Gershman Acoustics, VAC, EMM Labs, Wolf Audio, Cardas

Mind if I slap some quick virtual labels on Gershman Acoustics' $17,000 pair of Grande Avant Garde speakers? From my notes: "Very big-sounding for small floorstanders." "Their brawn belies their size." "Elegant overachievers."

They're all that. At 89lb each and just 39" tall, the three-and-a-half–way dynamic Grande Avant Gardes ought to be top contenders for audiophiles who want full-range sound (down to 20Hz, according to the specs!) but have no use for speakers the size of coffins.

Even long-time fans of the brand might get a surprise when they hear the latest iteration—a 30th-anniversary model that, CEO Ofra Gershman told me, has a redesigned base that coaxes improved low-end performance from the 8" dual-coil aluminum-cone woofer. (Actually, she said aluminium—Gershman Acoustics is a Canadian company.)

I didn't expect the speakers to project up as well as they do. Less than a meter tall, they look as if vocals, for instance, might sorta linger at waist level. Perhaps thanks to the shouldered, sloping baffle, that's not the case at all. Giulia Lorvich's purring voice on "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To" was all kinds of correct—timbre, weight, and height, with a nice corporeal flourish. Double basses sounded meaty and substantial, and Plas Johnson's tenor sax on Henry Mancini's "The Pink Panther Theme" was as warm and enveloping as I've ever heard it.

The realism was helped along by electronics that retail for seven times (!) the price of the Grande Avant Gardes: a VAC Master 300 amplifier with an accompanying VAC Master preamp; EMM Labs' DA2 DAC; and a Wolf Audio streamer. All are priced right around $30k each. Cardas cables provided the cherry on top.