The Best Floorstanding Speakers
[Editor’s note: Welcome to the Part-Time Audiophile Buyers Guide for 2021! This year we decided to mix it up a little by breaking up the Buyers Guide into sections, which makes it a far more manageable read. And oh, we know what you’re thinking–the best floorstanding speakers? Really? Are we discriminating against height-challenged monitors? Isn’t it really just “different flavors of ice cream?” Let’s clear this up: these are the best floorstanding speakers that we, the PTA team, have heard.]
Magnepan LRS ($650 pr USD)
On the surface, it might seem that the Magnepan LRS (Little Ribbon Speaker) is a direct replacement for the MMG. In economic terms it is. In the audible sense, however, it is not. Where the MMG was a sample taken from the entry level of what Magnepan can do, the LRS is a sample taken from Magnepan’s flagship designs. Imagine a steakhouse selling 4 oz. samples of their Dry-Aged Japanese Wagyu Rib-Eye for $6. That should be a game-changer for their business. Right?
Sonus faber Lumina III ($2,199 pr USD)
A pair of Sonus faber 3-way towers, made in Italy, and retailing for just $2200? There has to be a mistake somewhere, but there isn’t. The new Lumina line from Sonus faber is this affordable because the construction of the cabinets is so simple–right angles everywhere. The flagship Lumina III floorstanding speakers will make you scratch your head because you still get gorgeous veneers, real Sonus faber drivers and a real Sonus faber sound. An Editor’s Choice winner for exceptional value.
Vandersteen 2CE Signature MkIII ($3,279 pr USD)
Now in its 8th generation, the new Vandersteen Model 2Ce Signature III marks over forty-three years of being in the conversation when it comes to genuine audiophile loudspeakers. Forget that it’s always been a tremendous value, the Model 2 has always been a contender and perennial favorite with journalists and, most importantly, those who own a pair. The new Model 2Ce Signature III receives an even more purified signal path by removal of its contour controls. Along with a new circuit-board and improved components, this is promised to be the best clarity and timbre accuracy yet in a Model 2.
Raven Audio CeLest’ ($3,500 pr USD)
Texas-based Raven Audio has been making a big splash in the high-end audio lately, and much of it is their decision to build speakers, cables and other components for their popular tube amplifiers. The CeLest’ is an entry-level model, but it’s still a big and ambitious speaker-the designer wanted to make a $5000 speaker with many of the same attributes as the $15K flagship, and he brought that objective to fruition for only $3500. “Coherence and imagining are scary good,” we noted, making Raven Audio’s gamble a true success.
GoldenEar Triton Reference ($4,999 ea USD)
GoldenEar makes high-value speakers that give other speaker builders nightmares—they are designed in the US, tested in Canada and manufactured in China. While the styling comes from the Big Black Tower School of Design, the Triton Reference wows the listener with wild dynamics, immersive imaging, thunderously huge sound, and amazing value. For under $10K/pair, you get powered subwoofers, a fully balanced crossover and a 56-bit DSP control unit.
Volti Audio RAZZ (from $4,995 pr USD)
If you think Volti Audio’s Rival is a great loudspeaker that starts under $10K, you should take a listen to the new entry-level RAZZ for half of that amount. The RAZZ is as dynamic and engrossing as any of Greg Robert’s horn designs, surprisingly so at this price point. These are undoubtedly outstanding party speakers–they energize a room like nobody’s business–but they also check off the audiophile boxes of superb imaging and soundstaging and tonal balance. Satisfying on a number of levels, and an Editor’s Choice winner.
LSA Statement 20 ($5,995 pr USD)
Living Sounds Audio, now owned by Underwood Hi-Fi, is really impressing the staff here over the last year with its growing stable of excellent products, and the Statement 20 is a prime example of why. For a mere $6K you get a big, beautiful speaker (BBS?) that is equally adept at playing all sorts of music. “They are beautiful to behold, and also possess a sonic ‘rightness’ that both excites and soothes [our] spirit.”
Spatial Audio M3 Sapphire (from $4,950 pr USD)
Another pair of floorstanding speakers, this one an open-baffle design, that has most of the PTA staff crushing hard. The M3 is so reasonably priced for the sound you get–rich, expansive and fabulous with voices. (“Spatial” is truly an appropriate name for this company.) The proper set-up takes some patience, but once everything is dialed in: “They make startlingly realistic, soul-stirring music.” An Editor’s Choice winner.
EgglestonWorks Emma EVO ($5,500 pr USD)
These wonderful floorstanding speakers, made in Memphis, answer the question: how much speaker can you get for $5500? Anthony Chiarella of EgglestonWorks told us “I’ve never seen a pair of loudspeakers at this price point that involves so much hand time.” Incredible fit and finish, and the Emma EVO’s performance is so strong that you won’t be able to say these are “good for the price.” They’re just good at any price.
