Surround Sound System Reviews

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Darryl Wilkinson  |  Oct 24, 2013  |  3 comments

Triton Seven Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

ForceField 5 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Ergonomics
Value
PRICE 3,594

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Deep bass extension from dual passive radiators Remarkably full midrange Rearward rake with non-parallel front and rear baffles
Minus
You’ll need to find a new home for your current speakers

THE VERDICT
The Triton Sevens provide rock-solid high-end performance for a mid-fi price.

It begins with a fairy tale (of sorts). Once upon a time (say, around 2013), a little company named GoldenEar made three bears—no, sorry, three tower speakers. The first speaker was tall and big with a deep, deep voice. But it was too big and too expensive for a hungry little girl roaming the forest—no, I mean, for some of the people shopping through a forest of tower speakers at the A/V store. The second tower was shorter and a bit smaller. Its voice was deep, too, but not quite as much as the papa tower’s voice. Sadly, it was also too big to fit comfortably in some people’s rooms, and still too big for some of their budgets. Then GoldenEar made a third tower speaker, even shorter and less expensive, and this speaker was… Well, that’s what we’re here to find out, isn’t it?

Tom Norton  |  Oct 16, 2013  |  3 comments

Monitor 11 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

Monitor SUB 12 Subwoofer
Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $3,895 (updated 3/10/15)

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Crisp, powerful bass
Superior speaker-to-speaker timbre match
Excellent value
Minus
Slightly tipped-up highs

THE VERDICT
An immensely satisfying speaker system with both music and movies.

Canadian speaker manufacturer Paradigm makes a bewildering variety of loudspeakers. Its offerings top out at around $9,000 for a two-channel pair of Signature S8s—remarkably sensible considering the recent and alarming inflation in high-end audio prices. But while the speakers that make up the Paradigm’s Monitor Series 7, latest version of the company’s long-lived, bread-and-butter line, are far less expensive, they’re anything but an afterthought.

Brent Butterworth  |  Oct 01, 2013  |  5 comments
Performance
Build Quality
Value
PRICE $800

AT A GLANCE
Plus
Crazy-affordable prices
Great cosmetics for the money
Minus
Sounds a little unrefined

THE VERDICT
It’s not without flaws, but the $500/pair XL7F tower delivers a surprising value.

I actually did a double-take when I added up the price of Fluance’s XL7 speaker system. Two tower speakers for the price of a good pair of minimonitors. A center speaker for the price of a cheap Blu-ray player. A pair of minimonitors for the price of … well, an inexpensive pair of minimonitors. And the whole shebang for about what most Sound & Vision readers I know would spend for a decent subwoofer. Shipping’s free, too!

Mark Fleischmann  |  Jul 26, 2013  |  1 comments

Ultra Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

SB12-NSD Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
Price: $3,348 At A Glance: Distinctive enclosure shapes • Strong build quality • Satisfying, balanced sound

The debut of the SVS Ultra speaker line prompts me to reconsider a question that’s been lurking at the back of my mind for years: Is SVS one of the great American speaker brands?

As a company founded in Ohio and initially operated out of a garage, SVS has all the right narrative elements of a great speaker brand. The company has built a reputation for making brilliantly unorthodox subwoofers and pretty good speakers—versus the scads of respectable brands that put most of their brilliance into speakers and treat subs as an afterthought. In the past few years, the story has added a few new chapters, with new heavy-hitter personnel in management and product design and a manufacturing move from Ohio to (where else?) China.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Jul 05, 2013  |  8 comments

Quintet Speakers
Performance
Build Quality
Value
SW-100 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
Price: $1,050 At A Glance: Molded reinforced polymer enclosure • Vertically expanded Tractrix horn • Conventional sub

Compact satellite/subwoofer sets are often affordable, mate well with budget receivers, allow more speaker-placement width than soundbars, lend themselves to wall mounting—and best of all, they don’t hog the room, even if you place them on stands (which would usually produce the best sonic results). What Justice Anthony Kennedy’s swing vote is to the Supreme Court, the spouse acceptance factor is to loudspeaker genres, and the elegant compactness of a sat/sub set just may be the tiebreaker, the factor that makes the difference between having or not having a surround system. Sat/sub sets continue to be the most underrated product category in home theater.

