Recommended Components: 2019 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. We 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.

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 recommendations. That's why they're listed—and why you should consider buying them.

A (Full-Range)

Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 90: $84,990/pair
(Vol.40 No.1 WWW)

Bowers & Wilkins 802 D3: $22,000/pair
(Vol.39 No.6 WWW)

Egglestonworks Viginti: $39,995/pair
(Vol.41 No.6 WWW)

GamuT RS7: $41,900/pair
(Vol.38 No.9 WWW)

GoldenEar Technology Triton Reference: $8998/pair $$$
(Vol.40 No.12 WWW)

Magico S5 Mk.II: $41,800/pair $47,025/pair, depending on finish
(Vol.40 No.2 WWW)

Marten Coltrane 3: $125,000/pair
(Vol.39 No.6 WWW)

MartinLogan Renaissance ESL 15A: $24,999.98/pair
(Vol.40 No.1 WWW)

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

Revel Ultima Studio2: $15,998/pair $$$ ★
(Vol.31 No.3, Vol.32 No.12, Vol.42 No.9)

Revel Ultima2 Salon2: $21,998/pair ★
(Vol.31 No.6, Vol.32 No.3, Vol.42 Nos. 5 & 7 WWW)

Rockport Technologies Avior II: $38,500/pair
(Vol.40 No.8 WWW)

Sonus Faber Aida: $130,000/pair
(Vol.41 No.10)

Tidal Audio Akira: $215,000/pair
Price is for Midnight Gloss Black Lacquer; optional veneers add $10,000/pair. (Vol.41 No.11 WWW)

Vandersteen Model Seven Mk.II: $63,999/pair
(Vol.33 No.3 original version, Vol.39 No.5 WWW)

Vivid Audio Giya G1 Spirit: $93,000/pair
(Vol.41 No.1 WWW)

Wilson Audio Alexia Series 2: $57,900/pair
(Vol.41 Nos. 7 & 8 WWW)

Wilson Audio Specialties Alexx: $109,000/pair
(Vol.40 No.5 WWW)

A (Restricted Extreme LF)

Aerial Acoustics 5T: $3795/pair (stands necessary)
Representing a departure from the sealed-box loading, rectangular cabinet, and metal-dome tweeter of the original Model 5 and its first variant, the 5B, Aerial Acoustics' new 5T sports a slotted reflex port on the gently sloped front baffle of a gracefully curved enclosure, and trusts its trebles to the same model of ring-radiator tweeter used in Aerial's well-regarded 7T floorstander. A 6.7" woofer with a papyrus-blend cone and a crossover network comprising "high-order multi-element" filters complete the picture. With the 5Ts mounted atop 24"-tall, sand-and-lead-filled Celestion stands, JA noted "somewhat reticent" trebles coupled with "superb bass control," the latter characteristic allowing bass guitar to "[speak] with authority in its lower register." The 5T presented "near-holographic images," and was so successful at resolving spatial information from a recording of an Eric Whitacre choral work that JA remarked, "This is how a pair of speakers with superbly accurate and stable stereo imaging can serve the music." At his test bench, JA noted slightly lower-than-specified sensitivity (85.2 vs 87dB), and some small and apparently port-influenced midrange peaks; otherwise, he said, "Aerial's 5T demonstrates excellent speaker engineering." (Vol.40 No.3 WWW)

Auditorium 23 Hommage Cinema: $49,995/pair (plus power supply)
Auditorium 23's Keith Aschenbrenner dreamed of making a commercial product that could combine a vintage Western Electric 555 compression driver with a modestly sized horn, supplemented with similarly efficient treble and bass drivers. When the Chinese firm Line Magnetic began making faithful replicas of the 555, Aschenbrenner saw his chance, and with acoustician Uwe Meyer created the Hommage Cinema, which combines LM's 555 with a tidy midrange horn, coupled with LM's replica of the vintage WE 597A treble driver/horn and a bass cabinet with two powered paper-cone woofers: one 7", one 12". Like their WE forebears, the LM drivers are field-coil types, so a 7V DC power supply is also required; Auditorium 23 offers the NT1 supply ($5495), which they commissioned from AcousticPlan. Used with his low-power Shindo tube amplification, the Hommage Cinemas presented AD with coherence, physicality, and exceptional ease: "the force behind [music's] remaking was on a par with the force behind its making." The leading edges of bass notes were slightly rounded, and treble extension was "noticeably less than one associates with modern loudspeakers," yet, overall, AD found the Hommage Cinema to be "the most thoroughly competent" contemporary high-efficiency speakers he has had in his home. In a Follow-Up, JA wrote of determining that the Cinema has a sensitivity of 102dB—"This is heroic engineering!"—and a triode-tube-happy 15 ohm impedance. While confessing that he could not live with the Cinema's lack of top-end energy, JA advised, "you should give this speaker a listen, just to experience what's possible from a classic compression driver loaded with a horn." However, he feels that Class B is a more appropriate rating for what he feels is an old-fashioned–sounding speaker. (Vol.39 No.11, Vol.40 No.1 WWW)

Bowers & Wilkins 805 D3: $6000/pair (stands necessary)
The smallest model in Bowers & Wilkins's Diamond line, the 805 D3 features a 1" diamond-dome tweeter carried over from earlier models (though B&W say they've improved its motor system) and a 6.5" woofer made of Continuum, a proprietary woven material that replaces the resolutely yellow Kevlar of the company's earlier speakers. The woofer is reflex loaded with a flared port on the front panel, and the tweeter is loaded with a transmission line inside an aluminum housing shaped like the head of the xenomorph from the Alien franchise. Placed atop 24"-tall, sand-and-lead-filled Celestion stands, the 805 D3s presented JA with "astonishing clarity in the midrange and treble," coupled with "impressive dynamic capability." He also noted that B&W's designers have "managed an optimal balance between bass power and control," evinced by the speaker's ability to reproduce double bass "with good weight, but also with the leading edges of notes well defined." Tape hiss in one recording and vocal sibilants in another were more audible than expected, leading JA to remark that "this is a speaker that will verge on the edge of excess with unsympathetic ancillary components, or in a room that itself emphasizes the highs"—an observation borne out during JA's test regimen, which revealed "a somewhat 'tailored' frequency response in the treble." (Vol.40 Nos.3 & 5 WWW)

Crystal Cable Arabesque Minissimo Diamond: $21,499/pair (stands included)
Unlike its larger stablemate, the Crystal Cable Arabesque—a floorstanding loudspeaker in a stunning glass enclosure—the two-way Arabesque Minissimo Diamond is built into a compact but radically shaped monocoque cabinet milled from a single piece of aluminum-loaded polymer. It features a laminated-paper 6" woofer and a diamond-dome 1" tweeter, the latter protected by a laser-cut grille. Its aluminum stand, atop which the speaker reaches a height of 38", is integral. With a nod to "the intellectual elegance of a speaker that is no bigger than it needs to be," JA described being impressed by the Arabesque Minissimo Diamond, praising in particular the speaker's consistently "excellent imaging and clarity." That said, he also noted the speaker's "slightly midrange-forward balance," and the fact that $19,995/pair is "very expensive for a small two-way loudspeaker." Writing from his test bench, JA discovered less than the specified sensitivity—81 instead of 83.5dB—and in-room behavior that supported his impression of a "midrange-dominant" sound; otherwise, he declared, the Arabesque Minissimo Diamond "offers respectable measured performance." (Vol.39 No.10 WWW)

DeVore Fidelity Gibbon 3XL: $3900/pair $$$ (stands necessary)
Hand-built in Brooklyn, New York, the Gibbon 3XL has a beautifully finished cabinet made mostly of solid bamboo, and uses an unusual 0.75" tweeter and a 5" midrange/woofer custom-designed for DeVore by SEAS. The speaker has a claimed sensitivity of 90dB and a nominal impedance of 8 ohms, never dropping below 7.4 ohms. While the comparably priced Harbeth Compact 7 ES-3 offered a slightly richer, fuller sound, the Gibbon 3XL produced excellent low-level resolution, reasonably wide dynamics, and stable, pinpoint imaging, said ST in June 2010. In his April 2017 Follow-Up, HR wrote that his time with the 3XLs was all about "Leica-like focus, pulsing flow, [and] fresh-air transparency." He added that, although their bass performance was limited, the DeVores' "ability to reproduce human voices, chamber orchestras, and architectural spaces was as good as those things get." The almost obligatory matching bamboo stands add $695/pair. (Vol.33 No.6, Vol.40 No.4 WWW)

DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/96: $13,200/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. Vol.40 No.9 WWW)

Dutch & Dutch 8c: $12,500/pair
The active, DSP-controlled Dutch & Dutch 8c has a wood-and-ABS stand-mounted enclosure—vented for a clever application of antiphase cancellation, used to shape the speaker's dispersion—and a driver complement that includes a 1" aluminum-magnesium alloy dome tweeter in a shallow acoustic waveguide, a front-firing 8" aluminum-cone midrange, and a pair of rear-firing aluminum-cone woofers. KR found listening to the 8c "a pure delight" and praised it as "a truly full-range system with enough dynamic range and power for almost any domestic situation." The Measurements sidebar was one graphic after another that looked so perfect they could have come from a textbook. (Vol.42 No.8)

Dynaudio Contour 20: $5000$5750/pair based on finish (stands necessary)
The 17.3"-tall, 34.2-lb Dynaudio Contour 20, which HR described as "luxuriously large and heavy for a stand-mounted model," has a 1.1" Esotar2 soft-dome tweeter and a 7.1" Magnesium Silicate Polymer (MSP) mid-woofer, crossed over at 2.2kHz and bolted to a ½"-thick aluminum baffle. Resistive loading for its rear-mounted reflex port is user-adjustable by means of foam inserts. Used with Dynaudio's optional Stand 6 ($500/pair), and following a few setup challenges—tube amplification of at least moderate power is among the key requirements—the Contour 20s rewarded HR with a soundstage that was "galaxy deep, the orchestra precisely arranged on it," plus "a lively sonic luminescence" and "fierce forward momentum" on classic bluegrass music. While expressing his belief that "a loudspeaker expresses its full character in how and where it directs the listener's attention," HR praised the Contour 20 for performing "well on both the poetic and scientific levels," offering "a near-perfect balance of the Apollonian and the Dionysian." In measuring the Contour 20, JA found a sensitivity slightly lower than specified (84.2 vs 86dB), and a faint port whistle that was audible only from behind the speaker; he declared the Dynaudio an exemplar of "excellent audio engineering." In the May 2017 issue, JA described trying the Contour 20s in his own listening room. Compared with the similarly priced and more sensitive Bowers & Wilkins 805 D3, he found that the Dynaudio extended lower in the bass, and while it gave richer-toned accounts of some instruments, it offered "more neutrally balanced top octaves." The Contour 20 is, JA concluded, "a true monitor speaker." Add $750/pair for premium finishes. (Vol.40 Nos. 4 & 5 WWW)

