I've been listening with great pleasure to Verity Audio's Parsifal Ovation loudspeakers the past few years, so I was intrigued to hear the company's step-up model, the Sarastro II. At 150 lbs each and $39,995/pair, the Sarastro II weighs and costs nearly twice as much as the Ovation. Would it sound twice as good?
Over the past year or so, a parade of expensive loudspeakers has passed through my listening room (footnote 1), each claimed by its manufacturer to deliver the real musical deal. Like the people who designed them, these speakers have come in all shapes, sizes, and personalities. While the designer of every one of these speakers has claimed "accuracy" and "transparency" as his goal, the truth is, any concoction of pulsing cones, ribbons, sheets of Mylar, or whatever that's bolted into or on top of a box makes music because it is a musical instrument. How could it be otherwise, when all of these accomplished and expensive loudspeakers have sounded very different from one another, and made me feel different while listening to them?
I told a friend that I'd received a pair of Vienna Acoustics' new Beethoven Concert Grand loudspeakers for review. "They're designed more for music lovers than for audiophiles," he said. I can't imagine a more damning statement—about audiophiles.
Almost every assumption you might make about Vienna Acoustics' Klimt The Kiss loudspeaker by looking at it would be wrong. It is not a stand-mounted two-way loudspeaker. It's a three-way, with a coincident tweeter-midrange. And that ain't no standit's an integral part of the speaker. It does not have a conventional cabinetthere are two separate enclosures, complete with micrometer control of both vertical and horizontal axes. And those sure aren't plain-vanilla drive-unitsthey're about as unique as they come.
How can you tell an audiophile from a normal person? Well, given a list of names like "Haydn, Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, and Mahler," the normal person might respond, "Composers." The audiophile's response is likely to be "Loudspeakers from Vienna Acoustics." Anyway, that's my association when I see these names, which may tell you something about my state of normalcy.
Vienna is a beautiful city known for many things, but the design and manufacturing of audio equipment is not one of them. Waltzes and strudel, yes; loudspeakers, no. One exception is Vienna Acoustics, a company that has introduced a line of loudspeakers named after composers: Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, and Haydn. At the 1996 Las Vegas WCES, Sumiko, US distributor of Vienna Acoustics products (footnote 1), demonstrated the second-from-the-top Mozart, and Stereophile reviewers as diverse in their approaches as Jonathan Scull, Tom Norton, and Sam Tellig (as well as yours truly) were unanimous in our admiration of the sound.
Over the years that I've been reviewing hi-fi, I've had my share of loudspeakers that drew comments from everyone who visited during the audition period. Some of those comments were about the speakers' appearancemost often about their sizeand some were about how good they sounded. Vivid's G1Giya loudspeaker ($65,000/pair), its narrow-baffled, swirling cochlear shape molded from fiber-reinforced composite, elicited more comments of both types than has any other speaker I've reviewed.
One of the nicest features of the High End is its diversity. Regardless of whatever trend is fashionable, there will always be manufacturers to buck it, and sell alternative concepts and sounds. VMPS is just such a case. With few exceptions, the recent trend in speaker systems has been toward small-to-medium-sized "monitors" with good imaging and high resolution, but limited bass and dynamics (footnote 1). The VMPS SuperTowers provide the former, but buck the trend by adding reproduction of the deepest bass and outstanding full-range dynamics.
When JA suggested I review one of the "smaller" VMPS loudspeakers, I felt the hot breath of controversy in the air. The recent debate in these pages concerning the "proper" amount of bass required for true high-fidelity reproduction, and the inability of small loudspeakers (according to one camp) to provide it, hadn't yet cooled off, nor showed any sign of doing so. VMPS, a small West-Coast manufacturer most famous for its humongous Super Tower IIa/R (at 6-plus feet and 250 lbs per side, first reviewed for Stereophile by AHC in Vol.9 No.3 and the latest version of which is examined by JGH elsewhere in this issue), is hardly a fence-sitter in the debate; they are clearly pro-low-end response. I chose to request the Tower II/R, an upgraded version of the smallest of their floor-standing systems, for review; with a rated 3dB-down point of 22Hz (the same as their standard subwoofer), it's not exactly a member of the restrained bass brigade.
It wasn't so much a vow as a prediction: After selling my last pair of Ticonal-magnet drivers and the homemade horns I'd carted around to three different houses, I supposed I would never again have a Lowther loudspeaker in my humble house.
That remains literally true: The 7" full-range drivers to which I'm listening today are from a German company called Voxativ; the horn-loaded cabinets from which they play were also designed by Voxativ, and are made in Germany by the Wilhelm Schimmel piano company. And, with all due respect to Lowther, the 75-year-old English loudspeaker firm that launched a thousand DIY fantasiesnot to mention a thousand very lively wavefrontsthe Voxativ drivers and horns take the Lowther concept further than anyone else of whom I'm aware.
First I should clear up what may be an ambiguity in the driver-lineup spec for these speakers. In each system, three 8" cone units serve as woofers. Two of these crossover from the midrange drivers at 100Hz. Crossover to the third 8-incher, the subwoofer, is at 40Hz. Thus, two woofers are active from 100Hz down to 40Hz, and all three are active below 40. In other words, the third woofer does not come into play until the frequency drops to the point where the radiating area of two 8-inchers starts to become inadequate for moving air, at which point the additional area of the third speaker is thrown in. Below 40Hz, all three are working together.
I first heard the Canadian-made Waveform Research Mach 17 loudspeaker system in New York City at HI-FI '96, Stereophile's Home Theater & Specialty Audio Show. Another Ontario native, Chris Russell of Bryston Ltd., had raved to me about their sound. His recommendation sent me outside my assigned reporting area and down to the sixth floor of the Waldorf=Astoria, to dimly lit room 602—full of ASC Tube Traps, amplifiers, cables, and the twin truncated pyramids of the Mach 17s.
In a recent email, a reader, having read my review of the Monitor Audio Silver RX6 loudspeaker in the June 2012 issue, said that he'd like to see it compared with the similarly priced Wharfedale Diamond 10.7 ($1299/pair) and Epos Elan 10 ($1000/pair). That sounded interesting. The floorstanding 10.7 is the flagship model of Wharfedale's Diamond series, six models up from the Diamond 10.1 bookshelf (which I reviewed in reviewed in July 2011) and featuring the same dome tweeter. And the Epos Elan 10 essentially replaces the Epos M5i, which I reviewed in February 2011, and which has served as my reference bookshelf speaker ever since. I requested samples of both. (My review of the Epos Elan 10 is scheduled to appear in the February 2014 issue.)
Is there a country that, per capita, has produced more major loudspeaker brands than Great Britain? The British brands that immediately come to mind are Tannoy, KEF, Bowers & Wilkins, Quad, Rogers, Spendor, Harbeth, Castle, Acoustic Energy, ProAc, Monitor Audio, Epos, Celestion, Lowther, PMCand Wharfedale.
Before last year, I had no more than a professional interest in the products of Wilson Audio Specialties. But before last year I hadn't experienced Wilson's Sophia Series 2 loudspeaker ($16,700/pair)which, like the wines I tend to order when my wife and I go out to dinner, is the second-cheapest item on their menu. Within weeks of the Sophias' arrival, respect had turned to rapture, like to love, and an entirely new appreciation for Wilson Audio was mine (footnote 1).