Recommended Components 2022 Edition Loudspeaker Systems

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)

Audiovector R8 Arreté: $75,000/pair
Optional grounding cable adds $3850. (Vol.44 No.9 WWW)

Bang & Olufsen Beolab 90: $100,000/pair ★
(Vol.40 No.1 WWW)

Dutch & Dutch 8c: $14,950/pair (stands necessary)
(Vol.42 No.8, Vol.43 No.4 WWW)

Dynaudio Confidence 30: $21,000/pair
(Vol.44 No.8 WWW)

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

Estelon Forza: $149,000–$163,000/pair depending upon finish
(Vol.44 No.11 WWW)

GoldenEar Technology Triton Reference: $10,998/pair ★ $$$
(Vol.40 No.12 WWW)

Göbel Divin Marquis: $80,000/pair
Price is for standard finish. (Vol.43 No.10 WWW)

Magico A5: $24,800/pair
(Vol.44 No.7 WWW)

Magico M2: $68,600/pair
Price now includes nonoptional MPOD Bases. (Vol.43 No.2, Vol.44 No.3 WWW)

Magico S5 Mk II M-Cast: $41,800/pair ★
Price is with M-Cast (textured powder-coat) finish. M-Coat high-gloss paint adds $5225. (Vol.40 No.2 WWW)

Marten Parker Trio Diamond: $38,995/pair and up, depending on the finish
(Vol.44 No.6 WWW)

MartinLogan Renaissance ESL 15A: $27,498.98/pair ★
(Vol.40 No.1 WWW)

mbl Radialstrahler 101 E Mk.II: $84,500/pair ★
(Vol.35 No.4 WWW)

Revel Ultima2 Salon2: $24,200/pair ★
(Vol.31 No.6, Vol.32 No.3, Vol.42 Nos.5 & 7 WWW)

Rockport Technologies Avior II: $42,500/pair ★
(Vol.40 No.8 WWW)

Sonus Faber Aida: $140,000/pair
(Vol.41 No.10 WWW)

Tidal Audio Akira: $255,000/pair
Vol.41 No.11 WWW)

Vandersteen Audio Quatro Wood CT: $17,947/pair
Rating assumes it is used with its companion M5-HPA high-pass amplifier. (Vol.42 No.11 WWW)

Vimberg Mino: $31,000–$38,500 (depending on finish)
Accuton diamond tweeter upgrade (not reviewed) costs $8500/pair. (Vol.43 No.4 WWW)

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

Von Schweikert Ultra 55: $100,000/pair
Price is for version reviewed, with powered woofers. Passive version costs $95,000/pair. (Vol.43 No.7 WWW)

Wilson Audio Chronosonic XVX: $335,000/pair
(Vol.44 No.5 WWW)

Wilson Audio Specialties Alexia Series 2: $58,000/pair ★
(Vol.41 Nos.7 & 8 WWW)

Wilson Audio Specialties Alexx V: $135,000–$151,000/pair depending on finish
(Vol.44 No.12 WWW)

A (Restricted Extreme LF)

Bowers & Wilkins 705 Signature: $3998/pair (stands necessary)
An optimized version of B&W's 705 S2 reflex-loaded standmount, the 705 Signature marries a "Decoupled Carbon Dome" tweeter housed in a decoupled aluminum "bullet" on top of the enclosure with a woofer using a cone formed from the company's proprietary, silvery, woven "Continuum" material. Specified sensitivity is 88dB/2.83V/m, which was confirmed by JA's measurements. These also revealed the optimal listening axis to be just below the tweeter axis, meaning that the 705 Signature needs to be used with sufficiently high stands. JA was impressed by the accuracy and stability of the Bowers & Wilkins's stereo images and noted that, with their ports open, these speakers produced a rich, enveloping sweep of airy sound. He found that the 705 Signature's low frequencies had impressive weight for a relatively small speaker. JA warned that the B&W won't be an optimal match with source components or amplification that themselves have balances on the forward side. He summed up his review by writing that, in his system, "this elegant loudspeaker stepped out of the way of the music in a very satisfying manner." (Vol.43 No.12 WWW)

Bowers & Wilkins 804 D4: $12,500/pair
The floorstanding 804 D4 features what the manufacturer calls a "reverse-wrap cabinet": The elliptical-plan, Matrix-reinforced enclosure has its flat side at the rear, with the Continuum-cone midrange unit and two Aerofoil-cone woofers mounted on the curved front. (The latter are reflex-loaded with a downward-firing port, this raised above the floor by a substantial metal baseplate.) The 1" diamond-dome tweeter is mounted at the front of a 12"-long, tapered tube machined from a solid aluminum billet that sits on the top of the enclosure with two compliant mounts. B&W specifies the sensitivity as a slightly higher-than-average 89dB/2.83V/m, which was confirmed by JA's measurements. However, JA warned that while the 804 D4 is a demanding load at low frequencies, its higher impedance in the mid-treble will make tube amplifiers sound overly bright. The measured performance suggested a somewhat "tailored" response, with a little too much high-frequency energy. Care in setup reduced the effect of this, revealing an uncolored midrange and reasonably extended lows, though the speaker's high-frequency balance will make system matching more difficult than usual. JA wrote that "clarity, transparency, low-frequency articulation, and the absence of midrange coloration" seemed to have had a higher priority than absolute neutrality for B&W's design team. He concluded that the measured issues he found "seemed to step out of the way of the music much of the time." Overall, he found the 804 D4's sound seductive. (Vol.45 No.1 WWW)

Canton Reference 7K: $6995/pair
A handsome three-way tower, 1m tall and finished in high-gloss lacquer, the Reference 7K from German manufacturer Canton uses an enclosure formed from several layers of wood glued together with heat and pressure to achieve a stiff, well-damped structure. A downward-firing port reflex-loads the two 7" woofers, which feature ceramic-tungsten cones, as does the 7" midrange unit. The tweeter uses an aluminum-ceramic-oxide dome. The crossover includes a subsonic high-pass filter that is said to extend the linear low-frequency response of the woofers while minimizing out-of-bandwidth cone excursions. JA found that the Reference 7K's needed to be used closer to the wall behind them than he could arrange in his room. Even so, the lows extended to 32Hz in-room, though the upper bass was somewhat exaggerated. JA found that the Canton's sensitivity was the specified 88.5dB/2.83V/m, but the relatively demanding impedance means that the Reference 7K must be used with amplifiers that don't have problems driving 4 ohms. Overall, JA concluded that the 7Ks offered "powerful-sounding low frequencies, clean and grain-free highs, a coloration-free midrange, high sensitivity and dynamic range, and stable, precise stereo imaging," all at a relatively affordable price. KM agreed with JA's recommendation, writing that "the Reference 7K produced perhaps the widest soundstage I've heard in my small Greenwich Village penthouse pad. Tonally, the Canton bordered on lush, with a clear, refined treble and midrange and focused bass with ample weight. … The 7K's gorgeous midrange and munificent lower bass made every record sound fat, liquid, and pleasurable." (Vol.44 No.9, Vol.45 No.3 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 × 18" W × 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)

