2012 Recommended Components Loudspeakers

Loudspeaker Systems

Editor’s Note: Class A “Loudspeakers” are sufficiently idiosyncratic and differ enough from one another that prospective customers should read Stereophile’s original reviews in their entirety for descriptions of the sounds. I have therefore just listed every system or combination that at least one of Stereophile’s reviewers feels, as a result of his or her experience, approaches the current state of the art in loudspeaker design. (Note that, to be eligible for inclusion in Class A, the system must be full-range—ie, feature bass extension to 20Hz. It must also be capable of reaching realistic sound-pressure levels without any feeling of strain.)

For those unconcerned about the last few hertz of low-bass extension, we have created “Classes A, B, and C (Restricted Extreme LF)” for those speakers that are state of the art in every other way. Candidates for inclusion in this class must still reach down to at least 40Hz, below the lowest notes of the four-string double-bass and bass guitar.

In addition, such has been the recent progress in loudspeaker design at a more affordable level that we have an extra class: E, for “Entry Level.” Someone once asked us why Stereophile bothers to review inexpensive loudspeakers at all: In effect, aren’t we insulting our readership by recommending that they buy inexpensive models? Remember: It’s possible to put together a musically satisfying, truly high-end system around any of our Class D and E recommendations. That’s why they’re listed—and why you should consider buying them.


Aerial Acoustics Model 20T V2: $32,000/pair
(Vol.32 No.11 Read Review Online)

B&W 800 Diamond: $24,000/pair
(Vol.34 No.5 Read Review Online)

KEF Reference 207/2: $20,000/pair ✩
(Vol.31 No.2 Read Review Online)

mbl Radialstrahler 101E Mk.II: $70,500/pair
See MF’s review in the April 2012 issue.

Revel Ultima Salon2: $21,998/pair ✩
One of Stereophile’s “Joint Loudspeakers of the Year” for 2008. (Vol.31 No.6, Vol.32 No.3 Read Review Online)

Revel Ultima Studio2: $15,998/pair ✩ $$$
(Vol.31 No.3, Vol.32 No.12 Read Review Online)

Sonus Faber Amati Futura: $36,000/pair
(Vol.35 No.3 Read Review Online)

Sony SS-AR1: $27,000/pair
(Vol.34 No.7 Read Review Online)

Vandersteen Model Seven: $48,000/pair
(Vol.33 No.3 Read Review Online)

Verity Sarastro II: $42,995/pair ✩
(Vol.32 No.4 Read Review Online)

Vivid G1Giya: $65,000/pair
(Vol.33 No.7 Read Review Online)

Wilson Audio Specialties MAXX Series 3: $69,500/pair
(Vol.32 No.9 Read Review Online)

A (Restricted Extreme LF)

Acapella High Violoncello II: $80,000/pair
The beautifully finished and massive three-way, sealed-cabinet High Violoncello II stands 64" H by 19" W by 27" D, and weighs 308 lbs. It uses a horn-loaded, AC-powered, ionic plasma tweeter with its own class-A amplifier; a horn-loaded, 2" soft-dome midrange unit; two 11" treated-paper-cone woofers; and one internal 11" treated-paper-cone isobaric woofer in a separate enclosure. While its ionic tweeter offered outstanding high-frequency clarity, JA felt its sensitivity was a bit too high, particularly when driven by solid-state amplification; driving the Acapellas with a tube amplifier, however, resulted in better integration across the audioband. Overall, the High Violoncello II offered “well-controlled lows, a natural-sounding midrange, well-defined and stable stereo imaging, and dynamics to die for,” said JA. Inserting a 680-ohm series resistor in the line-level tweeter feed properly integrated the Acapella’s top two octaves in JA’s listening room, producing natural tonalities and precise stereo imaging. (Current production has a greater range of adjustment on the tweeter, rendering this tweak unnecessary.) The low frequencies are tuned for clarity and definition rather than maximum extension, hence the “Restricted Extreme LF” rating. (Vol.33 Nos.9 & 10 Read Review Online)

Aerial Model 7T: $9850/pair
This compact (44.5" H by 9.7" W by 15.3" D), three-way floorstander uses a 1" soft ring-radiator tweeter with dual magnets and a machined waveguide; a 5.9" papyrus-blend midrange cone with a 1.25" voice-coil, dual magnets, and cast magnesium frame; and two 7.1" bilaminate-cone woofers with 1.5" voice-coils and cast magnesium frames. The 7T provided a well-balanced sound overall, with a stable soundstage, pinpoint imaging, detailed and transparent highs, a gorgeous midrange, and neutrally balanced bass. “The 7T is so good that it should provide any listener with joyful musical communication,” KR concluded. JA found excellent measured performance. (Vol.35 No.3 Read Review Online)

Canton Reference 3.2: $16,000/pair
Strikingly beautiful in construction and finish, the three-way, reflex-loaded, floorstanding Reference 3.2 is built using monocoque construction: each of its five layers of high-density fiberboard is carefully preformed, then bonded to the other layers to maximize rigidity and stiffness. It has a 1" metal-dome tweeter with an overhung voice-coil in a flared waveguide, a 7" aluminum-cone midrange driver, and two 9" aluminum-cone woofers. Removing the speaker’s substantial grille panels alleviated a reticence in the upper midrange and revealed an expansive soundstage, well-extended and detailed bass, and sparkling treble. “The Canton Reference 3.2 DC deserves the highest accolades,” decided KR. (Vol.33 No.6 Read Review Online)

DeVore Fidelity Gibbon 3XL: $3700/pair $$$ (stands necessary)
Hand-built in Brooklyn, New York, the Gibbon 3XL has a beautifully finished cabinet made mostly of solid bamboo, and uses an unusual 0.75" tweeter and a 5" midrange/woofer custom-designed for DeVore by SEAS. The speaker has a claimed sensitivity of 90dB and a nominal impedance of 8 ohms, never dropping below 7.4 ohms. While the comparably priced Harbeth Compact 7 ES-3 offered a slightly richer, fuller sound, the Gibbon 3XL produced excellent low-level resolution, reasonably wide dynamics, and stable, pinpoint imaging, said ST. The almost obligatory matching bamboo stands add $595/pair. (Vol.33 No.6)

Dynaudio Sapphire: $16,500/pair ✩
Dynaudio’s 30th-anniversary model is an intriguing-looking, beautifully finished floorstander with a faceted enclosure that flares slightly wider at the top. Dynaudio’s famed Esotar2 tweeter is mounted above a 5.25" midrange unit and two 8" woofers. JA noted “big-hearted lows, an uncolored midrange, and clean, grain-free highs.” Some recordings demanded the Sapphire’s grilles be kept in place to keep the speakers from sounding too bright, however. Production is limited to 1000 pairs. (Vol.32 No.1 Read Review Online)

Focal Maestro Utopia: $49,995/pair
Although a large speaker at almost 58" tall and 256 lbs, the Maestro Utopia has an elegant, unimposing appearance with a beautifully finished, gracefully curved, dark-gloss body comprising three subenclosures: one for the 6.5" midrange unit, one for the 1.1" inverted beryllium-dome tweeter, and a large bass cabinet for the two 11" woofers. Though the Maestro Utopia could sound a little reserved with its warm upper bass and mellow top octave, it proved to be “an intensely musical-sounding loudspeaker,” with uncolored mids, controlled lows, well-defined soundstaging, and superb dynamic-range capability, said JA. Due to its demanding load impedance in the upper bass, the Focal should be used with a powerful amplifier, such as the 600W Classé CTM-600 monoblock, to reach its full dynamic capabilities. (Vol.33 No.7 Read Review Online)

Hansen Audio The Prince E: $39,000/pair ✩
The large and heavy (42" H by 14" W by 20" D, 205 lbs) Prince E is a three-way, front-ported loudspeaker. Its cabinet, hand-molded from three layers of Hansen Composite Matrix, houses a 1" soft-dome tweeter, a 7.1" laminated-cone midrange unit, and a 10.6" laminated-cone woofer. The V2s’ superb rendering of instruments in space, along with their ability to reach “music’s white-hot emotional truth,” resulted in a sound that was dramatic and moving, felt WP. Though the Hansen displayed some good measured performance, JA was puzzled by the low 100Hz crossover frequency from the woofer to the midrange unit. Though it lacked bass weight in Mikey’s room, leading to its reclassification, MF agreed with WP that the Prince V2 delivered “spectacular three-dimensional imaging” and “immense soundstage spatiality,” adding “electrostatic-like speed and resolution” to his description. (Vol.31 No.4, Vol.32 No.3 Read Review Online)

Harbeth M40.1: $12,995/pair ✩
To keep energy storage reasonably low and to minimize the effects of cabinet resonances, Harbeth’s flagship M40.1 uses a deliberately thin-walled MDF cabinet with minimal bracing and damping. Drive-units are a 1" fabric-dome tweeter, an 8" radial midrange unit, and a 12" polypropylene-cone woofer. The M40.1 impressed AD with its satisfying stereo imaging, exceptional bass performance, outstanding low-level resolution, and overall musicality. JA, however, was eventually irritated by the Harbeth’s “lumpy, excessive bass,” and recommended they be used in as large a room as possible. ST agrees about the need for a big room. “A bargain in a world—a shrinking world, I hope—of grossly overpriced speakers,” he adds. Matching stands add $595/pair. (Vol.31 Nos.10 & 11 Read Review Online)

JBL Synthesis 1400 Array BG: $12,000/pair
The 1400 Array BG is a three-way, 115-lb speaker that stands 46" tall, 15" wide, and 19" deep. Each of its three drivers—a 1" titanium-diaphragm compression tweeter and 3" Aquaplas-coated dome midrange, both mounted in constant-directivity biradial horns, and a 14" doped pulp-cone woofer loaded with a 4" port—was developed in-house and is manufactured by JBL. Build quality was top-notch. Though it lacked the soundstage depth and resolution of LG’s Quad ESL-989s, the JBL produced room-shaking low bass, a natural midrange, well-extended highs, and impressive imaging and transparency. “An audiophile bargain,” concluded LG. JA was delighted by the speaker’s remarkably flat and even in-room response. (Vol.33 No.5 Read Review Online)

