2015 Recommended Components Fall Edition 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.

A (Full-Range)

GamuT RS7: $39,900/pair
(Vol.38 No.9 WWW)

KEF Blade Two: $25,000/pair
(Vol.38 No.6 WWW)

mbl Radialstrahler 101 E Mk.II: $70,500/pair ★
(Vol.35 No.4 WWW)

Revel Ultima Studio2: $15,998/pair $$$ ★
FK's long-term reference. (Vol.31 No.3, Vol.32 No.12 WWW)

TAD Laboratories Evolution One E1 loudspeaker: $29,800/pair
(Vol.36 No.7 WWW)

Vivid G1 Giya: $67,990/pair ★
(Vol.33 No.7 WWW)

Vivid G3 Giya: $39,990/pair
(Vol.37 No.4 WWW)

Wilson Audio Specialties Alexandria XLF: $210,000/pair
(Vol.36 No.1 WWW)

Wilson Audio Specialties Alexia: $52,000/pair
(Vol.36 No.12 WWW)

YG Acoustics Sonja 1.3: $106,800/pair
(Vol.36 No.7 WWW)

A (Restricted Extreme LF)

Aerial Model 7T: $9995/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 WWW)

ATC SCM19 v.2: $4299/pair (stands necessary)
Designed around a sealed enclosure with curved side panels, a lute-shaped cross section, and a volume of 19 liters—hence the model number—ATC's SCM19 v.2 is a two-way loudspeaker with a 1" non-hemispherical soft-dome tweeter and a 6" woofer, the 3" dustcap of which is said to function as a midrange dome; both drivers are of ATC's own design and manufacture. The SCM19 v.2's cabinet is only 17.1" high, yet weighs a hefty 39 lbs; its frequency response is specified as 54Hz–22kHz, –6dB, its nominal impedance as 8 ohms, and its sensitivity as 85dB/W/m. Comparing the ATC to a similarly small, sealed-box loudspeaker of some renown, the classic BBC LS3/5a, JM found that the SCM19 v.2 "exhibited an arresting increase in resolving power." Similarly, he wrote that the SCM19 "decisively strode ahead of" ATC's less expensive SCM7 v.3 in resolution and bass extension, noting that while the SCM7 "had no distortion that I was aware of, the [low-frequency] driver in the SCM19 was so much more revealing that it was not funny." JM summed up: "The SCM19 might be all the speaker most people will ever need. Well done. Highly recommended." (Vol.37 No.6 WWW)

DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/96: $12,000/pair (stands included)
Handmade in Brooklyn, New York, the O/96 is a two-way, reflex-loaded, stand-mounted speaker with a rated sensitivity of 96dB/W/m and an unusually high nominal impedance of 10 ohms. The wide-baffle design measures 28.25" H by 18" W by 12" D and has a 1" silk-dome tweeter and a 10" paper-cone woofer. The O/96 exhibited a superb overall tonal balance with impressive clarity, color, impact, drama, and scale, said AD. "The O/96 is distinctly easy to drive with low-power amplifiers, yet it's clearer, wider of bandwidth, and more spatially accomplished than most other high-sensitivity loudspeakers," he summed up. JA's measurements uncovered a low-treble resonance and a lively enclosure, but these problems were considerably less audible than he was expecting. AD originally considered this a very high Class B recommendation, bordering on Class A, but as of April 2015, the rating is upgraded. In a Follow-Up, AD noted: "I have refined my own O/96 installation, moving each speaker farther from its sidewall, and minimizing the influence of unfortunate room characteristics with some John DeVore–inspired asymmetry," with excellent results. AD also quoted John DeVore's observation that, in 2013, the O/96 was his best-selling model "by a clear margin. I wouldn't be surprised to see that it did that again in 2014." (Vol.35 No.12, Vol.38 No.1 WWW)

DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/93: $8400/pair
Made in Brooklyn, New York, the Orangutan O/93 is a two-way floorstanding loudspeaker with a 1" soft-dome tweeter and a 10" paper-cone bass/midrange driver. It measures 35.5" H by 15" W by 10" D, and has a claimed sensitivity of 93dB and a nominal impedance of 10 ohms. The beautifully finished cabinet is made from a combination of Baltic birch plywood and MDF; the front baffle has a distinctive fiddleback mahogany veneer, while the sides, back, and rear are veneered in maple and finished in high-gloss piano-black lacquer. Driven by ST's Unison Research Simply Italy, the DeVores delivered a lively, immediate sound, with a sweet and extended treble, punchy bass, and a deep, wide soundstage with excellent center fill. (Vol.37 No.1)

ENIGMAcoustics Sopranino supertweeter: $3690/pair (stands optional)
Here's something you don't see every day: a horn-loaded, self-polarized, electrostatic supertweeter. Named after the smallest members of the saxophone and clarinet families, the Sopranino is a 6-lb, 7.6"-tall, more or less cubical enclosure intended for installation either atop the user's nominally full-range speakers or on their own height-adjustable stands ($600/pair). Its 12dB/octave high-pass filter can be set to one of three crossover frequencies—8, 10, or 12kHz—and connection via the Sopraninos' binding posts puts the supertweeters in parallel with their host speakers. A rear-mounted toggle switch offers the option of –3dB of attenuation. JA found that the Sopraninos, when used with the Joseph Audio Perspective loudspeakers, had a decidedly subtle influence on the sound of his system; on removing them after a week of listening, he declared his system still sounded good—"Just not quite as good." With JA's vintage Rogers LS3/5a loudspeakers, the Sopraninos allowed cymbals to sound "more like struck bronze than shaped and textured white noise," and stereo imaging was more palpable. Measurements revealed a clean cumulative spectral-decay plot and other distinctions, although JA was surprised that, by the end of the review, one of the Sopraninos had ceased performing above 15kHz: an enduring mystery. (Vol.37 No.6 WWW)

Fujitsu Ten Eclipse TD712z Mk.2: $10,600/pair (stands included)
RD reviewed the original version of this unique speaker—it uses a single 4.7" driver with a glass-fiber/cotton cone mounted in an egg-shaped ported enclosure—in January 2007 and was very impressed with its sound. Though the TD712z wouldn't play very loud and didn't go very deep, it had clarity, transparency, resolution, timbral accuracy, and image specificity that were "simply breathtaking," said RD. JA was impressed by the speaker's time-coincident presentation and freedom from cabinet resonances, though he was more bothered by its distinctly non-flat frequency response. The new version improves the original's power handling and extends its low-frequency response. "In a modestly sized room, with no help from subwoofers, the TD712zMk.2s delivered sound that was . . . well . . . extraordinary," he concluded. Matching sand-filled stands are included. (Vol.30 No.1, Vol.38 No.5 WWW)

Harbeth Monitor 30.1: $5695/pair in cherry finish (stands necessary)
The Monitor 30.1 is a two-way, front-ported design with a 1" soft-dome SEAS tweeter and Harbeth's 7.8" Radial2 mid/woofer. Fit and finish were superb. Though too demanding a load for ST's 3.5Wpc Sun Audio SV2A3 amplifier, the Monitor 30.1 produced "ravishing" midrange texture, tonality, and resolution when partnered with higher-powered solid-state amplification. Compared to the Triangle Cométe Anniversaire, the Harbeth sacrificed speed and agility for richness and warmth. "If you're into classical and jazz, there is no other loudspeaker I can recommend so highly for $6500/pair," concluded Sam. Standard finish is Cherry. Add $400/pair for Eucalyptus or Rosewood, $800/pair for Tiger Ebony finish. (Vol.35 Nos.11 & 12)

Joseph Audio Perspective: $12,999/pair
The 36"-tall, floorstanding Perspective combines the same SEAS 1" impregnated-fabric dome tweeter used in Joseph Audio's Pulsar with two SEAS 5.5" magnesium-cone woofers, all mounted on a baffle profiled to optimize high-frequency dispersion. The woofers are reflex-loaded with a rear-mounted resistive port—the resistive foam can be removed for certain applications—and, according to JA, with "an Asymmetrical Infinite Slope Crossover set at 2kHz, with about a 40dB/octave low-pass slope for the woofers." In his listening, JA noted slightly unforgiving trebles on recordings with ragged high frequencies, but with good recordings, the Perspectives delivered "a wide, rich sweep of full-range sound, with tangible stereo imaging." JA also noted midrange clarity and lack of coloration, and that the Perspective's bass performance required an amp with a firm hand lest it sound a bit phat. Summing up with praise for the Perspective's cosmetics and small footprint, he concluded: "It's a lot of high-performance loudspeaker in a beautiful, modest-sized, domestically appealing package." (Vol.37 No.7 WWW)

Joseph Audio Pulsar: $7700/pair ★ (stands necessary)
The compact (15" H by 9" W by 13" D), rear-ported Pulsar uses a 1" Sonatex-dome tweeter and a 5.5" cast-magnesium cone woofer, both built to Joseph Audio's specifications by SEAS. The MDF cabinet has an attractively beveled, piano-black front baffle; side panels are available in a choice of four high-gloss veneers as well as piano black. The Pulsar produced sweet treble, a neutral midrange, solid bass, and superbly focused images for a natural, involving overall sound, said MF. JA was impressed by the Pulsar's superbly flat on-axis response and well-damped enclosure. (Vol.35 No.6 WWW)

