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AMPHION HELIUM2



THE Amphion website gives us little history on the Finnish company, but regular readers of hi-fi publications will be familiar with two of its products – the highly acclaimed Ion and Helium2 compact loudspeakers. There are also an Argon and Xenon in the range … one wonders about the fixation with inert elements.

While the silver front baffle housing the 5.25-inch woofer and recessed one-inch titanium tweeter is unique, the MDF cabinet, in Finnish birch veneer, appears too plain-Jane and Ikea-like in appearance. What were they were thinking?

The cabinet measures 310 x 265 x 155mm (h/d/w) and weighs a modest 7kg.

The crossover point is set at .5Hz, and both drivers are shielded.

The two-way, rear-vented port design presents an eight-ohm load, with a sensitivity of 86dB and frequency range of 50Hz to 20kHz. Recommend amplifier power to drive the Helium2 is 20-120 watts.

Two cylindrical pieces of foam are provided if you want to tune the port according to your environment.

You get only single-wiring provision, a trend I’ve increasingly observed on most European speakers of late.

Apart from the silver/birch finish of the review pair, Amphion also does the Helium2 in black/cherry, full silver and black/black – possibly making for nicer visual candy.

Despite the dowdy looks of the cabinet, the speakers are impeccably constructed and finished. The light grey cloth grille, which is clipped on, proved to be a struggle to remove, so once you get them off, you’ll want to leave them that way.
Pizzazz or polish?

The Helium2s aren’t the sort of speakers that impress immediately … after running the review pair. I took my time with them over a few weeks, and realised they’re the sort that gradually grow on you. The longer you have them in the system, the more you’ll appreciate their attributes.

Attributes? Well, what makes the Helium2 a keeper is the inclination not to lend additive qualities to the input signal. These are speakers that will show up deficiencies in your system chain, and while the cabinets have their physical limitations, the listener is likely to realise these as such and attempt to derive the best out of the other parts of the system.

The Helium2s were driven by a Krell KAV-400xi integrated amp for some sessions and a pre/power team of Audio Research LS15 and Krell FPB200 at others, the cables used being Siltech New York. My source was a Bluenote Stibbert (upgraded to 2007 specifications) CD player, hooked up via JPS Labs Superconductor Q balanced interconnects.

The speakers exhibited a tight and tuneful bass that, at low to moderate volume, blended seamlessly in the mix, complementing an articulate mid-band and a neutral, if a tad dry treble. There was a suggestion of coolness, exacerbated by recordings of a similar texture, but generally, this seldom intruded on the listening experience.

When I played some high quality recordings, and eased into the sweet spot for some critical listening, nuances and spatial information surfaced that I never realised were present. If I had heard them earlier, then the Helium2 made them more obvious.

The speakers worked well with all sorts of musical material, but recordings with acoustic timbres sounded more organic and realistic than, say electronica. These boxes also showed considerable bass heft, belying their physical dimensions.

Going loud wasn’t too much of an issue with the Helium2s, although they’re not what you would want to use at parties!

While these speakers have many refined characteristics, I would never call them civil in the classic sort of way … they can deliver with pizzazz when required, whether classical violins or distorted rock guitars … and if breathy, intimate vocals are your sort of thing, these won’t fail to please either. Make sure the rest of the system is up to it.
Head on the shoulders

While there’s quite a bit of competition at this price, the Amphion Helium2 stands out for its poise, head-on-shoulders expressiveness and control. I would have preferred a more striking finish on the cabinet, but this a cosmetic matter.

If you’re shopping for speakers at this budget and already have a pretty solid amp and source, the Helium2 warrants a lengthy audition.

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