2021 Editors’ Choice Awards: Loudspeakers $10,000 – $20,000
Audio Solutions Figaro L
In most areas of sonic performance this substantial (154 lbs.), three-way, five-driver loudspeaker, manufactured in Vilnius, Lithuania, achieves well above what’s expected at its price point. It plays coherently and authoritatively with music that makes significant dynamic and low-frequency demands, but it is also capable of nuance and detail. With a sensitivity of 92dB and a nominal impedance of 4 ohms, the Figaro L is not a difficult load for most amplifiers. The speaker ships with two pairs of front baffles, one with a grille cloth and one without. A steel outrigger base with large adjustable spikes ($650) should be considered an essential accessory.
Legacy Focus SE
The massive, six-driver, four-way Focus SE is capable of creating a big sound in every sense of the word, while delivering the kind of speed and resolution from the midrange onwards that is customary in better ribbon and electrostatic speakers, as well as a seamless blend between drivers. The upper mids and treble have life and air, along with a slightly forward midrange perspective. A sensitivity of 94.5dB makes the Focus SE easy to drive. A lot of loudspeaker for the money.
Von Schweikert Audio UniField 2 MkIII
The UniField Two is a two-and-a-half-way design in which a 7″ coaxial driver is augmented below 80Hz by an aluminum-cone woofer. Internal chambers define a mini-labyrinth, which significantly dampens the vent output. The coaxial technology together with a non-resonant enclosure yields exceptional soundstaging and image focus. Expect impressive bass-range performance when the UniField is matched with a high-damping-factor solid-state amplifier, though the bass balance will be shifted toward the midbass. The UniField competes effectively with British stand-mounts from Spendor and Harbeth, offering greater rhythmic precision and bass heft.
$11,800 (stands $1190)
Marking MBL’s entry level for omnidirectional speakers, the Corona Line Radialstrahler 126 three-way contains much of the DNA of its bigger, upper-tier siblings, but brings the cost of acquiring MBL magic way down. The Radialstrahler designs are painstakingly handcrafted in Deutschland and feature intricately assembled omnidirectional drivers—in the 126 model, the midrange and tweeter—the latter reproducing the sweetest, smoothest upper octaves imaginable with effortless openness, detail, and delicacy, sans beaminess, edginess, or harshness. With a pair of 5-inch push-push woofers inside and a rear port, the 126s also reach deeper into the lower octaves than expected, and overall coherence is exemplary. Rich in reach-out-and-touch resolution and utterly convincing instrumental tones and textures, the 126s work within the room (with proper setup) to create a holographic and immersive listening experience. What’s not to love?
Audiovector R3 Arreté
The R3 Arreté is a two-and-a-half-way floorstander with an Air-Motion Transformer (AMT) tweeter and two 6.5″ mid/woof cones with membranes made of cross-woven Aramid fibers in a sandwich structure. High-frequency reproduction is exceptionally open, extended, and non-fatiguing, most certainly thanks to the AMT tweeter. Bass is taut and tuneful; with most recordings the use of a subwoofer isn’t even a consideration. Spatiality and transparency are also first-rate. If detail and neutrality are your things (and you’re willing to forgo some sock and body), the R3 is highly recommended.
Crystal Cable Arabesque Minissimo/Crystal Cable Arabesque Minissimo Diamond
Replace whatever loudspeakers you’ve been using with a pair of two-way CrystalConnect Arabesque Minissimos or Minissimo Diamonds (which look identical but come with a superior diamond tweeter and other perks), and people will notice—before they’ve heard a note of music. The whimsical apostrophe shape, the vibrant color, the assured smallness of the things stop folks in their tracks and make them smile. Sonically, the Minissimos are superb everywhere but the low bass (which is to be expected in a two-way). When it comes to imaging and soundstaging, they disappear, creating a broad, deep, and continuous soundstage. A superior and stylish little transducer.
Sonus faber Olympica Nova III
The new (“Nova”) versions of the Sonus faber’s Olympica line of loudspeakers utilize a construction technique in which multiple layers of bended wood are set into an aluminum exoskeleton to create an exceptionally rigid enclosure. Within this largely resonance-free environment, users can experiment with the positioning of the top-to-bottom “Stealth Ultraflex” resistive port—aimed toward the center of the room or facing toward the sidewalls—to optimize bass performance. The Nova III’s 3-way, 4-driver transducer complement is fully up the task of playing loud and low—dance music, pipe organ, Mahler symphonies—as well as scaling down to deal effectively with more nuanced material—solo violin, an after-hours jazz singer, a virtuoso pianist’s blistering technique.
SteinMusic Highline Bobby M
$14,000 (available without the woofers for $7000/pr.)