Elac Adante AF-61: $5000/pair
Following the success of their budget-priced Debut B6 model (see elsewhere in "Recommended Components"), Elac has launched itself into dearer waters with their upmarket Adante line, designed by veteran loudspeaker guru Andrew Jones. The AF-61 floorstander is an eight-driver, three-way design in which a concentric driver comprising a 1" tweeter and 5.25" midrange cone are supplemented with three individually chambered 6.5" woofers hidden behind the same number of 8" passive drivers: the front waves of the active woofers drive, acoustically, the passive cones, while the rear waves of the woofers are loaded by internal reflex ports. However it is accomplished, the Adantes' bass performance was not their greatest strength. TJN noted "a distinct lack of impact below about 45Hz," and said that it took the addition of Elac's own SUB3070 subwoofer ($2500) to turn "[this] very good speaker into an exceptional one." JA's measurements confirmed that the speaker's 6dB point of 40Hz is "higher than I would have expected from such a large loudspeaker," but he otherwise commended the AF-61's "excellent" engineering. (Vol.41 No.12 WWW)

ENIGMAcoustics Sopranino Electrostatic supertweeter: $3690/pair (stands optional)
Here's something you don't see every day: a horn-loaded, self-polarized, electrostatic supertweeter. The Sopranino is a 6-lb, 7.6"-tall 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. Writing in his Follow-Up review, AD also reported a spot of trouble: one of the Sopraninos in his loaner pair arrived in non-working condition. EnigmAcoustics replaced that well-traveled pair with a fresh one, and AD went on to enjoy "a greater improvement in spatial performance than any other aspect of playback" when using the Sopraninos—plus their optional stands—with his Quad ESL loudspeakers. As he wrote, "my assessment of the EnigmAcoustics supertweeter is precisely the same as JA's: 'An audition will be mandatory prior to purchase.'" (Vol.37 No.6, Vol.39 No.11 WWW)

Harbeth Monitor 30.2 40th Anniversary Edition: $6995/pair (stands necessary)
In its "well-crafted, elegantly proportioned," 18.1"-tall reflex-ported cabinet, the Harbeth Monitor 30.2 combines a 7.9" bass-midrange cone made of Harbeth's proprietary Radial2 polymer with a 1" soft-dome tweeter from SEAS. For the 40th Anniversary Edition of this model, derived from the BBC's LS5/9 design, Harbeth sweetens the deal with an exclusive silver eucalyptus veneer, a restyled tweeter grille, better crossover capacitors, and upgraded internal wiring and binding posts. Used on 24"-tall stands from TonTräger Audio ($1495/pair), the Harbeths delighted HR with easy-flowing music, vivid colors and textures, "unshakable clarity," and stereo images that were "tangibly there." Herb's verdict: "the most tuneful, accurate, neutral, fun, and music-loving stand-mounted two-way speaker I've heard." Writing from his lab, JA reported higher-than-specified sensitivity (87.3 vs 85dB) and benign impedance characteristics ("it should be an easy load for amplifiers to drive"), and declared the Monitor 30.2 "as well-engineered a design as I have come to expect from [Harbeth chief designer] Alan Shaw and his respect for the BBC tradition." (Vol.41 No.4 WWW)

Joseph Audio Perspective2: $14,999/pair
Introduced in 2013, the floorstanding Perspective started life with a SEAS 1" impregnated-fabric dome tweeter and two SEAS 5.5" magnesium-cone woofers. After its 2019 upgrade to Perspective2 status, the tweeter remains, but the woofers have been replaced with 5.5" SEAS Excel Graphene drivers, in which magnesium-alloy cones are coated with a graphene-based "nanomaterial." JA, who in 2014 reviewed the Perspectives, wrote that the Perspective 2s "produced the same wide sweep of full-range sound and tangible stereo imaging" that impressed him with the originals: "The low frequencies were still rich, but perhaps the articulation was even better." He also found the Perspective2s to be more tolerant than their predecessors of overly bright recordings. Reporting from his test bench, JA confirmed that, like the original, the Perspective2 was easy to drive if somewhat less sensitive than average, and concluded by recommending the new speaker "even more highly than I did the original." (Vol.37 No.7, Vol.42) No.7 WWW)

Joseph Audio Pulsar: $9000/pair (stands necessary)
The compact (15" H by 9" W by 13" D), rear-ported 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. HR, having long enjoyed the Joseph Pulsars at audio shows, borrowed a pair in 2018 and wrote in his Follow-Up that the Pulsars worked hand in hand with a much-loved recording to "let me delight in sound purely for the sake of sound." Herb felt the Pulsars lacked "the more saturated tone and deeper textural descriptiveness" of Harbeth's 30.2 40th Anniversary Edition loudspeakers, but were more transparent, and provided better stereo imaging. He summed up: "The Pulsar is a reference-quality loudspeaker." The Pulsar has been updated with drivers coated in a graphene-based "nanomaterial," but based on JA's experience with the larger Perspective, the new Pulsar is likely to remain recommendable. (Vol.35 No.6, Vol.41 No.7 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 that he had purchased, 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)

Kii Audio Three: $17,495/pair including Kii Control Standard colors (stands necessary); Custom colors $18,495 (stands necessary)
In a field of endeavor in which, according to KR, "we have not seen anything really new in a long time," the Kii Three impressed him as "a refreshing splash of cool water." This three-way, six-driver loudspeaker is self-amplified—each Three contains six 250W Ncore class-D modules—and uses an integral DSP system to perform crossover functions, room-boundary compensation, phase equalization, and to allow the user to shape the radiation pattern of its drivers. (As KR remarked near the end of his review, "the only valid comparison was with B&O's BeoLab 90.") Bundled with the Three—which stands only 16" tall and is intended for use on purpose-made stands—is a wired remote control for volume adjustment, input selection, and other functions. In spite of the Kii's modest size, it was, per Kal, "entirely satisfying in delineating the descending pedal notes" in a favorite pipe-organ recording, and was "almost unique" in its ability to convey "the sensation of a single throbbing column of air." Not only that, but the Threes' "dynamic range was huge," and KR was impressed by their soundstaging and transparency: "The Kii Three didn't just lift a veil away from the music—it removed a heavy cloak." In measuring the Kii, JA noted its lively enclosure, but was otherwise "very impressed." Price with Controller and stands is $19,290. (Vol.40 No.9 WWW)

Monitor Audio Platinum PL300 II: $14,495/pair
A functional—but not cosmetic—update of their original PL300, Monitor Audio's latest speaker is a three-way, four-driver floorstander with two reflex-loaded 8" woofers, a 4" midrange cone, and a Heil-style air-motion tweeter bearing the Monitor Audio trademark MPD, for Micro-Pleated Diaphragm. The PL300 II's curved, multilayer cabinet is made of a mineral-loaded thermoset polymer. After extended listening, RD felt that the PL300 II deserved comparison with the legendarily nonboxy-sounding Quad ESL, ultimately finding that the Monitor "had less 'speaker sound' than any loudspeaker I've reviewed." According to RD, "Monitor Audio has managed to reduce distortion and nonmusical resonances to a degree that made it easier to imagine that I was listening to live singers," and concluded by naming the PL300 II "my new reference." Apart from uncovering a lower sensitivity than specified (87 vs 90dB), JA gave the PL300 II a clean bill of health: "I am not surprised that RD was impressed . . . so was I." (Vol.39 No.11 WWW)

Paradigm Persona 5F: $17,000/pair
Q: What do you get when a company that specializes in high-value, high-tech loudspeakers sets its sights on the High End? A: Something very like the new Paradigm Persona series—so says KR, who tried the Persona 5F in his reference system and declared it "an auspicious entry into the thinner air of high-end audio." Kal also suggested that the key word in the Persona story is beryllium, as in the 5F's 1" beryllium-dome tweeter and 7" midrange driver. The speaker's three 7" woofers have aluminum cones, and are loaded by a bass-reflex enclosure made from seven layers of HDF, bonded to one another under high pressure, with RF waves used to cure the adhesive. (Try making something like that in your garage!) According to KR, that all adds up to a pair of well-balanced, full-range speakers that favor no one style of music, and that "disappear" from the soundstage "like aural Cheshire Cats." In measuring the Persona 5F, JA discovered slightly lower than the specified sensitivity (88 vs 90dB), and an impedance characteristic that augurs in favor of "an amplifier compatible with 4 ohm loads." Those quibbles aside, he proclaimed the Paradigm an example of "textbook audio engineering." (Vol.41 No.10 WWW)

PSB Imagine T3: $7498/pair
PSB's new flagship is a three-way, five-driver floorstander built into what JA described as "a gracefully curved, veneered enclosure, formed under pressure from MDF laminations" and adding up to "a gorgeous-looking piece of furniture." Each of the Imagine T3's three 7" woofers is loaded with its own reflex-ported (to the rear) subenclosure, while the 5.25" midrange driver—whose cone is formed from the same compressed-felt-and-fiberglass material as the woofers—has its own sealed enclosure. The tweeter is a 1" titanium dome, the operating range of which is extended to a lower-than-usual 1800Hz. JA achieved the best bass performance when the bottommost reflex port on each speaker was occluded by a rubber plug, supplied by PSB for such in-room tuning. According to him, the T3's obvious neutrality kept it from being impressive in a superficial, fleeting way; rather, as the review period continued, the Imagine T3s revealed "superb sound quality for what is still a relatively affordable price." Apart from noting a reflex-port resonant peak that made itself known in the midrange (650Hz) and a disparity between observed and specified crossover frequencies, JA declared that "PSB's T3 demonstrates excellent speaker engineering." (Vol.39 No.8 WWW)

