Buchardt Audio S400 by Solidtrax
For the last couple of months, I've had the pleasure of working with the Buchardt Audio S400 compact monitor speakers. A speaker which is supposed to sound very neutral and transparent, combined with an exceptional sound stage and imaging. But what caught my attention the most, is that they state that these speakers are not just aimed for the typical Hi-Fi consumer market, but also for the professional. As I was in the market for a great compact studio monitor, I decided to to give them a test drive!
Buchardt Audio is a relatively young Danish based high-end loudspeaker manufacturer. Unlike most loudspeaker manufacturers, they sell their products directly to their customers, offering free fast worldwide shipping. While you can't demo them in a Hi-Fi shop nearby, thanks to their 30 days trial policy, you can demo them in your own room. If for whatever reason you are not satisfied with your purchase, you can cancel it. All you have to do is contact Buchardt Audio within the first 30 days after your received them, and they arrange a pick up of the speakers and you get your money back. Yes, it's that simple. The reason why Buchardt Audio has taken this direct to customer approach, is because they can keep the price down, as you take away distributors and dealers who all need their cut too. Thanks to this, the S400 can be bought for under $2000 a pair, while being able to compete with speakers costing way more than that, or at least, that's what they state on their website.
When I first opened the big shipping box, I was a bit surprised to see how compact these speakers really are. Yes, I've seen some photo's online, and I've also seen their measurements, but somehow I didn't really get that they where this compact. Sure, they are bigger than for example a Roger/Falcon LS3/5A or Harbeth P3ESR, but not by a lot though. While compact, they still have some decent weight, making them feel solid. When my wife stepped in the room and noticed the speakers on the table, she said she find them nice looking. That was the first time (in the 12 years we are together) that my wife said something positive about the looks of a speaker, that's a good start! Now let's take a look at some of the specs.
The S400, measuring 365 x 180 x 240 mm (h x w x d), is a 2-way monitor with a big wave guide for the tweeter and a passive radiator on the back. I’ve seen speaker before with a wave guide and also a passive radiator, but what is a first for me is that the S400 has the tweeter with the waveguide on the bottom. Combined with a subtle tilt to the back (you notice when you look at the speakers from the sides) they managed to get a perfect phase allign between the woofer and the tweeter. The tweeter is 0,74" and is made from a soft fabric textile, the woofer measures 6" and is made from aluminium. The frequency response (+/- 3dB) is stated to be 33 - 40.000 Hz (in room), or 47 - 40,000 Hz when you don't account for any room gain. It has an impedance of 4 ohm and the efficiency is 88 dB (2,83 V / 1 m).
I've read online that the S400 becomes better over time. I know some people don't believe in this phenomenon, but I do and I decided to let them play for a few days while I was not in the studio (at reasonable levels). So by the time I started auditioning them, they had played music for over 60 hours already, I figured that should be sufficient. I positioned the speakers at stands behind my desk, 60 cm away from the back wall and the middle of the speaker is at ear level. In this setup, the listening position is roughly 1,3 meters away from the speakers. To power the speakers, I use a NAD 214 power amp (180 Watt per channel into 4 Ohm), which is connected to my Universal Audio Apollo Twin interface. My studio room is roughly 5,5 meters by 4 meters, with some minor acoustic treatment in the form of broadband absorption and bass traps.
At first I started listening to songs I'm very familiar with, from a variety of artists, like John Mayer, Deadmau5, Stephan Bodzin, Adele, Damien Rice, Norah Jones, Mads Vinding Trio and London Grammar. After that, I have used them for a few weeks during actual sound design and mixing work. Now that I've really come to know them, I would like to describe them as being neutral, warm, analytical, smooth, dynamic, sophisticated, big, accurate and enjoyable. Let me explain a bit more.
I believe they are to be considered neutral, because the overall presentation is, for the most part, neutral to my ears. But, perhaps a bit contradicting, I also sense a slightly warm and smooth character. It's subtle enough to my taste and it helps make the speakers also enjoyable to listen to. While being a bit on the warm and smooth side, they are absolutely analytical too in my experience, because the speakers allow me to hear what is going on inside the mix while mixing. Songs that I think are mixed fantastically, sound nothing short of fabulous on these speakers. Mixes that I know that I think are not that great, sound not that great. It's not analytical in a sterile/cold way or in a brutally honest way though. I personally like this, as this makes them not only useful as a mixing tool, but they are also enjoyable during producing or just for listening to music. I noticed I can work many hours with these speakers without them causing me to have ear fatigue.