Falcon Acoustics "Gold Badge" LS3/5a: $3295/pair in basic finishes (stands necessary)
This special edition of Falcon's version of the classic, BBC-designed, two-way minimonitor uses enhanced-size BBC Specification Transformer–style inductors, graded polypropylene-film capacitors, ultralow-inductance resistors, and a new, Falcon-designed multilayer FL6/23 printed circuit board. "Falcon's Gold Badge LS3/5a can deliver enjoyable, well-sorted renditions of all types of music," HR wrote, "but intimate vocal, solo piano, and chamber-instrument fare is the reason people like me are lifelong 5a devotees." He added that "music flowed extra-easily and extra-quietly out of the Gold Badge boxes. The sound seemed more relaxed and less restrained than the classic version." He wrote that the "Gold Badge" is "the best LS3/5a ever produced for general consumption." JA found that the "Gold Badge" measured similarly to his 1978 Rogers LS3/5a and was overall smoother-balanced than the basic Falcon LS3/5a. He concluded that "The Falcon LS3/5a Gold Badge's measured performance … confirms that 46 years after the introduction of the original, this is still a competitive loudspeaker." (Vol.44 Nos.4 & 5 WWW)

Harbeth 30.2XD: $6990/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: $16,999/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 Perspective2s "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 Pulsar2 Graphene: $9999/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 Meta: $1599.99/pair (stands necessary) $$$
This new version of KEF's classic LS50 standmount is a little heavier than the original. It still uses a coaxial Uni-Q drive-unit, but this new one has a cone-neck decoupler, a symmetrical motor system, and an absorptive, dual-layer disc, 3" in diameter and 0.43" thick, behind the drive-unit. This disc is made from a synthetic substance incorporating Metamaterial Absorption Technology (MAT) with 30 tubular channels, each acting as a narrow-band Helmholtz resonator. The structure is said to absorb 99% of the unwanted sound radiating from the rear of the driver at 620Hz and above. The Meta's midrange and low frequencies sounded identical to those of the original LS50, JA decided, but the new speaker's measured response was flatter in the presence region, and there was a little more output in the high treble. Perhaps most importantly, the Metas "painted a transparent window into the recorded soundstage," he wrote. He was continually surprised by how recordings he thought he knew well were presented with detail that he had not fully appreciated with the earlier LS50s. JA estimated the LS50 Meta's voltage sensitivity as 84.5dB(B)/2.83V/m, which is the same as that of the original and within experimental error of the specified 85dB. He concluded that, compared with the 2012 LS50, the Meta "presents a more transparent window into the recorded soundstage without compromising the ability to communicate the music's message." (Vol.44 No.1 WWW)

Kii Audio Three: $17,885/pair in standard colors, including Kii Control ★
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." (Vol.40 No.9 WWW)

Manger s1: $24,995/pair in basic finishes
The active version of the Manger p1 that HR reviewed in December 2019, the s1 combines the unique Manger "bending-wave" drive-unit for the mids and highs with a sealed-box–loaded 8" woofer with a carbon fiber/paper sandwich. Controls are provided for treble level and Room Acoustics Correction. JCA found the s1 sounded most neutral with the high-frequency control set to "0"—the sound became a little hard if he increased the treble—but he did boost the 50–80Hz band by 3dB to better match his room. JCA summed up the Manger's sound as "Fast, pure, more articulate than smooth. The bass is present—all there—but don't expect to bathe in it. The s1 leans more toward exciting than toward comfortable, but not excessively so." Price is for satin finish; wood veneer adds $4000/pair. High-gloss finish adds $7000/pair. (Vol.43 No.9 WWW)

Marten Oscar Duo: $7495/pair (stands necessary)
The least costly loudspeaker from this Swedish manufacturer, the rear-ported, stand-mounted Oscar Duo combines a 7" ceramic-cone mid/bass driver with a 1" ceramic-dome tweeter. Specified sensitivity is 86dB/2.83V/m, which was confirmed by JA's measurements. MF was impressed by this small-but-heavy speaker's low frequencies: "These speakers went deep," he wrote. "Despite the robust bass produced by this small speaker, decay was fast, clean, and close to overhang-free." He also commented on the Marten's low mid-bass coloration and freedom from boxy resonances. The Oscar Duo's frequency response is optimized on an axis midway between the tweeter and woofer on the sloped-back baffle. MF found that toeing-in the Oscars to the listening position produced the best central-image focus and high-frequency response, with no perceptible beaming. JA was also impressed by the excellent sound quality. Reporting from his test bench, he concluded that the Marten Oscar Duo's excellent measured performance is indicative of some equally impressive engineering. Matching stands cost $995/pair. (Vol.43 Nos.11 & 12 WWW)

MBL Radialstrahler 120: $24,900/pair (stands necessary)
This three-way standmount uses the German company's unique, omnidirectional Radialstrahler technology for its midrange and treble drivers, coupled with two reflex-loaded woofers. JMu felt that the 120's bass seemed to extend deeper than the specifications or JA's measurements indicated. But what impressed her the most was how "strikingly coherent" the MBLs sounded. "They delivered seamless sound from top to bottom, which made the presentation seem more realistic. Music sounded 'of a piece,' seamlessly woven within the soundstage," she wrote. Though JA's estimate of the 120's sensitivity was slightly higher than the specified 79dB, this was still significantly lower than average. However, as this is an omnidirectional loudspeaker, the in-room subjective sensitivity will be somewhat higher. "The MBL 120s don't favor one genre of music over another," JMu concluded, adding that they sounded "big and full—voluptuous at times, especially when you turn up the volume." Matching stands cost $1850/pair. (Vol.44 No.11 WWW)

Monitor Audio Silver 500 7G: $3200/pair
This well-finished, three-way, four-driver, bass-reflex tower impressed RS: "What these speakers said was spoken with a clarity and expressive ease. … Dynamic and transient-fast, it sounded almost hornlike." The Silver 500 7G's twin ports can be blocked with supplied plugs, but RS felt the sound with them closed was warmer but a little "woolier" than with them open. "Without bungs, the picture was in focus, linear from top to bottom," he wrote, concluding that "The whole wide frequency range of music sounds well-behaved, smooth, and of a piece. Notes seem to emanate from air, not from wooden boxes. The notes slide and shoot like stars." The Silver 500 7G's high specified sensitivity of 90.5dB/2.83V/m was confirmed by JA's estimate. JA was also impressed by the Monitor Audio's superb measured performance. "That it achieves this level of performance at an affordable price is even more commendable," he concluded, a sentiment that was echoed by RS: "The Monitor Audio Silver 500 is one of the great audio deals of the pandemic era." (Vol.45 No.2 WWW)

