A Desktop Champion: The Adam Audio F5

Adam Audio F5 (MSRP $550/pair)
ADAM Audio has been around since 1999 making rather expensive monitors for studio applications. Visit a pro-audio site like the aptly-named Gearslutz and you'll most certainly see ADAM come up often as a recommended brand, along with other monitoring heavyweights like Genelec and Neumann (formerly Klein and Hummel). In recent years the company has ventured into "home audio" (read: passive speakers) but even the most affordable of those is priced in the multi-thousand-dollar range.

Things seem to be changing though, as lately the brand has launched several more affordable models—the A3X and the ARTist 3 both go for less than a grand per pair, bringing the ADAM heritage to a whole new segment of listeners. Both of those models are highly regarded, but still potentially out of reach for some folks—especially those of us who allocate the lion's share of our budgets to the headphone side of things. How could ADAM go even lower in price, without losing the aural magic they are known for? The answer, it seems, is the new F5.

At $550/pair (sold individually at $275 each), the F5 is the most affordable ADAM yet. The most obvious sign of cost cutting is the relatively plain enclosure, free of the beautiful piano black finish of the ARTist series. Still, it's not ugly by any means, with a nice textured finish and some angular touches on the front panel to keep it from being completely boxy. Aside from that it doesn't seem to cut any corners, and compared to similar priced competitors it looks fairly classy. But more than mere looks, the F5 is packed with time-tested and studio-approved technology that most in this price range can't match.

One of they key ingredients is ADAM's proprietary X-ART tweeter which is described as an evolution of the Heil Air Motion Transformer. The X-ART tweeter gets paired with a 5" woofer of hybrid AdamAudio_F5_Photo_AmpModuledesign, using a glass fibre cone with paper backing for added rigidity. Onboard bi-amplification treats each driver with 25W RMS, making for a healthy 100W total for a pair of F5s. That's more than plenty for the intended nearfield listening. Interestingly, ADAM uses their class AB amp modules across the board here. It is their custom to use class AB amplification for the X-ART tweeter since it extends up to 50kHz and therefore doesn't play nice with class D amplification. But their larger and more expensive models do in fact use PWM amp modules for the woofers. These deliver more power and efficiency, but you have to move to the A5X—double the price of the F5—before reaching that level.

Aside from that slight change compared to the more ambitious ADAM models, all the expected features of a studio monitor are on display here. Each side gets rear-panel RCA and XLR inputs, a level adjustment knob, and some very helpful tone controls. The high shelf EQ allows for plus or minus 6dB above 5kHz, while the low shelf EQ adds or subtracts the same amount under 300Hz. I found the latter particularly helpful when placing the speakers in a less than ideal environment. The front mounted ports are advantageous in a desktop situation as compared to most competitors with rear porting, but some users may still not have enough breathing room during placement. This results in boomy, overbearing midbass, so having that tone control is mighty useful. I wouldn't mind having even more precise controls, but that's probably asking too much from the most affordable model in the entire stable.

In my review of the Emotiva Airmotiv 5, I mention them pushing the upper limits of what we might reasonably call "desktop speakers". Well, these Adam Audio F5 active monitors are even larger, if only by a very small margin. Surely some people will simply not have room to accommodate them. Still, the popular Audioengine 5+ is nearly identical in size, so I figure there must be a good amount of potential customers out there whose desks these won't overwhelm. If we are to have any hope of a semi-full-range response, a 5" woofer is usually the minimum we can get away with, and designs with 5" drivers don't get much smaller than this anyway. The alternative is a satellite/subwoofer combination which brings placement difficulties of its own—the sub needs to go somewhere, the extra cabling is a nuisance, and the integration between sat and sub is often problematic. There is no free lunch to be had in desktop audio.

You know what actually comes close to being a free lunch, all things considered? Active amplification. I've said it before but it bears repeating—active designs can do far more with far less, resulting in big wins in performance and affordability. Stand-alone amplifiers tend to be overbuilt, ready for whatever load comes their way. They have no idea what sort of speaker they might end up being paired with, so they effectively need to be ready for extreme cases—even if all they ever end up driving is a very simple load. What if the amp could be specifically tailored to your particular speaker? It could then be designed with those specific characteristics in mind, being robust enough to do the job without any overkill. Taking it one step further—what if we broke it down to individual drivers? Specific amps for each driver, compartmentalized for maximum efficiency into those specific loads. Then consider the removal of a passive crossover—one of the most critical and expensive aspects of a good passive speaker design—to be replaced with an active electronic solution which is by nearly all accounts the better option; both conceptually and in the real world. End result? A better way of doing business, one that sadly doesn't seem to be wanted in the high-end space, for whatever reason. Still, we can take full advantage of these benefits in our desktop systems, as that seems to be the one place a consumer has plenty of choice in this category.

