Face Off: Front and Center Acoustic Research AR4C
AR speakers never lack for unique design elements, and the AR4C ($370), part of the company's High-Res series, is no exception. Noticeable right away was the rubber compound lining on the baffle that is designed to reduce early reflections, which can noticeably affect a speaker's sound before it ever gets to you. The AR4C also employs the company's hybrid aluminum/magnesium midrange driver (two 5.25-inch versions here) and their "plasma-transferred diamond-coated" 1-inch titanium tweeter. The plastic cabinet—a bit disappointing on an otherwise nicely built speaker—has a concave, grooved style to it and a built-in foot that allows you to mount and angle the speaker in a variety of ways (giving it the top nod in the ergonomics department). It's available in a black ash or cherry woodgrain finish. The cabinet measures out at 8.125 inches high by 19 wide by 7.19 deep, is magnetically shielded, and supplies five-way gold-plated binding posts.
E. The AR4C does a nice job with details in the midrange frequencies but lacks some of the subtle nuances of the other two speakers.
The AR4C held its own nicely with the NHT and Phase Tech where it really matters for a center channel—articulate, natural midrange. Where it lost some points in naturalness and accuracy was at either end of its frequency range. The panel was in agreement that the AR4C did a nice job with dialogue for the most part—especially the female singing voice. It had a little more trouble with the Blues Brothers soundtrack than the others did, as the hollowness that pervades this mix was passed through intact. However, you can't fault a speaker for delivering a soundtrack faithfully. Dialogue from The Fifth Element was clean and clear, and I would imagine that most well-mixed dialogue tracks will come through nicely on this speaker. Sheryl Crow's voice was open and airy on the AR4C, delivering the potent mix of grit and sweetness that makes her an engaging singer...when she's on. The Diva's voice was also clean and dynamic but displayed some of the same ringing in the highest frequencies that it displayed on the NHT. Back on the Sheryl Crow clip, the AR4C also did a nice job of sorting out the muddle that begins to take over as the song briefly climaxes in the middle (the lights come up, and all of the musicians start chiming in for a few seconds—obviously making the track much denser at this point).
|F. Looks like it's unanimous! Five-way gold-plated binding posts for everyone!|
While the AR4C was forceful and dynamic in the bass regions, it lacked the clean, agile response of the NHT and the Phase Tech. Its sound was tubbier and less defined on the opening bass riff from the Sheryl Crow clip.
What was missing here wasn't power or drive—it was subtle nuances that work on your subconscious to help you forget you're listening to a speaker and not the real thing. The AR4C did a nice job with this detail in the critical midrange frequencies, but it lacked the same detail with elements like the scrape of the pick against the strings of the bass in the Sheryl Crow song or the tight thump of the bass drum during "Sweet Home Chicago" from The Blues Brothers. Granted, bass is not the primary concern of the center channel, but there is a lot more low-frequency material mixed into this channel than you might expect, so it has to be a consideration. None of us felt that the bass articulation of the AR4C was bad by any stretch, but it happened to be matched up against two center channels that handle bass surprisingly well on all fronts and thus didn't get quite the same marks in the category of bass detail.
Back in the midrange, detail and cleanliness were clearly evident with effects, as well. The AR4C did a nice job with elements like gunshots and car crashes, displaying a solid punch and accurate timing. It attacked and decayed well in this region, which is critical to the trustworthiness of any given effect. Despite some sibilance with higher-frequency signals, the midrange is tight and even. So, while the AR4C doesn't have quite the same clean-top-to-bottom demeanor as the Phase Tech or the NHT, its midrange performance is relatively solid.
• Solid midrange performance
• Built-in, adjustable stand for multiple placement options
HT Labs Measures: Acoustic Research AR4C
This graph shows the quasi-anechoic (employing close-miking of all woofers) frequency response of the AR4C center. Loudspeakers are measured at a distance of 1 meter with a 2.83-volt input. On-axis response of the AR4C center measures +1.3/-2.5 decibels from 200 hertz to 10 kilohertz. An average of axial and (+/-15 degree) horizontal responses measures +1.7/-3.5 dB from 200 Hz to 10 kHz. The -3dB point is at 92 Hz, and the -6dB point is at 82 Hz. Impedance reaches a minimum of 3.49 ohms at 13.4 kHz and a phase angle of -58.15 degrees at 158 Hz. Sensitivity averages 93.5 dB from 500 Hz to 2 kHz.—AJ
Dealer Locator Code ACR