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.
I received a call from Aperion Audio, who wanted to know if was interested in reviewing their Verus Grand Bookshelf loudspeaker ($598/pair). I've had good experiences with speakers from this Oregon-based, Internet-only company. I reviewed their Intimus 6T (January 2009) and Intimus 533-T (April 2007), and felt both provided overall good sound and great value for the money. I was also impressed with the speakers' quality of construction and physical appearance. But those models were floorstanderswhat excites me more is finding new bookshelf speakers at low prices. I was anxious to hear the Verus Grand.
With all the affordable loudspeakers I've written about in recent years, I couldn't remember the last time I reviewed one from the revered British firm Bowers & Wilkins. When I searched www.stereophile.com, I learned that the last time a B&W speaker had graced my listening room's carpet was more than seven years ago: the DM603 S3, reviewed in the August 2005 issue. I thought it was time to revisit the brand, and as the DM603 S3 was a floorstanding speaker, this time a bookshelf model seemed in order.
Recently, I thought about all the audio shows I've attended over the last 27 years, looking for any pattern that all of them might have shared. I came up with a handful of audio manufacturers that have earned at shows a reputation for getting, year after year, consistently good soundrooms in which I could reliably depend on being able to chill out and enjoy music in good, involving sound. Those companies include Audio Research, Music Hall (distributor of Creek and Epos), Vandersteen Audioand Definitive Technology. Since their founding, in 1990, Maryland-based DefTech has been a major presence at shows, displaying an increasingly wide range of high-value speakers for two-channel and surround-sound systems. But I'd never reviewed one of their models. I thought it was about time.
When a reviewer specializes in seeking out innovation and value in affordable loudspeakers, certain manufacturers warrant revisiting again and againcompanies that consistently deliver high-value products, but also steadily revamp their lines to trickle down design innovations to ever more affordable models.
We've all read about how bookstores, appliance stores, and other bricks-and-mortar retailers are suffering with the increasing domination of Internet sales. That got me thinking about audio dealers. I've always believed that one can't really make an informed purchase of audiophile equipment without hearing it in a system properly set up by and at at a serious audio retailer. Here in New York City, we're blessed with six first-rate audio dealers in Manhattan alone, with more in the suburbs. I estimate that 90% of the products reviewed in Stereophile can be auditioned at a dealer or two within a two-hour drive of anywhere in the New York metropolitan area.
I thought I'd review the procedure I typically use to seek out affordable speakers for review as, in the case of the Denmark-designed DALI Zensor, made in the company's facility in China, there was a twist at the end.
In preparing to review affordable loudspeakers, I typically put together a list of potential candidates I've discovered at audio shows, or that have been recommended to me by other Stereophile writers. I add to that list products I've learned about from press promotions, usually from companies whose products have impressed me in the past. I boil this down to a short list, then run it by Stephen Mejias to make sure I'm not tripping over The Kid's own quest for budget sonic nirvana.
In March 2006 I wrote a very favorable review of Monitor Audio's Silver RS6 loudspeaker. At the time, I felt this $999/pair, small-footprint floorstander produced the greatest sound quality per dollar of any speaker I'd heard. Despite the proliferation of affordable speakers of increasing quality I've heard since then, I remained particularly impressed by the Silver RS6's clarity and lack of coloration and the speed of its midbass, all of which continued to exceed the performance of any other affordable speaker I've heard.
I have fond memories of the Paradigm Reference Studio 20. When I reviewed the original version for the February 1998 issue of Stereophile, it was the model that started me on my quest to seek out the best affordable loudspeakers. I believe that of all the speakers I've reviewed, the original Studio 20 remained in the magazine's "Recommended Components" longest. When I checked out the speaker's fourth generation, in May 2008, I felt it had significantly progressed in terms of sound quality and value for money. This didn't surprise me, however, as pushing the envelopes of sound quality and value has long been Paradigm's trademark. They've done with this with every one of their speakers I've heard, including the third and fifth iterations of the Atom (which I reviewed in September 2002 and February 2008, respectively), and the more expensive models I've heard at audio shows. So when I was given the opportunity to review the Studio 20's fifth generation, I jumped.
Stereophile has reviewed two integrated amplifiers from Chinese manufacturer Cayin in the past: the A-50T, which I wrote about very positively in March 2008, and the A-300B, which Art Dudley reviewed in February 2007. So when I read about Cayin's $2195 SP-10A integrated amplifier, which has a wood-covered sleeve, just like the old Marantz and McIntosh gear and offers 38 watts of push-pull power, in our coverage of the 2008 CES, I put in on my must-write-about list.