Buchardt Audio A500 Speaker System
45 days and counting...
September 25th, 2020
I have been on a multi-year quest for simplicity in audio systems around my home. Recently I have mostly been listening to the Kii Three speakers with the BXT modules. The Kii speakers are an incredible system, but they are out of most "normal budgets." I have been looking for something simpler and more in-line with personal finances. Unexpectedly I also still have my Dutch and Dutch 8C system, and I tried the Elac Navis ARB-51 system, which falls on either side of the Buchardt A500's budget-wise. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Denmark based Buchardt Audio uses a direct to consumer sales model for its equipment. They pay the import taxes and fees. You purchase the system, and you have 45 days to evaluate and possibly return the gear. There is a modest return fee. For the A500, it is $50.
The A500 is a nicely sized self-powered bookshelf speaker from Denmark available in three finishes, White, Black, and Walnut. The cabinet has an unusual shape that slopes backward from bottom to top. There are three drivers; a forward-facing tweeter is in a large waveguide. There is a second 6in forward-facing driver and a third rear-facing 6in driver. The drivers have individual 150-watt class D amplifiers. Also, the speakers contain a multi-core DSP system that manages the crossovers and a bit more. The primary input is via a WiSA standard RF interface operating at 24bit 96kb PCM. There is a second analog input via balanced XLR. There is a USB port on the rear of the speaker for loading DSP configurations called Mastertunings.
As I write this, there are multiple Mastertunings profiles available for download on the Buchardt Audio website. Each of these tunings changes the performance/operations of the DSP crossover. They are easy to test by installing the tuning on a USB stick and booting each speaker up with the USB stick inserted in the speaker.
Just one more thing that the A500 provides. The DSP implements an equal-loudness contour called the Fletcher-Munson Curve (ISO 226:2003) that compensates for human hearing at lower volumes. The Buchardt monicker is Low-Level Enhancement (LLE).
The second part of the system is the Hansong Stereo Hub that Buchardt sells along with the speakers. The Hub is an optional purchase, but it is a primary tool for using the speakers. The stereo hub is the WiSA transmitter and provides multiple inputs along with Wi-Fi streaming. It comes with a nice wireless remote for controlling volume, input selection, and more.
The stereo hub has some smart tricks up its sleeve.
- It is a Chromecast and Airplay receiver and has Spotify Connect.
- There is also Bluetooth and UPnP.
- There are multiple physical inputs, Line, three optical, one digital, USB, 3.5mm, and HDMI ARC.
There is one other feature; Room Correction, for frequencies below 300hz. Using an iPhone app to sweep the room with the speakers emitting an audio pattern, the software calculates the needed adjustments. It sends the info to the Hansong Stereo Hub for operation.
The above is a short intro video we shot for The Three Techs!
September 30th, 2020
I have the speakers connected to AC power using Puritan Audio Laboratories power cables and the PSM-156 Mains Purifier. An HDPLEX-200 LPS powers the Stereo Hub.
The speakers are on Elac single post filled stands using Isoacoustics Gaia-1 isolators. The speakers do not have mounting inserts, so I use Sound Anchor Blue Dots to hold them on the speaker stands safely.
NOTE: I already had the ancillary devices listed above available for use on the system. While they are "upgrades" and optional, they add significant value!
My everyday listening tool has been my Ryzen 7300 based Roon Server. With the Hansong Stereo Hub, I have many other options. The Hansong hub and the AURALiC Altair G1 are both Roon endpoints. The Hub only through Google Cast.
I am also listening with Spotify Connect, Tidal app, Qobuz app, Audirvana, SoundCloud, Bandcamp, etc.
I have played with MConnect, Bubble UPnP, and a couple more control point apps on iOS and Android. I am going to leave this for later. There is just too much to do.
According to Buchardt Audio, the speakers need around 100 hours to break-in. I found that after about 20 hours or so, things started to relax a lot! The "piston-rings" seem to have gotten their Groove-On! As time goes on they continue to improve.
