Recommended Components: Fall 2018 Edition Loudspeakers

Loudspeaker Systems

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

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

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

A (Full-Range)

Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 90: $84,990/pair
The three-way Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 90 contains 18 drivers, 18 class-D power amplifiers, 9 DACs, and, to rule them all, a pair of DSP-enabling Analog Devices chips. (Vol.40 No.1 WWW)

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

Egglestonworks Viginti : $39,990/pair
(Vol.41 No.6 WWW)

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

GoldenEar Technology Triton Reference: $8498/pair $$$
(Vol.40 No.12 WWW)

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

Magico S5 Mk.II: $38,000/pair–$42,750/pair
(Vol.40 No.2 WWW)

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

MartinLogan Renaissance ESL 15A: $24,995/pair
(Vol.40 No.1 WWW)

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

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

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

Sonus Faber Aida: $130,000/pair
See MF's review in this issue.

Vandersteen Model Seven Mk.II: $62,000/pair
(Vol.33 No.3 original version, Vol.39 No.5 WWW)

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

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

Wilson Audio Specialties Alexandria XLF: $210,000/pair ★
MF's long-term reference. (Vol.36 No.1 WWW)

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

A (Restricted Extreme LF)

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

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

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

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

DeVore Fidelity Gibbon 3XL: $3700/pair $$$ ★ (stands necessary)
Hand-built in Brooklyn, New York, the Gibbon 3XL has a beautifully finished cabinet made mostly of solid bamboo, and uses an unusual 0.75" tweeter and a 5" midrange/woofer custom-designed for DeVore by SEAS. The speaker has a claimed sensitivity of 90dB and a nominal impedance of 8 ohms, never dropping below 7.4 ohms. While the comparably priced Harbeth Compact 7 ES-3 offered a slightly richer, fuller sound, the Gibbon 3XL produced excellent low-level resolution, reasonably wide dynamics, and stable, pinpoint imaging, said ST in June 2010. In his April 2017 Follow-Up, HR wrote that his time with the 3XLs was all about "Leica-like focus, pulsing flow, [and] fresh-air transparency." He added that, although their bass performance was limited, the DeVores' "ability to reproduce human voices, chamber orchestras, and architectural spaces was as good as those things get." The almost obligatory matching bamboo stands add $695/pair. (Vol.33 No.6, Vol.40 No.4 WWW)

DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/96: $12,000/pair ★ (stands included)
Handmade in Brooklyn, New York, the O/96 is a two-way, reflex-loaded, stand-mounted speaker with a rated sensitivity of 96dB/W/m and an unusually high nominal impedance of 10 ohms. The wide-baffle design measures 28.25" H by 18" W by 12" D and has a 1" silk-dome tweeter and a 10" paper-cone woofer. The O/96 exhibited a superb overall tonal balance with impressive clarity, color, impact, drama, and scale, said AD. "The O/96 is distinctly easy to drive with low-power amplifiers, yet it's clearer, wider of bandwidth, and more spatially accomplished than most other high-sensitivity loudspeakers," he summed up. JA's measurements uncovered a low-treble resonance and a lively enclosure, but these problems were considerably less audible than he was expecting. AD originally considered this a very high Class B recommendation, bordering on Class A, but as of April 2015, the rating is upgraded. In a Follow-Up, AD noted: "I have refined my own O/96 installation, moving each speaker farther from its sidewall, and minimizing the influence of unfortunate room characteristics with some John DeVore–inspired asymmetry," with excellent results. AD also quoted John DeVore's observation that, in 2013, the O/96 was his best-selling model "by a clear margin. I wouldn't be surprised to see that it did that again in 2014." (Vol.35 No.12, Vol.38 No.1. Vol.40 No.9 WWW)

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

ENIGMAcoustics Sopranino Electrostatic supertweeter: $3690/pair ★ (stands optional)
Here's something you don't see every day: a horn-loaded, self-polarized, electrostatic supertweeter. The Sopranino is a 6-lb, 7.6"-tall enclosure intended for installation either atop the user's nominally full-range speakers or on their own height-adjustable stands ($600/pair). Its 12dB/octave high-pass filter can be set to one of three crossover frequencies—8, 10, or 12kHz—and connection via the Sopraninos' binding posts puts the supertweeters in parallel with their host speakers. A rear-mounted toggle switch offers the option of –3dB of attenuation. JA found that the Sopraninos, when used with the Joseph Audio Perspective loudspeakers, had a decidedly subtle influence on the sound of his system; on removing them after a week of listening, he declared his system still sounded good—"Just not quite as good." With JA's vintage Rogers LS3/5a loudspeakers, the Sopraninos allowed cymbals to sound "more like struck bronze than shaped and textured white noise," and stereo imaging was more palpable. Measurements revealed a clean cumulative spectral-decay plot and other distinctions, although JA was surprised that, by the end of the review, one of the Sopraninos had ceased performing above 15kHz: an enduring mystery. Writing in his Follow-Up review, AD also reported a spot of trouble: one of the Sopraninos in his loaner pair arrived in non-working condition. EnigmAcoustics replaced that well-traveled pair with a fresh one, and AD went on to enjoy "a greater improvement in spatial performance than any other aspect of playback" when using the Sopraninos—plus their optional stands—with his Quad ESL loudspeakers. As he wrote, "my assessment of the EnigmAcoustics supertweeter is precisely the same as JA's: 'An audition will be mandatory prior to purchase.'" (Vol.37 No.6, Vol.39 No.11 WWW)

