The match between amplifier and speaker for single-ended operation is critical, which is why John Atkinson suggested I let Wavelength's Gordon Rankin lead when it came to choosing a speaker to partner his special-edition Cardinal amplifiers. If you're not talking roughly 92dB sensitivity and a fairly benign load, say no lower than 6 ohms, you're just not talking single-ended. That precluded running the Cardinals on the big Avalon Ascents with their lowish 86dB sensitivity (in spite of the relatively benign impedance curve).
After more discussion it became evident that the best speakers to use were the very ones Gordon employed in his own reference systemthe Swiss-made Reference 3A Royal Master Control loudspeakers.
I was introduced to audiophilia by my friend Gary Gustavsen. Although I'd known Gary since I was 13, I didn't discover his passion for music until that day in high school physics lab when I blurted out an obscure line from the Doors' "The Soft Parade," and Gary bounced back immediately with the next line. It turns out I shared my friend's passions for the Doors and Frank Zappa, but not for Mahler. Before long, Gary was dragging me to every audio store in our area to listen to potential speakers for his first high-end audio system. At the beginning of each trip he'd say, "Right now I'm partial to the Rectilinear 3s." Although I heard him say that many times, I never actually got to hear a pair of Rectilinear 3s.
Colleen Cardas strongly urged me to try the Callas loudspeaker from Opera Loudspeakers (whose products she also distributes in the US), which she claimed was an ideal match for the Unison S6 amplifier I reviewed last August. In my experience, the stand-mounted Callas ($5000/pair) is unique among loudspeakers in being the logical contrapositive (inverted and flipped, so to speak) of the usual D'Appolito driver array of midrange-tweeter-midrange (MTM).
As the years pass and I turn into a crotchety old man, I'm reminded of those old TV ads for the Honda Accord: "Simplify." Even though I now have more things going on than at any other point in my life, I try to eliminate complications everywhere I can. I now can't believe that, for over 15 years, I used the Infinity RS-1B as my reference loudspeaker. Sure, I loved itthe RS-1B was the first speaker I'd owned that produced a wide, deep soundstage, the full dynamic range of an orchestra, and bass extension down to 25Hz. But it was ridiculously complex: a five-way design with three different driver types and a servomechanism for the woofers. It also required biamplificationI got the best sound with a combination of high-powered tube amp and high-current, solid-state amp.
When something called "high fidelity" assumed fad status during the 1950s, many manufacturers climbed on board by the simple expedient of adorning their last year's product with a high fidelity label. The Home Theater bandwagon is a little harder to jump on, because loudspeakers for use with television sets require something "ordinary" stereo speakers don't: magnetic shielding (or, more accurately, magnetic cancellation). Without it, placing the speakers within a few feet of a large-screen set does psychedelic-type things to the color (footnote 1). However, adding magnetic shielding, usually in the form of a second magnet glued to the rear of each loudspeaker's motor magnet, is the only thing that some loudspeaker manufacturers change before slapping a Home Theater label on last year's stereo speakers.
I often receive letters from Stereophile readers. I've even gotten a few letters from female readers, one an attractive young lover of tube gear who sent me a picture of herself and [sigh] her boyfriend. But most are from people who are either thanking me for a specific review that resulted in a purchase and a satisfied buyer, or are suggesting products they'd like me to review. I frequently take the advice of writers of this second category; in fact, two of the inexpensive speakers I'll review in the next year were recommended by readers.
Late last year, when I first heard of the Music Hall Marimba, I was happily surprised: One of my favorite hi-fi manufacturers had finally introduced its first and (so far) only loudspeakerand it was seriously affordable at $349/pair. I wanted to review the Marimbas right away, but grumpy old Sam Tellig beat me to them.
Silicon Valleybased Velodyne was founded in 1983 to develop a range of subwoofers that used servo-control to reduce non-linear distortion to vanishingly small levels. They succeeded in this goal to the extent that Velodyne is now perhaps the best-known subwoofer company in the US, currently employing 65 people. At the 1994 Winter CES, Velodyne launched the subject of this review: the DF-661 ($1800$2600/pair), their first full-range loudspeaker (the "DF" stands for "Distortion-Free").
The three-way DF-661 was designed from the ground up to continue the Velodyne tradition of ultra-low distortion. "We had developed the technology and resources to attack distortion elsewhere in the audio chain," wrote company President David Hall, "and started with the premise that, by definition...distortion in loudspeakers is wrong." (His italics.) "We went to the laboratory for a solution, with the living room as the ultimate goal." Velodyne calls this attention to technological detail "The Silicon Valley approach to sound."
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.
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.
Of all the speakers I've heard through the years, the $3000 ProAc Response 2 (footnote 1) is definitely one of my all-time faves. One of the few high-end speakers at any price that sounds equally at home pumping out Prong as it does Puccini, the Response 2 blew me away with its incredible musicality and just plain "rightness." The Response 2 doesn't call strict attention to any one area of technical achievement, like so many Audiophile-Approved jobs, but just makes music so naturally and unforcedly that I hesitate, even considering its remarkable performance, to call it an "audiophile" loudspeaker. Yah, I dig the Response 2! So last year when ProAc introduced the Studio 100, a new affordable version of the Response 2, I got excited.
I know, I know"NOT ANOTHER $%#$ SONUS $%#$# FABER REVIEW IN $%#$# Stereophile!!" In just the past two years or so alone we've spilled a pretty fat bottle of ink on this Italian speaker line: Martin Colloms reviewed the $12,500/pair Extrema (Vol.15 No.6) and $9000/pair Guarneri Homage (Vol.17 No.7); Jack English covered the $4500/pair Electa Amator (Vol.15 No.10); and Larry Greenhill wrote about the $1800/pair Minima FM2 (Vol.16 No.4). That's a lotta jizzatoni, so let me tell you right off the bat that when I called Italy a few months ago, speakers were the last thing on my mind.
Immedia introduced the German Audio Physic speakers at the 1994 Winter CES. As I mentioned in my Show report (Vol.17 No.4), I felt the price:performance ratios of the three models displayed was an indirect one: the least-expensivethe Stepsounded best. Since I'm always looking for products that offer great bang for the buck, I arranged to receive a pair of review samples.
The Spendor S3/5R2 loudspeaker reminds me of Art Dudley. My friendship with Art began more than 25 years ago, long before either of us joined Stereophile. Frequently, we would sit down to discuss music, guitars, and audiophiles. Art didn't have much patience for a certain category of audiophile who would evaluate an audio component based on how many points on their sonic checklists they could tick off. Image specificity? Check. Soundstage depth? Check. Lower-bass extension? Check.
The Anima is a two-way loudspeaker from Canalis Audio, a new enterprise of longtime importer Immedia, of Berkeley, California. Canalis is thereby related to Spiral Groove, and Canalis speakers bear the Spiral Groove logo on their terminal plates. Spiral Groove, founded in 2005, makes turntables; their SG2 ($15,000) was favorably reviewed by Brian Damkroger in the June 2010 issue. Canalis makes at present four models of loudspeakers, all designed in collaboration with noted engineer Joachim Gerhard, formerly of Germany's Audio Physic. All Spiral Groove and Canalis products are made in the US.