ADAM Audio GmbH
Ederstr. 16
D-12059 Berlin
+49-30 / 86 30 097-0

Guitarist9273's picture

the JBL LSR305? They're a lot cheaper, but I hear good things. 

John Grandberg's picture

...they did seem nice enough. Not as refined as the models from ADAM or Emotiva, which in fairness are more expensive. The JBLs are pretty good for the price though. Rear porting will make placement more difficult. 

rrahman's picture

If you are going to have a desktop wall of fame section, then I would like to request review of the Magnepan Mini's.  Then if you have time, the KEF LS50.

John Grandberg's picture

I'd definitely like to explore those for the more expensive end of the Wall of Fame. Also the Sennheiser/K-Array Piccolo system. Not sure about the LS50 - I've heard 'em, and love 'em, but they have been covered extensively elsewhere and I'm not sure there's much to add. Plus that big rear port makes them less qualified for desktop use. 

grizzlybeast's picture

I am rockin adam f7's and lovin em. Like all/most near fields they may need a sub to reach down low. Specially the f5's

John Grandberg's picture

The F7 is probably the one I'd go with if I had a large, open desk with no worries about spacing. I find that in a near field setting I don't miss the lowest bass as much. In my 2-channel rig I've come to expect it (based on always running big full range speakers and/or subs) but for desktop use it doesn't work out that way. There is a good range of ADAM subs though, including an F series model coming out soon. 

Sorensiim's picture

You guys should check out the Adam Artist 6. Floor standing active speakers, top of the ARTist line. I bought them for my living room and I just can't wipe the silly grin off my face, they are SPECTACULARLY good!

John Grandberg's picture

...that those things sound brilliant. I'd love a pair. They don't really fit with our stated focus on "personal audio" though. Between those and your Noble Kaiser 10, you've got all your bases covered. 

coreying's picture

I own the A7X - the next series and next size up. I use them on my desk for music, guitar playback (via a Kemper Profiling Amp and Roland Octa-Capture) and PC games. They are outstanding no matter what you throw at them.

I've even had them in my living room next to my full-sized floor standing home theater speakers, from a well known reputable brand, costing 5 times more than the A7X's, and the A7X's rival their sound - better in some areas, close in other areas. But the fact that they're even comparable to a speaker costing 5 times as much and multiple times the volume and weight is astounding.

Like Sorensiim above, I'll definitely be considering Adam Audio when its time to replace my living room setup :)

Nepenthe's picture

Nice writeup! I own a pair of airmotiv5s -- I use them in my small living room setup currently (with a Definitive Technology (RIP) 10" sealed subwoofer). I also had the pleasure of auditioning a set of Adam Column Mk3 Actives in my home for about a month last year. These were *fantastic.* The detail, the ambience, the tightness of the bass, and the customizability of the sound were all stunning. Listening to them was a thrilling experience.

Unfortunately I lost my job around the same time and even at 25% off (for demos) - $7500 - I couldn't swing them. Now I'm looking in the $3K to $4K range and wanting to move the airmotiv5s back to my desk. But I'm so sold on active amplification and the active crossover (not to mention the neat things you can do with a really flexible digital crossover like time domain stuff), as well as with planar (AMT, ribbon, ortho, or electrostatic) extending down below the customary 2500 or 2800 that most of these AMT tweeter speakers (smaller Adams, GoldenEar, MartinLogan Motion series, Unity The Rock, Emotiva, etc.) do (the Column Mk3 Actives have an AMT midrange that crosses down at 800 Hz). Anxious to see what the Janszen zA1.1s are like and if he offers an Active design (though they'd be over my price range anyway).

I'd love a scaled-down Adam Column, maybe an Artist 8 that included the AMT midrange but a much smaller form factor and lower power than the $10K Column Mk3. Ultimately I'll probably have to sacrifice either active or planar midrange.

