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.
MartinLogan's Gayle Sanders has almost single-handedly raised the electrostatic/dynamic hybrid loudspeaker to a position of prominence in the High End. First, there was the MartinLogan Monolith (reviewed in Vol.8 No.3 and Vol.9 No.3), followed by the much more affordable Sequel (reviewed in Vol.11 No.12, Vol.12 Nos.8, 9, and 12, and Vol.14 No.2). Then came the subject of this review, the Quest, and most recently the diminutive Aerius, reviewed by JA elsewhere in this issue.
Combine an electrostatic panel to reproduce music's midrange and treble with a moving-coil woofer for the bass foundation. For decades, this has seemed the ideal way of designing a loudspeaker: Each type of drive-unit is used in the frequency region for which its performance is optimized. The resulting hybrid should sing like an angel.
To many audiophiles, the name Boston Acoustics is synonymous with mass-market budget loudspeakers. Although many of its products have offered good value for the money, Boston Acoustics has never been known for driving the envelope of high-priced loudspeaker design (footnote 1). The company has been content to churn out well-designed, affordable boxes and let others attempt state-of-the-art loudspeakers. Until now.
The loudspeaker designer's art has changed radically over the past 20 years. Although the goals are largely the same, today's designer employs tools and techniques unimaginable two decades ago. Computer modeling, powerful and affordable FFT machines, and sophisticated new driver technologies are just a few of the advantages enjoyed by the modern designer. The high-tech result is a vastly better loudspeakereven inexpensive products today are significantly better than those of even five years ago, never mind 20.
The new Genesis III loudspeaker shows just how sophisticated the designer's art has become. The Genesis III is as far removed from the cones-in-boxes loudspeakers of yesterday as a Ford Taurus is from a Pinto. Combining a radically different cabinet with unusual custom drive-units, the Genesis III is a paradigm of how high technology has transformed loudspeaker design.
I only found out after beginning my auditioning of Mirage's M-1si loudspeakers that the film 2001, A Space Odyssey was, at practically the same instant, undergoing a brief theatrical revival in major cities around the US. I might have known. Perhaps it was the persistent Strauss melodies that rattled around in my head as I set them up. Perhaps it was the two 5'-tall monoliths that subsequently stared at me as I sat in my listening chair. For whatever reason, the M-1sis were an imposing sight, and the association with out-of-this-world events was not a difficult one to make.
Choosing a loudspeaker can be difficult. Although it is easy to be seduced by a certain model's special qualities, that exceptional performance in one area is often at the expense of other important characteristics. Go with high-quality minimonitors for their spectacular soundstaging, but give up bass, dynamics, and the feeling of power that only a large, full-range system can provide. If you choose an electrostatic for its delicious midrange transparency, you may have to forgo dynamics, impact, and the ability to play loudly. Pick a full-range dynamic system for its bass and dynamics, but lose that edge of palpability and realism heard from ribbon transducers.
Richard Shahinian has been offering loudspeakers to music lovers for more than 15 years. I use the word "offering" here in its strictest sense, because Dick has never "sold" his products—by pushing them. Indeed, he is probably one of the worst self-promoters in the business. If we think of "soft sell" in the usual context of laid-back and low-pressure, then Shahinian's approach would have to be called "mushy sell."
Eighty thousand pairs. According to Vandersteen Audio, that's the number of Vandersteen 2s of various generations which have been sold since the loudspeaker—and company—first saw the light of day in 1977. The 2 has been continually refined along the way—a new driver here, a new crossover change there, heavy-duty stands—more changes, in fact, than the occasional changes in model designation would indicate. The 2's main calling card has always been a high perceived value for money. If anything, this calling card has only been enhanced over the years as its price remained remarkably stable while the cost of high-end audio in general was perceived—rightly or wrongly—as being on a dizzying upward spiral.
My first encounter with the Acarian Alón IV was at the 1992 Las Vegas WCES. I was doing the show report dealing with speakers, and there was already enough advance buzz about the Alón IV that I put it on my "Speakers I Must Listen To" list. And listen I did, at some length, and came away impressed with their open quality and well-defined soundstage. In discussing reviewing assignments with John Atkinson, I told him that the Alón IV was one of the speakers I wouldn't mind spending some time with. (The list also includes the WAMM, the MartinLogan Statement, and the Apogee Grand, but I'm not holding my breath.)
What's 1/16" narrower, over 1/2" shallower, and 3/16" higher than the Mirage M-3 loudspeaker? The new Mirage M-3si, that's what. Though the published dimensions for the old and new speakers are the same, my eyes told me there was a difference between them when I had them side-by-side in my listening room in Santa Fe. Being the compulsive type, I got out my trusty tape measure. No, my eyes had not deceived me—the M-3si is skinnier and taller. As I waltzed them into position, I sensed they weighed about the same as their predecessors; close enough that setting them on Arcici Super Spikes is a two-man operation. Though either speaker makes a definite presence in a room, I still find their high-gloss, black finish (the only finish available) unassuming, attractive, and elegant.
Designer Dr. Roger West got his first taste of electrostatic transducers many years ago during a stint with Janszen (remember the Janszen tweeter?). To realize the potential of the full-range electrostatic loudspeaker (ESL), he and Dr. Dale Ream formed a new company dedicated to ESL research and development. West describes this company, Sound-Lab Corp., as "the electrostatic speaker specialists."