I know someone who bought, for his own kitchen, a stove intended for the restaurant trade, simply because it enhances his enjoyment of cooking. Another friend, a motoring enthusiast, has equipped his garage with a brace of tools, including a hydraulic lift, that would be the envy of some humbler repair shops. Yet another friend indulges her enthusiasm for ceramics with a potter's wheel and kiln that one might find in a well-endowed art school. Among the most serious consumers, it seems, the watchword is professional; odd, then, that professional-quality monitors don't account for an even bigger chunk of the domestic loudspeaker market.
If there's one article in Stereophile that generated more reader response than any other, it was Peter Breuninger's review of the classic Fisher 500-C tubed receiver in June 2005. Peter reviewed another classic component from the 1960s, the Bozak B-410 Concert Grand loudspeaker; my involvement in the review, in the October 2005 issue, brought home to me with a vengeance how much the science of speaker design has evolved in the 40 years since this armoire-sized model was introduced.
In 1974, in England, Australian Reverse-Pommy pianist and recording engineer Billy Woodman founded the Acoustic Transducer Co. (ATC) as a maker of loudspeaker drive-units. That makes ATC a few years younger than Spendor (1969) and a few years older than Harbeth (1977). When I mentioned all that to a quick-witted audio buddy, he immediately came back with "Middle Child Syndrome!"
I've long kept an eye on Michael Creek's loudspeakers (Epos) and electronics (Creek). He's always moving forward, with either updates of current designs or a revamp of an entire product line. And though I've found that many of his new-product ideas tend to feature evolutionary rather than revolutionary sonic improvements, I've found that they always represent excellent sound quality for the dollar in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
I've loved the neutral, detailed, involving sound of Sonus Faber loudspeakers for as long as they've been available in the US. Most of my listening to them, however, has been at audio shows, and during a visit to Audio Research Corporation in 2012. (Since 2008, both ARC and Sonus Faber have been owned by the Italian firm Fine Sounds SpA, and since then ARC has used speakers made by SF, as well as by Wilson Audio and Magnepan, in the design of their electronics. Fine Sounds also owns 100% of Wadia, McIntosh, and Sumiko.)
The match between amplifier and speaker for single-ended operation is critical, which is why John Atkinson suggested I let Wavelength's Gordon Rankin lead when it came to choosing a speaker to partner his special-edition Cardinal amplifiers. If you're not talking roughly 92dB sensitivity and a fairly benign load, say no lower than 6 ohms, you're just not talking single-ended. That precluded running the Cardinals on the big Avalon Ascents with their lowish 86dB sensitivity (in spite of the relatively benign impedance curve).
After more discussion it became evident that the best speakers to use were the very ones Gordon employed in his own reference systemthe Swiss-made Reference 3A Royal Master Control loudspeakers.
I was introduced to audiophilia by my friend Gary Gustavsen. Although I'd known Gary since I was 13, I didn't discover his passion for music until that day in high school physics lab when I blurted out an obscure line from the Doors' "The Soft Parade," and Gary bounced back immediately with the next line. It turns out I shared my friend's passions for the Doors and Frank Zappa, but not for Mahler. Before long, Gary was dragging me to every audio store in our area to listen to potential speakers for his first high-end audio system. At the beginning of each trip he'd say, "Right now I'm partial to the Rectilinear 3s." Although I heard him say that many times, I never actually got to hear a pair of Rectilinear 3s.
Colleen Cardas strongly urged me to try the Callas loudspeaker from Opera Loudspeakers (whose products she also distributes in the US), which she claimed was an ideal match for the Unison S6 amplifier I reviewed last August. In my experience, the stand-mounted Callas ($5000/pair) is unique among loudspeakers in being the logical contrapositive (inverted and flipped, so to speak) of the usual D'Appolito driver array of midrange-tweeter-midrange (MTM).
