Well, ask and you shall receive.
I’ve been soliciting feedback from anyone who’ll provide it as to what would be a great, but not stratospherically priced, full-range loudspeaker. The feedback has been pretty interesting, and covered a wide variety of perspectives, budgets, and personal tastes. One thing this variety says to me is that this market is flush with options. Capitalism at work? No idea. All I know is that there are a lot of gladiators in the ring. I thought I’d take a moment to summarize some of the more interesting options that have been suggested to me.
My initial curiosity centered on Stereophile Class A “Full Range” speakers. I mean, why not? Consider it a launching point. A quick query into Stereophile Editor and Chief Measurement Officer, John Atkinson, reaffirmed two of the speakers that leapt out of their Recommended Components list.
#1: the Revel Ultima Salon 2.
This is one of Atkinsons’ favorite speakers. Measures great. In room performance has pretty amazing bass response. It also has tweakable bass and treble if either prove to be too much or too little. I’ve talked to Plinius owners who’ve matched the Salon 2 to the Plinius amps and found a wonderful synergy there. All together, I’m thinking this sets a pretty high bar, but not everyone is enamored of the sound. In fact, some commentators preferred the Salon 1 over the Salon 2. More than a few have commented that since Revel is a Harmon/Kardon brand, they’ve sold out, can’t be great anymore, &c. Haters? No idea, but this speaker is on my short list for auditions.
#2: KEF Reference 207/2
This is also John Atkinsons #1 pick for full-range in my price point. Yes, he had two #1’s and refused to choose between them. Fair enough! Both the Revel and the KEF won “Best of the Year” they were introduced, and JA is on record as saying that the KEF is the best sounding speaker he’s ever had in his home.
I’ve never heard this speaker, and while I have a local dealer, he hasn’t got one of these on hand, so a demo looks like it’s going to be out of the question. Bummer. Interestingly, a friend of mine has a pair of the Reference 107s and he loves them, but for some reason, I suspect that KEF has come a way since the mid-90’s.
This one, I have heard. In fact, I’ve already written up my review of it here. It’s one of my favorite speakers of all time. I’m not going to say much more, other than that Michael Fremer likes it. The question I have about the speaker has to do with my own familiarity. I’ve heard this speaker quite a lot, but does that make it better than the KEF or the Revel? Or any of those to follow? Also, the Joseph Audio “house sound” is colored, and while I like it, how useful would that be in a “reference” speaker (where ‘reference’ = “for comparing other speakers with when doing reviews”)? It’s also a bit out of the range, but perhaps, maybe … Hell, who knows.
#4: Vandersteen 5a
In my initial lineup, I’d forgotten these guys. Shame on me! I mean, hell, it’s a Vandy! The Model 5a is the speaker featured prominently on the Vandersteen home page. It’s a classic. It’s a beast! It has integrated powered subwoofers!
I heard the new Model 7 at RMAF last year, and it was a stunner. My problem with Vandersteen designs cuts across the entire line, however, and it’s this: narrow sweet spot. It’s troubling. Not necessarily a killer, but still. Another problem will be auditioning it — the closest dealer is in New Jersey. Eww.
#5: Panels: Magnepan, King Sound, Quad, Analysis Audio, Martin Logan
I’ve gotten a lot of comments about the Maggies. Apparently, the Plinius might be a good match here. The concern I have with the Maggies is pretty simple, and it’s the same for every panel design out there: bass. Yes, the Maggies “do” bass. But I’ve auditioned the 20.1s, and while I loved them, they’re better with a sub. Which means they’re not really “full range”, despite their posted numbers.
So, fine, they’re not — but they’re awesome! So, why not add a sub or two? Honestly? It’s definitely an option. Should my finances go completely pear-shaped, this is what I’ll be doing, and I’ll probably be doing it with the Magnepan 3.7. But while the dream is alive, I’ll continue the hunt.
As for the ESLs, yeah. I love Quads. King Sound is also great and everyone who’s heard Analysis Audio has raved. Martin Logan? The original Summit was probably the first speaker I ever heard that that “woke up the inner audiophile” in me (thanks to Steven Stone for that image). And every time I’ve heard the Quads, I’ve loved them.
But these speakers are also bass-challenged. It really is a problem for the panel design — yes, there’s radiating area, but there’s very little “whump”. And with the exception of the Quads, most of these designs are amp killers and that’s just plain stupid. Any speaker that dips below 2ohms anywhere in the audio band is simply out of the question — IMO, that’s a shitty design, regardless of how good they might sound. Done.