KEF Reference 201/2: $6000/pair ✩ (stands necessary)
The “drop-dead gorgeous” KEF Reference 201/2 is a large (16.4" H by 9.8" W by 15.9" D), three-way monitor with a Uni-Q coincident 1" titanium-dome tweeter and 6.5" polypropylene copolymer-cone midrange unit. Three gold-plated switches situated above the 201/2’s WBT terminals provide an array of EQ options. The KEF’s taut, solid bass and sparkling transients worked to impart great physicality and scale to instruments, musicians, and recording venues. WP’s only caveat was that the 201/2 needed a lot of power before coming to life. “The KEF Reference 201/2 is one of the best-measuring speakers I have had the pleasure to test in my lab,” applauded JA. Matching Reference stands add $500/pair. (Vol.31 No.7 Read Review Online)

Klipsch Palladium P-39F: $20,000/pair
“Possibly the best-looking speaker Klipsch has ever made,” the P-39F stands 56" tall and boasts a “scrumptious cabinet” that curves continuously from its tapered baffle to its pointed rear spine. WP’s review sample came in a striking veneer of zebra-grain Linia. The speaker’s design matches a horn-loaded tweeter and midrange to three 9" aluminum-Rohacell-Kevlar woofers. Measured voltage sensitivity was a very high 94.8dB, meaning the speaker will play very loud with very few watts. Wes noted a sound that was “balanced, relaxed, and assured.” Though the P-39Fs couldn’t match the considerably more expensive YG Anat Reference II Pros in terms of frequency response, detail retrieval, and holographic imaging, the Klipsches consistently aroused an emotional connection to the music. (Vol.32 No.6 Read Review Online)

Klipsch Palladium P-17B: $4000/pair (stands necessary)
The smallest speaker in Klipsch’s Palladium line, the P-17B is a three-way, reflex-loaded, standmounted design using a 0.75" titanium-diaphragm compression tweeter and 4.5" aluminum-diaphragm midrange unit, both with a 90° by 60° Tractrix horn, and a 7" cone woofer. Sensitivity is specified as 94dB, but JA’s estimate was 90.7dB, which is still higher than average. Fit’n’finish were beyond reproach. Though it couldn’t reach the lowest octave of bass and failed to throw a truly deep soundstage, the P-17B provided taut, speedy bass, lively and airy (sometimes too airy) treble, and an extremely clean midrange free from any horn coloration. “A world-class bookshelf loudspeaker,” decided EL. “A genuinely 21st-century horn design,” declared JA. (Vol.33 No.5 Read Review Online)

Magico Q5: $65,000/pair
The massive Q5 (47" H by 12" W by 21" D, 387 lbs) is a four-way, sealed-box floorstander using a 1" beryllium-dome tweeter, 6" Nano-Tec midrange driver, 9" Nano-Tec midbass cone, and two 9" Nano-Tec woofers. Made entirely of aluminum and brass, the Q5’s complex frame system is assembled from more than 50 machined parts with more than 350 fasteners of various types. Though it lacked some bottom-end weight and drive, which keeps this speaker from being rated Class A (Full-range), the Q5’s transparency, resolution, and freedom from boxy colorations made it the smoothest, most detailed, least mechanical-sounding loudspeaker MF had ever heard. JA was equally impressed. (Vol.33 No.11 Read Review Online)

Monitor Audio Platinum PL200: $9000/pair
The PL200 is a three-way, reflex-loaded floorstanding loudspeaker using a 2.25"-long magnesium ribbon tweeter, 4" metal-coated-cone midrange driver, and two 6.5" metal-coated woofer cones. Boasting a gracefully curved cabinet made of multiple layers of bonded MDF and an antiresonant front baffle cloaked in Strathspey leather, the PL200 represents outstanding build quality. Though it tended toward “a slight brightness,” the PL200 offered an overall “balanced performance from top to bottom,” with superb soundstaging and high levels of transparency and resolution, said RD. “This is an impressively engineered, beautiful-looking loudspeaker,” JA concluded. (Vol.33 No.4 Read Review Online)

PSB Synchrony One: $5500/pair ✩
The three-way, reflex-loaded Synchrony One is the flagship of a line of seven models from Canadian manufacturer PSB. Manufactured in China, the speaker boasts “world-class” fit’n’finish; its gracefully curved sidewalls are laminated from seven layers of MDF and seamlessly fitted to the speaker’s extruded-aluminum front and rear baffles for an overall “understated elegance.” JA noted “surprisingly deep bass for a relatively small speaker; a neutral, uncolored midrange; smooth, grain-free highs; and superbly stable and accurate stereo imaging.” Compared to the Avalon NP Evolution 2.0, the PSB provided more powerful low frequencies, a more natural midrange, and smoother highs. Set against the Esoteric MG-20, the PSB had a more forward top end and less precise bass, but greater low-frequency extension. Careful room placement and system matching are required to offset the speaker’s “warmish” midbass region. Nonetheless, JA was impressed by its “superb measured performance.” (Vol.31 Nos.4, 7, & 8 Read Review Online)

Sonus Faber Guarneri Evolution: $22,000/pair (stands necessary)
The beautiful Guarneri Evolution is a two-way, port-loaded, stand-mounted loudspeaker with a 1" fabric-dome tweeter and 7" pulp-cone woofer. It measures 16.5" H by 9.25" W by 16.2" D, weighs 40 lbs, and uses an intricate mass-damping system trickled down from SF’s flagship, The Sonus Faber. Though it sounded somewhat congested when used with AD’s 25W Shindo Corton-Charlemagne monoblocks, the Guarneri Evolution produced richly textured, natural tone and delivered detail without edge or glare. “For the listener who delights in the rich, saturated, velvety tones of real instruments and voices, I can think of no more appropriate loudspeaker,” said AD. JA found superb measured performance. Price includes stands; “stand-delete” option saves $2000/pair. (Vol.35 No.1 Read Review Online)

Stenheim Alumine: $12,795/pair (stands necessary)
Add $2275/pair for dedicated stands. See AD’s review in the April 2012 issue.

TAD Compact Reference CR1: $37,000/pair (stands necessary)
Designed by Andrew Jones, this three-way, reflex-loaded, stand-mounted loudspeaker measures 24.7" H by 13.4" W by 17.5" D and weighs just over 100 lbs. It uses an 8" sandwich-cone woofer and a 1.375" beryllium-dome tweeter concentrically mounted with a 6.5" beryllium-cone midrange driver, all made by TAD. Finished in a gorgeous piano-gloss wood veneer, the speaker’s enclosure includes a strong internal framework formed by 0.9"-thick, CNC-machined birch plywood clad with laminated MDF panels. JA: “It lacks the very lowest octave and is balanced a tad forward, but in all other respects it represents the state of the art of loudspeaker design and sound.” Matching stands add $3600/pair. (Vol.35 No.1 Read Review Online)

Thiel CS3.7: $13,900/pair ✩
The three-way CS3.7 has a sloped baffle and a curved body constructed of 15 layers of laminated hardwood capped by a cast-aluminum nacelle meant to reinforce the cabinet’s strength and optimize diffraction. A coincidentally arranged midrange-tweeter assembly is mounted above a 10" woofer and a 10" passive radiator; the midrange driver’s aluminum diaphragm is flattened and corrugated for exceptional strength and resistance to voice-coil forces. The CS3.7 “was a wizard at conveying subtle rhythmic information” and was “hyperarticulate” while never sounding bright, said Wes. Compared to the far more expensive Vivid G1Giya, the Thiel CS3.7 delivered a smaller soundstage and had limited bass extension and timbral richness, said WP. Compared to the Vienna Acoustics Klimt The Kiss, the CS3.7 had slightly more bass slam and propulsion, but lacked The Kiss’s seamless and relaxed mid-to-high-frequency response, said WP. This Thiel requires at least 150Wpc to sound its best and lacked some impact in the bottom octave, but, WP concluded, “I loved, loved, loved the Thiel CS3.7.” (Vol.31 No.12, Vol.33 Nos.2 & 7 Read Review Online)

Verity Audio Leonore: $15,995/pair
The latest Verity Audio speaker has a claimed sensitivity of 93dB and a nominal impedance of 8 ohms; it uses a new SB Acoustics 1" ring-dome tweeter, two 6.5" SEAS woofers, and a 5" mineral-doped polypropylene midrange driver. Though the Leonore lacked some low-end extension, it offered “tight, taut, tuneful” bass definition, “crisp, clear, extended” treble, and “fantastic soundstaging and imaging abilities,” said Sam. “The Leonore let the music come through, always showing off the strengths of a good recording, never making a less-good recording sound worse.” Price is for piano black finish; high-gloss wood adds $1000/pair. (Vol.32 No.12)

Vienna Acoustics Klimt The Kiss: $15,000/pair (stands included)
Exquisitely constructed and beautifully finished in Piano Black or Sapele, The Kiss is a three-way loudspeaker with an integral stand and two separate enclosures, complete with micrometer adjustment of both vertical and horizontal axes. A 1" center-vented silk-dome tweeter coincident with a 7" proprietary Flat-Spider-Cone midrange is mounted in the top enclosure, while a 9" proprietary Spider-Cone woofer resides below. With its seamless presentation, astonishing physicality, and well-extended bottom end, The Kiss was “exquisitely capable of revealing the emotional core” of music, said WP. While there was “much to admire” in the speaker’s measured behavior, JA was bothered by a peak in the low treble. (Vol.33 No.2 Read Review Online)

Vivid B1: $15,000/pair
Big brother to Vivid’s V-1.5 and also designed by Laurence Dickie, the B1 is a three-way floorstander using Vivid’s D26 metal-dome tweeter, D50 metal-dome midrange unit, and two C125 metal-cone woofers. It measures 43" H by 10.4" W by 14.75", weighs 84 lbs, and has an internal volume of 44 liters 1exactly twice that of the V-1.5. Just as coherent as the V-1.5 but with greater bass extension, wider dynamic range, and a larger soundstage, the B1 had a relaxed, smooth, and effortless overall sound. “The B1 is so much more capable a speaker than the V-1.5 that, if you can afford it, the B1 actually represents better value for money,” said JM. Though the B1’s clean, grain-free treble could be “a little too revealing” of brighter recordings, JA appreciated the speaker’s generous bass, natural midrange, superb imaging, and explosive dynamics. (Vol.34 Nos.2 & 10 Read Review Online)