The overall presentation just seems right to me. From the lows to the mids, all the way to the highs, the presentation seems very accurate, sophisticated I would like to say, which is I'm guessing in part thanks to a fantastic designed cross over and waveguide, making the tweeter and woofer integrate perfectly. Vocals, both male and female, sound very realistic, as if you are lucky enough to have a private concert in your room. But it's not just the vocals that sound so convincingly real, it's basically every instrument that is reproduced with so much care. Because of this, I started to rediscover some amazingly well recorded jazz music. It's so much fun to close your eyes and be able to tell exactly where every performer is in front of you, and hear even the smallest details hidden away in the background.
The way the S400 paint a sonic picture is really beyond their size, it sounds big, dynamic and with a stereo image and sense of front to depth that is simply stunning. There are other compact speakers which I think are amazing, like the LS3/5A or P3ESR I mentioned earlier, but while I think they sound great, they sound like compact speakers nonetheless. The S400 performs like a much bigger speaker than it actually is, as if your are listening to a bigger 3-way speaker, or a floorstander for example. And most commendable I guess is that it achieves this without creating a very hyped and boomy bass. Instead, the bass performance is solid, fast and tight. In my room and with my equipment, these little speakers basically seem flat down to 42 Hz. It's pretty evident that they start to roll of fast below 42 Hz, but they still manage to provide some insight down to roughly 35 Hz, which I think is simply stunning for a speaker this compact. What I also find very commendable, is that the overall tonality seems to stay pretty much the same regardless of listening level, with only the sub bass suffering a bit on really lower levels it seems. I like to work on moderate levels most of the time, it helps that the mix decisions I make seem to translate perfectly when listening on significant louder levels.
How Do They Compare
In a direct comparison with two other HiFi monitor speakers, the ATC SCM19 and PMC Twenty.22 speakers - two brands I consider really high-end - I noticed that I preferred the S400 over the PMC when it comes to the overall tonality and stereo image. The PMC is certainly no slouch, but in the end it's in the little things that made me pick the S400 over this particular PMC model. The SCM19 impressed me a lot when driven pretty loud, showing off a bass performance that is fast, tight and fully in control, which I'm guessing is thanks to the fact it's a sealed box. The mids and highs, slightly different in character than the S400, also impressed me a lot. However, on a more moderate listening level, the tonality of the SCM19 changed a bit, surrendering some of the bass in the process, resulting in a slightly colder presentation compared to the Buchardt and PMC. Taking into account that most of my work will be done on moderate listening levels and the fact that the S400's are roughly €1000 less expensive than the SCM19 and $1500 less expensive than the Twenty.22, I picked the S400 as the winner of this trio. Like I said, I really consider ATC and PMC as two very respectable high-end speaker manufacturers, I somehow did not expect that Buchardt Audio could really compete with these amazing speakers, but now I can say from first hand experience, they absolutely can.
A Different Room
I also took the opportunity to bring them to another studio with really amazing acoustic properties. In this bigger room, the S400 impressed me even more. To fill the room with sound, they had to be driven harder than in my room, but they did it with confidence. Bass was solid, punchy and fast, as if these compact little speakers are defying the laws of physics. Stereo image was, again, phenomenal, with a razor sharp phantom center image. I was already very enthusiastic about how the S400 perform in my room, I liked them even better in this other room. This showed me that having great acoustics will allow the speakers to truly reveal how great they really are. They where setup next to a much bigger set of speakers with a 12" woofer and I would have believed it if the studio owner told me it was the bigger speaker that I listened to, because at no point it sounded like we where listening to a small set of speakers. Sure, when he activated the big boys - I'm guessing at least six times as big as the S400 - it was immediately clear that they offered more insight in the frequencies below 42 Hz and they handled the high SPL with more ease, but that was basically the only difference I experienced.
So is there anything negative to say about these Buchardt Audio speakers? Sure, I can think of something. Because of the large distance between the woofer and the tweeter (which is caused by the large wave guide), the speaker needs a bit of distance to let the woofer and tweeter integrate optimally. This makes it not an ideal choice if you need to have them in a very near field position, like on your desk. I've tried a lot of setups and I noticed that 1 meter is the absolute minimum recommended distance, improving a lot if you can put them a bit further away even. As stated before, I've ended up with them at roughly 1,3 meters away from the listening position and 60 cm away from the back wall, as I found out this is the sweet spot for my particular room. With the speakers closer to the back wall, I noticed an increase in (sub) bass performance due to extra room gain, but it came at the cost of transparency in the low mid range. This is not the fault of the speaker though, my room is simply not acoustically well treated yet, with just a little bit of broad band absorption and two bass traps.
The S400 inspire me, it’s always a joy to work with them. They invite me to make the best mix possible, as I know I will be rewarded! The reason I decided to test these speakers is because they are advertised as being neutral and transparent and suitable for use in a studio environment. Now that I've really come to know these speakers, I can fully support those claims!
Visit the Buchardt Audio website