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Gryphon Diablo 300

Daedalus Audio Argos V.2I’ve long had an interest in Daedalus Audio’s loudspeakers. At first it was because of the company’s cool-sounding name -- but after I heard first their DA-1.1 and then, several years ago, their Ulysses, it was their sound that interested me. Friends have told me that they, too, had heard and liked Daedalus speakers, but I’d seldom seen their products reviewed. I concluded that the next time I saw Lou Hinkley, Daedalus Audio’s owner and designer, at an audio show, I’d talk to him about reviewing a pair.

Hinkley and I finally met at the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show, where we talked about my reviewing his speakers. He had in mind the Argos v.2, which was used in Purity Audio’s room at last winter’s Axpona 2013 show, in Chicago. Arrangements were made.

Construction

The Daedaluses arrived nicely packed, with foam buffers for each speaker’s corners, sides, and top and bottom panels. Unpacked, the Argos v.2s looked handsome and solidly built. The speakers measure 46”H x 11”W x 16”D, weigh 103 pounds each, and cost $12,950 USD per pair. The standard finishes are solid Cherry or Walnut; also available, for $950/pair more, are Maple, Quartersawn White Oak, or Ebonized Walnut. The review pair were clad in the beautiful Cherry finish. The front and rear baffles are made of solid layers of walnut and ash, respectively, and add to the Argos v.2’s seamless appearance. Lou Hinkley told me that the “cabinets are solid 3/4” hardwood with additional hard maple bracing and layers inside for a very solid cabinet. It would take at least a 300-pound MDF cabinet to be close to this stiff. Finish is an old-world-type oil varnish, which is very durable, long lasting, and easily repaired and restored.”

I noticed that the tweeters were a little off kilter from the rest of the drivers. “The offset tweeter was an innovation I introduced with my original DA-1 speaker,” Hinkley explained. “What this accomplishes is a very wide sweet spot for a more natural presentation, especially for live recordings when several people are listening. The sculpted baffle helps eliminate unwanted baffle reflections, thereby reducing distortion and phase problems. This results in cleaner, more detailed reproduction.”

Daedalus Argos v.2

The crossovers use all poly and Teflon capacitors, and the driver complement consists of two 1” soft-dome tweeters, one 5” midrange driver, and two 8” woofers. On the rear panel is a toggle switch that can be used to adjust the tweeters’ high-frequency output by +/-0.5dB. Although I didn’t find that this switch made a dramatic difference in the sound, I left it set to +0.5dB. The Argos sits on substantial metal outriggers that are very nicely made. Some serious metalwork went into making these, and they give the speaker a strong, confident stance. I was especially appreciative of the four knobs on each outrigger, which made possible quick, precise leveling of the speakers. I wish more speaker manufacturers would provide these.

The Argos v.2’s frequency response is specified as 28Hz-22kHz, +/-2dB, and its sensitivity as a high 97dB/W/m. The nominal impedance is specified as 6 ohms.

System and Setup

My analog front end is unchanged: a Merrill Heirloom turntable with Jeff Rowland Design Group Consonance tonearm and Transfiguration Phoenix cartridge feeds an ASR Mini Basis phono preamp. My digital front end comprises an Asus laptop computer running JRiver Media Center 17, which sends music via Clarity Cable’s excellent USB cable to an Abbingdon Music Research DP-777 D/A converter. The AMR’s excellent analog output section drives a Purity Audio Silver Statement preamplifier. My system’s sound has been considerably improved by the addition of MSB’s M202 class-A monoblock amps. I still use my McAlister OTL-195 monos when I want that tube flavor, but the MSBs are something special. I use Silnote interconnects between the Abbingdon DP-777 and the Purity Silver Statement, and between the Silver Statement and the McAlisters, and with the ASR Mini Basis. Speaker cables are Sound Design Labs TC8, and all power cords are by Sound Design Labs, as are the power conditioner and its BD3-SE cord. My reference speakers are now the KingSound King electrostatics, though I still use the Meadowlark Heron dynamic speakers. The Kings are driven by custom power supplies designed and built by Don Smith of Sound Design Labs.

The Argos speakers were not difficult to set up, and produced a wide sweet spot at various positions in my room: they sounded as good 6’ apart as they did 10’ apart. I liked them about as well with my McAlister OTL mono amps as with my MSB solid-state monos. The Argos v.2s were a bit sweeter with the tubed McAlisters, but were more powerful and more dynamic with the solid-state MSBs -- without giving up much, if anything, of the sonic realism at which the McAlisters are so adept. The Argos worked well with every speaker cable I had on hand.