Voxativ Schimmel Ampeggio: $29,750/pair
Made in Germany and imported by Audioarts in NYC, the beautiful Ampeggio uses a single proprietary 7" dual-cone driver with a large, convex surround, designed to accommodate a much greater excursion than the typical Lowther driver. The complex cabinet, designed and voiced in collaboration with Schimmel Pianos, incorporates a series of faceted internal boards for optimal radiation resistance, and houses a twice-folded horn nearly 9' long. The Ampeggio offered the usual Lowther traits of transient speed, spatial presence, dramatic ease, and physical impact, but added deep, well-controlled bass and excellent soundstaging. “A high-efficiency, single-driver loudspeaker for which no excuses need be made,” said AD. JA was impressed by the Voxativ’s superbly flat in-room response and genuine 98dB sensitivity. (Vol.34 No.8 Read Review Online)

Wilson Audio Specialties Sasha W/P: $27,900/pair
Though outwardly similar to the WATT/Puppy 8, the three-way Sasha W/P is very slightly larger overall, for increased bass extension and freedom from upper-bass congestion. All four drivers are proprietary Wilson designs, including a 1" inverted titanium-dome tweeter, sourced from Focal and developed for the MAXX 3, and two 8" woofers, made by ScanSpeak and based on those used in the WATT/Puppy 8. The Sasha W/P has a voltage sensitivity of 91dB and is nominally a 4-ohm load. It distinguished itself as “an open-sounding and exceptionally wide-bandwidth loudspeaker,” with greater clarity and resolving power than Wilson’s Sophia 2, felt AD. The Sasha’s outstanding spatial performance was inextricably tied to its excellent musical flow, good sense of scale, and humanness, Art concluded. With the Sasha, Wilson has finally eliminated the upper-bass “blump” endemic to earlier generations of the WATT/Puppy, confirmed JA. (Vol.33 No.7 Read Review Online)

Wilson Audio Specialties Sophia Series 3: $17,600/pair
The latest Sophia is a three-way, reflex-loaded floorstander with a 1" inverted titanium-dome tweeter, a 7" pulp/composite-cone midrange driver, and a 10" aluminum-cone woofer. Mild creases and angles have been added to the Sophia’s cabinet to increase rigidity and diminish standing waves, and thicker panels of Wilson’s dense phenolic X material are used for the main walls. Like the Sophia 2, the new model was spatially stunning, sonically explicit, and musically expressive, with good drama and scale, high transparency, and low coloration, but with greater openness and resolution of detail. AD: “The Sophia 3 is a new and fine example of Wilson’s modern thinking: a true high-fidelity device that’s also capable of sounding beautiful.” (Vol.34 No.2 Read Review Online)


Atlantic Technology AT-1: $3000/pair $$$
Designed in the US and made in China, the two-way, floorstanding AT-1 is finished in an attractive metallic black-gloss and exhibits levels of fit, finish, and build quality far beyond its modest price. It uses a 1.1" silk-dome tweeter nestled between two 5.25" graphite-loaded homopolymer-cone woofers, as well as Atlantic’s new Hybrid-Pressure Acceleration System (H-PAS) bass-venting technology, which combines aspects of horn, transmission-line, and reflex designs for taut, extended bass. Though it lacked top-end air and extension, the AT-1 matched its powerful low end with a colorful, open midrange and immersive soundstage, said EL. JA was impressed by the speaker’s superbly flat frequency response and surprisingly extended low frequencies. (Vol.34 No.9 Read Review Online)

Audio Note AN-E/SPe HE: $8475/pair ✩ (stands necessary)
This latest revision of Audio Note’s AN-E design uses the same 1" tweeter found in earlier models, but a new 8" hemp-cone woofer. Its intentionally thin-walled, minimally damped cabinet is made of Russian birch plywood and veneered on all surfaces. Despite a “mild darkness” in the midrange, the AN-E/SPe HE was “a remarkably good retriever of detail,” said Art. Compared to the more expensive Lexus Signature, the SPe HE was less colored and had a better sense of musical flow. “It does a better job than most of really connecting the listener with the dramatic, intellectual, and emotional intensities captured in every groove,” AD concluded. “Class A!!!” he recommends, with all three exclamation points. Close placement to the wall behind them is recommended to extend the low frequencies and increase the midbass level, though this may sacrifice lower-midrange smoothness. JA felt the Audio Note sounded cleaner and better defined in the bass than the Harbeth M40.1, but was bothered by a “slight cupped-hands coloration” and a “rather lean lower midrange,” hence a Class B rating. Matching 10" stands costs $600/pair. (Vol.31 Nos.8 & 11 Read Review Online)

Burmester B25: $12,995/pair ✩
The B25 takes technology from Burmester’s flagship B100 and places it in a smaller package. It follows Burmester’s usual three-way configuration of tweeter, midrange, and side-firing woofer with rear-panel bass-reflex port. Though its cabinet had some audible resonances and its optimal sweet spot for imaging was small, the B25 offered the same stable, well-defined images, clear and grain-free highs, and midrange naturalness found in Burmester’s more expensive models, decided LG. Though the B25’s cabinet was lively, JA noted “excellent speaker engineering and equally excellent sound quality.” (Vol.32 No.1 Read Review Online)

DeVore Fidelity Gibbon Nine: $7000/pair ✩
The 2.5-way, bass-reflex Gibbon Nine is a narrow, medium-size floorstander (38" tall) with a nominal impedance of 8 ohms, 91dB sensitivity, bass extension down to 31Hz, and a relatively high degree of placement flexibility. Though they lacked the size and impact of AD’s Audio Note AN-E/SPe HE speakers, the DeVores were “wonderfully nuanced” and delivered an “enjoyably human and non-mechanical sound.” Said Art, “The Nine’s greatest strength was its multitude of strengths,” and “It had more drama and sheer humanity than I’ve ever heard from such an outwardly conventional loudspeaker.” Jim Austin noted the Nine’s “total absence of annoying or fatiguing qualities” and, like AD, praised the speaker’s ability to communicate human emotion. (Vol.30 No.12, Vol.32 No.5 Read Review Online)

Focal Chorus 826W Prestige Edition: $3699/pair $$$
“The 862W uses a new woofer with the W composite sandwich cone technology” Originally called the 30th Anniversary edition, the Chorus 826W is a floorstanding three-way design featuring a 1" aluminum-magnesium inverted-dome tweeter, a 6.5" cone midrange, and two 6.5" cone bass drivers. For bass impact it uses two ports, one down- and one front-firing. The main upgrade over the standard 826V is the use of Focal’s W-sandwich driver construction, trickled down from Focal’s more expensive models. Though it lacked the imaging precision of more expensive speakers, the 826W produced a spacious sound with impressive dynamics and powerful bass, said RD. Removing the tweeter grilles resulted in greater clarity and image specificity. (Vol.33 No.11 Read Review Online)

GoldenEar Technology Triton Two: $2999.98/pair $$$
Designed by industry veteran Sandy Gross and made in China, the Triton Two is a three-way floorstander with a unique array of drive-units: a High-Velocity Folded Ribbon tweeter, two 4.5" midrange cones, two 7" by 10" passive radiators, and two 5" by 9" cone woofers powered by a 1200W class-D amplifier. The speaker’s slim cabinet is made of high-density Medite, features a separate subenclosure for the midrange drivers, and is covered in black cloth. Though it exhibited some box colorations when pushed too loud, the Triton Two offered sweet, detailed highs, an uncolored midrange, well-extended lows, and excellent dynamics, said RD. JA is working on a Follow-Up. (Vol.35 No.2 Read Review Online)

KEF Q900: $1598.98/pair
The largest model in KEF’s affordably priced Q series stands 3.5' H by 14.1" W by 12.7" D, weighs almost 50 lbs, and rests on a sturdy, spiked plinth. In addition to KEF’s 8" Uni-Q coaxial driver, which includes a large (1.5") tweeter with a Tangerine waveguide, the 2.5-way Q900 uses an 8" woofer and two 8" passive radiators. Though the Q900 lacked the bass impact of the larger B&W 800 Diamond, it matched a clean, detailed treble with deep, taut bass and a stable, spacious soundstage, said KR. JA noted superb measured performance, and was impressed by the Uni-Q driver’s uniform dispersion. (Vol.34 No.9 Read Review Online)

Linn Majik 140: $2995/pair
The four-way Majik 140 uses a 0.75" fabric-dome supertweeter, a 1.17" polyurethane elastomer-dome tweeter, and two 6.5" doped-paper-cone mid/woofers. Four pairs of binding posts allow for quad-wiring or -amping, while a pair of foam bungs can be inserted in the speaker’s rear ports for setups where the speakers must be placed flush against walls. BJR was impressed by the Majik 140’s extended highs, uncolored midrange, superb reproduction of transients, and forceful bass. “It doesn’t get much better than this for the money,” he concluded. JA, however, was bothered by the speaker’s lively cabinet and suboptimal integration of the drive-units’ outputs. High-gloss custom finishes are available for an extra $950/pair; optional bases add $580/pair. (Vol.34 No.6 Read Review Online)

Nola Contender: $3600/pair
The Contender is a three-way, reflex-loaded, floor­standing loudspeaker with a 1" silk-dome tweeter and two 6.5" polymer-cone woofers. It measures 44" H by 8" W by 12" D, weighs 50 lbs, and is available in a Piano Black or Piano Cherry finish. Though it lacked some bass impact and sounded compressed when pushed too hard, the Contender impressed BJR with its rich, luscious midrange and smooth, extended treble. JA found good measured performance, but was puzzled by the complex arrangement of the speaker’s bass drivers and their ports. “I can’t help wondering if a more orthodox design using the same drive-units would produce greater low-frequency extension,” he said. (Vol.35 No.1 Read Review Online)

