I wish I could say otherwise, but I don't know many young audiophiles. I know they're out there and my "Poll: Are there any young audiophiles?" blog in February produced a surprisingly healthy response. That said, I'm curious about where the next generation of 'philes will come from. If you are an older audiophile, have you ever turned on a younger relative or friend's kid to great sound?
In the early 1980s the Boston Acoustics A 40 and A 60 were the go-to speakers for audiophiles on a tight budget. They were hugely popular, and there are still vast numbers of them in circulation.
Well, the smart folks at Boston Acoustics have brought the A Series back, but the new speakers don't share any technology with the original models. The engineers have learned a lot over the decades, and that was immediately obvious when I heard some of the new A Series speakers earlier this week.
The little bookshelf model, the A 26 ($200 each), was sounding a lot bigger than I would have thought possible. For a speaker that measures just 13 inches by 8.25 inches by 10.5 inches, bass was punchy and deep, dynamics were wide open, and the treble was clear. Female vocals sounded especially natural.
These speakers don't need the assistance of a subwoofer to sound full and rich, so they would be a great fit for two-channel home theaters or hi-fi use. I also heard the A 360 towers ($400 each), which produced more and deeper bass, and played louder, but the same sound signature was evident over both speakers. … Read more
As I said a few days ago, bona fide audio breakthroughs are rare, but there was no shortage of interesting gear at this year's CES shindig in Las Vegas.
Stereophile's Tyll Hertsens spotted Furutech's GT-40 combination USB digital-to-analog converter/phono preamp/headphone amp. The device can rip your vinyl or play computer files at up to 24-bit/96-kHz resolution with USB convenience, and includes a high-quality headphone amp. It looks great!
CNET's Natali Morris' report on Sculpted Eers' custom-molded in-ear headphones looked really interesting. Every other custom molded in-ear on the market requires the buyer to first go to an audiologist to make "ear impressions" of your ear canals, which are sent to the headphone manufacturer; you get your headphones a couple of weeks later. With these Sculpted Eers headphones, you go to a store that sells Sculpted Eers and they make your headphones on the spot. Prices start around $149, which is $250 less than any custom-molded in-ears I've tested to date. How good are they? We'll see.
Over at Audio Review, Adam LaBarge was bowled over by Zu Audio's new $40,000 flagship speaker, the Dominance. LaBarge called it "a well-tamed beast that is just waiting to explode." Zu founder Sean Casey told me about this speaker a few weeks ago, and he sounded pretty excited about it. Zu has made its name selling affordable (by high-end standards) American-designed and -built speakers. For example, the $1,000-a-pair Zu Omen is getting great word of mouth, so I'm super-curious about this mega-buck Zu. … Read more
Since the company was founded in 1994, Anthony Gallo Acoustics (AGA) has specialized in designing spherical speakers. I've recounted the reasons for eliminating box, wood-based cabinets in most of my Gallo reviews, but for now let's just say that getting rid of the box can be a huge plus for the speaker's sound. So, why after so many years of dominating the round loudspeaker market would the company dare make a traditional wooden enclosure speaker?
"We learned how to really make it work," says Anthony Gallo, founder of AGA. "Since its inception, the box … Read more
I heard a lot of great-sounding speakers this year, but the following four topped my list.
Magnepan, based in White Bear Lake, Minn., builds nothing but panel (boxless) speakers. To say I was knocked out by Magnepan's new 1.7 speaker earlier this year would be an understatement; it is the best-sounding under-$2,000 speaker (a pair) on the planet. The 64.5-inch-tall design is a mere 2 inches thick! I reviewed the 1.7 for Tone Audio magazine. Magnepan prices start at $599 per pair.
The Anthony Gallo Acoustics Reference 3.5 ($6,000 per pair) is a radical update of the Gallo Reference 3.1, with new drivers. The small, 35-inch-tall floor-standing speaker projects a huge, precisely focused soundstage. The cast aluminum and stainless steel design feels remarkably solid.
Sonically, the Reference 3.5 has the ease and poise of a much larger and more expensive speaker. It's nowhere as fussy about electronics and room acoustics as the Magnepan 1.7, so the Reference 3.5 might actually be less expensive to buy and use in the long run.… Read more
Sales of ridiculously expensive and absurdly powerful cars are holding steady, and the same can be said for extreme, high-end speakers. Granted, there's no practical reason for the existence of the new 450-horsepower Audi R8 Spyder 5.2 Quattro supercar ($161,000), or a Klipsch P-39F tower speaker ($20,000), but if you can afford them, why not? High-end speakers have one very practical advantage over extreme performance cars; they can provide satisfaction on a daily basis. Few Ferrari and Maserati owners use their flashy wheels as everyday rides, and far fewer are brave enough to drive them anywhere near their top speeds! No, these prized possessions remain stowed in garages most of the time.