KEF LS50 Anniversary Model: $1499.99/pair $$$ (stands necessary)
This tribute to the famed LS3/5a monitor was made to celebrate KEF's 50th anniversary. Measuring just 11.9" H by 7.9" W by 10.9" D, the two-way, reflex-loaded design combines, in KEF's Uni-Q driver array, a 1" vented aluminum-dome tweeter and a 5.25" woofer cone of magnesium-aluminum alloy. The beautifully finished, computer-modeled MDF cabinet incorporates a convex front baffle, offset port, and damped internal cross-bracing for optimal suppression of external sound radiation and internal standing waves. The LS50 produced a surprisingly large, clean, transparent sound, with natural tone color and precise, stable stereo imaging, said JA, who also noted superb measured performance. "Recommended. Highly." ST found the LS50's tonality "spot-on, more neutral than sweet," adding that the diminutive KEFs could deliver "surprising bass: down to around 50Hz." ST's verdict: "I haven't had such great sound in my listening room since the departure of Quad's ESL-2805 electrostatics." As SM put it: "In 13 years of working at Stereophile, I have not seen another component that offers such a radical combination of value and performance." Late in 2014, after spending time with some new LS50 samples, JA wrote: "[Although] it had been two years since I'd last listened to the KEF LS50 at home, getting a new pair reminded me why I had so highly recommended them. The KEF LS50 gave a sound that was evenly balanced from the upper bass through the high treble, with superbly defined imaging." (Vol.35 No.12, Vol.37 Nos. 5 & 6, Vol.38 No.1 WWW)

Lansche Audio 5.1: $45,000/pair
Made in Germany, the Lansche Audio 5.1 is a three-way, floorstanding, reflex-loaded design with a horn-loaded Corona plasma tweeter, a 4" polypropylene-cone midrange unit, and two 8.7" glass-fiber/fabric cone woofers. It measures 40.9" H by 10.1" W by 19.3" D, weighs 167.5 lbs, and is available in a variety of exotic satin veneers. The Lansche's sophisticated, revealing highs and lean, articulate bass were unforgiving of thin-sounding recordings, but the pair of them had a wonderful sense of space and superb stereo imaging, said JA. Very difficult to drive. To get the best from the Lansches, careful consideration should be taken in placement and partnering amplification, the tubed Audio Research Reference 150 working much better than good solid-state amplification. Price is in satin veneer; High Gloss adds $5000/pair; Piano Black adds $3000/pair. (Vol.35 No.7 WWW)

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. Hard anodized aluminum finish adds $6500/pair. (Vol.33 No.11 WWW)

Marten Django XL: $15,000/pair in piano black
Made in Sweden, the Django is a three-way, reflex-loaded floorstander with a 1" ceramic-diaphragm tweeter, 6" ceramic-diaphragm midrange unit, and three 8" aluminum-cone woofers. The cabinet is made of 25mm-thick MDF, has nicely rounded edges to reduce diffraction, and comes available in high-gloss Piano Black or Silver Grey (adds $1500/pair). Fit and finish were superb. The Django had an open, uncolored, well-balanced overall sound, with outstanding soundstaging, warm and full-bodied bass, a superb midrange, and a treble that was both revealing and forgiving, said EL. "Marten's Django XLs gave me the best sound I have ever heard in my room. Highly Recommended," he concluded. (Vol.35 No.9 WWW)

MartinLogan Montis: $9995/pair
Made in Canada, the elegant Montis combines a 44" H by 11.3" W Curvilinear Line Source (CLS) electrostatic high-frequency panel with a 10" high-excursion, aluminum-cone woofer, the latter powered by a 200W amplifier. The bass cabinet is available in glossy finishes of hand-rubbed black ash, dark cherry, or black cherrywood. Though it lacked pinpoint imaging, the Montis had a scintillating treble, fast and weighty bass, and a natural midrange, said RD. Though he found respectable measured performance, JA cautioned that the Montis will sound rolled off on top when driven by a tube amplifier with a high source impedance. (Vol.35 No.9 WWW)

Sony SS-AR2: $20,000/pair
This three-way, reflex-loaded, floorstander looks very similar to Sony's more expensive SS-AR1, but is 4" shorter, has twin 6.5" aluminum-cone woofers instead of the SS-AR1's 8" units, and has less extended low frequencies. The SS-AR2's 1" soft-dome tweeter and its Scan-Speak 5" sliced-paper–cone midrange unit are the same as in the SS-AR1, as is the strategically braced cabinet construction: panels of Scandinavian birch with a 2"-thick front baffle of laminated Japanese maple. The SS-AR2 combined sweet highs, well-extended lows, and a slight excess of midrange energy for an overall sound that was both pleasantly warm and superbly detailed, said JA, who was similarly impressed by the speaker's measured performance. (Vol.35 No.10 WWW)

Sony SS-NA2ES: $10,000/pair
Cosmetically similar to Sony's more expensive SS-AR2, the SS-NA2ES is a beautifully finished three-way tower, approximately 35" H by 10" W by 16" D, with drive-units custom made by Scan-Speak in collaboration with Sony: twin 6.5" aluminum-cone woofers and a 5" midrange unit; but while the SS-AR2 used a single conventional 1" tweeter, the SS-NA2ES vertically mounts its 1" silk-dome tweeter between two 0.75" fabric-dome "assist" tweeters. The straight-sided cabinet is made of Scandinavian birch ply and finished in a luxurious dark-brown gloss. With some overcooked recordings, the Sony's highs had too much sparkle, but overall the speaker offered low coloration, high sensitivity, accurate and stable stereo imaging, and satisfying lows, said JA, who also noted excellent measured performance. "The SS-NA2ES offers its owner 90% of the performance of the SS-AR2 for 50% of its price," he concluded. (Vol.36 No.9 WWW)

Spendor D7: $5995/pair $$$
The British-built D7 is a 2.5-way, 38"-tall floorstander, with a rated sensitivity of 90 dB/W/m and a nominal impedance of 8 ohms. Its driver complement includes a 7/8" soft-dome tweeter with a specially designed cover of stainless-steel mesh, a 7" plastic-cone mid/woofer, and a 7" Kevlar-cone woofer, the latter two both made by Spendor and loaded by the same rear-mounted reflex port. Used with ST's 80Wpc Quicksilver Silver 88 tubed monoblocks—"a superb combination"—and giving their best about 3' from the wall behind them, the D7s played with "authority, weight, and speed." ST praised the speaker's fine trebles—"a crystalline clarity that put the Spendor D7 among the finest speakers I have heard at any price"—and noted that, "40 years on, Spendor is still known for getting the midrange right." Although ST's 3.5Wpc 2A3 amplifier failed to coax from the D7 sufficient bottom-end authority, the sound of that combination was "glorious"—and the Spendor was otherwise easy to drive with tubes or transistors, ultimately coaxing from the floorstander-phobic ST the highest praise: "one of the finest loudspeakers I have had in my listening room." JA confirmed its distinction as a 2.5-way (not a 3-way) design, and praised its overall "excellent measured performance." (Vol.37 No.9, Vol.38 No.4 WWW)

TAD Laboratories Compact Reference CR1: $42,000/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 WWW)

Triangle Signature Delta: $8000/pair
Triangle's Signature Delta is a three-way floorstander whose drivers and enclosure are all designed and manufactured in-house, said house being in France. Its two 7.3" fiberglass-cone woofers are loaded by a bifurcated reflex port on the front, while a 7.3" paper-cone midrange driver handles most of the audioband. That midrange is of notably limited excursion, in which vintage context the Signature Delta's horn-loaded titanium-dome tweeter, mounted atop the 4'-tall, curved-sidewall cabinet, fits well. Triangle specifies the Signature Delta's sensitivity as 92dB/W/m and its impedance as 8 ohms nominal, 3.2 ohms minimum (but see below). JA praised the Triangle's bass, observing that "a pipe-organ recording . . . had tremendous weight through the Deltas when the bass pedals descended to 32Hz," while noting that the Delta's low frequencies had "excellent pace and force" and "[a] propulsive way with well-recorded rock." JA praised as equally important the speaker's resolution and clarity, and noted a superior "jump factor" that did not compromise neutrality: "Unless you like your music tame and uninvolving, this is a speaker well worth an audition." In his measurements, JA described the Signature Delta as "a well-engineered, well-optimized loudspeaker," although he uncovered an unkind impedance-phase angle at 82Hz that would seem to require a well-muscled amp. (Vol.37 No.9 WWW)

Vivid Oval K1: $25,990/pair
The K1 is similar in appearance to Vivid's less expensive B1, but whereas the B1 uses single woofers on its front and rear panels, the K1 has two woofers each fore and aft, and its cabinet extends lower to accommodate them. In addition, the K1's higher minimal impedance of 4.8 ohms (vs 2.8 ohms for the B1) makes it an easier load for the partnering amplifier. Compared to the B1, the K1 offered greater bass extension and had the more tactile and inviting lower midrange and treble, said JM. "Vivid's Oval K1 is one of the best loudspeakers I have ever heard," he concluded. (Vol.35 No.10 WWW)

Vivid B1: $16,990/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—exactly 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 WWW)

Volti Audio Vittora: $21,500/pair
Handmade in the US, the Vittora is a three-way, fully horn-loaded loudspeaker in two enclosures per channel, both made entirely of Baltic birch plywood. The lower bass cabinet is a single-fold bifurcated horn with a 15" rear-facing woofer; the upper enclosure houses a rectangular midrange horn and an elliptical treble horn. Build quality was excellent. The Vittora had a beautifully balanced, nuanced, and compelling sound, with smooth highs, forceful bass, and a remarkable sense of drive, said AD. "Volti Audio's Vittora is a great loudspeaker and a seriously great value," AD decided, though he adds "Not for the squeamish!". (Vol.36 No.9 WWW)