Trenner & Friedl Osiris ($8,900 pr USD)
The Austrian-built Osiris may occupy the low-to-middle slot in the Trenner & Friedl line, but they’re so good that they made $35,000 worth of Mactone amplifiers sing like Julie Andrew on the top of some hill. The theme of the Osiris is balance, and they do qualify as an “all-arounder,” but the superb coherence of this speaker should not be understated. Gorgeous floorstanding speakers that are also exceptionally easy to live with.
Volti Audio Rival (from $8,900 pr USD)
This three-way horn-loaded loudspeaker was designed by Volti Audio’s Greg Roberts to come close to the performance of the massive Vittoras at a much more approachable price in a more forgiving footprint. What’s special about the Rivals is how fun they are – they’re dynamic, they’re dynamic, and they’re really dynamic. Music can just leap out of nowhere, and the result startles and delights. They also can create a stunningly precise image, with all the audiophile trimmings, and have the unnerving tendency to completely disappear. Utterly addicting. Upgrades to the finish, and new outboard crossovers, are available for a modest upcharge.
Fern & Roby Raven ($9,500 pr USD)
These single-driver, beautifully made speakers are certainly a “lifestyle product,” but only in the sense that they enrich your life through sheer pride of ownership. The SEAS Exotic full-range driver has one of the widest frequency responses we’ve experienced, causing us to exclaim that “after some time, they start to reflect you and who you want to be when you go home at night and listen to music.” We gave them the Editor’s Choice Award.
Qln Prestige Three (from $10,000 pr USD)
We’ve been drooling over the Swedish-built Qln Prestige Threes, especially with Vinnie Rossi amplification, for a few years now. Once we tested these floorstanding speakers, we didn’t want to give them back. So we bought them. The Qlns throw up a huge sound, warm and yet crystalline, and you’ll stare in disbelief when you hear these very petite towers in action. We felt they did so many things exceptionally well, that we suggested that many different types of listeners will find them to be “all they need.” An Editor’s Choice winner.
Living Voice Avatar OBX RW3 ($13,525-17,750 pr USD depending upon finish)
The OBX is the result of a relatively high-efficiency (94 dB) loudspeaker design that has been carefully re-worked over the years until it has become a more composed, confident transducer that can be used with a wider variety of amplification. Living Voice speakers have been known as an ideal mate for single-ended triode amps, but now you can throw some power at these elegant loudspeakers and still witness a coherent, refined sound.
ATC SCM-40A ($14,000 pr USD)
These active British monitors are known for their inner detail, well defined bass extension and superb midrange. If passive ATCs are known for being power hungry, you have nothing to worry about here as the manufacturer provided the active version with 242Watts of class A/B power, enough to get you rocking straight out of the box. The new in-house built tweeter blends seamlessly with the midrange.
DeVore Fidelity Gibbon X ($15,890 pr USD)
We’ve enjoyed many of John DeVore’s Brooklyn-based loudspeaker designs in the past, but we felt that the new Gibbon X, which we dubbed “Weapon X,” was a “show-stopper.” The X is so revealing that you’ll be tempted to feed your system only the best recordings so you can fill your “heart, mind, body and soul with the music of the spheres.” We couldn’t find a speaker that offered more for the money, so we kept them and gave them an Editor’s Choice Award.
Daedalus Audio Apollo ($18,000 pr USD)
These bespoke, handmade wooden floorstanding speakers are certainly beautiful, but it’s Lou Hinkley’s careful attention to design that makes the Apollos so musically engaging. These are versatile speakers, as we found them to match well with amps from 10wpc (tube) to 250wpc (solid state). The Apollos are “sweet and alluring” without giving up any detail.
Wilson Audio SabrinaX ($18,500 pr USD)
Wilson is bringing some of our favorite innovations from the WAMM, XVX, Sasha DAW, Alexia Series-2 down to their new entry level Wilson Audio SabrinaX loudspeaker. The new SabrinaX receives an exponential upgrade with a mass infusion of X-Material, a Synergy MK5 tweeter, a new woofer, new ports, new hardware, and custom capacitors. At $18,500, they may have just created the speaker to beat under $20k USD.
Sonus faber Serafino Tradition ($22,900 pr USD)
This Italian loudspeaker company is known for its gorgeous craftsmanship and visually striking designs, and we thought the Serafino was an undeniable beauty—both “modern and lux.” A large speaker, the Serafino is deft with all musical styles, but masterful with voices. This is the stuff of desire and dreams; they define the idea of “pride of ownership.”
GT AudioWorks GTA3.1R ($23,500 pr USD + subs starting at $7,000 USD)
Ribbon/Planar speakers rated at 93db at 4-ohms with a frequency response covering 40hz-35khz, and doing so without blinking an eye? Meet the GTA3.1Rs. The open-baffle servo-controlled sub-woofers operate from 15hz-65hz and include a user adjustable electronic crossover. The subs can start, turn, and stop on a dime. If you like ghostly center images, slam, subtlety, and distortion free SPLs, this is the right speaker package for you.
