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.
Bill Eggleston builds speakers because his father did. "My dad always told me that when he started, the only way you could get really good speakers was to build them yourself. We always had drivers and parts around, and I just began building my own so early I can't even remember. Much more important, my father passed on his wide-ranging approach to music. He listened to everything, and he taught me to be open-minded about music."
Though the original Artemis Systems Eos has been around for a few years, it doesn't seem to have made a big impression on audiophiles. Judging by a brief but exciting audition of the new Eos Signature and its accompanying Base Module at HI-FI '96, I found it hard to understand how it could remain such a well-kept secret. A few weeks later, to my surprise, Wes Phillips asked me if I wanted to review a pair and, throwing caution to the winds, I jumped at the opportunity. Rash move.
The movers delivered three large boxes and two absolutely huge crates. Inside the boxes were the two Eos Signatures and their external crossovers. Each crate contained a Base Module, and their appearance struck fear into my heart. I had gone too fareach one weighed 300 lbs, and together they were more commodious than some apartments in my Manhattan neighborhood. I signed for the delivery, then panicked when I realized there was no way to get these unpacked before my wife came home. Indeed, I didn't know how I was going to do it at all.
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.
A science-fiction parable I read too many years ago to remember who wrote it used the image of a glass jar stuffed with colored plastic spheres. The story's protagonist was asked whether the glass was full. "Of course," was his reply, whereupon a hidden faucet was turned, the jar filled up with water, and fish swam in the spaces between the balls.
The speaker review in the July 1996 issue of the German audio magazine Stereoplay didn't hold back the praise. "Absolut Spitzenklasse III Referenz" was their overall rating, which I guess translates to "You'd better hear this, buddy," in American English. So when MBL of America's Marc Lawrence called to find out if I wanted to review the subject of that review, the MBL 111, I didn't need to be asked twice.
Astute readers will note that although my name appears under the "hardware" heading of Stereophile's masthead, I have rarely written about specific products, and, apart from secondary comments or Follow-Ups, have never written a formal equipment report. For years I resisted reviewing because I was usually connected in some way to audio manufacturers and/or retailers, and felt very uncomfortable with the conflict of interest. The other reason I was disinclined to review is that the critical listening required of reviewers is work, and after a long day or week of working on, or with, audio equipment, the only thing I wanted to do when I came home was relax. But since I have hung up my soldering iron and oscilloscope probe for what I hope is the last time, and am cleaving instead to my word processor (or, as playwright David Ives dubbed it, my "verboblender"), you may see more of this—WP, JA, and God willing.
Paul Hales does things differently. "I set out to build a true reference speaker," he asserted when I asked him about the, er, concept behind his Concept Five loudspeaker. For a mere six grand? The other guys don't even blink at $20k, $30k, even $70k statement speakers.
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.
Conventional wisdom has it that large Japanese corporations are insular. But when it comes to audio, Sony bucks the conventional wisdom as much as it does in pretty much everything it does. In Europe, the company has long had an excellent reputation for producing loudspeakers using local design talent, so I wasn't surprised to see Sony launching a line of American-designed and -made speakers at Stereophile's 1994 High-End Hi-Fi Show in Miami. Stereophile writer Barry Willis came away from that Show raving about the Sonys: "What we heard was gorgeous, absolutely beautiful: rich, warm, and deep, with a seductive midrange, a shimmering, delicate, grain-free top-end, and a soundstage to die for," he wrote about the sound of the three-way SS-M7 in Miami (footnote 1), 1 concluding that "WATT/Puppy performance is now available at Vandersteen prices in an American-made loudspeaker sporting a Japanese badge."
In this age of $70,000-plus "flagship" designs, perhaps $25k is no longer an obscene amount to pay for a pair of loudspeakers. Still, it's mucho dinero. What makes a speaker worth this kind of bread? Does the product's intrinsic value really warrant such a lofty cost, or is it merely a matter of pricing at what the market will bear? The answers to these questions requires careful examination of not only the speaker, but also of the buyer's own soul, priorities, and pocketbook.
When you wish upon a star,
Makes no difference who you are;
Anything your heart desires,
Will come to you.Jiminy Cricket
12-21-92-17-52-46. Big deal, another $100,000 lottery winner. Where's Jean-Phillipe? Probably off getting us something to drink. Who can blame him? I can't believe people sit around dreaming and waiting to hear all these winning numbers. J-P, you out there?
Young, good-looking, brightJ-P had a lot going for him. He certainly didn't need to sit here listening to winning lottery numbers. Ah, there you are. What are you mumbling about?
"12-21-92-17-52-46. I've won! I've won! I've won!" He shouted over and over, almost crushing me in a bear hug.
My oh my, J-P had really won a big one. And what was it he'd been dreaming about while buying all those tickets every payday for the last three years? Speakers! He'd wanted to own the best loudspeakers in the world, and now he could.
The Model Four is the largest model in KEF's current Reference series of loudspeakers, discounting the R107/2 Raymond Cooke Special-Edition (reviewed in a follow-up in October '95). It's also the largest KEF model that uses their Uni-Q® loudspeaker configuration. When I visited the KEF factory last October with a group of audio journalists from the US, KEF emphasized the importance of Uni-Q technology to their future plans. They consider it proprietary, and intend to enforce the worldwide patents they hold on the design. One look at KEF's current line will be enough to tell you why they're so serious. Uni-Q drivers may be found not only in most of the Reference series, but in most of their other models as well. The most significant exceptions: the Raymond Cooke series, a few inexpensive models, and their THX-certified loudspeaker system.