Wilson Audio Specialties Duette Series 2: $22,500/pair with stands (stands included)
In the words of company founder/chief designer Dave Wilson, the Duette Series 2 loudspeaker was created for a "hostile environment," the definition of which includes limited floor space and the need to keep loudspeakers close to room boundaries. Codesigner Daryl Wilson made for the Series 2 a new stand, to which the crossover and connecting cables are integral. Other refinements include a more sculpted shape, and a new treble driver derived from the Convergent Synergy tweeter Dave Wilson designed for his top-of-the-line Alexandria XLF. Driven by low-power tube amps, the Series 2 Duettes impressed AD with how they "nailed the timbral colors of instruments and voice alike, with generous and very realistic saturation." And although the Duettes didn't have quite the scale or impact of his large Altec horns, AD observed that the Wilsons' "deep-bass power and extension were surprisingly good for their size. Cellos sounded subjectively undiminished down to their lowest tones, as did timpani and most double-bass notes, while nearly full weight was given to the orchestral bass drum." JA's measurements confirmed the high (91.6dB) sensitivity of the Duette Series 2, and he confirmed that, "Overall, the Wilson Duette's measured performance suggests that it is a well-engineered design optimized for use close to the wall behind it." (Vol.38 No.3 WWW)

Wilson Audio Specialties Sophia Series 3: $22,500/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 WWW)

B (Full-Range)

Boston Acoustics M350: $2498/pair
The M350, the top model in BA's M series, is a three-way, reflex-loaded floorstander with a 1" Extended Wide Bandwidth soft-dome tweeter, a 4.5" mass-loaded polypropylene-cone midrange, and four 5.25" polypropylene-cone woofers. The cabinet sidewalls are beveled at their tops and bottoms and finished in high-gloss black; the front baffle and the top and bottom panels are covered in black faux leather. JA used foam port plugs (included) to tame a pervasive excess of upper-bass energy. Ports plugged, the M350s offered well-defined stereo imaging and had a darkish overall balance, with smooth highs and warm lower mids. Other than a strong cabinet-wall resonance in the lower midrange, the M350 measured superbly well, said JA. (Vol.36 No.8 WWW)

Bowers & Wilkins 683 S2: $1650/pair $$$
The numbers tell an unusual story: The three-way, floorstanding 683 S2 would seem almost identical to Bowers & Wilkins' well-reviewed 804 Diamond (Vol.36 No.9) in every way—save for the $6000 difference in price per pair. As KR found, the Chinese-built, medium-sensitivity 683 S2 provided satisfying bass response, with "clean and full" organ notes and, in orchestral music, timpani that had "heft and impact." Spatially, the B&W's center-fill so impressed KR that he left his seat "to make sure that, somehow, my disconnected center speaker hadn't gotten magically reconnected." KR's verdict: The five-times-as-expensive 804 Diamond "scores over the 683 S2 only with some singing voices and in extension/enhancement at the extremes of the audioband." Test results, generally unremarkable, follow in what JA describes as a B&W tradition: speakers that don't measure quite as well as they could, but whose performance on the test bench reveals a product whose sound "has been carefully managed and [is] better than one might expect" for the price. (Vol.38 No.9 WWW)

Bryston Middle T: $5400/pair
A floorstanding tower just under 40" tall, the Bryston Middle T—the name is a reference to designer and Bryston cofounder James Tanner—is a three-way, reflex-loaded loudspeaker with a complex, well-braced, and ultimately heavy (over 80 lbs) enclosure. The Middle T has a 1" metal-dome tweeter, a 5.25" polypropylene-cone midrange driver, and two 8" polypropylene-cone woofers, the last loaded by twin rear-firing reflex ports. With the Brystons in place of his usual B&W 800 Diamonds, KR reported "such integrity that it might have been generated by a single driver . . . large, holographic soundstages that approached what I enjoy with my multichannel system .ˇ.ˇ. thrilling new detail" from old, familiar recordings, and bass that was "outstanding for a speaker of this size." On the downside, KR noted that "male voices sounded natural, but somewhat richer" than he's used to, and was disappointed by the appearance of the wood veneer and the "ungainly" grilles. JA found lower sensitivity than claimed (85 vs 88dB/W/m), and an impedance curve that, in his words, "starts to resemble a short circuit at ultrasonic frequencies," indicating the need for care in the selection of a partnering amp. Rosewood veneer adds $800/pair. Vinyl available at special order for $4680/pair. (Vol.38 No.2 WWW)

DALI Rubicon 8: $7995/pair
Neither a two-way nor even a three-way loudspeaker, the Rubicon 8 is referred to by its manufacturer, DALI, as a "2½+½+½-way" loudspeaker: None of its three 6.5" woofers covers the same range as the others, and only the one at the loudspeaker's (physical) top extends as high as 2.5kHz, whence the music is given over to a 1.15" soft-dome tweeter, which itself hands off to a ribbon supertweeter at 14kHz. Although each is operated over a different frequency range, all three woofers are, in JA's words, "technically sophisticated," and benefit from a proprietary material said to reduce hysteresis distortion. They and the higher-frequency drivers are all made by DALI, and are installed on the front baffle of a 43.5"-tall MDF enclosure, the rear panel being taken up by two pairs of binding posts and three reflex ports. JA reported hearing good bass weight—although some lower-pitched instruments sounded "overripe" and "a little on the rich side"—and noted that "the Rubicon 8's reproduction of the top octaves was superb." JA also noted that, "With all recordings I played, the Rubicon 8s threw a solid, well-defined, impressively stable soundstage, with precise layering of image depth." Writing from his lab, JA suggested that the DALI's measured performance "indicates a careful balance of its design parameters to produce a seductive yet clean full-range sound." (Vol.38 No.3 WWW)

Focal Aria 936: $3999/pair $$$
This three-way, five-driver, French-made floorstander is among the first products to use Focal's new driver-cone material: a sandwich of flax and fiberglass that's said to offer low mass, high rigidity, and good self-damping properties. That material finds its way into the Aria 936's three 6.5" woofers and single 6.5" midrange driver, while its 1" dome tweeter is made of an aluminum-magnesium alloy, also new. The 936 also has three reflex ports—two on the front, one on the bottom—and a spiked plinth, the design of which contributed to easy setup work for RD, who also praised the 45"-tall Aria 936 for its "big, spacious sound" and for being "tonally neutral, with impressive dynamics, and powerful bass for the size of the speaker." RD also singled out for praise the Focal's treble range, for sounding "clean and extended but not overly bright, with no emphasis added to sibilants." At the other end, "double basses, bowed or plucked, were firm, not weak or exaggerated." RD added that, although "the Aria 936 couldn't match the startling dynamics of the horn-hybrid Avantgarde Uno Nano, it came surprisingly close." JA's measurements confirmed the 936's good sensitivity but found a wider low-impedance range than implied by its 8-ohm rating, thus indicating the need for a non-wimpy amplifier. Otherwise, his test results confirmed the Focal's standing as "an extraordinary value." (Vol.37 No.11 WWW)

GoldenEar Triton One: $4999.98/pair $$$
Preceded in the GoldenEar line by a number of less-expensive loudspeakers, the Triton One is their new flagship: a 54"-tall tower whose cloth wrap conceals a powered, passive-radiator–loaded subwoofer system, two 5.25" midrange drivers, and, as RD describes it, "GoldenEar's version of the famed Heil Air-Motion Transformer, called a High-Velocity Folded Ribbon tweeter." Other distinctions include a fully balanced crossover, the use of DSP in the active portions of said crossover, and a 1600W internal subwoofer amp. According to RD, the Triton One performed with little strain on music played at "impress-your-friends levels," but that was far from this pony's only trick: "I could play the speakers at a low level and all the music was still there." He added, "the bass always tuneful and firm. In music that didn't reach down into the deep bass, there was no midbass emphasis to give a false impression that there was deep bass." JA's measurements confirmed the Triton One's high sensitivity, but noted an impedance-phase angle sufficiently challenging that the user "will require a good 4 ohm–rated amplifier to drive the speaker to acceptably high levels." In all, JA declared this latest GoldenEar to be "another finely engineered loudspeaker." Borderline Class A. (Vol.38 No.2 WWW)

GoldenEar Technology Triton Two: $2999.98/pair $$$ ★
Designed by industry veteran Sandy Gross and his team, 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. (Vol.35 Nos.2 & 10 WWW)

KEF Q900: $1799.99/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 WWW)

Line Magnetic 755 I: $9000/system
Made in China, the floorstanding 755 I uses a full-range, field-coil drive-unit and comes bundled with a pair of Line Magnetic PR-3 power supplies, each of which uses a 300B direct-heated triode tube as a voltage regulator. The 755 I's decidedly old-fashioned enclosure is made entirely of lightly damped plywood; stranded copper wire is used for both the interior signal leads and the two field-coil leads, the latter soldered to a separate connector on the speaker's removable rear panel. Though it lacked treble extension, bass extension, and bass impact, the 755 I was "full of touch, impact, nuance, detail, and humanness," said AD, but cautions "for special tastes only." Placing the 755 I on a 6"-tall stand resulted in increased bass extension and improved presence and tactility, said AD. (Vol.35 Nos.9 & 11 WWW)

Monitor Audio Silver 8: $2000/pair $$$
The British-designed, Chinese-made Monitor Silver 8 is three-way floorstander using a 1" vented-diaphragm dome tweeter, a 4" midrange driver, and two 6" woofers—all with diaphragms made of C-CAM, Monitor Audio's ceramic-coated aluminum-magnesium material. The MDF cabinet has separate chambers for the woofers, which are reflex-loaded. KR lauded the Silver 8 for having a "fit and finish that are probably impossible to achieve at the price without production in the Far East." He also commented on its midrange clarity, and a bottom end that, if not stygian, "was in good balance" and "remarkably solid and satisfying." And as for spatial performance, multichannel enthusiast KR wrote, "I can't say that listening in stereo via the Silver 8s was anything less than delightful." According to JA's measurements, "other than [a] slight excess of energy in the tweeter's passband, the response is impressively even and flat." He praised the Silver 8's "superb measured performance at a very competitive price." Black or White gloss finish adds $200/pair. (Vol.38 No.1 WWW)

