BOOKSHELF SPEAKER REVIEWS

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 19, 2008 Published: Jan 20, 2008 0 comments
Don't underestimate the little guy. Guys.

One of the annual highlights of my career as an audio/video scribe is the Home Entertainment Show. The 2007 edition took place at the Grand Hyatt in New York, practically on top of the gorgeously renovated Grand Central Terminal. It was there that I became interested in Silverline, a California-based speaker maker that was displaying both their Minuet mini-monitor (say that ten times fast) and the slender, floorstanding Prelude. The temptation to try five Minuets in a surround system proved to be overwhelming.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 04, 2008 Published: Jan 04, 2008 0 comments
From Youngstown with love.

There are people who claim to read your future in your palm. Others reach conclusions about your income, taste, and character according to what type of shoes you're wearing. For my own part, I can look at your selection of loudspeakers and know exactly what kind of home theater person you are.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 18, 2008 Published: Dec 18, 2007 0 comments
Harman conjugates their contours.

Like a master linguist conjugating a verb, Harman International has a way of reusing original ideas to good advantage in different settings. So, it's not exactly a surprise to find a family resemblance between Infinity's high-end Cascade speaker line, circa 2006, and the TSS-800 set, circa 2007. They share a unique extruded-aluminum form that's tapered at both the top and bottom, for starters.

Gary Altunian Posted: Jan 18, 2008 Published: Dec 18, 2007 0 comments
Sleek style and sound.

"The only thing constant is change" is a corollary that surely applies to consumer electronics, as new technologies and products are regularly brought to market. Loudspeakers are no exception; however, it seems as though some speaker designs remain timeless. A good example is coaxial speakers that have passed the test of time because they work. The French manufacturer Cabasse produces an entire line of speakers built around the coaxial design, and their latest offering is the Eole 5.1-channel speaker system.

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.

Kim Wilson Posted: Dec 03, 2007 0 comments
Is the age of the traditional loudspeaker almost over? Never before has there been so many alternatives to the typical monolith speaker, from in-walls that disappear into the décor to ultra-tiny speaker enclosures that sit on a shelf. A general aversion to complex and highly visible multichannel audio systems has left a good many consumers with only half the home theater experience. According to a September 2006 article from the Consumer Electronics Association, called "Home Theater Opportunities," 76% of all flat panel TV users are not using a separate audio system. As the article points out there are a good deal of opportunities for audio equipment manufacturers to develop alternate methods for delivering quality audio for high-definition TVs.
Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 15, 2007 0 comments
A budget sub/sat set for the divinely inclined.

Nowhere is the universal human desire to get something for nothing more evident than in consumer electronics. While I'm always amenable to reviewing mass-market gear that offers high value to the consumer, I also spend a large portion of my time convincing more discerning listeners that an investment in higher-priced gear is really worth it. Why, then, would I work up a froth of enthusiasm for a modest subwoofer/satellite set like the DCM Cinema2? It would be convenient simply to say that I heard it and liked it, but the truth doesn't always lend itself to a glib lead.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 15, 2007 Published: Oct 15, 2007 0 comments
Tie a rectangular ribbon.

Tweeter is the name of a speaker driver, an audio retail chain, and a Warner Brothers cartoon character. No, wait, that would be Tweety Bird. However whimsical the name may sound, the tweeter plays a crucial role in speaker design. An average one delivers not only high frequencies, as the chirpy name suggests, but also a significant share of the upper midrange. It's possible to design a loudspeaker without a tweeter. But most speakers depend on their tweeters to deliver harmonics, detail, airiness, and all frequencies above the crossover to the lower drivers.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Sep 23, 2007 0 comments
Little big man.

Why do people who spend for- tunes on their cars look askance at high-end audio equipment? They wouldn't be seen dead backing a budget SUV out of their driveways. But, when they choose the gear that mediates their relationship with music and movies, they condemn themselves to poverty. Audio systems are shadows to them. They're all the same, so why pay more? These sad people drive their $70,000 cars to Circuit City and pay three figures for a mediocre HTIB. I once wrote about portable audio for an outdoorsy men's magazine. When I suggested that high-end headphones are as valid as high-end hiking gear, the editor gave me a perplexed and somewhat dirty look.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Oct 08, 2007 Published: Sep 08, 2007 0 comments
Sats and sub and all that jazz.

One of my favorite wines is Riesling—German Riesling from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region. The grape is a noble specimen dating from 1435. NHT is like that hardy grape, which thrives in cool climates and stony ground. You'd expect a company that has changed hands repeatedly since its founding in 1986 to lose its identity, buffeted by the demands and indifference of successive owners. Instead, NHT has gone from strength to strength, entering their latest relationship with the Vinci Group of Colorado with a credible product lineup that represents several extended trains of thought, as well as a few new ones.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jul 23, 2007 0 comments
The inverted bottle meets the custom virtuoso.

At some point in the evolution of home theater, someone noticed that the phrase includes the word home. At that point, weird and wonderful things began to happen. Speakers morphed into smaller, more rounded, and occasionally more imaginative shapes. The surround receivers that fed them maintained their black-box identities but moved discreetly into closets. Back panels began to sprout extra jacks, the better to interact with touchscreen interfaces, second zones, and other niceties that have become staples of the connected home.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Aug 06, 2007 Published: Jul 06, 2007 0 comments
The penny pincher wears Prada.

Break out that dusty case of champagne. Get the kids together. Give them each a bottle. No, don't do that. But yell out the window to your neighbors. Call all of your relatives. Throw a few shrimp on the barbie. Make popcorn. Stack your favorite DVDs and CDs in neat piles next to the equipment rack. If you have symptoms lasting more than four hours, alert the media. Something momentous has happened. I have found my favorite budget speakers of all time.

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: Jul 16, 2007 Published: Jun 16, 2007 0 comments
Fussy in the front; pragmatic in the back.

Three identical stand-mounted speakers in front, two on-wall speakers in back—that's the unusual configuration I used in this review of the Canton GLE Series. Now I've got some explaining to do.

Steve Guttenberg Posted: Jun 12, 2007 Published: May 12, 2007 0 comments
Expect the unexpected.

What a long, strange trip it's been. I've reviewed hundreds of speakers—big towers, tiny satellites, high-end flagships, and a long run of budget models—but Sunfire's new XT Series Cinema Ribbon speaker is something different. I couldn't get over how this little thing, standing just 8.25 inches tall, can play bloody loud and project the sort of huge and still highly focused imaging I've only heard from exotic, big-bucks speakers. On well-recorded concert DVDs, like Pixies: Live at the Paradise in Boston, the Cinema Ribbons let me hear around each musician. It was as if the band had materialized, fully formed, in front of me. If I had any doubts about the pint-sized speakers' ability to handle gobs of power, rocking out with the Led Zeppelin two-disc DVD set convinced me. John Bonham's hand drumming on "Moby Dick" had the sort of tactile, palpable presence you hear in real life. With the volume cranked, I felt—and I mean felt—each whack on the floor toms. The Cinema Ribbons (with the assistance of Sunfire's True Subwoofer EQ) sounded like a set of tower speakers.

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