BOOKSHELF SPEAKER REVIEWS

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 27, 2013 9 comments

Epic Midi 125 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value
EP125 v3 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
Price: $1,786 (updated 1/28/15)
At A Glance: Distinctive cabinet shapes • Revealing voicing • Sold factory direct

Merriam-Webster.com defines a cabal as “the artifices and intrigues of a group of persons secretly united in a plot (as to overturn a government),” or “a group engaged in such artifices and intrigues.” For the past 30 years, Axiom Audio has been part of a Canadian cabal of loudspeaker manufacturers secretly united in a plot to overturn bad sound—ironically, with government support. The Ontario-based company is one of several brands that sprouted from Ottawa’s National Research Council facilities where Axiom founder and president Ian Colquhoun learned the art and science of speaker design under the legendary Dr. Floyd Toole.

Why do we say “secretly united”? Axiom is one of those well-kept secrets of the audio world, and that’s partly our fault. The company has been designing and manufacturing its products in Canada, right under our North American noses, yet this is the first review we’ve done on an Axiom product in about 20 years, despite the accolades the brand has attracted in the interim. So we’re playing catch-up with this review of Axiom’s Epic Midi 125 5.1-channel speaker package, which includes two monitors and a center in the front, dedicated diffuse surrounds, and a subwoofer. Let’s just say the secret is out.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 18, 2008 0 comments
Sense and sensibility and connectivity.

One of the home theater industry’s greatest sins is modesty. If excessively modest people hide their lights under a bushel, speaker and receiver manufacturers go them one better, hiding their achievements in boxes. Boxes with drivers on the front, boxes with buttons and knobs that sit in a rack—boxes. True, surround speaker packages that break away from the boxy norm are slowly making inroads into the conservative milieu of home theater, just as some clever surround receivers boast digital amps and slim form factors. This month’s Spotlight System does none of those things. To divine what’s special about it, you’ll have to look deeply into its soul.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 07, 2001 Published: Nov 08, 2001 0 comments
The B&W DM303 speaker system proves that bookshelf speakers are far from obsolete.

Badly named and generally underrated, bookshelf loudspeakers are possibly the most misunderstood of all speakers. First of all, they don't sound their best when placed on shelves; stands are usually recommended. Second, even though they haven't got the bottom-octave authority of powered towers, their smaller enclosures cause fewer acoustic problems, making them a perfect vehicle for vocals and the midrange frequencies in which most music resides. They lend themselves to wall-mounting almost as well as the smallest satellites, with the added benefit of genuine midbass response. The best bookshelf models—B&W's DM302, JBL's N24, NHT's SuperOne, Paradigm's Titan, KEF's Coda 7, Polk's RT-105, and PSB's Alpha Mini—deliver versatile stereo and surround sound for music or movies at an affordable price. So, it's good news that B&W has a new—um—bookshelf offering, the DM303.

Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Jul 31, 2001 Published: Aug 01, 2001 0 comments
Put away that charcoal. Here's a different kind of grille for your patio.

My, how times have changed. Back when vinyl records were king and a 25-inch-diagonal TV screen was considered big, here's how you had a good time in the backyard: a keg of beer, burgers on a charcoal grill, and your roommate's big, ugly speakers (carted out from the living room) blasting Rush (Geddy Lee, et al) until the conservative neighbors call the cops. A decade or so goes by, and the fun gets more sophisticated: a cooler of imported beer (maybe a margarita machine), steaks on a gas grill, and a big, ugly boombox belting out Rush (Limbaugh) until the liberal neighbors call the cops. Today, it's likely to be takeout from a local BBQ joint, a mini-fridge full of hard lemonade, and steam from the hot tub mingling with big-band music from outdoor speakers hidden somewhere in the (twice-monthly manicured) foliage.

Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Feb 06, 2015 0 comments

BeoLab 18 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

BeoLab 19 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $25,625 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
WiSA wireless multichannel audio technology
All processing and switching built into the TV
Motorized TV speakers and TV stand
Minus
No backlighting on remote control
Nothing else but the price

THE VERDICT
Although most of us can’t afford this system, those who can will be treated to an amazingly moving experience that no other system can provide—every time they turn it on.

Bang & Olufsen is unusual in the AV world. In fact, I could have stopped at “unusual.” I once heard a story about B&O that perfectly sums up what I’m talking about. It’s probably apocryphal, because the person I heard it from had heard it from someone else, but I’ll tell it anyway. Years ago, when B&O still made phones—corded, landline telephones—a guy from the U.S. asked one of the Danish engineers why the handsets had their unique shape, which made them almost impossible to cradle between your ear and shoulder so you could have a conversation and still use both hands. (Twenty-some years ago, that was the era’s version of “hands free.”)

The engineer’s answer was short and to the point: “Because we don’t talk on the phone that way here.” That sort of stubborn—some might say arrogant—confidence in the belief that their way is the right way is one of the core characteristics of Bang & Olufsen. When other AV companies are busy jumping on the latest technological bandwagon, B&O is off in the woods searching for truffles.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 12, 2008 0 comments
On a different planar.

Recorded music is a cozy conspiracy between conventional speaker technology and listening expectations. Most speakers are made of cones and domes, so we’ve gotten used to their particular dispersion patterns and regard them as a normal part of music. The first experience of planar speakers, like BG’s Z-62, can come as a shock to the listener who’s never heard a planar tweeter before.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 01, 2011 0 comments

Performance
Value
Build Quality
Price: $1,200 At A Glance: Well-balanced performance • Kortec soft-dome tweeters, ceramic glass fiber woofer cones • Glossy side panels enhance appearance

Born and Reborn

Loudspeaker manufacturers are born and then, in some cases, reborn. Although rebirth doesn’t necessarily ensure continued creativity or even longevity, some speaker makers thrive in their new incarnations. That’s what happened to Boston Acoustics. It was born as an independent company in 1979, was reborn in 2006 as a speaker brand following acquisition by D&M Holdings (the same company that markets Denon and Marantz), and is now healthier than ever.

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.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 03, 2013 Published: Apr 02, 2013 0 comments
M25 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

MSubwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
Price: $3,345 At A Glance: Leather-like enclosure finish • Beefy subwoofer • Easy-listening, aggression-free treble

The question “what speakers should I buy?” is increasingly giving way to the more provocative “why should I buy stand-alone speakers at all?” Loudspeakers have to argue for their very existence in a world where consumers are logging fewer listening hours with component systems. Instead, stylish music sources such as tablets and smartphones are driving listeners toward equally stylish all-in-one wireless/docking systems and headphones. Today, the poor old loudspeaker has to work harder to attract attention. It has to convince you to buy it—oh, and one of those pesky audio/video receivers to power it.

Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Dec 10, 2007 0 comments
Personalize this.

I'm a bit reluctant to say this, but my experience with Boston Acoustics goes back a long way – to the days when the Boston Acoustics A40 and A70 speakers were the giants of the bookshelf speaker world. In fact, most of the Boston A-series speakers back then were highly regarded when it came to sound quality. Build quality was so-so but decent for late-1980s vinyl-wrap box cabinets. Just about any store that carried them sold tons of Boston Acoustics' bookshelf and floorstanding speakers, and they were proud to do it, too.

Steve Guttenberg Posted: Aug 06, 2007 Published: Jul 06, 2007 0 comments
Take it to the limit.