Harbeth Monitor 30.2 40th Anniversary Edition: $6890/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 Perspective: $12,999/pair ★
The 36"-tall, floorstanding Perspective combines the same SEAS 1" impregnated-fabric dome tweeter used in Joseph Audio's Pulsar with two SEAS 5.5" magnesium-cone woofers, all mounted on a baffle profiled to optimize high-frequency dispersion. The woofers are reflex-loaded with a rear-mounted resistive port—the resistive foam can be removed for certain applications—and, according to JA, with "an Asymmetrical Infinite Slope Crossover set at 2kHz, with about a 40dB/octave low-pass slope for the woofers." In his listening, JA noted slightly unforgiving trebles on recordings with ragged high frequencies, but with good recordings, the Perspectives delivered "a wide, rich sweep of full-range sound, with tangible stereo imaging." JA also noted midrange clarity and lack of coloration, and that the Perspective's bass performance required an amp with a firm hand lest it sound a bit phat. Summing up with praise for the Perspective's cosmetics and small footprint, he concluded: "It's a lot of high-performance loudspeaker in a beautiful, modest-sized, domestically appealing package." (Vol.37 No.7 WWW)

Joseph Audio Pulsar: $7700/pair ★ (stands necessary)
The compact (15" H by 9" W by 13" D), rear-ported Pulsar has a 1" Sonatex-dome tweeter and a 5.5" cast-magnesium cone woofer, both built to Joseph Audio's specifications by SEAS. Its MDF cabinet has an attractively beveled, piano-black front baffle; side panels are available in a choice of four high-gloss veneers as well as piano black. The Pulsar produced sweet treble, a neutral midrange, solid bass, and superbly focused images, for a natural, involving overall sound, said MF. JA was impressed by the Pulsar's superbly flat on-axis response and well-damped enclosure. 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." (Vol.35 No.6, Vol.41 No.7 WWW)

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

Kii Audio Three: $16,995/pair including Kii Control unit (stands necessary)
In a field of endeavor in which, according to KR, "we have not seen anything really new in a long time," the Kii Three impressed him as "a refreshing splash of cool water." This three-way, six-driver loudspeaker is self-amplified—each Three contains six 250W Ncore class-D modules—and uses an integral DSP system to perform crossover functions, room-boundary compensation, phase equalization, and to allow the user to shape the radiation pattern of its drivers. (As KR remarked near the end of his review, "the only valid comparison was with B&O's BeoLab 90.") Bundled with the Three—which stands only 16" tall and is intended for use on purpose-made stands—is a wired remote control for volume adjustment, input selection, and other functions. In spite of the Kii's modest size, it was, per Kal, "entirely satisfying in delineating the descending pedal notes" in a favorite pipe-organ recording, and was "almost unique" in its ability to convey "the sensation of a single throbbing column of air." Not only that, but the Threes' "dynamic range was huge," and KR was impressed by their soundstaging and transparency: "The Kii Three didn't just lift a veil away from the music—it removed a heavy cloak." In measuring the Kii, JA noted its lively enclosure, but was otherwise "very impressed." (Vol.40 No.9 WWW)

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

Paradigm Persona 5F: $17,000/pair
See KR's review in this issue.

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

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

Sonus Faber Guarneri Tradition: $15,900/pair (stands included)
Like its distinguished forebears, this fourth iteration of the Sonus Faber Guarneri has an enclosure made from multiple thin sheets of tonewood, the shape of which suggests, in cross section, a lute: a nod to its nominal family of luthiers as much as a structurally and acoustically motivated design element. The two-way design has a 1.1" silk-dome tweeter, enhanced with a tiny damping pad held against its diaphragm by a slender exterior bracket, and a 5.9" sandwich-cone mid/bass driver, both on a baffle covered in Italian leather (the rest of the cabinet is veneered with the tropical hardwood wengè). The low-frequency driver is reflex-loaded with a rear-mounted rectangular port that's radiused and lined with rubber at its top and bottom and damped with foam—basic black, of course. Playback quality was no less elegant: While listening to a track from Peter Gabriel's Scratch My Back, JA noted that the double-bass line "was reproduced with enough low-frequency power to support the music, while the image of the singer was palpable." In other recordings, low-level details were clear "without . . . being unnaturally spotlit," and JA praised the Sonus Fabers' "delicate-sounding high treble" and stable, detailed imaging. Writing from his test bench, JA observed "a small but well-defined peak" at 2kHz, noting that there is otherwise "a lot to admire in the Sonus Faber Guarneri Tradition's measured performance." (Vol.41 No.3 WWW)