Q Acoustics Concept 500: $5999.99/pair
This two-way, three-driver floorstander combines a 1" microfiber soft-dome tweeter with two impregnated/coated-paper-cone 6.5" mid-woofers, the three arranged in a vertical D'Appolito configuration. The Concept 500's 45.3"-tall enclosure is made of triple layers of MDF separated by a proprietary nonsetting gel; resonances are further tamed by what Q calls Helmholz Pressure Equalization (HPE), in which tuned tubes are added to the cabinet interior. The crossover is a fourth-order Linkwitz-Riley type. Played in TJN's medium-large listening space, an orchestral soundtrack recording "sounded superb through the Concept 500s, with excellent imaging, convincing depth, and a remarkable sense of space surrounding the performers, particularly the chorus." With other recordings, Tom noted an absence of obvious colorations, but did point out that bass response "wasn't quite as punchy, powerful, and deep as I've heard from a few other speakers in my room." Reporting from his test bench, JA noted a "usefully higher than average" sensitivity of 89.2dB, and opined that the Concept 500's bass is "optimized more for definition than weight." His conclusion: "I was impressed by the Concept 500's measured performance." (Vol.42 No.3 WWW)

Quad ESL-2912: $13,999/pair
The new Quad ESL-2912 electrostatic loudspeaker is a direct descendent of the Quad ESL-989, itself a variation on the successful Quad ESL-63—the speaker in which designer Peter J. Walker introduced his concept of annular-ring stators fed by progressively delayed signals, to mimic point-source dispersion. The ESL-989 was, in essence, a taller ESL-63 with two more bass panels, with consequently better bass performance and higher maximum SPL levels. The ESL-2912, manufactured in China, is offered as a better-built and thus performance-optimized ESL-989, with such refinements as a stiffer frame, veneered plywood panels intended to further stiffen and damp the speaker, physical separation of the ESL-2912's power-supply and audio circuits, and a more acoustically transparent grillecloth/sock. RD, no stranger to electrostats in general or Quads in particular, praised the ESL-2912 for its ability to play loudly enough and to provide sufficient bass extension and power. But, he wrote, "the greatest strength of the Quad ESL series, beginning with the ESL-63, has been, and continues to be, its midrange: smooth, revealing . . . and presenting a virtual open window on the music." JA's measurements uncovered a high treble range that's "first a little peaky, then rolls off sharply above 15kHz or so," and a "hashy" waterfall plot, the latter "like that of every other panel speaker I've measured." (Vol.40 No.8 WWW)

Revel Performa F228Be: $10,000/pair
The first floorstanding model in Revel's recent Performa line, the F228Be is a three-way, four-driver loudspeaker in which two 8" ceramic-and-aluminum-cone woofers and a 5.25" ceramic-and-aluminum-cone midrange driver are mated with a 1" beryllium-dome tweeter, that last driver seated within a shallow waveguide and fitted with an acoustic lens. The Performa F228Be stands 46.5" tall and weighs 82 lb. KR writes that, from even the first sounds he heard through the Revels, it was apparent that their midrange was "consistently clean, open, and balanced." In the weeks that followed those impressions gained strength, leading Kal to remark that, consistently, "individual voices and instruments sounded more honestly natural and balanced with each other than I'd heard them before from these same recordings." He also noted bass performance that was "full, extended, and surprisingly tight," adding that he "wouldn't consider adding a subwoofer to a pair of F228Be's." In measuring the Revel, JA noted a slightly demanding impedance curve, indicating the need for an amplifier comfortable with 4 ohm loads. That said, he proclaimed the F228Be's performance indicative of "excellent speaker engineering." (Vol.42 No.2 WWW)

Sonus Faber Guarneri Tradition: $16,900/pair (stands included)
Like its distinguished forebears, this fourth iteration of the Sonus Faber Guarneri has an enclosure made from multiple thin sheets of tonewood, the shape of which suggests, in cross section, a lute: a nod to its nominal family of luthiers as much as a structurally and acoustically motivated design element. The two-way design has a 1.1" silk-dome tweeter, enhanced with a tiny damping pad held against its diaphragm by a slender exterior bracket, and a 5.9" sandwich-cone mid/bass driver, both on a baffle covered in Italian leather (the rest of the cabinet is veneered with the tropical hardwood wengè). The low-frequency driver is reflex-loaded with a rear-mounted rectangular port that's radiused and lined with rubber at its top and bottom and damped with foam—basic black, of course. Playback quality was no less elegant: While listening to a track from Peter Gabriel's Scratch My Back, JA noted that the double-bass line "was reproduced with enough low-frequency power to support the music, while the image of the singer was palpable." In other recordings, low-level details were clear "without . . . being unnaturally spotlit," and JA praised the Sonus Fabers' "delicate-sounding high treble" and stable, detailed imaging. Writing from his test bench, JA observed "a small but well-defined peak" at 2kHz, noting that there is otherwise "a lot to admire in the Sonus Faber Guarneri Tradition's measured performance." (Vol.41 No.3 WWW)

Spendor D7: $6795/pair $$$ ★
The British-built D7 is a 2.5-way, 38"-tall floorstander, with a rated sensitivity of 90dB/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 Micro Evolution One: $14,495/pair (stands included in price)
TAD's first domestic loudspeaker not designed by Andrew Jones (now of Elac), the Micro Evolution One—ME1 for short—is a three-way loudspeaker that, at first glance, appears to have only two drivers: its 1" beryllium-dome tweeter and 3.5" magnesium-cone midrange driver are, in fact, concentric with one another, a technology that is TAD's spécialité du chez. Lower frequencies are handled by a 6.5" composite-cone woofer loaded with slots engineered into the sides of the ME1's plywood, MDF, and steel enclosures, and which TJN guessed might betray a variation on aperiodic loading. (Spoiler alert: JA's measurements uncovered behavior suggestive of traditional reflex loading.) Used well away from the walls of his 21' by 16' room, the ME1s impressed TJN with their resolving ability: "Subtle shadings of instrumental percussion textures were far more evident than I'm accustomed to hearing, and the distinct reproduction of the ambience of the recording venue added welcome helpings of air and depth." The TAD's midrange performance was commendably neutral—"instrumental timbres were convincingly reproduced, as were the voices of a wide range of singers"—but while bass was "consistently tight and well defined," the ME1's response didn't extend as low as some might wish, with "just-audible output" at 40Hz. JA's measurements confirmed the TAD's less-than-Stygian bass performance—apart from which, he observed that the ME1 offered "excellent measured performance." Not long after making those measurements, encouraged by TJN's positive report and spurred by an enthusiastic HR, JA installed the ME1s in his own listening room and proclaimed: "Herb and Tom were right: It may be expensive, but TAD's Micro Evolution One is indeed a special loudspeaker." Matching ST3 stands cost $2500/pair. (Vol.41 Nos. 2 & 3 WWW)

Technics Premium Class SB-C700: $1699/pair $$$ (stands necessary)
In 2015, Technics re-entered the perfectionist audio market with four Premium Class products, none more interesting than the compact and decidedly high-tech SB-C700 loudspeaker. Standing 13" high, the speaker's MDF cabinet is designed with a wider-in-the-middle profile when viewed from the front, and has walls of varying thickness to help tame internal resonances. The two-way SB-C700 has a reflex-loaded 6.5" woofer, the flat diaphragm of which is a sandwich of carbon cloth and honeycombed aluminum, plus a coaxial 0.75" tweeter with an aluminum dome and a neodymium magnet. HR put the SB-C700E through its paces with a variety of amplifiers, discovering such consistent traits as very good forward momentum with briskly paced music and laudable clarity and transparency, and noting that the Technics produced "not the biggest but perhaps the most properly scaled soundstage" among the small speakers he'd recently auditioned. HR added that the Technics speaker reached lower in the bass and "presented a wider spectrum of bass detail" than the KEF LS50 and lacked the "treble exaggerations" of the Falcon LS3/5a, although, with some recordings, it missed a bit of texture and force. Pointing to its higher-than-specified sensitivity, well-designed reflex tuning, and "impressively clean" cumulative spectral-delay plot—among other qualities that became apparent on his test bench—JA lauded the SB-C700E's "excellent audio engineering." (Vol.39 No.1 WWW)

Trenner & Friedl Sun: $3450/pair (stands necessary)
Imagine a SEAS coaxial driver—a 1" silk-dome tweeter set into the throat of a 4.7" black-anodized aluminum mid/woofer—in a ported cabinet only 8.5" high by 6.25" wide by 5.5" deep. That is the Tenner & Friedl Sun, an 82dB-sensitive loudspeaker that nevertheless impressed the heck out of KM, who likes his loudspeakers—not to mention his women, his coffee, and his hairstyle—au naturel. Newcomers Trenner & Friedl, who build the Sun in the forested countryside of Styria, Austria, claim that the Sun's solid-birch cabinet adheres to the oft-mentioned (especially in sales literature) golden ratio. JA dismissed that claim as incorrect, but otherwise—and apart from noting the presence on all cabinet surfaces of a 605Hz mode—declared that the Sun "offers excellent measured performance." KM praised the Sun for its "ample bass reproduction" in his New York City apartment, its "terrific drive [and] clarity," and its "astounding rhythmic drive" when partnered with the right amplifier. Ken's conclusion: "a modern classic." (Vol.40 No.1 WWW)

Volti Audio Rival: $8900/pair
The smaller and less expensive sibling of the well-regarded Volti Vittora, the Rival combines a 15" paper-cone woofer with a rectangular-mouthed wooden horn driven by a compression driver with a 3.5" phenolic diaphragm, and a 1" compression tweeter mounted to a molded Tractrix-flare horn with a 1" compression driver. The crossovers are adjustable, and a range of finish options is available. (The price above is for cabinetry with just a satin lacquer finish on its birch outer ply, and without the optional grilles.) Driven by a modestly powered Shindo Laboratory tube amp in KM's modestly sized room, the 125-lb Rivals "managed the sort of 'disappearing' act I've heard only from electrostatic panels." The sorts of colorations that some associate with horns never intruded—"the Rivals were the most neutral, transparent, dynamic speakers I've heard"—and although some adjustments were required to prevent them from sounding lean, ultimately, bass performance was "as riveting, powerful, and forceful, and as full of tone, texture, and energy as I've heard." KM's conclusion: "a true bargain." JA's technical assessment: "one of the highest-sensitivity loudspeakers I've measured," whose perceived balance "will depend to a greater degree than usual on the . . . size and acoustics of the room." (Vol.40 No.6 WWW)

