One of the most important factors in selecting the right hi-fi components is room size. If you're lucky enough to have a big living space (over 500 square feet), I'd recommend floor-standing speakers. Big rooms also soak up amplifier power; smaller rooms need a lot less. Here in NYC, most folks live in small apartments, and they'll get terrific sound with midsize bookshelf speakers and small amps.
First a confession: a lot of audiophile speakers can't rock out. They're "voiced" to sound best with acoustic jazz or classical music. Nothing wrong with that, but when you want to party some of them can't cut loose. The new GoldenEar Technology Aon 3 is very much an audiophile-oriented design, so sure, it sounded clear and clean playing Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue."
But what really made me sit up and take notice was the way the Aon 3 knocked out the Drive-By Truckers "Go-Go Boots" album. This CD sounds like … Read more
You've probably already read about the latest and greatest in smartphones, tablets, and OLED displays shown at CES, so let's take a look at the coolest high-end audio goodies. We've assembled some of the most promising candidates for your approval.
For anyone searching for wild looking audiophile speakers that stand out from the crowd of rectangular boxes, the new Vivid Audio G3 would be a good place to start. Vivid is coming on strong in the no-holds-barred audiophile market. The G3 stands a little under four feet tall, a good deal smaller than the company's flagship … Read more
Tube amplifiers sound different, and in many ways better than solid-state amps. Describing what better sound sounds like is a highly subjective call. But you can't argue the fact that tubes are still being manufactured, legions of guitarists use tube amplifiers, and a fair number of audiophiles crave tube sound. The catch? Tube designs are more expensive to build and sell than solid-state components.
The Jolida FX10 tube amp ($450) breaks that rule and sells for less than your average mid-price receiver. Jolida was founded in 1995, and has been a budget audiophile favorite right from the beginning. One of my closest audiophile pals bought an early Jolida amp, and he still uses it on a daily basis. So in terms of value, the FX10 will likely be a better long-term investment than most receivers (I get e-mails every week from people asking about dumping their five- or six -year-old receivers).
The FX10 is prettier than Jolida's old designs. Blue LEDs light up the Russian-made EL-84 power tubes and 12AX7 small signal tubes in the glass case, so the FX10 looks especially cool at night. The brushed aluminum chassis and safety glass tube cover are a big step up from what you find on similarly priced receivers. My sample was finished in sky blue, but the FX10 is also available in silver or black. Build quality feels substantial, and the solid-metal, gold-plated speaker wire connectors are a good indication of that. There are two RCA inputs on the rear panel and a 3.5mm input upfront.
The amp comes with a remote control and an iPod hookup cable. The 12-pound unit measures a trim 8x7x7 inches; so it's small enough to fit on a desktop.
The FX10 is a 10-watt-per-channel stereo amp, but don't worry, it can play pretty loud. Bass-heavy reggae music from Ras Mek Peace played nice and loud over my Zu Essence speakers. The little amp wasn't lacking in power or oomph, so yes, 10 watts can drive the right speaker to a remarkably loud volume. Soundstage depth was really good, so each instrument and vocals sounded fully present. This is an extremely well-recorded CD, without dynamic range compression, and the FX10 handled that sort of demanding music without raising a sweat. … Read more
Technology can lower the price of a lot of things, but when it comes to speakers, the very best ones are really expensive, so if you want a world-class speaker be prepared to spend well over $10,000.
That said, you can buy a pair of very respectable speakers for less than $1,000. The following list is in no particular order, but since $1,000 is still out of reach for a lot of folks this top 10 will feature speakers ranging in price from $29 up (all speaker prices listed are per pair). And since the prime weakness of affordable speakers is they lack true authority in the bass, I've included one overachieving subwoofer, the Epik Empire to round out this list. I've covered bargains before, but this is the first top-10 list for speakers that sell for $1,000 or less.