Spendor D7: $6395/pair $$$ ★
The British-built D7 is a 2.5-way, 38"-tall floorstander, with a rated sensitivity of 90dB/W/m and a nominal impedance of 8 ohms. Its driver complement includes a 7/8" soft-dome tweeter with a specially designed cover of stainless-steel mesh, a 7" plastic-cone mid/woofer, and a 7" Kevlar-cone woofer, the latter two both made by Spendor and loaded by the same rear-mounted reflex port. Used with ST's 80Wpc Quicksilver Silver 88 tubed monoblocks—"a superb combination"—and giving their best about 3' from the wall behind them, the D7s played with "authority, weight, and speed." ST praised the speaker's fine trebles—"a crystalline clarity that put the Spendor D7 among the finest speakers I have heard at any price"—and noted that, "40 years on, Spendor is still known for getting the midrange right." Although ST's 3.5Wpc 2A3 amplifier failed to coax from the D7 sufficient bottom-end authority, the sound of that combination was "glorious"—and the Spendor was otherwise easy to drive with tubes or transistors, ultimately coaxing from the floorstander-phobic ST the highest praise: "one of the finest loudspeakers I have had in my listening room." JA confirmed its distinction as a 2.5-way (not a 3-way) design, and praised its overall "excellent measured performance." (Vol.37 No.9, Vol.38 No.4 WWW)

TAD Micro Evolution One: $12,495/pair (stands necessary)
TAD's first domestic loudspeaker not designed by Andrew Jones (now of Elac), the Micro Evolution One—ME1 for short—is a three-way loudspeaker that, at first glance, appears to have only two drivers: its 1" beryllium-dome tweeter and 3.5" magnesium-cone midrange driver are, in fact, concentric with one another, a technology that is TAD's spécialité du chez. Lower frequencies are handled by a 6.5" composite-cone woofer loaded with slots engineered into the sides of the ME1's plywood, MDF, and steel enclosures, and which TJN guessed might betray a variation on aperiodic loading. (Spoiler alert: JA's measurements uncovered behavior suggestive of traditional reflex loading.) Used well away from the walls of his 21' by 16' room, the ME1s impressed TJN with their resolving ability: "Subtle shadings of instrumental percussion textures were far more evident than I'm accustomed to hearing, and the distinct reproduction of the ambience of the recording venue added welcome helpings of air and depth." The TAD's midrange performance was commendably neutral—"instrumental timbres were convincingly reproduced, as were the voices of a wide range of singers"—but while bass was "consistently tight and well defined," the ME1's response didn't extend as low as some might wish, with "just-audible output" at 40Hz. JA's measurements confirmed the TAD's less-than-Stygian bass performance—apart from which, he observed that the ME1 offered "excellent measured performance." Not long after making those measurements, encouraged by TJN's positive report and spurred by an enthusiastic HR, JA installed the ME1s in his own listening room and proclaimed: "Herb and Tom were right: It may be expensive, but TAD's Micro Evolution One is indeed a special loudspeaker." Optional stands, which arrive pre-filled but not pre-assembled, cost $1795/pair. (Vol.41 Nos. 2 & 3 WWW)

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

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

Volti Audio Rival: $7900/pair
The smaller and less expensive sibling of the well-regarded Volti Vittora, the Rival combines a 15" paper-cone woofer with a rectangular-mouthed wooden horn driven by a compression driver with a 3.5" phenolic diaphragm, and a 1" compression tweeter mounted to a molded Tractrix-flare horn with a 1" compression driver. The crossovers are adjustable, and a range of finish options is available. (The price above is for cabinetry with just a satin lacquer finish on its birch outer ply, and without the optional grilles.) Driven by a modestly powered Shindo Laboratory tube amp in KM's modestly sized room, the 125-lb Rivals "managed the sort of 'disappearing' act I've heard only from electrostatic panels." The sorts of colorations that some associate with horns never intruded—"the Rivals were the most neutral, transparent, dynamic speakers I've heard"—and although some adjustments were required to prevent them from sounding lean, ultimately, bass performance was "as riveting, powerful, and forceful, and as full of tone, texture, and energy as I've heard." KM's conclusion: "a true bargain." JA's technical assessment: "one of the highest-sensitivity loudspeakers I've measured," whose perceived balance "will depend to a greater degree than usual on the . . . size and acoustics of the room." (Vol.40 No.6 WWW)

