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."
I had been anticipating getting to audition a pair of TAD loudspeakers in my system since the introduction of the original TAD Model-1, in 2003. It was designed by Andrew Jones, who had recently assumed the mantle of chief designer at Technical Audio Devices Laboratories (TAD), at that time a subsidiary of Pioneer. Although TAD dates back to the mid-1970s, its research and development efforts had been focused on the professional sound market, something that continues. Jones came from a long line of speaker innovators at KEF and was assigned the goal of developing state-of-the-art speakers for the domestic market.
The advertisements run by Colorado manufacturer YG Acoustics in 2008, when it launched its flagship loudspeaker model, the Anat Reference II Professional, unequivocally claimed it to be "The best loudspeaker on Earth. Period." They caused a stir. The YGA speaker cost $107,000/pair at the time of Wes Phillips's review in the March 2009 issue. Wes didn't disagree with the claim, concluding that, "Like my pappy used to say, it ain't braggin' if you can actually do it."
The loudspeaker designer's art has changed radically over the past 20 years. Although the goals are largely the same, today's designer employs tools and techniques unimaginable two decades ago. Computer modeling, powerful and affordable FFT machines, and sophisticated new driver technologies are just a few of the advantages enjoyed by the modern designer. The high-tech result is a vastly better loudspeakereven inexpensive products today are significantly better than those of even five years ago, never mind 20.
The new Genesis III loudspeaker shows just how sophisticated the designer's art has become. The Genesis III is as far removed from the cones-in-boxes loudspeakers of yesterday as a Ford Taurus is from a Pinto. Combining a radically different cabinet with unusual custom drive-units, the Genesis III is a paradigm of how high technology has transformed loudspeaker design.
Is there a country that, per capita, has produced more major loudspeaker brands than Great Britain? The British brands that immediately come to mind are Tannoy, KEF, Bowers & Wilkins, Quad, Rogers, Spendor, Harbeth, Castle, Acoustic Energy, ProAc, Monitor Audio, Epos, Celestion, Lowther, PMCand Wharfedale.