Sound

My initial impression of the Argos v.2 was that, compared to other Daedalus designs I’d heard, it was a breath of fresh air: much more open and transparent in the highs, with a more coherent sound, and more able to help me “see” into the music and feel more presence from the recording. I heard more detail in recording environments than I have from past Daedaluses. Usually, when I switch from electrostatic to dynamic speakers, it takes my ears 20 to 30 minutes or more to adjust, before I can begin to do any kind of clear-headed evaluation. With the Argos, the transition took only five minutes. This was because the Daedalus’s high-frequency performance was not only open and extended, it also reproduced a good amount of air around the performers when the recording included such information. The Argos revealed a lot of detail and resolution from my most treasured discs; cymbals and bells had realistic sheen, shimmer, and decay.

Daedalus Argos v.2

The Argos v.2’s midrange was, in a word, effortless -- another improvement over past Daedalus models. They particularly made singers, violins, guitars, and solo piano sound clear and present, and were able to communicate immediacy to me. Stage width and height were very good, and musicians had a good sense of dimensionality and space around then. Stage depth was about average. The speaker’s bass response was deep and tight, possessing weight down to its bottom limit of 30Hz. The Argos speakers could play loud while maintaining their clarity, composure, and dynamic impact. Lovers of rock music, and classical-music fans who insist on trying to squeeze orchestras at full tilt into their 12’ x 12’ listening rooms, can fire away, but don’t get too crazy -- the Argos v.2’s limits can be reached. The Argoses could also resolve difficult-to-follow musical passages in free-form jazz or interpretive classical music The Argoses’ perspective on the music was definitely front-of-hall in my room, and gave live recordings that “you are there” feeling.

Wayne Shorter’s The All Seeing Eye (24-bit/192kHz FLAC, Blue Note) is one of his all-time greats, if only for its lineup of players: Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, Grachan Moncur III, etc. It’s also one of the few recordings for which I prefer the digital download to the vinyl (I’ve owned the latter for years). From the frenetic pace and cacophony of sounds in “Chaos” to slower, more moody tracks like “Mephistopheles” and “Face of the Deep,” I heard beautiful, tonally rich blendings of sounds emanate from the Argos v.2s. They allowed all of the instruments to come through with their vibrant tonal colors intact. Also, I thought it was noteworthy the way I could follow the players’ individual lines. For example, I could easily tell Freddie Hubbard’s flugelhorn from Alan Shorter’s, and no matter how sonorous the group got, I could always find and follow Wayne Shorter’s tenor saxophone.

A good friend of mine recommended a classical recording, and I’m glad he did: Richard Strauss’s Der Burger als Edelmann (aka Le Bourgeois gentilhomme), Four Last Songs, and three other songs, with Swedish soprano Lisa Larsson, and Douglas Boyd conducting the Orchestra Musikkollegium Winterthur (24/44.1 FLAC, MDG). This is some of the most wonderful orchestral music I’ve heard -- it has everything you could want from a classical work -- and the Argos v.2s reproduced it with believable weight and power. Not only that, the triangles sounded so crisp, with so much verve, that it was uncanny. The real treat, though, is Larsson’s singing. She has a beautiful voice, and is able to hit and sustain high notes with such ease that she was a pure joy to listen to through the Argoses. The speakers’ ability to throw a wide soundstage was on display, with good layering of instruments and notable spatial separation, and the portrayal of the orchestra was exceptional. And the Daedaluses’ dynamic range was quite wide.

Daedalus Argos v.2

Listening to Jiang Ting’s Voices of the Pipa (CD, M•A M06IA), I heard fine examples of the Argos’s ability to reproduce transient response. Ting has mastered the nuances of this ancient Chinese instrument, played almost exclusively by women -- you need long nails to bend the strings in order to get the desired notes. I could clearly follow her fingering and strumming, and the notes she reached by bending the strings. The speed of Ting’s fingers moving up and down the instrument’s neck, and the attack and decay of the plucked notes, was subtle at first, then mind-boggling when I thought of how she was working the instrument to produce this multitude of sounds. There’s a lot more going on than just strumming some strings, and the Argos v.2 gave some insight into the instrument’s tonality. It was easy to close my eyes and get the sense that Jiang Ting and her pipa were actually in the room with me, so adept at relaying detail, speed, and a good amount of air were the Argos v.2s.

