Air Tight AL-05 Speaker also know as the Bonsai will Change what you Think of Speaker size.
At True Audiophile
We're really hard on speakers in general. We find too many promise more than they can ever deliver. Hence, you'll find a smaller selection here, but ones that outperform their size or price. The Air Tight Bonsai just astonish. -- TA
Let's start with the opinion of people who have run this speaker through its paces.
If you think mini-monitor means small sound, the Air Tight Bonsai will have you thinking again. Forget mini; the sound here is decidedly, uh, maxi. For starters, the speaker’s wide dispersion and voluptuously full and rounded imaging will fool you into thinking you’re listening to a far larger transducer. Plus, in the midband the Bonsai delivers an exciting sense of immediacy and a bold presence, coupled with remarkable detail, that also belie its size and single 4" driver. It’s a thing of beauty to behold, to boot...The Bonsai AL-05 mini-monitors offer an extremely pleasing mix of tube-like bloom, nimble pace, snappy transients (particularly in the midband), impressively wide dispersion, and the octave-to-octave timbral and dynamic coherence that only a single-driver speaker has to this degree, coupled with higher-than-expected resolution of detail. Whatever shortcomings exist at the frequency extremes, they are more than made up for by the monitor’s three-dimensionality. Transients are quite fast even if their leading edges aren’t always razor-sharp. - The Absolute Sound (read the full review in Review Tab)
Small but mighty. Gorgeous finish. Astounding Sound. These single driver speakers just disappear into the soundstage and no one will believe the all this big and wide soundstage is coming from the AL-05. You don't need much power to drive these so a low powered amp from 25-40W what serve them well.
Configuration: 4 inch full range driver
Load impedance: 4 ohms
Power handling 25W ( Max 40W )
Frequency response:70 - 20,000Hz ( -10dB )
Dimensions: 170(W) x 270(H) x 220(D)mm
Air Tight Bonsai AL-05 Mini-Monitor
Tiny but Mighty
Equipment report by Julie Mullins
If you think mini-monitor means small sound, the Air Tight Bonsai will have you thinking again. Forget mini; the sound here is decidedly, uh, maxi. For starters, the speaker’s wide dispersion and voluptuously full and rounded imaging will fool you into thinking you’re listening to a far larger transducer. Plus, in the midband the Bonsai delivers an exciting sense of immediacy and a bold presence, coupled with remarkable detail, that also belie its size and single 4" driver. It’s a thing of beauty to behold, to boot.
Air Tight, founded by the legendary Atsushi Miura and based outside of Osaka, Japan, is known first and foremost as a manufacturer of extraordinary handcrafted tube electronics. Indeed, the single-driver Bonsai is currently the sole loudspeaker bearing the marque’s name. But it’s quite a special speaker and one that’s certainly a delight to have around. Before I delve into why, let’s begin with a little background.
Mr. Takanori Ohmura, formerly of Luxman, designed the Bonsai’s driver and enclosure. An expert on speaker diaphragms, Mr. Ohmura has focused his research on full-range drivers for more than 15 years. His connection to Mr. Miura and Air Tight dates back to their days at Luxman, the company Mr. Miura’s father-in-law founded and that Mr. Ohmura joined in 1976. (For more about Mr. Miura, see JV’s recent Hall of Fame feature on the designer in Issue 268.) Mr. Ohmura now runs his own factory in Malaysia called AMM Laboratory where the Bonsai’s driver is made and where the speaker is assembled.
The version of the Bonsai I auditioned, also known as the AL-05, marks the monitor’s third iteration over a decade and a half; the previous versions are the MSM-1 and the AL-03. The “AL” designation refers to the multi-core Alnico magnet used in the driver assembly.
According to information provided by Air Tight, Mr. Ohmura’s ongoing interest in full-range drivers lies in their general phase correctness. All versions of the Bonsai have had 10cm-diameter diaphragms. (Ohmura-san has never increased diaphragm size—to obtain louder volumes and deeper bass—as this would lead to a loss of phase coherence due to time delays.) To offset single-transducer disadvantages—specifically, a lack of scale, impact, and power—Ohmura-san has not only improved the enclosure through the years, but has also concentrated on finding the most suitable coating materials and multi-polymer paints to apply to his nano-woven glass-fiber diaphragm to achieve the quickest transmission speeds. The Japanese have a long cultural tradition of polymer chemistry and lacquering techniques—and Ohmura-san’s chemistry degree helps, too, as does his studies of violin finishes and piano lacquers.
Speaking of finishes, the Bonsai’s wooden enclosure is available in either a high-gloss rosewood or piano-black; my review samples were the elegant rosewood. There are grilles that attach to four tiny pegs on the speaker’s face, but I never really used them. The drivers are too pretty to cover up! Surrounded by a near-square panel of glossy rosewood, the gold-toned coating of the diaphragm glows with a subtle sheen.