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

Wilson Audio Specialties Sabrina: $15,900/pair
Approximately the size of the original WATT/Puppy combo, the single-box, three-way Sabrina enters the Wilson line just below the Sophia 3—which was, until now, the company's entry-level floorstander. The Sabrina has an 8" paper-composite woofer, a 5.7" paper-composite midrange driver, and a 1" doped-silk dome tweeter based on the Convergent Synergy tweeter first used in Wilson's Alexandria XLF, all built into a sleekly sculpted MDF cabinet with a baffle made of Wilson's proprietary X-material. Driven with a Theta Digital Prometheus amplifier, a pair of Sabrinas treated RD to a level of dynamic-contrast reproduction that "came closer to [my Avantgarde horns] than any other speaker I've reviewed." RD also raved about the Wilsons' lack of cabinet colorations, their "wide and deep" soundstage with "precisely defined" imaging, and their "first-rate" resolution. In his measurements, JA uncovered slightly higher-than-specified sensitivity (88.2 vs 87dB) and praised the overall design as "carefully optimized." Extra points for being the first Wilson floorstander to ship via UPS rather than common carrier, thus contributing to its affordability. (Vol.39 No.5 WWW)

YG Acoustics Carmel 2: $24,300/pair
The entry-level loudspeaker from Colorado-based YG Acoustics, the Carmel—now revised as the Carmel 2, with curved rather than straight sides and baffle—is a two-way design in a sealed enclosure of CNC-machined aluminum. Its 7" aluminum-cone woofer is made in-house, as is the aluminum frame for its 1" soft-dome tweeter; even the air-core inductors for the Carmel 2's crossover network are wound on the premises. Perhaps counterintuitively, setting up the Carmel 2s in JA's room proved trickier than with YGA's larger, more complex Sonja 1.3, the best results in terms of bass smoothness being achieved with an asymmetrical installation relative to the side walls, and the best tonal coherence achieved with a PrimaLuna tubed integrated amplifier. JA described the Carmel 2's midrange as "superbly natural," and said that "its clean highs gave the cymbals and triangle a superbly real quality" on a DSD file of a Lyn Stanley album of vocal standards. Notwithstanding the Carmel 2's "ungenerous" bass, JA concluded that, "properly set up in a sympathetic acoustic and matched with appropriate electronics, it will sing." JA noted that, in its bass alignment, the Carmel 2 does indeed maximize low-frequency articulation at the expense of "body," and praised the speaker's quasi-anechoic response curve as "one of the flattest I have ever measured." (Vol.38 No.12 WWW)

B (Full-Range)

Alta Titanium Hestia: $32,000/pair
Weighing 135 lb and standing nearly 54" tall, the Titanium Hestia is, in JCA's words, "imposing but not huge," its cabinetry made from a multilayer epoxy material called DampHard and finished in glossy black. That enclosure mixes open-baffle and pseudo-transmission-line technologies: the former for its RAAL ribbon tweeter and three midrange cones (one 6" and two 7", all with titanium voice-coil formers), the latter for its woofer (a 10" cone with titanium former). In his large listening room, after an extensive setup process—their generous bass response required extra care to avoid unwanted resonant behavior and excessive low-frequency room gain—the Hestias rewarded JCA with "a detailed architectural portrait in sound," and he noted that symphonies and symphonic rock alike had "real rumble and serious scale," though they also "made smaller-scale works sound bigger." But he felt that their generous bass was at times too generous: "double basses often had too much tone relative to texture." In measuring the Hestia, JA observed a sensitivity much lower than specified—82.5dB as opposed to 90dB—as well as high-level resonant modes in the bass enclosure, and even more severe low-frequency modes in the front-panel port that loads the woofer. (Vol.41 No.1 WWW)

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

DALI Rubicon 8: $7999/pair ★
Neither a two-way nor even a three-way loudspeaker, the Rubicon 8 is referred to by its manufacturer, DALI, as a "2-½+½+½-way" loudspeaker: None of its three 6.5" woofers covers the same range as the others, and only the one at the loudspeaker's (physical) top extends as high as 2.5kHz, whence the music is given over to a 1.15" soft-dome tweeter, which itself hands off to a ribbon supertweeter at 14kHz. Although each is operated over a different frequency range, all three woofers are, in JA's words, "technically sophisticated," and benefit from a proprietary material said to reduce hysteresis distortion. They and the higher-frequency drivers are all made by DALI, and are installed on the front baffle of a 43.5"-tall MDF enclosure, the rear panel being taken up by two pairs of binding posts and three reflex ports. JA reported hearing good bass weight—although some lower-pitched instruments sounded "overripe" and "a little on the rich side"—and noted that "the Rubicon 8's reproduction of the top octaves was superb." JA also noted that, "With all recordings I played, the Rubicon 8s threw a solid, well-defined, impressively stable soundstage, with precise layering of image depth." Writing from his lab, JA suggested that the DALI's measured performance "indicates a careful balance of its design parameters to produce a seductive yet clean full-range sound." (Vol.38 No.3 WWW)

