Arendal 1961 9.4.4 Speaker System Review

1961 Speakers
Build Quality

1961 1V Subwoofer
Build Quality

PRICE $14,490 (as tested)

Powerful, accurate sound
Relatively compact
10-year warranty

Subwoofer lacks an app
Only available in black or white

A perfect match for a flagship AVR, the 1961 9.4.4 system from Arendal performs great and looks fantastic.

The 1961 system from Arendal is one of the company’s three speaker series, the other two being the 1723 and 1723 S. 1961 is more compact and more affordable, but is otherwise consistent with Arendal’s design philosophy and aesthetics. This isn't what you'd call overpriced audio jewelry. It is modern and solidly built and aesthetically pleasing, but most importantly, it performs and offers great value.

The company was founded in 2015 by Jan Ove Lassesen, whose father (also Jan) founded an electronics store in Norway that grew to be the most popular in the country. I first caught wind of Arendal last year from Jim Wilson, who reviewed a 1723 S system recently. I quickly discovered a lot of positive buzz about the company in online forums, with many praising their great sound and aesthetic appeal, as well as their strong performance measurements.

We decided to go with nine tower speakers, four height speakers and four ported subs. Why nine towers? In order to experience using the system with one of the towers acting as the center channel. Now I totally get that a tower serving as a center is not always practical to use with a TV. So Arendal also sent a center channel speaker. However, the main focus of the review is on using the tower speaker to handle all nine ear-level channels.

Arendal's business model is Internet Direct, meaning it cuts out the intermediaries in distribution and retail. The premise is that an ID brand can deliver more value by cutting out overhead. The company's modus operandi is to offer free shipping and a 60-day no-commitment trial period plus trade-ins. And they back all their speakers and subs with a 10-year warranty for passive components, 5 years for electronics.

Features and Specifications
The 1961 series has all the different types of speakers you need to put together a high-performance home theater system. And it offers ported and sealed subs that are a performance and aesthetic match for the series.

Arendal publishes extensive specifications, including graphs that show polar response in 10-degree increments ranging from on-axis all the way out to 90 degrees. It is considerably more in-depth than what you find from other companies. Moreover, based on the measurements from independent reviews as well as my own rough measurements, it would appear that the company publishes accurate specs.

Whatever speaker or sub you buy from Arendal, it'll be made of HDF (high-density fiberboard) for maximum rigidity, and feature either a matte white or matte black painted finish. All models have magnetic grills. For the review, the towers and center were in a white finish and the height speakers were black.

1961 Tower ($1,799/pair)
The tower's 2.5 way design features four 5.5-inch woofers and a 1-inch tweeter in a deeply recessed circular waveguide. The two lower woofers play up to 120 Hz, while the two flanking the 28mm soft-dome tweeter are crossed over at 1200 hz.

This speaker is specified at 49 Hz to 20 kHz ± 3 dB response while sealed, and 39 Hz to 20 kHz ± 3 dB response when operating vented. This 4-ohm speaker is rated to handle up to 350 watts and its sensitivity rating is 87dB/2.83v/1m—which is pretty low but expected in a compact speaker that plays deep.

1961 tower speakers offer the option of running ported or sealed and Arendal provides a foam wedge for the slotted port.

This is a compact tower with a sloped baffle. You can choose to only cover the two lower drivers for protection or a different aesthetic. Since I have no kids or pets, I run the speakers with the grills off.

1961 Center ($599)
I requested the very compact sealed center channel speaker because not every installation can accommodate a tower speaker for a center and I wanted to try it. It has two 5.5-inch woofers and the same waveguide-mounted 28 millimeter tweeter as the tower. This 4-ohm speaker's frequency response rating is 73 Hz to 20 kHz ± 3 dB.

The center has the same sensitivity rating as the tower and can handle up to 250 watts. It is not any additional burden on the amplification versus a tower, as would be the case if it had lower sensitivity. Nor is this center a limiting factor in terms of output when used in conjunction with tower speakers and subwoofers. While some may balk at a 2-way MTM design and grumble about off-axis comb filtering, I found any such effect to be minimal; the center speaker matched the towers in tonality and easily blended into the overall soundfield.

1961 Height ($799/pair)
A robust dual-purpose speaker. You can use it as a topper for reflected-sound height effects, which also allows for an easy installation. The sloped baffle and built-in keyhole slot wall mount made them easy to hang and use as wall-mounted height speakers, which is how I deployed them.

The entire back (or bottom, depending on how you use it) of the speaker is covered in rubber. It's not just little stick-on rubber feet, it's the entire back of the speaker. This is particularly helpful for wall-hanging as it ensures a snug, positive contact.

1961 Subwoofer 1V ($1,199)
A large and powerful ported 12-inch driver design with a 550-watt amp, the 1961 1V makes the clever choice to put the driver on the side of the sub, rather than the front or bottom. It's an aesthetic win and it comes with a circular low-profile magnetic grill.

What's more this sub has a built-in DSP. Although you do have to program it directly (since there's no app), it offers a 3-band parametric EQ that allows you to tune it to a room, even in systems without room correction.