Look, we all have to draw the line somewhere, right?
#6: Legacy Audio Whisper and/or Focus
I’ve always been fascinated by the Whisper. I think I first heard of them through Stereophile’s Recommended Component list about 5 years ago, and I have to say, the fascination continues. I actually first laid my eyes on them at RMAF this past year, and yeah, they’re fascinating. Did I mention that they’re fascinating?
They’re also huge. And all those drivers, while they make a wall of sound, do so best if you’re not right up on top of them. In my application, I don’t think I can sit far enough back from them to let them be as coherent as they’d need to be. Another potential problem is bass. This is odd, given the number of 15″ drivers being used here, but there it is. I suppose some of that has been addressed with the latest XD design, but … yeah. Tri-amping? Seriously?
Anyway, the Focus SE is also very interesting. And affordable! Ok, that’s a relative statement, but given that the budget is around $20k, a speaker at half of that is rather welcome. Unfortunately for me, I did not hear these at RMAF, so I’m kind of screwed here on auditions. I suppose I could “try and buy”, but even then, shipping 400lbs of speakers doesn’t sound inexpensive.
#7: Wilson Audio Sophia 3
What list of expensive speakers would be complete without Wilson? The new Sophia 3 is, to all reports, something quite special. Stereophile flipped over it. JA says it’s a “must audition” in my price range, even if he ultimately prefers the KEF and Revel. Michael Fremer says they’re dynamite — they were his first choice, given my restrictions.
These are an easy audition — there’s Wilson dealer near me, so I’m set, assuming he has them and has them in a room worth hearing them in. Interestingly, I heard v2 of the Sophias at this dealer, and the room he had them in was appalling, so maybe I’ll give him a heads-up this time. Might be a better bet, you think?
And that’s about it for popularity. Of course, that doesn’t say that there aren’t other suggestions — far from it. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of consistency. But there were a lot of very interesting suggestions!
The rest, in no particular order:
I’ve heard these only once, and that was a long time ago. The were interesting, but, well, they don’t hit the bass as hard as I’m looking for.
These are new, and a bit of a stretch financially. That said, I’ve always been a fan of the Proac sound.
Never heard any Dynaudio speakers, or if I have, it didn’t leave an impression.
I have heard B&W 802Ds, in fact, I got to spend a week with a pair at a beach house in the Outer Banks one year. They were … good? I’ve visited Grammaphone in Columbia, MD a couple-dozen times, and each time, I’ve auditioned the 802Ds. And each time, I’ve found them oddly non-compelling. I’m sure the 800’s sound different, but I’m not sure I care. Is that fair?
I did get a chance to hear some Tyler’s at RMAF this past year, but I’m not sure what model they were. They sounded good! But they’re really big — which brings back the “how far back do I have to sit before they become coherent” question.
For every VMPS fan, there’s an anti-fan. Apparently, these are speakers that engender rather strong beliefs. That said, they sure look imposing.
Sadly, I’ve never heard a Nola that sounded good. Of course, I’ve only heard them twice, and each time was at a show. Still, I don’t get what all the fuss is about. That said, there is a local dealer ….
I’ve heard these at a dealer being driven by a little Krell integrated. My impression? Unimpressive.
My friend tells me he knows two folks who have these speakers. One loves them. The other, ah, does not.
I don’t want to be close-minded, but I don’t think I want to get a speaker that has any tendencies toward lean or cool sound. My local dealer demoed a pair of Indras for me, and I left with a headache. Not promising, but easy to verify.
I have never, ever, heard of these. But they look really interesting! Down-firing full-range drivers that produce a “3-D” sound field? I’m gonna need to look into this. Especially since their webpage is particularly sparse on details.
Holy cannoli! If I had $25k and room for these 400lb+ speakers, I’d be all over them. Ok, maybe not. But you have to check out the page. Have to! They compare some major players head-to-head on parts costs, and that alone is worth the visit.
- AudioKinesis Planetarium Beta
Duke actually reached out to me after seeing my post on AA about full range speakers. While not actually in my scope as the system uses a swarm of subwoofers to get to full range, I have to say I’m sympathetic with the approach as this is probably the best possible way to get really deep, even bass.
That’s it for now. What I need to do is set up a bunch of auditions!