Harbeth Monitor 30.1
$5695-6295 (depending on finish)
The best compact 2-way speaker system PS has heard, the 30.1 boasts high neutrality, superb resolution, and a matching of drivers with respect to sonic character that is equaled by only a small handful of multiple-driver dynamic loudspeakers. Speaking with a single voice in a way reminiscent of Quad ESLs, it is also of similar vanishingly low coloration and distortion, high transparency, and sheer musical authority, with an absolutely ravishing midrange. You can listen to it without fatigue for literally hours on end.
$5800 (stands $850)
The X-1 may be the smallest loudspeaker in the Raidho line, but its sound is anything but. With the same tweeter found in Raidho’s mighty $220k D-5, the X-1 offers a stunningly beautiful midband and treble, with an ease, delicacy, and refinement rarely heard in this category. The very small (4") mid/woofer has limited excursion, bass extension, and dynamics, making the X-1 best suited to smaller rooms. A giant-killer above 100Hz.
Dali Rubicon 6
The objective of the five model Rubicon Series was to bring Epicon-like performance to a sweet-spot price. Mission accomplished. The 2.5-way R6 exemplifies a ripe, rich sound with outstanding upper-octave delicacy, thanks to the superb hybrid dome/ribbon tweeter configuration—a Dali mainstay for years. Blessed with considerable slam, it has a bold, effortless, near-full-range sound that can be a bit plummy in the midbass. All things considered the R6 makes a superb musical statement in its segment.
Emerald Physics EP2.3
The EP2.3 (formerly the CS2.3 II) offers the most precise imaging and best soundstaging PS has heard anywhere, truly holographic. Dynamic range is extremely wide, the midrange rich and open, and the bass substantial, though shy in the bottom-most half-octave. Orchestral music is notably spectacular, but all music is reproduced superbly with a tonal balance that is natural and neutral. The system requires four channels of amplification, two for the bass drivers and two for the coaxially mounted midrange/treble module. Sensitivity is high enough to eschew sheer wattage in favor of quality. While the 2.3 is very transparent, those for whom the last degree of detail is primary may wish to look elsewhere.
Maggie’s 3-way, true-ribbon/quasi-ribbon planar 3.7 successfully addresses three issues that have long plagued “true-ribbon” Maggies: the seamless integration of that ribbon; the retention of detail and dynamic range at relatively low volume levels; and the reduction of “Maggie grain.” The solution of these problems combined with the famous virtues of true-ribbon Magnepans produces what is, in JV’s opinion, a best buy. Be aware that the 3.7i’s are large, power-hungry, and limited in low bass and ultimate SPLs.
Spendor’s neo-classic 48" tower is superbly finished, and sonically offers up-front energy, near full-range frequency response, and high dynamic potency. On balance and to the D7’s credit, it sounds much closer to a true three-way than to a 2.5-way in that it maintains a near constant level of tonal stability and dynamic drive through the midband—a feat that most 2.5-ways struggle to achieve. It’s the rare loudspeaker at any price that touches all the bases for every set of ears, but the reasonably priced D7 comes very close in many areas.
Vienna Acoustics Beethoven Baby Grand SE
Refined, luxurious, and lovingly hand-built in Europe, the Austrian-designed BBG is one of the highest-value components RD has run across. Highly detailed and possessing a convincingly three-dimensional presentation, the BBG conjured images that were stable across the soundstage with more than a hint of vertical imaging information thrown in for good measure. Bass was fast, tight, tuneful, pitch-perfect, and well-integrated into the speaker’s overall frequency balance.
Audio Physic Classic 30
The Classic 30, a 3.5-way bass-reflex design, has the sheer enthusiasm of an extrovert. No need to baby this elegantly streamlined floorstander—it produces clean, dynamic, and alarmingly high output levels without losing its carefully crafted voice. It’s a loudspeaker capable of the intimacy, transparency, and coherence of a fine 2-way compact, coupled with the exuberance and power of a multiway that doesn’t shrink from the wide dynamics and deep-bass challenges of big music.
Reference 3A Taksim
Reference 3A’s latest loudspeaker model is priced at a point where you’d have to spend a lot more to improve upon its many virtues. This two-way design features the “hyperexponential”-shaped mid/bass driver introduced by the company’s founder half a century ago and continuously improved upon since. This mid/bass unit is capable of exceptional linearity and dispersion, which translate into wonderful detail and tonal realism. A beryllium tweeter is implemented virtually without the use of a crossover, protected from low frequencies and high power by a single non-inductive capacitor.