John Grandberg's picture

The new JansZen ZA1.1 is very exciting to me. The list of speakers designed to go right up near the wall, instead of sticking way out into the room, is very small. I'm satisfied with my Sjofn HiFi (the clue) but I keep a short list of speakers with similar requirements in case I ever upgrade. The JansZen is now on my list - along with the Von Schweikert VR-22 and the Larsen Model 6.

thegunner's picture

Nice review!


Have you had the chance to try the gen 2 airmotiv 4s ($400/pair) or 5s($500/pair)? Emotiva has taken some elements from the Stealth series and incorporated them into the 4s and 5s. Perhaps the new airmotiv 5s can stand up to the adam F5 or be better than it? I've been thinking of getting a pair of speakers for near-field use, and the F5 seems to be a better option due to the front bass port.

John Grandberg's picture

I noticed the Airmotiv line got a facelift - odd that the 4 and 5 models did, but not the 6. I was under the impression that it was merely aesthetic but maybe I'm wrong. 

RussellD's picture

-and  they cost $300 a pair. See a comparison between the Adam and the JBL here:



You can listen to a direct comparison here (1/3 way down the page):


John Grandberg's picture

... definitely has some strengths. Low end impact is really nice. Imaging is also quite good. They also hold their composure at high volumes better than most. Their weaknesses, to my ears, are the upper mids and high being a little peaky and harsh. I'm not talking "honest", either, but artificially harsh. I see why people enjoy them though, and for some people they actually may work out better than the ADAMs or Emotivas. 

Nathan8159's picture

Hi everybody, 

I've been searhing around now for about 8 months for a pair for really good computer speakers. For listening to Music, Movies, etc..  and I have no Idea what to do. I like the look of the Adams F5, A3X but I'm worried about the "Studio Monitor" bit, since I won't be mixing.  could you guy's help me out ? And there's no possibility for me to go give a listen which is why I'm more hesitant.





John Grandberg's picture

Don't let the "studio monitor" bit get in your way. Generally speaking, that term gets you built in amplification and a mostly neutral sound signature. That's all.

If you choose a consumer oriented model like the B&W MM-1, Paradigm Millenia, or UFi UCube, you tend to get a more sleek appearance and maybe some extra options (like USB input). Something labeled as a studio monitor will probably be larger and more boxy, but likely end up sounding better in the process. 

dumbo's picture

Dude, if you think the Adams are revelation you NEED to check out Genelec. While their simple active monitors are stunningly good, their top of the line DSP active series are state of the art in music reproduction. For 15 years I was  an rabid audiophile who spent 10s of thousands on equipment such as Thiel, Classe, Audible Illusions, Sim Audio etc etc etc. Not only did I own very good equipment but, I've auditioned virtually ALL the very best and most expensive gear available. I then discovered Genelec (which is considered the top tier in pro audio). The Genelec 8240  DSP active monitors and 7260 sub that I currently own complelely trounce ANY audiophile dac,speaker, preamp and  amp combitnation under $200,000 and ...they do it by a WIDE margin (at a fraction the price). I now realize that the audiophile world is nothing more that a con. 

Tyll Hertsens's picture

...the Genelecs have always sounded to bright for me. Been a while though. Anybody have recent experience?

JRAudio's picture

The point, that the Genelecs sounded a bit to "cold" was over 10 years ago. In the meantime I have had 4 different models, and growing up every year and ended up having the 6280A at my table. This 3-way system, with 10 Inch bass, coaxial mid-high speaker, with digital input, DSP with GLM auto calibration sounds terrific and does sound very, very far from too cold. The coaxial system gave me a fantastic sound stage and localisation and the 10 Inch bass extends to 22 Hz without any audible limitaion (in near field).


dumbo's picture

Audiophiles generally equate accuracy with a bright aggressive sound. My 8240s are not even remotely bright. In fact the sound is so inviting it's almost "warm" while at the same time EVERY nuance in the recording can be heard. I honestly don't know how they've pulled this off but...they have. Even more importantly you've NEVER heard a properly integrated sub until you've hear one of Genelecs DSP full monitor/sub systems. I ALWAYS hated subs until I heard what Genelec was doing. Don't take my word for it....use your own ears and get your local Genelec dealer to set up a top of line DSP active monitor/sub system for you to hear. I promise you it'll be like NOTHING you've ever heard before.

tony's picture

Oh my , now we have our Steve G doing the comparison .  Hmm , the $500 pair Race is on ! 

Emotiva vs. Adam F5  , maybe too close to call ,  the Tenn. Boys have more extra stuff available and Free Shipping to USA .  

