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BOOKSHELF SPEAKER REVIEWS

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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.

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: 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.

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.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 23, 2007 Published: Mar 23, 2007 0 comments
Trappist ale on a beer budget.

I admired the HSU Research HB-1 horn-loaded loudspeaker when I first heard it at the Home Entertainment Show in Los Angeles in June 2006. Nearby demo rooms were stuffed with megabucks two-channel gear, much of which simply didn't approach the directness of this $125 budget wonder. I blogged my first response, and it's a good thing I still feel that way, because now it's printed right on the HB-1's carton: "This speaker may become the underground bestseller of 2006." Make that 2007. Aside from the year, I stand by my original impression.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Apr 10, 2007 Published: Mar 11, 2007 0 comments
Paradigm's back in the ring with version four.

I review stuff. Manufacturers have a right to be wary of people like me. And, when I ask for a surround receiver, the first thing they ask me is, "What speakers will you be using with it?" I tell them, "Paradigm Reference Studio 20s." The sighs of relief at the other end of the phone line are almost audible. More often than not, I get what I ask for.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 22, 2007 Published: Feb 22, 2007 0 comments
Listen to the violinist.

Reviewing the PSB Alpha B1 speaker system is a bit like coming home. I reviewed the original PSB Alpha for Rolling Stone back in the 1990s. Its little sister, the PSB Alpha Mini, anchored my surround system during a time when I was struggling to launch an online business, barely making ends meet, and dissipating my savings. I needed new speakers, wasn't then in a position to freeload, and didn't have much to spend. The Alpha Minis gave me what I needed—a big soundstage in a small package with no off-putting aggressiveness. The bass was just good enough to make a sub unnecessary. Let the record show that a borrowed Yamaha receiver ran the system.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 22, 2007 Published: Feb 22, 2007 0 comments
Multinational speakers meet American amps.

On the battlefield of speaker design, I am the triage nurse. I walk into speaker demo rooms at trade shows, my badge sometimes inadvertently turned inward, listen for a moment, and quietly mutter to myself, "This one's a keeper," or, "He's dead, Jim." Or occasionally just, "Hmmm," because good speakers may sound iffy under bad conditions, and I respect the potential buried within an ambiguous first take. But, if my instincts tell me to pursue a review, I whip out a business card and start making arrangements on the spot.

Steve Guttenberg Posted: Jan 26, 2007 0 comments
A systematic approach to speaker design.

As consumer electronics technologies continue to morph into ever more complex forms, convergence is key. Elan Home Systems was founded in 1989 in Lexington, Kentucky, and convergence is their raison d'tre. In the past, they have brought together wholehouse automation and touchpanel control of music, phones, lighting, intercoms, and TV functions. More recently, they acquired a high-end home theater electronics company, Sunfire. Four years ago, Elan jumped into the speaker business with a line of highly regarded in-walls. This brings us to Elan's new line of converging speakers, the aptly named TheaterPoint series.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 26, 2007 0 comments
Little speakers are looking up.

Pricewise, these Definitive Technology ProCinema speakers and this Pioneer Elite A/V receiver are a perfect match. Even visual cues unite them, with the receiver's shiny-black metal faceplate echoing the satellite enclosures' black-gloss curve. In other ways, they may seem like an odd couple (or septet, rather). Wouldn't that big receiver be too much for those little speakers? No, say the specs. With the satellites rated to handle as much as 200 watts per channel, the receiver's hefty rated 140 watts are well within the acceptable range, although the speakers' 90-decibel sensitivity suggests that they'll play fairly loudly, even with a lower-powered amp. Therefore, it is legal to marry these speakers to this receiver, at least in Massachusetts, Canada, Spain, and the Netherlands.

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