BOOKSHELF SPEAKER REVIEWS

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Mark Fleischmann Posted: Mar 24, 2015 3 comments

SoundSpot MT-3 Speaker System
Performance
Features
Value
SUB-8X Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $3,000 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
1mm-thick steel sphere Concentric drivers Superb imaging, soundfield
Minus
Predictably modest bass Satellites pricey

THE VERDICT
Morel’s MT-3 Music Theatre combines steel truncated-sphere enclosures, concentric drivers, and a unique grille pattern to create a visually striking and high-performing compact sat/sub set.

The advent of Dolby Atmos casts a shadow over existing 5.1- and 7.1-channel surround systems. Some home theater buffs want the new technology and want it now, while others may decide not to go all in. In between are those wondering whether to leave the door open for Atmos. And that brings us to the Morel MT-3 satellite/subwoofer set. The 5.1-channel configuration reviewed here does not support Atmos; at least, these satellites lack the up-firing drivers that constitute an “Atmos-enabled” speaker system. However, their base provides for wall-, ceiling-, or tabletop positioning with no additional hardware, and surface-mounting an extra pair (or two) of satellites on a ceiling would indeed bring this speaker system into Atmos territory with a 5.1.2 (or, better yet, 5.1.4) configuration.

Bob Ankosko Posted: Feb 17, 2015 1 comments
One thing you want to get absolutely right when assembling a home theater rig is the speakers. Pick the wrong ones and music will sound dull and movie soundtracks will lack dimension and excitement. Sure, you can fiddle with crossover and EQ settings and move speakers around but it’s not going to help. A bad speaker is a bad speaker.

At Sound & Vision, we’re constantly on the lookout for speakers that rise above the pack and possess that magical quality of bringing music and movies to life. If space is at a premium, here are 10 compact speaker systems you can’t go wrong with, broken into three price categories: $1,000 or Less, $1,000 to $2,000, and $2,000 and up.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Feb 12, 2015 0 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $2,500

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Dolby Atmos–enabled monitors
Laser-like focus from coaxial driver array
Minus
Just-average subwoofer performance

THE VERDICT
Andrew Jones’ excellent Atmos-enabled speakers are equally at home in a 5.1-channel footprint as they are transforming surround sound as we know it.

Dolby Atmos bids to change the landscape of surround sound at home. One thing it has already changed is my mind.

I am that 5.1 guy. I’ve spent much of my tech-writing career promoting the standard 5.1-channel speaker configuration and defending it against all comers. This has pitted me against two-channel loyalists who mistakenly believe there is no such thing as a surround audiophile. But I’ve also opposed what I deem to be useless additions to 5.1.

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.

Darryl Wilkinson Posted: Jan 23, 2015 1 comments

Denon HEOS 7 Speaker
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value

Denon HEOS 5 Speaker
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value

Denon HEOS 3 Speaker
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $2,148 as reviewed

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Stellar audio performance
Simple, intuitive app
Minus
No desktop controller
Fewer streaming services than Sonos

THE VERDICT
It’s not the first wireless multiroom sound system, but it certainly ranks among the best.

When I asked the folks at Denon why they felt the need to develop a multiroom, streaming music system, this was the answer they gave: “Probably for similar reasons why we developed the LP turntable and didn’t continue to manufacture gramophones.” That wasn’t quite the answer I was looking for, but it was an interesting way of putting a tangible perspective on the past 100-plus years that Denon has been involved in the audio industry.

In this day and age, it’s the rare person who sits at home enjoying selections from his or her collection of bulky spinning cylinders; streaming songs is what’s popular now. In fact, our collective propensity for listening to audio from the Internet or music stored on NAS drives and computers has resulted in wireless speakers of various kinds becoming the product du jour of nearly every audio manufacturer on the planet. So the question I really should have asked was how Denon thought they could build a system that would rise above the flood of streaming music speakers and systems on the market—and, specifically, how in the world Denon thought they could compete head to head with the Goliath of streaming music systems, Sonos.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Jan 13, 2015 1 comments

Infinity Reference R162 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

Infinity Reference SUB R12 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $2,100

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Detailed high frequencies
Proprietary drivers
Curved enclosure
Minus
Can be too revealing
More finishes needed

THE VERDICT
The new Infinity Reference series has superb top-end transient detail and a commendably subtle sub, turning even familiar material into a fresh experience.

