Stereophile's Products of 2013 Joint Loudspeakers of the Year

Joint Loudspeakers of the Year

Wilson Audio Specialties Alexandria XLF ($200,000/pair; reviewed by Michael Fremer, December 2012, Vol.35 No.12 Review)

YG Acoustics Sonja 1.3 ($106,800/pair; reviewed by John Atkinson, July 2013, Vol.36 No.7 Review)

The race for Stereophile's Loudspeaker of the Year is always fascinating and often fiercely contested—and the stakes are raised when, as this year, such esteemed brands as Bowers & Wilkins, KEF, and Sony are involved. Adding to the intrigue was the fact that two of our contenders—the Pioneer SP-BS22-LR ($129.99/pair) and the TAD Evolution One ($29,800/pair)—were designed by the same man, Andrew Jones. Between the two, the TAD received twice as many total votes (8), but lacked the modest Pioneer's distinction of winning a first-place vote! While two other contenders—DeVore Fidelity's Orangutan O/96 and KEF's LS50—received first-place votes, it was the literal and figurative giants of our competition that ran away with the prize.

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Nine of our 13 writers gave votes to Wilson Audio Specialties' flagship Alexandria XLF, making it the most popular of all loudspeakers in the competition. However, of the eight writers who voted for YG Acoustics' Sonja 1.3, five awarded it a first-place vote. The result was a dead tie, the Wilson and YG each earning 19 total votes. There could have been no better or more appropriate conclusion to this race.

Standing nearly 6' tall and weighing an incredible 655 lbs, the imposing Alexandria XLF is a complex three-way design with two 1" silk-dome tweeters, two 7" carbon-fiber/paper-cone midrange units, and two (one 13" and one 15") W-sandwich cone woofers. Despite its bulk, the XLF's awesome 92.6dB sensitivity and 4-ohm nominal impedance mean it'll play at high levels with only a few watts. Michael Fremer had the job of pushing the XLF to its limits; in a brief audition at Mikey's home, John Atkinson and I observed peaks of no more than 5W through darTZeel's NHB-458 monoblocks—and the volume was cranked. But more than merely powerful, the XLF was also nuanced. Said Mikey, "The most familiar recordings expressed subtle, occasionally dramatic, new, and often profound musical information in just about every performance parameter. Listening to music through the Wilson Alexandria XLFs was a transformative experience." And that's what we're looking for, right? Transformation.

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JA had the pleasure of test-driving YG Acoustics' Sonja 1.3. Succeeding the Anat Reference Professional II as the company's flagship model, the Sonja 1.3 is a three-way, sealed-box floorstander. It comprises three separate modules of anodized aluminum, measures 70" H by 17" W by 28" D, and weighs a stunning 506 lbs. The top module contains a 1" ForgeCore silk-dome tweeter flanked by two 6" aluminum-cone BilletCore midrange drivers; inside each of the two lower modules is a single 10.25" aluminum-cone BilletCore woofer. JA noted sound and measured performance that justified the speaker's high price: "YGA's Sonja 1.3 is that rare beast: a true full-range loudspeaker capable of playing at realistic sound-pressure levels with very low coloration and superbly stable, accurate soundstaging."

With any luck, the technologies employed in Wilson's and YGA's flagship designs will soon find their ways into more affordable models. Until then, do what you can to hear these speakers. They epitomize high-performance audio.

Runners-up: (in alphabetical order)

Bowers & Wilkins 804 Diamond ($7500/pair; reviewed by Kalman Rubinson, September 2013, Vol.36 No.9 Review)
DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/96 ($12,000/pair; reviewed by Art Dudley, December 2012, Vol.35 No.12 Review)
KEF LS50 Anniversary Model ($1499.99/pair; reviewed by John Atkinson, December 2012, Vol.35 No.12 Review)
Pioneer SP-BS22-LR ($129.99/pair; reviewed by Robert J. Reina and Stephen Mejias, July & September 2013, Vol.36 Nos. 7 & 9 Review)
Sony SS-NA2ES ($10,000/pair; reviewed by John Atkinson, September 2013, Vol.36 No.9 Review)
TAD Evolution One ($29,800/pair; reviewed by Kalman Rubinson, July 2013, Vol.36 No.7 Review)
Vandersteen Treo ($6590/pair; reviewed by John Atkinson, March & May 2013, Vol.36 Nos. 3 & 5 Review)
Volti Audio Vittora ($17,500/pair; reviewed by Art Dudley, September 2013, Vol.36 No.9 Review)

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COMMENTS
anthony.aaron47's picture

As a refugee from high-end audio (my former spouse got custody of our system), I'd like to offer a counterpoint to what is offered here.