Paradigm Persona 5F: $17,998/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)

Perlisten S7t: $17,990/pair
A four-way tower that can have its four woofers reflex- or sealed-box–loaded, the S7t features a unique high-frequency driver array with a beryllium-dome tweeter mounted in the center of a "Directivity Pattern Control" waveguide and two units with "thin-ply carbon" diaphragms above and below it. All three units operate in the low treble, while just the central tweeter operates above 5.5kHz. After some experimenting with placement, KR found that listening to Ry Cooder's Jazz, "placement of the instruments was perfectly clear. More than that, the relationships between them and their tonal characteristics were more consistent and seemed less artificial." He was also impressed by the S7t's dynamic capabilities, and while the Perlisten's low-frequency extension, even when reflex-loaded, didn't extend to 20Hz, the bass was "full, dynamic, taut, and balanced at all listening levels," obviating the use of a subwoofer. JA's measurements confirmed the high specified sensitivity of 92dB/2.83V/m, but JA warned that the S7t should be used with amplifiers that don't have problems driving 2 ohms. JA commented that "To say that I was impressed by the Perlisten S7t's measured performance would be an understatement. It typifies excellent loudspeaker engineering." KR concluded that the S7t was overall the best speaker he'd heard in his room. (Vol.44 No.12 WWW)

Q Acoustics Concept 300: $4499/pair with stands, $3499/pair without stands
The unusually proportioned Concept 300—it is deeper than it is tall and, at 32lb, perhaps heavier than the average 14"-tall loudspeaker—is supplied with its own Tensegrity stands (included), which incorporate a sprung plate that's essential to the speaker's performance. Drivers are a 1.1" coated-microfiber-dome tweeter, isolated from the baffle with a rubber gasket to ameliorate intermodulation, and a reflex-loaded 6.5" woofer with a coated/impregnated paper cone. The enclosure walls are made with three layers of MDF, compliantly isolated from one another and strategically braced. In auditioning the Concept 300s, JA remarked upon their "stable, accurate imaging," "well-preserved" low-level detail, and the ability to play louder in the bass range than his reference KEF LS50s. In his role as Technical Editor, JA measured far lower than the specified sensitivity: 86 rather than 90dB; otherwise, he felt that "the Q Acoustics Concept 300 offers excellent measured performance." (Vol.43 No.1)

Q Acoustics Concept 500: $6499/pair
This two-way, three-driver floorstander combines a 1" microfiber soft-dome tweeter with two impregnated/coated-paper-cone 6.5" midwoofers, 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: $17,995/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: $11,000/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 82lb. 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: $18,000/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)

Stenheim Alumine Three: $32,900/pair
This three-and-a-half-way tower from Switzerland mounts its four drive-units in a slender, internally braced, aluminum enclosure. HR found that, driven by RAAL's low-power HAS-1b amplifier, the Stenheims, playing music at his normal listening levels "exhibited a beautiful spectral balance and a controlled, well-focused presentation." While the midrange was flat-out gorgeous with the RAAL amplifier, with the Pass Labs XA25 "all nine of the Stenheim's octaves were cloudless, blue-sky bright. … The XA25 seemed to add a full octave of clear sky at the top." JA found the Alumine Three's sensitivity was a couple of dB lower than the specified 93dB, but his estimate was still significantly higher than average, and he added that the speaker is a relatively easy load. He also described the Stenheim's behavior in the frequency domain as "mostly smooth, even." HR summed up the easy-to-drive Alumine Three as offering excellent bass power and extension, an absence of hashy, low-level breakup sounds near the limits of the drive-units' passbands, and "extraordinary midband lucidity." (Vol.44 No.10 WWW)

Vivid Audio Kaya 45: $18,000/pair
Vivid's Kaya 45 is a three-way loudspeaker in a distinctive enclosure made of a glass-reinforced sandwich material of intentionally varying thickness. Drivers are a 1" aluminum-dome tweeter, a 4" alloy-cone midrange driver, and two side-mounted 5" alloy-cone woofers, physically braced to each other to cancel extraneous vibrations; the woofers are reflex-loaded while the other drivers are loaded with closed, exponentially tapered tubes. In KR's system, a pair of Kaya 45s proved "marvelous in their rendering of voices, individual and massed"; male voices in particular were "endowed with appropriate body, but without unnatural resonance." Kal also noted that "the bass performance of the Kaya 45s was remarkable for their size." Technical Editor JA found the Vivids to be more sensitive than specified—90 instead of 87dB!—but that good news was slightly offset by an impedance curve that suggested the need for "amplifiers that are comfortable with 2 ohm loads." He adds: "Almost full-range." (Vol.43 No.2 WWW)

Vivid Kaya S12: $6500/pair (stands necessary)
Custom stands $2000/pair. See Herb Reichert's review in this month's issue.

Wilson Audio Sasha DAW: $39,000/pair
Derived from the original Sasha W/P of 2009—itself based upon Wilson's long-running WATT/Puppy line—the Sasha DAW is named in honor of company founder David A. Wilson, who passed away in 2018. Compared to previous Sashas, the DAW has more voluminous upper and lower enclosures, built with thicker panels. Other changes include a redesigned crossover with all–second-order filters, and a textile-dome tweeter as opposed to one with a titanium inverted dome. With the Sasha DAWs in his system, SM reported increased texture and detail over his reference speakers and praised the Wilsons for communicating "pace, snap, drive, and speed" in his favorite recordings. And he noted that, in terms of reproducing orchestral crescendi with full power and weight behind the bass drum, the new Sashas "took things to another level." In measuring the Sasha DAW, JA found evidence of "optimal crossover topology" and noted the speaker's "careful balance between frequency and time domains." (Vol.43 No.1 WWW)

Wilson SabrinaX: $19,000/pair in standard finish
This floorstanding, three-way design marries the reflex-loaded pulp-cone woofer from the Wilson Sasha DAW with a pulp-cone midrange unit and the Mk.V version of the 1" Convergent Synergy silk-dome tweeter, which is shared with Wilson top-model designs. The SabrinaX is also one of the first speakers to use a capacitor produced in-house after Wilson acquired the Reliable Capacitor company. The use of Wilson's proprietary, mineral-loaded, dense X Material for the Sabrina's construction has resulted in a "quieter" enclosure than that used for the original Sabrina (reviewed by RD in May 2016). BD found that the soundstage "was huge," stretching "waaaaay outside the speakers," and that it "created detailed, tangible images to the very edges. It was deep as well, though not quite as deep as it was wide." There was also more power and intensity than he was used to hearing. The woofer's alignment is tuned for clarity rather than maximum bass weight, but the speaker's low frequencies will be reinforced by careful placement and the usual room gain. BD concluded that while this may be the Utah manufacturer's smallest, least expensive floorstanding speaker, "it's full of Wilson's latest and greatest everything." JA's estimate of the speaker's sensitivity was a usefully higher 89dB/2.8V/m compared with the specified 87dB, though the SabrinaX's impedance was relatively hungry for current in the bass, mandating careful choice of amplifier. Custom colors add $1000/pair. (Vol.44 No.3 WWW)