Zu Audio Omen ($999). Zu is one of my all time favorite American speaker manufacturers, but they've never made a speaker as affordable as the Omen, which will be released November 1 for $1,500. The speaker is finished in real maple veneer and manufactured in Ogden, Utah. Zu speakers are extremely dynamic, lively performers, and they produce razor-sharp imaging. Right, $1,500 is priced over my self-imposed limit for this top-10 list, but for just this week (ending September 17) the company is taking preintroduction orders for the Omen for just $999.99, saving you $500! Zu is selling the Omen with a 90-day money-back guarantee.
Magnepan MMG ($599) This 4-foot-tall, 1.25-inch-thick flat-panel, made-in-the-U.S., bona fide high-end speaker will knock you for a loop. Magnepan's larger speakers, like my reference MG3.6, are only sold through dealers, the MMG is sold direct, and it's a great way to get a taste of what makes high-end audio so special. If you've only heard box speakers, the MMG will be a major treat for your ears.
Dayton B652 ($29) That's not a typo, the Dayton B652 sells for $29 a pair. It was $25 when I first wrote about the speaker a few months ago, but since then a lot of audiophiles on a budget have raved about this little speaker with a 6.5-inch woofer. Seriously, I know a few guys with very high-end speakers who love the B652 and swear its price/performance ratio is off-the-charts good. … 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
Yes, it might seem reasonable to expect that a home theater system will automatically sound equally good with movies and music, but that's not easy to do. With speakers especially, the difference in performance requirements is significant.
And though there are some specific models from Klipsch and Dynaudio that are adept with both forms of entertainment, most speakers skew one way or another. For music, overall sound quality is the top priority, for home theater it's more about clarity and the ability to handle the extreme dynamic range of special effects such as explosions.
For maximum home theater thrills you'll need as much power as you can afford, a potent subwoofer, and speakers that perfectly blend with said sub. With home theater your attention is focused on the picture; sound plays a supportive role. As long as the receiver and speakers don't overtly distort when they're playing at the volume level you want, and there's enough subwoofer bass to make special effects come alive, it's mission-accomplished time. Achieving reasonably good home theater sound isn't all that demanding from an equipment point of view, but careful speaker setup and room placement are crucial for best results.… Read more
As a reviewer I get to hear lots of speakers, and I immediately forget most of them.
It's not that they're bad, just unexceptional. Here's a Top 10 list and photo gallery of the very best-sounding speakers I've heard for less than $3,500 per pair. The brands may be unfamiliar, but each speaker is a stand-out winner. I will at some point do a Top 10 without price constraints. For now I want to highlight more affordable speakers that you can buy new.
Of all the major high-end speaker-manufacturing countries in the world--the United States, England, France, Germany, Italy--Denmark is, in some ways, my favorite.
The Danes balance art and engineering better than anybody. I recently reviewed Dynaudio's latest series, Excite, for Ultimate AV magazine. You can read the complete review, but here are some excerpts:
The Excite system featured a pair of X32 towers (together costing $2,800), an X22 center channel speaker ($850), a pair of X12 bookshelf speakers (together costing $1,200) for use as surrounds, and a SUB 250 subwoofer ($1,000). None of them are very large or imposing; my nonaudiophile friends barely noticed the speakers' presence in my living room. That's probably a plus for folks looking for a 5.1-channel system that blends in with its surroundings.
All of the Excite models feature Magnesium Silicate Polymer cone woofers with die-cast aluminum frame baskets and aluminum voice coils. Dynaudio's specially coated soft-dome tweeters, with newly designed magnet structures, grace all the speakers.
The Excite speakers are available in real-wood maple, cherry, rosewood, and black ash veneers; my review samples came in the deep 'n' dark rosewood, which was truly stunning. … Read more
Contrary to popular belief, we don't think that all loudspeakers are depraved or trying to conquer humankind. To prove it, today we offer a pair that we truly admire, at least from an aesthetic perspective: Dynaudio's limited-edition "Sapphire" line.
This special pair, released at the 2007 Hong Kong High End Audio Visual Show to commemorate the German company's 30th anniversary, have Danish maple cabinets finished with heavy lacquer and house a 28mm tweeter, 15cm subwoofer and two 20cm woofers, Gadgetell says. But what really stands apart is their unique design, which resembles an uncut crystal … Read more