The concept of a loudspeaker with its own built-in amplification is an idea whose time should long since have come. Technically it makes a lot of sense, and in some parts of the world—not to mention professional circles—it's quite popular. But commercially, the idea has never really taken off in this country. And while the loudspeaker manufacturer should be in a better position to make the best amplifier choice, American audiophiles seem wedded to the idea of making their own amplifier/loudspeaker match.
Mirage is a good name for a speaker manufacturer; it suggests that their products produce realistic illusions. A 1934 dictionary I've got supplies a definition for "mirage" that might also be apt: "An optical atmospheric illusion by which the image of a distant object is seen as if inverted." I don't mean that the Mirage OM stands Harry Belafonte on his head, or make him sing "O-Day"—instead, certain tenets of cones-in-a-box loudspeaker design and usage are turned turvy-topsy by Mirage's Omnipolar concept.
A few years ago, I had a phone call from a marketing organization. I was asked, as a member of the audiophile press, to participate in a survey dealing with the "images" of various brands of loudspeakers.
So far, as part of my quest to find good affordable box loudspeakers, I have reviewed 16 models, in the August, October, and November 1987 issues of Stereophile (Vol.10 Nos.5, 7, & 8). This fourth group of loudspeakers expands the price range covered, down to $329/pair and up to $1349/pair, and includes one model from California (Nelson-Reed), one from Canada (Paradigm), and one, Monitor Audio's "flagship," the R952MD, from the UK.
English manufacturer Monitor Audio has been around for just about as long as people have been putting "high-end" and "audio" together—they opened their doors in 1972. Back in the mid '80s, when I was a young and carefree (and impoverished) consumer of hi-fi reviews, I'd read about the gold-deposited metal tweeters that Mo Iqbal was concocting and think, "Man, that's some exotic, far-out stuff!"
In March 2006 I wrote a very favorable review of Monitor Audio's Silver RS6 loudspeaker. At the time, I felt this $999/pair, small-footprint floorstander produced the greatest sound quality per dollar of any speaker I'd heard. Despite the proliferation of affordable speakers of increasing quality I've heard since then, I remained particularly impressed by the Silver RS6's clarity and lack of coloration and the speed of its midbass, all of which continued to exceed the performance of any other affordable speaker I've heard.
English loudspeaker manufacturer Monitor Audio has mined a rich vein with their exclusive 6½" metal-cone driver, which covers a range from the bass to the midrange. MA designs using this drive-unit have fared well in these pages, ranging from the Monitor Audio Studio 6 minimonitor (reviewed by JA in February '94, Vol.17 No.2) to the floorstanding Studio 20 (reviewed by RH in December '91, Vol.14 No.12, and by ST in April '92, Vol.15 No.4).
Wood is not an engineering material. It might look pretty, but it's inconsistent and therefore unpredictable. So we smash cheap wood into sawdust and then glue it all together again to create something that can be machined. This is called medium-density fiberboard, or MDF. We then thinly slice some classy hardwood—hopefully harvested from sustainable sources—and use it to cover the ugly MDF. This might have made sense back when Chippendale was making furniture, but it seems strangely old-fashioned in our age of plastics and composites. I haven't seen wood trim on a TV set for more than a decade. Why is it still the norm for loudspeakers?
Like most people, I'm not interested in long, windy essays about audio reviewing, having barely enough time and interest for audio itself. But I do perk up when the debate turns to the audio reviewer's purpose in life: Should I write about everything that crosses my path, or should I limit my attention to those products that interest me, and that stand a chance of being good?
It was only a few months ago that I greeted Oppo Digital's BDP-83 universal Blu-ray player as a breakthrough consumer component, and it became a Runner-Up for Stereophile's Budget Product of 2009. It now appears that Oppo is using the design as a base on which to develop similar and more advanced products, both for themselves and for a good many other manufacturers. Some may take exception to my use of the word manufacturersif it's an Oppo under the skin, what, precisely, are these other "manufacturers" contributing? Well, that's hardly a new question.
I've long been a fan of Naim electronic gear, and have used it for many years. I also have admiration and respect for the company's uncompromisingly consistent and determinedly individualistic approach to the various tasks and problems of loudspeaker design. But my enthusiasm for Naim speakers has long been tempered by a feeling that mechanical aspects of the design are given priority over acoustics and styling.
According to designer Bill Reed, the Nelson-Reed 8-04/B was not originally intended to be an audiophile speaker system, but was instead designed as a high-quality monitor for the critical recording engineer who wanted to be able to walk from the studio into the control room and hear the same thing from his speakers that he heard "live." The fact that modern studio mike technique ensures that this could never happen is probably beside the point. The point is that reproducing the original power and dynamic range of live music is a formidable challenge, which practically no audiophile speakers have met successfully. On the other hand, so-called studio monitors, which can do that routinely, have tended to be highly colored and otherwise generally lousy in all areas of fidelity except output capability. The 8-04/B was an attempt to combine the strengths of both kinds of speaker, while avoiding their usual weaknesses.