BOOKSHELF SPEAKER REVIEWS

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Brent Butterworth Posted: Aug 23, 2012 0 comments

When the economy tanked in 2007, a funny thing happened in high-end audio: Many manufacturers prospered by creating even higher-priced products. As a speaker reviewer, I lack the economics chops to explain this turn of events, but I can tell you it has spawned some fascinating audio gear.

Take, for example, Steinway Lyngdorf ’s S-Series, built to be the Bugatti Veyron of compact home theater systems.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 10, 2012 2 comments

Performance
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Price: $6,800 At A Glance: Three-way with coaxial midrange/tweeter • Sub with dual side-firing drivers • Laser-like focus and well rounded

Kent, in the south of England, was best known for hop farming when Raymond Cooke left Wharfedale and founded KEF in 1961. The company was named after the industrial site on which it was founded: Kent Engineering & Foundry. KEF’s numerous distinguished alumni include Laurie Fincham, who now develops next-generation audio technologies for THX, and Andrew Jones, who designs world-beating loudspeakers at a variety of price points for Pioneer and TAD. KEF has earned a reputation for making both great speaker systems and great speaker drivers, some of which were instrumental in the legendary BBC-designed LS3/5A, which KEF and other manufacturers have marketed in various forms. Roving through a New York cocktail party celebrating KEF’s 50th anniversary last year, hobnobbing with the audio elite, I found that the drive units inspired as much nostalgia as the speakers in which they were used. (To read about KEF’s history in more detail—and in a handsome coffee-table book, no less—see KEF: 50 Years of Innovation in Sound by Ken Kessler and Dr. Andrew Watson.)

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 17, 2012 3 comments
Audio is not supposed to be fun. That’s why outdoor speakers are a terrible idea. Music is meant to be enjoyed in an acoustically perfect room by a single person sitting in the sweet spot. While you listen, it might be permissible to reverently handle a gatefold album jacket or dutifully edit metadata to make it absolutely perfect. But it is not permissible to swim, soak up the sun, watch the kids play with the dog, pour daiquiris from a pitcher, or hobnob with neighbors. Above all, it is never socially acceptable to barbecue while listening to music. If you are a morally upright audiophile, you may safely assume the rest of this story will be in the same vein. Go now. Retreat to your music library while I discipline the riffraff.
Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 12, 2012 3 comments

Performance
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Value
Price: $1,098 At A Glance: Dual orbs in front, single orbs behind • Full-range drivers in steel enclosures • Rod or pedestal stand

Spherical loudspeakers are perhaps too easily dismissed: “Oh look, it’s round. Cute gimmick. Next…” That box speakers are easy to build certainly doesn’t guarantee sound quality. In fact, designers of quality speakers are constantly rebelling against the limitations of rectangular enclosures. To curb cabinet resonance, designers build bracing into the box and stuff the interior with damping material. They curve the sides to stop standing waves from developing between parallel walls. But rather than tweak boxes, some do away with them altogether. So if you think the spherical steel shells of Orb Audio’s People’s Choice satellite speakers are mere gimmicks, think again.

Darryl Wilkinson Posted: May 16, 2012 5 comments

StudioMonitor 55 Speakers
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SuperCube 6000 subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
Price: $2,494 At A Glance: Top-mounted, passive radiator • Dual binding posts • Enhanced phase plug

Whether you think a decade is a long or a short period of time depends on your perspective. If you’re discussing cosmology with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, the word “decade” probably won’t even make it into the conversation. If you’re Apple, you crank out more than 300 million iPods in that period of time. If you’re a momma elephant with a particularly frisky elephant husband who likes to party, you might be able to birth five elephant progeny. (Although the stretch marks will simply be impossible to get rid of after that third one, no matter what exercise club you sign up with.) At the Glenmorangie distillery in the Scottish Highlands, you’re trying to decide whether or not to bottle the batch of single-malt scotch that’s been aging in the barrels for the last decade or to wait another eight years and ship out cases of Glenmorangie 18 Years Old instead. But if you’re Definitive Technology, you take your sweet time and eventually come out with…wait for it…three (as in one more than two) totally redesigned monitor speakers.

Brent Butterworth Posted: May 09, 2012 0 comments

If there’s any speaker spec that’s routinely bogus, it’s bass response. You see a lot of little speakers rated to deliver bass below 40 Hz, but that measurement is almost always taken at -10 dB, instead of the industry standard of -3 dB. Even if the little speaker does hit, say, 36 Hz at some level, it almost certainly can’t deliver any usable volume at that frequency.