B (Full-Range)

Bowers & Wilkins 702 S2: $4998/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's 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-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' × 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 WWW)

Focal Aria K2 936: $6598/pair
Three-way, ported, floorstanding loudspeaker that combines a 1" aluminum-magnesium inverted-dome tweeter with a 6.5" glass-fiber/aramid sandwich-cone midrange unit and three 6.5" glass-fiber/aramid sandwich-cone woofers. RS found that the Arias were one of the easiest speakers he'd ever set up in his listening room, and he was impressed by the sound. Of the tweeter, he wrote that "Its silky highs may as well have been woven by Rapunzel: They were a balm to my ears, without sounding dull or incongruous." At the other end of the spectrum he decided that "The K2 936s have a balance that gives notes foundation and fleshes things out from the bottom up, but it isn't dark or obscuring." And the soundstage? It "had an illumined quality that gave me a front-row view into what each musician was doing." RS concluded that the Aria's strongest suit "lies in its ability to mine out melodies and give them gravitas. Its defining spirit is that of a melody maker." The impedance is somewhat demanding, JA commenting that "the K2 Aria 936 must be used with amplifiers that don't have problems driving 2 ohm loads." JA also found that the measured sensitivity was slightly lower (2dB) than the specified 92dB/2.83V/mm, but this is still usefully higher than average. (Vol.44 No.6 WWW)

Focal Kanta No.2: $10,998/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 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 WWW)

GoldenEar Triton One.R: $7498/pair
The successor to the original GoldenEar Triton One, the Triton One.R is a tall (54"), dark (black, with black grilles), and narrow (just 8" wide) floorstander. Active drivers are a Heil-alike folded-ribbon tweeter, two polypropylene-cone 5.25" midrange cones, and three 5" × 9" woofers with glass-fiber/Nomex composite cones; the latter are powered by an internal 1600W class-D amplifier—fitted with a user-adjustable level control—and assisted by four 7" × 10" planar passive radiators. KR found the Triton One.R's to be "capable of conveying the dynamics" of music and of presenting "a convincing image of the instruments and [preserving] their tone." JA's measurements uncovered sensitivity that was virtually up to spec (91.2 vs 92dB) and "impressively flat" response through the mids and trebles, contributing to the GoldenEar's "excellent measured performance." KR's verdict: "The One.R does it all, and at a fair price." (Vol.42 No.12 WWW)

KEF Reference 5: $19,999.99/pair ★
Like its stablemate, the demiflagship Blade Two, 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)

Klipsch Forte IV: $4998/pair
On its surface, the Forte IV appears almost unchanged from its predecessor, the Forte III that KM reviewed in Vol.42 No.8. The floorstanding, horn-loaded IV's specifications are identical to those of the III, but there are differences in the details. While the 12" woofer and 15" passive radiator are unaltered, the titanium-diaphragm high-frequency compression driver now has an ABS phase plug and the midrange unit is now a Celestion polyimide-diaphragm compression driver. Perhaps most significantly, the crossover has been completely redesigned. The result, according to KM, was a refinement and poise that the III, for all its virtues, lacked: "The IV sounded smoother and richer than the III from the midrange through the upper treble, and the soundstage was deeper." The IVs "rocked" dynamics and visceral textures, found KM, who concluded that for the extra $500 over the price of a pair of Forte IIIs, the Forte IV was "more coherent, sweeter, smoother, and more refined, with a better-defined top end, a warmer midrange, and the same trademark dynamics and low-end weight as the previous Forte version." (Vol.44 No.9 WWW)

Manger P1: $14,995 in basic finishes
To the pantheon of uncommon drive-unit technologies must be added the non-pistonic Manger Sound Transducer (MST), for which its manufacturer claims wide frequency range, superior time-domain performance, and frequency-independent impedance, among other nice things. Manger's own p1 is a 44.8"-tall floorstander in which the MST driver hands off to an 8" carbon fiber/paper sandwich woofer; the crossover frequency is an exceptionally low 360Hz. The Manger speakers impressed HR with their sheer lack of noise and "tight, bright, rhythmic, and 100% clear" if ungenerous bass. Herb concluded by praising the p1s for "reproducing music in a manner that felt uniquely unmolested." Reporting from his testing lab, Technical Editor JA noted lower than the specified sensitivity (85.6 instead of 89dB) and "a significant lack of presence-region energy off-axis. (Vol.42 No.12 WWW)

Monitor Audio Gold 300 G5: $8700/pair
The flagship of Monitor Audio's Gold line, the 300 is a three-way floorstander employing two 8" sandwich-cone woofers, a 2.5" ceramic-coated-aluminum midrange dome, and a 1" "Micro Pleated Diaphragm" tweeter—an air-motion transformer in all but name. In common with other Monitor models, the woofers are held rigid via threaded rods that fasten to the rear panel of the all-MDF enclosure; that panel is also home to twin reflex ports and twin pairs of binding posts. Outriggers of the usual sort hold the cabinet steady and can be used with or without spikes. TJN noted that the 300s' bass response wasn't subwoofer-like, but he praised the pleasing lack of muddiness in that range. He praised the midrange for a lack of "obvious coloration," adding that the 300s sounded "a trace more open and airy" than his own Monitor Silver 10s. Technical Editor JA noted slightly-less-than-specified sensitivity (87.3dB instead of 90dB); otherwise, the 300s exhibited "excellent measured performance." (Vol.42 No.11 WWW)

PMC fact.8 signature: $12,000/pair
This slim, two-way tower loads its twin 5.5" woofers with PMC's "Advanced Transmission Line," which, the company says, has a cross-sectional area at the start and end of the line "to be essentially as small as possible without compromising low-frequency performance and upper-bass absorption." KR found that the fact.8s needed to be much closer to the wall behind them, less than 1', than other speakers he had used in his room. Nevertheless, he felt that he was missing energy in the upper bass and low midrange. He also found that he had to play with both toe-in and the HF switch to get a suitable mid/treble balance and open up the center image and soundstage. "Removal of the front-panel grille enhanced and clarified midrange detail," he decided. JA's measurements revealed an accurate specified sensitivity of 89dB/W/m and a kind-to-amplifiers impedance of 8 ohms. He also found a lack of upper-bass energy in the PMC's frequency response due to the complex behavior of the woofers and the transmission line in the region where their outputs overlap. (Vol.43 No.5 WWW)

