While Clearfield Audio may be a new name to many of you, it represents the marriage of two well-established members of the high-end community: Counterpoint and designer Albert Von Schweikert. Counterpoint had been working to add speakers to its product lineup for some time. The partnership with Von Schweikert, whom Stereophile readers will remember as the designer of the Vortex Screen favorably reviewed by Robert Harley in July 1989, fills out Counterpoint's high-end product line from sourcethe company showed a CD transport at the June 1993 CESto speaker.
The developmental history of Vortex speakers provides a meaningful framework for the design of the Clearfield offerings, especially the Metropolitans, or Mets. Like the Vortex designs, the Mets are three-ways with transmission-loaded bass. Like the Kevlar Reference Screen (reviewed by Robert Greene in The Abso!ute Sound's "double-issue" 83/84, December '92), the Mets use Kevlar-coned midrange units from Focal that cover a broad range from 125Hz to 2kHz. What's dramatically different is the overall driver layout.
In February 2013, I was taking part in a "Music Matters" evening at Seattle retailer Definitive Audio, playing some of my recordings and talking about my audio philosophy. I love taking part in these eventsin addition to Definitive's, in recent years I've participated in evenings organized by North Carolina's Audio Advice, Colorado's Listen-Up, and Atlanta's Audio Alternativesbut, as might be obvious, at each one I use a system provided by the retailer. The February 2013 system comprised Classé electronics and, to my surprise, Bowers & Wilkins Nautilus loudspeakers.
When I saw the Unity Audio Signature 3 speakers ($1895/pair) arrive in one box, I was happy. Not just because it meant there would be that much more space left in my basement. No, because it means that Unity is saving money on packaging costs. That means they can spend more money on things like super-nice crossover components. That means...well, I think you know what that means. After all, any piece of audio gear is only as good as the parts it's made from.
To get these overgrown bookends to stand up, you slide little black boards into the slots in their bottoms. Each board is held in place by two set screws, and sticks out to support the speaker with two of the four spikes. The board also tilts the speaker back a little. How do they get sufficient bass out of such slim cabinets?
Denmark has probably contributed more to loudspeaker technology than any other country in the world. Vifa, Dynaudio, ScanSpeak, and Peerless driversused in a huge variety of speakersare all Danish. Products from companies such as JBL, Spendor, Linn, B&W, Celestion, KEF, Audio Physic, ProAc, and others are partially or wholly made in the little Scandinavian nation.
System Audio originated in 1984, when guitarist and electronics technician Ole Witthoft grew dissatisfied with the lack of realism he heard from most home audio systems and figured he could do better. He built some speakers for himself and for a few friends, with encouraging results. It's a familiar story: we all know competent hobbyist speaker builders. A few of them gain a bit of local notoriety, but most never venture further than making a few units for friends and relatives.
But Witthoft's reputation grew rapidly, and so did his business. Fourteen years later, his little startup has become a serious player in the loudspeaker market, with annual production in excess of 18,000 units.
With the help of 20:20 hindsight, it looks as if I made a decision when I joined Stereophile: to review a loudspeaker from Wilson Audio Specialties every 11 years. In June 1991, I reported on Wilson's WATT 3/Puppy 2 combination, which cost $12,740/pair in an automotive gloss-paint finish. This was followed in July 2002 by my review of the Wilson Sophia ($11,700/pair). And now, in December 2013, I am writing about the Wilson Alexia, which costs a not-inconsiderable $48,500/pair.
As a privileged reviewer-type person, I was sent the souped-up, all-rosewood, bi-wirable version that sells for $2905/pair. They're quite handsome and very solidly built, weighing in at a respectable 50 lbs each. At $2275$2905/pair, the Baton is Swans' most affordable speaker, and reportedly employs many of the technical refinements of their larger, more costly models.
The Baton uses the tried-and-true two-way dynamic design, with a 7" coated-paper woofer and a 1" fabric-dome tweeter. The tweeter comes with a little Marigo dot stuck to its center to shape its response. It's not a physically easy task for a woofer to reproduce (well) all the frequencies from about 60Hz up to about 2 or 3kHz. One that succeeds is a nice find, though, because the sound has a nice coherence to it when most of the music is coming from the same driver. But don't take my word for itjust look how many zillions of two-way speakers there are out there.