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

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

GoldenEar Technology Triton Two+: $3499.98/pair $$$
Designed by a team led by industry veteran Sandy Gross and made in China, the original Triton Two was a three-way floorstander with a unique array of drive-units: a High-Velocity Folded Ribbon tweeter, two 4.5" midrange cones, two 10" by 7" passive radiators, and two 9" by 5" cone woofers powered by a 1200W class-D amplifier. The speaker's slim cabinet is made of high-density Medite, features a separate subenclosure for the midrange drivers, and is covered in black cloth. Though it exhibited some box colorations when pushed too loud, the Triton Two offered sweet, detailed highs, an uncolored midrange, well-extended lows, and excellent dynamics, said RD in 2012. In 2016, GoldenEar released the Triton Two+, with improved midrange/upper-bass drivers that feature new cones, surrounds, spiders, and voice-coils. (The other drivers remain the same.) Other improvements, including a revision to one leg of the crossover network and fine-tuning of the DSP that manages the handoff to the powered woofers, are also reported by the manufacturer. With the revised speakers in his system, RD heard "clarity and transparency that exceeded" what he remembered of the original Triton Twos, and suggested that the Two+ had less of a "speaker sound" than its predecessor. (Vol.35 Nos. 2 & 10, Vol.39 No.12 WWW)

KEF Reference 5: $19,000/pair
Like its stablemate, the demiflagship Blade Two (see elsewhere in Recommended Components), KEF's Reference 5 uses a Uni-Q coincident driver array to cover most of the audioband, plus four 6.5" aluminum-cone woofers for the lowest octaves. The most apparent distinction is in the Reference 5's enclosure: whereas the woofers in the Blade Two are fixed to the sides of a parabolically curved, narrow-fronted enclosure of high-density polymer, the Reference 5's woofers are mounted on the front of a conventional-looking floorstanding enclosure, its greatest departure from convention being KEF's choice of aluminum for the front baffle. The woofers are reflex loaded by means of two adjustable ports on the rear panel. JA noted the Reference 5s' "weighty but well-defined lows" and "sweet, smooth highs," and was mightily impressed with their spatial performance, noting their ability to resolve image depth with even mono recordings and observing, with a recording of his own making, that the Reference 5s didn't skimp in conveying reverberant information. Writing from his test bench, JA noted the KEF's benign load characteristics and praised its "excellent" engineering. (Vol.40 No.10 WWW)

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

Paradigm Prestige 95F: $4998/pair
The top model in Paradigm's midprice Prestige series, the Canada-made 95F is a 2.5-way bass-reflex floorstander with a 1" aluminum-dome tweeter and no fewer than three 8" aluminum-cone woofers, one of which goes all the way up to 2kHz. (The other two venture no higher than 400Hz.) All drivers are proprietary, the tweeter being distinguished by a Perforated Phase Alignment (PPA) lens that appears, at first glance, to be a simple protective screen. The hefty (98 lb) MDF enclosure rests on aluminum outriggers with adjustable feet; two pairs of binding posts are provided, to enable biwiring where desired. Notwithstanding his initial concern over handing off a highish range of frequencies to an 8" driver, TJN "heard no consistent problems in the speaker's upper midrange and low treble," and went on to praise the 95F's "tightly and consistently focused" imaging—though he added that "the 95F wasn't particularly forgiving of overbright source material." The speaker's bass performance, TJN noted, may be best suited to larger-than-average rooms. JA's tests uncovered some lively cabinet panels, slightly elevated tweeter output, wiggy response on the part of the highest-reaching woofer, and measurable differences between the left and right speakers. (Vol.39 No.1 WWW)

B (Restricted-LF)

DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/93: $8400/pair $$$ ★
Made in Brooklyn, New York, the Orangutan O/93 is a two-way floorstanding loudspeaker with a SEAS 1" soft-dome tweeter—the same one used in DeVore's upmarket O/96—and a 10" paper-cone bass/midrange driver. It measures 35.5" H by 15" W by 10" D, and has a claimed sensitivity of 93dB and a nominal impedance of 10 ohms. The beautifully finished cabinet is made from a combination of Baltic birch plywood and MDF; the front baffle has a distinctive fiddleback mahogany veneer, while the sides, top, and rear are veneered in maple and finished in a semitranslucent gloss-black lacquer. With the DeVores driven by a Unison Research Simply Italy amplifier, ST noted the lively, immediate sound, with a sweet and 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 a 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 O/93 is "far better stuff than most everyone else is making." (Vol.37 No.1, Vol.38 No.12, Vol.39 No.6, Vol.41 No.5 WWW)

