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Canton AM5: an entry-level active from Munich High-End 2015

  • munich_high_end_2015_logoIn pointing to the future we must err on the side of caution. We cannot know with any certainty what may or may not arise. Trend observation is as much the result of one’s own subjective filters as it is any objective reality.

    Exemplifying: the dramatic expansion of the headphone market in undeniable but in sifting that space for more granular data we see an increasing number of planar-magnetics soliciting applause: Audeze, MrSpeakers, OPPO, Hifi Man.

    Reviewers and journalists can apply self-biased lens adjustments to focus on the future they might wish to see. My experience with both versions of KEF’s X300A showed me what’s possible below the US$1000 threshold with DAC-d-up active loudspeakers. On lateral layer deconstruction the X300A outstrip the performance of even an outboard-amped passive LS50.


    Unfortunately, the audiophile’s desire to tinker, to mix-n-match amplifiers with loudspeakers, means the LS50 continues to outsell the X-series. An active LS50 has clear potential be the loudspeaker to give audiophiles serious pause for thought. I’ve been at KEF for almost two years about bringing such a product to market. Whilst their behind the scenes R&D work is held on a need to know basis, the active loudspeaker market segment continues to be greeted with suspicion by your average audiophile. WHY? Is it snobbery? Resistance to change? The lack of tweak-ability? Probably a combination of all three.

    Therefore, one possible future I’d like to see is an uptick in the popularity of powered speaker solutions among the audiophile community. The pro audio sector has been at it for years and we’re slowly seeing hitherto-only passive loudspeaker manufacturers and pro-marketing players trying their hand in the home hi-fi space.

    The technological benefits of going active are real and unassailable. Driving out the guessing game of matching amplifier to speaker whose impedance curve swings from woah to go, amplification can be tailored right down to driver level with crossover applied electronically.

    With actives in play the endless cycle through loudspeaker cable – often the audiophile’s metaphorical tuning fork – is nixed. Most active models sport rear-panel EQ switches to accommodate a broad range of positional scenarios. Do the speakers sit on a desk? On stands? Near-field? Do they sit close to a rear wall or side boundary or do they sit in freer space?

    That’s precisely what we see when considering the Canton AM5 lautsprecher (€299). With the big room demo running dark and long in their native German tongue, I was left to piece together the key points from the ‘talker’ that fronted the AM5’s static display. The AM5 aren’t new to the world but they are to me. On offer are understated aesthetics and affordability backed by Canton’s 40+ year heritage.

    Moreover, speakers like this are often dismissed as desktop solutions, blatantly ignoring their potential as proper standmounts in a smaller living space.


    Firstly – and this is important – this is no master-slave active-passive configuration. Like the aforementioned KEF X-series, each Canton box carries its own amplifiers and associated IEC power socket. Unlike the KEF, signal input is all analogue: single ended (RCA) and balanced (XLR). A 25mm wave-guided aluminum tweeter and

    Rear-panel switching goes deep with custom modes: 1) three input sensitivity notches better tailors the M5 to its upstream electronics; not all DACs and pre-amplifiers commit to industry standard voltage outputs; 2) High pass filtering direct the low bass roll-off point [50Hz, 70Hz or 100Hz]; 3) +-2db options for bass [240Hz], mid [350Hz], treble [3.4kHz – where speech lives] attenuation; 4) ‘AMP-mode’ allows for always on or auto-shut off power.

    A quick Google reveals that the Canton AM5 has so far seen coverage predominantly from the European press corps so I thought it an appropriate starting point from which to build more extensive coverage of active solutions presenting at Munich High-End 2015.

    Further information: Canton

    Munich High-End 2015 coverage sponsored by LH Labs:


    John H. Darko

    Written by John H. Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram


    1. I just picked up a set of Dynaudio BM6 MKIII active studio monitors for my listening room. They work very well mid field and the active design is non-fatiguing while possessing amazing detail retrieval. I’m sold on active!

    2. What are your thoughts on their sound? Will there be a follow-up report?

      As we say in the US, “inquiring minds want to know.”

      • They were on static display so no idea on how they sound and I doubt my schedule will permit a follow up full review. Besides, if I’m going to review an active, it’ll be the Kii Three or similar.

    3. Wish some of these better active monitors included a headphone amp.

      If Logitech, Creative, Klipsch, can do it (for peanuts) why not Genelec, Dynaudio, Kef, Canton, etc?

    4. I totally agree. There appears to be so much that can be done to tailor the amps & crossovers to the drivers, it surprises me this really hasn’t caught on more (at least in the U.S., I can’t speak for other markets). With the exception of Audioengine, I haven’t seen too many companies that have a serious (Read: not “computer speakers”) self powered monitors. I was blown away by Vanatoo when I heard them at the NY Audio Show last September, and I hope to be blown away by many more.

    5. Ever since Meridian launched the first ‘serious’ audiophile active speaker in 1989 I formed an opinion which is still with me today, focus on the things you are good at. Whilst I agree we should decide with our ears the thought that one company can be proficient at speaker design, digital architecture, software and amplification is, for me, a stretch. The Meridian’s D600 was a fantastic product with futuristic design and convenience so I’m sure it’s possible to develop a seriously good sounding active speaker but it does hinder the upgrade path a little. After all we’ve all had a very good sounding system that has been transformed by a new component. Active speakers have their place in the market but if you are looking to improve the SQ over time through upgrading look elsewhere!