What can you tell about the intrinsic sound quality of a loudspeaker if you've heard it only at an audio show? Arguably, not much. If it sounds bad, there may be a number of reasons for that, only one being the speaker itself. It may be the acoustics of the room, problems with speaker setup, poorly matched associated equipment, insufficient break-in/warm-up, or poor choice of demo recordings.
Sonus Faber is an iconic Italian high-end company whose loudspeakers have always evinced innovative technical design, superb construction, spectacular appearance, and great sound. I was intrigued with the design and performance of their stand-mounted Extrema (reviewed by Martin Colloms in the June 1992 Stereophile, Vol.15 No.6), which combined a proprietary soft-dome tweeter and a mineral-loaded polypropylene-cone woofer with an electrodynamically damped but passive KEF B139 driver that occupied the entire rear panel.
In a recent email, a reader, having read my review of the Monitor Audio Silver RX6 loudspeaker in the June 2012 issue, said that he'd like to see it compared with the similarly priced Wharfedale Diamond 10.7 ($1299/pair) and Epos Elan 10 ($1000/pair). That sounded interesting. The floorstanding 10.7 is the flagship model of Wharfedale's Diamond series, six models up from the Diamond 10.1 bookshelf (which I reviewed in reviewed in July 2011) and featuring the same dome tweeter. And the Epos Elan 10 essentially replaces the Epos M5i, which I reviewed in February 2011, and which has served as my reference bookshelf speaker ever since. I requested samples of both. (My review of the Epos Elan 10 is scheduled to appear in the February 2014 issue.)
Volti Audio's Vittora, a borrowed pair of which now sit at the far end of my listening room, is a great loudspeaker and, at $17,500/pair, a seriously great value. After a few weeks with the Vittora, I find myself convinced by the naturalness, momentum, and force that it found in every record I played: This is surely one of the finest horn-loaded speakers made in the US.
The door to a professional reviewer's listening room is one that revolves: As one product leaves, another enters. After a while, it becomes difficult to remember exactly when you auditioned any specific component. But some products stick in your memoryyou fondly remember the time you spent with them, and wish they hadn't departed quite so quickly. With loudspeakers, I recall a few such: Revel's Ultima Salon2 ($22,000, footnote 1), MBL's 111B ($17,000), Dynaudio's Confidence C4 ($16,000), Sonus Faber's Amati Futura ($36,000), Vivid's B1 ($14,990), TAD's Compact Reference CR1 ($40,600 with stands), and even the much less expensive Harbeth P3ESR ($2195$2395) and KEF LS50 ($1500). Among the most recently reviewed of those fondly remembered speakers is Sony's SS-AR2ES ($20,000).
I don't think that the Bowers and Wilkins 804, in any of its incarnation, gets its due respect. As the smallest floorstander in B&W's elite 800 series, it has historically been overshadowed by its larger brethren and outmaneuvered by the smaller, stand-mounted 805. However, the 804 Diamond is unique, and deserves special attention for reasons I discovered when I chose the earlier 804S for the surround channels of my 5.1-channel surround system.
Once upon a time, in audio's infancy, anyone who wanted better than average soundaverage sound during the 1940s being rich, boomy and dullhad no choice but to buy professional loudspeakers. In those days, "professional" meant one of two things: movie-theater speakers or recording-studio speakers. Both were designed, first and foremost, to produce high sound levels, and used horn loading to increase their efficiency and project the sound forwards. They sounded shockingly raw and harsh in the confines of the typical living room.
Boston Acoustics made its name in the early 1980s with the A40, an inexpensive two-way bookshelf design that became one of that decade's best-selling speakers. Stephen Mejias was impressed by the A40's spiritual descendant, the Boston Acoustics A25 bookshelf speaker ($299.98/pair), when he reviewed it in November 2011, and I was similarly impressed when I had the speaker on the test bench for measurement. So when, in the fall of 2012, Boston's soon-to-be-departing PR representative Sara Trujillo let me know that the company was introducing a range of more expensive speakers, I asked to review the top-of-the-line, floorstanding M350.
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."