Prices listed in this top-10 list are for pairs of speakers, and if these are all out of reach, please don't fret, as the next top-10 speaker list will feature the best sub-$1,000 speakers on the planet. Or check out my "Top-10 must-have audio bargains" list.
I've auditioned many of these ultra-high-end speakers personally, so I can attest that they can take you places everyday speakers never go. … Read more
There was a time when table radios didn't get any respect.
That's no longer true now that some radios come jazzed up with iPod/iPhone docks, CD players, Internet radios, and all sorts of features. But they still sound like table radios--even the ones featured in full-page ads in magazines and newspapers that sell for $349 or more. The sound isn't bad, just inoffensive, and they make do with fake stereo. True, they may sport two speakers, but since the radios are just 15 or so inches wide, stereo imaging isn't part of the plan.
Enter the Cue Radio Model r1 Outlaw Audio Signature Edition; it's a table radio that aims higher, and mostly hits the target. It's the best-sounding table radio I've tried at home.
Styling is iPod-inspired and elegant, with a black high-gloss body and large backlit display. The Cue radio sports a built-in iPod/iPhone dock, dual alarms, remote, etc. Stereo? It's an unabashedly mono affair, with a single two-way, tweeter/woofer driver hunkered down on the right side of the cabinet, but you can add Cue's matching Model s1 speaker and get bona-fide stereo. That feature alone elevates it over most of the competition, and automatically ups the Cue radio's hi-fi quotient by a few notches.
Cue's 3/4-inch silk dome tweeter is mounted on a waveguide, strategically centered over a 3.5-inch woofer. The combined driver is a proprietary design, and it's a honey. The Cue Radio is "bi-amplified," meaning one 25-watt amplifier drives the tweeter, another 25-watt amp drives the woofer. The radio has two more 25-watt amps standing by for when you run stereo speakers. There's a 3.5 mm stereo Aux input jack on the rear panel for connecting CD players, MP3 players, computers etc. It's too bad a headphone jack didn't make the cut. The radio is 10.5 inches wide by 4.25 high by 6.5 deep and weighs six pounds.
I'm reviewing the Cue Radio Model r1 Outlaw Audio Signature Edition, which sports a couple of features missing from the standard Cue Radio Model r1, but both models retail for the same price, $399 for the radio, or $479 when bundled with the stereo speaker. In either case, the radio is assembled by hand and tested by Cue in the U.S..… Read more
When it comes to speakers, size does matter. Big speakers clobber little ones in two ways: they can play louder and make more bass. But since the market demands increasingly smaller speakers the question comes up: can small speakers ever sound better than big ones? Well, the answer is sometimes and in some ways, but great-sounding small speakers are never cheap.
The best-sounding small speakers I've heard in quite some time came from a pair of Anthony Gallo Acoustics Reference Strada speakers ($995 each). The speaker is comprised of two small, stainless steel spheres, each with a 4-inch woofer; the spheres straddle a cylindrical tweeter that produces exceptionally broad dispersion. The Strada doesn't make much bass, so I heard it with the matching Gallo TR-3 cylindrical subwoofer. The system was sweet, detailed, dynamically alive, and very, very natural sounding. But it costs over three grand and doesn't have the muscle of a hefty floorstanding speaker for the same or fewer dollars.
So if you plan on never, ever listening to loud music or having a party, and room-shaking bass isn't a priority, wee speakers might be the way to go. How tiny is tiny? Obviously, size is relative, but I'd rate any speaker that is either less than 7 inches high, or has a smaller than 4-inch woofer as a tiny speaker. If your room is large--say anything bigger than 15 by 20 feet (300 square feet)--don't even think of buying small speakers. … Read more
I've been an audiophile for more than 30 years, and from where I stand there's never been a more exciting crop of high-end speakers to choose from. The goal--to make as lifelike a sounding speaker as possible--is exceedingly difficult, but that hasn't stopped a slew of very talented designers from trying. This top-10 list was created without price constraints and is presented in no particular order; the speakers are all exceptional performers (prices listed are for pairs of speakers). They are all currently available models, but I will soon do another top-10 list of the best speakers of the 1950s, '60s, '70s, and '80s.