Wilson Audio Specialties Sabrina: $16,500/pair
Approximately the size of the original WATT/Puppy combo, the single-box, three-way Sabrina enters the Wilson line just below the Sophia 3—which was, until now, the company's entry-level floorstander. The Sabrina has an 8" paper-composite woofer, a 5.7" paper-composite midrange driver, and a 1" doped-silk dome tweeter based on the Convergent Synergy tweeter first used in Wilson's Alexandria XLF, all built into a sleekly sculpted MDF cabinet with a baffle made of Wilson's proprietary X-material. Driven with a Theta Digital Prometheus amplifier, a pair of Sabrinas treated RD to a level of dynamic-contrast reproduction that "came closer to [my Avantgarde horns] than any other speaker I've reviewed." RD also raved about the Wilsons' lack of cabinet colorations, their "wide and deep" soundstage with "precisely defined" imaging, and their "first-rate" resolution. In his measurements, JA uncovered slightly higher-than-specified sensitivity (88.2 vs 87dB) and praised the overall design as "carefully optimized." Extra points for being the first Wilson floorstander to ship via UPS rather than common carrier, thus contributing to its affordability. (Vol.39 No.5 WWW)

B (Full-Range)

Bowers & Wilkins 702 S2: $4500/pair
Derived from Bowers & Wilkins's 800 series, loudspeakers in the 700 series differ from their upscale cousins in two ways: the speakers are made in China rather than Sussex, England, and their cabinets are rectangular rather than curved—and are thus easier and less expensive to build. So it is with the top model in the line, the three-way, reflex-loaded 702 S2, which retains the solid-body, bullet-shaped tweeter housing of the 800 series—yet here that housing has been re-engineered to suit a flat-sided enclosure, in addition to which the tweeter it houses has a carbon rather than a diamond dome. (Yes, I know, those are both carbon; work with me here.) Also from the 800 series is a 6" midrange driver made of the company's silvery woven Continuum material, supplemented with three 6.5" Aerofoil-laminate woofers. Driven by solid-state amplification (Classé Sigma monoblocks and a Parasound Halo A 31), the 702 S2s impressed KR from here to next Sunday: "The tonal balance from bottom to top of [the piano's] range was well nigh perfect. The reproduction of the sound of the violin, too, was excellent." Kal also noted "full, firm" bass, dynamic capabilities that allowed percussive effects to be startling, and convincing spatial performance, even if the 702 S2s' soundstage wasn't quite as deep as that of the 804 D3s. In measuring the 702 S2, JA confirmed its high (90dB) sensitivity, though its impedance curve suggested use with a robust amplifier. He concluded that, despite some unevenness of response, with careful setup this B&W "can produce very satisfying sound." (Vol.41 No.5 WWW)

DeVore Fidelity Gibbon X: $15,890/pair
The Gibbon X is a three-way, four-driver design with a 0.75" ultra-low-mass textile dome tweeter, a 7" midrange driver with a phase plug, and two 9" side-mounted long-throw woofers, contained within a 46"-tall structure that is essentially two enclosures: an inner one made of plywood, and a bamboo outer shell. Of particular note is the next-to the lowest chamber: an area where the inner, plywood enclosure has no side walls, and so the bamboo outer walls are allowed to vibrate. In JCA's large (32' by 24') listening room, the Xes "did not sound reticent or especially warm. I heard the X as a bid for neutrality. It had considerably more energy in the higher frequencies than other DeVore speakers I've listened to, and though its bass went deeper, it was leaner." In measuring the Gibbon X, JA found slightly lower than specified sensitivity—88.8dB instead of 91.5dB—but confirmed that the X is "relatively easy for an amplifier to drive." Otherwise, JA observed, "in most respects, the Gibbon X offers good measured performance." (Vol.42 No.3)

Focal Kanta No.2: $8999/pair
The Kanta No.2 combines a 1.1" beryllium inverted-dome tweeter with three 6.5" flax-sandwich cones, one used for midrange, two as a woofers. The baffle, which incorporates a reflex port—there's another one in back—is molded of a high-density polymer, while the rest of the enclosure is made of what Focal describes as a molded wood product. A glass top panel adds class. Driving a pair of them with his PS Audio M700 monoblock amps, RD noted that "The Kanta No.2 was transparent to the source, adding very little sound of its own." He pointed in particular to the Focals' treble range, which he described as "airy and extended—that beryllium tweeter was earning its keep," and to "surprising bass extension for the speaker's size." JA's measurements uncovered slightly-lower-than-specified sensitivity, and load characteristics that suggest the need for an amplifier well versed in the driving of low-impedance loudspeakers; overall, he said, the Kanta No.2 "offers excellent measured performance." The Kanta's available color combinations, each involving one color for the baffle and another for the rest of the enclosure, would require a blurb of their own; suffice it to say your choices are many. (Vol.41 No.11)

Focal Sopra No.3: $19,999/pair
Standing 49.8" high and weighing a hefty 154.3 lb each, Focal's Sopra No.3 is big if not quite titanic—and, as KR pointed out, "When it comes to bass, big is good." Indeed, the Sopra No.3 employs two of Focal's 8.25" W-cone woofers (W being a stiff material with a structural foam core sandwiched by skins of woven glass fiber), complemented by a 6.5" midrange driver (also made of W) in the top enclosure and, in its wedge-shaped intermediate section, Focal's emblematic tweeter with inverted beryllium dome. Once the positions of the Sopras were fine-tuned—it took a bit of doing—KR was treated to "fully detailed bass, stable imaging across the spectrum, and appropriate ambient decay." In measuring the No.3, JA found highish (89.2dB) sensitivity but an impedance curve suggesting both that the Focal is "a difficult load" and that it will sound a bit brighter with tube amps, given the latters' typically high output impedances. That said, JA noted that, "Overall, this big speaker measured very well." Borderline Class A, feels JA. KR demurs. (Vol.40 No.4 WWW)

GoldenEar Technology Triton Two+: $3499.98/pair $$$
Designed by a team led by industry veteran Sandy Gross and made in China, the original Triton Two was a three-way floorstander with a unique array of drive-units: a High-Velocity Folded Ribbon tweeter, two 4.5" midrange cones, two 10" by 7" passive radiators, and two 9" by 5" 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 in 2012. In 2016, GoldenEar released the Triton Two+, with improved midrange/upper-bass drivers that feature new cones, surrounds, spiders, and voice-coils. (The other drivers remain the same.) Other improvements, including a revision to one leg of the crossover network and fine-tuning of the DSP that manages the handoff to the powered woofers, are also reported by the manufacturer. With the revised speakers in his system, RD heard "clarity and transparency that exceeded" what he remembered of the original Triton Twos, and suggested that the Two+ had less of a "speaker sound" than its predecessor. (Vol.35 Nos. 2 & 10, Vol.39 No.12 WWW)

KEF Reference 5: $19,999.99/pair
Like its stablemate, the demiflagship Blade Two (see elsewhere in Recommended Components), KEF's Reference 5 uses a Uni-Q coincident driver array to cover most of the audioband, plus four 6.5" aluminum-cone woofers for the lowest octaves. The most apparent distinction is in the Reference 5's enclosure: whereas the woofers in the Blade Two are fixed to the sides of a parabolically curved, narrow-fronted enclosure of high-density polymer, the Reference 5's woofers are mounted on the front of a conventional-looking floorstanding enclosure, its greatest departure from convention being KEF's choice of aluminum for the front baffle. The woofers are reflex loaded by means of two adjustable ports on the rear panel. JA noted the Reference 5s' "weighty but well-defined lows" and "sweet, smooth highs," and was mightily impressed with their spatial performance, noting their ability to resolve image depth with even mono recordings and observing, with a recording of his own making, that the Reference 5s didn't skimp in conveying reverberant information. Writing from his test bench, JA noted the KEF's benign load characteristics and praised its "excellent" engineering. (Vol.40 No.10 WWW)

Monitor Audio Silver 300: $2000/pair
Compared to its predecessor, the three-way, four-driver Silver 8, Monitor Audio's Silver 300 floorstander is similar in size, specifications, even price. The differences—apart from adding 292 to the model number—all come down to sound-enhancing refinements: a newly designed tweeter fires from behind a grille whose perforations are asymmetrical in the vertical but not the horizontal plane. Each drive-unit is held in place with a single long bolt fastened to a threaded insert on the enclosure's rear panel, for rigidity. And a mounting plinth has given way to four steel outriggers, to provide a wider, more stable stance. Perhaps unsurprisingly, KR wasn't surprised to find the Silver 300s "just as immediately appealing" as the Silver 8s: "Male and female voices, and orchestral and solo wind instruments, were tonally balanced and clearly delineated." He also noted that, "in terms of grip and delineation, the Silver 300's bass response was better than I might have expected from two 6" woofers." In measuring the Silver 300, JA noted that it came within 1.2dB of its high specified 90dB sensitivity, and that, in terms of impedance, "this speaker won't tax the amplifiers with which it is used." All in all, the Monitor Silver 300 impressed JA as "a well-engineered design." (Vol.41 No.3 WWW)

Spendor Audio Systems A7: $4995/pair
A revision of Spendor's long-running A6R, the new A7 floorstander mates a 7.1" polymer-cone woofer with a 7/8" silk-dome tweeter, the latter made by a third party. The woofer, which is made in-house, is reflex-loaded by a rear-firing rectangular port. Inside the 36.8"-tall enclosure are several layers of what Spendor describes as a "high-damping coefficient polymer." Additional small, internal damping blocks are applied where needed. In KM's smallish listening room, the A7s proved "persnickety as to where they would and wouldn't sing," but once dialed in, they produced "some of the most extended, tonally rich, and weighty frequencies ever to fill my room." The Spendors' spatial performance also impressed: "With disc after disc, the A7s produced solid images with lightning-fast delivery and impressive physicality—I could feel each instrument's unique texture in space." While measuring the Spendor A7, JA noted its commendable drivability, but also remarked on a resonance, possibly related to the distance between the woofer and its port, that might have complicated Ken's setup efforts. He concluded that, all in all, "the A7 offers good measured performance." (Vol.42 No.3 WWW)