October 3rd, 2020
Room Correction and listening paths
In my room, there is a 30-40Hz bump at about 5db. There are also a couple of dips above that. I have a lot of carpet, fabric, and the room's rear is mostly open to the home's entryway. No listening room is perfect! In this case, the Living Room has to function as a Listening Room, and I really cannot embellish it with acoustic add-ons. Some DSP software helps things out.
I have two paths to the speakers that I want to outline. The first path is the Buchardt supplied WISA Hub. I do not know precisely where the magic is in the WISA system, but I have not heard anything in its price range that comes close to the sound quality I am getting. The flexibility that the Hub provides to this system is an almost perfect intersection of services for streaming music playback. I also connected my Rega Planar 8 turntable and pre-amp to the line-in. What more could I ask of the Hub? At least one more thing, I can tell Google Assistant to play music on it!
The second path for my music is through my AURALiC Altair G1 directly to the A500 speakers via their balanced analog inputs.
There are a couple of advantages to the G1, from the lovely display on the front of the device to the Lightning DS application that ties everything together, high-res Local Music, Tidal, Qobuz, Internet Radio.
So, the G1 and the Hansong Stereo Hub pair give me access to virtually every streaming and local music source I can think of. I get to play with Room Correction, listen to LP's, talk to my stereo; WOW!
I have been putting off writing about the sound for a long time now. It takes quite a while to accumulate hours on speakers located in the core of the home during the ordinary course of family life!
The other part of the problem is what audio path do I evaluate? I really do not want to decide what the "best test path is."
I am trying to promote the use of the system, so I have been testing multiple approaches. While Sound Quality is essential in our home, the simplicity of operation may override sometimes. Having the Virtual assistant play something on demand is very compelling. Does Apple Music over Airplay sound better than Spotify Connect? Do I really care? I am not sure.
During this process, I have found many hiccoughs in multiple systems, software and hardware. I may note them in a separate thread here on Audiophile Style to not confuse this report.
The Primary Paths that I have chosen are as follows:
I am streaming via Google-Cast and Apple AirPlay from apps on my iOS and Android devices.
Altair G1 via Analog XLR, the A500 Speakers using the Lightning DS app on iPad.
The other issue here is the data path. Using all of these services and streaming protocols, I do not always know what the sampling is. Some of the testings are about functionality and not Sound Quality.
Did I cover my tracks well enough here? Or is the light at the end of the tunnel a Freight Train headed my way?
October 10th, 2020
Short-cut to a sound quality test? I am not sure.
I used the Hub and the G1 as two Roon Zones in my testing, comparing the WiSA path vs. the Analog XLR path into the A500 speakers.
For a few days, I used both sighted and blind to expose the difference between the two paths. The Altair G1 has a better presentation than the Hansong Hub. The G1 has a tighter presence and more clarity. The overall feeling of the music with the G1 is striking. I have had two friends visits, masks on windows open. Both were really surprised by the A500's. One vote for G1 being a lot better. The other was an abstain as we did not have enough time. For me the Buchardt A500 is the clear winner here. I can enhance them with my Altair G1 and that has been three steps forward for me.
NOTE: I conducted the same test with the ELAC Discovery Connect and the Altair G1. The Discovery Connect and its wireless protocol have pronounced performance degradation to the ELAC NAVIS ARB-51 Speakers I was testing last month. It was not an acceptable solution for me. The Elac's have been returned.
I told you that this was hard! Simplifying my system design has gotten more complicated to evaluate than expected.
The A500's stated frequency specifications are 25hz to 40,000khz +-1.5db. I will not pretend to be able to measure this or hear it for that matter. I can talk about what I hear, and that has been full of surprise and delight.
Out of the box, the A500's did something new for me. The treble did not sound harsh. The bass response was jaw-dropping. How did the Buchardt Audio team make this happen? As I have been auditioning them, I have not once felt something was off. I am repeatedly amazed at the depth and breadth of the sound stage. Vocal and small ensemble performances feel almost alive. The A500 speakers have exceeded my expectations in several areas, apparent sound stage, bass response, and WiSA sound quality. They have responded well to the sound quality enhancements I have used, and their system flexibility fits right in with my desire to play with things.