I did the first "Top 10 greatest audiophile speakers" blog post last year, with a self-imposed price limit of $3,500 per pair (two were under $1,000). Most models are still available, so if you're looking for affordable options, please refer to that list. All of the companies on today's list offer less expensive models.
Hansen Audio Prince V2. This speaker's handsome curves and strong physical presence demands respect--it all but shouts "this is very serious audiophilia"--it's made for those rare souls who would appreciate a world-class speaker small enough to fit in an apartment, with floors strong enough to support the 540-pound weight of a pair of these $39,000 beauties. For my money it's better than Wilson Audio's highly regarded Watt/Puppy speaker.
Naim Ovator S-600. Britain's Naim Audio Ltd. is best known for its amplifiers and CD players, but this new speaker breaks a lot of rules and sounds less like a box speaker than anything on the planet. With super-tight bass, uninhibited dynamic punch, superlative midrange tone, and pure treble, the S-600 is a strong contender on a number of fronts. At $10,450 it's priced near the low-end for today's state-of-the-art speakers. Review to come.
Anthony Gallo Acoustics Reference 3.5. A radical update of the Gallo Reference 3.1, with new drivers; the small, 35-inch tall floor-standing speaker projects a huge soundstage. The cast aluminum and stainless steel design feels remarkably solid. Sonically, the Reference 3.5 has the ease and poise of a much larger and more expensive speaker. At $6,000 the Reference 3.5 is the most affordable speaker on this list and offers more than a glimpse of state-of-the-art audio. Sounds great with low-power amplifiers; review to come.
B & W 802 D. Another English contender, and this one's loaded with interesting design tricks, including a synthetic diamond tweeter. The form-follows-function design is drop-dead gorgeous. B & W's top models are favored by audiophiles and recording studios. $15,000.
Wilson Audio MAXX Series 3. More than any other company Wilson Audio dominates the upper-end speaker market. Its held that position for more than 25 years, and now with this 5-foot, 7-inch-tall, 425-pound bad boy, there's no sign that reign will end anytime soon. So sure, the MAXX 3 is brute-force powerful, capable of producing "live" sound volume, in the largest rooms or mansions. That said, the MAXX 3 also plays quiet music with beguiling refinement. It's what any demanding (and wealthy) audiophile would expect a $68,000 speaker to sound like. BTW, the MAXX 3 isn't Wilson's most expensive speaker, not by a long shot. … Read more
Snell Acoustics never strayed from its core principles. The company, founded by Peter Snell in 1976, continued to manufacture high-end loudspeakers in Massachusetts until this year. I first met Peter in 1978 while working at a NYC high-end audio dealer, and soon bought one of his original speakers, a Snell Type A. I had it for eight years.
Peter was a perfectionist about the sound and the build quality of his speakers. The cabinets were exquisitely finished, but the amount of handiwork invested in the parts the customer never saw was even more impressive.
Though most of the better speaker manufacturers demand a minimum measurement variation for their suppliers' tweeters and woofers, Snell went the extra mile and hand-tuned each crossover network to compensate for the drivers' response irregularities. Then a computer measured the speaker's response, and a technician noted the difference between the desired flat curve and the speaker's actual frequency response.
The hand-tweaking process continued until the speaker measured within Snell's unusually tight tolerances. The painstaking effort ensured all completed speakers measured within exceedingly tight tolerances (+/-0.5 decibels) of the original design prototype. Every Snell buyer heard exactly what the designer intended.
All Snells, including the most affordable models, were built this way, and all cabinets were assembled and finished by hand. Few American speaker companies continue to maintain that approach; most outsourced manufacturing long ago.
If a Snell customer ever needed a replacement tweeter, midrange, or woofer, that part was supplied with its associated crossover parts, again matched to the original spec; and this was done for speakers 10, 20, and even 30 years after they were sold. That remarkable commitment to customer service is rare in today's market, but Snell was a very special company.
Peter dropped by my store on a regular basis, usually to discuss music or future plans. When I moved to a new apartment with unfriendly room acoustics, he offered to help. He spent three or four hours experimenting with different placement scenarios before coming up with a rather unusual strategy that worked. He really was a great guy, totally committed to designing speakers that advanced the state of the art.… Read more