Darryl Wilkinson  |  Jul 05, 2013  |  2 comments

HD Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

Metro Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
Price: $10,580 (standard finish, updated 3/10/15)
At A Glance: Folded-planar magnetic tweeters • Treble and bass trim switches • Biwire and biamp capable

Every company has its genesis story, be it the back of a napkin or something more grandiose. Apple, of course, is famous for starting out in Steve Jobs’s parents’ garage. Lutron’s backstory isn’t quite as well known, but its unassuming beginnings were in the bedroom founder Joel Spira and his wife intended to use as their first child’s nursery. (“Sorry, kid, you’ll have to sleep on the couch. Daddy’s got a solid-state dimmer to invent.”) Similar to Apple, Legacy Audio’s birthplace was in a garage; but this garage was far from Cupertino. Instead, it was located in the midst of the cornfield-filled upper Midwest where, according to Legacy, Bill Dudleston and “a stubborn Dutch craftsman,” Jacob Albright, built the company’s first speaker, the Legacy-1, in 1983. Thirty years later, though, what the heck does any of this have to do with Legacy Audio’s loudspeakers today? Really, who gives a flying flip about two dudes, a garage, cornfields, and some woodworking equipment? (Hmm…cornfields. Wasn’t there a movie about that? “If you build it, they will listen.”)

Mark Fleischmann  |  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.

Brent Butterworth  |  Jun 24, 2013  |  3 comments

Two years ago, SVS changed ownership, and you could say it’s simultaneously a remarkably unchanged yet very different firm. It’s unchanged in that many old hands are still with the company, and the concentration on high-performance home theater products remains.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Jun 21, 2013  |  0 comments

Tannoy Precision Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

Tannoy TS2.12 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
Price: $4,414 At A Glance: Coaxial driver array • Pinpoint-precise imaging • Clean, wellmannered subwoofer

If you read a lot of British novels, eventually you’ll run across a reference to an announcement “on the Tannoy” in a train station or airport. In the U.K., the birthplace of Tannoy Ltd., the loudspeaker brand is a synonym for public-address system. No other speaker manufacturer in the world enjoys this distinction, though it comes at a price: The Tannoy people are constantly firing off letters to publications that make the mistake of using tannoy generically, without the proper cap-T to indicate its trademark status.

Trivia buffs may be surprised to discover that the firm was founded in 1926 as the Tulsemere Manufacturing Company in England. Not until 1932 did the brand name become Tannoy, an abbreviation for tantalum alloy, a material used in the electronic guts of its early products. Tannoy relocated its design and engineering center to Scotland about a half-century later, and for the past decade has been owned by the Denmark-based TC Group.

Mark Fleischmann  |  May 20, 2013  |  1 comments

V52 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value
Power FL-10 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
Price: $1,880 At A Glance: Innately musical monitors • Bipole/dipole surrounds • Powerful subwoofer

Phase Technology is one of the great American loudspeaker makers. The man behind that achievement was Bill Hecht, a genuine first-generation audio pioneer. This review can’t begin without noting his passing last fall at age 89, the end of a life devoted to bringing movies and music into both the public and private realms.

Hecht began his career as an expert in Cinemascope Stereophonic Sound, installing systems at New York’s Radio City Music Hall and other pleasure palaces. His company United Speaker Systems (USS) launched in 1955 as he hand-built speakers, including drive units, in his garage. USS got a boost when Avery Fisher offered a commission to build the first Fisher loudspeakers. Hecht earned several patents, most notably for developing the soft-dome tweeter. He also patented a self-damping woofer voice coil, a manufacturing process for flat piston drivers, silicon-injected drivers for resonance damping, and a basketless midrange/woofer mounting system.