    6. Go, Darko, go! Perfect topic, perfect pitch! We definitely need more attention on this segment. It is, I think, the potentially most *disruptive* to how us legacy ‘philes have done things unto now. And yes, if we’re still embroiled in the mix’n’match game because we enjoy the chase and learning curve, going active box puts the jinx on it. And, if one be of more limited funds, limited space and no patience for possible mismatches and needless (possibly endless) expenditures to (try to) fix ’em… then actives are the way to go.

      Same for career ‘philes who’ve worn out the mix’n’match game and yearn for a return to something simple and non-tweaky which simply delivers.

      As for the rest (i.e. the broad swath between those two poles)… I don’t really see that actives will make any serious inroads. They should though. And one way to ease people into considering them is, very simply, more reportage about ’em.

      So cheers for considering this line of investigation! I’ll attempt to contribute from my end as the head moon man if and when the occasions arise. The big 3-way Genelec belongs on that list as does the Kii Three and of course the Grimm LS1.

      Again, go, Darko, go!

    7. It’s about the amps. I’m going out on a limb here, but I think audiophiles love their (big) amps so much that they don’t trust or want a speaker manufacturer to get that part really, really right. Almost all of the actives out there come from speaker manufacturers who do not have a separate line of amps. (Okay, so Dynaudio does make some uber-amps, and there’s the Devialet Phantom, but the rest don’t make amps.) If a solid state amp champ like Bryston or Parasound or Pass Labs (or a dual-branded combo like Revel/Mark Levinson or McIntosh/Sonus Faber) developed an active speaker and really played it up–“John Curl Signature Edition”–that *could* get some interest from the hardcore audiophile crowd since they could still tweak the preamp, DAC and sources. I’m willing to be that most would still be too enamored with their monoblocks on dedicated stands in the middle of the room to consider giving them up. Personally, I love the idea.

    8. One thing I don’t understand is why analogue preamps have less components than integrated amplifiers but tend to cost more.

      Obviously if you’re hooking up active speakers direct to a PC or a DAC with digital volume control, active speakers are great. And I understand that if you need a simple box for input switching and volume control, you could just buy a Schiit passive preamp for 50 bucks.

      But why doesn’t a brand with cheaper products like NAD or Cambridge sell a fully featured preamp with a remote control, a phono input, etc at a reasonable price? Does the allure of separates to certain demographics really mean that manufacturers are getting away with putting less into a box and charging extra for it?

      I feel like if you’re building a budget system with a digital source and an analogue source, there is a missing link there.

    9. On the Bryston front, PMC would have you all set. Their small two-way active monitor is exactly that little beastie, running with on-board Bryston power. And by offering adjustments (treble/bass tilt and more), many of these speakers do enable the kind of flavour options which legacy ‘philes attempt with amp/speaker changes, cable tweaks, tube rolling and such.

      ‘cept that a +1 dB treble shift is far more predictable in action (and reversible in a flash) than chasing it with a hardware combo change. And boundary compensation controls (close to floor or desktop, close to to wall, free space) can influence areas which standard hardware swaps don’t ever touch.

      I actually think that it’s because most career ‘philes have never tried actives that they freeze up about the entire notion. They still believe that their mix’n’match game gets closer to addressing real issues and issues of season to taste. In truth, it’s far more effective to cut bass; or move the bass/mid transition point up or down a few cycles; than to try and ‘operate’ in the dark with a dull knife with hardware/cable swaps and accomplish the same.

      In the end of course, we all like *freedom* to do as we please. We view it as our God-given constitutionally reinforced right. The mere notion to give up on it and have some engineer make big choices on our behalf doesn’t sit right. We like to believe that we know better or can do better. That’s why I think that only “beginners” (who as such aren’t committed yet to the game) and “exhausted ‘philes” (who’ve tired of the game) are the real audience. One doesn’t know any better yet (and is better off for it). The other knows only too well and has the financial scars and perpetual nagging dissatisfaction to show for it.

      • I know of their existence but I didn’t spy the PMC actives when I stopped by their room at the MOC. Oddly, Bryston could be found launching their own passives across the way (post to come) – their room served the best coffee in the building.

        The passive speaker + amplifier model is inked deep into *serious* audiophile culture. I liken it to people who still opt for the oven grill to make toast when a half-decent toaster machine allows for exact timing according to taste: that’s anything from lightly done to cremated with zero error.

    10. Thanks for a great article. These speakers are now on my wish list.

      What I like about them is that they have the amplification, but not the DAC. The options I’d seen that were either built with internal DAC, which I wanted to avoid as they were built to a (cheap) price-point. And the monitors I’d seen were too large for a computer desk. Most of us have a DAC we’d prefer to use, and they can be small and desktop sized.

      My soon-to-arrive LH Labs Pulse has balanced out and I hope will be a good match for a great desktop solution.

      Just a thought – would a pair of these with an Auralic Aries Mini be a system worth your time to demo? White box / white speakers would appeal to some people.

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