Nola Metro Grand Reference Gold: $33,000/pair
The floorstanding Metro Grand Reference Gold uses a pair of 6.5" SEAS magnesium-alloy woofers, each performing in its own rear-ported subchamber and sporting phase plugs in place of dustcaps. (The model name derives from the plugs' gold plating, claimed to damp parasitic vibrations.) The midrange and treble drivers—a 4" laminated cone and a Serbian-made aluminum-diaphragm ribbon, respectively—are fastened to an unenclosed extension of the front baffle. Copper-ribbon chokes and proprietary oil capacitors feature in the crossover, and the loudspeaker rests on a double-platform, ball-bearing isolation base, the bottom layer of which is spiked to the floor. JA noted a "generally polite, rather mellow balance" that "favored jazz and orchestral music over rock," although "well-recorded drums generally sounded excellent through the Nolas, with impressive impact and weight." On the minus side, JA described a lack of midrange clarity with some recordings, and noted that cymbals and other instruments often lacked air—an observation confirmed with dual-mono pink-noise tests. And: "At exactly 34Hz, the speaker shook—the rattle was due to the top part of the base sliding on the bearings and hitting the end stops." JA's measurements revealed uneven high-frequency performance at various listening heights and axes, and resonances in various elements of the cabinetry. His tests also suggested that the Metro Grand Reference Gold has lower sensitivity than specified, although it should otherwise be "a relatively easy load for an amplifier to drive." (Vol.37 No.11 WWW)

Nola Contender: $3800/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 WWW)

PSB Imagine T2: $3498/pair
The Imagine T2 Tower is a slim (ca 41" H by 8" W by 13" D), five-way floorstander with a 1" ferrofluid-cooled, titanium-done tweeter, a 4" clay/ceramic-filled polypropylene-cone midrange driver, and three 5.25" clay/ceramic-filled polypropylene-cone woofers, each with its own internal chamber and rear-firing port. Handsomely finished in black ash, cherry, or walnut—High Gloss Black or High Gloss White add $352/pair—the MDF cabinet is teardrop-shaped in cross section to minimize internal reflections. The Imagine T2's well-balanced, coherent overall sound included a sweet treble, a clean midrange, excellent bass, and satisfying dynamics, said RD. "An excellent speaker that offers outstanding value," he summed up. JA noted "a clean bill of measured health." (Vol.36 No.11 WWW)

Revel Performa3 F208: $5000/pair $$$
The new F208, from Revel's Performa3 line, is a floorstanding three-way speaker with all aluminum drivers: a 1" dome tweeter, 5.25" cone midrange, and two 8" cone woofers. The woofers are reflex-loaded through a front-mounted port with a removable resistive plug, while the tweeter fires through a newly designed, dispersion-enhancing waveguide. Sensitivity and impedance are 88.5dB/W/m and 8 ohms, respectively. The biwirable F208 includes two user controls: a tweeter-level control that works in 0.5dB increments, and a bass-contour switch with settings for Normal—for speakers positioned away from walls—and Boundary. EL was impressed with the fit and finish of the F208s, which are made in Indonesia, and had no trouble optimizing them for his small room, in which they sounded seamlessly coherent, with note fundamentals "in perfect balance with the formants and overtones" of choral music. EL welcomed the effectiveness of the treble control, without which "the tweeter did very little to hide the flaws of bad recordings," praised the untubby and well-extended bass, described the stereo imaging as "superb," and lauded the Revel's lack of compression and apparent strain, pronouncing the F208 "my new benchmark for loudspeakers at this price." Summing up his measurements, JA wrote, "In every way, this is textbook loudspeaker design." (Vol.37 No.7 WWW)

Spendor SP100R2: $11,995/pair (stands necessary)
The flagship of Spendor's Classic line is a three-way, stand-mounted, reflex-ported design with a 0.8" fabric-dome tweeter, 7" polymer-cone midrange, and 11.8" Bextrene-cone woofer. Its thin-walled, mildly resonant MDF cabinet has minimal internal bracing and damping. Careful placement was required to achieve optimal bass response. Though it lacked some bottom-end tightness and impact, the Spendor matched a warm tonal balance with excellent midrange detail and articulation, good transparency and presence, and stable soundstaging, said AD. JA's measurements uncovered a number of high-level resonances. (Vol.36 No.1 WWW)

Tekton Design Enzo XL: $2100/pair $$$
With its three 1" ring-radiator tweeters, two 10" paper-cone woofers, and two front-firing reflex ports, the 48"-tall, US-made Tekton Enzo XL "pressurize[s] a lot more air than do most popular hi-fi loudspeakers," according to HR: "There was something unique and extremely natural about the way the Tektons projected bass energy into the room." HR also praised the Enzo XL for "piano tone, attacks, and decays [that] were always quite good," though he observed that it slightly lacked richness and substance compared to his ideal. JA's measurements suggested that the speaker was less sensitive than specified—90.6dB vs 96.5dB—adding that, even so, the Enzo XL is still usably more sensitive than average, not to mention easy to drive. "Its combination of high sensitivity and extended low frequencies is rare in speakers in this price class," JA concluded. (Vol.38 No.4 WWW)

Vandersteen Treo: $6900/pair $$$ ★
The compact (43" H by 10" W by 15" D) Treo is a four-way, reflex-loaded floorstander with a 1" ceramic-coated alloy-dome tweeter, 4.5" tri-woven composite midrange cone, 6.5" tri-woven fiber-cone woofer, and 8" carbon-loaded cellulose-cone subwoofer. Like previous Vandersteen designs, the Treo uses a combination of sloped-back driver array and first-order crossover to produce a time-coincident wavefront launch. A black cloth grille optimizes diffraction and minimizes reflections of the high frequencies from the baffle edges. Though they could be ruthlessly revealing of overcooked modern recordings, the Treos offered excellent transparency, well-extended lows, and a clean, natural midrange, said JA, who noted respectable measured performance. (Vol.36 Nos.3 & 5 WWW)

Vienna Acoustics Beethoven Baby Grand-SE: $6000/pair
The drivers in this three-way floorstander comprise a 1.1" hand-coated silk-dome tweeter, a 6" midrange driver made of the company's proprietary X3P polymer, and two 6" woofers made of the same transparent material, stiffened with the radial ribs that have become a Vienna Acoustics trademark. The crossover uses first- and second-order filters at 150Hz and 2.3kHz, and at the rear of the enclosure, next to the reflex port, is a single pair of binding posts. In TJN's generously sized listening room, the Beethoven Baby Grand Symphony Editions sounded "'open and airy' . . . but not at all hard." At the other end of the audioband, "bass seemed more subdued than smash-mouthed, but I never found it lacking." Overall, listening to a variety of recordings through two different front ends, TJN found that the speaker's "lively but always natural-sounding balance kept me listening to recordings long after I'd planned to move on to others." In measuring the Viennas, JA found considerably lower sensitivity than the specified 91dB, and, despite a benign electrical phase-angle curve, recommended use of a good 4-ohm–rated amp. He also found some wrinkles in the performance of the midrange driver, but observed that in this speaker's "carefully balanced design," the effects of those flaws are reduced by other factors. (Vol.38 No.1 WWW)

Wharfedale Jade 7: $4199/pair
The largest speaker in Wharfedale's Jade line, the 7 is a four-way floorstander with a 1" aluminum-dome tweeter, a 3" upper-midrange driver with an aluminum-pulp–composite cone, a 6.5" lower-midrange with Accufibre cone, and two 8" woofers with Accufibre cones. The gracefully curved cabinet uses a modern version of the aperiodic loading developed by Wharfedale founder Gilbert Briggs and is made of Crystalam, a proprietary laminated substance designed to reduce panel vibrations and distribute resonances over a wider range. The Jade 7s produced a tonally neutral and well-balanced overall sound with excellent transparency, detail, soundstaging, and dynamics, said BD. "The Jade 7 is a speaker in the classic tradition of Wharfedale," he concluded. "It is rare to find even an expensive speaker that measures as well as this," praised JA. Add $800 for Piano Gloss Black finish. (Vol.36 No.5 WWW)

B (Restricted LF)

Canalis Anima: $3250/pair ★ (stands necessary)
Designed by Joachim Gerhard, the Anima is a stand-mounted, rear-ported, two-way speaker with an attractive enclosure of bamboo plywood. It has a 0.75" metal-dome tweeter and a 5" anodized aluminum-cone woofer. Driven by AVM's Evolution C8 CD receiver, the Anima produced clean, clear sound with a natural sense of space, sophisticated tonal color, and good momentum and flow, said JM. Placing the Animas on their matching stands ($1500/pair) produced greater bass extension, a bigger soundstage, and better integration of the woofer and tweeter outputs. The Anima's slightly hot tweeter will make it a better match for mellow-sounding electronics, JA advised. Anima stands are $1500/pair. (Original version, Vol.30 No.7 WWW; Vol.36 Nos.2 & 3; also see MF's Marantz review in Vol.33 No.4)

Dynaudio Focus 160: $2600/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 WWW)

