Welcome to the Floorstanding Speakers section of the Part-Time Audiophile Buyers Guide for Summer 2023.
The Guide is more than “We heartily endorse this [fill in the blank].” This collection represents our enthusiasm. Every product listed in this guide is beloved by at least one team member. These products have elicited responses such as “I was gobsmacked every minute I spent with this” or “The shipping box was wet with the tears of my lost innocence” or, too often, just “Take my money!” In other words, this isn’t about high-end audio products that we merely like. These are the products we love — and we think you will, too.
No list like this can ever be complete since we’re bound to forget something that has duly impressed the heck out of us. We’ve attempted to capture a moment in time — one year — and collect together, in one place, all of those products that we want to have and hold and use in our own systems right now.
If you’re looking for our list of our favorite floorstanding speakers — this is it.
Bowers and Wilkins 603 S2 Anniversary ($2,300 pr USD)
This is the anniversary edition of the seventh generation of this floor-stander, bestowed with an updated crossover with improved parts quality. Aesthetically, we have never been as impressed with a simple black tower speaker as we are with this “rather executive and smartly finished” look. Bowers & Wilkins has managed to “create a speaker that is immediately compelling to listen to with what could be considered the widest variety of music that real people enjoy most frequently—twentieth century rock-n-roll.”
Sonus faber Lumina III ($2,399 pr USD)
A pair of Sonus faber three-way towers, made in Italy, and retailing for just $2,400? 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.
Charney Audio Maestro X (from $3,800 pr USD)
After enjoying the original single-driver, high-efficiency Charney Audio Maestros, we loved everything about them except for their inability to energize large rooms without unconventional placements. Brian Charney came up with the new X (extreme) version, which sports a deeper cabinet and the ability to use several 8″ drivers from Voxativ, Lii and more. “These are some great examples of full-range drivers coupled into a sophisticated cabinet that will work well in a wide range of listening environments.” A Reviewers Choice winner.
Spatial Audio Lab M3 Sapphire (starting at $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 (starting at $7,500 pr USD)
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.
Volti Audio RAZZ LE (starting at $7,500 pr USD)
A limited edition of the Volti Audio RAZZ, the RAZZ LE (which we’ve nicknamed the RAZZLE), is sonically similar to the standard speaker–but with new upscale veneers and an improved set of footers. This is a truly coherent design, focused on presenting the music as a whole. “Couple that with the killer dynamics, both micro and macro, that only good horns can provide, and you’ve got yourself a heaping plate of audio fun.” A Reviewers Choice Winner.
Fern & Roby Raven III ($8,500 pr USD)
Slotted between the Raven and Raven II full-range speakers from this charismatic Virginia-based company, the Raven IIIs have attractive proportions, a truly gorgeous solid wood enclosure made from American walnut and the ability to match well with both low-powered and high-powered amplification. (It’s also one of the best floorstanding speakers for merely blending in your home.) The Raven III also uses a new SEAS full-range driver that was co-designed with F&B, providing a slightly more detailed sound. A Reviewers Choice winner.
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 “best floorstanding” speaker should not be understated. An Editor’s Choice winner.
Von Schweikert Audio Endeavor E-3 Mk. II (starting at $9,000 pr USD)
Even the “entry-level” speaker from Von Schweikert Audio is mighty impressive, and it took our reviewer some time to unlock its potential through careful set-up and system matching. “Is it the best in its category?” he asked. “Maybe if you are looking for a great all-around performer with amazing bass, a large soundstage, the ability to play as loud as you would ever want.” A Reviewers Choice award winner.
Sonner Audio Legato Duo ($9,500 pr USD)
This 2.5-way tower, the floor-standing version of the Legato Unum, is the only Sonner Audio loudspeaker that isn’t a two-way monitor. Sonner’s Gunny Surya simply starts with what is great about his smaller designs and expands in every direction, creating a visually striking profile and a very rich and detailed sound. “These splendid transducers are an out-and-out bargain, and they’re worthy of stellar amplification—which we gave ‘em.” A Reviewers Choice award winner.