“Attention to detail.” That was my mantra when I hired and trained people to write product descriptions for an e-commerce site. It’s a pretty good rule to live by in general, and I try my imperfect best to practice it myself, both personally and professionally. It came back to me when I pulled the grille off the Infinity R162, part of the big brand’s new Reference series. When I saw a tweeter waveguide unlike any I’d previously seen, I knew I was communing with a kindred spirit, a lover of detail—though one with access to far greater resources than I command as a mere reviewer. Infinity’s parent corporation, Harman International Industries, has the kind of facilities and personnel that many speaker companies can only dream of. Harman pays a whole lot of talented people to attend to detail.

Daniel Kumin Posted: Dec 24, 2014 Published: Dec 23, 2014 0 comments

Prime Satellite 5.1 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

SB-1000 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $1,000

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Honest, accurate, full-range sound
Painless sub/sat blending
Cheap!
Minus
Won’t match ultimate volume level of larger, more costly systems

THE VERDICT
If your criterion is un-hyped reproduction, SVS’s Prime Satellite 5.1 system is as good as it gets for $1,000.

Good-sounding small speakers no longer impress me. After all, these days, pretty much anybody with a laptop and an Internet connection can design a small two-way that’s reasonably neutral. The tools are all online (many of them share/freeware), fine-performing drivers ranging from cheap ’n’ cheerful to exotic ’n’ expensive are readily available with complete Thiele-Small parameters, and MDF and veneer are plentiful down at Lowe’s. You don’t even need to know Ohm’s law; fluency in Windows or OSX and some basic woodworking skills are probably more useful.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 14, 2014 4 comments

Studio 230 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value
Studio SUB 250P Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $1,630

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Efficient, high output
Vocal clarity and defined soundfield
Affordable price
Minus
Thin, accentuated top end
Best at low-to-moderate volumes

THE VERDICT
Although their bright voicing may not be for everyone, the JBL Studio 2 speakers combine high efficiency with excellent detail retrieval.

What if the solution to room-interaction problems resided in your loudspeakers? Wouldn’t that be a great alternative to the ills of receiver-based room correction systems? Those are some potentially interesting questions posed by JBL’s Studio 2 series.

For starters, who needs room correction anyway? Well, when it’s hard to catch the dialogue, and imaging smears all over the place, the room correction program in your A/V receiver can mitigate those problems (depending on the receiver and the room). But quite often, it also introduces new artifacts and errors. For my own part, in my own room, I find that many room correction systems thin out the overall tonal balance and induce fatigue. That’s why some audiophiles shun room correction and choose to live with the acoustic character of their room, for better or worse—usually both.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Nov 08, 2014 Published: Nov 07, 2014 2 comments

Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $1,748

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Versatile with movies and music
Superb build quality
Addictively listenable
Minus
Needs sub reinforcement

THE VERDICT
Like David in a world of Goliaths, Silverline Audio’s Minuet Supreme Plus is the kind of small speaker that makes listening to music an addictive pleasure.

Every January, I find myself walking down a hotel corridor lined with audio exhibitors. Sounds like the dream sequence from an audiophile movie, doesn’t it? I’m talking, of course, about the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Pretty much every year, I pay a visit to Silverline Audio, and pretty much every year, the reward is sweet, involving sound. This year, that sound was coming from Silverline’s Minuet Supreme Plus. Remarkably, it was powered by one of those tiny Class T amps you can buy on Amazon for $30. Having reviewed the original Minuet in 2008—and having loved it—I was eager to hear what its successor would sound like in my system with a better amp.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Oct 17, 2014 4 comments

Imagine XB Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value
SubSeries 125 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $1,846

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Clarity and evenness
Compact, tuneful sub
Affordable price
Minus
Dynamic limits of small sub

THE VERDICT
PSB’s Imagine X series refreshes a popular speaker line with reliably excellent sound.

A small but growing number of my younger readers care more about headphones than loudspeakers—but might eventually want to own both. That’s why I’m about to use headphones as the starting point in a speaker review.

There are names that evoke loudspeakers: Bowers & Wilkins, GoldenEar, KEF, Klipsch, MartinLogan, Paradigm, Wilson, Definitive Technology. Then there are names that evoke headphones: AKG, Audeze, Beyer, Grado, Koss, Sennheiser, Stax. However, though several speaker manufacturers have dabbled in headphones, it’s hard to think of many brands known equally well in both categories.