Dynaudio Excite X14: $1299/pair (stands necessary)
Descended from the company's Excite X12, itself an RC stalwart, the Dynaudio Excite X14 is a smallish (11.2" tall), two-way stand-mounter with a reflex port on the rear. Compared with its predecessor, the X14 boasts a redesigned 5.7" woofer, a more advanced coating for its 1" fabric-dome tweeter, a new crossover, and a refinement in its port tuning. The late BJR praised the X14 for a treble range that was "cleaner and more articulate in high-level passages" than that of its predecessor, and noted that he was "very impressed with the Excite X14's bass performance throughout a wide range of recordings." The verdict: "Dynaudio has taken all of the aspects of the Excite X12 that I liked and improved them across the board," creating in the process BJR's "new favorite bookshelf loudspeaker for under $2000." In his measurements, JA confirmed that the X14 is easier to drive than the X12, and pronounced the new model "a well-engineered design." The Dynaudio Excite X14 is also available in active form as the Excite X14A ($2000/pair), wherein each driver gets its own internal 50W class-D amplifier. On the X14A's rear panel are EQ switches for adjusting the bass, midrange, and treble, plus a switchable high-pass filter for those who wish to use the X14A with a subwoofer. Using a Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC as the source, ML found the self-powered Dynaudios to be "excellent all around, throwing out an all-encompassingly rich and physical sound." (Vol.37 No.10, Vol.38 No.9 WWW)

Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a: $2195/pair (stands necessary)
In contrast to a typical ultradamped, ultraheavy, ultrabig speaker—which, according to HR, can sound an awful lot like "a moaning, wheezing pile of wood"—Falcon Acoustics' BBC-licensed LS3/5a loudspeaker proved capable of delivering "expression, transparency, [and] tonal purity." This true vintage reissue, created in part by the man who oversaw production of the KEF 127mm Bextrene-cone mid/woofer of the 1974 original, went so far as to make HR's own ca 1985 Rogers LS3/5as "sound a tad drowsy and fuzzy" by comparison. In HR's room, the Falcons loved low-powered amps—especially low-powered tube amps such as the 22Wpc Line Magnetic LM-518IA—but turned up their noses at class-D amplification. In measuring the Falcons, JA went to the well and compared his findings with measurements, made throughout his nearly 30 years at Stereophile's helm, of earlier LS3/5a iterations. His verdict: Falcon Acoustics "has resisted the temptation to 'improve' the sound quality, but has also managed to re-create what made the speaker great in the first place." (Vol.38 No.8 WWW)

Harbeth Super HL5plus: $6695/pair (stands necessary)
"Like the sturgeon, the hellbender, and the woodlouse, the Super HL5plus bears an unusually strong resemblance to its prehistoric ancestor." Thus did AD put into context this most recent Harbeth: an update of the classic British box designed around two tweeters—a 1" aluminum dome and a 0.78" titanium dome—and a 7.8" mid/woofer whose cone is made from RADIAL2, the very latest version of Harbeth's proprietary polymeric composite (and the reason for the nominal plus). AD praised the stand-mounted Harbeth's "easy clarity" and the good degree of touch and force with which it reproduced notes in the bass range. The Super HL5plus was, he said, "somewhat more modern sounding" than its immediate predecessors. Writing from his test bench, JA noted the Harbeth's intentionally lively enclosure, yet described the speaker's measured performance as otherwise "beyond reproach." (Vol.38 No.6 WWW)

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, Tiger Ebony, and Eucalyptus finishes add $200/pair. (Vol.33 Nos.8 & 10, Vol.34 No.7 WWW)

KEF R700: $3599.98/pair
The middle model of KEF's R series of British-designed, Chinese-made loudspeakers, the R700 is a 44.1"-tall floorstander in which a 5" coaxial Uni-Q driver is joined by a pair of 6.5" concave-cone woofers, all drive-units made of aluminum. The Uni-Q handles everything from 500Hz up, while the two woofers—which physically straddle the Uni-Q driver, D'Appolito-style, and are reflex-loaded with twin ports—are specified as 6dB down at 37Hz. TJN found it more daunting than usual to get the R700s to perform as specified in terms of bottom-end extension and smoothness, but eventually was rewarded with "full-bodied and boom-free" bass, the extension of which surprised him—although the very deepest tones and sound effects went missing. A "slight forwardness to voices" in most music characterized the R700s, coupled with a top-end "reticence" in which not every recording retained its natural sparkle: "The KEF R700s . . . leaned more to the forgiving than to the aggressive side, but were by no means dull." Stereo imaging was "excellent." In his measurements, JA discovered the R700 to be less sensitive than claimed—87 rather than 89dB/W/m—but described the load as benign; beyond that, he found that the R700 "demonstrates some excellent engineering expertise." (Vol.37 No.9 WWW)

Penaudio Cenya: $3995/pair ★ (stands necessary)
Made in Finland, the Cenya is a two-way, rear-ported minimonitor with a 0.75" tweeter and a 6" mid/woofer, both sourced from SEAS. The beautiful cabinet measures 11.2" H by 6.4" W by 12.6" D and is made of laminated birch plywood and MDF. ST achieved best results when placing the Cenyas in the nearfield, noting an especially wide, deep soundstage with pinpoint imaging. The tonal balance was "refreshingly cool" and well suited to classical and jazz, he said. (Vol.35 No.6)

Polk LSiM703: $1498/pair $$$ ★ (stands necessary)
This three-way, bass-reflex, bookshelf loudspeaker measures 16.75" H by 8" W by 14.5" D, weighs 29.6 lbs, and uses a 1" ring-radiator tweeter, 3.25" foamed polypropylene-cone midrange, and a 6.5" foamed polypropylene-cone woofer. The midrange driver is mounted above the tweeter in a system that Polk calls a Dynamic Sonic Engine, said to produce wide dispersion and clean transient response. The gorgeous MDF cabinets are available in real-wood cherry and mahogany veneers. Though its treble could sometimes sound a bit forward and loose, the LSiM703 had a lively, engaging sound with a detailed, uncolored midrange and a clean, authoritative bass, said BJR. JA noted superb measured performance. (Vol.35 No.9 WWW)

Revel Performa3 M106: $2000/pair (stands necessary)
A two-way, reflex-loaded speaker intended to be bolted to a matching M stand ($500/pair), the M106 is from Revel's Performa3 line of US-designed, Indonesian-made speakers. Its drive-units are a 1" aluminum-dome tweeter fitted with a waveguide said to improve dispersion above 8kHz—thus smoothing its frequency response and adding to the M106's detail resolution and spaciousness—and a reflex-loaded, 6.5" aluminum-cone mid/woofer. BJR: "The M106's stiff enclosure has its curved side panels formed from contiguous wood layers and is stiffened with strategically oriented bracing," and "the speaker's rear-firing port has identical flares at both ends"—to minimize compression and noise, of course. BJR said of the M106, "Its strengths impressed me across the board, especially for a speaker of its size and price," noting in particular the Revel's superb ability to articulate transients, its fine upper-bass clarity, and its low-bass forcefulness: "I found the speaker's bottom end impressive for a bookshelf model of its size." In addition to observing that "an amplifier or receiver rated at 4 ohms would probably work best with this speaker," JA noted "excellent measured performance that in turn reveals inspired audio engineering." Later in 2014, JA brought home the review pair, and compared them with a pair of the well-regarded KEF LS50: "[The] M106es did a little better when it came to separating the strands in [a] dense mix . . . [but] as much as I appreciated the Revel's transparency to recorded detail, its treble was a little unforgiving." But JA, whose room is not at all overdamped, then added: "In rooms that are larger than mine and/or more damped in the treble . . . the Revel M106's treble would tend to sound in better balance with the midrange." (Vol.37 No.9, Vol.38 No.1 WWW)

Sonus Faber Venere 2.5: $2498/pair
Beautifully finished in black or white lacquer, the Venere 2.5 is a compact (43.2" H by 13.3" W by 17" D), 2.5-way, reflex-loaded design with a 1.1" fabric-dome tweeter, a 7" Curv-cone mid/woofer, and a 7" Curv-cone woofer. The cabinet's sidewalls curve around to meet a very narrow rear panel just wide enough to accommodate a staggered array of four multiway terminals; the cabinet sits on a thick glass base plate that accepts four substantial spikes, the front pair nearly an inch longer than the rear, so that the entire cabinet tilts back to align the tweeter with the deeper woofer diaphragms. The sound was spacious, relaxed, and well balanced overall, with detailed mids and highs and a rich lower midrange, said KR. "The Venere 2.5 is not only provocatively sexy in appearance; it delivers," he concluded. The Venere 2.5 exhibited an exaggerated midbass on the test bench, but offered "respectable measured performance" overall, said JA. Add $500 for walnut wood finish. (Vol.36 No.11 WWW)

Spendor S3/5R2: $1595/pair (stands necessary)
This updated version of Spendor's Classic S3/5se is a small (11.9" H by 6.4" W by 7.4" D), two-way, sealed-box design with a 5.5" polymer-cone woofer crossed over to a 0.9" soft-dome tweeter at a very high 4.2kHz. The S3/5R2 lacked low-bass extension and had limited high-level dynamics, but offered an exceptionally clear and coherent sound, with delicate highs, well-articulated transients, and musical bass, said BJR. Although it didn't perform appreciably better than the S3/5se, the S3/5R2 nevertheless offered respectable measured performance, said JA. (Vol.36 No.3 WWW)

Stirling Broadcast LS3/6: $4495/pair $$$ (stands necessary)
Derived from the legendary Spendor BC1, Stirling's BBC LS3/6 is a three-way, reflex-loaded, stand-mounted loudspeaker with a 0.75" polymer-dome supertweeter, a 1" fabric-dome tweeter, and an 8.6" polymer-cone woofer. The speaker's cabinet measures 25" H by 11.75" W by 11.75" D, is available in cherry and walnut real-wood veneers (rosewood, ebony, and Zebrano add $360/pair), and is built from three different types of board: 5/8"-thick MDF for the rear panel, 3/8"-thick MDF for the baffle, and 3/8"-thick birch plywood for the remainder. Though it lacked some physicality, bass extension, and overall impact, the LS3/6 produced a natural, compelling sound, with a good sense of space and an especially warm, rich, textured midrange, said AD: "Heartily recommended." Open-frame hardwood stands, made by Resonant Woods, add $399/pair. (Vol.37 No.3 WWW)