Rethm Trishna ($9,990 pr USD)
Rethm has significantly re-designed their entire line up in the last few years, with entirely new cosmetics, isobaric woofers and a powered bass module. “Whether they were spaced wide apart, firing straight forward, or close together again with no toe-in,” our reviewer concluded, “the Rethm Trishna gave me possibly the best soundstage and image I’ve ever experienced in my room.” A Reviewers Choice winner.
Qln Prestige Three (starting at $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.
Focal Kanta No. 2 ($10,990 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 ($10,995 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 $11K level, these beautiful loudspeakers are also a Reviewer’s Choice winner.
Fern & Roby Raven ($12,500 pr USD)
These 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.
Nola Champ S3 ($12,500 pr USD)
The latest design from hi-fi legends Carl and Marilyn Marchisotto, the 3.5-way, five driver Champ S3 delivers a big spacious sound with plenty of power and dynamics and yet they can sound perfectly delicate and natural when needed. The open baffle design also creates an airy, expansive treble with superb balance and a fantastically big sweet spot. The roller-ball bases, now standard, provide more stable images and deeper, tighter low frequencies. A Reviewers Choice Award winner.
Atohm GT-3 ($12,995 pr USD)
These French towers, from a company that makes all of its own drivers, are unusually easy to set up and optimize thanks to adjustable settings for the bass and treble. Most of all, we felt the GT-3 was a music lover’s speaker “waves a magic fairy wand and just makes stuff sound good, so it’s not great as a reviewing tool as you find yourself wrapped up in the music.” A Reviewers Choice winner.
TotalDAC d100 (starting at 13,800 pr EU)
These large speakers from France are a 2.5-way high-efficiency (98 dB) design with two 12″ woofers (the upper driver handles the midrange as well) and a “constant directivity horn” to handle to high frequencies. With its large dimensions and horns, you might be tricked into thinking these towers need a big room with a lot of space, so we were surprised by its superb top-to-bottom balance even in fairly small listening spaces. “These dark and mysterious French strangers knew what to say and how to say it–they are superb full-range speakers that are well worth the cost.”
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, as well as the 2021 Product of the Year.
Volti Audio Rival (starting at $15,000 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.
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.
Burmester B18 ($16,000 pr USD)
While the Burmester name implies “audio jewelry” with its stunning looks and incredible build quality, these fairly compact 2.5″ floorstanding speakers added just a touch of unexpected warmth to elevate the B18’s performance to an unexpected level of musicality. “If you’re really looking for a small-ish floorstanding speaker that will fill a big space with lots of energy, the Burmester B18 loudspeakers will surprise you.” A Reviewers Choice award winner.
Qln Prestige Five ($17,500 pr USD)
Qln’s Prestige Five, along with the smaller Prestige Three, were so compelling that our reviewer wound up buying both pairs for himself. It’s no surprise that the PTA team is completely enamored with this Swedish speaker manufacturer; so much bass comes out of these still-petite enclosures that you’ll shake your head in disbelief. “Great imaging qualities and dynamic speed with an added something that gets us closer to the music,” we concluded, giving them a Reviewer’s Choice award.
Wilson Audio SabrinaX ($18,900 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 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.”
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, and one of the best floorstanding speakers we’ve heard at anywhere near this price.
Credo EV Reference ONE ($30,000 pr USD)
Sporting a utilitarian/professional look, which we still found attractive, the EV Reference One from Credo of Switzerland offered “lots of detail and texture, accompanied by a slammin’ low end and pinpoint imaging.” We found it confident and precise, and a superb transducer for string orchestras in particular. Reviewers Choice award winner.
Dynaudio Confidence 50 ($33,500 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 floorstanding 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.”
Audiovector R 6 Arrete ($37,000 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 speakers 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.
Wilson Audio Sasha DAW ($37,950 pr USD)
This floorstanding 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 the Sasha—these may be the best floorstanding speakers from Wilson ever.
TIDAL Audio Piano G3 (starting at $64,000 pr USD)
The new Piano G3 may be the smallest speaker in this German company’s main product line, but it still offers a rarified level of performance that approaches a perfect blend of strengths. Detailed without being analytical, the Piano G3 will take you anywhere you want to go–high, low, micro-detail and macro-detail, and everything else that gives you goose bumps when you listen to your favorite music.
