The Best Floorstanding Speakers
[Editor’s note: Welcome to the Part-Time Audiophile Buyers Guide for Summer 2021! These are the best floorstanding speakers that we, the PTA team, have personally 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 floorstanding speakers. 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. A Best Value Award winner for 2020.
Vandersteen 2CE Signature MkIII ($3,279 pr USD with stands)
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.
Chario Constellation Cygnus ($3,700 pr USD)
The Chario floorstanding speakers are two-way towers from Italy, are heavy on sonic charm, and we felt they offered an extraordinary “cohesiveness and holistic quality to the sound.” They don’t have a lot of information at the frequency extremes, nor do they play loud, but you’ll be so pulled into the sound that you won’t notice that much.
Raven Audio CeLest’ ($3,995 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.
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 Spatial Audio 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.
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. (Name another speaker that does so much for $5K.) 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.
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.
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,” referring to what goes into making a single pair. 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.
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.”
Living Voice IBX R3 ($7750-9995 pr USD depending upon finish)
The Living Voice high-efficiency British towers are perfect for audiophiles who still love and enjoy low-powered tube amplifiers and want to hear them at their best. The R3s are surprisingly full-range for speakers with such a small footprint, and they sound inviting and silky while allowing you to hear the small differences between amplifiers. A Reviewer’s Choice winner; our reviewer bought his pair.
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. An Editor’s Choice winner.
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, and with 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 ($12,500 pr USD)
The Fern & Roby 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.
Focal Kanta No. 2 ($10,000 pr USD)
This beautiful Focal speaker is rare for “balancing several disparate parts, a metal dome tweeter, with soft cones, a 3-way complex crossover, but high efficiency.” It’s a surprising mix for such a coherent speaker, especially when you consider its undeniable dynamic punch. “This speaker is proof that the heyday of large, multi-way floorstanders isn’t over; it is perhaps in its golden age,” we concluded.
Marten Oscar Trio ($10,000 pr USD)
These Swedish towers from Marten sounded fast, detailed, accurate and resolving to our ears, combined with “a special soulful something heard in nearly every recording…a cozy feeling of rightness.” The ceramic drivers have incredible low levels of distortion, which indulged us with sublime overall sound during evaluation. A stand-out at the $10K level, these beautiful loudspeakers are also a Reviewer’s Choice winner.
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. 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 ATC speakers are known for being power hungry, you have nothing to worry about here as the manufacturer provided the active version with 242 watts 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.
Sonus faber Maxima Amator ($15,000 pr USD)
“Both wildly beautiful and understated with its simple, clean lines,” this handmade Italian two-way tower is a feast for all of the senses. This was a project long considered by Sonus faber, a floorstanding two-way made from a solid wood enclosure only made possible through modern CNC technology–all affixed to a one-of-a-kind Italian marble bass. “Heartbreakingly beautiful finishes and materials, the small footprint, the huge sound, and all the warmth and hope of my favorite music preserved in a way that makes [us] remember how this music sounded on the Amators, and nothing else,” we concluded. A Reviewer’s Choice winner.
DeVore Fidelity Gibbon X ($15,890 pr USD)
We’ve enjoyed many of DeVore Fidelity‘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 Daedalus Audio Apollos are “sweet and alluring” without giving up any detail.
Wilson Audio SabrinaX ($18,500 pr USD)
Wilson Audio 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. We noted that this is “a carefully crafted design that packs an enormous amount of the tech and sound reproduction embodied in its far more expensive siblings.”
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 Sonus faber 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 GT Audio Works 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 Von Scheikert Audio‘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 Dynaudio 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 Vimberg Mino “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.
Audiovector R 6 Arrete ($35,000 pr USD)
These large Danish speakers from Audiovector achieved an almost perfect score on the listenability/accuracy matrix, providing a “sumptuous aural feast that was very easy to fall in love with.” We also found the R 6 Arrete to be an ideal speaker for hi-rez digital since it “LOVED getting a clean, dynamically punchy, recording fed to them.”
Acora Acoustics SRC-2 ($37,000 pr USD)
At least two members of the PTA staff felt these granite towers from Acora Acoustics 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 these floorstanding speakers—these may be the best Wilsons ever.
Tune Audio Anima ($51,995 pr USD)
Horn floorstanding 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 Von Scheikert Audio’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 Rockport 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 Von Schweikert Audio‘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 Summer 2021
- The Best Bookshelf Speakers
- The Best Floorstanding Speakers
- The Best Phono Preamplifiers
- The Best DACs, Servers, Streamers, and Disc Spinners
- The Best Preamplifiers
- The Best Headphones, IEMs, and Headphone Amplifiers
- The Best Cable, Power, and Racks
- The Best Audio Accessories, Tweaks, and Voodoo
- The Best Amplifiers
- The Best Integrated Amplifiers
- The Best Turntables
- The Best Tonearms and Phono Cartridges