Paradigm Reference Studio 60 v.5: $2398/pair
The Studio 60 v.5 is a compact, two-and-a-half-way floor­stander with a 1" G-PAL, ferrofluid-cooled dome tweeter; 5.5" S-PAL-cone bass/midrange unit; and two 5.5" mineral-filled, polypropylene-cone woofers. Where earlier versions employed a solid phase plug for the mid-woofer, the v.5 uses a dustcap, said to provide increased power handling and driver efficiency while eliminating air chuffing. The speaker had “an open, engaging sound,” with natural highs, impressive low-bass power and extension, and good midrange clarity. “A significant advance on its predecessors,” Kal concluded. JA was similarly impressed by the Paradigm’s measured performance. (Vol.32 No.11 Read Review Online)

PSB Imagine T: $2200/pair ✩ $$$
The Imagine T is a slim, compact floorstander (37.2" tall) that uses two 5.25" woofers and a 1" titanium-dome tweeter. Its gracefully curved cabinet is built up of seven layers of 3mm-thick MDF topped with real-wood veneer. Bass response can be customized by plugging one or both of the speaker’s rear ports. ST noted a deep soundstage, excellent imaging, and electrostatic-like top-to-bottom coherence. KR also commented on the Imagine T’s overall “smoothness and neutrality” and “deep, detailed” soundstage. “I can think of no other speaker in the $2000/pair price range that I’d rate higher,” said Kal. Though the Imagine T couldn’t match the bass performance of the slightly larger Paradigm Reference Studio 60 v.5, the PSB offered greater midrange clarity. JA was similarly impressed, noting “superb measured performance.” (Vol.32 Nos.4, 6, & 11 Read Review Online)

Totem Acoustic Mani-2 Signature: $5500/pair, depending on finish ✩ (stands necessary)
JA’s effusive encomium noted that the Mani-2’s “combination of clean treble, transparent midrange, natural dynamics, and powerful extended bass allowed the speakers to step to one side, allowing the music to communicate in a most effective manner.” While $5295 for a pair of small stand-mounted speakers may not sound like good value, JA pointed out that the Mani-2 produced a sound that belied its price and size, and that it would perform admirably in rooms unsuitable for more physically imposing speakers. 2001 samples of the Mani-2 were marked by a combination of clean treble, natural dynamics, and powerful, extended bass. Again reminiscent of the earlier sample, however, was a low sensitivity and a forward-balanced midrange resulting in “some very-high-frequency ‘wispiness’ on some recordings.” Nevertheless, wrote JA, “The overall balance was expansive and grain-free, aided by an enormous but still well-defined soundstage....A solid Class B loudspeaker.” 2009 samples of the Mani-2 had “a sweet high end, free of spuriae,” and exhibited measured behavior consistent with that of earlier samples. Though it lacked the natural, detailed midrange of the Acoustic Energy AE1 Mk.III, the Totem offered much greater low-frequency extension, noted JA. (Vol.19 No.2, Vol.24 No.10, Vol.32 No.10 Read Review Online)

Vandersteen Quatro Wood: $10,900/pair ✩
Like the standard Quatro, the Wood is a first-order, four-way design that includes an internal subwoofer with a 250W amp and two 8" carbon-loaded cellulose-cone drivers. It has the same woofer found in the standard Quatro, but uses a tweeter and midrange unit derived from those found in the Vandersteen 5A. The Wood’s handsome cabinet is available in several veneered finishes. Though a slight tonal shift in the Wood’s lower-midrange/upper-midbass region contributed to a “loss of propulsion” in male vocals, female vocals and stringed instruments were presented with purity and transparency. When the speakers were properly positioned, WP felt they offered “deep, tight bass” and a “huge, detailed, transparent soundstage.” That anomalous lower-midrange performance keeps this otherwise fine speaker from Class A, feels JA. Mandatory in-line, high-pass filter adds $695/pair single-ended, $795/pair balanced. (Vol.30 No.12 Read Review Online)

Zu Essence: $4000/pair
Now sold factory-direct, the stylish Zu Essence is a two-way, floorstanding loudspeaker using a 10.3" paper-cone woofer with a coincident flared, 4" pulp whizzer. With its claimed 97dB efficiency and 12-ohm nominal impedance, the Essence is designed for use with low-powered amplifiers. Though it had “a slight lack of resolving power,” the Essence “sounded pleasantly up-front” and produced “a very generous” soundfield. Its superb musicality, well-extended bass, and impressive impact made it a good choice for uptempo pop music as well as small-scale classical recordings. The Essence “combines genuinely high efficiency with a level of audiophile performance for which no excuse needs to be made,” concluded AD. (Vol.32 No.10 Read Review Online)

B (Restricted LF)

Aerial Acoustics Model 5B: $2200/pair (stands necessary)
The 5B is a stand-mounted two-way model with a 1" titanium-dome tweeter and a 7.1" woofer-midrange. Mated to the Luxman combo of DU-50 disc player and L-505u integrated amplifier, the 5B’s sound was “smooth and natural, with first-class coherence,” said JM. Compared to the Harbeth HL-3P-ES2, the Aerial had more bass and a more neutral midrange and treble. JM: “Aerial Acoustics’ 5B is probably a more sensible choice as a location monitoring speaker than any descendant of the BBC LS3/5A I’ve heard.” JA was impressed by the 5B’s grain-free high-frequencies, stable stereo imaging, and fine measured performance. “The Aerial Acoustics Model 5B is an overlooked gem,” he said. Compared to the ATC SCM 11, the Model 5B offered a more natural upper midrange, but couldn’t match the ATC’s impressive dynamics and wide soundstage, said JM. Dedicated stands add $700/pair. Rosewood finish adds $300/pair. (Vol.32 Nos.6, 11, & 12 Read Review Online)

ATC SCM 11: $1700/pair–$1800/pair, depending on finish (stands necessary)
The SCM 11 is a stand-mounted two-way design with a 1" soft-dome tweeter and a 6" mid/woofer. Com­pared to the Aerial Acoustics Model 5B, the SCM 11 provided similarly well-controlled bass, but had a more articulate upper midrange, slightly wider soundstage, and better dynamics. “The ATC SCM 11 is a fully-ready-for-prime-time loudspeaker,” praised JM. JA’s measurements indicated that the speaker will sound best when listened to in the nearfield. (Vol.32 No.12 Read Review Online)

Audience ClairAudient 2+2: $5000/pair (stands necessary)
Made in the USA, the ClairAudient 2+2 is a one-way, crossoverless, stand-mounted loudspeaker. It uses four proprietary, 3", aluminum-alloy cone units (two front-firing, two rear-firing) and a 6" side-mounted passive radiator. The attractive cabinet is constructed of 13-layer Baltic birch ply and sports CNC-machined aluminum front and rear plinths. While the 2+2 lacked high-frequency extension and bass weight, it offered an unusually relaxed overall sound with a purity, a freedom from distortion, and an organic sense of ease that were addictive, said BD. JA, however, was bothered by the resonant behaviors of the speaker’s drive-unit and enclosure and its midrange-forward tonal balance. “A careful audition before purchase will be essential,” he decided. (Vol.34 No.7 Read Review Online)

Canalis Anima: $3250/pair ✩ (stands necessary)
The small, two-way, ported Canalis Anima (originally called the Sonics Anima, then later Spiral Groove Anima) uses a new 0.86" SEAS metal-dome tweeter and a 5.9" anodized-aluminum woofer, and sports a very attractive cabinet of marine-grade plywood and HDF. Carefully placed and with their grilles removed, the Anima revealed “detail and sizzle galore,” with lifelike dynamic impact and energy, for a “tantalizing” experience that kept WP listening late into the night. Though they didn’t go exceedingly deep, their bass performance was taut and true. JA deemed the Anima “a worthy successor” to Gerhard’s popular Audio Physic Step minimonitor. (Vol.30 No.7 Read Review Online; also see MF’s Marantz review in Vol.33 No.4.)

Dynaudio Focus 160: $3000/pair (stands necessary)
The Focus 160 is a small (13.8" H by 7.9" W by 11.6" D), two-way, stand-mounted loudspeaker with high-quality Dynaudio drivers: a 1.1" soft-dome tweeter based on the Esotar2, and a 6.7" mid/woofer that uses a one-piece cone of magnesium silicate-impregnated polymer. The available finishes are Walnut, Black Ash, Rosewood, Maple, and Black or White Gloss Lacquer. The Focus 160 offered a relaxed, refined, exceptionally spacious sound with extraordinary low-level resolution of ambient information, said ST. “Once again, Dynaudio has done it,” he concluded. (Vol.35 No.1)

Dynaudio Excite X12: $1200/pair $$$ (stands necessary)
Price is for real-wood veneers; add $75 for high-gloss black or white. The entry-level speaker of Dynaudio’s Excite series is a rear-ported, two-way design with a 1" silk-dome tweeter and a 5.7" magnesium-silicate polymer-cone woofer. Its attractive cabinet is available in real-wood veneers of Maple, Cherry, Rosewood, or Black Ash; high-gloss white or black add $75/pair. The X12 combined an airy treble, rich midrange, and realistic bass with a top-to-bottom rightness of timbral reproduction for a seductive overall sound. “With the Dynaudio Excite X12, there are no tradeoffs. It sets a high standard of excellence in every meaningful sonic parameter, whether in absolute terms or with respect to its price and size,” raved BJR. JA agreed: “A well-engineered speaker like this makes it hard to justify spending more on a bookshelf speaker unless you can afford one of the cost-no-object models.” “Oh man, is this speaker ever good!” exclaims ST. “Far better resolution and way better tonal quality than you have any right to expect for the money.” (Vol.33 No.3 Read Review Online)

Gradient Helsinki 1.5: $6500/pair
Central to the unusual-looking Helsinki 1.5 is its flat, multi-ply frame, which is carved into a graceful shape that tapers from bottom to top. A sheet of glass bolted to the rear of this frame forms a dorsal fin that mitigates dipole cancellation from the output of the side-firing 12" woofer. A 5" midrange driver and 0.75" tweeter are mounted to the face of the frame and complete the three-way design. Signal connections are made through a Neutrik Speakon socket. Tremendous care in positioning was required to achieve optimal performance in AD’s room, but once properly positioned, the Helsinkis had a textured and substantial sound with a remarkable sense of spaciousness and a fine sense of melodic flow, though they lacked bass, body, and presence. “A must-hear for anyone with a taste for hi-fi adventure,” decided Art. Properly positioned in JA’s listening room, the Helsinki 1.5 sounded a little dark on top and a little bright in the low treble, but with a natural-sounding midrange, well-focused imaging, and fairly good low-frequency extension and weight. (Vol.33 Nos.8 & 11 Read Review Online)