Another singer I’ve been enjoying listening to is Anne Bisson. Her Blue Mind (CD, Fidelio Music FACD025) is not only filled with astonishingly good music; Bisson’s voice through the Argoses was simply marvelous, and a joy to behold. The speed and presence of the Argos gave Bisson’s voice a surreal kind of sound, making it sound clear and immediate. The accomplished instrumental trio on this disc -- Bisson on piano, Normand Guilbeault on double bass, Paul Brochu on drums -- supports Bisson’s singing quite well. To test the Argos v.2’s ability to reproduce the sound of the acoustic piano, an instrument all too difficult to get right, I used Opening, by Mathias Landaeus, Palle Danielsson, and Jon Falt (CD, M•A M081A). The Argos did a good job of capturing the tonal colors and timbral accuracy of Landaeus’s Hamburg Steinway concert grand. What I particularly like about Opening is the interplay between the musicians -- the Argoses communicated the perfect sync of their timing and synergy.

Considerations and a windup

My Meadowlark Herons ($4200/pair when available) held up OK in comparison to the Daedalus Argos v.2s, but I felt the Daedalus was clearly the better speaker, and the one I would choose if given a choice. In terms of detail, speed, dynamic range, openness, and extension at the frequency extremes, the Daedalus won the day. And the way the Argos v.2s handled voices and acoustic piano had me coming back for listen after listen, pulling out favorite after favorite to rediscover.

Today, the competition among loudspeakers is fierce. Two models I would love to have been able to directly compare with the Argos are Totem Acoustic’s Element Earth and the Marten Django. Since the 2013 CES, both have been among my favorite speakers costing $13,000 to $16,000/pair. All three of these speakers are built well and perform favorably in comparisons with speakers costing $3000 to $4000/pair more.

I’ve always felt that the original Daedalus Audio speakers sounded good and could play really loud for those who want to be immersed in realistic volumes in their listening rooms. Speakers such as their Ulysses could do this and still retain a good degree of fidelity. With the Argos (and I'm told all v.2 speakers), Daedalus has stepped things up a couple of notches and headed off in another direction -- this speaker is more clear and open than its predecessors, and is in line and competitive with what other manufacturers currently offer in the $13,000-$16,000+/pair range. The Argos v.2s present a wide, open soundstage, a high level of fidelity and musicality, a realistic-sounding midrange, deep bass, and the ability to play loud when you want to let your hair down to boogie or rock out -- and all of this to a much higher degree than previous Daedalus models could do. The speaker is solidly built and well thought out, and the workmanship and build quality are first class. Everything from the high-frequency attenuation switch on the rear panel to the substantial outriggers the speakers sit on are evidence of a thoughtful design.

If you’re looking for high-performing speakers costing $13,000/pair, the choices are many. I wholeheartedly recommend that you add Daedalus Audio’s Argos v.2 to your shopping list.

. . . Michael Wright
michaelw@soundstagenetwork.com

Associated Equipment

  • Speakers -- KingSound King (with custom power supplies designed and built by Don Smith at Sound Design Labs), Meadowlark Heron
  • Sources -- Asus laptop running JRiver Media Center 17; Abbingdon Music Research DP-777 DAC; Merrill Heirloom turntable, Jeff Rowland Design Group Consonance tonearm, Transfiguration Phoenix cartridge; ASR Mini Basis phono stage
  • Preamplifier -- Purity Audio Design Silver Statement
  • Amplifiers -- McAlister Audio OTL-195 monoblocks, MSB M202 monoblocks
  • Interconnects -- Silnote
  • Speaker cables -- Sound Design Labs TC8
  • Power cables -- Sound Design Labs BD3-SE
  • Power conditioner -- Sound Design Labs
  • Accessories -- Epiphany Stand Systems Celeste Reference equipment stand

Daedalus Audio Argos v.2 Loudspeakers
Price: $12,950 USD per pair (sold only direct from manufacturer).
Warranty: Five years parts and labor.

Daedalus Audio
7060 Portal Way #120
Ferndale, WA 98248
Phone: (360) 312-3604

E-mail: info@daedalusaudio.com
Website: www.daedalusaudio.com