Von Schweikert Audio ESE ($25,000 pr USD)
Combining Leif Swanson’s affordable Endeavor Audio designs with drivers and technology culled from VSA’s awesome Ultra speakers line—such as anodized aluminum woofer cones, a Kevlar midrange and a Beryllium tweeter—the ESE is entirely capable of providing full-range sound in almost any room. The ESE offers a big chunk of the dynamic sound of the Ultra 9 and Ultra 11 speakers for around one-tenth the price. An Editor’s Choice award winner.
Dynaudio Confidence 50 ($27,000 pr USD)
Fussy to set-up, especially when it comes to getting the deepest bass honest, these “Danish leviathans” can do the big and loud thing impressively. The Confidence 50s do require a large room to really reach their potential, but at the end of the review period we wondered how we could possibly “go back to the presentation of a smaller pair of speakers.”
Vimberg Mino ($33,000 pr USD)
We’ve declared the Vimbergs “one of the greatest bargains in high-end audio,” even though they cost as much as a fairly nice new car. That’s because Vimberg is associated with TIDAL Audio and leverage that German manufacturer’s cost-no-object designs to achieve an amazing sound that comes incredibly close to…well, the sound of TIDAL loudspeakers. Precise, powerful and utterly realistic, the Minos sound more like many six-figure loudspeakers and are nearly unlimited in their scope and majesty—and they excel in time alignment. Our advice: skip the BMW and get these floorstanding speakers instead.
Acora Acoustics SRC-2 ($37,000 pr USD)
At least two members of the PTA staff felt these granite towers created some of the best sound they’ve heard anywhere, which led to only the third Summit Award we’ve handed out, and the first for a loudspeaker. Getting audiophiles to agree on the best pair of loudspeakers is fraught, but most of the PTA staff has heard these very special Canadian speakers from Valerio Cora and we agree that the emotional connections that are made with the SRC-2s are sublime. Very worthy of your attention.
Wilson Audio Sasha DAW ($37,950 pr USD)
This design from Wilson Audio, the first released after the passing of its founder, is a complete re-working of the previous Sasha—although these improvements bring it closer to the more expensive Alexia. We felt that this might be the Wilson speaker “you fall in love with,” especially if you’re dealing with a normal-sized listening room. Accurate time alignment, impressive dynamics and deep bass response define this speaker—this may be the best Wilson ever.
Tune Audio Anima ($51,995 pr USD)
Horn speakers can be incredibly expensive to make, but one look at the gorgeous contours of the Tune Audio Anima and you’ll clearly see every penny. This three-way design is not just fully horn-loaded – it’s three separate horns! It’s also wildly efficient (109 dB at 8 ohms, to be precise), so you’ll be tempted to try out every flea-watt SET ever made on these works of art. Stunners.
Von Schweikert Audio VS-55 Aktive ($60,000 pr USD)
While this California-based company’s flagship loudspeakers—the $220K Ultra 9 and the $320K Ultra 11—are at the pinnacle of today’s loudspeaker design, it’s the scaled-down active VS-55 floorstanding loudspeakers that will help well-heeled audiophiles in normal-sized rooms achieve sonic nirvana. The VS-55 is so clean, so fast, so dynamic and yet so natural that it feels like it’s removed yet another veil from reproduced music, one that we didn’t even know existed until hearing these fantastic speakers.
Rockport Lyra ($169,500 pr USD)
At this price point you expect some magic, but the strength of the Lyra’s performance resides in a feeling that this sound is closer to the real thing that everything else. Massive and heavy—at this price the dealer should be setting it up for you—the Lyra will reward you with an unparalleled sense of dynamic contrasts, the type of quality you usually associate only with live performances. At least one of us feels this is the best speaker design out there or at least one of the best.
None of the PTA staff has been able to bribe VSA’s Damon Von Schweikert or Leif Swanson for a long-term review pair, but we’re all thinking about asking our banks for a modest loan. We’ve spent so much time with these massive state-of-the-art speakers at various high-end audio shows that we feel like know them and understand the very few limitations they have as transducers. Most audiophiles can argue all day about the best floorstanding speakers out there, but things get eerily quiet when someone brings up the Ultra 11 or its smaller sibling, the Ultra 9. You have to hear these for yourself–words won’t do them justice.
The Buyers Guides of 2021
- The Best Bookshelf Speakers
- The Best Floorstanding Speakers
- The Best Turntables
- The Best Phono Preamplifiers
- The Best Tonearms and Phono Cartridges
- The Best Reel-to-Reel and Cassette
- The Best DACs, Servers, Streamers, and Disc Spinners
- The Best Preamplifiers
- The Best Amplifiers
- The Best Integrated Amplifiers
- The Best Headphones, IEMs, and Headphone Amplifiers
- The Best Cable, Power, and Racks
- The Best Audio Accessories, Tweaks, and Voodoo
Looking for even more? Check out our “Best Of” awards in our year-end roundup on The Occasional Podcast. Now streaming on iTunes and all podcast platforms. We also offer educational and informative breakdowns for digital audio, getting into turntables and mastering in this year’s episodes.