I like reviewing loudspeakers. The more you become familiar with the art, the greater the sense of anticipation as you open up a pair of cartons. A visual inspection of the speaker always reveals a challenging mixture of the familiar and the new. The size of the cabinet is always the first cluehas sensitivity been a design priority or was low-frequency extension uppermost in the designer's thoughts? You espy a known drive-unithas this tweeter's propensity for upper-presence sizzle been tamed? You find a reflex port on the rear panelhas the temptation to go for a "commercial," under-damped bass alignment been successfully resisted? You spot factors which intuitively seem wrong for precise stereoa wide baffle lacking any kind of absorbent covering for diffraction control; a grille frame which puts acoustic obstacles in the way of the wavefront emerging from the tweeter.
The loudspeaker coming under the microscope this month emanates from north of the border. The Canadian loudspeaker industry has benefited enormously in the last few years from having the measurement, testing, and listening facilities of Canada's National Research Council in Ottawa made available to it on a commercial basis. Unlike the US or even the UK, where a new speaker designer has pretty much to rely on his own resources, having to invent his own test procedure as well as design the product, the Canadian equivalent can have his loudspeaker tested under standard conditions, quickly indicating whether he is on the right track or not. (He still, of course, has to rely on his own talent to get on the right track in the first place or to get back on it if it appears that something is amiss.)
Sometimes products are too cheap for their own good, and people don't take them seriously: the Superphon Revelation Basic Dual Mono preamp, Rega RB300 arm, AR ES-1 turntable, Shure V15-V MR cartridge, and the B&K ST-140 power amp. They can't be any good because they cost so little, right?
Some time ago in these pages, Anthony H. Cordesman observed rather ungraciously that the whole line of Hafler electronics "could do with reworking." This was interpreted by many readersincluding the good people at the David Hafler Companyas meaning that AHC felt the entire Hafler line to be mediocre. In fact, he does not. (He had given a Hafler product a positive review a few issues previously.) Tony's comment, however, did express a sentiment that most of us at Stereophile have shared for some time: a feeling that Hafler products had slipped from the position of sonic preeminence which they enjoyed during the 1960s and '70s to one of mere excellence in a field where only preeminence is acclaimed.
One of the oldest names in US audio, Altec Lansing was building speakers for theaters and recording studios long before the introduction of the microgroove LP in 1948 (which date many see as marking the inception of high fidelity). Started in 1931 under the name All-Technical Services ~Corp., the firm later purchased another audio firm called Lansing Engineering, and merged the names. Altec's Model 604, one of the first true coaxial speakers, was adopted for home use by many early hi-fi buffs and, several permutations later, is still widely used for monitoring in disc-cutting rooms.
While it is not quite accurate to say that $500/pair loudspeakers are a dime a dozen, they are by no means unusual. And since this is a price area where major design compromises are mandatory (footnote 1), the sound of such loudspeakers tends to vary all over the map, from pretty good to godawfuldepending on what performance areas the designer chose to compromise and by how much.
I approached this latest half-grander with little enthusiasm, despite Siefert's persuasive literature, I have, after all, been reading such self-congratulatory hype abiout new products for longer than most Stereophile readers have been counting birthdays. This, I must admit, was ho-humsville.
The Boston Acoustics A40 loudspeaker ($150/pair) has become "legendary" (ie, it's stayed around for a while), probably because a pair of them images as well as Rogers LS3/5As. Unfortunately, it is no match for the LS3/5A in terms of smooth midrange response. Of course, at $150/pair, it shouldn't be.
I was originally going to do a review comparing the Spectrum 108A ($200/pair) and the Boston Acoustics A40. On first listen, I was mightily impressed by the A40. But after Stereophile's Larry Archibald schlepped me out a pair of the 108As, I didn't much want to listen to the A40s.
The Fourier 6 has the special ability to generate large coherent sonic fields, from a box small enough to slip into an ordinary shopping bag. At $499/pair, the 6 competes directly with another remarkable-imaging, compact American speaker, the Spica TC-50 ($420/pair).
High-quality, low-cost loudspeaker systems are not an everyday blessing. The Rogers LS3/5a has survived for more than a decade precisely because so few US manufacturers sought musical accuracy as distinguished from high output and powerful bass. The economics of loudspeaker manufacture also don't lend themselves to economy. The cost of woodwork is driving the price of speakers up almost as fast as the cost of sheet-metal work is escalating the price of electronics.
These diminutive little sleepers have been available in the US for quite some time but have attracted little attention because (1) they have never really been promoted and (2) they are just too small to look as if they could be worth $430 a pair.