2015 Buyer's Guide: Floorstanding Loudspeakers $15,000 - $20,000

Equipment report
Avantgarde Zero 1 Pro,
B&W Group 802 Diamond,
Legacy Audio Aeris,
Marten Django XL,
Sony SS-AR2,
Vienna Acoustics Liszt
2015 Buyer's Guide: Floorstanding Loudspeakers $15,000 - $20,000

B&W 802 Diamond
The 802 Diamond from Bowers & Wilkins redefines the performance you can expect from a $15,000 loudspeaker. In fact, the 802D’s refinement, transparency, low coloration, and soundstaging are nothing short of amazing at this price. It delivers many of the qualities we associate with esoteric designs from small tweaky manufacturers, but in a relatively mainstream product. In addition, its build- and finish-quality are exemplary—far nicer than you find in similarly priced products from companies who lack the economy-of-scale manufacturing enjoyed by B&W. This significant redesign of its predecessor features new drivers, including an outstanding diamond tweeter capable of reproducing the nuances of brushes on snare drum and the upper registers of brass, wind, and string instruments at full tilt. Couple that to a warm, rich, full bass, along with a nicely resolved midrange, and you have one of the outstanding values in loudspeakers today. bwspeakers.com

Vienna Acoustics Liszt
The Vienna Acoustics Liszt is an exceedingly clever design that manages to cover the sonic spectrum from bass to treble without sacrificing any speed or agility. On the contrary, the hallmark of this loudspeaker is its transient speed and coherence. It has many of the characteristics of a planar transducer with the added bonus of tremendous dynamic punch. While its soundstage is not as large as that delivered by much larger loudspeakers, the Liszt is perfectly capable of conveying a large orchestra with realistic fortissimos and amazing precision. Its high-tech drivers consist of three custom-spider cones in a separate bass cabinet and a separate midrange/tweeter module that can be angled to tune it perfectly to almost any room. As with all Vienna Acoustics products, the loudspeaker is made in-house to ensure top quality construction, and this shows in both its performance and its looks. vanaltd.com

Marten Django XL
The Django XL boasts ceramic tweeter and midrange units plus three aluminum-domed woofers. Tonally, the XL is warm as a mild bath, making for a very appealing overall character. Further, the speaker is unfailingly engaging rhythmically, and its precise transients and clear musical lines make it even more so. Soundstaging is not quite on par with more expensive models, nor are highs quite as resolved—but in each case they are close. Indeed, on much material AT found the Martens indistinguishable from his references. The Django XL is not for everyone; it needs plenty of space around it to reach its full potential. Within those constraints, the XL constitutes a speaker about which there is precious little to criticize. marten.se

Avantgarde Acoustic Zero 1 Pro
Avantgarde Acoustic’s DSP’d, active Zero 1 compact horn loudspeaker does the seemingly impossible: preserves almost all of the virtues of a horn-loaded loudspeaker while eliminating almost all of its vices. Digitally corrected for accurate phase, amplitude, and impulse response (via FPGAs designed by Denmark’s Thomas Holm) within a “listening bubble” of 2m to 4m, the Zero 1 is quite simply the least horn-colored horn loudspeaker JV has ever heard— the first horn loudspeaker that can actually “disappear” as a sound source. Exceptionally neutral, coherent (even in the bass), detailed, and fast, with surprisingly lifelike imaging and good soundstaging and that three-dimensional midband presence that only horns give you, the Zero 1s can make certain instruments and voices sound as “there” as any other speaker on the market. Perfect for a small-to-moderately-sized room or for combo use in a home-theater system, all you have to add to these powered, digitally optimized, horn-loaded loudspeakers is an AES/EBU or SPDIF cable and a digital source (such as a computer). avantgarde-acoustic.de

Legacy Aeris
The Legacy Aeris sports an extraordinary blend of drivers and cabinet design matched to advanced electronics that provide room compensation and the ability to add a wide range of equalization settings for given types of recordings. It has outstanding performance at every frequency to the limits of hearing and beyond. Add in excellent definition, dynamics, and a visual image that might win it an entry in New York’s Museum of Modern Art. It has built-in 500W subwoofer amplifiers that provide powerful, room-filling bass deep with a crossover low enough so that you can still get the best sound out of your regular power amplifier. The mix of other drivers provides a coherent and naturally detailed soundstage, as well as enough dipole radiation to widen the stage and give more natural ambience. The electronics and software allow its response to be adjusted to be as musically realistic as possible in any real-world listening room. There are up to 30 settings to adjust its response to given types of recordings and partly correct for the response problems in older recordings, over-bright close-miked recordings, and even—if you are fanatic enough—the different equalization curves in LPs. legacyaudio.com

Sony SS-AR2
This slightly smaller brother of the AR1 shares the same extraordinary craftsmanship and attention to details of the AR1, in materials, with different woods used for the front (exceptionally hard Hokkaido maple) and sides (more flexible birch to give life to the sound)—a cabinet more reminiscent of a musical instrument than an industrial product. This is combined with drivers of the highest quality—and high technology, the whole being a blend of artistic creativity and technological sophistication. The speaker has a slightly midrange-oriented, presence-range-recessed balance apparently intended by designer Yoshiyuki Kaku to sound as natural as possible on the human voice, rather than pursuing resolutely any kind of numerically perfect flatness. The SS-AR2, while smaller and less extended in the bass than the AR1, even so remains satisfying on large-scaled music. And it has surprising dynamic capability for a speaker of moderate size. It’s a work of art in speaker design, if not quite the equal of the highly remarkable AR1. sony.com

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