In communicating with Mads Buchardt, who seems to answer everyone's email, he suggested a couple of things from my initial setup. He indicated that I should keep them further apart because of the way that the tweeter waveguides work. He also outlined the procedure for measuring the room with my iPhone, as they have not done a video yet!
Oh, back to my listening report.
I consistently find vocals to be very pleasing with these speakers. A couple, in particular, are Dominique Fils-Aimé and the lead singer from Blues company. It has been wonderful to sample Annie Lennox across the years. In Eva Cassidy's Live at Blues Alley I can hear more of the human sounds in the recordings, breathing, mic distance changes, etc. They seem more present.
I enjoy piano music. Getting a piano recorded well, and playing that back in a home environment is challenging. I have found that many piano recordings sound harsh or odd to me. Many times the faults were with my reproduction equipment! With the A500's the number of recordings that exhibit that problem seems to be shrinking one by one as I listen to them. I have a lot of listening to go before I get to zero, and there is always the internet with more!
In my discussions with Mads Buchardt, he suggested I try the "new default master tuning." You have to format a USB stick and put the master tuning file on it. Then power down the A500 speaker, insert the USB stick, and power it up. The LED's will do a little circle dance to indicate success. You have to do this for each speaker.
I have only played a little bit to see if it worked. I re-loaded the original MasterTuning so that I could finish these listening tests without any change. Time is running short.
21 Days in -- Small changes-- October 15th, 2020
I have decided to keep both of my streamers in the system. I am using the Hansong Hub to do the "casting stuff" and have the analog input for my turntable. When there are some software updates, I will look into other uses.
I have proven to myself that the Hansong Hub and WiSA streaming sounds excellent and provides a lot of functionality I want.
Streaming Week -- Friday, October 16th, 2020
Things are progressing rather well here.
This feels like Cake Week on The Great British Baking Show. So many flavors to taste! I have been listening to Apple Music. The User Interface of Apple Music is excellent. Playing back Apple's streams of AAC audio is a pleasure on the A500's. It is a great way to discover music. Apple has an extensive selection of music, and its curated playlists are great. I am also trialing Spotify Premium to test Spotify Connect and understand their systems better.
On the Altair G1, I have my local music with Tidal and Qobuz. I have been playing a lot streaming from both Tidal and Qobuz.
At some point I have to make up my mind and pick ONE streaming service. Simplifying is not just the hardware side of things!
October 24th, 2020 -- 30 days and counting
The Battles on Stage — 8c vs. A500
It has been a month! I have done too much work to get here. Messing about with different streaming systems, control point apps, speaker stands, and locations, WHEW!
I have settled into a routine of just listening to the system when I want no heavy planned sessions. The only requirement I am still observing is to make sure I listen through both the Altair G1 and the Hansong Hub in the same session. Nothing fancy, just keeping both in mind.
I am still finding the soundstage's overall presentation to be one of the outstanding features of the A500's. As I noted before, vocals stand out on these speakers. Singers like Eva Cassidy are some of my favorites.
I have also completed a SHORT comparison of the Buchardt A500's to the Dutch and Dutch 8C speakers this weekend. I am using the Analog XLR interface from the Altair G1 for my listening. The differences are smaller than the similarities. Diminishing returns? Both systems have lovely imaging; they both have extended bass range. 8c's sonic presentation has more midrange detail, and they have a lot of weight. They are a bit more forward. The 8c's let you know that they are in the room both physically and sonically. I realized that I had been using a loaner set of XLR cables in the system before this test, and that has changed the Analog character of things. That will be remedied shortly when my AudioQuest Water cables arrive.
As I mentioned early in this process, this is not a fair comparison. The 8c's are around triple the price of the A500's. This review is not about the Dutch and Dutch speakers, but they influence my thinking, as do the Kii Threes!
Finally, I have been put in contact with the engineering team at Hansong. I have sent them the list of issues I have found so far. They have helped me with a couple of cases where I was doing the wrong thing.