Wilson Yvette: $25,500/pair
Bob Deutsch could never come to grips with the notion of the Yvette as the Sophia's replacement. He preferred to think of it as a smaller Alexandria XLF. He especially praised the "oneness" of the sound—not as in pieces assembled, but as in no pieces at all. Listening to the Yvettes was "like a tug-of-war in which the sound produced by the orchestra and the space surrounding it were compliant and pushing against each other." After trying out some trite audiopile terms, he concluded, "no combination of those qualities could describe what a pair of Yvettes could actually do: push back the line that separates recorded and live music." "Overall," JA wrote, "the Yvette offers good measured performance," while noting the "remarkable" similarity between the Yvette's in-room response and that of the Alexia Series 2. (Vol.42 No.5 WWW)

B (Restricted LF)

DALI Callisto 6 C: $5750 with SoundHub, BluOS module
The Callisto 6 C floorstander is a three-way design that contains its own 96kHz DSP system and pairs of 30W class-D amplification. The 6 C speaks to the world via one ribbon supertweeter, one 1.15" soft-dome tweeter, and two 6.5" wood-fiber-impregnated-pulp-cone woofers, the latter reflex loaded. Included with each pair of 6 Cs is the DALI Sound Hub, a smallish box that connects to the speakers with either a 2.4GHz or 5.8GHz Wi-Fi connection, and which itself receives source signals via its analog and digital (S/PDIF and TosLink) inputs, Ethernet, and Bluetooth. The speakers themselves also have analog (RCA) inputs, and digitize all incoming signals at 96kHz. In his listening tests, JA noted low frequencies "with an excellent combination of weight and articulation," a "natural-sounding" midrange, and "good depth" to soundstage reproduction—and his lab tests revealed "good measured performance." (Vol.42 No.9)

DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/93: $8400/pair $$$ ★
Made in Brooklyn, New York, the Orangutan O/93 is a two-way floorstanding loudspeaker with a SEAS 1" soft-dome tweeter—the same one used in DeVore's upmarket O/96—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 a semitranslucent gloss-black lacquer. Driving the O/93s with a Unison Research Simply Italy amplifier, ST noted the DeVores' lively, immediate sound: a sweet, extended treble; punchy bass; and a deep, wide soundstage with excellent center fill. In his Follow-Up, AD praised the O/93 for the physicality of its sound—the sense of touch in robustly played piano trills, the feel of mallet against marimba, the tactile pluck of a double bass—and for its fine overall balance that allowed excellent timbral color from acoustic instruments yet also "gave nearly full weight" to kettledrums. He regards the O/93 as among the best choices for people who appreciate the impact, drama, and thrills of vintage loudspeakers, yet whose rooms and budgets require a contemporary speaker of more modest price and size—considered as which, the DeVore is "far better stuff than most everyone else is making." In a subsequent Follow-Up, JA measured the O/93 and estimated its sensitivity as 90.1dB—slightly lower than the nominal 93dB, yet still, when combined with the speaker's 10 ohm impedance, indicative of a very fleawatt-friendly loudspeaker. (Vol.37 No.1, Vol.38 No.12, Vol.39 No.6, Vol.41 No.5, Vol.42 No.1 WWW)

Dragonfire Mini Dragon DFA 2.1: $10,000
The DFA 2.1 system from Dragonfire Acoustics comprises the company's Mini Dragon Satellite planar-magnetic desktop speakers; MD-4 250 Wpc class-D amp, which contains a DSP module for correcting and controlling the speakers; and DFA SB-8P subwoofer, along with a version of the miniDSP SHD headphone amp/streamer (equipped with Dirac Live room-correction software), plus a suite of cables and a calibrated USB microphone. Although Dragonfire published individual prices for all of the above, they really must be used together—especially the speakers and the amp, which cannot perform optimally in isolation from each other. Although JVS found that "setup was not without its challenges" and noted, duly, that the Dragonfire system was designed for "intimate listening where its monitors are precisely aligned to ear height," he remarked that the system's "remarkably transparent, colorful, and detailed full-range sound is musical to the core." JA noted that the system "offers excellent measured performance," but confirmed the for desktops only dictum. (Vol.42, No.9 WWW)

>Dynaudio Special Forty: $2999/pair (stands necessary)
Introduced in celebration of the Danish manufacturer's 40th anniversary, Dynaudio's two-way, stand-mounted Special Forty has a 1.1" fabric-dome tweeter with a special (or perhaps even Special) coating, back-loaded with a damped chamber, as well as a 6.7", aluminum-voice-coil woofer whose diaphragm is made of Dynaudio's proprietary magnesium-silicate-polymer (MSP) material. The drivers are crossed over at 2kHz with first-order slopes, and fitted to an enclosure, veneered inside and out, whose large, flared reflex port can be stopped with an easily removable foam plug (supplied) for tuning to the owner's room characteristics. JA used the Special Fortys on 24"-tall stands and reported hearing "a surprisingly solid bass foundation, considering their modest size," and the ability to convincingly play loud rock music. He noted a "top octave [that] was a touch on the mellow side," clean trebles, and "stable, well-defined stereo imaging," but was troubled by some midrange congestion, apparently related to cabinet resonances, that he was able to reduce in level by paying extra attention to the speaker/stand interface. In measuring the Dynaudio, JA found on the cabinet's sidewalls some resonant modes, one of them very strong, and a small, ca 1kHz response peak that proved inaudible. Other than that, he wrote, the Special Forty "offers generally excellent measured performance." (Vol.41 No.9 WWW)

Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a: $2995/pair (stands necessary) ★
In contrast to a typical ultradamped speaker—which, according to HR, can sound like "a moaning, wheezing pile of wood"—Falcon Acoustics' BBC-licensed LS3/5a delivered "expression, transparency, [and] tonal purity." This true vintage reissue, created in part by the man who oversaw production of the 127mm KEF Bextrene-cone 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 LM518-IA—but turned up their noses at class-D amplification. In measuring the Falcons, JA went to the well and compared his findings with measurements of earlier LS3/5a iterations. His verdict: Falcon "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." In 2019, AD described the Falcons as offering "greater openness and air" than other LS3/5a's of his recent experience. (Vol.38 No.8, Vol.42 No.7 WWW)

Graham Audio LS 3/5: $2990/pair Graham Audio LS 3/5a: $2990/pair
Graham Audio of Newton Abbot, UK, is the twelfth and most recent manufacturer to bring to market a BBC-approved LS3/5a minimonitor, and they are doing so under the historic brand name Chartwell. Their version has the same specs as the 1987–2000 version, including an 11 ohm nominal impedance, plus bespoke drivers engineered for Graham by Derek Hughes. Alongside their LS3/5a, Graham also produces the sole commercial version of the BBC's original LS3/5, a 15 ohm speaker that differs from the a in some key respects, and whose drivers were also engineered by Hughes. AD has now tried both, in tandem with a pair of 24" tall Gig Harbor Audio stands ($599/pair), and found both to be explicit, well-balanced, and generously musical. Although he appreciated the somewhat richer-sounding LS3/5's, AD noted a preference for the Graham/Chartwell LS3/5a's. (Vol.42 No.7 WWW)

Harbeth HL-P3ES 40th Anniversary Edition: $2995/pair (stands necessary) ★
In its standard version, the two-way, sealed-cabinet P3ESR ($2195/pair) stands just 12" tall and partners a 0.75" tweeter with a 5" woofer, the latter using Harbeth's proprietary, patented Radial2 polymer 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. 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. The 40th Anniversary Edition, which adds upgraded connectors, internal cable, and crossover capacitors, as well as an exclusive olivewood veneer and two commemorative badges, found favor with HR: Used on TonTräger P3 stands ($1485/pair) and compared to the standard P3ESRs, the 40th Anniversary Edition Harbeths showed him "greater separation of instruments, and a fleshier texture to [Birgit] Nilsson's voice." Herb regards the 40th Anniversary Edition P3ESR as "the best-built, most natural-sounding small speaker I have ever heard, and considers the prices of both versions "chickenfeed." (Vol.33 Nos.8 & 10, Vol.34 No.7, Vol.41 No.12 WWW)

KEF LSX Wireless: $1099/pair $$$
Similar in appearance to the well-received KEF LS50 standmount, the LSX is a wireless amplified loudspeaker system that gets its signal via Bluetooth or dual-band WiFi; alternatively the LSXes can be hardwired to the user's router via an Ethernet cable, or to an alternate source via Toslink optical or a 3.5mm line-level analog jack. The speaker itself is built around a variant of KEF's tried and true Uni-Q dual-coaxial driver, installed within a molded bass-reflex enclosure that also contains DACs, preamps, and class-D amplifiers; most of said enclosure is covered in a high-tech fabric, available in a variety of colors. According to HR, "Fine detail and sharply focused images were the most conspicuous aspects of the LSX system's sound," while "lack of force and dynamic expression" were its prime failings. JA was impressed by the LSX's measured performance, noting its "astonishingly flat" farfield response. In a Follow-Up, JA described his at-home listening impressions, noting "sweet-sounding top octaves" and "stable, accurate stereo imaging." (Vol.42 Nos. 5 & 6)

Legacy Studio HD: $1795/pair (stands necessary)
The Studio HD is a 13"-tall, reflex-loaded minimonitor with an 8" woven (silver threads among the graphite) woofer and a 1" folded-ribbon tweeter, built into a tapered, faceted cabinet of MDF. Each Studio HD has two pairs of binding posts, for biwiring/biamplifying, and two two-position toggle switches that let the user run either or both drivers flat or with 2dB of attenuation. Used on 24"-hgh Sound Anchor stands—which, in this context, HR preferred to his less massive TonTrägers—and driven with a Pass Laboratories solid-state amp, the review pair exhibited an elevated presence region, prompting Herb to note that male voices seemed "thin and lacking in growl and testosterone." The Legacies succeeded in reproducing "the momentum and intense artistry of [violinist] Hilary Hahn's playing, but diminished her violin's rich tones and unique textures." Tube amplification made for "a more physically attractive sonic presentation," while the class-D Bel Canto e.One FER600M monoblocks drew from the Legacies "fuller, tighter" bass and restored testosterone to voices. Ultimately, at their best, the Studio HDs rewarded Herb with "spirited liveliness" and good musical timing. In measuring the Studio HD, JA found it a somewhat demanding load, and expressed puzzlement over its unusual and ultimately underdamped bass alignment. Premium finishes add $185/pair; "exotic" finishes add $300/pair. (Vol.41 No.10 WWW)

