Arche Audio FR2 Full-Range Desktop Monitors by Greg Voth
The FR in the Arche Audio FR2 Full-Range Desktop monitor’s name stands for full-range. While these mini speakers can’t compete with a floor stander, they provide a surprisingly full-range of great sound while listening to the computer. Read on.
Day one with the Arche Audio FR2 Full-Range Loudspeakers… taken from CP’s car, unboxed, and installed at my computer desk. Powered with a Topping 30wpc Class-D, two input integrated amp ($89-99 a couple of years back), I connected them with Monster PowerLine 3 cables, fed by my old.’ Mac Pro, playing through Amara HiFi using iTunes, with an HRT MusicStreamer + DAC for one input and the Laufer-Teknik Memory Player Mini for the other.
I am familiar with Arche Audio, having reviewed their beautiful and musical Opus 5 USB DACT and Opus 501 Power Supply a few years back. Anticipating that these small speakers might possess that same innate musicality, I fed them some power – while polite at a lower volume, these little things open up when pushed to louder levels. With a good twist of the knob, they spring to life. At the 9:00 position on my Topping integrated sounds like the right volume for casual listening to the computer but, at the noon position, they opened up delivering a far more commanding presentation.
Each FR2 houses a 2.75″ diameter wind-range compression driver in a semi-loaded horn design. In essence, two internal horizontal baffles are near the bottom of each cabinet’s lower bout as well as a front duct. The pressurized air traveling the increased distance through this maze to the duct below increases the efficiency of that single wideband driver, resulting in louder output, a thickening to the sound as well as enhanced bass response. The front panel of each speaker is fevered at a 45º angle around the driver to provide wider dispersion.
The FR2’s measure 5-1/8″ w x 5-7/8″ d x 8-3/4″ h (measurements include the rubber feet and exclude the rear binding posts). Each lightweight cabinet is constructed from genuine Baltic Birch plywood and hand-finished with natural oil varnish. Each unit weighs approximately nine lbs., and each has binding posts on its rear inset panel.
I set the FR2’s to listen to them at the computer, first toed in and then off-axis and ultimately 38″ apart which, to my ear, gave the percussion a touch more depth and widened the soundstage. Their 89 dB sensitivity and 4Ω load appeared to be a good match with my small Class-D integrated. While initially a bit harsh, the FR2’s noticeably relaxed during the first couple of days of evaluation and their output continued to improve throughout this review and beyond.
I’ve been listening to drummer Lawrence Leathers’ work after reading of his passing (RIP LL). Leathers played on two Cécile McLorin Savant projects, and, during a search through this discography on Spotify to unearth more, I came across JC Stylles (aka Jason Campbell) trio project with Pat Bianchi, and Leathers, entitled “Exhilaration & Other States” (2011 Motema Music). Wow, color me impressed – I love an excellent organ trio, and these three great players deliver the goods. While I was not familiar with Jason Campbell playing (where have I been?), his influences were apparent, with Wes Montgomery the most evident. His playing was tasteful, full-bodied and soulful. The vintage vibe is there – at times, I felt like I was listening to an early Blue Note that had been lost to time. This trio kicks and the FR2’s did an excellent job in conveying the flow of this trio’s effort. The bass response wasn’t the last word in such things, but it held in there, giving needed weight to the bottom end. The cymbals were sweet and drums provided depth and drive. Most of all, the interplay between the guitarist, organ player, and percussionist was relaxed and well-presented by the FR2’s.
A play of “Doozy 1,” from John Taylor and family’s “2081” (2015 Cam Jazz) sounded detailed, with the essence of the space instrumentation remaining intact through these diminutive, yet revealing, desktop speakers. The character of each instrument – piano, tuba, drums, and voice – was quite lifelike and the drive and dynamics presented kept my interest and my foot a-tappin’—these speakers as enjoyable as they are musical. The size of the tuba retained its size, never sounding like a smaller instrument, the piano body was well-defined, percussion crisp and dimensional and the vocals breathed with urgency and nuance.
“…At The Same Time As The Subway Train Was Pulling Out Of The Station… (live)” from Kip Hanrahan’s “All Roads Are Made Of Flesh” 1995 American Clavé) followed. Dynamics and a palpable realism are the strengths of these FR2’s – while not by any means “extended full-range,” the FR2’s still provided excellent clarity and musicality in the presentation. Highs were gentle (not over etched), the mids crisp but not over hard and the transients were snappy and lively with no harshness.
Ella Fitzgerald’s “Stella By Starlight” from the great “Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie” (1961 Verve Records) swung and swayed, with solid piano and a vocal by Ella in top form. The upright bass and percussion were well-delineated and laid back, allowing this fantastic tune to flow.
