I went to the New York International Auto Show with just one thing on my mind: car audio. Like many New Yorkers, I don't own a car, so this was my chance to sample a wide range of premium car audio systems in everything from Smart cars to Rolls-Royces. For the most part, generic car audio or famous name-brand systems like Bose and Mark Levinson sounded thick and muddy. Not one was up to the standards of a decent home hi-fi system. They played loud and had lots of bass, but even the most expensive car systems at the … 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
I didn't go to CES, but a lot of my friends did. I call them all the time, and they don't seem to be all that jazzed about what they're seeing. "Nothing new" is what I keep hearing, but there were a few juicy tidbits to be found.
The new 3D TVs and Blu-ray players may or may not render the AV receiver you bought way back in 2009 obsolete. I can't get a consistent answer to the question: do you need a receiver with HDMI 1.4 to pass 3D program material to your 3D TV? You may not care about 3D, but if you do please direct your anger at the consumer electronics industry that regularly leaves its client base high and dry. We'll have to see how 1.4 works out.
Ultimate AV magazine was impressed with the Manley Stingray iTube stereo integrated amplifier. Sure, we've seen vacuum tube iPod dock/amps before, but this is the first one with real audiophile appeal. The blue LED displays surrounding the input and volume knobs can be dimmed down or turned off entirely. Manley makes truly stellar tube electronics for audiophiles and the pro market. … Read more
I went to the New York International Auto Show to listen. Weird yes, but I'm the audio guy, and nowadays high-end cars all have high-end audio systems. These cars go for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and I was hoping to hear some decent sound. That didn't happen.
The nice folks at the Bentley Motors display put me in a spectacular Flying Spur Speed ($252,000). The car has a 6-liter W-12 engine with twin turbochargers, 6-speed automatic transmission, and a claimed top speed of 200 mph. The interior was lavish beyond belief, with truly gorgeous wood and leather that puts your average Mercedes to shame. Rock stars and sports heroes know how to live!
The sound? I'm sure the engine sounds fabulous, but they wouldn't allow me the honor of blipping the throttle. Ah, there was a Naim audio system in the car, and I'm a fan of Nain's home gear, but the Bentley's sound system was nothing to get jazzed about.
The $6,900 Naim audio system sports 15 speakers, including dual subwoofers. Just don't kid yourself, it's not remotely on par with a credible home system. I thought the in-dash display was sort of tacky. Naim would never put such a thing in its home systems.
Next, Rolls-Royce cars, like this awesome Phantom Coupe pictured at the top of this blog ($437,000), now have Lexicon audio systems. Too bad I didn't get to hear it. (Maybe the Bentley guys told them about me, just kidding.)
The Mini Cooper people were a lot friendlier, so I checked out the sound in their 10 speaker MINI Hi-Fi Sound System. Considering it adds just $500 to the car's bottom line, it was pretty good.… Read more
Hard disks with 80GB capacity are good only for old people and the terminally decrepit. When used inside central music jukeboxes, that is.
It's a pathetic amount of memory to stick inside something the size of a hi-fi. We've seen them in heaps of music centers from the likes of Sony, Philips, and newcomers Brennan. Always 80GB. Would a 160GB drive break the bank? No. Would 250GB? No. And these larger disks would also mean you could store CDs in lossless format.
How pleased were we to see that at least one company gets it. British manufacturer Naim … Read more