Harbeth C7ES-3: $3650/pair ✩ (stands necessary)
Bigger than a minimonitor but smaller than a floor­stander, the third iteration of the C7 is 20.3" H by 10.6" W by 12.3" D. It uses the traditional BBC-style thin-walled cabinet, and is tuned to deliver a rich, full-bodied sound at the lowest frequencies. Refinements over previous Compact models include improved cabinet wall damping and a completely redesigned crossover. With “phenomenally precise” focusing and “crazy” imaging, the Compact 7 was “one of the most musically satisfying loudspeakers” in ST’s experience. “A treat for sore ears and one of Sam’s favorite speakers ever,” he tells us. “Damn those audiophiles. This Harbeth is for music lovers!” “Something of a spiritual bond can arise between a Harbeth owner and the Harbeth owned,” claimed Sam. He should know; he bought a pair of C7ES-3s. “The classic BBC sound.” (Vol.30 No.6, Vol.31 No.6, Vol.32 No.4)

Harbeth P3ESR: $2095/pair (stands necessary)
The two-way, sealed-cabinet P3ESR stands just 12" tall and partners a 0.75" tweeter with a 5" woofer, the latter using Harbeth’s proprietary, patented Radial2 material for improved clarity and low-level resolution. Though restricted in loudness and bass extension, the P3ESR had a slightly warm overall balance characterized by smooth highs, an uncolored midrange, and stable and accurate stereo imaging. “The Harbeth P3ESR is the best iteration yet from any manufacturer of the BBC LS3/5A minimonitor concept,” concluded JA. Further evaluation by JA confirmed this speaker’s uncolored midrange, smooth highs, well-defined if somewhat lightweight lows, and coherent overall sound, even when driven to high levels. The littlest Harbeth also gets the strongest recommendation from JM. While its lack of low and midbass disqualified it for most rock and large-scale orchestral performances, felt BD, the Harbeth’s incredible midrange clarity and detail made it an outstanding choice for small, intimate works. Rosewood, Black Ash, and Eucalyptus finishes add $100/pair. (Vol.33 Nos.8 & 10, Vol.34 No.7 Read Review Online)

Linn Majik 109: $1590/pair (stands necessary)
The small, beautifully finished Majik 109 uses a 0.75" supertweeter and 1.2" tweeter mounted directly in front of a reflex port; a 5" paper woofer completes the driver complement. Though its low bass and overall dynamics were limited, the Majik 109 offered fine midrange neutrality and superb resolution of low-level detail. BJR was most impressed by the speaker’s “intoxicating” highs and “lightning-fast” transients. “I was thrilled with every minute I spent with the Linn Majik 109,” he said. (Vol.32 No.5 Read Review Online)

PMC DB1i: $2099/pair (stands necessary)
The PMC DB1i is a two-way, biwirable, transmission-line loudspeaker with a 1.1" Sonolex-dome tweeter and a 5.5" cone woofer of doped paper. It measures just 11.4" H by 6.1" W by 9.2" D and weighs 9.9 lbs, but its smooth response belied its small size. Though Mikey noted a presence-region boost that “added a delicate glisten” to the high frequencies, the DB1i’s treble was otherwise “clean, fast, and delicately expressed”; and while the speaker could sound “strained and uncomfortable” when played too loud, it offered “satisfying bass,” a “subjectively smooth and coherent” midrange, and “a spacious, three-dimensional picture with transparency and depth.” MF: “The PMC DB1i is a cannily designed, musically satisfying minimonitor.” BJR appreciated the DB1i’s uncolored midrange bloom and its lifelike bass reproduction, but felt it couldn’t match the frequency extension or inner detail of the Dynaudio Excite X12. (Vol.32 No.12, Vol.33 No.4 Read Review Online)

ProAc Response D Two: $3500/pair (stands necessary)
ProAc’s Response D Two is a standmounted, two-way, front-ported design using a 1" silk-dome tweeter and a woofer with a 6.5" glass-fiber cone and copper phase plug; both drivers are proprietary. Its thin-walled cabinet is made of birch plywood and rigidly damped; the woodwork and build quality were excellent. The ProAc’s truthful, revealing sound was marked by great clarity and speed, said JM. Compared to the Harbeth P3ESR, the ProAc offered greater frequency extension and detail, and a taller, wider soundstage, but had a thinner midrange. “A tough call deciding on a rating,” says JM, but he recommends Class C. JA feels the speaker has greater potential than that, hence the Class B rating. JA’s measurements uncovered a well-engineered design with “a touch of the British-monitor bump in the upper bass.” (Vol.33 Nos. 6 & 7 Read Review Online)

ProAc Tablette Anniversary: $2200/pair (stands necessary)
The ninth iteration of the two-way, reflex-loaded Tablette measures 10.6" H by 5.8" W by 9.25" D, weighs 11 lbs, and is available in a wide range of real-wood veneers. It uses proprietary drivers: a 5.8" bass/midrange unit with a polymer-impregnated Kevlar cone and a 0.75" silk-dome tweeter. More refined than previous models but with a similarly “gutsy” overall sound, the extremely room-friendly Tablette lacked bass weight, but provided pinpoint imaging and outstanding transparency, said ST. “The Tablette Anniversary is one of the world’s great loudspeakers: a classic, an icon, a small miracle,” he concluded. (Vol.34 No.12)

Spendor SA1: $2595/pair (stands necessary)
Designed under the supervision of Philip Swift, the current SA1 has little in common with the original Spencer Hughes design other than its high quality. Today’s version is a two-way, sealed-box model with a 22mm soft-dome tweeter and a 6" ep38 plastic-cone woofer crossed over at an unusually high 4.8kHz. Though it lacked some top-octave air, the Spendor sounded “smooth and uncolored” and had “enough upper-bass energy to convey a sense of weight” while providing a “huge but stable, well-defined soundstage,” said JA. Though the SA1 sounded mellow in comparison to the Acoustic Energy AE1 Mk.III, it was also more forgiving of recordings that were overcooked in the highs, said JA. “Spendor’s SA1 offers superbly musical reproduction from a surprisingly small package.” (Vol.32 Nos.8 & 10 Read Review Online)

Totem Model 1 Signature: $2550/pair ✩ (stands necessary)
An improved parts package marks the difference between the Model 1 and the Signature version. LG writes of “astonishing LF response for such a small speaker, with improved reproduction of vocal music, dynamics, soundstaging, and bass response [compared to] the original.” It also, he says, “plays louder and overloads more gracefully than the manufacturer’s larger, more expensive Tabu loudspeaker.” He admired the Model 1’s ($1595/pair) “smooth, sweet highs, strong dynamics, palpable three-dimensional imaging, and strong bass response.” Although he cited an on-axis upper-midrange prominence, he also liked their “tight, solid, rhythmic bass and palpable imaging.” The 2003 version of the Model 1 adds improved encapsulated silver wiring and larger, polypropylene-bypassed capacitors. LG: “The wiring and capacitor upgrades have improved the speaker’s overload characteristics, its midrange reproduction of vocal music has become more involving, and the soundstage now extends from wall to wall of my listening room.” The treble remained rolled-off and sweet, while the deepest bass notes lacked some mass. JA was similarly impressed by the Totem’s clarity and stable, well-defined imaging, but felt that the speaker’s high frequencies were sometimes a bit too mellow. (Vol.16 No.4, Model 1; Vol.21 No.1, Vol.26 No.4, Vol.31 No.10, Signature Model 1 Read Review Online)

Triangle 30th Anniversary Comète: $1795/pair (stands necessary)
Developed to celebrate Triangle’s 30th anniversary in 2010, the limited-edition Comète is a simple two-way, bass-reflex design with two front-firing ports. Like the speakers in Triangle’s flagship Magellan series, the Comète 30th Anniversary is finished in a beautiful piano-black lacquer and includes Triangle’s titanium-dome TZ2500 tweeter. The Comète retained the speed, resolution, and immediacy of other Triangle speakers, while adding a more refined and relaxed upper midrange and treble. Partnered with ST’s 3.5Wpc Sun Audio SV-2A3 tube amp, the Comète exhibited outstanding dynamics and superb tonality. “It’s a great speaker. Period,” said Sam. “Hurry up and buy a pair before they’re gone.” (Vol.34 No.2)

Vivid V-1.5: $7650/pair
The V-1.5 is a two-way design with an integral stand and an unusual tapered oblong cabinet for minimizing resonances. It uses the same proprietary tweeter and 6" mid/woofer as the much more expensive Vivid G1 Giya. The V-1.5 combined excellent coherence, low distortion, fast dynamics, and outstanding clarity and resolution for an overall sound that was both neutral and beautiful, said JM. “The best two-way speaker I have heard,” he decided, though JA feels a slight touch of coloration in the upper midrange keeps this otherwise superb floorstander from Class A. (Vol.33 No.10, Vol.34 No.2 Read Review Online)

C (Full-Range)

ATC SCM 40: $4000/pair–$4300/pair, depending on finish
Built in the UK and representing the top of ATC’s entry-level line, the SCM 40 is a three-way, sealed-box floorstander. The solid, compact (38" H by 9" W by 12" D) cabinet is handsomely finished in cherry veneer and houses the same 3" dome midrange found in ATC’s most expensive speakers. Though it couldn’t match the holographic spatial effects of the Harbeth P3ESR, the SCM 40 produced unusually well-controlled, well-defined bass and was always emotionally engaging. “An almost amazing value for the money,” concluded JM, but cautions that it is not quite as coherent as the smaller SCM 11. (Vol.33 No.4 Read Review Online)

