So far, as part of my quest to find good affordable box loudspeakers, I have reviewed 16 models, in the August, October, and November 1987 issues of Stereophile (Vol.10 Nos.5, 7, & 8). This fourth group of loudspeakers expands the price range covered, down to $329/pair and up to $1349/pair, and includes one model from California (Nelson-Reed), one from Canada (Paradigm), and one, Monitor Audio's "flagship," the R952MD, from the UK.
Since the introduction of the original B&W 801 monitor loudspeaker in 1980, it has been adopted as a reference by several recording studios around the world, Over the past five years, I have seen 801s present in just about every recording session with which I have been artistically involved. While the original 801 monitor had its strong points, I was never satisfied with the detached and muddy-sounding bass, discontinuous driver balance, and low sensitivity. Unless this speaker was driven by an enormous solid-state power amplifier, with an elevated high-frequency response, the tubby and slow bass response often obliterated any detail in the two bottom octaves of musical material.
Since its founding just over ten years ago, Mission Electronics has grown to become one of the largest "real" hi-fi companies in the UK. Although their product line originally consisted of three relatively conventional loudspeakers, it rapidly grew to encompass high-end pre- and power amplifiers, cartridges, tonearms, and turntables, and, in the mid 1980s, a system concept based on CD replay and relatively inexpensive electronics: the Cyrus amplifiers and tuner.
The Ohm Walsh 5 displaces the Ohm F at the top of the Ohm line, and the current Walsh 5 production run represents a "limited edition" of 500 pairs worldwide. There's even a certificate of authenticity—hand-signed by Ohm Acoustics President John Strohbeen—packed with the speakers that makes it all official. I think that this is more than a clever marketing gesture and clearly demonstrates Ohm Acoustics' pride in their new flagship loudspeaker.
There is something especially exciting about a new loudspeaker design, if only because speakers are the component where one constantly hopes for the sonic miracle that will suddenly make it all sound real. No other component has the same overall impact in coloring the system, presents more room problems, or inspires more frustration on the road to the perfect system.
In the audio field, the British have traditionally thought "small," scoring hits both with their compact loudspeakers and with medium-priced amplifiers. The continued growth of the audiophile speaker market in the US, however, which favors larger loudspeakers, has at the same time stimulated the research and design of more powerful, excellent quality amplifiers. In their turn, these have placed increased demands on the speakers they drive.
The quest for a full-range electrostatic loudspeaker has occupied many engineers' minds for many years. The problems are manifold: large physical size (which can lead to room placement problems and poor dispersion), the difficulty of achieving high sound pressure levels, the need for a potentially sound-degrading step-up transformer, and the unsuitability for production-line manufacture. Even so, the potential rewards are so great that one can understand why loudspeaker designers keep on attempting the apparently impossible. Epoch-making models do appear at infrequent intervals, keeping the flame burning since the appearance of the original Quad in 1955: Acoustat, Sound Lab, and Beveridge in the US, Stax in Japan, Audiostatic in Holland, Quad, of course, in England, and now MartinLogan.
Irving M. "Bud" Fried, an early contributor to Stereophile, hails from the city of brotherly love, and I must confess to finding it difficult avoiding a few brotherly jabs at Mr. Fried's name: something like "this Bud's for you" would surely not escape deletion by our conscientious Editor. And what if I should happen to complain of a dried-up or "Fried" quality in the upper midsJA is bound to object to this breach of good taste. Well, having gotten that off my chest, you'd be interested to know that I consider it quite appropriate that someone from Phil-a-del-phia should be in love with transmission-line enclosures; the name is almost as convoluted as a trip down a folded line.
The Model R107 represents the flagship of KEF's Reference Series, and is second only to the Professional Series KM-1 in KEF's product line. Anatomically, the 107 resembles a person. Beneath a decorative "hat," there's a special head assembly akin to the head on the old Model R105. This head assembly contains the brains of the 107, namely a T33 ferrofluid-cooled tweeter and an improved version of the classic B110 midrange driver, featuring a better voice-coil and a new polypropylene cone. The nerve center is also here, in the form of two passive dividing networks and load-impedance equalizing network. Level equalization of the drivers is performed actively within the KUBE, the second brain of the 107—about which you'll hear more shortly.
"I am not in love; but I'm open to persuasion," sings Joan Armatrading in her song "Love and Affection," the track I was playing when I finally realized that my attempts to get a sound from the Apogee Caliper ribbon speakers approaching what I had heard at the 1986 Chicago CES were bearing fruit. And that sentence pretty much describes the creed of the professional audio critic. Each new product that arrives at your door could be the one to pass the J. Gordon Holt "goose-bump" test, to leave the hairs on your arms permanently erect. Did the Caliper full-range ribbons excite my previously quiescent nerve-endings? Did Bobby Ewing return from the dead? Did Sam propose to Diane? Will Alan Alda ever outgrow Hawkeye? What on Earth made Georgette marry Ted Baxter? Why can't Tubbs roll up his jacket sleeves like Crockett? How could a fine actor like Jack Klugman accept such a dreadful role? Some of these questions will be answered overleaf, but in the meantime, what is a ribbon speaker?
Whenever I think of cone speaker systems, I think of three brand names: Snell, Thiel, and Vandersteen. There are many good loudspeakers and many good designers and manufacturers, but it is these three who, in my opinion, consistently produce the best cone loudspeaker systems. All three companies produce full-range systems, transparent systems, and systems which mate well with a wide range of equipment. Their systems can be owned and enjoyed for years. Long after some fad or special feature has given a competing designer brief notoriety, these are the products you turn back to for music.
The Sound-Lab electrostatic loudspeakers are legendary. Many serious audiophiles have heard of them, and rumors of their existence abound in audio circles. But, like gnomes, UFOs, and poltergeists, Sound-Lab loudspeakers are sufficiently hard to find that it is sometimes difficult to prove to skeptics that they exist at all. Well, I can now report that they do. As proof of this contention, I can point to the two which are actually occupying solid, tangible space in my listening room at this very moment. I have even taken a photo of them, which will be published along with this report if they leave any sort of an image on the film emulsion. (Many such apparitions do not!)
I must confess to a certain sentimental affection for Magnepan products. An early version of the Tympani did more to rekindle my interest in audio than any other speaker I can think of. In a world which seemed doomed to finding out just how small and dull it could make acoustic suspension boxes, the Magnepans reminded me that speakers could produce a large open soundstage, real dynamics, and musical life.
What I wanted to talk about briefly this month is the new Apogee Duetta, the baby of this speaker family. This particular baby will cost you the rather grown-up figure of $2300/pair; over here in the UK it costs a demonic £3300/pair, roughly double.
One of the nicest features of the High End is its diversity. Regardless of whatever trend is fashionable, there will always be manufacturers to buck it, and sell alternative concepts and sounds. VMPS is just such a case. With few exceptions, the recent trend in speaker systems has been toward small-to-medium-sized "monitors" with good imaging and high resolution, but limited bass and dynamics (footnote 1). The VMPS SuperTowers provide the former, but buck the trend by adding reproduction of the deepest bass and outstanding full-range dynamics.