Dynaudio Excite X14: $1299/pair $$$ ★ (stands necessary)
Descended from Dynaudio's Excite X12, itself a "Recommended Components" stalwart, the Excite X14 is a smallish (11.2" tall) two-way stand-mounter with a reflex port at the rear. Compared with its predecessor, the X14 boasts a redesigned 5.7" woofer, a more advanced coating for its 1" fabric-dome tweeter, a new crossover, and a refinement of its port tuning. The late BJR praised the X14 for a treble range that was "cleaner and more articulate in high-level passages" than its predecessor's, and noted that he was "very impressed with the Excite X14's bass performance throughout a wide range of recordings." The verdict: "Dynaudio has taken all of the aspects of the Excite X12 that I liked and improved them across the board," creating in the process BJR's "new favorite bookshelf loudspeaker for under $2000." In his measurements, JA confirmed that the X14 is easier to drive than the X12, and pronounced the new model "a well-engineered design." For his part, HR described the speaker's sound as "sober precision," noting that, through the X14s, "the bass is taut, fast, and detailed; the midrange lacks a bit of color and plushness; high frequencies are beautifully articulated, and never too wet or too dry." The Dynaudio Excite X14 is also available in active form as the Excite X14A ($2000/pair), wherein each driver gets its own internal 50W class-D amplifier. On its rear panel are EQ switches for adjusting bass, midrange, and, you guessed it, treble, plus a switchable high-pass filter for those who want to use the X14A with a subwoofer. With a Mytek Stereo192-DSD DAC as his source component, ML found the self-powered Dynaudios "excellent all around, throwing out an all-encompassingly rich and physical sound." (Vol.37 No.10, Vol.38 No.9, Vol.39 No.2 WWW)

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

Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a: $2995/pair ★ (stands necessary)
In contrast to a typical ultradamped, ultraheavy, ultrabig speaker—which, according to HR, can sound an awful lot like "a moaning, wheezing pile of wood"—Falcon Acoustics' BBC-licensed LS3/5a loudspeaker proved capable of delivering "expression, transparency, [and] tonal purity." This true vintage reissue, created in part by the man who oversaw production of the KEF 127mm Bextrene-cone mid/woofer of the 1974 original, went so far as to make HR's own ca 1985 Rogers LS3/5as "sound a tad drowsy and fuzzy" by comparison. In HR's room, the Falcons loved low-powered amps—especially low-powered tube amps such as the 22Wpc Line Magnetic LM518IA—but turned up their noses at class-D amplification. In measuring the Falcons, JA went to the well and compared his findings with measurements, made throughout his 30+ years at Stereophile's helm, of earlier LS3/5a iterations. His verdict: Falcon Acoustics "has resisted the temptation to 'improve' the sound quality, but has also managed to re-create what made the speaker great in the first place." (Vol.38 No.8 WWW)

Harbeth Super HL5plus: $6995/pair ★ (stands necessary)
"Like the sturgeon, the hellbender, and the woodlouse, the Super HL5plus bears an unusually strong resemblance to its prehistoric ancestor." Thus did AD put into context this most recent Harbeth: an update of the classic British box designed around two tweeters—a 1" aluminum dome and a 0.78" titanium dome—and a 7.8" mid/woofer whose cone is made from RADIAL2, the very latest version of Harbeth's proprietary polymeric composite (and the reason for the nominal plus). AD praised the stand-mounted Harbeth's "easy clarity" and the good degree of touch and force with which it reproduced notes in the bass range. The Super HL5plus was, he said, "somewhat more modern sounding" than its immediate predecessors. JA noted the Harbeth's intentionally lively enclosure, yet described the speaker's measured performance as otherwise "beyond reproach." (Vol.38 No.6 WWW)

Legacy Studio HD: $1795/pair (stands necessary)
See HR's review in this issue.