Magnepan LRS: $650/pair $$$
Introduced as a replacement for the long-running MMG planar-magnetic speaker, Magnepan's new LRS—it stands for Little Ribbon Speaker—is a low-sensitivity (86dB) low-impedance (nominally 4 ohms) quasi-ribbon panel speaker that stands 46" tall and is, like its successful predecessor, only sold direct. HR found that the "slender and elegantly finished" LRS required a great deal of setup effort, especially when it came to dialing-in just the right amount of toe-in. But once he got there, he found that the new speaker's "levels of microscopic detail, accurate timbre, and pure-water transparency are unprecedented at anywhere near $650/pair"—although he also noted that the 20% larger Magnepan .7 "played a lot bigger than the LRS." In measuring the LRS, JA discovered "sensitivity [that] was almost 6dB lower than specified," yet he pronounced the LRS "capable of good sound , provided its owner takes care in optimizing such matters as placement and toe-in." (Vol.42 No.8 WWW)

Quad S-2: $999/pair $$$ (stands necessary)
Like Quad's very first loudspeaker, which bowed in 1949, their newest is not an electrostatic panel; rather, the Quad S-2 is a stand-mounted minimonitor in which a reflex-loaded 5" Kevlar mid/bass driver hands off to a 1.75"-long ribbon tweeter, the moving element of which is given extra strength by a very thin deposition of polycarbonate. The 13" by 7.1" by 10.25" (HWD) cabinet, which incorporates a rear-firing reflex port, is made of MDF sheets with rounded corners and rolled edges, and comes in a natural Sapele Mahogany veneer (black oak, Piano White, and Piano Black are also available). Used on 24"-tall steel stands, a pair of S-2s impressed KM by allowing large-ensemble jazz to sound "very big, very dynamic, and very extended." KM heard levels of purity and clarity he'd never heard from traditional dome tweeters—the S-2s "sometimes sounded literally incandescent"—as well as an ability to reproduce "richly tonal electric-bass notes, delivered with fine texture and copious weight." But to do all that, the Quads required a bit more than the 20Wpc offered by his Shindo Haut-Brion amp: "To hit their stride, I would guess the Quad S-2s require power in the 45-65Wpc range." Writing from his test bench, JA confirmed the Quad's 87dB sensitivity but noted some panel resonances—ultimately inaudible, it seems—as well as a "somewhat underdamped" woofer alignment. The Quad's cumulative spectral-decay plot on its tweeter axis was "superbly clean," correlating with the speaker's high perceived purity and clarity. (Vol.41 No.1 WWW)

Sony SS-NA5ES: $6000/pair (stands necessary)
With the SS-NA5ES, Sony takes aim at what AD described as a lofty goal: "to create a compact loudspeaker that's as well balanced and as reliably musical as their SS-NA2ES floorstander." And while at first glance the finished product appears to be an SS-NA2ES with its bottom two-thirds missing, the reality is more complex. Here, the larger speaker's 5" spiral-cut paper midrange driver has been replaced by an identically sized aluminum-cone woofer, and the loading scheme has been altered accordingly. That said, the SS-NA5ES retains the larger speaker's I-Array of two 0.75" soft-dome tweeters straddling a single 1" soft-dome tweeter, all three covering the same bandwidth. In his system, used on 23.5" stands (not included), the smallest Sonys impressed AD with their "masterly," "clear," and "authoritative" sound, and provided especially good reproduction of singing voices: "Alfred Deller's distinctive tone and diction . . . emerged unscathed, with appropriate timbral warmth and presence." While noting that it will sound best "when used with amplifiers that are comfortable driving 4 ohm loads," JA wrote that, "[like the floorstanding SS-NA2ES], the SS-NA5ES is a well-engineered loudspeaker." (Vol.39 No.8 WWW)

Tekton Design Impact Monitor: $2000/pair (stands necessary)
Like all of Tekton's loudspeakers, the stand-mounted Impact Monitor uses multiple 1" fabric-dome tweeters—in this case, seven—in a circular arrangement the company calls a "polycell array." Here, that array handles frequencies above 1kHz, yet when it receives frequencies whose wavelengths are smaller than the quarter-wavelength associated with the distance between any two tweeters, that frequency is handed over to only the centermost tweeter, thus minimizing acoustical comb-filter effects. Frequencies below 1kHz are handled by two 6.5" woofers whose lightweight pulp cones include papyrus fibers to enhance rigidity. The reflex-loaded enclosures are 24.5" tall; grilles are a $50/pair option. In his relatively small listening room, HR found that the Tektons produced excessive bass when placed too close to the front wall, yet did not reward nearfield listening. His solution was to stuff their reflex ports with resistive elements—socks, actually—after which the Impact Monitors delivered more measured bass response, fine imaging and saturation of tone, and, despite Herb's apprehensions regarding their multiple tweeters, "surprising amounts of well-focused detail." HR wrote that the Tektons' best feature was their ability "to grab and hold my attention"; he praised them as "all-rounders" that suited every musical genre he threw at them. In measuring the Impact Monitor, JA observed a significantly lower-than-specified sensitivity—87.5 vs 94dB—but noted that, in terms of impedance, the speaker is "a relatively easy load." Pointing to its "superbly even on-axis response," JA concluded that "this unusual design is not compromised." (Vol.41 No.8 WWW)

Totem Signature One: $2895/pair (stands necessary)
Essentially a modern take on the company's groundbreaking Model 1 loudspeaker of the late 1980s, the Totem Signature One is both bigger than its forebear—its cellulose-acrylic-cone woofer is itself as large in diameter as the Model 1's cabinet was wide—and twice as heavy. Joining that 6.5" woofer, which is reflex-loaded by a rear-firing port, is a 1" SEAS tweeter with a dome of aluminum-titanium alloy, rear-loaded with a chamber of its own. The veneered cabinet is made from ¾"-thick MDF with lock-miter joints, and its interior surfaces are both veneered (for stability) and coated with a borosilicate-loaded damping compound. After devoting considerable time to optimizing the Totems' positions in the room, HR was particularly impressed with their bass performance: "If a small loudspeaker like the Totem Signature One can deliver a little power and scale from pipe-organ recordings, as it did . . . and if it can make [bassist Charlie] Haden's notes unique in a noticeable way, that is all the bass power and quality I require." HR also praised the Signature Ones' imaging as "a special joy," but felt that comparable bookshelf speakers offer better "texture, transparency, and tone," the Totems on occasion seeming "a little thin" by comparison—yet, by the end of the review period, more setup work yielded "improved instrumental corporeality." In measuring the Signature One, JA noted lower-than-specified sensitivity—83.5 vs 87dB—as well as cabinet and, especially, reflex-port resonances. Otherwise, the Signature One "measured better than its predecessors." (Vol.41 No.1 WWW)

Vanatoo Transparent One Encore: $599 in black
The Transparent One Encore is an active speaker system in which all electronics are housed in one of its two MDF speaker enclosures. Each speaker has a 1" aluminum-dome tweeter, a 5.25" aluminum-dome woofer, and a rear-firing 5.25" passive radiator, while a four-channel class-D amp provides 100W each for the woofers an 20W each for the tweeters. A 24-bit, 48kHz processor performs all DSP/crossover chores and accepts incoming signals up to 24/96, while analog inputs are digitized by a separate DAC. Wireless inputs are via Bluetooth SBC and aptX. After using the Vanatoo system with his MacBook Pro and an upgraded (putting it mildly) Nordost Valhalla 2 USB cable, JVS suggested that the Transparent One Encore "will likely shatter your expectations of what a $599 powered loudspeaker can deliver"—a level of enthusiasm supported by the conclusion JA dispatched from his test bench: "excellent measured performance." (Vol.42 No.7 WWW)

Wharfedale Linton: $1498 w/ stands $$$
Wharfedale's Linton Heritage, released as part of an extended observance of the company's 85th anniversary, is a three-way reflex-loaded standmount in a veneered chipboard/MDF enclosure; its $1498/pair price includes 17" tall steel-and-wood stands. Drivers include an 8" woven Kevlar woofer, a 5" woven-Kevlar midrange driver, and a 1" soft-some tweeter whose position on the Linton Heritage's unapologetically wide baffle is slightly offset. (The speakers are handed.) HR heard from the Wharfedales "a slight bass overhang," but also "voice intelligibility [that] was exceptional." Yet at the end of the day it was the Linton Heritage's consistent musicality that won him over: Comparing to the popular and similarly priced KEF LS50s, he wrote, "The KEFs play the sounds well, while the Wharfedales play the songs well." JA's measurements uncovered sensitivity (88.1dB) that was slightly higher than average (if slightly less than specified), and praised the Wharfedales' "excellent measured performance." (Vol.42 No.9 WWW)

Zu Audio Soul Supreme: $4500/pair (may be higher depending on finish)
As HR was advised before reviewing Zu's Soul Supreme, "this is not your normal two-drivers-in-a-ported-MDF-box loudspeaker." Indeed, the Soul Supreme mates a 10.3" full-range driver, complete with whizzer cone, to a tweeter comprising a 113dB-sensitive Radian compression driver, loaded with an aluminum-alloy horn that stands proud of the 37.7"-tall cabinet. Bass extension and impact are maximized by the company's Zu-Griewe loading technology, the crossover is as minimal as can be, and the overall system sensitivity is specced at 97dB, with a tube-friendly 16 ohm nominal impedance. HR's listening notes point to the Soul Supreme's vivid microtextures, exceptional musical flow and viscosity, and massive and abundant dynamic slam. His conclusions: "These speakers represent what I value in audio engineering. These speakers get me and I get these speakers! Highly recommended; high Class B." JA's measurements uncovered lower sensitivity than advertised (a still-high 91dB instead of 97dB), but portrayed the Soul Supreme as "a very easy load." And while JA noted some wrinkles in the Zu's cumulative spectral-decay plot, these were not as audible as he'd expected: "I enjoyed the afternoon I spent listening to the speakers in Herb's system." (Vol.39 No.7 WWW)