Stirling Broadcast SB-88: $3895/pair (stands necessary)
The SB-88 is a two-way, stand-mounted loudspeaker with a 1" soft-dome tweeter and an 8" polypropylene woofer. It uses the traditional BBC thin-walled, internally braced cabinet, but with its front and rear panels glued rather than screwed on. With a convincing soundstage and a sound that was laid-back, sweet, and honest, the SB-88 always drew ST deep into the music. "The SB-88s don't wow me," he said. "They comfort me." Price is for cherry finish; ebony, rosewood, and zebrawood finishes add $400/pair. (Vol.37 No.2)

Wharfedale Jade 3: $1499/pair (stands necessary)
The three-way Jade 3 uses a 6.5" woofer made of a proprietary glass-fiber/carbon-fiber matrix; a 3" midrange driver of the same material, sandwiched with a thin layer of aluminum; and a 1" aluminum-dome tweeter in a sealed particleboard-and-plywood cabinet with curved sides and a claimed fundamental bass resonance of 44Hz. Used atop their purpose-made stands ($599/pair), the Jade 3s impressed BJR in virtually every aspect of performance: "With every recording I tried, I could find nothing to criticize in the areas of tonal balance, detail resolution, soundstaging, transient articulation, or dynamic range." JA's measurements uncovered a sensitivity of 83.5dB—lower than the specified 86dB—but a "generally benign electrical phase angle." Apart from a primary tweeter-dome resonance peak that might be audible to younger listeners, JA praised the Wharfedale's "excellent measured performance." BJR gets the last 11 words: "Wharfedale's flawless—and remarkable—Jade 3 punches way beyond its price." Dedicated stands add $599/pair. (Vol.38 No.1 WWW)

Wilson Benesch Series II Square One: $5195/pair including stands
The luxuriously finished Series II Square One—JM's review samples, the fit and finish of which he described as "second to none," were clad in Ebonized Walnut Gloss—is a two-way loudspeaker whose 1" soft-dome tweeter and 7" midbass driver are augmented with a 7" rear-mounted passive radiator and two bottom-mounted vents; dedicated stands accommodate the latter via metal standoffs that nonetheless hold the enclosure rigidly in place. The claimed sensitivity is 87dB, with impedances of 6 ohms nominal and 4 ohms minimum, and bass extension down to 45Hz. JM confirmed that last spec, noting performance in his room down to 44.1Hz: "very impressive for a speaker with an internal volume of only 10 liters." He also praised the Square Ones for "remarkable depth of soundstage" and "exemplary" clarity on piano, and concluded that the speaker "absolutely deserves a very high Class B (Restricted LF) rating." In measurements conducted for his Follow-Up report, JA found a sensitivity only slightly less than spec, plus "well-controlled horizontal dispersion, and clean decay in the treble." But he also uncovered a response peak between 3 and 7kHz, and suggested that the Series II Square One will sound best when the listener's ears are between 5° and 10° below the tweeter axis. (Vol.38 Nos. 8 & 9 WWW)

C (Full-Range)

Direct Acoustics Silent Speaker II: $898/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 (maple adds $100/pair) 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 WWW)

Wharfedale Diamond 10.7: $1299/pair ★
Available in three handsome finishes (Blackwood, Cinnamon Cherry, Quilted Rosewood), the Diamond 10.7 is a compact (37.6" H by 8.7" W by 11.7" D) three-way, reflex-loaded floorstander. Its cabinet has curved sidewalls and a piano-black front baffle on which are mounted the four drive-units: a 1" soft-dome tweeter, a 2" dome midrange unit, and two 6.5" woven-Kevlar cone woofers. Though it lacked some high-frequency detail and extension, the Diamond 10.7 had a warm, rich midrange and deep, natural bass that made music especially involving, said BJR. "The Diamond 10.7 is an impressive speaker that provides many of the attributes of pricier floorstanders in an attractive, small-footprint cabinet at an accessible price," he concluded. Similarly, JA noted "excellent measured performance for the price." (Vol.36 No.10 WWW)

C (Restricted LF)

ADAM Audio A3X Active: $658/pair (stands necessary)
From the pro-audio line of ADAM Audio GmbH comes the A3X active loudspeaker, a front-ported reflex design that uses a 4.5" carbon-fiber mid/woofer alongside ADAM's proprietary X-ART (for eXtended Accelerating Ribbon Technology) tweeter, the latter based on the famous (among audiophiles) Heil air-motion transformer. Each driver has its own dedicated 25W class-A/B amplifier, and both RCA and XLR inputs are provided on the rear panel of the enclosure, which ML described as "ruggedly handsome." He was especially impressed with the ADAMs' "excellent dispersion characteristics" when used with his PonoPlayer, noting that the A3Xes "were capable of sounding as if the music they were playing was being made directly inside my head—like headphones, only better." (Vol.38 No.9 WWW)

ATC SCM7 v.3: $1749/pair (stands necessary)
ATC's entry-level model is a small (11.8" H by 7.9" W by 9" D), two-way, stand-mounted speaker with a 1" soft-dome tweeter and a 5" mid/woofer. Unlike previous ATC models, the SCM v.3 has side panels that curve toward the rear, and its drivers are now flush-mounted in a fully veneered front panel. The sealed cabinet is available in handsome cherry and black-ash veneers. Claimed specifications include a lowish 84dB sensitivity and a flat nominal impedance of 8 ohms. Though it lacked low-end impact and resolution, the SCM v.3 produced an engaging overall sound marked by pinpoint imaging, excellent detail retrieval, and well-extended highs, said JM. On the bench, JA observed sensitivity even lower than that specified by ATC: 82 vs 84dB/2.83V/m, redeemed somewhat by impedance and electrical phase-angle curves that describe a benign load. JA was impressed by the SCM7 v.3's measured performance overall, noting that this British minimonitor "will sound best when the listener sits relatively close to it." (Vol.37 Nos.2 & 4 WWW)

Audience Clairaudient The One: $995/pair (stands necessary)
The ClairAudient The One is a very small (7" H by 5.5" W by 7" D) desktop speaker with a single 3" titanium-alloy drive-unit loaded by a 4" rear-mounted passive radiator. It has a single pair of binding posts and is internally wired with Audience's Ohno continuous-cast monocrystal wire. Though they lacked ultimate bass extension and couldn't go very loud when used in free space, the Ones had a revealing and involving overall sound, with superb resolution of detail, excellent dynamic contrasts, and subtle articulation of transients, said BJR. To achieve the most neutral balance, the speaker should be used in close proximity to a boundary, such as a desktop, advised JA. Class B, recommended BJR; JA demurs, feeling Class C is more appropriate. Matching stands add $75/pair. (Vol.36 No.9 WWW)

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 length of 2m, an RCA cable (2m), a 3.75m length of simple speaker cable, and a remote control. 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 IR window for the remote. 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 $70. (Vol.34 No.5 WWW)

DALI Zensor 1: $495/pair $$$ ★ (stands necessary)
The Zensor 1 is a very small (10.7" H by 6.3" W by 8.6" D), two-way, rear-ported bookshelf design with a 25mm fabric-dome tweeter and a 5.25" pulp-cone woofer. Its MDF cabinet is available in light-walnut or black-ash vinyl; the front baffle is finished in high-gloss black or white lacquer. Though the Zensor 1's upper bass was sometimes "a bit thumpy," the speaker's overall sound was surprisingly detailed and natural, with sophisticated highs, a rich, warm midrange, and a remarkable sense of pacing, said BJR. "This attractive little baby sets a new benchmark in its class," he concluded. JA noted impressive measured performance. (Vol.35 No.7 WWW)

Emotiva Audio Pro Airmotiv 4S: $299/pair $$$ (stands necessary)
Designed in the US, made in China, and sold direct from the manufacturer, the Emotiva Pro Airmotiv 4s was designed for pro-audio applications—the plain-gray styling is a giveaway. This two-way, reflex-loaded, self-biamplified loudspeaker stands only 9.25" high and weighs slightly more than two bags of sugar. Its tweeter is a 1" by 1.25" ribbon, its woofer a 4" plastic-composite cone, its internal electronics a pair of 25W class-A/B amplifiers with toroidal transformers and good-quality parts. BJR pressed the Pro Airmotiv 4s into domestic service on a pair of 24"-high stands and was impressed. He praised the Emotiva's "dead-pure midrange," the "clarity, extension, and [lack of] coloration" in its trebles, and the "pounding clarity" of its "amaz[ingly]" well-extended bass range—and bought the review pair. In his measurements, JA pointed to the Pro Airmotiv's "smooth, even" farfield response and "impressively clean" cumulative spectral-decay plot. (Vol.38 No.4 WWW)

GoldenEar Technology Aon 2: $799.98/pair $$$ (stands necessary)
This small (12" H by 8" W by 10" D) two-way, stand-mounted loudspeaker has an unusual driver complement: a 1.06" by 1.31" High-Velocity Folded Ribbon tweeter, a 6" polypropylene-cone woofer, and two 6.5" side-mounted planar passive radiators. The cabinet is a truncated pyramid with a wraparound black grillecloth and a piano-gloss black topcap. Though it lacked some bottom-end slam, the Aon 2 had a coherent overall sound, with clean, well-extended highs, lightning-fast transients, and a warm, rich midrange, said BJR. "GoldenEar has produced a stunning achievement in the Aon 2, with strengths that are unusual for a bookshelf speaker of this size and price," he concluded. The Aon 2 revealed an upper-midrange peak on the test bench, but otherwise measured well for its price, said JA. (Vol.36 No.11 WWW)