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

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

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

Totem Signature One: $2650/pair (stands necessary)
Essentially a modern take on the company's groundbreaking Model 1 loudspeaker of the late 1980s, the Totem Signature One is both bigger than its forebear—its cellulose-acrylic-cone woofer is itself as large in diameter as the Model 1's cabinet was wide—and twice as heavy. Joining that 6.5" woofer, which is reflex-loaded by a rear-firing port, is a 1" SEAS tweeter with a dome of aluminum-titanium alloy, rear-loaded with a chamber of its own. The veneered cabinet is made from ¾"-thick MDF with lock-miter joints, and its interior surfaces are both veneered (for stability) and coated with a borosilicate-loaded damping compound. After devoting considerable time to optimizing the Totems' positions in the room, HR was particularly impressed with their bass performance: "If a small loudspeaker like the Totem Signature One can deliver a little power and scale from pipe-organ recordings, as it did . . . and if it can make [bassist Charlie] Haden's notes unique in a noticeable way, that is all the bass power and quality I require." HR also praised the Signature Ones' imaging as "a special joy," but felt that comparable bookshelf speakers offer better "texture, transparency, and tone," the Totems on occasion seeming "a little thin" by comparison—yet, by the end of the review period, more setup work yielded "improved instrumental corporeality." In measuring the Signature One, JA noted lower-than-specified sensitivity—83.5 vs 87dB—as well as cabinet and, especially, reflex-port resonances. Otherwise, the Signature One "measured better than its predecessors." (Vol.41 No.1 WWW)

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

C (Full-Range)

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

NEAT Acoustics Iota Alpha: $1995/pair
The newest NEAT confounds expectations: Though the size of a stand-mounted speaker at 17.6" tall, the Iota Alpha is intended to be used as a floorstander with its angled upper baffle aimed upward, toward the listener. The Iota Alpha also confounds the expectations of those who assume that two drivers on that baffle—a 2"-long ribbon tweeter and a 4" midrange driver—are the only ones in play: Also contributing to the claimed 33Hz–22kHz frequency response is a reflex-loaded, downward-firing 5.5" woofer on the cabinet's bottom panel, raised above the floor by four spiked feet. Evaluating the smallish NEAT floorstanders in his smallish apartment, KM had particular praise for their "fully present, tactile, and meaty sound," with instrumental tones that were "rich and saturated for such small speakers," and with scale, pacing, and dynamics that were "as accurate and thrilling . . . as I've heard." Writing from his test bench, JA noted lower-than-specified sensitivity (83dB vs 86dB), reflex-port response peaks at multiple frequencies, a response peak at 3kHz, and other wrinkles, all prompting him to say that he was "disappointed in its measured performance." Writing from his Bed-Stuy bothy, HR told of conquering his initial placement difficulties and ultimately wringing from the NEATs sound that was "always smooth and outgoing" and "did pace, rhythm, and timing better than most," though he noted that "clarity of aural image was not a strong point" of the Iota Alphas. Grilles now included in price. (Vol.40 Nos. 2 & 6 WWW)

C (Restricted LF)

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

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

Klipsch Heresy III: $1998/pair
According to AD, the words "vintage-inspired" don't adequately describe the Klipsch Heresy III, which he says is "among domestic Audio's living fossils." The 24"-tall, floorstanding speaker contains within its simple sealed enclosure a 1" titanium-dome tweeter loaded with a molded tractrix horn, a titanium-dome midrange compression driver loaded with a molded exponential horn, and an 11" paper-cone woofer of evidently low excursion, tethered with a stiff fabric surround. Klipsch's specs include a sensitivity of 99dB and a nominal 8 ohm impedance—a combination sure to appeal to most low-power tube amplifiers, which is just what Art used to drive his review pair. He heard "wonderfully tactile" drum sounds as well as good senses of body and musical momentum. But these pluses were offset by a lack of bass extension and weight—that woofer may be big, but the use of a small, sealed enclosure means that its resonant frequency will be high for its size—and, with some recordings, an occasionally "raspy" and "brittle" treble range. In his Follow-Up, KM echoed those thoughts, and disagreed with Klipsch's claim that the Heresy offers placement flexibility: "when listened to at fairly close range . . . the Heresy IIIs will blast your ears clean off." But Ken found that, with extra attention paid to setup—aim the speakers straight ahead and listen to them from at least 5' away—and with good gear such as his Shindo tubed electronics, "the Heresy was a marvel. I'd never before heard a speaker, at any price, sound so fast, so energetic, so purely alive." An in-home audition would seem mandatory. (Vol.31 No.11, Vol.41 No.6 WWW)

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

Morel Octave 6 Limited Edition: $2999/pair (stands necessary)
In the bookshelf version reviewed by HR—the speaker is also available as a floorstander—the Octave 6 is a reflex-loaded two-way design in a polymer-coated MDF box standing just under 1' high. Its proprietary drivers, built in-house at the Morel factory in Israel, are a 11/8" Acuflex soft-dome tweeter and a 6" mid/woofer with a polypropylene cone. HR found that "the Octave 6 had a special way with singers and songs." Listening to a recording of Gregorian chants, HR noted that, "With the Morels, the adult singers' maleness was delivered with a lush, saturated tone," and added that the Octave 6 reproduced the natural reverberation of the room's acoustic "with striking clarity." On the downside, HR described how other speakers of the same size and somewhat lower price were more accurate in their bass reproduction, replacing the Morel's "loosey-goosey with tight and tasty." JA reported that the Octave 6 was less sensitive than specified—85.1dB vs 88dB—and that the bass extension was less than specified. He also noted some high-Q port resonances and a response peak at the top of the midrange. Matching stands cost $399/pair. (Vol.39 No.2 WWW)