TIDAL Audio Contriva G3 (starting at $79,000 pr USD)
The new Contriva G3s would have stolen the Best Sound at Munich 2023 if it weren’t for the $450K Tidal for Bugatti system elsewhere in the same room. You get more power and scale than the sublime Piano G3s, but the Contrivas still sound like TIDAL speakers up and down the product line. Very few loudspeakers can flirt with perfection and offer such an amazing and life-like presentation.
Von Schweikert Audio Ultra 55 (from $100,000 pr USD)
The new “entry-level” model in VSA’s extraordinary Ultra line still features Accuton ceramic drivers, a beryllium ScanSpeak tweeter, a rear-firing Raal ribbon that captures ambient detail and an optional booster amp for the dual 9″ woofers. “There are plenty of bigger, flashier, seemingly alien tech-based, flavor of the year loudspeakers out there,” we concluded. “The Ultra 55 however, is the marrying kind.” A Reviewers Choice Award winner.
DALI KORE ($110,000 pr USD)
DALI of Denmark has made a serious entry into ultra-high end audio with this massive tower flagship, which is based upon everything the company has learned from its inception in the ’80s. Powerful and commanding, the KORE is a true full-range speaker that can easily compete at its six-figure price point–although it can be fussy with less-than-stellar amplification. The KORE has also signaled a return to Danish loudspeakers that are made in Denmark instead of the Far East, which makes it an ideal bellwether for the industry.
Wilson Audio Alexx V (starting at $135,000 pr USD)
The Wilson Audio Alexx V is unveiling details deep in the wax of our favorite recordings, surfacing things we haven’t heard in the past in Senior Contributor Mohammed Samji’s reference room. The floorstanding Alexx V brings forward many of the innovations seen in the larger Chronosonic XVX to a smaller footprint and adds a few new tricks including a 3D printed carbon fiber tweeter enclosure. Dynamics, tonality, and detail are all elevated vs the prior Alexx and the smaller Alexia Series-2. These towering speakers can play loud or whisper with a noise floor not experienced previously. A Reviewer’s Choice Award winner.
NOLA Baby Grand Reference Gold 3 ($150,000 pr USD)
Carl Marchisotto’s latest entry in his Grand Reference line now features newly developed drivers, Alnico ring magnets, gold-plated phase plugs and ribbon tweeters that can reach 100kHz. This is a big, full-range speaker that reveals its impressive strengths slowly, as it excels in recreating the performances at the proper and realistic scale. What we found most intriguing about the Nola Baby Grand Reference Gold 3 “was its ability to melt into the music and not dominate the system–like most six-figure loudspeaker systems do.”
TIDAL Audio Akira ($255,000 pr USD)
“If I had the money” is a terrible way to start any review, but you get the picture. These floorstanding loudspeakers from fan-fav TIDAL of Germany are perhaps the most astonishingly transparent headphones you’ll ever get to hear. And yes, we do mean headphones: these speakers have the uncanny ability to wrap you in sound, and bring every detail, every micro-moment of musical nuance to light. The experience is, in a word, epic. These speakers are why we buy Megamillions tickets. In the meantime, just knowing these exist is like a window into possibility of futures beyond. Love them. Want them. Dream about them.
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 of the Ultra 11s, 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 floorstanding 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–and now the newest Ultra 7 (which we have reviewed). You have to hear these for yourself–words won’t do them justice.
TIDAL for Bugatti Royale ($450,000/pr USD including Royale MC-1 Controller and cabling)
Reviewers try to avoid using the word “best” while describing audio products–you’ll usually have to eat your words when something new comes down the pike. But the TIDAL Bugatti Royale system, which includes two Royale speaker, the Royale MC-1 controller and all the cabling, took us further down the road toward real, live music than anything else we’ve experienced. And yet the Royale speakers aren’t so big that they’ll dominate any room they’re placed–TIDAL’s Jörn Janczak discovered how to make a speaker that’s better without getting bigger. Listening to the TIDAL for Bugatti system at least once should be on every audiophile’s bucket list.