A competing audio site recently (October 24, 2013) reviewed a pair of Omega Super 3T Single-Driver monitors and a Dared 2A3C integrated amplifier.

Based on that review, and some phone conversations with the owner of Omega Speakers and the US Importer for Dared, I purchased a pair of Omega Super 3S speakers (the flagship of the Omega Super 3 series) and the Dared 2A3C SET integrated amplifier, plus Kimber Kable 4PR 8' cables. Total cost, less than $2k.

Thie sound of this system is magical -- even without being fully broken in yet -- and it just keeps getting better as the listening hours pass. The sublime sound of each component is dependent -- and revealing of -- the other. Neither operates in a vacuum. The speakers offer a wide and layered sound stage, fine detail when it's in the recording, and depth down to 38 Hz. The amplifier is dead silent -- and at 8 wpc is well able to push the sound out to these magnificent 4.5" full-range drivers.

This is a sublime system -- and, even though I've had a system that I considered excellent at 7 or 8 times the price -- I'll take this one any day.

bwright's picture

I have to comment on your review of the KEF LS50, as I have listened to these speakers at length.  

The bass is incredible for an enclosure of this size.  It is smooth and expansive.  The midrange is gorgeous and clear, and the air and space that this speaker lends to all recordings is superb.  In those areas, it far surpassed the other models I recently auditioned in the $5000 range.

But given the reviews, it was the aluminum tweeters that left me scratching my head.  On certain tracks, the treble was sharply etched, and had the same harsh and 'ringing' character that 90% of the metal tweeters I have heard typically exhibit.  

On occasion, you will find metal tweeters executed beautifully - Vivid loudspeakers are a notable example.  But in my experience, they are the exception to the rule.

I realize human hearing can be subjective.  Maybe it's just me.  Or it was the recordings or components used.  But that wasn't the case with other models I listened to, and with the exact same amplification and source.

In the areas mentioned, this speaker was truly incredible, and a remarkable achievement.  If your system is a bit more forgiving than most, then you'll love them. 

JohnJ's picture

I just want to give John Atkinson thumbs up for giving "awards"/saluting year awards to the two low budget speakers KEF LS50 and Pioneer SP-BS22-LR :  Great !!

I also want to thank him for his enormous amount of component measuring during many years: I have learnt a lot on where great hi-fi can be found from his conclusions of the measurements: For instance that Benchmark Media and Bryston make excellent measuring gear for a low/sensible amount of money while in contrast DartZeel and Edge are bad value for money.

 

John Atkinson's picture

JohnJ wrote:
I also want to thank him for his enormous amount of component measuring during many years: I have learnt a lot on where great hi-fi can be found from his conclusions of the measurement...

Thanks very much. This aspect of the magazine is very much a labor of love on my part.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

 

bwright's picture

I'll now humbly revise my comments above.  I returned to the dealer who had originally arranged my auditions with the LS50.  They mentioned that I had been one of the first to listen to this particular set of speakers.  Since that point, they had been auditioned numerous times, and could now be considered fully broken in.  

I figured it was worth investigating, and set up the speakers with the same CD, source, cables and amplification.  Indeed, the hardness in the treble noted previously had completely disappeared.

This taught me an important lesson, and made me wonder how many other components I had written off in a similar way.  But one thing I did realize - the Stereophile award was spot on, and the LS50 is an incredible value.  The presence and warmth they add to vocals is stunning.  And if your desktop is big enough, these could be the ultimate computer audio speakers.

derekseto's picture

Hi, I have an 18 year old Denon UDRA-90 component system and the speaker surrounds are badly damaged. I'm looking for replacement speakers with a limited budget. I was considering the KEF Q100s until I saw your review of the Pioneer B22. While I do prefer the looks of the KEFs, the price of the BS22 is too attractive to ignore. The Denon's amp says its 8 ohm while the Pioneers speakers are 6 ohm. Would they work together? Would you recommend the Q100s or the B22s? Thanks for any opinion.

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