Direct Acoustics Silent Speaker II: $748/pair
Designed by Winslow Burhoe and available by mail-order only, the two-way, floorstanding Silent Speaker II is a wide, rectangular box whose top panel is raked at an angle of about 22° and holds a 6.5" woofer and a 1" soft-dome tweeter. Available in modest black ash and with a dated, DIY appearance, the Silent Speaker II measures 22" H (front) by 25" H (rear) by 13.5" W by 9" D. Although particularly sensitive to associated electronics, the Silent Speaker II had outstanding bass and a coherent overall sound. “I could live with these speakers,” decided JM. For optimal performance, they must be used with their grilles in place, he advised. “A very well-balanced design at an affordable price, with a totality of performance that exceeds the sum of its parts,” praised JA. (Vol.34 Nos.6 & 7 Read Review Online)

PSB Image T6: $1300/pair $$$
Using technology trickled down from PSB’s Synchrony and Imagine lines, the Image T6 is a compact three-way floorstander with a 1" titanium-dome tweeter, 5.25" midrange unit, and two 6.5" woofers housed in an attractive, well-finished cabinet. Though careful placement was necessary to offset their slightly tipped-up treble, the T6s offered generous bass extension, thrilling impact, and a spacious soundstage with remarkably solid center images, said Kal. “This is an absolutely wonderful full-range speaker,” he concluded. JA was also impressed: “Its measured performance is almost without peer in this price region. This is a speaker you must hear.” (Vol.33 Nos.3 & 7 Read Review Online)

Sonist Concerto 3: $3495/pair ✩
The two-way, reflex-loaded Concerto 3 has a claimed voltage sensitivity of 95dB/W/m, and uses a 2.6"-tall Fountek JP3.0 ribbon tweeter and an 8" paper-cone woofer. Its handsome cabinet is constructed mostly of 1"-thick Medite but with a front baffle machined from 1.75"-thick poplar. The Concerto 3’s bass performance was fine overall, with satisfying deep-bass extension and power, although very deep bass notes in orchestral music sometimes sounded “slightly boomy.” While the treble range was “very slightly grainy,” Art could detect no midrange colorations. JA’s measurements, however, revealed strong upper-frequency resonances in the port’s output and a severe breakup mode at the top of the woofer’s passband. “All-wood version” ($4195/pair, not auditioned) has 1" thick solid-poplar cabinet panels. (Vol.32 No.4 Read Review Online)

Totem Acoustic Forest: $3950/pair ✩
Two-way, 3'-high tower loudspeaker. The Claw is standard; a self-centering ball-bearing support is available separately for $395/set of 6, as is the optional Beak Tuning Pod ($125/pair). LG found that the Forest produced clean bass down to 40Hz in his room. The sound was generally “solid, transparent, and dynamic without being edgy, and the bass response was controlled and eminently detailed.” He also thought the midrange was “very seductive; it excelled with vocal, clarinet, and piano recordings, voices and instruments floating free of the speaker positions...[and] provided a wealth of musical detail, making it easier to delineate spatial positions.” The Forests’ imaging, LG found, was first-rate, with a wide, deep soundstage, even though the sweet spot was small. JA noted an occasional lack of clarity in the lower midrange that was easily corrected by filling the speaker’s lower compartment with damping material. “Its sonic performance is simply superb. . . . A contender for audiophiles with smaller listening rooms.” However, the Forest’s forward treble made poor recordings more difficult to listen to, but added air and detail to well-recorded material, found EL. Though imaging was greatly improved by filling their cabinets with sand, EL never got the Forests to achieve the holographic soundstaging noted by LG. Experimentation with Totem’s Beaks had no effect on the sound. “Worth a listen,” but consider the alternatives, EL concluded. Current production samples measured nearly identically to samples from 2001 and 2005, affirming the consistency of Totem’s manufacturing. Due to the speaker’s midrange resonances, owners are encouraged to fill the lower cavities with sand, and potential owners are strongly advised to ensure that the speakers are properly mass-loaded before auditioning or buying. (Vol.24 No.4, Vol.28 No.9, Vol.33 Nos.1 & 4 Read Review Online)

C (Restricted LF)

Audioengine 5+: $399/pair (stands necessary)
The Audioengine 5 powered speakers come packed in attractive cloth drawstring bags, and include several convenient accessories: an AC power cable, miniplug interconnects in lengths of 2m and 8", a miniplug-to-RCA Y-cable, a 1m USB cable, and a 2m length of simple speaker cable. Each A5 cabinet is made of 25mm-thick MDF, measures 10" H by 7" W by 7.75" D, and houses a 20mm silk-dome tweeter and a 5" Kevlar-cone woofer. The left speaker enclosure contains a 50Wpc dual class-AB monolithic amplifier, as well as the power button, volume knob, iPod charging port, and an Aux AC outlet for use with Apple’s Airport Express WiFi hub. Compared to the PSB Alpha B1, the Audioengine lacked some high-frequency detail and delicacy, but offered outstanding bass control, transparency, and drama, said SM. Price is for satin black and high-gloss white finishes; bamboo adds $100. (Vol.34 No.5 Read Review Online)

Chario Premium 1000: $1015/pair (stands necessary)
The Premium 1000 is a two-way, reflex-loaded, stand-mounted loudspeaker with a 1" soft-dome tweeter and 5" pulp-cone woofer. Though it lacked top-end extension and bottom-end weight, the Chario offered “an effortless, uncolored, bloomy quality in the lower midrange.” Its lightning-fast transient articulation was complemented by excellent resolution of low-level detail, said BJR. JA advised careful setup to optimize the speaker’s mid-treble balance. Optional matching stands add $435/pair. (Vol.32 No.10 Read Review Online)

Eminent Technology LFT-16a: $950/pair ✩ $$$ (stands necessary)
This “idiosyncratically charming” three-way design combines a 6.5" paper-cone woofer with a large front-baffle panel containing planar dipole midrange and treble units. Compared with the Renaissance MLP-403.5, the LFT-16a had more clarity in the midrange and treble, and produced a brighter, faster, lighter sound overall, said JM. The ET’s measured performance indicated a sub-optimally engineered lower-frequency crossover, however, decided JA. “Audition with more than the usual care,” he said. (Vol.31 No.10, Vol.32 No.5 Read Review Online)

Epos Epic 2: $799/pair $$$ (stands necessary)
This two-way monitor measures 16.4" H by 8" W by 11" D and comes in a choice of Cherry or Black Ash vinyl veneer over 18mm-thick MDF. It uses a 1" soft-dome tweeter with a neodymium magnet and a 7" polypropylene mid/woofer. Sensitivity is rated as 90dB and nominal impedance as 4 ohms. Though it lacked the resolution and transparency of the much more expensive DeVore Gibbon 3XL, the Epos Epic 2 produced a lively, nonfatiguing sound with a wide, deep soundstage and precise imaging, said ST. BJR was most impressed by the Epic 2’s bass extension and high-level dynamics. JA noted good measured performance. (Vol.34 Nos.11 & 12 Read Review Online)

NHT Classic Absolute Tower: $999.90/pair $$$
The Classic Absolute Tower is a compact (36" H by 5.7" W by 7.25" D), three-way, acoustic-suspension floorstander. It uses a 1" fluid-cooled, aluminum-dome tweeter, a 5.25" polypropylene-cone midrange unit, and two 5.25" polypropylene-cone woofers. The braced MDF cabinet is finished in an attractive piano-black lacquer. The Absolute Tower had a balanced, coherent overall sound with airy highs, a neutral midrange, forceful bass, and outstanding dynamic range, said BJR. Measured performance was also very good, especially considering the speaker’s price, confirmed JA. (Vol.33 No.12 Read Review Online)

Paradigm Reference Studio/20: $1398/pair ✩ (stands necessary)
The Reference Studio/20 is a two-way, front-ported, stand-mounted design with Paradigm’s 1" gold-anodized G-PAL aluminum-dome tweeter and a 7" bass/midrange driver. Due to its “midrange neutrality and superb detail resolution,” the Studio/20 was an ideal choice for voice and piano and tracks. Though it lacked some top-octave air, its overall treble performance was fairly clean and uncolored, and its bass performance was impressively deep and forceful. “I’d never heard so much subjective bottom-end sock from a bookshelf speaker of this size,” praised BJR, deciding that this latest iteration of the Studio/20 is the best yet. These speakers should be used with their grilles on and placed on stands that raise their tweeters to ear level, advised JA. (Vol.31 No.5 Read Review Online)

PSB Imagine B: $1100/pair ✩ $$$ (stands necessary)
PSB’s Imagine B two-way bookshelf model uses a 1" titanium-dome tweeter and a 5.25" polypropylene-cone mid-woofer. With its real-cherrywood veneer and gracefully curved cabinet, the Imagine B offers appearance and fit’n’finish “leagues ahead of its price.” It offered “clarity and listenability in spades” and had “remarkable bass extension and volume,” said JM. Compared to the much more expensive Harbeth HL3P-ES2, the PSB lacked some definition in the bass and treble. Nevertheless, JM concluded, “PSB’s Imagine B is an important loudspeaker.” JA’s measurements indicated that the Imagine B is tuned to be maximally flat, giving no indication of why JM thought the bass a bit plump. “PSB’s Imagine B offers excellent measured performance that is commendable at any price,” said JA. Compared to the Spendor SA1, the PSB had a more colored, less natural midrange, but offered more top-end air and low-bass extension. Though the Imagine B had low-frequency extension and upper-bass clarity to rival the Acoustic Energy AE1 Mk.III, it lacked the British speaker’s natural midrange and vast soundstage, found JA. ST also likes the ‘B. “PSB rules,” he sums up. (Vol.32 Nos.2, 4, 6, 8, & 10 Read Review Online)

PSB Image B6: $550/pair (stands necessary)
Designed using the facilities at Canada’s National Research Council and manufactured under close scrutiny in China, the B6 is the most expensive model in PSB’s Image series. The two-way, port-loaded, biwirable design has a curved and attractively finished cabinet, and uses a ferrofluid-cooled 1" titanium-dome tweeter trickled down from the more expensive Imagine series. Though it lacked extreme low bass and could sound compressed during complex passages of large-scale orchestral works, the B6 produced a revealing and colorless midrange, fairly detailed highs, and fast, forceful transients. The PSB B6 “performs at a level well beyond its price,” said BJR. (Vol.33 No.6 Read Review Online)

