Derek Dunlop and his late father Peter used to make one the greatest affordable turntables on the market. It was called the Systemdek and it sounded fantastic in almost any system. Unfortunately, Sony and Philips launched a short-lived and supposedly strawberry jam proof format called ‘CD’ that undermined the turntable market for long enough to kill off that fabulous, fully suspended design. So, in 1998, Derek and his brother Ramsay started making loudspeakers – big expensive loudspeakers at that, and the fact that they are still doing so today suggests this was a good idea. More recently, the brothers Dunlop have got back into building Systemdek turntables, albeit now far removed from the ‘affordable’ end of the market.
What makes ART loudspeakers stand out from the crowd is the sheer range of choices that are available to prospective buyers. These are not just veneer or finish options, but choices about cable quality and components in the crossovers. ART selected different grades of cable from Audio Note Japan (now Kondo Sound Labs) and can offer copper and silver variants. When it comes to capacitors and inductors, ART offers Jensen’s highly regarded components, which also come in both copper and silver variants.
However, this means there are significant price steps between different versions of what, in terms of box and drivers, is basically the same speaker. By way of example, the Alnico 8 tested here is £10,000 per pair in standard guise and has air-cored inductors alongside decent but affordable caps, while the Signature upgrade brings Jensen copper-foil inductors and capacitors as well as Kondo Sound Lab Spc internal copper wiring with WBT Platinum terminals for £14,500. Or you could opt for the Silver Signature with, as you will have guessed, silver in place of copper: it’s ‘price on application’ for this one, as the final cost depends on the market price for the materials. However, it’s a good way of making a small amount of parts go a long way, and means that there is a wide range of ART models to choose from.
ART’s first loudspeaker (the Deco) was distinguished by vertical fluting up the sides of the cabinets. This reflects the fact that rather than being made like a six sided box, it’s built out of slabs of machined MDF that are laminated front to back to create a substantial and extremely solid enclosure. The Alnico range uses the same approach with a stack of 36mm MDF slices glued atop one another to create the 1050mm high main cabinet. I have seen speakers that use a similar approach with plywood but usually with a vertical orientation, the ART system makes for a very rigid box indeed and one with high natural damping.
It stands on stainless steel legs that provide a gap for the reflex port to vent into: this gets around the question of whether to put the port at the front (where you might hear it) or the back (where it needs extra space to breathe). The bottom plinth is fitted with meaty stainless feet that are dimpled to accept stainless balls rather than spikes. These provide a similar type of interface with the floor without making the sort of holes that a 44 kilo speaker would achieve with spikes. The feet are screwed into M8 inserts so those who wish to spike can remove them and put in some beefy points.