Magnepan .7: $1400/pair $$$
Magnepan's .7 planar-magnetic or "quasi-ribbon" loudspeaker is a two-way panel design that measures just over 54" high and 15" wide. The manufacturer's specs include a 4-ohm nominal impedance, sensitivity of 86dB, and bass extension down to 45Hz. Used on their own, especially when driven by Rogue Audio's 100Wpc Sphinx integrated amplifier ($1295), the .7s delighted HR with their "microdetail, transient attack, transparency, and soundstaging," but could also sound "a little bass shy." But when augmented with a pair of Magnepan's DWM bass panels ($795 each), the combination of .7 speakers and Sphinx amp delivered "disarmingly big, robust, vivid, and extremely tactile" sound with plentiful, "authentically toned" bass. "These Maggies did slam," HR declared, adding that he'd never enjoyed Led Zeppelin II more than through this system. Class B, felt HR; Class C decided JA. (Vol.38 No.8 WWW)

Opera Mezza 2012: $1500/pair (stands necessary)
Made in Italy, the Opera Mezza 2012 is an attractive two-way minimonitor with wood-veneered side panels and a faux-leather front baffle. It uses a 5.5" treated-paper-cone mid/woofer from SEAS and a 1" Scan-Speak soft-dome tweeter. Though it seemed to struggle a bit with large-scale music played at high volumes, the Mezza 2012 combined a sweet midrange with a crisply articulated treble for a sound that best complemented chamber music and small-group jazz, said ST. (Vol.36 No.5)

Phase Technology PC60 CA: $1400/pair ★ (stands necessary)
A reissue, with new drivers and crossovers, of Phase Technology's classic PC-60 of the 1980s, the PC60 CA is a small (13.25" H) sealed-box loudspeaker with a 1" soft-dome tweeter and a 6.5" solid-piston woofer made from a trilaminate of Kevlar, glass fiber, and a material the company refers to as RPF. The PC60 CA's sensitivity and impedance are respectively specified as 87dB/W/m and 4 ohms, and the center frequency of its Absolute Phase Crossover—a design intended to preserve the drivers' optimum dispersion characteristics—is 2kHz. Used atop BJR's sand- and lead-shot–loaded Celestion Si stands, the Phase Techs impressed him with their "flawless articulation of transients," their "ability to render hall sound and high-level dynamic contrasts without strain," and a degree of "transparency in the lower midrange [that] made [them] a natural showcase" for some of his favorite jazz recordings—although the PC60 CAs were not shy about communicating the upper-midrange/lower-treble flaws of some recordings. Apart from uncovering a resonance problem in the speaker's crossover region that may contribute to its lack of grace with bright recordings, JA declared the PC60 CA "a well-engineered little speaker." (Vol.37 No.7 WWW)

PSB Imagine Mini: $759/pair ★ (stands necessary)
Measuring just 9.25" H by 5.75" W by 8.3" D and weighing 6.5 lbs, the Mini is PSB's smallest, least expensive Imagine model. It marries the 1" ferrofluid-cooled, titanium-dome tweeter used in other Imagine models to a 4" clay/ceramic-filled polypropylene-cone woofer. The tiny cabinet, available in satin-finish wood veneer or high-gloss black or white (add $70/pair), has a curved top panel and sidewalls; the baffle is finished in matte black. The Mini sacrificed ultimate loudness and low-frequency extension for high-frequency purity, a clean midrange, and a wide, stable soundstage, said JA. The Mini's measured performance was "almost beyond reproach." The matching PFS-27 stands cost $300/pair. Price is for Walnut, Dark Cherry, and Black Ash Veneers. High Gloss Black or High Gloss White adds $70/pair. PWB-1 Wall Bracket is $99. (Vol.35 No.8 WWW)

Sonus Faber Venere 1.5: $1198/pair (stands necessary)
The Venere 1.5 is a two-way, front-vented, biwirable bookshelf speaker measuring 15.4" H by 8" W by 11.7" D and weighing 13.2 lbs. It uses a 1.25" silk-dome tweeter with a conical waveguide and a 6" Curv-cone mid/woofer. Like the larger Venere 2.5, the 1.5 has a beautifully finished, internally braced cabinet whose sidewalls curve around to meet a very narrow rear panel just wide enough to accommodate a staggered array of four multiway terminals. Though it lacked high-frequency sparkle and exhibited a slightly elevated upper bass, the Venere 1.5 produced a natural, dynamic, and involving overall sound, with a detailed midrange and delicate highs, said BJR. Price is for black or white high-gloss lacquer finish; real-wood walnut veneer adds $300/pair. Matching stands add $398/pair. Borderline Class B overall. (Vol.37 No.1 WWW)

Tannoy Reveal 402: $560/pair (stands necessary)
The Tannoy Reveal 402 active loudspeaker mates a 4" high-sensitivity mid/woofer with a ¾" soft-dome tweeter—the latter nominally warranted as "Poke-Resistant"—for a claimed frequency response of 56Hz–48kHz. Each lucky driver gets its own internal 25W amplifier, and the lucky owner gets a volume control, adjustable EQ settings, a minijack for use with a portable music player, and RCA and XLR input jacks. When fed from the similarly inexpensive iFi nano iDSD DAC, the Tannoys impressed ML as "damn fun to listen to." (Vol.38 No.9 WWW)


Aperion Verus Grand Bookshelf: $699/pair (stands necessary)
The Verus Grand Bookshelf is a two-way, bass-reflex, stand-mounted design with a 1" silk-dome tweeter and a 5" woven-Kevlar woofer with an aluminum phase plug. The beautifully finished cabinet features curved side panels and internal bracing to minimize standing waves. Fit and finish were outstanding. Though it lacked some high-level dynamic slam, the Aperion offered a well-balanced overall sound with airy highs, a detailed midrange, clean bass, and good sense of space, said BJR. JA noted superb measured performance. All Aperion products are offered with a 30-day money-back guarantee, free shipping, a 10-year warranty, and a trade-in program. (Vol.36 No.1 WWW)

Audioengine A2+: $249/pair $$$ (stands necessary)
At the end of 2013, Audioengine replaced the A2 ($199/pair) with the A2+, the only apparent differences being that the latter costs $50/pair more and, per JA, "adds to the left, master speaker a USB 1.1 input for digital audio and a pair of output jacks, used to feed an unfiltered, unequalized signal to the subwoofer(s)." JA compared the new speaker with its predecessor, confirmed that they sounded "identical," and added, "I was impressed by how well these tiny speakers managed to fill my listening room with sound." His new measurements noted that "the A2+'s farfield response .ˇ.ˇ. is identical to the A2's." He concluded, "A heck of a speaker at a heck of a price!" (Vol.37 No.9, Vol.38 No.4 WWW)

Boston Acoustics A 25: $298/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 WWW)

Definitive Technology Studio Monitor 55: $598/pair (stands necessary)
This two-way, biwirable, stand-mounted design uses a 1" aluminum-dome tweeter, a 6.5" BDSS cast-basket mid/woofer, and, instead of a reflex port, an unusual top-firing, 6" by 10" passive radiator. Fit and finish were superb. The SM55 lacked high-frequency delicacy and sophistication but produced a clean midrange, well-defined midbass, and outstanding high-level dynamics, said BJR. Though its test-bench results indicated weighty low frequencies for a bookshelf model, the SM55 was not as well balanced overall as the smaller and more affordable SM45, felt JA. (Vol.35 No.11 WWW)

Definitive Technology Studio Monitor 45: $398/pair (stands necessary)
Made in China, the two-way, rear-ported 45 is the smallest and least expensive model in DefTech's revamped StudioMonitor series. It measures 11.7" H by 6.75" W by 11.7" D and has a 1" aluminum-dome tweeter and a 5.25" mid/woofer, the latter utilizing DefTech's new Linear Response Waveguide for wide dispersion and smooth off-axis frequency response. The matte-black wood-grain enclosure has tapered side panels and a contoured, high-gloss baffle to minimize diffraction. Fit and finish were outstanding. Though they lacked some bass weight and impact, the DefTechs combined natural transient articulation, well-controlled lows, impressive dynamics, and stable stereo imaging for a compelling listening experience, said SM. High Class D, bordering on Class C. Other than its lively enclosure and two very strong port resonances, at 700 and 910Hz, the SM 45 measured very well for an inexpensive speaker, said JA. (Vol.35 Nos.8 & 10 WWW)

Music Hall Marimba: $349/pair (stands necessary)
Music Hall's only loudspeaker is a small (11" H by 6.5" W by 8.75" D), two-way, reflex-loaded design with a 1" silk-dome tweeter and a 5.25" polypropylene-cone mid/woofer. The MDF cabinet is internally braced to minimize vibrations, has curved edges to reduce diffraction, and is finished in modest black vinyl. Though dynamically limited, the Marimbas were extremely room-friendly, with outstanding imaging and soundstaging abilities, said ST. "The Marimba is an astonishing little speaker," he concluded, "as long as you don't expect it to do too much." Compared with PSB's Alpha B1s, the Marimbas had more crisply articulated highs and produced smaller, more tightly focused images on a wider soundstage, said SM, concluding "Super fun, with great imaging and soundstaging, but a bit too hot on top." JA was impressed by the Marimba's measured performance. "An honest loudspeaker offering honest performance at a very competitive price," he said. (Vol.35 No.12; Vol.36 Nos.6 & 7 WWW)

Pioneer SP-BS22-LR: $129.99/pair $$$ (stands necessary)
The SP-BS22-LR is a two-way, bass-reflex bookshelf model with a 1" soft-dome tweeter, a 4" woofer with a structured-surface cone, and a sophisticated six-element crossover network. Its cabinet has gently curved sidewalls and is finished in black wood-grain vinyl. The Pioneers lacked some extension on top and bottom, but had a rich midrange and exhibited excellent detail resolution, transient articulation, and reproduction of ambience, said BJR. Compared with the Music Hall Marimbas, the Pioneers produced fleshier images and smoother, gentler highs; compared with the PSB Alpha B1s, the Pioneers were more transparent and had better image focus but lacked some bass impact, said SM. (Vol.36 Nos.7 & 9 WWW)

