Final 0.3 Loudspeakers 
Home Theater Loudspeakers Floorstanding Loudspeakers
Written by Brian Kahn   
Tuesday, 01 May 2001

The Final 0.3 ($2,399) is Final A.I.P. of The Netherlands first speaker to be released in the United States. The Final 0.3 is an electrostatic hybrid design, utilizing a 48-inch electrostatic panel and a seven-inch metal alloy woofer. (For more on the pros and cons of metal woofers see the RBH review.) The review samples were finished in anodized aluminum, with the panels suspended at a seven degree reclined angle between two brushed aluminum posts. The cylindrical woofer cabinet sits behind the panel and fires upward and forward at thirty degrees. The Final 0.3's must be used either with bi-wire speaker cables or jumpers, both of which must be terminated with banana plugs.

Comparisons between the Final electrostatics and those of Martin Logan are inevitable. There are significant notable differences between the two, even before listening begins. The Final 0.3's are shipped unassembled. The user must attach the panel to the woofer cabinet with a molex plug and two screws. Easy enough. It took me less than 20 minutes to unpack and assemble both speakers. A word of advice: slide the connector attached to the panel into the base from the front. At first glance, it appears as though it should slide in from the top, but it simply plugs in from the front. The panel is then placed in the corresponding holes cut into the base of the woofer cabinet and secured from the bottom with two screws. Once assembled, the Final 0.3's take on a very clean and modern appearance, with the panel running the entire length of the speaker.

The next noticeable difference between the Final 0.3's and the majority of the Martin Logan line is that the panel on the Final 0.3 runs the entire length of the speaker, instead of beginning above the woofer. The design utilized by the Final 0.3's allows the panel area to be significantly larger with the same overall speaker size. In comparison, the similarly sized and priced Scenario’s panels are approximately half the height of the Final 0.3's.

The entire line of Final electrostatics utilize flat panels, rather than the curvilinear design employed by Martin Logan. Final claims that this is to maintain a symmetrical push/pull configuration.

The Set-up
I placed the Final 0.3's into my two-channel reference system, joined by the Conrad Johnson Premier 17LS (review pending) preamplifier and Conrad Johnson MF2500 amplifier. My digital front end is a Pioneer Elite CDR19RW. The bottom end is at various times rounded out by either a RBH TS-12AP or Sunfire Jr. Subwoofer. I used Analysis Plus interconnects and Monster Cable Z2 Bi-Wire speaker cables to connect everything. I ended up with the panels of the Final 0.3's approximately three feet away from the wall and just under eight feet away from each other. I toed the speakers in until they were crossing just behind me. The set-up of the Finals wasn’t as bad as audio myth makes it out to be. Part of the fun and pride of ownership of the Finals is the exploration of their highest level of performance in your listening room.

The flat panel design utilized by Final has its tradeoffs. The downside of the flat panel, as opposed to the curvilinear design, is a narrower sweet spot. I found that the Final 0.3's had a smaller sweet spot and required much more care in set-up than the Scenarios. I tried a variety of positions with the Final 0.3's, including an extreme amount of toe-in, with the speakers crossing just in front of me. While the aggressive toe-in resulted in stellar, rock-solid imaging, it was at the cost of tonal balance. With the speakers in this position, I found the sound to be beamy and bright. Accordingly, my listening was done with the speakers toed in just enough to cross behind me. I also experimented with the B&K ST 1400 Series II amplifier.

The Music
While the speakers sounded fine as soon as I hooked them up, they continued to improve as they were broken in over the next few days. I listened to the Final 0.3's on their own, as well as with the two subwoofers mentioned above. Martin Logan Scenarios ($1,995 per pair) and Ascents ($4,000 per pair) were kept handy for comparison purposes. While the Final 0.3 is closer to the Aerius, which is one model step above the Scenario, I did not have a pair of Aerius’s on hand for comparison.

While listening to the Final 0.3's, I revisited much of the music used in my review of the Conrad Johnson MF2500 power amplifier. One of the first discs I reached for is a favorite jazz album of mine, Bill Berry's For Duke (Realtime Records). This instrumental album is extremely well recorded and demonstrated the Final 0.3's soundstaging abilities. My initial impression was that the Final 0.3’s had more height in their soundstage and a slightly fuller body than the Scenarios. I confirmed this with another jazz album I have been listening to recently, Fourplay's Between the Sheets (Warner Bros.). Chaka Khan is a guest vocalist on this album and her voice had more body through the Final 0.3's than through the Scenarios. Overall, I found the sound of the Final 0.3's, from the midrange up, to resemble the Martin Logan Ascents more than the Scenarios.