Rethm Trishna: $4950/pair
Made in India and designed by architect Jacob George, the crossoverless Trishna has a rated sensitivity of 96dB, a nominal impedance of 8 ohms, and measures 39" H by 6.6" W by 14.4" D. A top-mounted horizontal cylinder accommodates the speaker’s 5" paper-cone driver and rear-wave horn, while a sealed isobaric bass chamber holds two 6.5" paper-cone woofers, these powered by a solid-state FET amplifier at the speaker’s base. Despite its elevated upper midrange and inability to play loud, the Trishna had a compelling and immediate sound, with lots of low-level detail, exceptional resolution, and clean, tight bass, said ST, adding “Amazing how Rethm can “wrest” (heh, heh) such smooth and relatively uncolored sound from a single full-range driver.” The appeal here is coherence, a purity of sound that ST ascribes to a full-range driver. Best for smaller rooms and moderate listening levels, he cautions. (Vol.34 No.7)

Thiel SCS4T: $3690/pair
Like Thiel’s SCS4 monitor, the SCS4T floorstander uses a coaxially mounted tweeter and woofer designed in conjunction with a first-order crossover to maintain coherence in the time domain. The SCS4T’s internal volume is exactly the same as that of the much smaller SCS4 monitor, the bottom third of the tower’s attractive enclosure functioning as a hollow, integrated stand. Though it had a nicely extended treble and was able to throw a large soundstage, the SCS4T lacked body in the upper bass, and clarity and articulation from the bass through the midrange, said EL. JA’s tests revealed a lively enclosure and an excess of in-room energy between 500Hz and 1kHz. Some disagreement among the reviewing team, with BD recommending Class B for the Thiel, EL a lower rating. Price is for Black Ash and Dark Cherry finishes; Natural Cherry costs $3890/pair. (Vol.34 No.7 Read Review Online)

Totem Dreamcatcher: $625/pair (stands necessary)
Designed and manufactured in Canada, the Dreamcatcher is a small (11.3" H by 5.1" W by 7.1" D, 5.5 lbs), two-way, rear-ported minimonitor with a 1" titanium-dome tweeter and a 4" long-throw woofer. Though its bass extension and high-level dynamic slam were limited, the Totem produced a clean, detailed midrange; pristine, extended highs; and lightning-fast transients, for a startling level of realism, said BJR. “Of all the speakers I’ve reviewed in the past 28 years, I have never enjoyed music more through anything else, regardless of price,” he gushed. JA, however, was disappointed by the Dreamcatcher’s measured performance, citing strong port resonances and elevated top octaves. Price is for Black Ash and Mahogany finishes; Cherry adds $50/pair, White $75/pair. (Vol.34 No.5 Read Review Online)

Triangle Bookshelf Color: $895/pair $$$ (stands necessary)
Available in stunning finishes of white, black, or red lacquer, the Bookshelf Color is a simple two-way design with a rear-firing port, a 1" titanium-dome tweeter, and a 6" doped-paper-cone low-frequency driver. Though it lacked the low-level resolution, bass extension, and overall refinement of the more expensive Dynaudio Excite X12, the Bookshelf Color had an easy, almost laid-back overall sound, with excellent imaging and a deep, wide soundstage, said ST, though he warns that the Bookshelf is “Slightly pricey for the performance offered.” (Vol.34 No.6)


Audioengine 2: $199/pair ✩ $$$ (stands optional)
The powered, reflex-loaded Audioengine 2, designed for use on desktops and in offices and bedrooms, can fit in the palm of one hand. It uses a 20mm silk-dome tweeter and a 2.75" Kevlar-cone woofer in a black or white gloss cabinet measuring just 6" H by 4" W by 5.25" D. Its small size made it extremely versatile, portable, and fun. At reasonable volume levels, both indoors and out, the Audioengines provided a wide, deep soundstage with impressive image specificity and drama. BJR raved: “The level of sound quality produced by this uncolored, detailed, articulate, and dynamic speaker, in all situations, was beyond reproach.” Though JA noted some distortion on high-level tones at low frequencies, due to the built-in equalization causing the woofer to work hard, he was impressed by the Audioengine’s level of engineering and the quality of its fit’n’finish. (Vol.30 No.12 Read Review Online)

Boston Acoustics A 25: $299.98/pair (stands necessary)
The two-way A 25 measures 10.7" H by 7.25" W by 8.9" D, weighs 10 lbs, and uses Boston’s 1" Kortec soft-dome tweeter and a 5.25" mid/woofer with a cone of ceramic and glass-fiber polymer. It has scratch-resistant, high-gloss side panels; all other surfaces are covered in a textured veneer reminiscent of faux leather, giving the A 25 a purposeful, no-nonsense look. Though it lacked the PSB Alpha B1’s drama and scale, the A 25 offered a balanced, coherent sound with impressive top-to-bottom control and stable stereo imaging. “The A 25 had a fine way of balancing accuracy and musicality for an enriching and fatigue-free listening experience,” said SM. JA noted excellent measured performance. (Vol.34 No.11, Vol.35 No.3 Read Review Online)

Mordaunt-Short Carnival 2: $349/pair (stands necessary)
The small, double-ported Carnival 2 is available in black or calvados cabinets, and has a 5.5" woven composite woofer and a 1" soft fabric dome tweeter. Rated sensitivity is 90dB. Though it lacked deep bass and had “a certain roughness in the upper midrange,” the Carnival had a “surprisingly sweet” treble and “imaged like crazy,” said ST. “Buy a pair just for fun,” he recommended, adding that he “Love that soft-dome tweeter!” (Vol.32 No.8)

PSB Alpha B1: $300/pair ✩ $$$ (stands necessary)
The unassuming B1, the latest version of PSB’s best-selling Alpha speaker, has molded plastic front and rear baffles connected by an MDF sleeve, and combines a 51⁄4", injection-molded, polypropylene-cone woofer with a 3⁄4" ferrofluid-cooled, aluminum-dome tweeter, both sourced from India. Low-bass extension was limited, and the speaker’s otherwise clean, clear bass tone became muddied at very high volumes. Though high frequencies were slightly veiled, the B1’s midrange was superb. JA was most impressed by the Alpha’s talent for orchestral music: “If you are a classical-music lover with a small room and an equally small budget, a pair of PSB’s Alpha B1s is just what you need...Extraordinary value.” Though the B1s lent more drama to bass and drums, they couldn’t quite match the Paradigm Atom v.5’s treble performance, felt WP. JA feels the PSB’s treble to be more naturally balanced, however. One of SM’s long-term references. Compared to the Wharfedale Diamond 10.1, the PSBs exhibited a more forward balance, occasional brightness in the mid-treble, grittier brass textures, and a slight lack of overall clarity, found SM. (Vol.30 Nos.5 & 9, Vol.34 No.4 Read Review Online)

Wharfedale Diamond 10.1: $350/pair (stands necessary)
The Diamond 10.1 is a simple, two-way, stand-mounted design with a 1" soft-dome tweeter, a 5" Kevlar-cone mid/bass driver, and two rear-firing ports. Its gorgeous cabinet is gracefully curved, widening at the center and tapering toward the rear to both minimize internal standing waves and enhance the speaker’s fine appearance. The Diamond 10.1 had a relaxed, coherent overall sound, with a wide, deep soundstage, airy highs, a liquid midrange, and excellent low-level resolution. Compared to the PSB Alpha B1, the Wharfe­dale lacked transient speed but offered greater clarity and resolution, said SM. BJR was impressed by the Wharfedale’s extended highs, detailed midrange, and clean bass. “The 10.1 presents extraordinary value for money,” he concluded. JA noted superb measured performance. (Vol.34 Nos.2 & 4 Read Review Online)


Energy CB-10: $269.99/pair (stands necessary)
The small (11.4" H by 7.1" W by 8.5" D), two-way CB-10 has a high-gloss black baffle, a modest cabinet veneered in Black Ash, and gold-plated five-way binding posts. It uses a 1" aluminum-dome tweeter and 5.5" woofer with a ribbed elliptical surround; a large rear-firing port has an internal diameter of 2" and flares out to 2.75". Though the CB-10 performed well with loud rock music, the speaker lacked precision, control, and clarity, especially in the bass and treble, said SM. The Energy’s measured performance was dominated by a port resonance in the upper midrange and an adjacent peak in its on-axis response, said JA. (Vol.34 No.11, Vol.35 No.3 Read Review Online)

Klipsch Synergy B-20: $280/pair (stands necessary)
The two-way, bass-reflex Synergy B-20 uses a 5.25" magnetically shielded mid/woofer with a cone of injection-molded graphite and a 0.75" aluminum-diaphragm compression driver mated to one of Klipsch’s 90° by 60° Tractrix horns. While it lacked the bass weight and control of the Audioengine 5 and the midrange clarity of the PSB Alpha B1, the Synergy B-20 had a vibrant overall sound, with fast attacks, fine detail, and precisely placed images. Its blend of high-frequency clarity and extension was initially impressive, but over time proved unforgiving to poorly recorded material, decided SM. (Vol.34 No.6 Read Review Online)

NHT SuperZero 2.0: $198/pair (stands necessary)
The room-friendly SuperZero 2.0 measures 9" H by 5" W by 5.5" D, weighs just six lbs, and comes in an attractive, black-gloss laminate. It uses a 4.5" long-throw pulp-cone woofer and a 1" silk-dome tweeter in a sealed enclosure. At both extremely high and low levels, the SuperZero 2.0 offered impressive speed and clarity, outstanding stereo imaging, and excellent resolution of low-level detail, but produced almost no bass whatsoever, said SM. For best results, the SuperZero must be used with a subwoofer, such as NHT’s Super 8 ($349). Package price of SuperZero 2.0 and Super 8 sub is $500. (Vol.34 No.10 Read Review Online)


Adam Audio Classic Column Mk.3, Wilson Duette, KEF Blade, Epos Encore 50, Vivid K-1, Quad-ESL2805.


