Go to any hi-fi show and you'll see room after room filled with the latest and greatest-sounding speakers, but chances are you won't come away from the experience captivated by brilliant designs. I sometimes wonder if the audio industry will ever get its act together and make speakers you don't have to be an audiophile to love.
Extreme cars, like Ferraris and Lamborghinis, arouse strong, positive reactions from people who would never buy or even drive them, but high-end audio speakers rarely achieve that sort of admiration. My best guess as to why that's so is that truly beautiful audiophile speakers are rare. Or to put it another way, do you have to be an audiophile to think speakers are beautiful? Granted, if you're already an audiophile you might be predisposed to view large speakers in a positive light and see their form as part of their function. For nonaudiophiles, size is definitely a factor, in the opposite direction: the smaller a speaker is, the easier it is to fit into the average person's living space.… Read more
Just about every speaker you've ever heard uses cone woofers and dome tweeters that feature a coil of wire in a magnetic field that pushes the diaphragm back and forth to make sound. Lots of great audiophile-grade speakers use conventional drivers of this type.
Flat electrostatic panel speakers work on a completely different design principle. These speakers use a superthin, but large, surface area diaphragm, coated with a conductive material sandwiched between two electrically conductive grids.
Electrostatic speakers produce levels of distortion one to two orders of magnitude lower than conventional cone drivers in a box. Electrostatic speakers' clarity is extraordinary. The big downside is high cost, but electrostatic speakers have been popular with audiophiles for many years.
MartinLogan is America's best-known manufacturer of electrostatic speakers. I've heard previous generations of the company's speakers many times, and was consistently impressed by their sound. Its all-new ElectroMotion series of speakers will feature electrostatic and MartinLogan's proprietary Folded Motion drivers. … 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
The MartinLogan Motion 4 answers the question, can a speaker be considered a high-end design if it retails for $499 a pair? Jeff Dorgay at Tone Audio magazine thinks it can!
MartinLogan made a splash with audiophiles in the early 1980s with its electrostatic panel speakers. The clear, 5-foot-tall panels were remarkable for their "see-through" transparency of sound. The company still makes big-panel speakers but has branched out into home theater, and now with the Motion 4, it's making overachieving small speakers.
The Motion 4's tweeter is pretty special; its Folded Motion transducer works by moving air, similar to the way an accordion works. Its low-mass diaphragm "squeezes" air and produces almost 90 percent less back and forth movement than a dome tweeter. The Folded Motion tweeter also has a large surface area; eight times that of a 1-inch dome tweeter. The Folded Motion technology is said to minimize distortion.
The Motion 4 is a small bookshelf design, 5 by 5 inches and just over a foot tall; it has a 4-inch woofer.
Dorgay listened to the Motion 4s with a few different amplifiers: a Naim Uniti receiver, Prima Luna Prologue 1 vacuum-tube integrated amp, and a Denon AVR 3910 receiver. In a small room placed near a corner, the Motion 4s had a surprising amount of bass. MartinLogan concentrated on making a great speaker that only goes down to 75 Hz cleanly, instead of a mediocre speaker that goes down to 50 Hz. Need more low-end oomph? Add a subwoofer to provide deep bass. … Read more
MartinLogan, based in Lawrence, Kansas, maker of highly regarded curved panel electrostatic speakers announced yesterday that its Design Series models are now available through Amazon (Amazon is the only authorized Internet retailer of MartinLogan speakers).
MartinLogan's unique technology produces sound with far greater detail than conventional "box" speakers--it's high-definition for the ears. I think MartinLogans are also beautiful and elegant, which doesn't hurt. M-L's technology was also used to create stylish in-wall, on-wall and floor-standing speakers, and many of the speakers qualify for Amazon.com's free Super Saver Shipping or free two-day shipping (… Read more