Stereophile's Products of 2017 Joint Loudspeakers of the Year

Joint Loudspeakers of the Year

DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/96 ($12,000/pair; reviewed by Art Dudley & Jim Austin, December 2012, January 2013, September 2017, Vol.35 No.12, Vol.36 No.1, Vol.40 No.9 review)
Wilson Audio Specialties Alexx ($109,000/pair; reviewed by Michael Fremer, May 2017, Vol.40 No.5 review)

Looking for evidence of diversity of opinion among Stereophile's editors? I think you've found it: This year's Loudspeaker of the Year award is shared by an easy-to-drive, two-way stand-mounter and a four-way floorstander that, as JA observed in his measurements, "will stress amplifiers."

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The former is the DeVore Fidelity Orangutan O/96, which combines a silk-dome tweeter and a large (10") paper-cone woofer in a reflex-loaded enclosure made of three different types of wood and endowed with a distinctly wide baffle. Since its introduction in early 2012, the high-sensitivity, high-impedance O/96 has found its way into many vintage-vibe systems featuring low-power tube amplifiers, and has gone on to become DeVore's most popular model.

The latter, which sells for nine times the price of the O/96, is the Wilson Audio Specialties Alexx, whose tweeter and two differently sized midrange drivers are mounted in individually adjustable subenclosures, and its 10.5" and 12.5" woofers in a reflex-loaded main enclosure. All cabinetry is made of Wilson's proprietary phenolic-composite X-Material, and the whole kit and caboodle stands just over five-feet-two (and, as the song says, Oh, what those five feet can do!).

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Notes on the Vote: John DeVore will be horrified to see me say this, but with this win, the O/96—which I first reviewed in the December 2012 Stereophile—gets our Ronald Reagan award for having been on the ballot the greatest number of times before taking the top prize. (I proudly admit that I voted for the O/96 every time such a thing was possible.) By now, enough Stereophile staffers have heard the O/96es at shows and dealer events that it was able to earn four second-place votes alongside two first-place votes; the Wilson Alexx, which has also made a name for itself on the strength of numerous public dems—not all by Wilson themselves—earned the same total number of votes with a different point spread, including one more first-place win than the DeVore. Neither of the closest runners-up—the Kii Audio Three or the Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 90—came close to earning as many votes as the two winners.

Finalists (in alphabetical order)

Auditorium 23 Hommage Cinema ($49,995/pair, plus $5495 for field-coil power supply; reviewed by Art Dudley & John Atkinson, November 2016 & January 2017, Vol.39 No.11 & Vol.40 No.1 review and measurements)
Bang & Olufsen BeoLab 90 ($84,990/pair; reviewed by Kalman Rubinson, January 2017, Vol.40 No.1 review)
Focal Sopra No.3 ($19,999/pair; reviewed by Kalman Rubinson, April 2017, Vol.40 No.4 review)
KEF Reference 5 ($19,000/pair; reviewed by John Atkinson, October 2017, Vol.40 No.10 review)
Kii Audio Three ($13,255/pair including Kii Control unit; reviewed by Kalman Rubinson, September 2017, Vol.40 No.9 review)
Magico S5 Mk.II ($38,000–$42,750/pair; reviewed by John Atkinson, February 2017, Vol.40 No.2 review)
MartinLogan Masterpiece Renaissance ESL 15A ($24,995/pair; reviewed by Jon Iverson, January 2017, Vol.40 No.1 review)
Monitor Audio Platinum PL300 Series II ($14,495/pair; reviewed by Robert Deutsch, November 2016, Vol.39 No.11 review)
Rockport Technologies Avior II ($38,500/pair; reviewed by John Atkinson, August 2017, Vol.40 No.8 review)
Volti Audio Rival ($7900/pair; reviewed by Ken Micallef, June 2017, Vol.40 No.6 review)
Wharfedale Diamond 225 ($449/pair; reviewed by Herb Reichert, Ken Micallef, Art Dudley, March, June, October 2017, Vol.40 Nos. 3, 6, 10 review)

COMMENTS
stereoGoodness's picture

I'm not sure I understand the following:

"One can parse this in any number of ways, but to me, all those second-place votes speak of voters who may have lacked full confidence in the Kii's ability to take top honors, but who nevertheless said to themselves, while pulling the lever, 'Maybe this one isn't as crazy as we think?' Can't think what that reminds me of . . ."

Can someone less obtuse than I please enlighten me?

dalethorn's picture

The price isn't out of line for PotY, but given the relatively low price plus the fact that it's self-amplified *and* it's DSP-controlled is extremely unusual. After all, you're accepting not only its amplifiers and preamps, but whatever the DSP codec does to the sound.

Kal Rubinson's picture

They are, of course, inseparable and that should make one's assessment less complex, not more.

Glotz's picture

Would the unit be considered as an extension of the original DAC1 and its variants?

The Kii system does seem very next gen, and I agree, it reduces a set of system variables by the integration of its technologies. If I had the dosh...

John Atkinson's picture
Eligible products for the 2017 Awards had to be reviewed between November 2016 and October 2017. The Benchmark DAC3 is reviewed in the November 2017 issue so will be a contender for the 2018 awards.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Shangri-La's picture

Did the GoldenEar Reference speakers not make the cut to compete in this year's competition, or it was included but just not good enough to win/be nominated for anything?

John Atkinson's picture
Shangri-La wrote:
Did the GoldenEar Reference speakers not make the cut to compete in this year's competition?

As it says in the introduction, eligible products had to be reviewed between November 2016 and October 2017. The GoldenEar Triton Reference speaker is reviewed in the January 2018 issue.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Bodhisattva's picture

How the Magico S5 Mk2 speakers are sitting in a lonely group of finalists which include Wharfedale, Monitor Audio and that abomination from Bang and Olufsen is completely beyond me. Sure, the $12k 0/96's sound musical, but better than the S5 Mk2's? Maybe if you're an SET guy and aren't particularly fussed about things like speed, accuracy or transparency.

scottsol's picture

The Ayre does not have “an abundance of analog and digital inputs”. Only digital inputs are available. The unit is now also available at a lower price by excluding the USB and/or Ethernet inputs.

sb6's picture

Late to the game, but I'd like to understand more about criteria. Specifically, was price or more explicitly sonic value per $ considered when each reviewer made their picks?

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