra Palace) - 2020

Finally we arrived at one of the greatest living artist from Australia. I have followed his output for now almost 4 decades, seen him about 10 times in the first 20 years, however I need to admit that I limited my fandom after I had acquired the 1993 recorded "Live Seed" record  for good.
I couldn't get near the poppier personage of him and just did so when ageing as well. Today I can appreciate his metaphors and literate lyrics even more and feel he is a real artist in the sense of auteur, musician and performer. Who else would integrate nights discussing the moral grounds into an intense & tender love song about physical intercourse? The fascination for his way to articulate through his songs may have lead battalions of musicians to interpret this song. However, the solo version he recorded live alone the 19th June 2020 at the Alexandra Palace in London to my ears sounds final. Having passed the coastline of sixty his drive may express differently than 3 decades ago. I vote for this recording which I heard with verve and depth from the A80 breathing long forgotten memories to me.

Comparative measurements for the Airpulse A100 & A80

I have run through a couple of measurements over the last weekends looking to compare the A100 to the A80. To cut a short story long, I have had to notice that my UMIK-1 produced strange measurements in December and ordered a new one (with USB-C entry) from Hong Kong in the week before Christmas. When it arrived I could finally validate what I have preliminarily measured.
Here are the graphs  where you can get a notion what it means to have the same genetics of an older sibling  ... I have measured the near field, 80 cm on tweeter axis, 1 m distance among the tweeters mid, about 75 db for dual channel, minimum toed in.  

As a result, both set of measurements  - even in near field position in the mid of the room - indicate the very bad impact of my room on the below 200Hz performance. Imho, the A80 have a small advantage above 600Hz, while the A100 manage the job slightly better below. The A80s uptake between 13 and 15kHz may already be inaudible for me.
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Here is the gallery with displays of A80, A100, comparison of both channel and individual channels.

Final thought
I am a happy camper now with my pastel blue set of desktop speaker and can't complain about giving the A100 to my son for Christmas. It would haven't happen if the A80 would have shown a lesser performance than their older sibling.

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