PSB Synchrony T600: $7999/pair
The floorstanding T600 houses each of its three 6.5" woofers in its own vented subenclosure and marries them to a 5.25" midrange unit and a 1" titanium-dome tweeter, with, unusually, the midrange unit mounted above the tweeter. "PSB's Synchrony T600 stepped out of the way of the music being played, imposing almost no character on the sound other than a slightly mellow high treble and a slightly forward midrange," JA wrote. He found that the stereo imaging was "stable and precise" and that the bass was "extended and clean-sounding." Rubber plugs are supplied to block one or two of the speaker's three reflex ports, to allow its low-frequency in-room balance to be optimized. JA noted that the PSB's farfield response on the midrange axis was commendably even, though his estimate of the T600's sensitivity was slightly lower than the specified 89dB. The T600's impedance measurement implies that this speaker is a relatively demanding load. Price includes IsoAcoustic GAIA II isolating feet. (Vol.44 No.11 WWW)

Spendor Audio Systems A7: $5495/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)

Volti Audio Razz: $5900/pair
This beautifully constructed, high-sensitivity tower combines a horn-loaded 1" tweeter with a horn-loaded 2" midrange compression driver and a reflex-loaded 12" woofer. "The ability of Volti Audio's Razz to portray music of any genre with scale, realism, and thrilling dynamics is unmatched by any loudspeaker I've had in my system," wrote TG, adding that while the Razz demonstrates a lovely midrange liquidity, "there's no sacrifice of detail." While Volti specifies the Razz's sensitivity as 97dB, JA's estimate was somewhat lower at a still-high 93dB(B)/2.83V/m, though JA did note that the Volti's highish impedance makes the speaker an easy load for amplifiers. Low and high frequencies are boosted compared to the midrange level, though the treble can be fine-tuned by experimenting with toe-in. Price is for walnut, mahogany, black cherry, or maple veneer. Premium finishes add $1000/pair. (Vol.43 No.8 WWW)

Wilson Audio Yvette: $27,000/pair
Brian Damkroger 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: $5897/pair ($1749.50/each) 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 WWW)

DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/93: $8820/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 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." With the O/93s driven by the Linear Tube Audio Z10e amplifier, HR concluded, "I've experienced countless audio components that measured well, but only a rare few that produced authentic tone, nine octaves of natural detail, and copious atmospherics. The LTA Z10e driving the DeVore Orangutan O/93s did all that." In a measurements Follow-Up, JA estimated the O/93's 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 flea-watt–friendly loudspeaker. (Vol.37 No.1, Vol.38 No.12, Vol.39 No.6, Vol.41 No.5, Vol.42 No.1, Vol.43 No.5 WWW)

Dragonfire Mini Dragon DFA 2.1: $9992 for the system
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: $3499/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)

EJ Jordan Marlow: £1960/pair
See Herb Reichert's review in this month's Gramophone Dreams.

ELAC Carina BS243.4: $999.98/pair (stands necessary) $$$
The standmount BS243.4 loudspeakers—not the snappiest name you're likely to see in this issue—combines a 5.25" aluminum-cone mid-bass driver with a version of the Heil air-motion transformer tweeter that Elac refers to as a Jet Emission Tweeter (JET), crossed over at 2.7kHz. Its 13"-tall enclosure, which is trapezoidal in cross-section, loads the larger of its two drivers with a downfiring reflex port aimed toward the rear. (Designer Andrew Jones says that keeping the speaker 12" from the front wall "is about right in general.") Used on his 24"-tall Sound Anchors Reference stands, HR described the Elacs as capable of "[resolving] supermicro information better than any speaker I know in its price range," describing its overall sound as "refined" and praising in particular its "supersmooth octave-to-octave balance." Upon measuring the Elac, JA suggested that it offers "excellent audio engineering." Tarrifs necessitated a higher price, but still an excellent value. (Vol.43 No.1 WWW)

Fyne Audio F500SP: $1995–$2295/pair (stands necessary)
A standmount featuring Fyne Audio's IsoFlare coaxial driver in which the titanium-dome tweeter is mounted behind the woofer's voice-coil, providing the former with a degree of horn loading. Woofer is reflex-loaded with a downward-firing port. JA's estimate of the Fyne's sensitivity was 3dB lower than the specified 90dB, but this speaker is relatively easy to drive. "Music sounded meaty, visceral, and full bodied and proved capable of spinning a deep, wide soundstage," KM wrote, adding that low frequencies were extended and free from bloat. The tweeter is balanced a couple of dB higher than the woofer, which KM found required careful system matching, but when everything was optimal "the Fyne F500SPs played music with a big, wide, deep stage, satisfying punch and precision, and much humanity." Base price is for gloss black or white finish; walnut veneer adds $300/pair. The matching F6 stands cost $1895/pair. (Vol.45 No.2 WWW)

GoldenEar BRX: $1598/pair (stands necessary)
The final loudspeaker to be introduced by GoldenEar while Sandy Gross was still with the company he cofounded, the immaculate-looking BRX (for Bookshelf Reference X) marries the flagship Triton Reference's HVFR (High-Velocity Folded Ribbon) tweeter and 6" polypropylene-cone upper-bass/midrange driver to a pair of 6.5" planar passive radiators. The optimal listening axis is just below the tweeter, so JA used 30" Sanus SF30 twin-pillar stands to get the best sound. The result is superb stereo imaging accuracy and uncolored, natural-sounding midrange and treble with the grilles, but a touch too much mid-treble energy without them. Excellent low-frequency extension, to 50Hz, for such a small speaker, JA found, with fleshed-out upper bass even with the BRXes used well away from the wall behind them. Measured sensitivity was 87.5dB(B)/2.83V/m compared with the specified 90dB. "While it benefits from being powered by high-quality amplification, its sound quality features an uncolored midrange, clean high frequencies, and enough mid- and upper-bass energy to satisfy, coupled with stable, accurate stereo imaging," he concluded. However, he warned that despite its impedance being specified as "compatible with 8 ohms," the BRX will perform best with substantial amplifier power. HR enthusiastically echoed JA's praise for the GoldenEar's sound, writing "My auditions suggest that the new GoldenEar BRXs might be the best thing to happen to affordable speakers since the debut of the KEF LS50. With the right amplifier, they achieved a level of overt lucidity that is extremely rare at this price." (Vol.43 Nos.9 & 12 WWW)