You get the option of running sealed or ported, and you get two EQ settings. EQ1 offers 16-200Hz (+/-3dB) response while EQ2 delivers 20-200Hz (+/-3dB). The accuracy of these specs is born out in independent CEA-2010 testing (performed by Audioholics) that Arendal also publishes. At its core it's a quality sub that legitimately reaches to 16 Hz and below. You can likely find a few subs that offer a few more dB per dollar, but not without giving something (build quality, cabinet size, and DSP come to mind). Unlike many speaker companies that do not offer a truly complementary sub in terms of looks and performance, Arendal nails it.

The goal of this setup is to put a 9.4.4 system in my loft's main living area and achieve home theater-quality sound. Since I'm renting and both the floors and ceiling are made of concrete, my best choice is standalone and wall-mounted speakers

The size and shape of the loft is kind to speakers, the main living area is 35 x 20 x 13 feet with the loft area off to the side adding another 200 square feet. The total open-air volume of the space in which the system is located is around 13,000 cubic feet, so it takes some significant wattage and air displacement to move the air needed for visceral bass.

The 13-foot ceiling helps the wall-mounted height channels produce a proper elevation effect. I also managed to find optimal spots for each speaker that resulted in near perfect symmetry at the main listening position. The distance to each ear-level speaker ranged from 10 to 12 feet and the height speakers were all 15 feet away, so very little adjustment was needed to get the uncalibrated system to sound fantastic.

When I take clustered measurements for room correction the room's effect on the speaker response is apparent. But the goal of a good speaker design is to work with the room. In this case, I observed a near-textbook frequency response curve, except for the bass being a bit too strong—likely due to room gain.

I chose to leave the supplied foam wedges in the ports of all the speakers since the sealed configuration is closest to an ideal room response, and therefore required less adjustment by room correction. Before it begins to drop off, sealed bass extends down to around 45 Hz (in line with the -3 dB spec for 49 Hz sealed bass). That means the slopes of an 80 Hz crossover to the subwoofer will be symmetrical, ideal for home theater perfectionists.

If I was using these as standalone speakers for a 2.0 music system, I'd unplug the ports. But in my setup there was no reason to do so.

The 1961 1V sub offers two EQ settings and the option to run sealed or vented. In my humble opinion if you want a sealed sub, you should purchase the sealed version so I ran the subs vented.

Using EQ1, which prioritizes extension over output, I got what I look for in a subwoofer system. Chest slam, tangible textures, tactile infrasonics, it’s all there in abundance. Having this much bass firepower can make watching certain movies that are not shy about shaking things up a truly tactile experience.

Much as I enjoy pushing a high-performance audio system to its limits, keeping the peace with my neighbors demands that I use top volume sparingly. What matters more than sheer loudness is that the bass is tight and extends beyond the limits of human hearing at moderate listening levels I use for cinematic viewing on a weeknight.

That's not to say I'm always cautious with the volume. On a Friday or Saturday night, when there's a good new comic book, action, or sci-fi movie to watch, I'm not averse to cranking it up to movie theater levels.

The good design of the 1961 system is most apparent in the room correction measurements. Frequencies above the Schroeder transition point (where the room stops having the primary influence upon the response) are sufficiently close to an optimal room response curve that there's little audible difference between using room correction and leaving it off, aside from the bass. This is great when using a system like Audyssey XT32 or Dirac Live that lets you restrict the correction to a chosen frequency at or below Schroeder—which is visible in the measurements. With four subwoofers, the uncorrected bass response is even smoother than what I'm used to. The only issue I encountered was a narrow null at 40 Hz, which remained at -7 dB even after correction. Based on what I observed in the measurements, I set a limit for the room correction at 250 Hz.

The consistently sublime sound of the 1961s is no accident, it is the result of applying audio science and taking care of the details. The main caveat is these speakers are power hungry and 4 ohms, so you don't want to just hook them up to any old AV receiver and call it a day (it'll heat up pretty quickly if pushed). If you use them with anything but a flagship-class AVR, they are best paired with a powerful amplifier that can more easily drive them to their limit. However, the Denon A1H proved up to the task and in my view is a perfect match for these speakers.

The high performance of the Arendal 1961 speaker is not only audible but also verifiable through measurements. Not necessarily my own, which are derived from room correction and focus on the main listening position in my room. This is a rare speaker where the system sounded balanced without any adjustments whatsoever, aside from setting an 80 Hz crossover and tweaking the subwoofer output levels. The company publishes polar response charts (unlike most speaker makers) and Erin Hardison’s Klippel Nearfield Scanner “spin” of the Arendal 1961 bookshelf speaker demonstrates it is a great design with commendable linearity and resistance to dynamic compression at high output. It is reasonable to extrapolate that the towers featured in this review offer a similar listening experience, but more of it.

