Audiophiles have long had a love-hate relationship with dipolar loudspeakers. These devices are nearly always a pain to position properly, they tend to dominate a room, and more often than not they're fussy about amplification. But when it all comes together, the best of them can make magic.
Whenever anyone marvels at the enormous Genesis II.5 loudspeakers in my house, I'm quick to tell them that the II.5 is the smallest, least expensive loudspeaker made by Genesis Technologies. In fact, the company makes two larger speaker systems, the $33,000 Genesis II and the $70,000 Genesis I (footnote 1).
Like all companies that have been in business long enough to become fixtures in the marketplace, Infinity has seen its share of changes. It has long been that audio raritya company with one foot in the High End and one in the mass market. For the past few years, however, and despite continuing production of the now-classic IRS in its Series V incarnation, Infinity's mass-market foot has been the more firmly planted. Infinity, now a large company, is part of an even larger conglomerate, Harman International.
How can a reviewer possibly put a value on a loudspeaker as costly as the Wilson Audio Specialties X-1/Grand SLAMM? When he reviewed Wilson's WATT 3/Puppy 2 system ($12,900-$16,000/pair, depending on finish) a few years back (footnote 1), John Atkinson said that it was "one of the more expensive loudspeakers around." The Grand SLAMM costs almost five times as much!
Balanced performance isn't the be-all and end-all of product design. A person can listen to a product which balances the highs with the lows, detail with forgiveness, delicacy with dynamics, and still feel unmoved. Such a product might sound "proper," but it won't produce the illusion of a live performance. It takes a special window or two on reality to convince you you're listening to live music. Such a loudspeaker may have other deficiencies which keep it from being a universally appealing product, but it keeps reminding you of the live experience. It may appeal only to a small number of audiophiles, but their experience may well be more intense.
When I say that this past—and last—Summer CES in Chicago was dead daddy dead, I'm not talking about fewer high-end exhibits and attendees than ever before. I'm talking I walked in the front door of the Chicago Hilton and almost puked from that smell of dead, mealy meat that hits you in the face and kicks-in the gag reflex. The smell of death you can taste even if you're breathing with your mouth. In most religions, it's a sin to let something that dead just sit there without at least spreading some lye on it to kill the stink. I once cut a man for misadjusting the VTA on my cartridge, and that man lying on my listening-room floor with an Allen wrench still clenched in his hand wasn't as dead as this last SCES.
If Canada has emerged as a hotbed of loudspeaker production in the past few years, the folks at Audio Products International must be positively sizzling. Of their three lines—Mirage, Energy, and Sound Dynamics—Mirage is perhaps the best known in the US, with Energy running a distant second. Mirage, at least in their flagship M series, features rather esoteric bipolar designs, while Energy sticks to the more conservative, forward-radiating approach. Stereophile has had extensive exposure to the various Mirages (a review of one of the M-series babies, the M-7si, is scheduled for a future issue); our exposure to Energy has been virtually nil, save for the odd Hi-Fi Show and CES. And thereby hangs a tale.
I live in a house that has a pyramid-shaped roof, so I guess you could say that I have a thing for pyramids (footnote 1). That's probably why I was immediately drawn to the Green Mountain Audio Diamante. I'm also attracted to floorstanding speakers with small footprints, since my listening/video room is only 13' by 16'. My Holy Grail of loudspeakers is a small speaker that's flat between 20Hz and 20kHz, can do 110dB sound-pressure–levels without straining, and costs less than $1000/pair.
"DAL firmly believes that a full set of credible measurements, made by qualified engineering staff using state-of-the-art equipment and facilities, can reliably predict the potential of a loudspeaker to accurately reproduce the complex sounds of music."—Dunlavy Audio Labs
Reviewing audio equipment has always been a blast. With each passing month, some potentially wonderful new piece of audio gear finds its way into my system. But as an audiophile, I don't want to be constantly changing the equipment in my system—I want to put together the best setup I can and spend my time optimizing its performance. In spite of the revolving equipment door, I try to listen to the majority of music on my own equipment.
Thanks to Ben Peters, there's an electrostatic lifeline in Holland. Founded about 25 years ago, his company, Audiostatic, struggled through the 1980s, but with distribution by SOTA Industries, it's now on firm footing in the US. In fact, SOTA's Jack Shafton told me that all assembly and some manufacturing are now conducted in the US. My ES-100 samples came from the first US production run.
MACH 1 Acoustics? Cute name. Mach 1 is, of course, the speed of sound—the speed at which a loudspeaker's acoustic output is forever constrained to travel. Quite a fitting choice for Marc McCalmont, Marine and jet pilot turned speaker designer. Marc retired to Wilton, NH together with Melissa. (Oops, that should be MLSSA, the well-known acoustic analysis system—not Marc's girlfriend.)
Despite displaying its products at nearly every CES since 1985, Merlin remains essentially unknown in the US. Problems have plagued the company in this country: key suppliers have gone under, marketing efforts have lacked focus, and the principals of the company seemed to have gotten caught up in audio politics.
When Ken Kantor helped to found Now Hear This, Inc. (most commonly referred to by its initials, NHT) in 1986, he brought with him a wealth of design and production experience learned from stints with NAD and Acoustic Research. He also brought a desire to build and market products that a wide range of people could afford. NHT began by producing small, two-way designs distinguished by the angled front baffle which remains the company's trademark. The latter is no gimmick, but was designed to optimize the loudspeakers' radiation pattern, a matter of keen interest to Kantor ever since his undergraduate thesis work at MIT. This interest continued at AR, where he was responsible for the MGC-1 loudspeaker—probably his best known pre-NHT loudspeaker design.