Graham Audio LS3/5: $3290/pair in Cherry or Oak finish (stands necessary) Graham Audio Chartwell LS3/5a: $3290/pair in Cherry or Oak finish (stands necessary)
Graham Audio of Newton Abbot, UK, is the 12th 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 P3-ESR XD: $3290/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: $1249.99/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 Wi-Fi; 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 WWW)

KLH Model Five: $2499.98/pair $$$
One of the first loudspeakers from the reborn KLH brand, the three-way Model Five echoes its vintage ancestor by having an acoustic-suspension woofer. A three-way switch allows the speaker's Mid-HF balance to be adjusted. With this switch set to its maximum, KM liked what he heard: "The M5's midrange was consistently meaty and lucid, but some recordings could excite a thin, slightly papery quality from the tweeters; it was recording dependent. Mostly, the speaker played with a detailed, sparkling upper/mid/treble chutzpah that favored and seemed to amplify texture and viscosity." KM was also impressed by the KLH's low frequencies: "Bass notes have never sounded tighter or more carved in black space here than they did through the Model Five," he wrote. KLH specifies the Model Five's free-field sensitivity as 87.5dB/2.83V/m, which was confirmed by JA's measurements. He found that the KLH's impedance lay between 4 and 8 ohms over most of the audioband but recommended this speaker be used with amplifiers that don't have problems driving 4 ohms. Measured farfield response was even, though JA noted that experimenting with toe-in will be useful in obtaining the optimal low-treble balance. KM concluded that for not a lot of money, the Model 5 "was a forensic instrument when needed and an audiophile speaker capable of reproducing rich, true-to-the-source sounds when desired. … The KLH M5s are intoxication kings, urging me to hear my most beloved vinyl via [their] big personality and well-scaled dimensionality." Matching stands included in price; Stonewash Linen grilles add $199/pair. (Vol.44 No.10 WWW)

Legacy Studio HD: $2062/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"-high 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 Ref600M 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: $750/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)

MayFly Audio Systems MF-201A: $4900/pair (stands necessary)
This unique, almost circular-profile standmount uses internal skyline diffusers to damp the woofer's backwave in the midrange, but not at lower frequencies, to get more bass output from the reflex-loaded alignment. The single driver is a coaxial unit from SEAS. RvB found that the MayFlys have tight bass that pumps out 40Hz with authority; he felt that the MF-201A sounded "honeylike, and it's hard to dislike a skosh of honey." Overall, he felt that there was a "dignified, reserved quality" to the speakers' presentation and commented on their precision and delicacy. His conclusion? "Though slow to quicken the pulse, these speakers are not shy or retiring, but you may have to take the time to find the right placement." JA found that the voltage sensitivity was 5dB lower than the specified 88dB and warned that despite its overall high impedance, the MF-201A will work best with amplifiers that have no problem driving 4 ohms. Matching 14" stands cost $899/pair, though RvB felt that the MF-201As sounded better-balanced on taller, conventional stands. (Vol.45 No.3 WWW)

Piega Premium Wireless 701: $8995/pair
This slim, Swiss-made, two-and-a-half-way active tower features an enclosure extruded from a single piece of solid aircraft-grade aluminum. A ribbon tweeter is mounted above two 5.5" drivers, the lower of which rolls off earlier than the upper. As the name suggests, the Piega Wireless 701 uses a proprietary Wi-Fi connection to receive signals from the Connect control unit—a choice of three RF frequencies and corresponding data rates is offered—though it also has a line-level analog input feeding an A/D converter. The Connect has both analog and digital inputs (the latter with aptX Bluetooth) and allows the speaker's volume to be controlled. DSP is used to implement the speaker's crossover, adjust low frequencies to suit the room acoustics, prevent woofer overload, and provide loudness compensation. JMu was impressed by what she heard from this system, which sounded "bigger than you'd expect from these slender speakers. Bass extension and control were impressive. Music from the 701s filled my room, and the spaciousness of the sound suggested wide, even dispersion. Tonal balance remained fairly neutral, and familiar music sounded like it should. Hi-hat cymbals were smoothly reproduced, without detectable resonance or ringing." Despite the system offering generally respectable acoustic performance, JA found some anomalies on the test bench. Though the Connect would lock to a 192kHz datastream, it appeared to downsample that rate to 96kHz. In addition, the Wi-Fi connection between the Connect and the loudspeakers appeared to be limited to a 48kHz sample rate, higher rates being downsampled. Systems sold in the US include the Connect control unit. (Vol.43 No.8 WWW)

Polk Audio Legend L100: $999/pair (stands necessary)
After this pair of well-finished, two-way, rear-ported standmounts had been broken in, KM found they "imaged beautifully, were dynamic as the dickens, recreated a satisfactory soundstage, and provided very respectable bass weight and extension—indeed, exceptional for their size … The L100s often fooled me into believing they were replicating bass notes lower than those small mid/bass drivers should allow." KM was also impressed by the Polk's midrange, describing it as "reliably distinct and rich-sounding," though he also found the upper midrange–treble balance somewhat forward. Although the L100 has a specified sensitivity of 85.5dB/W/m, JA measured a slightly higher figure of 87dB(B)/2.83V/m. KM found the Polk to sound better with some amplifiers than others, which JA ascribed to the demanding impedance. The L100 "will work best with amplifiers that are comfortable driving loads below 4 ohms," he concluded. He also warned that the L100s should be used with stands that are sufficiently high so that the listener can't see the tops of the cabinets. (Vol.43 No.10 WWW)

ProAc Response D2R: $5500/pair with ribbon tweeter option, $6200/pair in premium finishes
The D2R is derived from the Response D Two that JM and JA reviewed in 2010. It keeps the original's reflex-loaded, 6.5" glass-fiber–cone woofer but replaces the D Two's 1" silk-dome tweeter with a 2.75" ribbon tweeter made by ProAc. "The D2R impressed me immediately with its lucid, clear top end, rich-sounding midrange, and, for a cabinet of its size, well-defined and extended bass," KM wrote. Although JA's measurements indicated that the tweeter's top-octave output was 3–5dB too high in level compared with the average level of the woofer, KM never experienced the speaker's ribbon tweeter as forward, bright, or mechanical sounding, writing that the D2R was "open and natural sounding in the treble, reproducing the tone, texture, and sizes of pianos, percussion—and cymbals." MF concluded that "the ProAc D2R demonstrated excellent transparency. … When called for by the recording, it delivered rich, characterful midrange sounds and deep, well-defined bass notes." (Vol.43 No.4 WWW)

