John Atkinson and I were in a Manhattan loft apartment that could have stood in for every sophisticated NYC loft you've ever seen in films. We were surrounded by fabulous contemporary art. Asian and South American antiquities were discreetly displayed. The furniture was sparse but choice. And, over in one corner, facing a conversation grouping of paintings, two sleek metal tower loudspeakers were making extremely convincing music. We managed to delay examination of this urban paradise long enough to drink adult beverages and inhale some music.
After a year spent exploring the best that can be obtained from minimonitor loudspeakers, I embarked on what will be an equally long examination of what floorstanding towers have to offer. I began with the Sonus Faber Cremona Elipsa ($20,800/pair) in December 2007, followed in 2008 by: in February, the KEF Reference 207/2 ($20,000/pair); in April, the PSB Synchrony One ($4500/pair); and in May, the Magico V3 ($25,000/pair). For this review, I've been listening to a speaker aimed at those with shallower pockets than are required even for the PSB: the Avalon NP Evolution 2.0, which costs just $1995/pair.
Last year, when Epos importer Music Hall contacted me about reviewing the then-new M16 floorstanding loudspeaker, I hesitated. I had been very impressed with the M16's little bookshelf brother, the M5 (see my review in the April 2005 Stereophile, Vol.28 No.4), which I found uncolored, detailed, and a great value. Most of all, the M5 had an incredible balance of performance. But several times in the past, having been seduced by a wonderfully balanced bookshelf speaker, I've then been disappointed by one of its costlier, floorstanding brethren. The larger speaker might share the bookshelf's overall character, have deeper bass, and play louder with less strain, but too often that magical sense of balance that I had so enjoyed in the smaller speaker would be absent.
Back in March 1998, Revel's Ultima Salon1 floorstanding loudspeaker generated quite a stir at Stereophile (Vol.22 No.3). Our reviewers were impressed by its seven designed-from-scratch drive-units, its ultramodern enclosure with curved rosewood side panels, exposed front tweeter and midrange, rear-facing reflex port and tweeter, and a flying grille over the mid-woofer and woofers. In the December issue (Vol.22 No.12), the Ultima Salon1 ($16,000/pair) was named Stereophile's "Joint Speaker of 1999" for its "big bass, timbral accuracy, low distortion, dynamics, lack of compression, and best fit'n'finish."
The conventional wisdom in publishing is that magazines are dependent on scoops—that getting the news out to the readers first is of primary importance. Yes, being timely with what it has to say is important for any publication. But soon after I joined Stereophile in 1986, a series of negative experiences with review samples that were little better than prototypes led me to rethink the need for scoops. As a result, I decided to impose restrictions on what we chose to review; this would allow us to focus the magazine's review resources on products that were out of beta testing and were ready for prime time, and, most important, would be representative of what our readers could audition for themselves at specialty retailers, confident in the knowledge that what they heard would be what we had reviewed.
Today, as every Saturday, I brought my daughter to the stables where she has her riding lessons. But this time was different. As we pulled up the long gravel driveway, we found ourselves dodging a riderless horse, moving at a trot across our path. It turned out that the very cold weather had caused a latch to malfunction—"gate won't close, railing's froze"—and five horses had gotten loose.
This is my fourth review of a Revel loudspeaker, and I was even more excited by the arrival of the Ultima Studio2s ($15,999/pair) than I was when their predecessors, the original Ultima Studios ($10,799/pair when first reviewed; $15,000/pair when last listed in "Recommended Components"), were delivered in 2000. (See my review in the December 2000 Stereophile, Vol.23 No.12.) After all, the Studios were my reference speakers for years and, along with the larger Ultima Salons, were statement products that were the product of the talented designer Kevin Voecks and the considerable resources of Harman International, parent of Revel as well as of JBL and Infinity. Over the years, I've also reviewed Revel's Performa F30 (May 2000, Vol.23 No.5) and Concerta F12 (July 2006, Vol.29 No.7), each outstanding at its price point. If, after all these years, Voecks and his team were ready to reconsider their statement products, they should be something special.
Danish Audiophile Loudspeaker Industries (DALI), a relatively large maker of loudspeakers, was founded in 1982 by the peripatetic Peter Lyngdorf, who has worked with or founded Steinway/Lyngdorf, Lyngdorf Audio, TacT, NAD, etc. Audionord International, another company founded by Lyngdorf, owns DALI as well as American subsidiary DALI USA, along with yet another Lyngdorf creation: the 60 Hi-Fi Klubben stores, said to be the world's largest chain of high-end audio retail shops. Whew! The guy keeps busy.
After reviewing a long series of minimonitors, I am now working on what may well be an equally varied selection of large floorstanding loudspeakers. This trend began with my review of the Sonus Faber Cremona Elipsa in the December 2007 issue, and continues this month with the Series 2 version of the KEF Reference 207, until recently the flagship model from this English manufacturer (footnote 1). I reviewed the original Reference 207 in February 2003, and was very impressed by what I heard.
Richard Vandersteen was in good form at the 20th-anniversary seminar held by retailer Advanced Audio on November 11, 2006. When asked about his priorities in loudspeaker design, he sat erect in the seat next to me and thundered, "I will not [slams table with open hand] spend one red cent on cosmetics that I could have put into improving the sound of a loudspeaker!"
It is the audio writer's nightmare that the combination of the large number of exhibitors at a Consumer Electronics Show and the very limited amount of time the Show's doors are open will lead him to miss the event's biggest story. I came close to living that nightmare last January, at the 2007 CES, when I realized that I had missed an entire floor of Las Vegas's Venetian Hotel. And it was, of course, the floor where, among other high-profile high-end companies, Sumiko was debuting the Cremona Elipsa from Italian speaker manufacturer Sonus Faber.
With the introduction of the 1000 Be series in 2005, Focal slipped its exclusive, high-performance beryllium tweeter out of the stuffy-looking Utopia series and into a sleeker, more stylish, more modern form.