Next, Holly Cole’s “Jersey Girl” from her album “Temptation” (1995 Metro Blue) proved amply-bodied and dynamic through the FR2’s. Cole’s characteristic blend of the sweet and raspy vocal was well-delivered and the percussion was very descriptive, with a gentle snap to transients and ample bass contributing nicely to the depth of this performance. These speakers render well-recorded acoustic instruments and vocals with aplomb.
The Arche Audio FR2 Full-Range Desktop Speakers offer surprising depth and nuance for their size. As I’ve listened over the past two weeks or so, they’ve grown in-depth and relaxed to provide a quite satisfying listening experience. Where I thought I’d suffer from lack of low-frequency impact, fearing a subwoofer would be in order, I embraced the FR 2’s natural and musical nature. Turn them up if you want more bass.
Don’t get me wrong; the FR2’s don’t make thunderous bass, they cut off at around 100Hz. What they did give this listener is a satisfying essence of musicality rendered with decent soundstage depth and width. Acoustic instruments shine, wooden bodies resonate and woodwinds glow. “Nublado” from Sera Una Noche’s self-titled release (2000 MA Records), is a case in point. It pulsated and undulated in a tango of lovely wood, wind, and skin, and through the FR2’s, it was alive.
My first real desktop speakers were Monsoon MM700’s with sub. Robin still speaks fondly of the Monsoons. I bought another set once the first began distorting. Once the second set started deteriorating, in came the Pioneer SP-BS21-LR monitors powered with the same Topping 30wpc integrated used in this review. I loved finally getting real mids and tight bass without the need for a subwoofer. Robin hated that one of the 21’s blocked her view of me while conversing. The Arche Audio FR2’s display sound with a sense of realism and impact that I honestly didn’t expect, nor got from the Pioneer’s… and they sit lower so that the wife and I can see eye-to-eye.
Moving On Down
I moved the FR2’s downstairs to our smaller basement listening space to complete this listening effort. Powered by 140 W monoblocks in an all-solid-state rig, I set them on 24″ stands about 7 feet apart and 38 inches from the back brick wall, sitting just inside my Spica TC-60’s, in a room that’s 542 ft., with a near 8-foot ceiling. A play of the songs “Landmarks” and “State Lines” from Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band’s “Landmarks” (2014 Blue Note) release revealed that the FR2’s produced a piano image that was surprisingly full on a stage of good depth and with crisp imaging. Bass is much fuller than on the desktop. The highs remained warm and sweet and the low-ish frequencies were surprisingly there with mids that were quite solid and pleasing. The RF2’s, warm and punchy, present drums and cymbals that sound rounded and smooth, while still delivering dynamics aplenty. FR 2’s produce a lot of music for their size.
To give the speakers a real workout, I put on Chick Corea’s “The Vigil,” (2013 Concord Jazz), beginning with “Galaxy 32 Star 4.” The FR2’s produced a compelling soundstage with imaging that was spot-on. The bass was there and supportive and, while not growlingly deep by any means, it was reliable and sure-footed. The drums were open and spread wide with both toms and bass drum realistic and with decent body. Transients were surprisingly tight, dynamics well-described and musical – every note presented had a clarity and a naturalness that drew me in and compelled me to listen. For small speakers, the FR2’s are undoubtedly adept at producing a convincing percentage of the source material.
It’s nice to know they can hold their own in a smaller room. The simplicity of the FR2’s design presents a tonal warmth and naturalness that, to these ears, remains surprisingly free of coloration. As they continue to break in, they sound more relaxed. To this point, John Park shared that the FR2 will improve the more you play them. The enclosure will continue to dry and improve the speaker’s acoustic chamber reverberation capacity.
The Arche Audio FR2 Full-Range Desktop Speakers should be on your shortlist if searching for an affordable, passive desktop monitor. They are as handsome as they are solid performers, providing an open, natural, engaging and, most importantly, musical essence that makes a near-perfect case for their use on a desktop. That they are surprisingly capable of serving as affordable desktop monitors in a small space is a nice plus. The FR2’s are keepers.
Arche Audio FR2 Desktop Speakers
Price : US$299
Arche Audio – South Korea
Model name: FR2
Type: Desktop speaker
Design feature: Semi-horn-loaded full range design
Driver: 2.75 inches (69mm) full-range driver with a massive magnetic structure
Connection: One pair of 5-way binding jacks
Frequency response : 100 ~ 20KHz
Power handling: 20W RMS
Impedance: 4 Ohms
Enclosure material: Birch plywood
Enclosure finish: Natural oil varnish finish
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