Stereophile's Products of 2012 Loudspeaker of the Year

Loudspeaker of the Year

Vivid Audio Oval K1 ($24,990/pair; reviewed by John Marks, Vol.35 No.10 Review)

This race was tight. Of the 11 worthy contenders in our "Loudspeakers" category, seven—from the overachieving Joseph Audio Pulsar to the otherworldly MBL Radialstrahler 101E Mk.II—garnered first-place votes. But no loudspeaker impressed our writers more than Vivid Audio's Oval K1, an unusual-looking design with an unusually powerful and compelling sound.

Though it's been a while since I last heard the Oval K1, I'm very well acquainted with its little brother. Vivid's Oval B1 is outwardly similar to our winner, but has a shorter cabinet and two fewer woofers. At the 2012 Newport Beach Show, the B1 nevertheless knocked me out with its crazy ability to project scale, its superfast transient response, and, most of all, its wonderful, musical bass. Vivid's US importer, Philip O'Hanlon, had showgoers packed into his room and crowded round its door, happy to hear pop hits by Beyoncé and Michael Jackson. It's hard for me to imagine greater bass impact than that offered by the B1, but according to John Marks, that's exactly what we can expect from the Oval K1.

And while JM was indeed satisfied by the Oval K1's remarkable low-end performance, it was the speaker's midrange and lower-treble character that most impressed him: Voices and stringed instruments floated solidly and effortlessly in space, the K1 showcasing the kind of transparency and three-dimensionality common to the best electrostatic designs. JM was happily mystified. How could a couple extra woofers have such a positive overall effect on the music? According to O'Hanlon, the magic comes from the K1's unique crossover design and its higher minimum impedance (4.8 ohms vs the B1's 2.8 ohms), making the speaker an easier load for partnering amplification.

But should we dwell on why the K1 sounds so good? Halfway through his review, JM stopped talking about speakers almost entirely, and devoted his attention to the music. He promptly busted out the guilty pleasures—Julie London and Alannah Myles, among others—sat back in the Eames Lounge Chair of his mind, and let the music take him away.

"Vivid's Oval K1 is one of the best loudspeakers I have ever heard," he said. "If you can afford it, I think it delivers even better value for money than the Oval B1. Bravo."

Runners-up (in alphabetical order)
ADAM Audio Classic Series Column MK3 ($7000/pair; reviewed by Kal Rubinson, Vol.35 No.8 Review)
Aerial Acoustics Model 7T ($9850/pair; reviewed by Kal Rubinson, Vol.35 No.3 Review)
GoldenEar Technology Triton Two ($2998.98/pair; reviewed by Robert Deutsch, Vol.35 No.2 Review)
Joseph Audio Pulsar ($7000/pair; reviewed by Michael Fremer, Vol.35 No.6 Review)
MartinLogan Montis ($9995/pair; reviewed by Robert Deutsch, Vol.35 No.9 Review)
MBL Radialstrahler 101E Mk.II ($70,500/pair; reviewed by Michael Fremer, Vol.35 No.4 Review)
Sonus Faber Amati Futura ($36,000/pair; reviewed by John Atkinson, Vol.35 No.3 Review)
Sony SS-AR2 ($20,000/pair; reviewed by John Atkinson, Vol.35 No.10 Review)
TAD Compact Reference CR1 ($42,000/pair; reviewed by John Atkinson, Vol.35 No.1 Review)
Wilson Audio Specialties Duette ($13,900/pair; reviewed by John Atkinson & John Marks, Vol.35 No.6 Review)

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Comments
Stephen Mejias's picture
fair

The issue is that there are a lot of companies such as "Emotiva" mentioned earlier that are doing a damn good job with the products they make. Is it fair to pass over them or "cheap" PSB products in these "best of" comparisons because someone else is making a marginally better amp or speaker for 80 to 100 times the price?

No, it wouldn't be fair to "pass over" affordable products, which is why we haven't. Yes, several of our winners are very expensive, but the magazine also awarded some very high-value products, such as the Rega RP3 ($1095), which happened to beat out some extremely expensive competition, including the $15,0000 Clearaudio Goldfinger Statement phono cartridge and the $45,000 Wave Kinetics NVS Reference turntable. Our very most affordable winner of the year was the $250 AudioQuest DragonFly, which itself beat out some very worthy competition, including the $7000 Weiss DAC202.

And we've awarded many affordable products over the years, including the "cheap PSB products" you mention—the PSB Alpha B1 ($299/pair) was our 2007 Budget Product of the Year and made a very fine showing in our overall Loudspeakers category. It also happens to be my reference loudspeaker.