Polk Audio RTi A3 ★: $399.95/pair ★ (stands necessary)
The two-way, stand-mounted RTi A3 measures 14.75" H by 8.58" W by 14" D, has a 1" silk-dome tweeter and a 6.5" polymer-composite woofer, and is available in real-wood veneers of black ash or cherry. It employs Polk's Power Port, a system in which two ports work together to reduce noise and distortion for clean, powerful bass. Though the RTi A3's fast, detailed highs could be unforgiving of poorly recorded material, the speaker's muscularity, weight, and solidity complemented well-recorded rock music. Compared to the DefTech SM 45, the Polk produced a bigger, more aggressive overall sound, but lacked the DefTechs' transient articulation, detail, and delicate touch, said SM. Despite the Polk's lively cabinet, JA noted "excellent audio engineering at an affordable price." (Vol.35 Nos.7 & 8 WWW)

PSB Alpha B1: $299/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 5¼", injection-molded, polypropylene-cone woofer with a ¾" 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 WWW)

PSB Alpha PS1: $299/pair
The Alpha PS1 is a small (8" H by 4.5" W by 7" D), two-way, powered desktop loudspeaker with an attractive gloss-black cabinet. It has a 0.75" aluminum-dome tweeter and a 3.5" metallized polypropylene-cone woofer with an oversized magnet and rubber surround; a slotted rear port is tuned for enhanced bass response. The left-channel speaker contains a 20Wpc amplifier and provides several useful connections: a single pair of RCA inputs, a 3.5mm Aux input, a subwoofer output, a 5V USB power port for charging mobile devices or powering a WiFi dongle, and a 24V DC input. The PS1s produced a surprisingly large and full-bodied sound, with clean highs and an open, uncolored midrange, said SM, who bought the review samples. (Vol.36 No.7 WWW)

Sjöfn HiFi (the clue): $999/pair (stands necessary)
A perennial attraction at audio shows, Sjöfn's idiosyncratic The Clue is a small, stand-mounted, reflex-loaded speaker designed to be placed near room boundaries. It has a 0.875" silk-dome tweeter and a 5.5" plastic-cone woofer, and boasts a sensitivity of 87dB/W/m and a nominal impedance of 6 ohms. Stands ranging in height from 19" to 22" are recommended. HR auditioned a variety of records through the Sjöfns, and had strong praise for their "smooth and seamless" upper mids and lower treble range: Their speed and definition were impressive. But an apparent discontinuity in The Clue's upper-bass response resulted in a lack of weight and body in many vocal and instrumental sounds. In the end, HR expressed frustration: "I couldn't find a way to really enjoy my listening time while The Clues were in the system." JA's measurements confirmed the speaker's specified sensitivity, but suggested that The Clue's nominal impedance went a bit lower than 6 ohms. (Vol.38 No.1 WWW)

Tannoy Mercury V1: $382/pair ★ (stands necessary)
Designed in the UK and made in China, the two-way, front-ported Mercury V1 measures 11.8" H by 6.7" W by 10" D, weighs 9.9 lbs, and has a 1" soft-dome tweeter and a 5.1" pulped paper-cone mid/woofer. The cabinet is available in handsome Dark Walnut and Sugar Maple finishes. Build quality was excellent. Lacking some bass weight and impact, the Mercury V1 had a slightly polite overall sound with an especially sweet, sophisticated treble; a detailed, uncolored midrange; and nicely balanced, well-controlled bass, said SM. Other than an upper-midrange peak in its on-axis farfield response, the Mercury V1's measured performance was commendable, said JA. "I still miss these speakers," bemoans SM. (Vol.35 Nos.9, 10, & 11 WWW)

Wharfedale Diamond 10.1: $349/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. Compared to the Pioneer SP-BS22-LR, the Wharfedale had a warmer overall sound with more delicate highs and a richer midrange, but lacked the Pioneers' image focus and clean attack transients, said SM. "The Wharfedale Diamond 10.1 remains my favorite affordable stand-mounted loudspeaker," he concluded. "For the price, I'm not sure you can do better." JA noted superb measured performance. (Vol.34 Nos.2, 4, & 10; Vol.36 No.10 WWW)


Dayton Audio B652: $39.80/pair (stands necessary)
The least expensive loudspeaker Stereophile has ever reviewed, Dayton Audio's B652 is a very small (11.8" H by 7" W by 6.5" D), very light (5.8 lbs), two-way, sealed-cabinet design with a 0.6" ferrofluid-cooled polycarbonate-dome tweeter and a 6.5" polypropylene-cone mid/woofer. The simple MDF cabinet is clad in black vinyl and has a removable grille of black cloth. Though it lacked overall clarity, extension, and control, the B652 offered a surprisingly large soundstage, good image separation, and a very fine sense of momentum and flow, with no hint of temporal distortions, said SM. Given its low price, the B652's measured performance was "quite remarkable," said JA. Dayton Audio B652-AIR ($59.80/pair) replaces the dome tweeter with a folded-ribbon unit and was also impressive. "Recommended for those looking for the least-expensive way to share our enthusiasm for recorded music," JA summed up. (Vol.36 No.1, original WWW; Vol.38 No.2, AIR WWW)

Urban Fidelity Loudspeaker: $399/pair
Designed and made in Los Angeles and launched with the help of the Kickstarter crowdfunding website, the Urban Fidelity loudspeaker is a single-driver, crossover- and cabinet-free floorstander whose front panel features designs from independent visual artists. With its base in place, the speaker measures 41" H by 13" W by 13" D. The speaker's body is made from North American–sourced, formaldehyde-free wood, while the artwork is reproduced with water-based inks. The 8" drive-unit, made for UF by a US-based company, combines a low-frequency cone and high-frequency whizzer in a frame of cast aluminum. The review sample, featuring Liam Brazer's Country design, was gorgeous. While the UFs created an impressively large, stable soundstage with well-focused images and had a fast, clean overall sound, they were lean in the lower midrange, lacked bass impact, and added to voices a "cupped-hands" coloration that sometimes detracted from his enjoyment of the music, said SM. (Vol.37 No.1 WWW)


Meridian DSP7200, PSB Imagine T3, Sony SS-NA5ES, Vandersteen Model Seven Mk.2, GoldenEar Triton Five, YG Carmel 2.

B&W 800 Diamond and 804 Diamond, Vandersteen Model Seven, all replaced by new models; Swissonor B.A.C.H. 8e not currently available in the US; ADAM Audio Classic Column Mk3, Audio Note AN-E/SPe HE, Energy CB-10, Linn Majik 140, Revel Ultima Salon2, Sonus Faber Amati Futura and Guarneri Evolution, Sony SS-AR1, Teresonic Magus, Totem Dreamcatcher, all not auditioned in a long time.

corrective_unconscious's picture

Is meant to summon 1960s LP album covers - the record company banners on them. Of course the "stereophile" logo is of a different style, but still a nice touch if I'm correct.

Venere 2's picture

Too funny to see the 1499$ KEF LS50 still in Class A with the Magico Q5 at 65 000$

That is one of a good handful of aberrations. Stereophile gets a lot of things right. But when they don't, they really don't!

z24069's picture

Under Disc Players, Transports, etc...there are some fine choices in all the categories and they all definitely belong on the list IMHO.

HOWEVER, you've completely left Esoteric products off the list; this begs the question as to how at least one of the myriad SOTA products (1box as well as multi-box) from Esoteric including the K-01x, K-03x, P-02/D-02, P-1/D-1s/etc...cannot be found on this list.

Their products did receive nominations from TAS and Stereophile for best-of categories for many years and have been bettered in terms of sound quality in more recent product releases; it leaves one wondering how they could be conspicuous by their complete absence from this year's and last year's lists???

John Atkinson's picture
z24069 wrote:
it leaves one wondering how they could be conspicuous by their complete absence from this year's and last year's lists???

This is because we haven't reviewed any Esoteric products for a couple of years. (I favorably reviewed the D-07 D/A processor in 2011 - see www.stereophile.com/content/esoteric-d-07-da-processor.) The company has gone through major changes in its management and distribution and we are waiting for things to settle down before investing our resources in a review.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

z24069's picture


Thank you for the reply...there has been high praise on various forums for K01, K01X, K03X, P1/D1, P2/D2 and C02/C02X products from them. It is true with the buy of Esoteric away from Teac and Onkyo/Integra now providing support and sales things have changed and a number of us had to dig a bit to get contacts at the new company for everything from sales to support. It may be time to review them again however as the level of playback achieved by the P1/D1, P2/D2 and K01X is nothing short of stunning, certainly in line with many products that did make the list over the last couple of years. If you are interested in those contacts or talking directly with some Esoteric owners of multi-generations including the current ones, please let me know and I'll get you in touch.... There are other brands and products missing as well (check out Legacy "V" and "Aeris" for example) and the industry has grown,...perhaps the 500 number as a cut-off should be revisited and raised!

z24069's picture

BTW...if there is a way to reach you via email, I'd be happy to pass on the contacts that some of us have found work for getting in touch with the Sales and Support side of the new Esoteric and to talk about some great music that is currently spinning....Have a great weekend!

yuvalg9's picture


1. In the CD players category, I think you should have mentioned the Naim CD5si and the Cyrus CD i. Both are great value for money.

2. In the Turntables category, I think you should have mentioned at least one of the Pro-Ject models. Pro-Ject is, as you may know, the largest TT Manufacturer in the world.

3. GoldenEar's Triton 5 under the "K" category? Maybe I misunderstood what the "K" category is?