The Mirage OM-6 loudspeaker, from Canadian manufacturer Audio Products International, mightily impressed Stereophile's Tom Norton when he reviewed it back in November 1997. But with its "omnipolar" design and powered woofer, the OM-6 wasn't a speaker for those of us with more conventional tastes in speaker design. So when I heard that Mirage's Ian Paisley was working on a high-performance two-way minimonitor based on the OM-6's drive-unit technology, I asked API's affable PR man, Jeff Percy, for review samples.
In this issue's "Letters" column, you will find comments from readers who are bothered by what they perceive to be this magazine's emphasis on reviewing very expensive technology. Yes, we do cover a lot of cutting-edge technology, and it is, of necessity, expensive. But our experience has been that that technology invariably trickles down to products that real people can actually afford.
The original PSB Alpha was reviewed for Stereophile by Jack English in July 1992 (Vol.15 No.7). A modest-looking two-way priced at just $199/pair, it combined a reflex-loaded 6.5" woofer using a plastic-doped paper cone with a 0.5" plastic-dome tweeter. JE summed up the Alpha by saying it "is simply one of the best buys in audio, providing a musically satisfying sound...a sensational audio bargain." It went on to become one of the best-selling audiophile speakers ever, with over 50,000 pairs sold.
Like many audiophiles, I am finding myself listening to more and more music sitting in front of my computer. My experience with the little plastic-box horrors sold as "computer speakers" has not been positive, however, with even models from Altec Lansing and Cambridge SoundWorks scoring an "F." For a long time, therefore, I used a pair of RadioShack Optimus LX5s, stuck at the far ends of my desk because their unshielded drivers messed with the colors on my monitor. I tried and liked a pair of the A/V version of PSB's best-selling $249/pair Alpha. Then Jonathan Scull recommended I try a pair of the diminutive Elans from Utah-based Evett & Shaw, with which he had been impressed at the 1999 Consumer Electronics Show.
Unless you've recently returned from a five-year tour of Tibetan monasteries, the odds are pretty good you've heard about the Nautilus revision of B&W's classic three-way floorstanding monitor, the 801. Having sold 30,000 of the earlier 801, the Matrix, B&W recently revised this classic to incorporate some design features of its $40,000, four-way concept speaker, the Nautilus. Wes Phillips reviewed the new Nautilus 801 in the January 1999 Stereophile (p.107) and found it "incredibly dynamic, images and soundstages like crazy, and has that special magic that marks it as one of the great loudspeakers."
A dream I have had since I discovered the pleasures of music is to possess a time machine. Not a fancy one, just a small device that would allow me to escape modern music-making and drop in to hear what must have been some of the greatest musical experiences of all time. Classical music presents no problems: Off to 18th-century Leipzig on Sunday, of course, to hear J.S. Bach play the organ in church, after an early 19th-century Saturday evening spent in Vienna listening to Beethoven improvising at the pianoforte. During the week it would still be Vienna, but forward 80 years or so to hear Brahms premiere one of his chamber works after afternoon cocktails at the Wittgensteins', with perhaps a trip to England's Three Choirs Festival just before the Great War to hear the first performance of Elgar's Dream of Gerontius. And the time machine would have to have transatlantic range—I couldn't miss Mahler conducting the New York Philharmonic around the same time. But with jazz and rock—music that is reborn every time in performance to a greater extent than in classical—there is a bewildering choice of live events from which to choose.
I have a soft spot in my heart (some say my head) for transmission-line designs. I remember being entranced by the authoritative but effortless bass of John Wright's IMF and TDL Monitors, and I have been inspired to experiment by building my own lines in various sizes. Then, as demonstrated by Bryston's Jim Tanner at the 1997 WCES and at HI-FI '97, PMC's IB-1S loudspeakers threw an enormously deep soundstage. (I have a soft spot for that as well.)
Revel. Interesting name for a new speaker company. The most apt definition of the word from my old dictionary is "to take much pleasure; delight." Or perhaps those who chose the name were intrigued by the wordplay they could make with "revel-ation."
Scratch an audiophile and, chances are, you'll find a closet Wilson Audio fan. The Wilson WATT/Puppy would probably make almost anyone's list of the most significant high-end loudspeaker designs. David Wilson first built his reputation with the custom-built WAMM loudspeaker—a monumental piece invariably included with products like the Infinity IRS, Genesis I, and Apogee Grand when the world's most awesome loudspeakers are discussed. But it was the WATT, followed by the WATT/Puppy—the latter now several generations improved over the original design—that really put the company on the high-end audio map.
Yeah, yeah, I know what you're thinking: "Polk? You're reviewing a $300 speaker from Polk? Get ready for the flames!"
The genesis of this review lies in a casual comment Larry Archibald made last summer. Larry travels a lot, and everywhere he goes, like the archetypical (archibaldical?) audiophile he is, he listens voraciously. After a trip to the east coast, he dropped by my office and laid a bomb on me.
"I heard a pair of inexpensive bookshelf speakers from Polk that really impressed me."
"Um-hum," I replied dubiously, waiting for the punchline.
Stereophile is, in one sense, like a family—us younguns have to make do sometimes because the house is straining at the seams. When I first arrived in Santa Fe, for instance, I was told not to come to the office for a few days—the good news, John Atkinson informed me, was that I had a desk; the bad news was that nobody had a clue where to put it. The dilemma was solved in Solomon-like fashion by shoehorning my desk into the "listening room," which was already serving double-duty as audition space and speaker-measurement lab. If manufacturers visited, we'd sweep up all the acoustic damping from the floor and stash it in JA's office; and if JA needed to take measurements, I would be asked to work at home. It was a manifestly fair solution: inconvenient for everyone involved.
I first auditioned a pair of Chario Academy One minimonitors five years ago, but the review was aborted when the Italian Chario company lost its US distribution. When I reheard the Chario Academy Ones at the 1997 WCES, I found their elegant cabinetwork appealing and their sound listenable and involving. I therefore requested a pair for review from the new US importers.
The ProAc Response One S was one of the very first products I reviewed for Stereophile back in 1994 (Vol.17 No.9). That review was such an over-the-top rave that John Atkinson felt obliged to audition the speakers himself before running my report. I assume he liked 'em too—after all, my review did see the light of day.
The least expensive model in Paradigm's Reference series, the Studio/20 loudspeaker is a rear-ported two-way dynamic bookshelf/satellite design, superficially identical to the powered Active/20 that JA reviewed last November. It features Paradigm's 25mm PAL pure-aluminum dome tweeter in a die-cast heatsink chassis, and a 170mm MLP mica-polymer cone in an AVS die-cast heatsink chassis with a 38mm voice coil. The crossover is third-order, quasi-Butterworth, said to be "phase-coherent." It features high-power ceramic resistors, film capacitors in all signal paths, and both air-core and steel-core inductors.
There are many benefits accruing to a loudspeaker when its designer goes the active or powered route. The usual losses and distortions associated with passive crossovers can be circumvented, while the fact that the amplifiers and drive-units can be designed as a package enables the designer to squeeze more performance from each than would otherwise be the case. And the savings gained from the absence of a separate amplifier chassis can be passed on to the consumer.