Rogers LS3/5a (2020): $3350/pair (stands necessary)
This new version of the legendary British sealed-box minimonitor from the 1970s adheres to the pre-1987 BBC specification, including a 15 ohm nominal impedance, a 19mm tweeter with a doped Mylar dome, and a 110mm woofer with a doped-Bextrene cone. These drive-units were reverse-engineered by ex-Exposure and Audio Note engineer Andy Whittle. "Rest assured, here was that LS3/5a explicitness at its smoothest and easiest to take," AD wrote. "There was no sonic edge tagging along with those crisply realistic and perfectly aligned note attacks," he added, though he did find that the new speaker wasn't kind to typically overcooked contemporary digital pop recordings. Summing up, AD wrote that "the Rogers LS3/5a served up a convincing illusion of extended low-frequency response." (Vol.43 No.4 WWW)

Sonus Faber Lumina III: $2199/pair
This elegant but affordable three-way tower stands 38" tall on its spikes. (The spikes provide clearance for the reflex port, which fires downward from the speaker's base.) Two 5" pulp-cone woofers are accompanied by a 5" pulp-cone midrange unit and Sonus Faber's Damped Apex Dome tweeter. Specified sensitivity is 89dB/2.83V/m—JA's estimate was commendably higher, at 91dB(B)/2.83V/m. Bass alignment is a little overdamped, meaning that the Lumina IIIs will sound at their best when placed relatively close to the wall behind them without compromising low-frequency definition. JA didn't recommend this speaker for use with source components that are themselves too forward in the treble, even with the toe-in adjusted to give the most-neutral treble, but concluded that in the right system and room, "this elegant-looking tower will excel at communicating the music's message." (Vol.44 No.4 WWW)

Sonus Faber Olympica Nova I: $7500/pair
The new Olympica Nova 1 is a two-way standmounter with a 5.9" pulp-sandwich-cone midbass driver and a 1.1" silk-dome tweeter. The former is reflex loaded with a vertically aligned slot on the rear of the speaker's non-symmetrical cabinet, the walls of which are formed from eight thin, crossgrain-oriented layers of wood bonded together under high pressure. Sonus Faber's recommended stands—used in our review—are 27" tall and cost an additional $1200/pair. With the Olympica Nova 1s in his system, LG heard clean response down to only 40Hz, yet he also noted the speakers' "rich, warm tone" and "considerable heft" on some recordings. In particular, Larry found that "imaging was the Nova 1's strength." Writing from his test bench, JA found a resonant mode in the cabinetry and some midrange peaks in the reflex port's output, noting that the newest Sonus Faber otherwise "did well on the test bench." (Vol.43 No.3 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 Acoustic Skylight: $1000/pair (stands necessary)
This small two-way design uses a 1" soft-dome tweeter and a long-throw 5.75" woofer in a rear-ported cabinet. The minimal crossover leads to significant overlap between the drivers, which makes listening axis critical; RS found that the stand used needs to place the tweeter just above the listener's ears, which was confirmed by JA's measurements. RS also found that the Skylight needs to be placed close to the wall behind it to flesh out its low frequencies. Once optimally set up, the Totem produced "an illumined clarity in the midband that seemed to accentuate the colors and shapes of the sounds within it" but without sounding etched or fatiguing. In summing up his experience of the Skylights, RS wrote that it was "their combination of midband clarity and sense of rhythm and drive" that impressed him. The Skylight fared less well on the test bench, where the sensitivity was 2.6dB lower than the specified 88dB. The measurements also revealed a high-amplitude port resonance in the upper midrange as well as some significant panel resonances. Measurements call for Class C; JCA awards Class B due to RS's enthusiastic assessment. (Vol.43 No.6 WWW)

Vanatoo Transparent One Encore: $599/pair in black or cherry veneer
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 and 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 Heritage: $1499/pair With stands: $1799/pair $$$
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-dome 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: Compared 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: $5449/pair and up, 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 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 specified 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 significantly 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, Vol.43 No.5, Vol.44 No.3 WWW)

C: (Full-Range)

Emotiva Airmotiv T2+: $1099/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 driver, 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)

JBL Stage A170: $599.90/pair $$$
Measuring a little over 3' tall and a mere 7.5" wide, this slender floorstander uses a combination horn/waveguide for its 1" aluminum-dome tweeter. Below that are two 5.25" polycellulose-cone midwoofers, one crossed over at 2.8kHz and the other at 1.8kHz: The Stage A170 is a 2.5-way design. On the rear of its vinyl-clad cabinet are two reflex ports, and two pairs of loudspeaker connectors to facilitate biwiring. Key specs include a 6 ohm impedance and a sensitivity of 89dB. According to HR, the JBLs weren't at all fussy when it came to intricacies of setup and projected "an enormous, nicely detailed soundstage." On rock fare, and apart from slightly rounding off leading-edge transients, the JBLs offered "relatively unrestricted" dynamics and allowed music to roll forward "with ridiculous ease." Writing from his test bench, JA confirmed the speaker's above-average sensitivity and praised the Stage A170's "excellent measured performance, especially considering its affordable price." (Vol.42 No.11 WWW)

Klipsch Forte III: $4398/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)

C (Restricted LF)

Alta Audio Alyssa: $5000/pair (stands necessary) in High Gloss Black; $6000/pair in Beachwood or Rosewood
This large, two-way standmount features a high-quality ribbon tweeter and a 6" Morel woofer loaded with a folded transmission line that terminates in a port on the speaker's rear. This combination, called "XTL Loading" by Alta, "tunes the speaker from resonance on up as it would in a properly tuned ported speaker, and the transmission line tunes the speaker from system resonance down. This extends the response significantly." JA's measurements showed that the Alyssa offered extended low frequencies for a speaker its size but also revealed that the internal transmission line suffered from high-Q resonances. HR noted that in his relatively small room, the Alyssas exhibited "a vexing lack of focus in the lower midrange and upper bass," which was especially audible with male vocals. JA conjectured that this coloration was due to the line resonances. (However, subsequent auditioning by JCA in his room, which is larger than HR's, indicated that those resonances didn't seem to affect sound quality.) Higher in frequency, the Alyssas delighted HR with their innate transparency and their ability to project an enormous soundstage with lifelike musicians arrayed in front of him. When the samples were delivered to JCA, the ports were stuffed with wool, although they had been open for HR's auditioning and JA's measurements. "I found the low-bass reach and the quantity and quality of the low frequencies superior without any stuffing," JCA wrote. "Even a quarter as much [stuffing] as they were delivered with reduced their bass impact considerably." Price is for gloss black finish; gloss beech or rosewood finish adds $1000/pair. (Vol.43 Nos.11 & 12 WWW)

