SB ACOUSTICS ARA Be stand-mount speakers
+ Made from high-end parts without the high-end price tag; amazing resolution and detail; a shortlist certainty when shopping for stand-mounted speakers.
– May be too revealing for lesser quality equipment and “rougher” recordings; not the best rocker.
A guide to the ratings
BERYLLIUM. A toxic, lightweight and strong metal generally used in alloys for aircraft and missile parts. In the audio world, the word beryllium invokes a degree of mysticism and exoticism when paired with the word tweeter. Are Beryllium tweeters the reserve of very expensive esoteric equipment then?
Enter the SB Acoustic ARA Be (there is a non-BE version, where the tweeter is a patented TW29R-B ring dome fabric unit). Many may not know SB Acoustics as it is not a household name when it comes to speakers for the average consumer, but to the industry, it is already recognisable. SB Acoustics makes speaker drivers out of its factory in Surabaya, Indonesia and it is a cooperation with Danesian Audio. Dig deeper and one will find that Danesian Audio is connected to well-respected and experienced engineers such as Frank Nielsen and Ulrik Schmidt. The Danish connection is strong and it is no wonder that many established speaker brands utilise SB Acoustic divers.
In addition to being an OEM supplier, SB Acoustics also produces its own range of speakers, usually in kit form although here in Malaysia, it is being sold fully built up. The ARA Be is the top end in the stand-mounted range of speakers produced by SB Acoustics. It utilises the highest end of the drivers made, namely the SATORI range. As a point of reference, the Youtube favourite for 2021, the Buchardt S400 also uses SB Acoustic drivers albeit not from the SATORI range.
The Ara BE is a midsized speaker, with an MDF cabinet available in various finishes. The review pair was finished in black high gloss. Looked a million bucks but an absolute pain to keep fingerprints off them! The ARA Be a two-way design with faceted baffles to enhance imaging and aslanted cabinet for time alignment purposes. It has a rear-firing port and a set of terminals. Rated four ohms at 87db, it is not too demanding to drive. SB Acoustics recommends amplification of between 40 and 150 watts.
The crowning glory of the Ara BE will be the drivers used. The highly regarded SATORI Beryllium tweeters and 6½-inch (made from exotic Egyptian papyrus fibre) mid-woofer complete the assembly. The speakers are very well built and finished, coming in at a shade below 10kg per unit. The overall look of the Ara BE is very attractive. This pair will be at home in the living room of a swanky condominium. A conversation piece.
Well, you would have heard some audiophiles waxing lyrical over the “magic” of beryllium tweeters. Adjectives like “delicate, detailed, transparent, fast and transparent” are often used. I am pleased to say that it is absolutely true.
The first thing that hits you is the resolution and openness of the presentation. A huge soundstage with pinpoint imaging with excellent airiness. Eric Clapton’s Layla (The Lady in Balcony – Lockdown Session, MQA Tidal) sounds amazing. It feels like you are in the recording room with him and the band. The acoustic guitar sounds fast, sharp and crisp without being cold. Every pluck can be heard without the details being distracting or fatiguing. Nathan East’s bass balances the sparkly highs with a warm bloom with Clapton’s aged gravely voice filling up the middle. A joy.
Next up, female vocals. Olivia Vedder’s My Fathers Daughter (Flag Day OST, MQA Tidal) sounds much more ethereal than usual on the Ara Be (and yes, she is Eddie Vedder’s 17-year-old daughter). The detail and intimacy in her voice is very impressive. There is this nice balance that the Ara Be manages to achieve with its presentation with vocals. It’s not too spotlit or forward, yet not warm nor woolly either; sweet and smooth but not treacle-like; detailed and well projected but retaining a level of smoothness which is delicately seductive. It will definitely impress the neighbours when they drop in for coffee.
The Ara Be is not too finicky about placement. I tested them on heavy four-pillar stands – about a metre from the rear and side walls with a slight toe-in gave the best result. But with soundstage being so big and precise, placement on a long shelf or cabinet will still give very impressive results.
As good as it is, the small boxes have some limitations. On The Oscar Peterson Trio’s You Look Good To Me (We Get Requests, MQA Tidal), one can hear the brushes hit the drums with such detail and speed without ever sounding brittle. However, the double bass can sound a little light and detached. The resident Buchardt S400 gives more weight and body, albeit without the same level of detail and resolution at the high frequencies.
The same goes for heavier music. Spit of You from Sam Fender’s excellent sophomore album (Seventeen Going Under, vinyl) can sound a little too exciting. The recording is edgy and raw with his jangly Fender American Pro II Jazzmaster getting all the attention. This can sound a tad extra exciting on the Ara Be as there is less meat in the midrange and the slam at the bottom end. Heavy rock played loud sounds fast and exciting but may not be for extensive listening. There is less mid-to-bottom end slam and attack at high volumes on the ARA Be.
On the other hand, the somewhat similarly priced Buchardt S400 manages to rock better with more bass and slam albeit with the highs being a tad muddled and less revealing. This is most likely due to the resolution and detail offered by the beryllium tweeters. Of course, this can be compensated with the addition of an active subwoofer. A Rel T5 would address the issue in the bottom end at higher volumes. It should give it more weight to the sound.
There is an element of care that also needs to be exercised in partnering and usage. Poor sources, wonky amplification and poor recordings will be highlighted by these speakers. My resident Accuphase E470 is thankfully a great match. I am sure tube amplification will yield similar results. Room size is also a factor, the Ara Be is a star performer with the intimate rather than the loud. Late-night listening becomes very enjoyable indeed. Playing at conversation level loudness in an intimate dinner party scenario will definitely impress the guests without distracting them.
All in all, the ARA Be is excellent value for the money. There is a reason why high-end designers look at beryllium as a material for tweeters. It’s not expensive for the sake of being expensive and is amazingly good. This makes the ARA Be a bit of a unicorn. Relative to other speakers utilising such high-end drivers, the ARA Be is too cheap even in kit form. Compared them with similarly priced offerings, one will be hard pressed to find such a refined, detailed and open sound
The SB Acoustics ARA Be speakers must be in any shortlist at the price point, especially if your musical taste is on the refined and mature end of the spectrum. Get past any brand prejudice and you may just Be rewarded with a step closer to audio nirvana without the need for a new mortgage.
Sources: Michel Gydec/Origin Live/Nagaoka MP300 for vinyl, Quad CD66 CD player, Raspberry Pi + Douk U2 via Roon with Denafrips Pontus 2 DAC / Amplification: Accuphase E470, Bryston B60, Aimee SE-P3 Phono / Speakers: Bryston Middle T, Buchardt S400 / Assorted cables including Canare Audio 4S11, QED One, Van Damme XLR
Malaysian price: RM8,888
Distributor: Artisan Acoustics Singapore
Malaysian rep: +6011 3134 7900 (Gan)