I was just at the point of ordering the F5 but the Emotiva seems to be tipping the scale . 

They actually answer their phone and speak English to boot .  

Well now , is the Emovica Dac at $270 with Headphone Amp and Remote control any good ? ,  is it up to the Odac ? , the Bifrost ? , certainly inexpensive enough to try , especiall with ebay just around the corner to sell the stuff that doesn't make the cut .  

We consumers have interesting options and exit stradegy available . Tyll and Steve G . , thank-you-both for pointing-out all these useful product offerings , don't think I could do much without your wisdoms . 

Tyll Hertsens's picture

...but he's got more experience than I with this type of product so you're better off with his opinion anyway.

tony's picture

This is a triple win here , none of you lads seem to be Shills for any manufacturer which translates to integrety , us consumers are the winners , thank you .  

Back in the day I owned Esoteric Audio in Mich.  I was a Meridian dealer , Active loudspeakers on offer , didn't sell but they were superb , the big Glossy reviewers dumped on them but loved anything Bose , Quad or any other manufacturer's advertised products .  Monster was my best selling product line .  

Somehow , the manufacturers haven't be able to land you lads in their boat , thanks for trying to be clear and accurate , the three of you are both a treasure and breath of fresh air , I love reading your stuff .     

Today , I am a manufacturer but as a consumer I'll buy all ya all a beer to keep you in our boat .   

Ben Halsey's picture

Would these be good for a small house party of about 10-15 people across one or 2 rooms. I know its not inteded for this use but I cannot seem to find the middle ground between big active PA speakers and nearfields. 

Bill B's picture

The F7's would be in that middle ground you seek. 

utopianemo's picture

Mr. Grandberg, I'd be interested in your thoughts on comparing the Airmotiv "5s" to the Adams as well. Guttenberg compared them (http://www.cnet.com/news/emotiva-airmotiv5s-speaker-review-audiophiliac/) and seemed to feel it came down to low-end output vs. low-end accuracy.....and he didn't pick a "winner".

It sounds like the winners are us.

John Grandberg's picture
I think the ADAMs are slightly better overall, but it's true that the Emos seem a little more "visceral" down low. Both are very good for the money.
dry509's picture

Please advise where to buy the Adam Audio F5? Thanks. I am in Texas.

John Grandberg's picture
Just search for "ADAM F5" and you'll get results. Online shops include Musician's Friend, B&H Photo, Guitar Center, and a bunch more. You can look for actual brick and mortar stores in your area but I'm not sure how likely that would be. Depends on your area I suppose.
JML's picture

I've been searching for speakers to use at my desk, and think these may be unique in several ways. Probably what I'm going to end up buying. Most "computer speakers" for desktop use are set up for direct computer connection via USB, connection via a 1/8" phono plug, or wireless, and many have a built-in DAC. I don't want any of those, but need something that I can connect to a desktop amp/DAC purchased for headphone listening, such as the Oppo HA-1 I'm waiting to order. The Oppo is a balanced preamp, basically, and the only active speakers that can match with something like that are the pro audio monitors like those from Adam, Emotiva, etc., that have built-in amps and balanced XLR connections. But many are rear-ported, except for the Adam F and Ax lines, which means they can't be close to a wall. I even tried the Mini-Maggies, but they can't be close to a wall, either, despite the thin design of the units and stands; of course, they need a hefty power amp.

In my case, and I suspect many others', the desk is against a wall, not in the middle of the room. Because of the depth of most monitors, they won't fit on a desk, or even a desk with a riser (my desk is wood, with a riser that's 8" deep). The Adam F lineup can be used with wall-mounts, which will probably solve the problem for me. The Emotiva F line has wall mount brackets, but the ports are on the rear, and the mounts don't seem to have much extension. Plus they have a dedicated subwoofer, which no one else seems to have in a line that matches the other needs I have.

The problem is listening. Few pro audio stores have the Adams in stock or set up. I was able to hear the Adam A5x and A7x, which are too big for my projected use. I'll probably end up ordering the F3 or F5, and trying them out as best I can without mounting them on the wall.

JML's picture

I meant the F5 or F7; there is no "F3." There are A3x, A5x, etc., models in that other Adam line, plus a sub that can go with the Ax speakers (and wall-mount brackets, too).

ahaywood's picture

Where is the video review?

Actually I read the whole article twice. But I love the video reviews.