There are ways, though, to get legit sub-40 Hz response from a little speaker. One is H-PAS, or Hybrid Pressure Acceleration System, invented by Solus-Clements and now used and licensed by Atlantic Technology.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 26, 2012 2 comments

Performance
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Value
Price: $900 each At A Glance: Comprehensive bass optimization in a small cabinet • Compelling midrange • Speckle gloss finish

As a surround-oriented magazine, we rarely review speakers in stereo. But when Atlantic Technology offered a pair of its AT-2 H-PAS speaker, we couldn’t resist a listen. This loudspeaker uses an intricately constructed stand-mount enclosure to deliver bass comparable to that of an equivalent conventional floorstander. Does anyone want it?

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 13, 2012 5 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Value
Price: $1,745 At A Glance: Sealed design controls bass • Satin-finish MDF enclosures • Factory-direct sales enhance value

Are you one of those people who can’t resist a supermarket circular? Do you trawl the Internet looking for coupon codes that can be pasted into online purchases? Loudspeaker pricing doesn’t often indulge us with the same feeling of satisfaction that we get from buying a jumbo jar of marinara sauce or a cashmere scarf at an extremely low price. But while researching this review last December, I couldn’t help noting that Emotiva’s factory-direct speakers offered some wiggle room to the timely shopper. The XRC-5.2 LCR speaker normally sold for $299/each—not a bad price to begin with—but was momentarily going for an introductory price of $239/each.

Brent Butterworth Posted: Mar 21, 2012 0 comments

It seemed that audio companies had surrendered the home-theater-in-a-box concept to the TV manufacturers.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 07, 2012 4 comments
Performance
Build Quality
Value
Price: $1,706 At A Glance: Listening fatigue immunity • Extremely solid build • Factory-direct value

SVS Sound designs its products from the bottom up. The company got its start as a subwoofer manufacturer, fascinating point-one-obsessed audiophiles with unusual (and potent) cylinder-shaped models. Check out the company’s Website at svsound.com under products and you’ll find the subwoofer category listed above speakers and systems. If you want to add an SVS sub to an existing system, the Website’s Merlin engine lets you key in the make and model of your non-SVS speakers to obtain recommendations on compatible SVS subs. Merlin will even offer suggestions for subwoofer crossovers in both surround and stereo systems.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 29, 2011 9 comments

Performance
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Value
Price: $2,075 At A Glance: Compression Guide Technology enclosure • Top-to-bottom ease and authority • Sub controls in separate remote-controlled box

Longtime readers know I often revisit the same manufacturers in loudspeaker reviews. I like to see how speaker lines from the same crucible evolve and grow. The downside is that returning to the same brands cheats me (and you) of new experiences. So for this review, I found myself placing a call to Howard Rodgers of RSL Speaker Systems. I dialed his West Coast number at 10 in the morning East Coast time with the intention of leaving a voicemail—only to roust him out of bed, to my surprise and embarrassment. He told me a little about the company and the 5.1-channel speaker package I was about to review.

Michael Fremer Posted: Dec 27, 2011 10 comments

Performance
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Price: $6,850 At A Glance: 0 for looks • 11 on a 10 scale for sound • Smooooth air motion transformer tweeter

Although Berlin, Germany–based Adam Audio is a recent player in the American A/V marketplace, the company has produced passive and powered loudspeakers for both pro and home use for 11 years. The acronym ADAM stands for Advance Dynamic Audio Monitors. ADAM Audio USA entered the pro market here in 2002 and only recently began building a home audio distribution and sales network.

Brent Butterworth Posted: Dec 26, 2011 0 comments

Emotiva made its name by offering high-end audio electronics that look like they cost thousands but actually cost hundreds. With the X-Ref line, it’s trying to do the same in speakers. The company has offered speakers in the past, but X-Ref is its first concerted effort to deliver a broad line of speakers at prices low enough to attract budget-minded-yet -serious home theater enthusiasts. The line includes two tower speakers, two LCR (left/center/right) speakers, two bookshelf speakers, one surround speaker, and two subwoofers.

Brent Butterworth Posted: Dec 22, 2011 0 comments

It’s been a dream of audio engineers and enthusiasts for decades: Create a compact speaker system that performs like a big one.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 16, 2011 0 comments
Performance
Value
Build Quality
Price: $880 At A Glance: Super-smooth-sounding top end • Spacious, big-sounding midrange • Compact form factor • Modest price

There are two schools of thought about speaker design for movies and music. The purist approach is that the fundamentals of performance affect both equally—what’s good for music is good for movies and vice versa. On the other hand, the pragmatic approach calls attention to the differing demands of movies versus music, suggesting that your choice of speaker should be optimized for one or the other, whichever you care about more.

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