And I agree that Emotiva deserves attention. We've reviewed their products favorably, and I'll be visiting the company's Nashville headquarters next week.

JohnnyR's picture
Sorry but............

......a $1095 turntable isn't a bargain. You keep pushing outdated tech. Remember your compulsion a year or so ago to get back into cassette tapes? What next 8-track tapes and Lear car players to play them on?

Pinault's picture
An amateurs opinión

Hello fellow audiophiles, In my opinion it's obvious there are two different sides to this conflict. On one side we have the guys behind a magazine who want to produce engaging and interesting articles to keep readers coming back. To achieve this most magazines like said before in the blog will have to include the expensive top of the line almost impossible to acquire but highly aspirational products. Who wouldnt want to buy a Ferrari once in their lifetimes right? And this is what keeps new people coming to this sport by the way which is important for all of us who care about this. if there aren't aspirational products it would seem quite boring and not interesting to engage in high end audio. So what most of us do is dream about the Ferrari and go out there and benchmark what best fits our budget but would drive as close to that ferrari right? So we buy the camaro. lol but ferraris keep the news interesting how boring would car magazines be if the would only review Mazda 2 and ford fiesta and Chevy spark... Obviously we all want an expert opinion on every budget level and that's why we come to the experts before we go and buy our components.  But one thing I have found among audophiles since I have been engaged in this sport is that the most important opinions always follow "go hear for your self" so this pretty much sums it all. We all get nice opinions on stereophile on what to expect from high quality components but at the end we go out to the market and look for some of those attributes on our own budget.

Changing subject For a moment I want to tell you all that recognizing the high end technology is very important for all of us who don't have the resources for the expensive components. The research world is very simple, the most wealthy people who are the early adopters of the new technology pay the high price for this developments and us the more mortals will benefit later on as we will get that technology for much less which would have not been developed sans their patronage and later sold at a more affordable prices. For me I chear stereophile for promoting the accomplishments of all of this high end ridiculously expensive audio equipment who need to find homes in order to get those developments paid for. Which by the way I enjoy reading about cause I know a few years ahead when they come with new models I will be able to get this quality at a budget that works for my wallet. So everybody wins. On the other side it looks like some readers aren't happy that they are not getting recommendations at their budgets so maybe this is an area of opportunity for stereophile, try to see how to inform us of that high end technology that has cascaded into more affordable product lines once new generations of components are launched. Cause at the end we want the best audio experience we can afford. Editors just please know that youbhave a responsibility to us readers, we trust your opinions and we deserve honest answers and recommendations please don't fall into the business game in which more mentions are for the companies who buy more advertising and give every manufacturer a fair treatment. We will all benefit from this.

Please have fun! That's all that counts.

JohnnyR's picture
Snicker

"reading about how they sound"

Uhhhhhhhh......yeah I guess reading about how  $150,000 speakers sound is marvelous. I would expect speakers to be just about damn near perect for THAT price.

It's rich man excess. The older I get the less high priced "toys" impress me. Ho hum oh look it's yet another super fast spors car I can't afford and the idiots who can can't even drive it without wrecking it in a two week time span. After a certain price it just becomes a status symbol and nothing more.Look at how many Ferraris and Lamborghinis are totaled each year by incompetent drivers. I'd not sell one untill the buyer takes a serious driving course to prove they can handle the car.

The trouble with "turn the page" is even the lower priced audio equipment has to be put through the subjective BS of the month club routine by whatever "reviewer" in Stereophile . God help you if JVS "reviews" something. Doesn't believe in measurments yet swears that every cable or power cord he's "listened" to sounds different. Yeah right.

Regadude's picture
Why the doubt?

Why do you doubt JVS when he says he hears differences in cables? Because you cannot? 

Just because YOU cannot run the 100 meters in 10 seconds, it does not mean that no one can... Such hubris on your part.

I have exotic cables in my system, and yes, I DO HEAR a difference and an improvement compared to cheaper stuff. Deal with it.

JohnnyR's picture
BWAHAHAHAHAHHA!!!!!!!!

Thanks for admitting that you are on the same team as JVS. Now everyone can see just how gullible  you are! Ever do a SBT or DBT on those cables?  NO is your answer. "I know what I heard" BS is the norm on here. How laughable. "Say so" means NOTHING when it comes to proof. REAL testing DOES.

Talk about hubris on YOUR part. I'm seriously laughing so HARD right now xD

Regadude's picture
Johnny knows best... Whatever...

Johnny, you have never been to my home, and you have never heard my system. But, of course, you know how my system sounds better than I do. Do you have quantum resonating tri-molecular, temporal displacement hadrion capacitator ear drums?

