Stereophile's Products of 2011 PRODUCT OF THE YEAR
2011 RUNNERS-UP (in alphabetical order)
Ayre Acoustics DX-5 Blu-ray player
Ayre Acoustics K-5xeMP line preamplifier
Bowers & Wilkins 800 Diamond loudspeaker
Classé CT-M600 & CA-M600 monoblock power amplifiers
dCS Debussy D/A processor
Kuzma 4Point tonearm
Magico Q5 loudspeaker
Musical Fidelity AMS100 power amplifier
Sony SS-AR1 loudspeaker
Vivid Audio B1 loudspeaker
VPI Classic 3 turntable
Wilson Audio Specialties Sophia 3 loudspeaker
This is really weird. Our overall Product of the Year is a loudspeakerbut it's not our Loudspeaker of the Year, the Magico Q5. It's not the Vivid B1 or the Sony SS-AR1 or the B&W 800 Diamondall worthy candidates. It's not even the Wilson Sophia 3. The 2011 Overall Product of the Year is the Voxativ Ampeggio, an unconventional, single-driver speaker designed in part by the German piano manufacturer Schimmel and distributed in the US by Audioarts, a very young, very small, appointment-only audio salon in Manhattan. What the hell?
Before we try to understand how this could have happened, let's take a look at the Ampeggio itself. This distinctly gorgeous loudspeaker uses a single proprietary 7" dual-cone driver with a large, convex surround, designed to accommodate a much greater excursion than the typical Lowther driver. The complex cabinet, designed and voiced in collaboration with Schimmel Pianos, incorporates a series of faceted internal boards for optimal radiation resistance, and houses a twice-folded horn nearly 9' long.
Last spring, I accompanied Art Dudley on a brief visit to Audioarts to listen to the Voxativ Ampeggios. Had you told me then that this strange, humpbacked speaker would be our Product of the Year, I would have considered you crazy. In the small listening room, the Ampeggios sounded okay at best: Though they had an uncommonly smooth midrange, they lacked spatial depth and image specificity, and offered little to no low-end impact. But Art heard something in the Ampeggio that I simply missed. He heard its potential, he heard its heart. He got up from his listening seat, walked over to one speaker, crouched low, gently caressed that lovely driver, and requested a pair of review samples.
Art's brave, I thought.
Weeks later, the word from Art was that it had taken quite a bit of work to position the Voxativs for optimal bass response, bass extension, and treble response, but once that was done, the speakers sounded . . . superb. They offered the typical Lowther traits of transient speed, spatial presence, dramatic ease, and physical impact, but added deep, well-controlled bass and excellent soundstaging. I was surprised. John Atkinson made a trip up to Art's place, in Cherry Valley, New York, and returned with a similar report. While JA was also impressed by the Ampeggio's sound, he raved about the speaker's superbly flat in-room response and genuine 98dB sensitivity. What the hell?
Weeks later, I got to hear the Ampeggios again, this time at the Atlanta AXPONA show. Carefully positioned in a room that was usefully large but far from ideal, the Ampeggios sounded sweet, relaxed, and dynamic. I could have stayed and listened forever. Finally, I heard what Art had heard all along. From his review: "The Voxativ Ampeggio went beyond sounding good: More than once, with too many records to mention, I found myself stopping to marvel at its brilliantly good pitch certainty. . . . And while it's one thing to focus on such a characteristic for a moment at a time, it's quite another to bask in it subconsciouslyand the Voxativs allowed me to do just that. I was able to enjoy everything I played through themnot just as sound but as musicwithout fatigue, frustration, or, worst of all, lack of interest."
Clearly, the Voxativ Ampeggio fuels our passion for music. And with that in mind, it really should come as no surprise that this strange new speaker is our Product of the Year for 2011. In its design, appearance, and sound, the Voxativ Ampeggio is bold, beautiful, distinct, and funa product to admire, love, and honor. Congratulations, Voxativand thanks.