Tom Norton  |  Apr 23, 2013  |  0 comments

KEF R900 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value
KEF R400b Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
Price: $9,400 At A Glance: Sweet, clean highs • Big, generous soundstage • Flawless fit and finish

If you’ve been passionate about audio for more than a few years, or can name five loudspeaker companies with names that don’t rhyme with rose and begin with a B, you’ve certainly heard of KEF. In the late 1980s, KEF introduced a new concentric driver that placed the tweeter in the throat of the midrange cone. Dubbed Uni-Q, the design has been continually refined for over 20 years and remains the centerpiece of most KEF loudspeakers.

KEF today is part of a Hong Kong conglomerate...

Mark Fleischmann  |  Apr 19, 2013  |  1 comments

Minx S325v2 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value
X300 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
Price: $1,449 At A Glance: Second-gen high-end compact satellites • Mix of flat and cone drivers • Incredible dispersion

Compact cube speakers are an intriguing subset of the satellite/subwoofer speaker genre. Though not invariably high performers, cubes have achieved iconic status, and some manufacturers have made a fortune marketing them to folks whose significant others look at the diminutive geometric forms and say, “Bingo. That’s what I want your speakers to look like. Now get those big tombstones out of our den.”

Cambridge Audio has tapped into the cube mystique with its Minx sat/sub sets. In fact, the Minx has done so well that it is now a separate division of the company. Part of the Minx suc- cess story is, believe it or not, performance. The first-generation Min 10 (single cube) and Min 20 (double cube) earned rave reviews all over the place, and the single- cube version found a coveted perch on our Top Picks list.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Apr 18, 2013  |  2 comments

Aon 2 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value

ForceField 5 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
Price: $3,000 At A Glance: Broad dispersion • Good power handling • Powerful subwoofer

A review is more interesting when it tells a story. How should the story of the GoldenEar Aon 2 begin? There’s the technology angle: The Aon 2 is among the few speakers on the market with an unusual pleated tweeter design that uses a squeezing motion (as opposed to a piston motion) to generate the changes in air pressure that we hear as sound waves. Because the benefits—wide horizontal dispersion and vivid imaging—are easy to describe, that would be a good way to begin. And then there’s the human interest angle: GoldenEar is the third brand to be cofounded by Baltimore-based loudspeaker impresario Sandy Gross, whose genuine love for audio is balanced by his love for gourmet food, Expressionist canvases, and ancient statuary. The only thing wrong with these angles is that reviewers hither and yon have used them so often in the past. That leaves the musical angle. Here I believe I have a variant that might qualify as an exclusive.

Mark Fleischmann  |  Apr 03, 2013  |  First 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.

Michael Fremer  |  Mar 05, 2013  |  0 comments

Venere 2.5 Speaker System
Performance
Build Quality
Value
 
REL T-7 Subwoofer
Performance
Features
Build Quality
Value
Price: $5,493 At A Glance: Shapely Italian styling • Exceptional soundstaging • Surprisingly affordable

Could this sleek, lacquer-finished, curvaceous new Sonus faber Venere loudspeaker have originated anywhere other than in Italy? Well, no and yes. With its soothing, elegant curves and glossy finish, Venere whispers “Italy,” but the scant $2,498/pair price tag of this 43pound, 3.5-foot floorstander shouts “China.”

In fact, this new Sonus faber speaker is truly an international product. It was designed in-house at Sonus faber’s Arcugnano factory near Venice, Italy—a building as stylish as the designs emanating therefrom—using bespoke drivers designed by Sonus faber.

The midwoofer and woofer cone material is curv, a proprietary self-reinforcing 100-percent polypropylene composite manufactured by Germanybased Propex, while the dome tweeter is of silk over which is applied a multi-layered Sonus-spec’d coating manufactured by DKM in Germany. Final driver production is done in China.

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