Fyne Audio F301: $545/pair (stands necessary)
Fyne Audio was founded by a group of former senior managers from Tannoy. The two-way, ported F301—the company's second-least-expensive speaker—marries a 1" polyester-dome tweeter to a 6" matte-silver–finished, "multi-fibre"–cone woofer. "After a break-in period," KM wrote, "the Fyne F301s impressed with their exceptional rendering of soundstage width and depth, reasonably wide dynamic range, extended low end (for their size), and exuberant, I-can't-stop-spinning-records presentation." He did note, however, that though it "tilted toward the dark side," the F301's treble could sometimes have a tinge of dryness or hardness on brass and strings. Even so, KM concluded that "the Fyne Audio F301 loudspeakers punch way above their price point. Their ability to cast a wide, deep soundstage with super imaging was as good as any bookshelf speaker I've had in house. Their serious jump factor and meaty bass frequencies were a consistent treat." JA's measurements indicated that while the F301's sensitivity was almost 3dB lower than the specified 89dB/2.83V/m, the F301 is a relatively easy load for the partnering amplifier. (Vol.43 No.5 WWW)

Klipsch RP-600M: $769/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: $1795/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 P5: $449/pair (stands necessary) $$$
A descendent of the original PSB Alpha, which in 1992 sold for $199/pair, the 11.375"-tall Alpha P5 mates a 0.75" aluminum-dome tweeter with a 5.25 polypropylene-cone woofer, aligned with the latter above the former. A 2" diameter reflex port is mounted to the all-MDF enclosure's rear panel, above a single pair of binding posts. Used on 24" stands and driven with amps both cheap and dear, the Alpha P5s impressed JA with low midrange coloration—"[they] did well with both male and female spoken voices"—and "sufficient upper bass weight" from well-recorded double bass. (Perhaps needless to say, low bass is absent.) The PSBs had less-well-defined imaging than the KEF LS50 ($1300/pair), but overall JA found them to do "relatively well in comparison" with that and another more expensive speaker. Writing from his test bench, JA praised the PSB's "excellent measured performance." (Vol.42 No.10 WWW)

Tannoy Revolution XT 6: $1050/pair (stands necessary)
This elegant-looking speaker uses a version of Tannoy's Dual Concentric drive-unit, where a "Linear PEI" (polyetherimide) dome tweeter is mounted at the apex of the 6" woofer's cone. The trapezoidal enclosure is separated from a 1"-thick plastic plinth by four 0.5"-high chrome-finished plastic spacers that allow the XT 6's bottom-firing port to breathe. HR initially found the XT 6's low frequencies MIA, but three full days of playing music and trying different amplifiers mostly brought them back. "My gut feeling is that these coaxial drivers require at least 30W to sing and 100W to dance," he wrote. The XT 6 offered the best voice intelligibility HR had heard from a box speaker on a stand, though he did comment on "a slight gray haze in the lower treble that reduced contrast and transparency." JA was bothered by an audible excess of energy in the presence region. However, HR concluded that the XT 6 has "a sensuous, flirty, seductive side that makes me want to smile, and dream, and listen to one record after another." On the test bench, the measured sensitivity confirmed Tannoy's 89dB specification, though the shape of the impedance magnitude graph suggests that the XT 6's treble will be exaggerated with tube amplifiers that have high output impedances. Even with a solid state amplifier, the Tannoy's tweeter appears to be balanced 3–5dB too high in level. Price is for dark walnut or medium oak. Black or white finish adds $50/pair. (Vol.43 No.7 WWW)

Trenner & Friedl Osiris: $8500/pair
These small, swept-back towers took a long time to break in and proved hard to set up in KM's room. He also found it sensitive to amplifier matching. But after he put in that work, he heard "clarity, detail, and naturalness" that "competed with every speaker" he has ever reviewed, even if the balance was on the dark side of natural, though without being warm. For such a small speaker, he found, they played big music with force: "Through the Osirises, Die Walküre was intense and powerful." JA's measurements, on the other hand, found limited anechoic low-frequency output, the speakers rolling off fast below 50Hz and lacking the usual bass bump resulting from the nearfield measurement technique—an indication that the bass level is even lower than it looks. He concluded, "this loudspeaker's measured performance suggests that the unusual design approach has introduced problems that have not been fully resolved." (Vol.42 No.11 WWW)


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)

Wharfedale Diamond 11.2, discontinued. Audio Physic Step Plus, replaced by newer product not yet reviewed.

donnrut's picture

Not a single disc player reviewed under $4 thou??? Come on. I don't drive a Porsche Taycan or a Lambo. I have a $7 thou turntable rig assembled over several years of upgrades. My SACD player died 5 years ago, and now, I am in the market for $500 or $1000 disc player. I'll stream eventually but I have listened to my CDs, tossed out the bad ones and have maybe 200 that are well engineered/mastered, about 50 SACDs. I want S'phile to help me get a decent player. There are maybe half a dozen newish models.

johnnythunder1's picture

been doing a little research. The Hegel (discontinued) was 5k. The Bryston is 3+k. Ive had my eye on a Rotel CD 11 Tribute. It's like $600 and gets very good reviews.

AndyT2050's picture

I have a Rega Research Apollo Cd Player. Beautiful sound, nice design in my opinion. Not too expensive

moinau's picture

Nothing in the 500 to 1000$ range SACD player, although this Arcam might interest you.
Arcam CDS50

Ulfilas's picture

There is one recommended in the integrated amps category:

I have one myself, and grateful for the recommendation I am.

rlo's picture

Can you please bring back the links on the mobile page that let you jump to the relevant recommended component page? This has been missing for the last few. It’s quite annoying to have to switch to desktop theme to be able to go directly to the page I want (e.g. loudspeakers, amplifiers etc)

Jonti's picture

I've had mine for about 18 months and still have a sense of quiet awe every time I listen to/through it.

Tube-rolling can also yield excellent results. I have switched to NOS Mullards, which work a treat by (to my EAR) thickening the syrup and stirring the pot in such a way that the ends and edges of trailing sounds glisten, firing off from a weightier centre. (The stock EAR-stamped tubes were fine, just different: lighter-sounding, I think; I assume Tim would have approved the use of NOS Mullards given his views on the quality of many new tubes doing the rounds.)

Just for the benefit of any readers thinking about rolling those tubes, here's some extra instruction I received from an engineer at EAR Yoshino on how to go about it:

"Remove the top cover by removing four screws on the bottom of the unit. The jumper plug is located on the left side of smaller power supply circuit board labeled ECC83 and 13D16. The default position for the jumper is 13D16 with standard 13D16 valves fitted. If ECC83 valves are fitted then move the jumper one position to the right in the ECC83. position."

And finally, on the subject of MM/MC carts, I think it's fair to say (as correctly reflected in its rating here) that the Phono Box gives a solid platform to MC carts but really excels with MM/MIs. Try it with a London Decca!

[Edited version of post on Herb's original review]

hesson11's picture

The comments under the heading "Harbeth P3ESR XD" seem to imply that the XD version is identical to the 40th Anniversary edition, which Herb reviewed. Is that, in fact, the indisputable truth? I don't believe I've ever seen any official word that this is, in fact, the case.