C (Full-Range)

Emotiva Airmotiv T2: $999/pair
The largest loudspeaker in Emotiva's Airmotiv line, the T2 is a three-way floorstander built around two reflex-loaded 8" woven-fiber-cone woofers, a 5.25" woven-fiber-cone midrange drive, and a 1.25"-long ribbon tweeter. The 42"-tall enclosure is made of HDF, painted satin black. With a pair of T2s installed in his listening room, TJN reported sound that was "clear and open, with impressive depth," although he found its bass performance to be "notably tight but not consistently powerful." In measuring the T2, JA observed that the speaker came close to meeting its high (91dB) sensitivity spec, but also noted load characteristics that indicate the need for a low-impedance-friendly amp. (Vol.42 No.5 WWW)

GoldenEar Technology Triton Five: $1999.98/pair
A two-way loudspeaker with three active drivers and four passive radiators, the Triton Five is the second-least-expensive model in GoldenEar's Triton line of floorstanders. Centered in a D'Appolito configuration at the top of this tower is the company's Oskar Heil–inspired High Velocity Folded Ribbon (HVFR) tweeter, straddled by two 6" cone woofers that are reflex loaded not by a port but by four side-mounted 8" passive diaphragms. The Triton Five's enclosure is otherwise a sealed box, covered with a stretched polyester sock. According to HR, the Triton Five was "a perfect match" with his Line Magnetic LM-518IA integrated amp, and although the very smooth-sounding GoldenEar didn't deliver the punch, sparkle, or flesh and blood of the more expensive DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/93, it earned praise for re-creating "big, open, fully constituted" spaces. According to HR, even when heard to its worst advantage, the Triton Five "sounded beautiful but kind of soft and accommodating." Notably, JA's measurements revealed the Triton Five to be even more sensitive than specified—90.8dB vs the 90dB quoted by GoldenEar—and otherwise confirmed the speaker's "excellent measured performance at an affordable price." (Vol.38 No.12 WWW)

Klipsch Forte III: $3998/pair
The rare Klipsch "heritage" product to have seen an interruption in its production, the Forte has been revived as the Forte III: a three-way floorstander with horn-loaded compression drivers for the high and mid frequencies and a 12" treated-paper-cone woofer loaded not with a reflex port but with a rear-mounted 15" passive radiator. Specs include a sensitivity of 99dB and an impedance described as "8 ohms compatible." KM, who described the Forte III as "the most amplifier-sensitive loudspeaker I've reviewed," found it to cast "an immersive soundstage" in which instrumental ensembles sounded "fully alive," and praised it for its freedom from "boxy, shouty, or spitty upper-frequency colorations." Technical Editor JA found the Klipsch's sensitivity to be 95.2dB—lower than spec though considerably higher than average—but impedance characteristics that suggest the need for an amp that's comfortable driving 4-ohm loads. (Vol.42 No.8 WWW)

NEAT Acoustics Iota Alpha: $1995/pair
The newest NEAT confounds expectations: Though the size of a stand-mounted speaker at 17.6" tall, the Iota Alpha is intended to be used as a floorstander with its angled upper baffle aimed upward, toward the listener. The Iota Alpha also confounds the expectations of those who assume that two drivers on that baffle—a 2"-long ribbon tweeter and a 4" midrange driver—are the only ones in play: Also contributing to the claimed 33Hz22kHz frequency response is a reflex-loaded, downward-firing 5.5" woofer on the cabinet's bottom panel, raised above the floor by four spiked feet. Evaluating the smallish NEAT floorstanders in his smallish apartment, KM had particular praise for their "fully present, tactile, and meaty sound," with instrumental tones that were "rich and saturated for such small speakers," and with scale, pacing, and dynamics that were "as accurate and thrilling . . . as I've heard." Writing from his test bench, JA noted lower-than-specified sensitivity (83dB vs 86dB), reflex-port response peaks at multiple frequencies, a response peak at 3kHz, and other wrinkles, all prompting him to say that he was "disappointed in its measured performance." Writing from his Bed-Stuy bothy, HR told of conquering his initial placement difficulties and ultimately wringing from the NEATs sound that was "always smooth and outgoing" and "did pace, rhythm, and timing better than most," though he noted that "clarity of aural image was not a strong point" of the Iota Alphas. Grilles now included in price. (Vol.40 Nos. 2 & 6 WWW)

C (Restricted LF)

Audio Physic Step Plus: $2595/pair (stands necessary)
The latest iteration of Audio Physic's stand-mounted Step loudspeaker—a mid-1990s success whose notoriously narrow baffle contributed to its very good spatial performance—the Step Plus mates a 1.75" tweeter with as a 5.9" mid-woofer, the latter reflex-loaded with a rear-mounted port. Both drivers are designed in Germany and made in China, and both feature aluminum cones that are given a ceramic coating said to prevent "partial oscillations." KM noted that the Step Pluses delivered their best spatial performance when placed away from the wall behind them and directly toed-in toward the listening seat—after which they "shock[ed] me with [their] ability to completely 'disappear'." But upon measuring the Step Plus, JA observed that its drive-units are out of phase in the speaker's crossover region, creating an on-axis suckout; he concluded that its measured performance "suggests less-than-optimal engineering." In a Follow-Up report, JA listened to the Audio Physics in his own room, noting that "low frequencies [were] indeed on the lightweight side," but that the above-mentioned suckout "won't become a problem" as long as the speakers are placed with their tweeters "sufficiently below the listener's ear height." (Vol.42 Nos. 2 & 4)

Elac Debut B6: $279.98/pair $$$ (stands necessary)
Designed by Englishman Andrew Jones at Elac's new southern-California facility, the very affordable Debut B6 seems, at first glance, rather ho-hum: an MDF box just under 14" tall, with a reflex-loaded, 6.5" aramid-fiber woofer and a 1" fabric-dome tweeter, the latter firing from the apex of what its German manufacturer calls a "deep-spheroid waveguide." Notwithstanding what he perceived as an overly lively enclosure, HR's critical faculties were "ambushed by the Debut B6's good tone and easy-flowing musicality." Particularly with his 22Wpc Line Magnetic LM-518IA integrated amp, Herb declared that "the Elac B6es weren't just playing music—they were pumping tangible musical energy into the room," and concluded that their low price should not be taken as a sign of sonic compromise: "'Dorm-room speakers'? Not hardly!" JA's measurements confirmed that the B6's cabinet was indeed given to vibrating at just below 200Hz, but wrote that the speaker otherwise offers "excellent measured performance, especially when you take into account its affordable price." In his Follow-Up, KM wrote, "Anyone looking for an overachieving stand-mounted minimonitor in the $500$1000 range better shift their view—the Elac Debut B6 is a knockout." (Vol.39 Nos. 4 & 7 WWW)

KEF Q350: $649.99/pair (stands necessary)
Outwardly similar to KEF's considerably more expensive LS50 stand-mount speaker (see elsewhere in Recommended Components), the Q350 is actually a bit bigger overall, with a slightly larger version of KEF's signature Uni-Q coincident driver array that has a 6.5" woofer cone instead of the LS50's 5.25" cone. The Q350 is also slightly more sensitive—87dB vs 85dB—and its crossover network is characterized by gentler filter slopes and, concomitantly, a lower parts count. Although HR preferred various aspects of the performance of the more expensive KEF—in particular its "more forceful and detailed" bass and its "balanced purity"—he found himself admiring the Q350s for their "above-average force and texture" and their lively, open, consistently "direct" sound. Herb's conclusion said it all: "Early in this review process I realized that KEF's Q350 is not the poor person's LS50, but has a unique goodness of its own." JA's measurements supported that: "Its rather lively enclosure apart, KEF's Q350 offers excellent measured performance." (Vol.41 No.3 WWW)

Klipsch Heresy III: $2598/pair
According to AD, the words "vintage-inspired" don't adequately describe the Klipsch Heresy III, which he says is "among domestic Audio's living fossils." The 24"-tall, floorstanding speaker contains within its simple sealed enclosure a 1" titanium-dome tweeter loaded with a molded tractrix horn, a titanium-dome midrange compression driver loaded with a molded exponential horn, and an 11" paper-cone woofer of evidently low excursion, tethered with a stiff fabric surround. Klipsch's specs include a sensitivity of 99dB and a nominal 8 ohm impedance—a combination sure to appeal to most low-power tube amplifiers, which is just what Art used to drive his review pair. He heard "wonderfully tactile" drum sounds as well as good senses of body and musical momentum. But these pluses were offset by a lack of bass extension and weight—that woofer may be big, but the use of a small, sealed enclosure means that its resonant frequency will be high for its size—and, with some recordings, an occasionally "raspy" and "brittle" treble range. In his Follow-Up, KM echoed those thoughts, and disagreed with Klipsch's claim that the Heresy offers placement flexibility: "when listened to at fairly close range . . . the Heresy IIIs will blast your ears clean off." But Ken found that, with extra attention paid to setup—aim the speakers straight ahead and listen to them from at least 5' away—and with good gear such as his Shindo tubed electronics, "the Heresy was a marvel. I'd never before heard a speaker, at any price, sound so fast, so energetic, so purely alive." An in-home audition would seem mandatory. (Vol.31 No.11, Vol.41 No.6 WWW)

Klipsch RP-600M: $549/pair (stands necessary) $$$
Klipsch's two-way standmounted RP-600M uses a 6.5" spun-copper-plus-ceramic-cone woofer to handle frequencies below 1.8kHz and a 1" titanium-diaphragm tweeter loaded with a Tractrix horn to reproduce everything else, the latter presumably contributing to a specified 96dB sensitivity. In his listening room, HR used a pair of them on 24" Sound Anchor stands and found that proximity to the wall behind them influenced both tonal balance and perceived soundstage depth, finding 3' to be the best compromise. He also noted the speaker's "extraordinary job of emphasizing the beat [and] diagramming the melody" of classical music and the Klipsch's "ability to play really loud" with even an 8W amplifier. The verdict: "Not just a great loudspeaker for its price, or for horn-loving Klipsch Kids—it's way better than that. Super-highly recommended." Reporting from his lab, JA estimated the RP-600M's sensitivity to be 89.6db—"much lower" than Klipsch's spec—but otherwise praised its "impressive measured performance, especially when its affordable price is taken into account." (Vol.42 No.4 WWW)

Magnepan .7: $1450/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, following his auditioning. (Vol.38 No.8 WWW)

PSB Alpha 5: $349.99/pair
See JA's review in this issue.

