The 2004 Products of the Year Joint Loudspeakers

2004 Joint Loudspeakers
Aerial Acoustics Model 20T (review) ($23,500-$28,000/pair; reviewed by Michael Fremer, Vol.27 No.4, April 2004)
Focal-JMlab Nova Utopia Be (review)($37,500/pair; reviewed by Paul Bolin, Vol.27 No.6, June 2004)
Runners-Up (in alphabetical order):
Harbeth Compact 7ES-2 ($2495/pair; reviewed by Sam Tellig, Vol.26 No.12, December 2003)
mbl Radialstrahler 101E (review) ($44,900/pair; reviewed by Michael Fremer, Vol.27 No.10, October 2004)
Sonus Faber Cremona (review) ($7995/pair; reviewed by Sam Tellig & John Atkinson, Vol.26 No.1 & Vol.27 No.3, January 2003 & March 2004)
Spendor S5e (review) ($1649/pair; reviewed by Art Dudley, Vol.27 No.9, September 2004)
Velodyne Digital Drive DD-18 subwoofer (review) ($4999; reviewed by Larry Greenhill, Vol.27 No.6, June 2004)
Wilson Benesch A.C.T. (review) ($12,500/pair; reviewed by John Marks, Vol.27 No.9, September 2004)

Besides being big and hefty—the Model 20T and the Nova Utopia Be weigh around 270 lbs each—what our two heavyweight champs have in common are innovative tweeter technologies. The tweeters themselves, however, couldn't be more different.

The 20T's 5-lb, 4.1" aluminum-diaphragm tweeter is a genuine ribbon design that, according to Aerial's Mike Kelly, costs "eight times" what a "very good" dome tweeter would, and simply can't be burned out. Not only was our Mikey Fremer convinced, he was inspired to alliteration and assonance: "What sounds like two-dimensional glaze on most other speakers sprang to plasmatic life through the 20T, its ribbon easily separating out multiple musical strands that occupy the same frequency range and easily delineating the undulating high-speed effects, rendering them as liquid wave upon wave washing up on a three-dimensional shoreline. Yikes!"

JMlab's Nova Utopia Be was no less poetry-inducing. While our April cover announced that the Aerial was "$Bsetting the new sonic standard," Paul Bolin was quick to realize that the Utopia Be's 1" inverted, ultralight, ultrastiff, beryllium-dome tweeter demonstrated "a quantum advance in tweeter technology." PB: "The Be tweeter revealed the sort of detail I had previously heard only from the best ribbons, and then only under optimal circumstances. Not only was the Nova's treble absurdly extended and transparent, it never, ever, sounded etched, harsh, or exhibited any sort of grain structure, no matter how hard I stressed it."

Having listened to both speakers in their reviewers' listening rooms, John Atkinson adds his own praise, commenting that when a talented speaker designer is given sufficient resources, the result can be sonically stunning. But he was almost as impressed at seeing the more affordable Sonus Faber, Harbeth, and Spendor speakers in the list of finalists.