October 28th, 2020
I took some time today to start building a playlist to highlight some of the music I have been listening to during my trial. You will find the Qobuz playlist down at the bottom of the article. I am also linking to a couple of other playlists that have been fun!
Kii Audio Spring 2019 — Updated
Audio Consultants Playlist
And the icing on the cake: We also figured out one of my problems—the A500's need a bit higher volume from the Altair G1 to wake up from sleep. I thought I had a problem. It was user error.
November 9th, 2020
This is the last day of my trial. Let me level set my decision here. I am comparing the A500's and the Hansong Hub against the Dutch and Dutch 8C and the Kii Three with BXT. Being able to directly compare these three systems is a very unique opportunity.
The A500 has a split personality. The first is their analog side. The audiophile in me almost giggles to see that. I can hook just about anything up to that input. It allows me to dig in and play around. The second side is the Hub. This little Swiss Army Knife has so many possibilities for digital, wireless, and analog my head spins. So I am a kid on a merry-go-round, dizzy and laughing!
I am fascinated by the Hub. I mostly use it for AirPlay, background listening, research, discovery, etc.. I am also playing with Spotify Connect to see if I can tell the difference between it and Apple Music.
In my testing, I have exposed several software issues with the Hub, mostly with Google Cast. All of my problems have been reported. Since I mainly use AirPlay and Spotify Connect, this has not been a significant issue for me.
I am looking forward to proper Roon Certification although I have mostly abandoned Roon due to multiple interactions issues and reduced sound quality.
As noted above, the Altair G1 is my Server/Streamer/DAC to feed Balanced XLR analog to various systems.
So, Bob, are you keeping them??? The answer is YES!
I have never experienced a pair of speakers that present this level of musical reproduction experience at this price point. The A500’s show you when you have all of the pieces linked up to produce amazing sound in your own living room. When something is not right they show it to you. When something soars to great heights, the shine a light on it. These are truly what I consider “Performance Listening” speakers. Mads Buchardt should be very pleased to put his name on these speakers. The teams that built them should be celebrated.
There is more to be done!
I really want to see some software updates for the Hansong Hub. I want to try different mastertunings. I would like to see Roon Ready on both the 8Cs and the A500 hub. I am breaking in my AudioQuest Water cables, and I am waiting for some Herbies Audio Labs, Cone/Spike Decoupling Gliders. I want to see if I can use them in place of the Gaia-1’s
I hope that this journey through my evaluation has been enjoyable and encourages others to try out other system components.
Thanks to Mads Buchardt for spending so much time responding to my emails and connecting me to the right folks directly for reporting my issues. His support has been very encouraging.
So "Enjoy the Music"
** I am closing this report here to satisfy my goal of getting this review done in the allotted time. There is another chapter going on as I type this. Keep a watch on Audiophile Style for more. We will also do another video when I am “Finally Done”
- Buchardt Audio A500 Speakers — Walnut W/ Hansong Hub. 4,350.00 Euros (LINK)
- User Manual (13MB PDF) (LINK)
- Stereo Hub Quick Start Guide (6MB PDF) (LINK)
AURALiC Altair G1
IsoACOUSTICS Mini-Pucks for the Altair G1 and Melco
Rega Planar 8 Turntable with Ania cartridge
Musical Fidelity MZ-VYNL phono stage
Audioquest Evergreen RCA cables for Phono to Hub
Mogami Gold XLR Cables
AudioQuest Water XLR cables
Elac Single post stands.
Sound Anchor Blue Dots to stick the speakers to the stands
IsoACOUSTICS Gaia 1 isolators
IKEA Cutting boards as platforms
Puritan Audio Laboratories
PSM-156 Power Line Filter
PAL power cords as needed to equipment
Apple iPad Pro 12.9 (first generation) as a control point
DIY RYZEN 7300 based Roon Server
2014 Mac Mini for Audirvana
Pixel 3a control point
iPhone 11Pro MAX Camera and control point
Dutch and Dutch 8C speakers
on Sound Anchor adjustable stands
Kii Three+BXT Speaker System
With speakers spread all over the living space for the last six months, it is great to have a very patient spouse!