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.
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).
The Type A has served as Snell Acoustics' flagship loudspeaker since 1974. The Type A Reference System reviewed here is the sixth update of the late Peter Snell's original three-way floorstanding design, and is the most radical departure from Snell's original. Gone is the pair of "upright bricks of polished wood and stretched cloth" (footnote 1) that delighted decorators because they functioned best against a wall. Today's Type A Reference $18,999 price tag (footnote 2) purchases two tall midrange-tweeter towers, two huge subwoofers, two short but heavy enclosures housing the outboard passive crossover networks, and a small electronic crossover.
The Jadis Eurythmie speakers ($37,000/pair) arrived in a multitude of oversized boxes. Importer Northstar Leading the Way's Frank Garbie dragged them into our downstairs lobby and broke them open, elevatoring the individual modules up to our door. This happened on one of my office days, but Kathleen pushed me out the door in the morning with a "Don't worry cherie, I can handle it..." She phoned in periodic updates on Garbie's progress. Remember that old Stan Freberg routine? "I got it, I got it...I don't got it!" I arrived home just in time to hook up the amps.
If reviewers can be believed, the diminutive, $995/pair Epos ES11 loudspeaker has been a phenomenal success worldwide since its 1990 introduction. Stereophile added its voice to this hallelujah chorus in Vol.14 No.7, when the '11 kicked butt in a blind-listening-panel evaluation of inexpensive small speakers. While the ES11 did plenty of things extremely well, it was inevitable that it was limited in terms of ultimate sound-pressure levels (spls), deep-bass extension, and dynamic persuasiveness. While the ES11 was an unqualified success given its modest size and price, one couldn't help but wonder what Epos might be capable of in a larger model. (While a larger Epos model already existed in the $1695/pair ES14, it predated the technology of the ES11 by four years.)
"Where do you want 'em?" Doug'n'David (of Stereophile's shipping and receiving, not your favorite morning drive-time talk radio co-hosts) had just wrestled over 500 lbs of cocooned Wilson WITT loudspeakers onto the floor of my garage. Like the Thiel CS7s I had parted with just a few weeks earlier, the WITTs came packed in solid, heavy wooden crates. The pained expressions on Doug'n'David's faces indicated that it was time for me to start reviewing minimonitors! The unpacking went more smoothly than I expected, but this is clearly a pair of loudspeakers that demand to be delivered, uncrated, and set up by a dealer.
ProAc's designer Stuart Tyler sounded casual—almost bemused—when I spoke with him recently about the new 2.5, a floorstanding, two-way ported box in the middle price slot ($4500/pair) of his Response series. While answering my pressing queries about the crossover point, driver materials, cabinet construction, and other reviewer obsessions, his body language said, "Does any of that really matter with these speakers? You know what the real story is here."
As I trundled the WATT/Puppys off to the Stereophile laboratory complex for our test procedures (see my review in the last issue), I idly wondered to myself, "Gee, what am I going to do for an encore?" Visions of exotic butterfly-like horns danced in my head (nope, J-10 Scull gets those babies). I was tantalized by the call of ambitiously designed behemoths (Major Tom gets those, he's got the room for 'em). Maybe some jewel-like, state-of-the-art minimonitors? (JA glommed 'em—editor's prerogative, y'know.) So what does that leave me?
Some products are destined never to be seen for what they are. Instead, they exist as avatars, the very embodiment of their ages or concepts. The Wilson Audio WATT (Wilson Audio Tiny Tot) and its nigh-unto-ubiquitous subwoofer, the Puppy, have achieved this legendary status—no, have manifested it almost from their creation 10 years ago—to such a degree that they've come to stand for the entire class of no-holds-barred-monitor loudspeaker. They serve as the focus for a whole realm of the industry; indeed, to show any customer an expensive speaker possessing a modest footprint and not to invoke the incantation "better than a WATT" seems to abjure any pretense of serious sales strategy. At the same time, this speaker system has polarized the industry and its followers, strongly praised by some for its staggering accuracy, and equally dismissed by others for having little soul (musicality, to the initiated).
That's right, that's no typo; the name of this speaker is the Thiel CS.5—not 1.5, not 8.5, just point five. The CS.5 is the smallest of Thiel's floorstanding CS (Coherent Source) loudspeaker family, and is likely to remain so—a name like CS.125, for example, is a bit unwieldy. If you're familiar with the rest of Thiel's CS line, then you can imagine what the CS.5 looks like: it resembles the other CS speakers, except it's smaller (footnote 1). And, being a typical smartypants 'ender (as in "high-ender"), I bet you think you know 'zactly how these sound, too, don't you? Well? I thought so.
The Sears guy came to our basement the other day to check out the water heater. Staring at the walls of LPs and tiptoeing through the piles of CDs strewn on the floor, he exclaimed, "What the heck are you? A disc jockey?" So I told him.
I can't think of two products at further ends of the audio spectrum than a single-ended triode tubed amplifier and a mass-market Home Theater loudspeaker. Single-ended tubed amplifiers are about reproducing subtlety, delicacy, nuance, and communicating the music's inner essence. Conversely, a Home Theater loudspeaker systemparticularly one made by a mass-market manufacturerwould appear to put the emphasis on booming bass and reproducing shotgun blasts, with little regard for musical refinement.
What a bizarre marriage it was, then, to pair the new Infinity Composition Prelude P-FR loudspeakers with the Cary Audio Design CAD-300SEI 11W single-ended triode amplifier (reviewed elsewhere in this issue). This combination didn't happen by accident; as you'll see, these apparently disparate products are a match made in heaven.
I discovered the Infinity Preludes while surveying Home Theater loudspeaker systems for the upcoming second issue of the Stereophile Guide to Home Theater. In addition to evaluating the loudspeaker systems under review with video soundtracks, I assessed their musical qualitiesor lack thereof. The Preludes were such a musical standout that I rescued them from the Home Theater room (where they had been powered by mass-market receivers and fed with a laserdisc source) and gave them a new lease on life in the larger music room, with reference-quality source and amplification components. The Preludes' extraordinary musical performance and unique design compelled me to tell you about how they performed in an audiophile-quality two-channel playback system.