$6995 (stands, $739)
Alan Shaw’s new Harbeth SuperHL5plus is one of the most beautiful-sounding speaker systems reviewer Paul Seydor has heard since the original Quad electrostatic, with the same musicality and naturalness of the Quad, and a really extraordinary top-to-bottom coherence evinced by few dynamic speakers of any type. The principal deviation from absolute neutrality is a slightly forgiving quality throughout the presence range; yet, the speaker in no sense lacks presence or lifelike vitality. The midrange is drop-dead gorgeous, the top end sweet and detailed. In sum, a reference-caliber component that always sounds like music.
Larsen Model 8
The Larsen Model 8 speakers are unusual among floorstanders—they are designed to be placed against the wall, with the wall and floor used as part of the acoustic design, rather than as something to be avoided. This approach to producing sound in rooms grew out of work of the late Stig Carlssen (with whom designer John Larsen worked) decades ago, and the principles remain valid. The profound knowledge of how speakers and rooms interact embodied in the design leads to an unusually convincing presentation of music of all sorts, both small-scaled and large. Unusual but superb.
PSB Imagine T3
Paul S. Barton’s current flagship product is an exceptional value—a beautifully made full-range loudspeaker that, at a fraction of the cost, holds its own with the most heroically engineered transducers on the market. The five-way T3 is a highly versatile speaker, designed to perform at its best in a wide variety of rooms, thanks to the flexibility of its three woofers. Because of its voicing and power-handling capability, the Imagine T3 is a great rock ’n’ roll speaker, but it also has the tonal finesse and spatiality needed to admirably serve classical music and acoustic jazz.
Joseph Audio Pulsar
What’s special and perhaps even unique about these 2-way, bass-reflex compacts is their ability to combine all the best sonic characteristics of a superb mini-monitor with those of a larger speaker. With a midrange purity that equals ribbon and electrostatic designs, and the dynamic weight of a bigger speaker, the Pulsar is the closest thing to that impossible dream of a small speaker that can generate the SPLs of a much larger transducer without sacrifices in inner detail or harmonic purity.
Vandersteen Treo CT
A loudspeaker of uncommon musicality and precision. Building upon the R&D that went into the flagship Model Seven, the four-driver, medium-scale Treo CT conveys a single-driver-like coherence that immerses the listener in the very moment the recording was captured. It combines uncanny image specificity, color, and texture with an enveloping sense of air and immersion. At least some credit must go to the Model Seven-derived CT (carbon tweeter), which is as transparent and open as it is extended. Basically a passive version of the Quatro Wood CT, the Treo may not have quite the serious bass slam of that model, but you hardly miss it due to its excellent pitch definition.
For $8k you get a well designed and voiced speaker capable of satisfying your every musical need, be it rock, classical, jazz, blues, or Katy Perry. These speakers are versatile, dip deep into the low end, provide terrific soundstaging and imaging, and do all of this for not a lot of money. A “must-audition” for anyone shopping in the sub-$15k category.
JansZen Valentina (zA2.1)
$7995 (plus $495 side-firing tweeter option)
This unusual design—with compound electrostatic elements flanked by dynamic woofers above and below—offers an extraordinary sonic experience. A controlled horizontal pattern, a vertical pattern that essentially eliminates early floor reflection, and extraordinarily low distortion all combine to give a very pure sound. With woofers and electrostatic elements set ideally, in-room response is exceptionally flat and the sound almost perfectly neutral. Bass is surprisingly extended for a speaker of moderate size. Optional side-firing adjustable ring-radiator tweeters generate a more “spacious” sound.
The Montis is state-of-the-art in all the areas where electrostatics shine: supremely smooth and natural tonal balance (slightly forgiving in the 2k-4kHz range), with a transparency that rivals PS’ reference Quad ESLs, a dynamic range that is quite beyond the capability of any Quad, and for that matter any other ESLs of his experience, and an ability to reproduce vocalists, instrumentalists, and ensembles to life size. By any reckoning this is a truly great speaker system capable of supremely satisfying reproduction of all kinds of music.