Pros: incredible dynamics; smooth trebles; good sense of warmth
Cons: a bit thick in the lower midrange; good but not great soundstage depth
ADS was a manufacturer of high quality home loudspeakers from the 1970s through at least the 1980s. Folks who were around in the 1980s will remember ADS’s perforated metal grilles and famous “sticky dome” mid-ranges and tweeters. I have a pair of early (pre-metal grille) ADS L-400s in my collection. They are small two-way bookshelf speakers with a wonderfully clear high end and tight midbass, though their small size (about 18” tall) means they can’t go as deep or play as loud as larger vintage speakers like the Acoustic Research AR-2ax, KLH 6, or New Large Advent. I had always wanted to hear what ADS’s larger bookshelf speakers (like the L-710 and L-810) sounded like but never had a chance until recently. The L-710s and L-810s are both three-ways systems featuring two woofers, a midrange, and a tweeter. I believe the ADS L-710 uses two 6 ½ woofers, while the L-810 uses two 8” woofers.
A pair of early ADS L-810s recently fell into my hands for refinishing, and of course I had to give them a listen. These are early (probably 1977ish) ADS L-810s, with metal thumb screws for attachment of speaker wires, and brown fabric cloth grilles. They are large bookshelf speakers, measuring 25 ½” tall, 14 3/16” wide, and about 12” deep, including the grilles, which protrude from the front of the speaker cabinets. They feel like they weigh almost as much as JBL L-100s or AR3as—maybe 42 lbs each. The cabinets of these earlier versions are finished in beautiful wood veneer—my guess is walnut--and all cabinet edges are square. There are no midrange or tweeter adjustment controls.
Once I got the refinishing process well under way (I restore the wood surfaces but generally don’t mess with the drivers or crossovers), I decided to hook these up and give them a listen.
The first thing I noticed (when I had one hooked up and one of my reference speakers on the other side) was how extended and realistic-sounding the high end of these speakers was. On Stan Getz’s Serenity CD, the cymbals were prominent, but the overall presentation was not bright. The cymbals simply had more shimmer and air around them than I was used to, like real cymbals do in a small jazz club. Getz’s saxophone had just the right amount of bite, but it also sounded large and mellow—not etched.
The second thing that struck me was how efficient these speakers are. They were much louder than my references (I had been listening to my Dynaco/KLH/RTR Customs) for a given volume control setting.
The third thing I noticed was dynamics (by this time I had both speakers hooked up). These are really dynamic sounding speakers. The snap of drum rim shots was striking, as was the impact of kick drums. In terms of dynamics and that “in the room” feel, these speakers reminded me of Klipsch Heresys, though I believe the ADS L-810s to be less bright in the upper midrange and lower treble overall, relative to the Heresys.
The fourth thing I noticed was the L-810s’ tendency toward warmth. The upper bass and lower midrange were slightly prominent, adding a sense of fullness to the music. But they also added a bit of unwelcome “thickness” to the overall presentation. Mid-bass notes had good punch and depth, though not quite as much so as with New Large Advents.
When I switched to Greg Brown’s Covenant CD, the L-810s presented Brown's vocals with a good degree of “manliness,” which I liked. I can’t stand it when “audiophile” speakers (mini-monitors especially, but I’ve heard full-range imaging champions do it too) rob male vocalists of their heft. Interestingly, on the Greg Brown CD, the excellent high end became sort of a non-issue. I expected a bit of brightness or perhaps exaggerated sibilants (or fingers on guitar strings), but the speakers’ overall warmth was what I noticed, and it suited Greg Brown well.
Imaging of the L-810s was good, but not outstanding. The soundstage was wide, but not particularly deep, though it bettered the JBLs I’ve been listening to in image depth. New Large Advents, my little Customs, and even my little ADS 400s provided a better sense of image depth than these early L-810s. Removing the 810s’ grilles, which are on hard frames and protrude about an inch forward of the baffles, improved things a bit, but I think the lower midrange emphasis may have been a contributor to the lack of depth as well. There was, however, an excellent sense of space around individual instruments.
On Diana Krall’s When I Look in Your Eyes, the presentation of the L-810s was really pleasing, as I expected. The speakers’ excellent dynamics provided a good sense of drive to the music, and her voice was presented with a nice degree of warmth. There was maybe a tiny degree of added sibilance on some sung notes, but it did not intrude.
And now for something completely different: I tried one of my old DG recordings of Bach’s organ music, played by Karl Richter on a really nice church organ in Copenhagen. The presentation was controlled and slightly dark, but pleasing overall. Then, for comparison purposes, I quickly switched to my KLH 6s, an early Henry Kloss-designed speaker that I find to be especially good with classical music. The overall presentation was similar, but the 6s were a little livelier in the midrange, and also did a better job of presenting the bone-jarring deep organ pedal tones. In fact, I found myself shocked by the depth and tightness of the deepest pedal tones as presented by the KLH 6s. I think I’ve been singing songs of praise for them without being fully aware of their capabilities below 50 hz. The L-810s are more dynamic overall than the KLH 6s, but they can’t compete in the deepest bass, at least in my listening room.
On rock music, the L-810s sounded really good because of their effortless dynamics and clear highs. On Bruce Cockburn's Nothing But a Burning Light, the drums had nice snap and attack. Cranking up the volume was not a problem. I still felt the upper bass/lower midrange was a bit thick, but my friend who was listening with me found it really satisfying. I'd say that 810s can rock, though if you're a pure rocker (which I'm not), JBLs are probably near the top among vintage speakers for punchy bass and high volume listening.
Overall, I think that the ADS L-810s are some excellent speakers. I’m surprised that I managed never to hear a pair up until now. Two areas in which they excel are dynamics and treble extension. On jazz music in particular, they sound incredibly real. On both male and female vocals, they manage to sound both warm and extended without being etched or overly sibilant. Where they are less than perfect (at least this particular pair in my system) is in image depth, upper bass tightness and deep bass extension. On some music, the lower midrange emphasis seemed to rob the presentation of a bit of detail and depth. On Bach’s organ music, that same emphasis may have obscured a bit of the organ’s upper midrange. And I didn’t hear the deepest bass notes presented with same depth and clarity as with the earlier vintage Kloss-designed KLH 6.
In spite of their imperfections, I was left with the impression that ADS 810s are speakers I could live with for a long time. My experience with the L-810 also makes me want to hear the L-710, which might combine the 810’s positive attributes with a tighter mid-bass and a deeper soundstage, due to their smaller bass drivers, cabinet and front baffle. We shall see.