I've come to appreciate that, when it comes to evaluating speakers, first impressions count—big time. Immediate gut reactions typically run from, "I like them," to, "Yuck, turn them off." The latter tend to instantly put the kibosh on any prospective speaker purchase, but initial positive responses usually get revised as you hear different kinds of music and movies—something along the lines of, "Wow, the bass is amazing," or, "The imaging is spectacular." My first brush with Boston Acoustics' new Reference E Series E70 speakers took place at D&M Holdings' facility in Mahwah, New Jersey. (D&M is the parent company of Boston Acoustics, Denon, and Marantz, along with McIntosh, ReplayTV, Snell Acoustics, and a few other brands.) I saw and heard a lot of cool products that day, but I was instantly smitten with the E Series' transparent sound and sleek good looks. The E Series lineup includes the flagship E100 tower speakers ($2,500 each); two L/C/Rs, the E70 ($800 each) and E50 ($500 each); and two monitors, the E60 ($600 each) and E40 ($400 each).

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 11, 2010 0 comments
Price: $2,900 At A Glance: Gloss finish and rounded edges enrich rectangular appearance • Custom-designed woofers and tweeter • A polite top end with fully fleshed-out midrange

Between VS and CS

In this brutal economy, it takes more than a good resume to keep you afloat. Boston Acoustics has a legendary audiophile pedigree that dates from its birth in 1979 as an independent brand. In this environment, it probably matters more that Boston is part of the D&M Holdings family, along with Snell Acoustics, McIntosh, Denon, Marantz, and Escient. This positioning has already borne fruit with pairings of Denon A/V receivers and Boston speaker packages, including the distinctive bell-shaped VS Series speakers, which I showered with well-deserved superlatives when I reviewed them last year. You really can’t go wrong with a set of VS speakers and one of Denon’s upper-end A/V receivers.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 21, 2009 0 comments
Price: $500 At A Glance: Cabinet geometry allows front or upward firing • 2.5-inch woofer and 0.5-inch tweeter in plastic enclosure • Sub has 8-inch down-firing woofer and 100 watts

Shape’s Mightier Than Size

Gaze back into the mists of time, and you’ll find that the earliest loudspeakers were boxes with nothing but right angles. This shape lends itself to efficient manufacturing techniques and is still used for most speakers. However, speaker designers have rebelled against the box for some time. Now that they have injection-molded plastic at their disposal, they can make speakers in just about any shape. Of course, plastic speaker enclosures also lend themselves to efficient manufacturing techniques, so some of the most interestingly shaped speakers are also among the most affordable.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 21, 2009 0 comments
Price: $3,695 At A Glance: Distinctive bell-shaped footprint offers unique look • Gleaming enclosures with top-drawer fit and finish • Great midrange and deep, confident bass

Ringin’ the Bell Curve

The Vision and Sound speakers from Boston Acoustics were in my listening room when a friend visited. He works for a competing manufacturer and has spent time on the retail floor. He said, candidly and emphatically, “Boston Acoustics has never made a bad speaker.”

Daniel Kumin Posted: Sep 08, 2014 3 comments

Bowers & Wilkins CM6 S2 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

Bowers & Wilkins ASW10 CM S2 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE Price: $5,850 (CM6 S2, $1,000 each; CM Centre 2 S2, $1,250 each; CM1 S2, $550 each; ASW10 CM S2, $1,500)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Exceptional tonal balance
Superb sub/sat integration
Impressive bass extension from compact sub
Lovely design and finish

Minus
Expensive
No dipole/bipole surround option

THE VERDICT
Highly neutral and free of obvious coloration, invitingly listenable, and beautiful, the B&W CM S2s wear their substantial prices fairly.

B&W should need little introduction in these pages. The British loudspeaker-maker has been a force in serious audio repro practically since Noah’s flood (1965, actually), and here in the States have for two decades and more occupied an enviable market position straddling the highest of high-end to the almost-popularly-priced. So when a new generation of B&Ws take the stage, the audio world tends to pay attention, as we are doing here with the firm’s latest iteration of its next-most-affordable CM range. Named with typical British phlegm the CM S2, the new designs highlight a dozen or so interesting engineering refinements in driver, crossover, and cabinet designs (in particular a new “dual-dome” aluminum tweeter diaphragm claimed to push its resonance a half-octave or so higher, and thus extending its smooth reproducing range), but in typical B&W fashion show comparatively little in the way of visible changes.

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