The Bobby M and its myriad configurations are uniquely striking-looking and wonderfully musical-sounding transducers that actually make good sense when you break them down—or, rather, when you put them together. Stein’s Bobby speakers are modular: The M (for Medium) designation actually refers to the duo that was reviewed, with one bass extender (with two 6″ woofers) under a two-way, bass-reflex monitor with horn-loaded tweeter and 6″ cone mid/bass. If you use two bass extenders per channel, with one atop the Bobby S monitor and the second beneath it, you’ll have a Bobby L (for Large). Sonically, the High Line Bobby M offered pleasing and smoothly natural musicality and impressive dispersion.
These Maggies’ magical ability to transport listeners to a different space and time, and to there realistically recreate (with lifelike scope and size) the sound of acoustic instruments and the venue they were recorded in is extraordinary. It almost goes without saying (since these are Magnepans), but the 20.7s are also incredibly good values, although you’re going to have to bring a lot of power to this party, and you’re going to need a good deal of room to house two speakers the size and width of a couple of NFL linebackers.
T + A elektroakoustic Talis S 300
From a manufacturer known best in North America for its electronics, digital sources in particular, comes the Talis S 300—a three-way, four-driver floorstander, with solid aluminum enclosure, that excels in all musical genres. The S 300 manifests a complete absence of tonal coloration that makes it easy to discern among similar vocal and instrumental timbres. High-frequency reproduction is open and airy, and orchestral weight is satisfying. The reproduction of spatial cues is first-rate. The S 300 responds well to bi-wiring; integrating a subwoofer is rarely necessary but possible.
Larsen Model 9
This is the latest and best embodiment of the Larsen concept: using wall placement and woofers near the floor combined with wide dispersion of the higher frequencies to generate a sound with minimal early reflections but impressive uniformity over the room. The sound of your listening room is replaced by the sound of the original recording venue to a surprising extent. The speakers needs minimal fuss about exact placement and little or no room treatment to achieve independence of the listening space. The Model 9 is superbly finished and surprisingly compact, considering its bass power and extension.
Manger Audio P1
The uniquely musical properties of the Manger Sound bending-wave transducer are brought to life in this svelte floorstander. Manger’s wide-bandwidth, low-mass, flat-disc-diaphragm transducer creates an intimacy and immediacy that are almost eerie in their authenticity. Tonally, the P1 is neutral to warmish, with saturated overtones and firm acoustic-suspension bass. Temperamentally, the P1 is not geared to knock fillings loose or propel images forward like a studio control monitor. Instead, it offers music naturalism without artifice or hype. Without the normally distracting multi-driver discontinuities to deal with, orchestral timbre remains true and realistic. There’s really nothing quite like the P1.
The Quad ESL63 and its variants, such as Quad’s 2812 electrostatic floorstander, have been from the start a speaker family that has gone its own way. They have low distortion, among the lowest; they have almost unparalleled coherence and unity of voice; they have an exceptionally uniform radiation pattern and a very low level of resonant coloration. They are also phase-linear, which is known to have subtle but definitely audible positive effects, on transients in particular. In these categories they have always been in the very top echelon and they still are. “Alone at the top” is a phrase that one is tempted to use, though it would be a slight exaggeration since others are in the same realm, though not many. No amount of money will buy a speaker that does definitively better the things that the Quads do well.
$14,995 (includes ST3 stands)
The Micro Evolution One (ME1) may be the smallest in TAD’s Evolution lineup, but this three-way reflex design arguably has more heart and soul than its larger Evolution Series siblings. “Micro” in name only, the ME1’s sonics are high energy and potent beyond the speaker’s modest footprint. On tap are admirable symphonic scale, and soundstage immersion well outside the norm for a transducer of this specification. The headliner, however, is the coaxial midrange/beryllium tweeter, which offers uncommonly transparent and precise imaging and goose-pimply musical minutiae. What is unexpected are the bare-knuckled dynamic thrust and power range that will shock even the staunchest large speaker advocate.
The NS-5000 loudspeaker is the star component of Yamaha’s new 5000 Series, rightly taking its place as an underpriced overachiever in the high-performance loudspeaker marketplace. The large stand-mount 5000 uses a single material for every vibrating surface—Zylon, one of the strongest fibers in existence. The value of this unique material would be nil had Yamaha not also assembled an engineering team with their eyes focused on the musical prize. But it did. As a result, you will be richly rewarded with a nearly not-there transducer. Though Yamaha first used the term “hi-fi” way back in 1954, the NS-5000 is decidedly not (in my use of the term) hi-fi. It’s the kind of product that invites you just to settle into an unfiltered, unforced, truly musical experience.
