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December 2015
Enjoy the Music.com Review Magazine
Enjoy the Music.com Special 20/20 Award
Enjoy the Music.com's Special 20/20 Award
High-End Audio Loudspeakers --
Page 1
Steven R. Rochlin chooses the most notable products during the past 20 years.

As Chosen By Enjoy the Music.com's Creative Director Steven R. Rochlin

 

  There is little consensus when it comes to expert and enthusiast opinions as it pertains to high-end audio gear choices. Perhaps one of the only items we all seem to agree upon is that loudspeakers, and how they integrate within the listening space, produces the largest contribution to how music will sound. Perhaps this is why over the past 20 years we have seen a wide variety of designs, with many interesting inventions along the way. It appears that no other type of high-end audio device has as many variants as loudspeaker design. Furthermore, loudspeaker manufacturers also tend to have one of the most hardcore cult-like followings. This can extend to not just a single manufacturer, but a single type of driver!

Loudspeakers also tend to be the most visual item within an audiophile system. Generally, when you walk into a listening room the first thing that commands the eye are sizable boxes, panels, or some other type or sound emitter. While front-end equipment does, at times, find itself extreme stylish and visually pleasing, there are many loudspeakers that take on the role of being the centerpiece in overall room styling. Virtually no music lover has a custom listening room built around their preamplifier, yet there are many rooms purpose-built to achieve sound and style synchronicity with their speakers. It is not only for visual effect either, as recording studios find themselves having custom-built speakers within their facility to optimize their sound at the mix board engineer's location. Affluent audiophiles wisely have their listening room specially built and acoustically treated for a specific set of loudspeakers.

When it comes to loudspeakers, there is no consensus on which type and/or implementation is 'best'. Full-range drivers, horn loading, planar magnetic panels, cone drivers in a box, and many other types are available. While hornspeakers tend to achieve a realistic volume level with around 10 watts, other designs might need 200 watts to achieve the same sound pressure level. There are sub-categories, too, such as the type of magnet (Alnico or neodymium for example) or cone material such as paper or Kevlar. Popular engineering, the placement of drivers, includes D'Appolito with a central tweeter flanked top and bottom by matching midranges, which are flanked by woofers. Line arrays, many of the same type of drivers/boxes mounted vertically as used at live concerts, also make their popularity known within home audio. Then we have plasma and 'leaf' tweeters, woofers that are concentrically-loaded, and far too many other scientifically-engineered designs to briefly list here. Whatever one chooses, a very rare general agreement within high-end audio is that the biggest changes made to your system is the loudspeaker you choose and how they are positioned to achieve the best synergy within your listening room.

The nearly constant barrage with 'best of' and 'top picks' featuring hundreds of products elsewhere, there is little doubt Enjoy the Music.com is perhaps the most conservative of magazines when it comes to giving out special accolades. With our annual Blue Note awards possibly being the most sought-after within the audiophile industry, as only a very small handful of products get special recognition each year, we want to highlight our 20th anniversary by using our 20/20 vision as it were and look back to some of the best gear.

Enjoy the Music.com Special 20/20 AwardAs Editor and Creative Director for Enjoy the Music.com, it is my honor to look back at the many thousands of reviews and choose the top 20 per category. This month my choices are for the very best in loudspeakers over the past 20 years. In case you missed it, we've already posted our Special 20/20 Award for Analog/Cartridges, Special 20/20 Award For Digital, Special 20/20 Award for Preamplifiers, and Special 20/20 Award for Amplifiers. Each month I'll follow up with other product types.

No one said that picking only 20 products during the past 20 years would be easy. i take this task with much reflection and contemplation as have seen and heard many thousands of loudspeakers over the years. Using my 20/20 hindsight to decide upon 20 pieces of high-end audio equipment is no easy feat! Of course many of these products have been superseded and no longer available as new, yet you may find them used at very attractive pricing. High-end audio does not need to be high priced and here is where some bargain hunters could greatly benefit. Of course some new products will make a good showing as they are today's leading-edge creations. With that said, and in no particular order, as Editor and Creative Director of Enjoy the Music.com here are the Special 20/20 Awards for the most notable high-end audio loudspeakers during the past 20 years.

