I had mixed feelings about reviewing the $189/pair Paradigm Atom loudspeaker. Although in the past I've been favorably impressed with Paradigm's speakers—the $600/pair Reference Studio/20 remains one of my favorite affordables—Budget Bob tends to get a bit nervous when a speaker's price drops below $250/pair. In my experience, even when the most talented speaker designers attempt to make a speaker to sell at such a low price, the result is often a very small cabinet with limited bass extension and inferior high-level dynamics.
Paul Barton is a legend in the speaker business. For 25 years this musician and engineer has dedicated his life to providing speaker purchasers with higher levels of sonic realism at lower prices. Barton is a frugal perfectionist, and his obsession with psychoacoustics is evident in all his designs. I was mightily impressed with his midpriced Image 4T (Stereophile, February 2001), which was, like all Barton designs, designed with the assistance of the facilities of Canada's National Research Council.
I haven't been shy in these pages regarding my love for the Mission 731i loudspeaker (reviewed in November 1996, Vol.19 No.11). It quickly became my reference standard for an entry-level audiophile speaker. Subsequent to my review, Mission significantly improved the speaker by introducing a silk-dome tweeter (see Follow-Up in April 1998, Vol.12 No.4). I bought three pairs: one for my home recording studio, one for my faux outdoor summer-home system (guest bedroom windowsills, pointing outward), and one for portable use to drag to friends' parties when their sound systems are not up to snuff.
The most exciting development in audio today isn't multichannel surround, single-ended triodes, or $10,000 phono cartridges. It's "trickle down." I get buzzed when an audio designer known for cutting-edge multikilobuck designs claims to have a product that can produce 80% of the sonic realism of his flagship design at 50% of the cost. I get even more excited when he does it again—that is, produces a product that produces 64% of his flagship's performance at 25% of the cost. Designers who have successfully trickled-down their flagship technologies abound in all quarters of audiophilia, from electronics (eg, Audio Research, Conrad-Johnson) to speakers (Alón, ProAc) to cables (MIT).
Loudspeaker lore has it that a "good big'un will always beat a good small'un." But my experience has been that the traditional wisdom is often wrong. Price for price, large speakers often have larger errors compared with minimonitors, the smaller speakers offering more rigid cabinets, better-defined stereo imaging, and, because the owner can experiment with stand height, a better chance of being optimally sited in a room. So while I was as impressed as Stereophile reviewer Kalman Rubinson with what I heard from the floorstanding, $3500/pair Revel Performa F30 (footnote 1) when we visited the Revel facility in California's San Fernando Valley in spring 2000 (footnote 2), it was the big speaker's smaller sibling, the $2000/pair Performa M20, that caught my eye—and ear.
You can bet Infinity plans on selling a respectable number of $8000/pair Prelude MTS speakers (reviewed in the May 2000 Stereophile) over this ambitious, full-range design's anticipated lifespan. But will the company make enough money to recoup the megabucks spent on researching, designing, and developing the all-new CMMD (Ceramic Metal Matrix Diaphragm) drivers, BASH (Bridge Amplifier Switching Hybrid) powered subwoofer, and RABOS (Room Adaptive Bass Optimization System) bass-equalization system? NOWAY (Never Over-Estimate What Acronyms Yield).
Red Rose Music founder and CEO Mark Levinson may have lost the rights to use his own name, but not the good timing that helped make him a successful businessman and an accomplished bass player. (According to his online bio, Levinson has sat in with the likes of John Coltrane, Sonny Stitt, Chick Corea, and Keith Jarrett.)
Dynaudio's $2399/pair Contour 1.3 Mk.II follows on from the Mk.I, which grabbed Russ Novak's enthusiastic attention in November 1996 (Vol.19 No.11). Because a full description was included in the original review, I will only touch briefly on the differences between the original version and the sample reviewed this month. A Special Edition of the Contour 1.3 is also available for $3499/pair. Sam Tellig's comments on the sound of this loudspeaker appeared in the December 1999 Stereophile and are included at the end of this review.
Although Kentucky loudspeaker manufacturer Thiel has produced some standmounted models for home-theater use, all of their serious music speakers have been floorstanders. Enter the PCS: even though styled to match every Thiel speaker since the groundbreaking CS5 of 1989, the 19"-high PCS sits on a stand, not the floor.
The Mirage OM-6 loudspeaker, from Canadian manufacturer Audio Products International, mightily impressed Stereophile's Tom Norton when he reviewed it back in November 1997. But with its "omnipolar" design and powered woofer, the OM-6 wasn't a speaker for those of us with more conventional tastes in speaker design. So when I heard that Mirage's Ian Paisley was working on a high-performance two-way minimonitor based on the OM-6's drive-unit technology, I asked API's affable PR man, Jeff Percy, for review samples.
In this issue's "Letters" column, you will find comments from readers who are bothered by what they perceive to be this magazine's emphasis on reviewing very expensive technology. Yes, we do cover a lot of cutting-edge technology, and it is, of necessity, expensive. But our experience has been that that technology invariably trickles down to products that real people can actually afford.
The original PSB Alpha was reviewed for Stereophile by Jack English in July 1992 (Vol.15 No.7). A modest-looking two-way priced at just $199/pair, it combined a reflex-loaded 6.5" woofer using a plastic-doped paper cone with a 0.5" plastic-dome tweeter. JE summed up the Alpha by saying it "is simply one of the best buys in audio, providing a musically satisfying sound...a sensational audio bargain." It went on to become one of the best-selling audiophile speakers ever, with over 50,000 pairs sold.