Wharfedale Diamond 11.2: $599/pair (stands necessary)
The largest of three bookshelf speakers in Wharfedale's range of eight Diamond 11 models, the 11.2 combines a 1" fabric-dome tweeter with a 6.5" Kevlar mid/woofer, the latter reflex loaded. The 14"-tall enclosure is multilayer MDF, its reflex port a slot with an opening shaped to linearize airflow. With the Diamond 11.2s on 24" stands and held still with dabs of Blu-Tack (the speakers, not the reviewer), JA noted "a rather warm tonal balance, which was particularly noticeable with male speaking voices." And although the Wharfedales "added useful weight" to some recordings—a surprising amount for their small size—double-bass tone "lacked body." Yet, as JA also noted, when the Wharfedales' very low price is taken into consideration, such perfectionist quibbles fall by the wayside: "the Diamond 11.2s gave me enough of what I needed." Donning his measurer-in-chief hat, JA wrote that, while the Diamond 11.2 is slightly more sensitive than specified—89 rather than 88dB—its impedance curve is such that "amplifiers that are comfortable with 4 ohm loads" are recommended. In all, JA found measured performance that was "excellent, especially considering its affordable price." (Vol.41 No.12 WWW)

D

Audioengine A2+: $249/pair $$$ (stands optional) ★
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 . . . 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)

K

GoldenEar One.R, JBL Stage A170, Monitor Audio Gold 300 G5, Q Acoustics Concept 300, Trenner & Friedl Orsiris, Vandersteen Quatro Wood CT, Wilson Audio Sasha DAW.

Deletions
Dynaudio Excite X14, replaced by new model not yet reviewed. YG Carmel 2, Dali Rubicon 8, Paradigm Prestige 95F, KEF Blade 2, not auditioned in a long time.

COMMENTS
Charles E Flynn's picture

From https://cdn.stereophile.com/content/recommended-components-2018-edition-how-use-listings :

Class K

"Keep your eye on this product." Class K is for components that we have not reviewed (or have not finished testing), but that we have reason to believe may be excellent performers. We are not actually recommending these components, only suggesting you give them a listen. Though the report has yet to be published in certain cases, the reviewer and editor sometimes feel confident enough that the reviewer's opinion is sufficiently well formed to include what otherwise would be an entry in one of the other classes, marked (NR).

Enrique Marlborough's picture

Could you add the year of entry to these lists.

Jason Victor Serinus's picture

It's there.

prerich45's picture

When did the Pulsars go up from $7k/7.7k to $9k?!!!!!!!!! That's a huge increase!!!!!!

Bogolu Haranath's picture

The new Pulsar2 Graphene are $9k :-) ..........

brians's picture

I always found it really odd that Stereophile never links the recommended component to its referenced review(s). Really odd, and kind of charming.

AaronGarrett's picture

Are the headphones pictured Sennheiser 800s? Is this a secret recommendation since they aren't on the list?

stereoGoodness's picture

How in the world can the TotalDac still be listed as a Class A+ digital processor? The device's proponent on the Stereophile staff was Michael Lavorgna, who has since been let go by the magazine.

The TotalDac was never properly reviewed by Stereophile, likely because the device's creator knew that it would measure horrendously. Audio Science Review confirmed its terrible engineering, and TotalDac is now closely associated with how audiophilia can go badly wrong.

https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/review-and-measurements-of-totaldac-d1-six-dac.8192/

John Atkinson's picture
stereoGoodness wrote:
The TotalDac was never properly reviewed by Stereophile, likely because the device's creator knew that it would measure horrendously.

I don't routinely measure the products reviewed in the magazine's columns, but in hindsight I wish I had have done so with the Total DAC. Even so, back in the day I spent a very pleasant afternoon listening to Michael Lavorgna's system with this DAC.

stereoGoodness wrote:
Audio Science Review confirmed its terrible engineering, and TotalDac is now closely associated with how audiophilia can go badly wrong. https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/review-and-measurements-of-totaldac-d1-six-dac.8192/

Oh my!

John Atkinson
Technical Editor, Stereophile

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Ne casse pas le verre :-) ..........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

'We (at, Stereophile) choose truth over facts' :-) .........

JRT's picture

"TotalDAC" was a wrong-headed approach in engineering, is grossly overpriced for its performance, is grossly over-hyped in its niche market, and it objectively measures very much worse than lower priced DACs. It is a poor solution, and represents poor value.

However, I also think that there is another larger consideration in this that was missed.
No small of number of people like the sound, people who critically listen to their system and to changes in their system.

So a key take-away is that "TotalDAC" provides a good example of the importance of better perceptual weighting in objective measurements. The simple fact that so many seem to like the sound of this "TotalDAC" regardless that it measures so poorly shows that a large body of critical listeners are highly tolerant of its imperfections that show up clearly in objective measurements.

Note that Amir Majidimehr gave it a bad review because of poor objective measurements resulting from poor choices in engineering, but he did not find the resulting sound highly objectionable in his listening tests. Similarly, John Atkinson and Michael Lavorgna were not displeased with the sound in Lavorgna's system. And there seems to be many others.

Since so many critical listeners are highly tolerant of the imperfections of "TotalDAC", and since there are many inexpensive DACs that outperform it, I would suggest that the DACs should receive a rather low weighting in budget allocation. The opportunity cost on this expensive DAC is far too high, could be better spent in something that matters very much more in perceptual weighting such as loudspeakers, a bespoke low frequency (sub-Schroeder) subsystem, improvements in room acoustics, etc.

JRT's picture

Wasting budget resources on expensive esoteric cable assemblies brings little if any performance improvement, and in comparison to moderate cost well engineered solutions the esoteric cable assembles can sometimes degrade system performance.

https://www.stereophile.com/content/adcom-gfa-7805-five-channel-power-amplifier-cable-issues

https://sound-au.com/cable-z.htm

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Regarding sound quality ........ See Stereophile review and measurements of BorderPatrol DAC SE $995 to $1,850 ........ Somewhat similar suboptimal measurements as the TotalDAC ....... Costs lot less ....... Several reviewers liked that BorderPatrol DAC's sound :-) ........

JRT's picture

You get a good DAC and also a good headphone amplifier, plus can be utilized for making objective measurements.

https://www.rme-audio.de/en/products/adi_2-pro.php

Maybe add an inexpensive 2x2 AES/EBU Dante bridge such as the one at the following link.

https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1417856-REG/audinate_adp_aes3_au_2x2_2x2_dante_avio_aes3.html

Bogolu Haranath's picture

The Chord Mojo ($570, reviewed by Stereophile) and the Chord Hugo2 ($2,695, reviewed by Hi-Fi News), also are, good quality DACs and headphone amplifiers :-) ..........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Benchmark DAC3 HGC ($2,199, reviewed by Stereophile, Class-A+) is a DAC, pre-amp and headphone amp :-) ...........

JRT's picture

Those lack AD converters.

Seems like a lot of money to spend for simple DA conversion and an output buffer to drive headphones.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

How many Stereophile readers use/want a AD converter? :-) .........

Benchmark also sells a headphone amp/ pre-amp HPA-4 ($3,000, reviewed by Hi-Fi News) :-) ..........

JRT's picture

For one example group, I suspect some need AD converters to capture the output of their phono preamp to FLAC files.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

How many Stereophile readers want/use AD converters? ......... may be 5% to 10% .......... Which means 90% to 95% Stereophile readers don't want/use and are not interested in AD converters :-) ..........

Stereophile reviewed Ayre Acoustics QA-9 AD converter ....... I think JA1 and MF still sometimes use that Ayre AD converter :-) ........

Stereophile has also reviewed USB output turntables from Sony and Music Hall, which obviously have built-in AD converters :-) .........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

BTW ....... Don't post any comments about AD converters on AnalogPlanet ....... Stereophile readers are more tolerant people :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Seems like MF is currently using one of the Lynx Hilo AD/DA converters ......... Some of these Lynx products are available at Sweetwater ........ May be JA1 could review one of these AD/DA converters currently available :-) ........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Benchmark also sells just a DAC ..... DAC3-B for $1,699 :-) ...........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

There are other less expensive DA converters/headphone amps ........ Pro-Ject Pre-Box S2 ($399, reviewed by Stereophile), AudioQuest DragonFly Black and Red ($99 and $199, reviewed by Stereophile) and DragonFly Cobalt ($299, Stereophile review may be forthcoming) :-) ...........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Schiit Audio makes several headphone-amps/DACs, from $99 to $499 :-) ..........

Bogolu Haranath's picture

The new iBasso DC01 and DC02, DAC/headphone-amps $75 to $79 :-) ..........

Charles E Flynn's picture

You are now officially on your own when it comes to the purchase of a table radio.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Get a Naim Mu-so2 or Qb2 ....... EISA award winner .......Kinda table radio ....... See, S&V review on their website :-) .........

listentomusic's picture

does someone know why is simaudio 340i is gone from the list.it was there is last 2-3 lists

Jim Austin's picture

By long tradition and with some exceptions, components are removed from the list when they have not been auditioned for more than 3 years. The tradition arose from print, and the limited space it allows; this practice could be relaxed online, but then we would have two different lists. (The exceptions, usually, are cases in which a Stereophile reviewer has continuing experience with the product, as when it is part of a reviewing system, and so can continue to vouch for it.)

Jim Austin, Editor
Stereophile

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Jim Austin is the perfect reviewer for the new Revel Performa top-model, F328BE ($15,000/pair), and compare them to the Revel Ultima Salon2 :-) ............

dial's picture

There's a lack of cheap tonearms with detachable headshell like the ones on dj turntables, some are really excellent.

Bogolu Haranath's picture

Guitar Center sells some of those DJ turntables ........ They also sell some Technics TTs, which come with tonearms with detachable head-shells, including some used ones ......... You could check with them :-) ..........

dial's picture

Thanks a lot for your advice, I sold my Stanton DD, the tonearm wasn't removable (I speak about the straight model, a little short, can only use an Ortofon Arkiv on it).
I still miss someone here who wants to review a ZYX cartridge, even a "budget" model. I think it's imported here.

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