Esoteric MG-20, Magico V3, Pioneer SP-BS41-LR, discontinued; Dynaudio Confidence C1, Epos M5i, Epos M16i, Paradigm Atom v.6, YG Acoustics Anat II Professional replaced by new versions not yet reviewed; Cabasse La Sphere: no longer available in the US; Aurum Cantus V2M, Avalon Acoustics Indra, Chario Academy Sovran, Definitive Technology Mythos STS SuperTower, Polk RTiA1, ProAc Response D28, Sonus Faber Cremona Elipsa, Vandersteen Quatro, Verity Audio Parsifal Ovation, all not auditioned in too long a time.

Martin Osborne's picture

I understand that this is part of 'what you do', but thanks for bringing this altogther in one place - a lot of work has gone into it and I for one appreciate it. 



JItterjaber's picture

Making your product recommendations available to the digital generation will certainly help more people see your publication.  Thanks for trying to keep current!


Ajani's picture

This is a really good move! I know a lot of online users have been hoping and waiting for the recommended components to be released on the website. 

smittyman's picture

I've always appreciated how much content Stereophile makes available on this site.  I also always figured that Recommended Components was something that was held off the website to give us some incentive to purchase the magazine in either paper or on line form so I was really pleased to see this added.

soulful.terrain's picture


 This is great!  Thanks to all the staff for putting this valuable info together for us neophytes like myself. ;-)

Timbo in Oz's picture

One of the problems of the 'buy it yourself' approach to audio a Magazine is stuck with is that the path of modifying upgrading used gear gets short shrift, let alone doing it yourself. Those parts of the high-end are off the radar here.

This partciularly applies to FM antennas. The best results from FM stereo can only result from pointing a directional antenna with gain at the desired station. One sure way to get such results is an external directional antenna up high. This ensures that the FM front end will be in (i) full limiting and (ii) that there is minimal multi-path on the signal.

Few indoor antennas are really good at either (i) or (ii), unless your lucky and close to a desired staion or two. Just one type is capable of doing both, but you can't buy one. This best indoor FM antenna is the wire rhombic with sides approaching 3 metres long (or exceeding). The gain is high because each element equals the desired wavelength and becasue it is also a highly directional antenna. The cost in money is very low, 14 to 20 meters of twin ribbon, some resistors and a balun to feed coax to your radio.

When made from 300 ohm twin ribbon (the same stuff used for T folded dipole antennas) it will have twice the already high gain. Don't worry you are most unlikely to overalaod your FM front-end.

You can hide it on a suitable room's ceiling or under a large rug. A suitable room is the largest one which has a long diagonal pointing in the right direction - ie at most of your desired stations. Note also that the acceptance angle of a rhombic can be adjusted in and out a couple of ways, see the article referenced below.

The article about them and how to make one was published in the now defunct magazine 'Audio' and is available at the Audio Asylum's FAQ section, near the bottom of the listings.

If you can drive a good tuner into full limiting with a strong low multipath signal and have even one station that broadcasts live acoustic simply miked concerts, you have a true high-end source.

Tim Bailey




JohnnyR's picture

Cable reccomendations without a single measurement, just "oh it sounds just dandy" approach. How lame.This is useless.

Glotz's picture

This subjective review resource has around for decades, in print form.  You are the 4,895,235th 'listener' that thinks he knows more than these guys...

Bwahahahahahhaahhaahahhah!  Yeah, really.

Tim Lim's picture

Dear Stereophile,

This report is indeed welcome but may I ask how are the different classes differentiated? What are the criteria for any model to be included in their respective class? I don't see this guide anywhere.



earlnightshade's picture

Total new guy here, but a quick question about the rating of the Peachtree Dac it.  To confirm I'm understanding correctly, is it considered so poor quality it gets a letter grade of "K"?  As in not even worthy of an "F"?



smittyman's picture

They haven't reviewed it yet.  It is not several grades below an F

nleksan's picture

Okay, so sound quality is as subjective as the music itself, I get that.

But seriously, you include the ATH-M50's and ATH-AD700's (good headphones, don't get me wrong), but not the SR225/SR325 from Grado?  What about the absolutely SUBLIME RS1i or its little-brother the RS2i?  The PS1000's?

I own all of the above, and for studio work I favor the RS1i's above anything else, especially Sennheiser, as monitors don't have to be PAINFULLY Flat to listen to, they just have to be accurate to the source while able to replicate other sources, which the RS1i's/RS2i's/PS1000's do with aplomb!  The dynamic design and solid-mahogany cups make the music sound much more "alive", and the editing/mixing sessions sound identical to the recording sessions; this is in contrast to many others that neuter the sound to the point that it just goes flat.

I realize I am here spouting off my opinion, but as I am pretty sure that's like 87% at least of the job description for being an "audiophile", so I'm okay with it ;)

I just hate to see TRULY deserving headphones get passed over because they don't have the same "prestige" as Bowers&Wilkins or the like, nor the brand recognition of Sennheiser (who are, by the way, on track to becoming the BOSE of the headphone world.... I'll give them 5 years).  I challenge anyone to spend ~20hrs with a pair of Grado SR325's (NOT the SR325i's, but the original Mahogany ones), the RS1i's/RS2i's, the PS1000's, or even the SR225's (again, NOT the SR225i's), a strong headphone amp (everyone has their favorites, but I find that these do best with a good amount of overhead), and the best source material you can get, ideally a very high-end system with DVD-Audio quality sound or better (don't even think about any kind of lossy compression, because you WILL hear every "off" sound).  Heck, I get fantastic results with simply plugging any of the aforementioned 'cans directly into the headphone port on my HT|Omega Claro Halo XT sound card in my very high end workstation/overclocking rig (who says you can't mix business and pleasure??)...
I will admit that every pair of Grado's that I've owned has needed some break-in time, with as little as 40 hours for some SR80i's to ~120hrs for the SR225/SR325 cans to really shine (RS1i's = 75-80hrs, RS2i's = 70-75hrs, PS1000's = 90hrs), but I do my "break-in" a bit differently than most: I set up everything through my computer, including DAC/amp/etc running off an M-Audio card, and I have a specific playlist I use for breaking them in that consists of 125-175x ~3:30 to ~11:15 long Audio Tracks (full, uncompressed recordings and masters; the 125 songs take up about 3.7GB of space! yes, about 30MB per track, at 192Khz/48bit "RAW") of varying types/genres set in "loop" for the first playthrough and then "looping random" after that, and the volume automatically adjusts based on elapsed time.  For those who wonder, I use: Sigur Ros, Pink Floyd, OK GO, Led Zeppelin, Bowie, Florence & the Machine, Grateful Dead, Incubus, Jay-Z, Jose Gonzalez, Pete Yorn, (recently added) Trent Reznor & Karen O's "Immigrant Song" cover from Girl w Dragon Tattoo, K'Naan, Manfred Mann, Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Metallica ("One"), Norman Greenbaum, Neil Young, Rolling Stones, Scala ("Blower's Daughter"), Shwayze, Sufjan Stevens, RUSH, Tegan&Sara, Tom Petty, The Roots, Them Crooked Vultures, and a bunch more; as you can see, it's a mix of male and female vocalists, every instrument under the sun, all types of music, and so forth (quite eclectic).  BUT IT WORKS!
I PROMISE YOU that if you properly break-in any pair of Grado's, they will become one of your favorite listening headphones, if not your number one.  Having tried everything from the bird-poop-looking iPod iEarbuds (kill me please) to most of the consumer-level stuff (Sony MDR's are Amazing for the price, Beats by Dre are absolute junk and I've left stuff in the porcelain chamber with more musicality than that overpriced BS), to headphones that cost more than many peoples' cars and proclaim to be "hand-assembled by a team of naked supermodels over the course of 123 days with all work done only under a half-crescent moon while Mars and Jupiter align, emparting magical sonic characteristics into the hand-carved African rare wood covers and plated with Rhinocerous poop, well known for its excellent bass enhancement"... Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but not THAT much.  YET I KEEP COMING BACK TO THE GRADO'S!!!

JadenKrosis's picture

This product recieved rave reviews in Stereophile. It scored well in comparisons and has even become JA`s go to device for USB audio playback.

Without going into too much detail of Micheal Lavorgnas` review I`m quite sure I`m safe to say he liked it very much also. 

Is it possible this product was overlooked amid all the shock and awe created by the Dragonfly?  (not that there`d be anything wrong with that, I want one too!!!)

John Atkinson's picture

Is it possible this product was overlooked amid all the shock and awe created by the Dragonfly?

The Halide was reviewed in August 2012, after this "Recommended Components" was prepared. It will be included in the next update, due in April.

The Halide was also included in the Collector's Edition of Recommended Components, available from newsstands and form the shop on this site: http://ssl.blueearth.net/primedia/home.php

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

JadenKrosis's picture

Thank you John and I look forwards to reading that April issue.

bmilwee's picture

In your October 2011 issue, the VPI classic 3 gets an A rating, but here it seems to have been demoted to a B.   Tthe Rega RP3 is class B here, but in the anniversary edition it gets a C rating.  Which is correct?

John Atkinson's picture

Yes, sometimes as the result of further experience of the product or of competitive products, sometimes because the initial rating is provisional, for a product that is reviewed in the same issue as the updated list. But whenever a rating has changed, it is the most recent rating that reflects our current opinion of the product.

In the case of the VPI Classic 3, it has been reinstated in Class A in the listing that will appear in the April 2013 issue.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

shp's picture

I have been a binge reader of stereophile ever since high school when my first job was in a high end stereo shop (Threshold amps, KEF 104.2's).  

My brother is an architect and my colleague an electrical engineer.  They both deride the idea that giant audiophile cables make a difference noting that the wire that delivers electricity to the house and through the walls is only this big.

Not having the budget to try an assortment of (sometimes very expensive) cables I've kept mine pretty modest.  But I will concede they can sound different.  

But I am a little confused that Stereophile has ratings for digital data connects without any measurements. 

Digital cables either deliver bit-perfect data streams or they don't. And their accuracy should be reported even if Stereophile also wants to report the sonic affect of any digital distortion.

If I spent a lot of money on a music server, DAC, amplification and speakers, the last thing I want is the cable altering the bits.