You call exotic cables snake oil. It sounds to me like your reasoning and golden ears are the snake oil around here...

JohnnyR's picture
Your Logic Is Flawed

Oh I'm sure your system sounds the best in the world..........to youself so enjoy your overpriced cables. So reason is snake oil? YOU are the one claiming to have golden ears. [flame deleted by John Atkinson]

Atkinson, if you could control your members and stop deleting every little TRUE criticism I post on here, you might have a ratonal for being on here instead of claiming to work 60 hours a week and making EXCUSES for not doing tests on accessories. Maybe you could test Regadude's cables for him. Fat chance though.

John Atkinson's picture
No Flames

JohnnyR wrote:
Atkinson, if you could control your members and stop deleting every little TRUE criticism I post on here, you might have a ratonal for being on here...

I warned you and others 2 weeks ago that I would delete flame postings and flames without notice. The content of yours that I have deleted and the posting of yours and Regadude's that I have deleted were just that, flames and personal comments addressed at other readers, not "true criticism."

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

junker's picture
Humble Request

Now not to give this guy any more attention than he deserves I wanted to move on and make a request for something I would like to see on the pages of stereophile - technical primers. For example, maybe an issue dedicated to amplifier design and some respresenative examples (possibly broken down by value, price, or topology) of each design with their pros / cons etc. For each topic maybe bring in a panel of diverse experts like say Papa Pass and Head of Engineering at McIntosh, etc.

 

I'd love to learn more about the current state-of-the-art in any number of topics including: speaker design (crossover), DA conversion, optimizing room acoustics, and even how-to manage digital files.

 

I think this kind of "deep dive" series could be very interesting and help out a lot of current, and potential subscribers. No need to be esoteric.

Many thanks!

 

Junker

JohnnyR's picture
You Want What?

Please don't make demands of JA he has a magazine to run and he will do what he wants!  Well that's the message he's been telling me and others lately.

Frankly I suggest some other forums to learn about what you suggested, There are plenty of good ones out there full of honest real info.

Regadude's picture
Stereophile = great

This website is great. Sure, you can consult other sites. But Stereophile is among the best. 

JohnnyR's picture
The Best at.........

.........spoon feeding you what they want you to read. There are plenty of better websites for the technical and objective side, you know the REAL science of why and how things work.

Regadude's picture
Cranky JohnnyR

Then why don't you read those sites instead of complaining here all the time, little Johnny?

JohnnyR's picture
Why Don't You .........

........ignore my posts if you don't like them?  [flame deleted by John Atkinson]

GeorgeHolland's picture
Try the following: DIYaudio,

Try the following: DIYaudio, Parts Express Tech Talk, Zaph Audio, Hydrogenaudio, Elliot Sound Products, Sean Olive's Audio Musings, Audio Karma,  Electrician Talk, Bad Caps Forums, Ethan Winer.........too many to list just start reading and you'll find links to everywhere.

stereo slim's picture
validate your claim, plankton

mrplankton2u wrote:

Stereophile in the minds of a lot of professionals in the equipment business needs a name change: STEREOPHOOL.

Now to support your claim, will you please mention a couple of persons who think so, or do those "professionals" prefer to hide in anonymity, too?

JohnnyR's picture
I'll Give You a LIst.............

............everyone of them that post elsewhere and doesn't bother with this laugh track of a forum.

mrplankton2u's picture
I could list names but not without their permission

Instead, I'd list websites like Gearslutz, AV Science Forum, and a few others where professionals exchange ideas and experiences. As an example, I'd suggest you google Gearslutz and Jon Risch.  Jon Risch is a public person who "moderates" at the Audio Asylum - a website that frequently promotes a great deal of "questionable" tweak products and what a lot of "us" consider to be snake oil sham products. If you google Gearslutz and Jon Risch, it will take you to a page that has this quote about Jon Risch:

"Oh he's serious. I've had many run-ins with him. He's a bonified crackpot."  

 

Now you may disagree with the credibility of Gearslutz members. That's certainly your perogative. However, they constitute mostly industry professionals who are heavily engaged in producing/recording live music. I could list other people specifically as I said above but I would need their permission to quote them. It is pretty pointless to doubt that a large percentage of the population think today's typical "audiophile" is a nutjob. As I said earlier, "audiophool" is in the urban dictionary. I didn't make it up and it is a term that is frequently used on websites that pertain to music reproduction systems and music reproduction techniques.

seank's picture
Once again...

Once again, no recognition for my Bose Wave Radio.  Sad.

Ariel Bitran's picture
LOL

(NT)

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