 

Bowers & Wilkins (B&W) 800D

During 2005 our reviewer Alvin Gold was smitten with the Bowers & Wilkins (B&W) 800D floorstander. These speakers found their way into the not only the homes of music lovers worldwide, they could also be found within recording studio and master facilities. Alvin felt that Bowers & Wilkins' domination of the high end of the loudspeaker has become quite strong. "Of course there are other brands and many of other individual high-end models out there, but Bowers & Wilkins' share of the market with its extensive 800 series is enormous, and this means that uniquely among high end producers, B&W is able to benefit from the economies of scale in a way that is the envy of other producers." Whilst on the higher side of loudspeaker investment, with 2005 cost being £13,000 a pair, the Bowers & Wilkins 800D was "a startling revision of an already excellent high-end full bandwidth design of striking appearance and superb build" said Alvin. "Compared to its predecessor it offers greater musical contrasts and transparency, a less intrusive treble and an overall balance that is finally very close to neutral. The price has gone up of course thanks to the inclusion of the diamond dome tweeter, but B&W has done its homework here in collaboration with their subcontractor (Element Six, part of the de Beers group) as the premium being asked for the tweeter is much less than only any comparable speaker using sapphire or diamond domes." You can read Alvin Gold's full review of the Bowers & Wilkins 800D at this link.

 

 

Avantgarde Acoustic Duo Hornspeaker
Avantgarde Acoustic Duo Hornspeaker
In 2005 Enjoy the Music.com's Creative Director Steven R. Rochlin asked "Why is it that music reproduction has come full circle? Vinyl records, single-ended tube amplifiers and horn loudspeakers are getting rave reviews throughout the world. After all, the new millennium is upon us! Has new computer technology lead us on the wrong path to audio nirvana?" Avantgarde Acoustic's Duo hornspeaker ($14,470) is a  three-way design using horn loading for the tweeter and midrange plus a self-powered subwoofer that powers a pair of cone drivers. With a sensitivity of >103dB/W/m the highly prized Wavelength Audio Cardinal 300B amplifiers' 8 or so watts were more than enough to reach a realistic listening level. "The Duos seemed to effortlessly fill the room with hall 'sounds'" says Steve. "The ambience and timing of the reflected sounds a hall provides is a good part in the overall musical experience. The 47 Laboratories Gaincard and also the Wavelength Audio Cardinal really mated well with the Duos in this regard as compared to other amplifiers in my humble abode. If there is one thing the Duos will certainly let you know, it is the quality of the equipment it is mated to. This Chesky recording offers a reviewer such as myself a real reference for the low level resolution of a piece of gear while also getting a great dynamic workout. The Duos handled everything extremely well and I was especially pleased with the clarity of the subtle details." If you've never discovered hornspeakers, and even if you have, you should read Enjoy the Music.com's review of the Avantgarde Acoustic Duo Hornspeaker to learn more about the benefits of this design.

 

 

Oskar Heil Kithara Loudspeaker
Oskar Heil Kithara Loudspeaker
Dr. Oskar Heil was one of the leading scientists of the 20th century, breaking new ground in a variety of physics and engineering disciplines. Perhaps most notable among his numerous inventions was the Field Effect Transistor, which he patented in 1934. The unusual loudspeakers that are the subject of this article are descendants of his 1973 patent for the Heil Air Motion Transformer (AMT), a mid/high frequency transducer for which the radiating surface was an accordion-pleated paper diaphragm. The latest iteration of this driver has been re-christened the OSKAR Air Velocity Transformer (AVT), although the two acronyms seem to be used interchangeably in product literature. This diaphragm is mounted in an intense magnetic field, and is driven from its edge so that its folds move the air. This design does not require a huge magnet and voice coil, and it allows the driver's resonant frequency to be outside the frequency band it reproduces. When a music signal is applied, the pleats alternately expand and contract in a bellows-like manner, forcing air out of the pleats on one side and sucking in on the other side. "I had a wonderful month of enjoying the sound of the Oskar Heil Kitharas ($4900 per pair)" says Enjoy the Music.com Senior Editor Wayne Donnelly. "Essentially, their sonic presentation is relaxed and laid-back, blessedly free of aggressive in-your-face behavior, either tonally or spatially.  The Kitharas are as un-loudspeaker-like as any loudspeaker I have ever lived with — and that's a compliment! The Kitharas recreate the performing space — especially on naturally mic'ed recordings — extremely well.  Specific vocal and instrumental images are stably located within a nicely dimensional sound field, but without the laser-beam imaging precision and hyper-detail retrieval that are characteristic of imaging “champs” such as the Wilson WATT/Puppy  and ambitious minimonitors. As someone who attends dozens of live concerts every year, I can testify that listening to the Kitharas is much closer to what I hear in the concert hall than with most audio systems, even those with much more expensive loudspeaker systems." Wayne's review of the Oskar Heil Kithara loudspeaker can be read here.