Wharfedale Diamond 225: $449/pair (stands necessary)
Descended from the original Diamond stand-mount of 1981, the Wharfedale Diamond 225 is a two-driver, two-way speaker featuring a 1" soft-dome tweeter and a 6.5" Kevlar-cone mid/woofer in a 14"-tall reflex-loaded box. (The woofer's rear wave speaks to the world through a downward-firing "slot-loaded distributed port.") Entirely manufactured in China, the Diamond is specified as having an electrical sensitivity of 87dB and a nominal impedance of 8 ohms (4.2 ohms minimum). HR described the Diamond 225—which, he said, responded well to biwiring—as capable of displaying both "highly sensuous, richly colored piano tones" with Debussy and "easy clarity and ambitious drive" with Metallica. The Wharfedale also played orchestral music "with the supplest, non–hi-fi, nonmechanical sounds imaginable," although with some recordings it exhibited a "modicum of puffy vagueness in the lowest and highest octaves . . . traits [that] robbed the Diamond 225 of some precision, sharp focus, and punch." Writing from his test bench, JA was impressed overall: "the Wharfedale Diamond 225's impressive measured performance lives up to what I expect from this classic British brand." In the June 2017 Stereophile KM seconded HR's recommendation, declaring the Wharfedale "accurate, dynamic, and explicit." Four months later, the otherwise Kevlar-averse AD praised the Wharfedale for its surprisingly good top-to-bottom balance, its good drive and presence, and for being such an easy choice: "The Wharfedale isn't transcendent; it's just darn good, and an exceptional value." (Vol.40 Nos. 3, 6 & 10 WWW)

D

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

E

Dayton Audio B652: $29.98/pair ★ (stands necessary)
The least expensive loudspeaker Stereophile has ever reviewed, Dayton Audio's B652 is a very small (11.8" H by 7" W by 6.5" D), very light (5.8 lb), two-way, sealed-cabinet design with a 0.6" ferrofluid-cooled polycarbonate-dome tweeter and a 6.5" polypropylene-cone mid/woofer. The simple MDF cabinet is clad in black vinyl and has a removable grille of black cloth. Though it lacked overall clarity, extension, and control, the B652 offered a surprisingly large soundstage, good image separation, and a very fine sense of momentum and flow, with no hint of temporal distortions, said SM. Given its low price, the B652's measured performance was "quite remarkable," said JA. Dayton Audio B652-AIR ($49.88/pair) replaces the dome tweeter with a folded-ribbon unit and was also impressive. "Recommended for those looking for the least-expensive way to share our enthusiasm for recorded music," JA summed up. (Vol.36 No.1, original WWW; Vol.38 No.2, AIR WWW)

K

Elac Adante AF61, Focal Kanta No.2, Tidal Audio Akira, Wharfedale Diamond 11.2, Wilson Yvette.

Deletions
ADAM Audio A3X Active, Bowers & Wilkins 683 S2, Bryston Middle T, Focal Aria 936, Fujitsu Ten Eclipse TD-712z Mk.2 , Revel Performa3 M106, Tannoy Reveal 402, Vienna Acoustics Beethoven Baby Grand-SE , Wilson Audio Specialties Alexandria XLF, Wilson Benesch Series II Square One, not auditioned in too long a time

COMMENTS
dalethorn's picture

I bought a AQ NightOwl Carbon when it was on sale, and I'm glad I did (get it on sale, that is). A weak bass and a weaker treble makes a very different headphone from the NightHawk. I wondered what Skylar was thinking when I purchased the NightHawk a couple years ago and broke them in. But as it turned out, a little bit of EQ and the NightHawk was a splendid performer. Not so the NightOwl - I gave it away - couldn't bear to take someone's money for it.

SimonK's picture

The NAD amps are in fact Class D's though they call them Hybrid Digital. They are power dacs with an output switching stage coupled to a DAC.

Axiom05's picture

When did this issue mail out? I'm still waiting for mine in Sarasota, USPS is so frustrating! It is not good when I can read the articles online before I receive my paper copy.

DougM's picture

With all the great budget CD players available from the likes of Marantz, NAD, Cambridge, and many others, you couldn't find one to recommend to your readers, but instead are still beating the dead horse of the PlayStation?, and grossly overpriced "portable players" and smartphones. The only actual CD player you could find that doesn't cost a small fortune is the Rega. You do a real disservice to your readers who aren't among the 1%. Another reason why I pay more attention to the British magazine What Hi-Fi 'cause they cover truly affordable electronics and speakers. Shame on you JA!

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