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.)
When I reviewed Infinity's Primus 150 loudspeaker in the April 2004 Stereophile, I was very impressed with its overall performance. To this day, I continue to be amazed at the level of realism this $198/pair loudspeaker can reproduce, and I've kept the review pair to serve as a benchmark for an entry-level audiophile speaker. When I'd completed that review, my first thought was: Now—what can Infinity do within the affordable Primus series for more money? So I requested a review sample of the Primus series' flagship, the three-way Primus 360 floorstanding speaker. After all, how could I resist listening to a speaker that claims 38Hz bass extension for only $658/pair?
This lapsed fan of electrostatic speakers finds it curious that, while MartinLogan is the predominant representative of this technology in the US, I had never auditioned an ML design in my home. I've enjoyed many Janszen tweeters, a KLH 9, an AcousTech X, Stax ELS-F81s, and I've dallied with Quad ESL-63s. But as dumb luck would have it, the first MartinLogan speaker to reach me, the new Montage, is a hybrid model.
In 1985 or so, a middle-aged audiophile who lived in New York City called to invite me to come listen to his stereo: It was, he assured me, the best in the world. All he wanted was the pleasure of my opinion, for which he offered the princely sum of $100. (As I learned in the months and years to come, this same audiophile called virtually every other audio writer in the metropolitan area whose phone number he could get hold of, making the same offer.)
Twelve years ago, loudspeaker manufacturer NHT launched its model 3.3, a floorstanding, full-range design that Corey Greenberg summed up in the March 1994 Stereophile as doing "everything I want a He-Man reference loudspeaker to do...I find myself without a single area of performance I've heard bettered by any other speaker." The NHT 3.3 basically combined a high-performance monitor with a sideways-firing subwoofer in the same enclosure, and when I first saw NHT's Evolution T6 system at the 2002 CEDIA convention, I was reminded of the classic 3.3, but a 3.3 updated for the needs of home theater as well as music. And despite inflation and the incorporation of a line-level crossover and a pair of monoblock amplifiers to drive the subwoofers, a two-channel T6 system costs the same as a pair of 3.3s: $4000.
MartinLogan's Gayle Sanders has almost single-handedly raised the electrostatic/dynamic hybrid loudspeaker to a position of prominence in the High End. First, there was the MartinLogan Monolith (reviewed in Vol.8 No.3 and Vol.9 No.3), followed by the much more affordable Sequel (reviewed in Vol.11 No.12, Vol.12 Nos.8, 9, and 12, and Vol.14 No.2). Then came the subject of this review, the Quest, and most recently the diminutive Aerius, reviewed by JA elsewhere in this issue.
Vienna is a beautiful city known for many things, but the design and manufacturing of audio equipment is not one of them. Waltzes and strudel, yes; loudspeakers, no. One exception is Vienna Acoustics, a company that has introduced a line of loudspeakers named after composers: Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, and Haydn. At the 1996 Las Vegas WCES, Sumiko, US distributor of Vienna Acoustics products (footnote 1), demonstrated the second-from-the-top Mozart, and Stereophile reviewers as diverse in their approaches as Jonathan Scull, Tom Norton, and Sam Tellig (as well as yours truly) were unanimous in our admiration of the sound.
Over the past year or so, a parade of expensive loudspeakers has passed through my listening room (footnote 1), each claimed by its manufacturer to deliver the real musical deal. Like the people who designed them, these speakers have come in all shapes, sizes, and personalities. While the designer of every one of these speakers has claimed "accuracy" and "transparency" as his goal, the truth is, any concoction of pulsing cones, ribbons, sheets of Mylar, or whatever that's bolted into or on top of a box makes music because it is a musical instrument. How could it be otherwise, when all of these accomplished and expensive loudspeakers have sounded very different from one another, and made me feel different while listening to them?
I don't know whether Sam Tellig or I first discovered the delights of some slightly idiosyncratic loudspeakers made by Triangle—Tree-ON-gle, if you add the relevant accent—in the northeastern corner of France. I do recall feeling quite relieved to find that I wasn't the only hi-fi writer who liked and wrote about them.
Paul Hales does things differently. "I set out to build a true reference speaker," he asserted when I asked him about the, er, concept behind his Concept Five loudspeaker. For a mere six grand? The other guys don't even blink at $20k, $30k, even $70k statement speakers.
"So what kind of music do you listen to?" I heard myself asking Leif Mårten Olofsson, designer of the Coltrane, Coltrane Alto, Duke, Miles II, Mingus III, and Monk loudspeakers, before I could take it back. The small company, headquartered in Göteborg, Sweden, where Volvos are made, has been building and marketing loudspeakers for the past six years, though Olofsson confesses he's been building them for 30 years, ever since he was 12.
Like the Reference Studio/60, which was enthusiastically reviewed in the December 2004 issue by Kalman Rubinson, Paradigm's floorstanding Reference Studio/100 is now available in a v.3 version. The '100 is the flagship model in the Canadian manufacturer's Reference line. Its earlier incarnations, the original Studio/100 and the Studio/100 v.2, were reviewed by Tom Norton and Robert Deutsch in the August 1997 and June 2000 issues of Stereophile, respectively, and both writers were well impressed at how much sound quality could be wrought from this competitively priced speaker design. Bob Deutsch, in particular, referred to the v.2 as a "a serious high-end contender, and a formidable one for just about any speaker in its price range and even well above."
Experienced reviewers know that shows are the wrong environments for critical audiophile listening. Convention centers—especially the one at Las Vegas—are huge, cavernous airplane hangers, not the intimate listening rooms reviewers thrive in. Extraneous sounds from subwoofer blasts and the constantly milling crowds leak in to sully the music. Booths set up by manufacturers on the show floor have very thin, flexible walls, and no bass treatment.