I wanted to give the lower midrange a thorough evaluation, so I listened to Robbie Robertson's self-titled album (Mobile Fidelity) and Enya’s Watermark album (Warner Bros.). The transition between the dynamic woofer and electrostatic panel is very difficult to do well. I was impressed by the Final 0.3's smooth and unexpectedly good transition between transducers. I felt that the transition was smoother on the Final 0.3's than on the Scenarios. In my opinion, this is due to two things. The Final 0.3’s have a significantly larger panel area than the Scenarios do, which allows the Finals to be crossed over lower. The Final 0.3's also have a metal alloy seven-inch driver, instead of the eight-inch driver in the Scenarios. The smaller metal cone driver has characteristics similar to the electrostatic panel, allowing for a smoother transition.

The Finals continued to provide a large soundstage and full body without any sacrifice to clarity throughout both albums. First, I listened to the Finals with a subwoofer. I then came back and played these albums again without a subwoofer. The Finals’ low end was not extended in the manner of the Scenarios. On both the Robbie Robertson album and the Enya album, especially on the track "The Longships," the woofer on the Finals bottomed out at louder listening volumes.

The louder listening volumes also brought another detail to my attention. The Final is not an easy speaker for an amplifier to drive. Electrostatics are known for being hard on amplifiers and one can see why this is so with the Finals. I would recommend using an amplifier of not less than 200 watts per channel. I used a 240-watt-per-channel Conrad Johnson, which never broke a sweat powering the Finals. When I used a 125-watt-per-channel B&K amplifier, I immediately detected compression at anything above moderate listening levels. I also tried a 200-watt-per-channel Adcom amplifier, which provided sufficient power to drive the Finals without strain. I was easily able to discern the differences between the amplifiers at all listening levels. I hope my Finals stay around for a while as review samples, as they are quite good for evaluating amplifiers. The Final loudspeakers are tremendously revealing and will benefit from the best electronics and hearty amplification.

With their great amount of detail and large solid soundstage, I found that the Final 0.3’s provided a very exciting listening experience. These speakers encouraged me to bring out stacks of CDs that I had not heard in quite some time. On Don McLean’s American Pie (Mobile Fidelity), I found the title track to aptly demonstrate the Finals’ strengths, as did "Fever" on Elvis' Elvis Is Back (DCC Compact Classics). On both tracks, the male voice was portrayed with great tonal accuracy and a sense of weight to create the impression that I was listening to a live performance rather than a stereo system in my house.

This sense of realism was slightly diminished when I listened to more raucous music at higher listening levels, especially with amplifiers other than the Conrad Johnson or without a subwoofer. For example, Van Halen’s For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (Warner Brothers) opens up with "Poundcake," which one must play at arena rock levels. The Final’s, being driven by the B&K 125 watt per channel, did just fine with the Eddie Van Halen opening power drill trickery, but when the full power guitars and drums kicked in, it sounded as if the Finals were being held back. These speakers need some serious power behind them in order to do rock ‘n’ roll. The Final 0.3's lack of low end also becomes apparent with dynamic rock passages. While the woofers did not bottom out as much as they did on the Enya album, a subwoofer was missed when not in the loop.

With that said, the Final 0.3's can still be fulfilling without the megabucks amplifier and subwoofer. As I began to write this review, I was playing Dire Straits' Brothers In Arms (Warner Brothers) at fairly low to moderate listening levels. The low-end impact was missing from the "Money For Nothing" intro, but the song remained engaging due to everything else this speaker does right. On "Your Latest Trick," the Final 0.3's continued to impress me with their pinpoint imaging and fullness. I stopped writing and listened to the rest of the album, thoroughly enjoying every minute.

The Downside
The Final 0.3's are not without fault, as should be expected with an electrostatic loudspeaker. For the Finals to do their best, it is imperative that they be driven by high-quality electronics, especially the amplifier. I recommend not less than 200 watts per channel of good amplification. A good deal of physical experimentation in positioning is required with these speakers. It may be time-consuming, but trust me, the payoff is well worth it. The sonic qualities of the speakers are phenomenal for electrostatic speakers this size once they are properly positioned. The major shortcoming of the Final 0.3 is their lack of bass. The transition between the woofer and electrostatic panel is very smooth, but this is done at the expense of low-end extension. I would recommend experimentation with a high-quality subwoofer such as the new Paradigm 10 inch, the Sunfire True Sub Jr and the least expensive Monitor Audio subwoofer and perhaps even filtering out the lowest frequencies from the Final 0.3's to prevent the woofers from bottoming out.

If Final’s first American speaker is indicative of things to come, I would say they will do very well. Not only do the 0.3's look stunning, they sound great. If you have the room and the inclination to set them up properly, they can easily compete with other electrostatics on the market. They have a different sound than their main competitor, Martin Logan, especially through the lower midrange. The comparison is akin to tube versus solid state, with the Finals being the tubes, slightly fuller as compared to analytical. That is not to say the Finals are soft and will hide faults in your equipment – this is not the case at all. Indeed, I recommend using the best equipment with them, as they will greatly benefit from it. The Final 0.3's, when properly set up and driven by good electronics, sound magical. I highly recommend that you give them a listen.
Manufacturer Final
Model 0.3 Loudspeakers
Reviewer Brian Kahn

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