BOOKSHELF SPEAKER REVIEWS

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 29, 2011 9 comments

Performance
Build Quality
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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Value
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.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Dec 16, 2011 0 comments
Performance
Value
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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: Nov 11, 2011 0 comments

Performance
Value
Build Quality
Price: $2,350 At A Glance: Smallest member of Imagine Series • Ingenious design, high build quality • Wood veneer or gloss finishes

A few decades ago, the Canadian government’s National Research Council built an anechoic—that is, non-echoing—chamber in Ottawa for the testing and refinement of loudspeakers. This investment nurtured a whole school of speaker designers. Paul Barton of PSB was among the earliest and most distinguished to emerge. Five years ago, Barton embarked on a wholesale redesign of his speaker lines, summing up his considerable experience and adding improvements made possible by the lowered cost of manufacturing in China. Yes, some manufacturers actually use China’s industrial prowess as an opportunity to improve their products. Barton regularly visits his contract manufacturers to ensure they’re delivering the quality he demands in his high-performing loudspeakers.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 04, 2011 0 comments

Performance
Value
Build Quality
Price: $2,393 At A Glance: Rethink of price/performance champ • Perfectly voiced for affordable electronics • Optional Perfect Bass Kit tunes sub

I envy the Paradigm Monitor Series 7 speakers, the latest in a durable line. Over time, the Monitors have gotten better and better, while I have only gotten balder.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Sep 20, 2011 1 comments

Performance
Value
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Price: $3,350 At A Glance: 90-by-60-degree Tractrix horn • Extremely focused imaging • More decibels for your watts

The story of Klipsch is often told, but the storytellers, myself included, typically fail to mention two of the three key principals. Every audiophile has heard of Paul W. Klipsch. He founded the loudspeaker company that bears his name in 1946 and spent several decades patiently perfecting his use of horn-loaded drivers to provide—and here I’ll just quote the Klipsch mantras—high efficiency, low distortion, controlled directivity, and flat frequency response. Paul was also known to take notes during sermons so that he could grill the minister afterward on the fine points of theology.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Sep 20, 2011 8 comments

Performance
Value
Build Quality
Price: $1,750 At A Glance: HVFR folded diaphragm tweeter • Dual woofers in slim enclosure • High sensitivity

There are no second acts in American lives,” F. Scott Fitzgerald gloomily mused. Don’t tell that to Sandy Gross. Having cofounded Polk Audio and Definitive Technology, he has recently formed a third Baltimore-based loudspeaker company called GoldenEar Technology. I’ve asked Gross more than once why he’s launched a third speaker brand when the first two have left him at a pinnacle of material success. He always starts his reply with a broad smile that says it all.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Sep 02, 2011 5 comments

Performance
Value
Build Quality
Price: $2,199 At A Glance: Spherical steel sats and rounded fiberglass sub • Attractive aesthetics, high construction quality • Outstanding sound quality

Life is full of strange synchronicities. Around the time my friends in the country were posting pictures of their spring mushroom harvests on Facebook, I just happened to be setting up Morel’s SoundSpot Music Theatre 2 Ultra, a 5.1-channel satellite/subwoofer set based on the adorably spherical SP-2 sat and PSW10 sub. Would Morels in my system sound as good as morels taste on pizza? In omelets or pasta? With steak or veal? With asparagus? In wine or cream sauces? In gravy?

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 30, 2011 3 comments

Performance
Value
Build Quality
Price: $7,480 At A Glance: Two-way monitors with ribbon tweeters • High-quality parts including silver cabling • Three veneer and two lacquer finishes

No home theater system is complete without both a big screen and surround sound. But it’s no secret that the former is more popular than the latter. Surround’s Achilles’ heel is the audio/video receiver, with its peculiarly named features and labyrinthine menus. On the other hand, speakers are fairly straightforward. They usually have no controls aside from a few on the sub. Cable connection is red to red, black to black. Placement is key to performance but as much a matter of simple experimentation as knowledge. You don’t need to be a nuclear physicist to hear bass get louder when you shove a speaker toward a corner.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 26, 2011 3 comments
Performance
Value
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Price: $3,600 At A Glance: Glossy veneer makes a great impression • Crisp, up-front, detailed sound • Bipole/dipole surround provides subtle envelopment

Veritas is the Roman goddess of truth. It’s also a distinguished speaker line from Energy. Since 1973, Energy has passed from its founders through various Canadian and American owners. In 2006, along with its stablemate Mirage, it became the property of Klipsch. Earlier this year, the Klipsch brands—Energy, Mirage, Jamo, and Klipsch itself—became the property of Audiovox. Although Audiovox also owns a couple of other ancient speaker brands (Acoustic Research and Jensen), in recent years, those brands have focused on car audio, personal audio products, small-scale video products, and accessories. That leaves the home theater niche wide open for Energy and the goddess of truth.