Mark Fleischmann Posted: Oct 10, 2014 2 comments

Excite X14 Speaker System
Performance
Build Qaulity
Value

Sub 250 II Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $5,100

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Generous soundfield
Surprisingly strong bass
Gorgeous veneers
Minus
Expensive for small speakers

THE VERDICT
Dynaudio’s X14, part of the revised Excite line, earns its high-end price tag with sweet build quality and high performance, including a bottom end that is amazingly substantial for a small speaker.

The high end exists in the eye of the beholder. To some folks, a pair of mini-monitors selling for $1,500—or a 5.1-channel system at $5,100—may seem steeply priced. In fact, if you want lower-priced alternatives, you’ll find plenty among our Top Picks. But there always will be another kind of consumer who is fussy about what he or she brings into the living room. Vinyl-wrapped boxes won’t cut it; they want furniture-grade wood veneer. In the same discriminating spirit, the Danish manufacturer Dynaudio is equally fussy about materials, including drivers that the company designs and makes itself. In the recently overhauled Excite line, the result is a speaker that exceeds already high expectations in both appearance and sound. The X14 monitor and X24 center are my favorite kind of small speaker: the kind that sounds bigger than it looks.

Daniel Kumin Posted: Sep 26, 2014 1 comments

Mini T Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

Mini T Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $8,881 (as tested)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Outstanding sonics and dynamic ability
Impressive bass extension from Mini-T alone
Made in Canada, not overseas
Minus
Requires substantial
amplifier power for best performance
Classic boxy designs won’t thrill everyone

THE VERDICT
They’re big, boxy, and expensive, but these speakers are world-class performers, top to bottom.

Bryston’s new Mini T loudspeakers spoke to me early, even before I’d fully wrestled them out of their imposing, oversized packaging. And what they said was, “We were designed by guys who don’t give a hamster’s hindquarters for new-age cosmetics, ‘breakthrough’ transducers, or 21st-century styling: We’re old school!”

For the record, Bryston Ltd.—based in the small Canadian city of Peterborough, an hour or so east of Toronto—has for decades produced some of the world’s preeminent power amplifiers (also preamps, surround processors, and even the odd integrated amp), impeccable performers built to a standard of brick-house quality seldom bettered, and warrantied accordingly. If you wanted vast reserves of current, bulletproof design, road-ready ruggedness, and genuine craftsmanship, Bryston fit the bill.

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.

David Vaughn Posted: Jun 18, 2014 5 comments

S300 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

X12 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE $17,700

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Realistic, dynamic sound
Outstanding build quality
Carries on the fine M&K tradition
Minus
Expensive

THE VERDICT
M&K’s system is perfect for the movie lover and extremely capable for the discerning audiophile.

It was in February 2000 when I was in a hi-fi store looking at some new electronics and stumbled upon a salesman giving a speaker demonstration to a married couple. I decided to listen in to see if anything piqued my interest. The salesman went through a number of different speakers, and I didn’t hear anything remarkable until his last demo: M&K Sound S150s coupled with an MK350 subwoofer. I don’t recall the exact track he played, but my jaw dropped when I heard the sound emanating from the speakers. It was as if the entire wall came alive, and I couldn’t pinpoint which speakers were active. Much like the wand picking the wizard in Harry Potter, these speakers picked me, and I knew I’d have to own them.

Sadly, it took me three years to convince She Who Must Not Be Crossed to give her blessing, but I’ve been in audio bliss for over 10 years now with a trio of S150s across the front soundstage and four SS150s across the rear of my home theater.

Steve Guttenberg Posted: Apr 29, 2014 1 comments
Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $2,495

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Big, highly dynamic sound Super easy to drive Made in the U.S.
Minus
Limited dispersion Must be used with a subwoofer

THE VERDICT
It may not be a universal solution, but for buyers seeking wide dynamics in a fairly compact speaker, the Zu Audio Cube delivers a big sound.

I’ve heard my share of tiny cube speakers with 3- or 4-inch woofers, and while the best of them can sound decent enough, the Zu Audio Cube is a very different beast. It’s still a compact speaker, but big by comparison to those pipsqueaks—big enough to house a 10-inch driver. That ability to move air makes no small difference, and trust me on this: The Cubes are turn-it-up-and-party speakers.

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