Setup and Sound
Given their diminutive dimensions and light weight (11 pounds) the Bonsais were a snap to set up. However, you will need to consider supplying stands for them, as none are included with the speaker. I used custom ones I had on-hand, but for a time I also placed the Bonsai’s atop another pair of speakers I have in house for an upcoming review. These are small guys, so just a touch of toe-in is all it takes to get them up and running with images snapping readily into place. My listening positions ranged from about 7–12 feet away from the speakers. Up close, I heard more detail; further back, more color. My room is quite large (approximately 35 feet by 17 feet with 12-foot plaster ceilings). For my critical listening I mostly drove the monitors with the superb Air Tight ATM-1S stereo power amp—a great match. I’d heard this combo demo’d at a few audio shows, too. (See below for the rest of the system.) To keep this review to its assigned length I’m going to stick to that tube amp pairing and to LP listening. (Analog all the way!)
Broadly speaking and on most program material (especially well-recorded music), playback through these transducers resulted in a big, full, highly engaging sound. These monitors ain’t no wallflowers. Thanks in part to the diaphragm’s unique proprietary coating, the Bonsai’s single driver offers a pacey presentation that feels evenhanded and effortless yet offers a roundedness that might be described as tube-like in its dimensionality. There’s also a decided midrange emphasis (as you would expect from a single-driver speaker of these dimensions).
With jazzy material, such as Diana Krall Live in Paris on ORG’s excellent 45rpm LP, vocals registered as smooth, present, and quite realistic. While I wouldn’t call the soundstage the deepest or widest I’ve heard—these are mini-monitors, after all—the sense of venue was portrayed admirably well, with instruments placed where they should have been (given the scale here). There’s an openness, size, and spaciousness to the Bonsai presentation that’s surprising and pleasing. Krall’s piano on “Deed I Do” was reproduced with quick-footed transient attacks and good verisimilitude—ditto Jeff Hamilton’s crisp snare delivery. On top I detected a slight softening on some cymbal taps, an almost lispy effect—but this was a rare occurrence. John Clayton’s upright bass seemed slightly recessed at times, but I suspect this might well have been in part because of the way it was miked. There may have been a touch of brightness to the piano’s upper registers, but then I’m sensitive to brightness. I’m picking nits—the Krall LP was overall a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Next I spun Buena Vista Social Club’s eponymous album; this one is also packed with midrange delights but contains more complex layering of instruments than the Krall disc. Here, right from the “Chan Chan” opener, the snare had energetic snap and speed while the multifarious percussion instruments were distinct and well defined. Shakers and various hand-drums displayed lovely delicacy and detail. Muted cornet sounded richly lifelike, as did Ibrahim Ferrer’s lively tenor. Again, the Bonsai’s pacey nimbleness carried the day; the counterpoint to which is reduced power-and bass-range color and impact. (Given the inherent limits of a single-driver in a very small box, this must be considered part and parcel of the Bonsai experience. Bass doesn’t go much below 100Hz and thins down well above that point.) Yes, not all of the usual high-octane gusto of this energetic album was conveyed—it could have used a dash more hot salsa in the mix. Still, the sound was quite enjoyably realistic where the speakers played.
OK, I must admit I wasn’t expecting rock ’n’ roll to blow me away with the Bonsais, but my old promo copy of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” on a 12-inch single (remember those?) did just that. Wow! I almost had to turn the volume down, but it was too much fun to listen loud. The whole mix came alive—from the excitement of the initial hard-hitting drum attacks to the bold, resonant swagger of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s guitar to the synth effects flickering between right and left channels, to Bowie’s expressive vocals, with claves clean and crisp as you please. It was hard to believe that such huge and impactful sound was coming from these little boxes with their little drivers. (Indeed I have been fooled at shows more than once into thinking that other, larger speakers were playing when it was the li’l Bonsais sitting beside them that were doing the deed!) I just about leapt up off my couch following Bowie’s lead.
I feel compelled to share one more notable listening example: Analogue Productions’ superb 45rpm reissue of Muddy Waters’ Folk Singer, which sounded terrific with the Bonsais, “Good Morning School Girl” and “You Gonna Need My Help,” in particular. The rapid-fire attacks of Clifton Jones’ snare were suitably snappy; Muddy’s vocals were realistic and reproduced with the slight reverb I’m accustomed to hearing; the Bonsais even recovered some studio ambience, drawing me deeper into a classic taped more than half a century ago. Imaging was also impressive, as was the resolution of the details and textures of these spare arrangements—the guitar strings’ subtle squeaks, the growls of Muddy’s voice.
The Bonsai AL-05 mini-monitors offer an extremely pleasing mix of tube-like bloom, nimble pace, snappy transients (particularly in the midband), impressively wide dispersion, and the octave-to-octave timbral and dynamic coherence that only a single-driver speaker has to this degree, coupled with higher-than-expected resolution of detail. Whatever shortcomings exist at the frequency extremes, they are more than made up for by the monitor’s three-dimensionality. Transients are quite fast even if their leading edges aren’t always razor-sharp.
While I wouldn’t describe the Bonsais as highest-resolution speakers, they do present a remarkable degree of detail (especially on well-recorded source material), far more than one would expect for their size and type. But, oh, their presence and dimensionality! Those combined with their big, full soundstage (and almost complete disappearing act) make them winners that exceed expectations across most criteria. Where they’re intended to play, they play exceedingly well, and (not surprisingly) the midrange is their strong suit. As such, and given their petite dimensions, these might make a good choice for a secondary setup, say in a study or a bedroom.