Kim Wilson Posted: Aug 15, 2011 3 comments

Performance
Value
Build Quality
Price: $799 At A Glance: Exceptional sonic performance for the price • Coherent soundfield • Good fit for small rooms • Extreme volume can cause distortion • Lacks depth and punch of larger systems

The ProCinema 600 5.1 speaker system is small, compact, and unobtrusive, capable of blending into any environment. This sub-$1k system effortlessly provides a highly coherent surround field in a small room without degrading the sound quality, even at relatively high volumes. Using patented technology, the system delivers surprisingly good bass and midrange for a sat/sub system. Yes, it lacks the sheer depth, high impact, and fine details of more expensive systems with larger drivers and enclosures. But for basic home theaters in multi-purpose spaces, it not only gets the job done, it performs quite admirably for its size and cost.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 06, 2011 3 comments
Price: $1,398 At A Glance: Silk-dome tweeter with thermal protection • Race-car-inspired woven-fiberglass woofer • Sub’s passive radiators kill port noise

From Canada with Love

Canada has traditionally been a cornucopia of loudspeaker manufacturers. That isn’t exactly an accident. The Canadian government maintains a research facility in Ottawa with an anechoic (non-echoing) chamber that lures speaker designers like a garden lures honeybees. But Sinclair Audio’s roots are in Montreal, as is its Canadian distributor, Jam Industries, which began manufacturing, importing, and distributing musical instruments and other equipment in 1972 and expanded to include consumer electronics shortly thereafter. The company’s scope subsequently expanded to include lighting and audio equipment for concert, broadcast, and recording use. Sinclair is distributed in the U.S. by American Audio & Video. It’s sold via the same dealer network that handles Arcam, whose audio/video receivers and other products have attracted well-earned rave reviews in these pages.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 05, 2011 0 comments

Performance
Value
Build Quality
Price: $844 At A Glance: SuperZero 2.0 updates popular mini-monitor • Voiced to be more relaxed and forgiving • Sub packs 8-inch driver into 11-inch enclosure

Feel-Good Sensation

Consider the mini-monitor. It’s smaller than a monitor and bigger than a satellite.

If the mini-monitor in question is the NHT SuperZero 2.0, it doesn’t have much bass and therefore needs to be mated with a subwoofer. But in the surround arena, where subs are standard equipment, bass-shyness is not so much a weakness as a characteristic.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 09, 2011 13 comments

Performance
Value
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Price: $528 At A Glance: Substantial and good-sounding monitors and center • Sub of modest size and power • Jaw-droppingly value packed for the price

Andrew Jones for All

Isn’t it preposterous for the Pioneer Corporation to assert itself as a loudspeaker manufacturer? After all, the company is best known in the home theater sphere as a maker of audio/video receivers. Those with just slightly longer memories recall Pioneer’s world-class KURO plasmas as some of the best HDTVs ever made. There was a time when the Laserdisc format, which Pioneer championed, was the signal source of choice among videophiles. Pioneer was also one of the Japanese audio brands that established the stereo receiver as a staple of dorm rooms (including mine) during the 1970s. But who thinks of Pioneer in connection with speakers?

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jun 06, 2011 0 comments

Performance
Value
Build Quality
Price: $800 At A Glance: Single-cube speaker with full-range driver • Polymer and extruded-aluminum enclosure • Wireless option

Surround Cubed

The cube speaker at the heart of Cambridge Audio’s Minx satellite/subwoofer set has become an enduring form factor for people who don’t like loudspeakers. Of course, in their zeal to get speakers off the floor, some speaker-haters poke holes in their walls for in-walls. But not everyone is willing to go to that extreme. And while in-wall and on-wall speakers have no footprint, they do have what you might call a wallprint. For folks who don’t like speakers, don’t like holes in their walls, and don’t like wallprints, but do like movies and music, the cube speaker—something the size of a Girl Scout’s fist—shapes up as the least invasive solution.

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