 

 

ADAM Audio A7X Powered Monitor Speaker

Steven R. Rochlin, Creative Director of Enjoy the Music.com, had a love affair with the ADAM Audio speakers since his a trip to the Munich High-End show about 10 years ago. One look at their speakers and you know there is something very exceptional happening here. Cutting right to the chase within the very beginning of his  ADAM Audio A5 powered monitor review ($699 per pair) he wrote, "The ADAM A5 is not an audiophile loudspeaker. Now before you died-in-the-wool audiophile-types stop reading, in perhaps a massive error of quick judgment, the ADAM A5 recording studio monitor is so good that every audiophile should go right out and hear these amazing units". The company's ART (Accelerating Ribbon Technology) tweeters units take a completely new approach in kinematics to move air and improve the quality of music reproduction within the A5. The newer X-ART with a 4" diaphragm takes it up to another level. This design is based on the original works of Dr. Oskar Heil, who invented his "Air Motion Transformer" back in 1972. "So for the record, yes Steven Stone you were right as the A7X is better than the A5; as it naturally should be of course" says reviewer Steven R. Rochlin. "You get newer technology, better cabinet design, improved drivers, etc. At the heart of it all is the further extended bass due to the use of a 7" midrange/woofer versus 5". Not that the A5's smaller 5" driver was a slouch mind you, it is just that ADAM Audio believes in accuracy versus the LS3/5’s fake bass. Thus the A7X ($699 each) really gives you a nice, full-sounding midbass and goes deep into the bass until about 50Hz. Instead of giving fake LS3/5 bass (read: distortion), the A7X output level ability decreases as the music’s signal go below 50 Hz. This is typical and normal driver/design speaker rolloff. Midrange is very refined, detailed, yet never fatiguing. As for the high, wow! These X-ART tweeter take the original design in the A5 to a new level! If you have not heard how great a tweeter like the X-ART can sound, you really need to wrap your ears on one ASAP. Fast, exceptionally extended, and clean, clean, clean." Read our review of the ADAM Audio A7X powered monitor to learn why many nearfield and tabletop digital audio workstation (DAW) folks use these units for their small monitors.

 

 

American Acoustic Development (AAD) 7001i Monitor Loudspeaker
AAD 7001i Monitor Loudspeaker
AAD founder Phil Jones is a noted speaker designer who designed the Acoustic Energy AE-1, Boston Acoustics Lynnfield 300 and 500 monitors, the critically-acclaimed Platinum Audio Solo and Reference One speakers, and AAD 7001i. The AAD 7001i ($12,500 per pair with stands) utilizes a neodymium magnet horn ribbon tweeter for the midrange/high frequencies and a 5.25" front mounted bass driver coupled to a 6.5" rear-mounted passive radiator. Don't let the size fool you as this stand-mounted design produces a wide range of sounds from 25Hz to 60kHz. "Yes' Fragile DVD-Audio [Warner-R978249] also sounded as good as I ever heard it, revealing the extra separation from the 24-bit/96kHz remaster" says Enjoy the Music.com reviewer John Gatski. "The dimensionally of the opening acoustic guitar intro to "Roundabout" is rendered very accurately by the 7001i. Speaking of acoustic guitar, the AAD's ability to reproduce those tones and frequencies was clearly shown by my own 24-bit recordings of a vintage Martin D-35 (using a True P2 Mic Preamplifier fed into Benchmark A/D into a TASCAM DVRA-1000 recorder). I could hear that little tinge of room reverb decay, and the finger squeaks were as real as a recording could be." You can read John's review of the AAD 7001i at this link.

