Doug Schneider had the inside scoop. “Head up to room 608. Check out Blackwood’s speaker. It’s got some really cool tech.” Doug is a master of understatement, so I figured there was something in that room worth getting excited about. Off I went.
The Artanis is a large, angular speaker that’s built as a trapezoid that narrows as it rises, mirroring the decreasing size of the drivers. My first thought was that’s a lot of walnut. The seamless, book-matched veneer is stunning, with a satin finish that lets the beauty of the wood shine through.
Speaking to Mario Pavetić, general manager of Blackwood, which is based in Croatia, I discovered that the veneer is made from real 1mm-thick walnut. I then discovered that we share a predilection for air-hardening oil finishes. They apply easily, are harder than a true lacquer, and can be seamlessly touched up should there be an upset, something that can’t be done with any other finish.
Continuing with the finish, because there’s so much of it here, and because it’s what struck me first about this substantial speaker, the Artanis can be constructed with any veneer that’s available, or optionally in any automotive color, which is applied as a lacquer over of a shell of glass-fiber epoxy resin. The cabinet itself is constructed from extremely thick birch plywood. Pavetić showed me a photo of the inside of the cabinet, which is heroically braced.
The platform on which the Artanis rests is CNC’d from thick stainless steel. All this solidity adds up to 169 pounds per speaker.
After I’d oohed and ahhed over the finish, I looked around back and noted that the Artanis is in fact an active speaker. Each channel was hooked up with an AES/EBU cable that ran back to a small, unassuming box. This was the extent of equipment in the room. Two speakers, two wires, and a half-DIN miniDSP processor.
That half-DIN component does a lot of work. It functions as a Roon-ready network streamer and also works with Tidal and Qobuz. Further, and most importantly, it contains a full DSP engine that enables room correction using nine, 12, or 16 separate positional measurements. Should you so desire, Blackwood can customize the system to accept an analog input.
It gets better. Once Artanis’s DSP engine measures the room and applies correction, you can modify the response using one of the four built-in presets or build your own custom curve using full parametric equalization that’s adjustable in 0.1dB increments.
The DSP engine will send a corrected digital signal to the speakers. Each speaker contains a digital crossover that splits the signal into three streams, which are then converted to analog and sent to the amplifier modules inside each speaker. There are three Hypex Ncore class-D amplifiers in each speaker: one for the dual 9.5″ paper-cone woofers, which are vented via a down-firing port, one for the papyrus-cone midrange, and another for the beryllium-dome tweeter. All drivers are from SB Acoustics’ Satori line. The total power for the system is 600W continuous.
Sitting down for a listen, I noted a direct, intimate sound that brought me right into the music. There was a crispness and a presence that seems to be the hallmark of active speakers. It was like there was extended bandwidth, a reduction of smear, that put me right into the throat of the performance. It was an intense sound, full of detail, and easily able to convey musical subtlety. It made me sweat. Playing some tracks that I know well, I heard definition in the low notes, in bass fundamentals that I didn’t know were there.
I’ve saved this for last. The total system cost is €40,000, excluding VAT, but including speakers, bases, cables, and the DSP engine. This price includes delivery and setup within the EU. The Artanis is available outside the EU, but delivery and setup costs will be extra. Blackwood also throws in a year’s subscription to Qobuz, because why not?
Think about this. You could easily spend 40 large on cables alone for a high-end system. Or an amp and preamp. Or speakers. Any of these components by themselves could blow through that budget. And here you get a full-range, high-tech, beautifully constructed entire system for that coin.
It’s no insignificant sum, is €40,000, but when you consider everything you get here—especially the top-notch sound—the Artanis may well be the stone-cold bargain at this show.
Senior Editor, SoundStage!