First I should clear up what may be an ambiguity in the driver-lineup spec for these speakers. In each system, three 8" cone units serve as woofers. Two of these crossover from the midrange drivers at 100Hz. Crossover to the third 8-incher, the subwoofer, is at 40Hz. Thus, two woofers are active from 100Hz down to 40Hz, and all three are active below 40. In other words, the third woofer does not come into play until the frequency drops to the point where the radiating area of two 8-inchers starts to become inadequate for moving air, at which point the additional area of the third speaker is thrown in. Below 40Hz, all three are working together.
I'd heard rumors about Peak Consult. John Marks was all a-burble, having reviewed the InCognito in "The Fifth Element" in the September 2003 Stereophile, but I'd never actually heard anything designed by PC's Per Kristoffersen. Therefore, when US distributor Chris Sommovigo proposed that I audition the $25,000/pair Empress, I was intrigued. Well, who wouldn't be?
English loudspeaker manufacturer Monitor Audio has mined a rich vein with their exclusive 6½" metal-cone driver, which covers a range from the bass to the midrange. MA designs using this drive-unit have fared well in these pages, ranging from the Monitor Audio Studio 6 minimonitor (reviewed by JA in February '94, Vol.17 No.2) to the floorstanding Studio 20 (reviewed by RH in December '91, Vol.14 No.12, and by ST in April '92, Vol.15 No.4).
Richard Shahinian has been offering loudspeakers to music lovers for more than 15 years. I use the word "offering" here in its strictest sense, because Dick has never "sold" his products—by pushing them. Indeed, he is probably one of the worst self-promoters in the business. If we think of "soft sell" in the usual context of laid-back and low-pressure, then Shahinian's approach would have to be called "mushy sell."
Wood is not an engineering material. It might look pretty, but it's inconsistent and therefore unpredictable. So we smash cheap wood into sawdust and then glue it all together again to create something that can be machined. This is called medium-density fiberboard, or MDF. We then thinly slice some classy hardwood—hopefully harvested from sustainable sources—and use it to cover the ugly MDF. This might have made sense back when Chippendale was making furniture, but it seems strangely old-fashioned in our age of plastics and composites. I haven't seen wood trim on a TV set for more than a decade. Why is it still the norm for loudspeakers?
One of my favorite parts of attending Stereophile's Home Entertainment shows—aside from seeking out the sexy new gear and pressing the flesh of readers—is the "Ask the Editors" panel discussions. What begins as a Q&A session usually turns into a free-for-all, as the outspoken and opinionated likes of Sam Tellig, Michael Fremer, Ken Kessler, and John Marks barely give room for wallflowers such as Art Dudley and yours truly to express our opinions—except when editor John Atkinson asks each of us, in turn, to cast our votes for the "most interesting rooms to visit." At both the HE2004 and HE2005 "Ask the Editors" panels, one company was recommended by a number of Stereophile writers, me included: Almarro Products.
Most Stereophile readers are aware by now of why the full-range electrostatic should, in theory, be the ideal transducer. (If you aren't aware, see the accompanying sidebar.) Acoustat was the first manufacturer to design a full-range electrostatic that was so indestructible it came with a lifetime warranty. (MartinLogan is now offering a three-year warranty on their speakers, and is considering going to a lifetime warranty). But Acoustat was never able to solve another problem that has plagued all flat-panel speakers: treble beaming.
It occurred to me recently that, after nearly a decade of specializing in reviewing affordable speakers, and with the exceptions of two entry-level Mission models, I'd never taken a look at recent designs from the large mainstream British speaker manufacturers. So with this review I embark on a Bob Reina "British Invasion" tour to seek out the most innovative and value-conscious designs from companies that have been household names in British stereo shoppes for decades.
When Wilson Audio Specialties' Peter McGrath offered me a pair of MAXX2 loudspeakers to review, I reminded him of just how small (15' by 21' by 8') my room is, and how close I sit to any speakers in it.
Tetra Speakers may not be a familiar name to many US audiophiles. Based in Ottawa, Ontario, the company has been around for a decade, but has taken a slow and steady approach to building its visibility in the insanely competitive and trend-conscious world of high-end loudspeakers.
ProAc's designer Stuart Tyler sounded casual—almost bemused—when I spoke with him recently about the new 2.5, a floorstanding, two-way ported box in the middle price slot ($4500/pair) of his Response series. While answering my pressing queries about the crossover point, driver materials, cabinet construction, and other reviewer obsessions, his body language said, "Does any of that really matter with these speakers? You know what the real story is here."
A company other than ProAc best describes the Future One: "And now for something completely different!" Of course, that was a company of British comedians. There's nothing funny about the talented British speaker designer Stuart Tyler's latest effort, but there is something odd: Tyler is reputed to have said of the Future One, "This is the loudspeaker I have always wanted to build."
Most speakers don't come in heavy wooden crates—they come in cardboard cartons, two per box, light enough to be tucked under one arm and carried out to the car. Not so in HighEndLand, where the smallest minimonitor can test a healthy man's strength. There are plenty of good reasons for this cult of robustness, foremost among them structural stability and the suppression of resonances.
Paul Hales has been a busy guy lately. In little over a year, he has designed and brought to production four new speakers in his Revelation series (footnote 1); his cost-no-object flagship, the Alexandra, which had been seen but not heard at a number of shows, was finally demonstrated at the 1999 CES; and he has introduced the new Transcendence series, which replaces the Concept series. (He's also produced a brand-new baby girl during this period, although I believe his wife made a significant contribution to that project.)