In recent years, computer modeling, finite-element analysis, and laser interferometry have brought about a huge increase in our knowledge about what makes the moving-coil loudspeaker drive-unit work. Nevertheless, it has remained fundamentally unchanged since it was invented by Rice and Kellogg more than 60 years ago. That doesn't mean that it hasn't been refined considerably; in this review I examine the performance of a design whose drive-unit technology has been taken to the limit of what is currently possible, the B&W Silver Signature.
This compact, $1600/pair monitor employs many of the same design features found in the company's highly rated Matrix 801 system. Although the price is high for a two-way minimonitor, the 805 fits right into a growing high-end marketplace for such designs, one which emphasizes high quality in a small enclosure which will fit into most living-room environments without calling much attention to itself.
Unless you've recently returned from a five-year tour of Tibetan monasteries, the odds are pretty good you've heard about the Nautilus revision of B&W's classic three-way floorstanding monitor, the 801. Having sold 30,000 of the earlier 801, the Matrix, B&W recently revised this classic to incorporate some design features of its $40,000, four-way concept speaker, the Nautilus. Wes Phillips reviewed the new Nautilus 801 in the January 1999 Stereophile (p.107) and found it "incredibly dynamic, images and soundstages like crazy, and has that special magic that marks it as one of the great loudspeakers."
These diminutive little sleepers have been available in the US for quite some time but have attracted little attention because (1) they have never really been promoted and (2) they are just too small to look as if they could be worth $430 a pair.
Last summer, John Atkinson and I were playing a jazz gig poolside at my local club, and during a break we began discussing equipment. As JA adjusted his microphones and I became increasingly nervous about the running, jumping kids splashing chlorinated water on his Nagra digital recorder, he asked me if I'd like to review the Z1 loudspeaker from BG Corp. "It's an interesting little bookshelf speaker featuring a ribbon tweeter." Hmm—an affordable bookshelf speaker matching a ribbon tweeter to a dynamic woofer? Very interesting. "Sounds good," said I, and resumed my ivory duties.
The Bose 901 has created more of a stir in audio circles than any other loudspeaker we can think of, with the possible exception of the original Acoustic Research system. Much of the 901's popularity is attributable to Julian Hirsch's rave report in Stereo Review, and there is no doubt but that Amar Bose's compellingly convincing ads had their effect, too. But these things alone could hardly account for the 901's popularity.
While listening to Boston Acoustics' A 25 loudspeaker ($299.98/pair), I kept thinking about magic.
Paul Messenger introduced Boston Acoustics' A Series in the April 2011 "Industry Update." With the creation of the A Series, Paul reported, BA wanted to create a "global loudspeaker," one that would be appreciated by music lovers worldwide.
The Boston Acoustics A40 loudspeaker ($150/pair) has become "legendary" (ie, it's stayed around for a while), probably because a pair of them images as well as Rogers LS3/5As. Unfortunately, it is no match for the LS3/5A in terms of smooth midrange response. Of course, at $150/pair, it shouldn't be.
I was originally going to do a review comparing the Spectrum 108A ($200/pair) and the Boston Acoustics A40. On first listen, I was mightily impressed by the A40. But after Stereophile's Larry Archibald schlepped me out a pair of the 108As, I didn't much want to listen to the A40s.
Loudspeaker manufacturer Boston Acoustics made its name—and its fortune—building high-performance but low-cost speakers. Indeed, I recently set up a modest system for my mother-in-law that was based on Boston's classic A-40—a two-way design that sold for just $160/pair back in 1986—and was very pleasantly surprised at the quality these little speakers offered. Back in the early '90s, however, the Massachusetts-based company announced that they were taking a step into the High End with a new loudspeaker line, the Lynnfields (see Thomas J. Norton's interview with Boston's Andy Kotsatos elsewhere in this issue). These were designed by expatriate British engineer Phil Jones, previously responsible for the impressive Acoustic Energy speakers.
With all the affordable loudspeakers I've written about in recent years, I couldn't remember the last time I reviewed one from the revered British firm Bowers & Wilkins. When I searched www.stereophile.com, I learned that the last time a B&W speaker had graced my listening room's carpet was more than seven years ago: the DM603 S3, reviewed in the August 2005 issue. I thought it was time to revisit the brand, and as the DM603 S3 was a floorstanding speaker, this time a bookshelf model seemed in order.
In an unfortunate coincidence, a few nights before the Cabasse team arrived to install the company's unusual-looking La Sphère powered speaker system, VOOM HD Networks, Monster HD channel, which is exclusively devoted to B horror movies, broadcast The Crawling Eye (aka The Trollenberg Terror), a 1958 black-and-white howler starring Forrest Tucker. I watched.
According to the conventional wisdom, companies selling consumer products fall into two categories: those whose sales are "marketing-led" and those whose sales are "product-led." Marketing-led companies tend to sell mature products into a mature market where there are no real differences between competing products—soap powder, mass-market beer, or cigarettes, for example—whereas product-led companies tend to sell new technologies, such as personal computers and high-end hi-fi components. In the audio separates market, conventional wisdom would have a hard time categorizing any individual company: no matter which you choose, it would be simplistic to say that it is either product- or marketing-led. No matter how good the product, without good marketing the manufacturer stands little chance of success; a poor product superbly marketed may make a company successful overnight, but that success will have hit the end stops by the following night.
The Anima is a two-way loudspeaker from Canalis Audio, a new enterprise of longtime importer Immedia, of Berkeley, California. Canalis is thereby related to Spiral Groove, and Canalis speakers bear the Spiral Groove logo on their terminal plates. Spiral Groove, founded in 2005, makes turntables; their SG2 ($15,000) was favorably reviewed by Brian Damkroger in the June 2010 issue. Canalis makes at present four models of loudspeakers, all designed in collaboration with noted engineer Joachim Gerhard, formerly of Germany's Audio Physic. All Spiral Groove and Canalis products are made in the US.
Yes, it's the same Canon—the Japanese photography, photocopier, and laser-printer giant whose logo for so many years adorned the rear wings of Williams Formula 1 racing cars. Canon's venture into the unknown waters of audio was instigated by the head of the UK-based research center, Hiro Negishi. I have been seeing Negishi-san, one of the world's leading minds in optical technology, at Audio Engineering Society conventions since the early '80s, so I was only half-surprised to see Canon launch first one loudspeaker, then a full range (footnote 1).
I believe Ken Kantor said it first: a couple of years ago, in his September 1990 interview with Robert Harley (Vol.13 No.9), he remarked that "there's no reason why a two-way 6" loudspeaker can't be the equal of almost the best speaker out there from a certain frequency point upward, with the possible exception of dynamic range." When I read those words, they rang true. If you put to one side the need to reproduce low bass frequencies and can accept less-than-live playback levels, a small speaker can be as good as the best, and allow its owner to enjoy the benefits of its size—visual appeal, ease of placement in the room, and the often excellent imaging afforded by the use of a small front baffle.