Sonus faber Maxima Amator
A drop-dead gorgeous product, even by Sonus faber standards, the Maxima Amator is a floorstanding version of the Italian manufacturer’s popular Minima Amator bookshelf model. This is a two-way design, with a 1.1″ silk dome tweeter and a 7″ mid/woofer joined by Sonus faber’s novel “Interactive Fusion Filtering” crossover. Although those who listen to rock and large-scale orchestral music at enthusiastic levels may find low-frequency power and dynamics insufficient for their needs, with most other musical material the exceptionally seamless integration of the two drivers results in a sonic coherency that makes the speakers truly disappear.
Marten Django XL
$15,500 in piano black
The Django wowed TAS editors at CES demo, and the review sample lives up to the promise. While the Django breaks no design ground, the canny choice of materials results in a speaker that, on many tracks, proved virtually indistinguishable from AT’s reference. Warm in character (lower piano notes are ravishing), the Django offers needle-sharp transients; details emerge distinctly and naturally. Most importantly, this is an unfailingly engaging speaker.
This elegant if unusual speaker combines two sealed-box cone woofers above and below Muraudio’s unique, doubly curved electrostatic drivers. The curvature of the driver element both horizontally and vertically generates an effect resembling a virtual point source rather than sounding like a typical flat panel. The SP1 is very clean with extremely low distortion. The bass is very well integrated and precise in character, albeit not extended to the lowest lows. The spatial impression is attractively unconstrained, and the balance is overall neutral. Muraudio became famous a few years ago for its omni PX1 model, which used three doubly curved panels to form a 360 degree source. But the SP1, at a much lower and very reasonable price for what is involved, is a truly exceptional speaker in its own right.
Magico S1 Mk II M-Cast
There was a time when Magico’s enclosures were made primarily of wood; now they’re all-aluminum or carbon fiber, every model. For both the S Series and Q Series, Alon Wolf has his “platform” established and continues to advance the performance of the drivers and other components he puts into these optimized enclosures. The two-way, sealed-box Magico S1 Mk II floorstander is indeed as much a Magico as the S7 or the Q7, and must be a top consideration for anyone in the market for a loudspeaker up to $20k. As the saying goes, it “comes from good stock.”
Wilson Audio SabrinaX
Although significantly more affordable than most of Wilson’s other speakers, the SabrinaX unquestionably comes from the same gene pool. Utilizing the Convergent Synergy Mk 5 tweeter from the WAMM Master Chronosonic, the 8″ woofer from the Sasha DAW, the binding posts of the XVX, and Wilson’s new AudioCapX-WA capacitors first implemented in the XVX, the SabrinaX is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The cabinet is constructed entirely from Wilson’s ultra-dense X-material to reduce vibration and noise. The result is a speaker crafted with the same attention to detail as the XVX, and one that conveys a sense of musical truth and beauty remarkable at its price. As expected from a single woofer and smaller cabinet, the SabrinaX lacks the massive low-end authority of Wilson’s more expensive offerings, but literally nothing else.
Sanders Model 10e
$17,000 (includes one Sanders Magtech amplifier)
The 10e is a hybrid with a flat electrostatic panel mounted above a transmission-line-loaded woofer. The speaker, which must be bi-amped, comes with a DSP crossover with a variety of user adjustments. The lack of midrange coloration puts the Sanders in the top echelon. This is one of the lowest coloration speakers there is. And when you consider that even if you buy two Sanders Magtech amplifiers—one comes along as part of the $17,000 package—the total cost, exclusive of source components, is $22,500, and that you can adjust the speaker to suit your room and your tastes, the Model 10e is not only a wonder but also a bargain.
Carver Amazing Line Source
The Carver Amazing Line Source is one of the most remarkable speaker systems ever. It offers a dynamic capacity that allows realistic SPLs for even big bands and huge orchestras, with room to spare (120dB+ if you dare!), amazingly low levels of distortion, full frequency extension at both extremes, and an almost uncanny ability to reveal recorded space. Indeed, the ALS has few peers in reproducing the sense of hearing a live performance of large-scale music. If your goal is the reproduction of the live auditorium experience, then these speakers will be a revelation and an ongoing pleasure.
Harbeth M40.3 XD
A large three-way that requires stand-mounting, this is one of those rare speaker systems for which the term “monitor” is not in the least pretentious because it is literally accurate as a description of the speaker’s function and as a statement about its own intrinsic accuracy. The 40.3 is the virtual embodiment of tonal neutrality, and with a frequency response from 38Hz–20kHz of ±3dB, (but near ruler-flat across most of that range) it possesses an ease, effortlessness, and lack of strain that translate into a listening experience that draws all the attention to the music. Like the 40.2, the 40.3 represents the designer Alan Shaw’s highest development so far of the BBC school of speaker design, possessing a sheer musical authority almost nonexistent in PS’ previous experience. The 40.3 is now PS’ reference when it comes to reproducing music in all its natural power and glory.
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