As the years pass and I turn into a crotchety old man, I'm reminded of those old TV ads for the Honda Accord: "Simplify." Even though I now have more things going on than at any other point in my life, I try to eliminate complications everywhere I can. I now can't believe that, for over 15 years, I used the Infinity RS-1B as my reference loudspeaker. Sure, I loved itthe RS-1B was the first speaker I'd owned that produced a wide, deep soundstage, the full dynamic range of an orchestra, and bass extension down to 25Hz. But it was ridiculously complex: a five-way design with three different driver types and a servomechanism for the woofers. It also required biamplificationI got the best sound with a combination of high-powered tube amp and high-current, solid-state amp.
When something called "high fidelity" assumed fad status during the 1950s, many manufacturers climbed on board by the simple expedient of adorning their last year's product with a high fidelity label. The Home Theater bandwagon is a little harder to jump on, because loudspeakers for use with television sets require something "ordinary" stereo speakers don't: magnetic shielding (or, more accurately, magnetic cancellation). Without it, placing the speakers within a few feet of a large-screen set does psychedelic-type things to the color (footnote 1). However, adding magnetic shielding, usually in the form of a second magnet glued to the rear of each loudspeaker's motor magnet, is the only thing that some loudspeaker manufacturers change before slapping a Home Theater label on last year's stereo speakers.
I often receive letters from Stereophile readers. I've even gotten a few letters from female readers, one an attractive young lover of tube gear who sent me a picture of herself and [sigh] her boyfriend. But most are from people who are either thanking me for a specific review that resulted in a purchase and a satisfied buyer, or are suggesting products they'd like me to review. I frequently take the advice of writers of this second category; in fact, two of the inexpensive speakers I'll review in the next year were recommended by readers.
Late last year, when I first heard of the Music Hall Marimba, I was happily surprised: One of my favorite hi-fi manufacturers had finally introduced its first and (so far) only loudspeakerand it was seriously affordable at $349/pair. I wanted to review the Marimbas right away, but grumpy old Sam Tellig beat me to them.
Silicon Valleybased Velodyne was founded in 1983 to develop a range of subwoofers that used servo-control to reduce non-linear distortion to vanishingly small levels. They succeeded in this goal to the extent that Velodyne is now perhaps the best-known subwoofer company in the US, currently employing 65 people. At the 1994 Winter CES, Velodyne launched the subject of this review: the DF-661 ($1800$2600/pair), their first full-range loudspeaker (the "DF" stands for "Distortion-Free").
The three-way DF-661 was designed from the ground up to continue the Velodyne tradition of ultra-low distortion. "We had developed the technology and resources to attack distortion elsewhere in the audio chain," wrote company President David Hall, "and started with the premise that, by definition...distortion in loudspeakers is wrong." (His italics.) "We went to the laboratory for a solution, with the living room as the ultimate goal." Velodyne calls this attention to technological detail "The Silicon Valley approach to sound."
The Boston Acoustics A40 loudspeaker ($150/pair) has become "legendary" (ie, it's stayed around for a while), probably because a pair of them images as well as Rogers LS3/5As. Unfortunately, it is no match for the LS3/5A in terms of smooth midrange response. Of course, at $150/pair, it shouldn't be.
I was originally going to do a review comparing the Spectrum 108A ($200/pair) and the Boston Acoustics A40. On first listen, I was mightily impressed by the A40. But after Stereophile's Larry Archibald schlepped me out a pair of the 108As, I didn't much want to listen to the A40s.
One of the oldest names in US audio, Altec Lansing was building speakers for theaters and recording studios long before the introduction of the microgroove LP in 1948 (which date many see as marking the inception of high fidelity). Started in 1931 under the name All-Technical Services ~Corp., the firm later purchased another audio firm called Lansing Engineering, and merged the names. Altec's Model 604, one of the first true coaxial speakers, was adopted for home use by many early hi-fi buffs and, several permutations later, is still widely used for monitoring in disc-cutting rooms.