Measurements of the 1961 tower -

As I settled to hear the Orb's Pomme Fritz album, I found the Arendal 1961 speakers not merely producing sound, but crafting an electronic orchestra in my room. The audible nuances in the tracks circled around my head with ease, creating an audiosphere as enveloping as it was entrancing. And the center channel featuring the tower revealed striking detail while blending with the other channels. The four subwoofers, subtle as shadows, hung back until their call to stage. When they did step forth, they brought with them an authority that filled the room. The entire auditory experience was like staring at a hologram—clean, precise and thrillingly lifelike.

You can create a great stereo system using just a couple of 1961 Tower speakers. But I like upsampling music with Dolby Surround, which expands stereo to use all the speakers in the system while staying surprisingly faithful to the mix. It puts vocals in the center channel and with Eminem's Music To Be Murdered By - Side B you can easily keep up with the rap maestro's complex wordplay.

When John Wick: Volume 4 played, the Arendals flexed their home theater chops. Arendal's 1961 Height speakers helped paint an audio picture that enveloped me. Guns blast, fists fly, bullets whistle, glass shatters, and Keanu Reeves deadpans his lines and it all sounds exquisite.

In the digital landscape of Tomb Raider, played on an Xbox Series X, the game world was no longer confined to the screen. Whether escaping from a cave or exploring a tomb, there were times when the audio illusion of being in that space was convincing. Tons of detail come from the height channels, whether a waterfall, falling rocks, bats flying or wind, the height cues added to the realism, excitement, and suspense. Oh, and unlike a movie you can spin around and hear the entire soundfield shift. When you do that, the cohesiveness of the spatial audio sphere created by the speakers is self-evident.

Sadly Dolby Atmos does not utilize the front wide speakers, so only seven of the nine towers were used, but the illusion of immersion is seamless.

There are not all that many games with native Atmos sound. But on the Xbox Series X you can opt to upmix your favorite game. Mine is Grand Theft Auto Online, and I found the Atmos upmix more aurally immersive than the standard surround. Notably when upmixing it does use all the speakers including the wides.

There was only one "bad" thing about using the 1961 Tower for the center: superior sound versus the center. It is fair to say that the tower model outperforms the dedicated center speaker because it boasts a more capable design, featuring a vertical driver array, 2.5-way design, four bass drivers, and a much larger cabinet. And because it is identical to the rest of the speakers.

But make no mistake, the center channel is a great speaker and is a better match for its peers than many center channels that create a sensitivity mismatch. However, its design is meant to be compact (thus, not a larger 3-way), and it even includes built-in slots for wall mounting. And that is a logical decision, because in a lot of installations, it's going to have to fit into a space underneath a TV that will not accommodate a tower speaker.

The "Dolby Atmos 7.1.4 channel check" clip is a tool that exposes imbalances. It plays a voice on each speaker, providing a way to judge if the tonality and volume stay consistent and directional cues are accurately positioned. The 1961s pass with flying colors, perceptually perfect timbre-matching across all speakers unlocks the illusion of a cohesive sound bubble.

The two-minute Atmos clip, Nature's Fury, is an excellent showcase. It toggles between Atmos on and off as various scenes unfold, providing an immediate comparison that brings the Arendal's capabilities into sharp focus. With Atmos off, the soundscape is satisfactory, yet when Atmos the Arendal system renders a dynamic, vivid soundscape that is remarkably three-dimensional. Rain seems to pour from above and sounds float around the listener.

Arendal 1961 speakers do so many things right it makes me feel guilty that I could not find problems to harp about. But after years of reviewing surround systems I know what to look and listen for, and it's all here in these 1961 speakers. Music, movies, games—the Arendal 1961 doesn't pick favorites. Any good mix is reproduced in all its glory.

The 9.4.4 configuration is unconventional but it worked great in my living space. And, of course, you could easily take these speakers and scale down to a more typical surround configuration. The compact size and modern, minimalist aesthetic fit in perfectly. My wife was won over by the white cabinets with black drivers but mostly the great sound, and wishes this was in fact our system. We've been together for 30 years, so she's heard as many speakers as I have—we still listen to music together every day.

Cliches often become so because they hold a kernel of truth. In the case of the Arendal 1961 speakers, the overused 'sounds amazingly good' isn't just a worn-out phrase—it's a factual statement. You can tell there's a thoughtful design process behind these speakers. Every component and design element shows careful deliberation. But the real proof is in the performance, both measured and experienced—the system is nothing short of astonishing.

1961 Tower
1961 Center
1961 Height
1961 1V Subwoofer

witchdoctor's picture

How in the world can anyone hear what equipment sounds like in an echo chamber? Bare wall plaster, pipes running from the ceiling, giant windows, what is the matter with you? Why not just review headphones and leave the speakers to a "real" professional? The fact that you don't already know this or don't care is embarrassing.

witchdoctor's picture

BTW Marc, before you go with the "I am renting" excuse call Auralex or at least one of the great sponsors of this site that can provide you with some room treatments:

sarahgibson's picture

These are very good results guys. I'm pretty sure some owners ride them pretty hard. Pretty solid choice of gear After listening to this you will have to drink sarsaparilla tea because it looks like a very powerful system.