 

 

Coincident Speaker Technology Total Victory IV
Coincident Speaker Technology Total Victory IV
Longstanding Canadian manufacturer Coincident Speaker Technology produces critically-acclaimed amplifiers and loudspeakers. Rick Becker reviewed their Super Victory loudspeaker and felt that following up with their upper line Total Victory IV ($14,999 per pair) would be a simple task. What he was not prepared for was... "The step from the Super Victory to the Total Victory will be necessary if your room is about 6000 cubic feet or larger" says Rick. "I expect when putting a TV IV in a smaller room the extra $5500 will buy you mostly the qualitative improvements (versus the smaller model)... It is not that the three models sound dramatically different from one another in tonal balance. But as you move up the line the audible quality improves and they can play in larger rooms. The common denominators: slightly warm, non-fatiguing, very revealing, transparent, dynamic, totally enjoyable." You can read Rick Becker's review of the Coincident Speaker Technology Total Victory IV speaker here.

 

 

Klipsch Palladium P-39F Speaker
Klipsch Palladium P-39F Speaker
Virtually every audiophiles knows of Klipsch. Long before Sony Walkmans, CD players, chip amplifiers, Woodstock and iPods, Klipsch built loudspeakers. They began in the U.S. in 1946. Today, big ole Klipsch horns are still renowned for their large, fully horn-loaded designs providing ultra-high sensitivity and extremely low distortion. Their Klipschorns are the only loudspeakers to be in continuous production for over six decades. "Like all horns, the Klipsch Palladium P-39F ($20,000) soundstage is wide and deep, presenting an image much larger than their mere footprint" says Enjoy the Music.com Reviewer A. Colin Flood. "Properly pointed, the 3D sonic imaging of big ole horns can be spectacular, without the honkiness of which detractors so often complain. With oodles of power backing them up, vocals sounded effortless and very natural. With Sunfire power, the Palladiums have all the detail and resolution anybody would want, without the hard metallic edginess of some horns. They also have the energy and range to capture the full essence of dynamic instruments, such as drums and piano. The quick dynamics of big ole horns communicates the emotion of the notes. They get the real meaning of music. Palladiums have this ability too. They capture this quality without dampening the vibrancy and life out of the crucial mid-range." Read Mr. Flood's outstanding review of the Klipsch Palladium P-39F Speaker here.

 

 

Audioengine A2 Powered Minimonitor
Audioengine A2 Powered Minimonitor
In July of 2006 my review of Audioengine's A5 powered monitors ($349 per pair) caused quite a stir, as many discussion board members — after reading my review — bought a set and came away impressed. Fast-forwarding to October 2007 as Brady and Dave of Audioengine, yeah those two scheming weasely guys who sent me the A5s, dropped another bomb in my lap. This time is was their tiny lil' A2 powered monitors ($199 per pair). Standing a mere 6" high and 4" wide with a small 22mm silk done tweeter and 2.75" Kevlar midrange/woofer... how is the hell does one expect to get anything near half decent sound from such a small package, let alone one that is priced at $199? "The one constant was a roll off in the uppermost frequency range" says Enjoy the Music.com Creative Director Steven R. Rochlin. "The highs never, ever, almost no matter what i tried, became aggressive and irritating. This is a good thing when you have speakers only inches away from your ears plus, i would bet, Joe/Jane Q. Public probably would use some less than high quality source.... The A2s passed the out of room sound quality test. They sound quite good not just when sitting in front of them, but also when outside the room and listening in... Audioengine's A2 loudspeakers should produce many hours of musical pleasures without the pitfalls of sounding like the usual mainstream small plastic junk or apparent distortion boxes on the shelf at from your local electronics store. My amazing woman is still trying to pry this review pair away from my office! While i love her dearly (and yes she reads my articles), her chances of getting my review pair are the same as us throwing snowballs at each other during our upcoming vacation in Hawaii. Umm, maybe i should not have called Brady and Dave of Audioengine scheming weasely guys at the beginning of my article, as now i have to call them up to buy the review pair plus another pair. Yes dear, am talking to Dave now on the phone and ordering another pair of A2 loudspeakers for you. Forget the usual reviewer comment of "highly recommended," am buying the review pair and another set for my woman to keep her hands off mine!"

 

 

---> Next page for Enjoy the Music.com's Special 20/20 Award for high-end audio loudspeakers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     
 

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