2017 Buyer's Guide: Floorstanding Loudspeakers $5,000-$10,000

Equipment report
Audio Physic Classic 30,
DALI Rubicon 6,
Emerald Physics EP2.3 Mk II,
Larsen Model 8,
Magnepan 3.7i,
Monitor Audio Gold 300,
PSB Imagine T3,
Reference 3A Taksim,
Vandersteen Audio Treo CT,
Vienna Acoustics Beethoven Baby Grand Symphony Edition,
Von Schweikert Audio Endeavor E-3
2017 Buyer's Guide: Floorstanding Loudspeakers $5,000-$10,000

Monitor Audio Gold 300
Monitor Audio, a forty-plus-year-old UK-based manufacturer, is one of the pioneers of metal-driver technology. Melding impressive sound with cool-looking functional design, the surfaces of its proprietary C-CAM (Ceramic-Coated Aluminum/Magnesium) alloy metal-dome bass and midrange drivers are dimpled with small, round indentations in a graduated pattern that makes them resemble a kind of space-age honeycomb. Sonically, the Gold 300 tends towards a relatively “bottom-up” sound that is consistently balanced, rich, and full—and always musical. And its C-CAM ribbon tweeter boasts remarkable range. In addition to its stellar sonic capabilities, particularly throughout the midrange where its realism proved most striking, the Gold 300 is also quite a sexy-looking beast—even one that might meet with spousal/partner approval. Its smooth, curved enclosure not only looks attractive, but is also said to reduce standing waves, and its MDF cabinet features radial- and cross-bracing for greater rigidity. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but the Monitor Audio Gold 300 represents a special breed of loudspeakers that successfully combines style with substance. monitoraudiousa.com

Dali Rubicon 6
The objective of the five-model Rubicon Series was to bring Epicon-like performance into the lineup at a sweet-spot price. Using the same drivers throughout the entire range not only makes manufacturing sense but also guarantees consistent sonic voicing among the Rubicons for easier mixing and matching—a boon if you’re considering an upgrade to a multichannel setup. The two-and-a-half-way R6 has a ripe rich sound with superior upper-octave delicacy thanks to its superb hybrid dome/ribbon tweeter—a Dali mainstay for years. A speaker with plenty of slam, it has a bold, effortless, near-full-range sound that can veer a bit toward the plummy in the midbass. This bass-reflex design is capable of overwhelming smaller rooms, but will ultimately settle in nicely in a careful setup. NG concluded that, while imaging could be somewhat improved (as could its slightly laid-back upper midrange), the R6 made a superb musical statement in its segment. soundorg.com

Emerald Physics EP2.3 MK2
This highly unusual open-baffle speaker is built around a pair of 15" woofers that operate below 100Hz, along with a 12" upper-bass/midrange driver with a coaxially mounted lens-loaded 1" tweeter, all under DSP control. Bi-amping is required and necessitates either four mono amps, two stereo amps, or one four-channel amp (for stereo). An outboard crossover is supplied. This speaker excels in so many areas, including those that are central to the truthful reproduction of music in the home, that they warrant the highest recommendation. When you factor in their price, their value is off the charts. The top end is smooth, sweet, and very natural. All kinds of orchestral, choral, opera, and other large-scale music are reproduced with a thrilling sense of ease, authority, and truthfulness. The lens-loaded tweeter requires that you sit on-axis to realize a natural tonal balance. The bass is impressive down into the thirties, and it can be very powerful. But below that, all you get is a sense of foundation and little in the way of definition and clarity. emeraldphysics.com

Magnepan MG 3.7i
Maggie’s new, three-way, true-ribbon/quasi-ribbon planar 3.7i successfully addresses three issues that have long vexed “true-ribbon” Maggies: the seamless integration of that ribbon with the other planar-magnetic drivers; the retention of detail and dynamic range at relatively low volume levels; and the reduction of “Maggie graininess.” The solution of these problems combined with the famous virtues of true-ribbon Magnepans (neutrality, low distortion, high resolution, superb transient response, lifelike timbres, and natural imaging and soundstaging) produce what is, in JV’s opinion, the best buy in a high-fidelity transducer regardless of price, provided you have enough amp to drive the 3.7i, and the space to house it. Note that the 3.7i does not produce deep bass below about 45Hz and, like all planars, runs into membrane-excursion limits, slightly limiting dynamic range (particularly in the bass) at extremely high SPLs. magnepan.com

Audio Physic Classic 30
$5995–$6995 (depending on finish)
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. Timbre is colorfully rendered, while imaging, a traditional Audio Physic strength, is precisely targeted. On top, there is a coolish lift in the treble and a fractional dip in the presence range, which, though not strictly neutral, nonetheless enhances the air and articulation of a vocalist’s delivery. The Classic 30 descends convincingly, at times thrillingly, into the low thirty-cycle range with a near-equal measure of pitch definition and expressiveness. It’s a loudspeaker capable of the intimacy, transparency, and coherence of a fine two-way compact, coupled with the exuberance and range of a multiway that doesn’t shrink from the wide dynamics and deep-bass challenges of big music. vanaltd.com

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 ever run across. Highly detailed with 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 not as powerful as that from RD’s resident Snell E/IIs, although it was “smart bass”—fast, tight, tuneful, and well integrated into the speaker’s overall frequency balance. A brief sojourn with another Austrian in residence, the all-tube Ayon Orion II, resulted in a slight thinning of timbre and loss of bass control when compared with RD’s similarly rated but more powerful NAD integrated; the 250 watts suggested by Vienna Acoustics as an outer limit is not an unreasonable target. vienna-acoustics.com

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. The Taksims acquit themselves honorably in bass-heavy music without the use of a subwoofer, though using one is certainly an option. The grey Nextel finish has sonic benefits, but the largely non-reflective surface mostly serves to ensure that these biggish speakers won’t visually overpower a room. reference3a.com

Larsen Model 8
The Larson Model 8 represents a systematic rethinking of how speakers interact with rooms. It is designed to be placed against the rear wall, thus eliminating the rear-wall reflection. This approach is entirely different from that of near-field directional speakers, and it has some merit. Orchestras sound surprisingly like orchestras, with a transparency that doesn’t just go down into the midrange but all the way to the bass. The stereo imaging of the Model 8s is different from an ordinary speaker. Images are very solid, but the focus is of a different character from free-space speakers, being either more “dimensional” or less precise, depending on one’s viewpoint. audioskies.com

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, each isolated in its own sub-enclosure. One, two, or all three 7" woofers can be activated, with the option, as well, of inserting (provided) plugs into their rear-facing ports. 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. An easy amplifier load—60 (quality) watts per channel should be plenty. psbspeakers.com

Vandersteen Treo CT
A loudspeaker of uncommon musicality and precision. Built upon the R&D that gave birth to 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 immersiveness. 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 bass slam of that model, but you’d hardly miss it due to its unflappable resolution of pitch. A true classic. vandersteen.com

Von Schweikert Audio Endeavor E-3
Upon first receiving the Endeavor E-3 floorstanding speakers, SH couldn’t believe his ears. This can’t be a $8000 speaker, he thought. But it is. For $8k you get a well designed and voiced transducer 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. If you hear the E-3s, you will think that they must be $15k or more. Von Schweikert has built a first-class loudspeaker, and made it in California. A “must-audition” for anyone looking in the sub-$15k category. endeavoraudio.com