2017 Editors' Choice: Loudspeakers $10,000-$20,000

Equipment report
2017 Editors' Choice: Loudspeakers $10,000-$20,000

Inspired by the flagship Sony SS-AR1 and SS-AR2, but brought to a lower price, the NA2ES shares many virtues with its bigger brothers, and only limited losses from having to meet the lower price point, mostly in less emphasis on handcraftsmanship and some slight driver compromises. The high point is the new tweeter assembly, which offers exceptional high-frequency detail and clarity. Moderate in size, the NA2ES still has adequate dynamic power and bass extension for large-scale music in rooms of domestic size.

Von Schweikert Audio UniField 2 MkII
The UniField Two is a 2.5-way design in which a 7" coaxial driver is augmented below 80Hz by an aluminum-cone woofer. Internal chambers define a mini-labyrinth, which significantly dampens the vent output. The coaxial technology together with a non-resonant enclosure yields exceptional soundstaging and image focus. Expect impressive bass-range performance when the UniField is matched with a high-damping-factor solid-state amplifier, though the bass balance will be shifted toward the midbass. The UniField competes effectively with British stand-mounts from Spendor and Harbeth, offering greater rhythmic precision and bass heft.

Legacy Focus SE
The massive, six-driver, four-way Focus SE is capable of creating a big sound in every sense of the word, while delivering the kind of speed and resolution from the midrange onwards that is customary in better ribbon and electrostatic speakers, as well as a seamless blend between drivers. The upper mids and treble have life and air, along with a slightly forward midrange perspective. A sensitivity of 94.5dB makes the Focus SE easy to drive. A lot of loudspeaker for the money.

Quad 2812
The Quad ESL63 and its variants, such as Quad’s new 2812 electrostatic floorstander, have been from the start a speaker family that has gone its own way. They have low distortion, among the lowest; they have almost unparalleled coherence and unity of voice; they have an exceptionally uniform radiation pattern and a very low level of resonant coloration. They are also phase-linear, which is known to have subtle but definitely audible positive effects, on transients in particular. In these categories they have always been in the very top echelon and they still are. “Alone at the top” is a phrase that one is tempted to use, though it would be a slight exaggeration since others are in the same realm, though not many. No amount of money will buy a speaker that does definitively better the things that the Quads do well.

GamuT M’inenT M5
These elegant, narrow-front floorstanders of moderate size are optimized for presentation of soundstage, and they do the job with a convincing vanishing act and a large and deep stereo presentation. Though not quite neutrally balanced due to some midrange forwardness, they are clean and pure sounding, have excellent resolution of fine detail, and offer impressive dynamics for speakers of moderate size.

Crystal Cable Arabesque Minissimo
$12,995 (includes stands)
Replace whatever loudspeakers you’ve been using with a pair of two-way Crystal Cable Arabesque Minissimos and people will notice—before they’ve heard a note of music. The whimsical apostrophe shape, the vibrant color, the assured smallness of the things stop folks in their tracks and make them smile. Sonically, the Minissimos are superb everywhere but the low bass (which is to be expected in a two-way). When it comes to imaging and soundstaging, they disappear, creating a broad, deep, and continuous soundstage. A superior and stylish little transducer.

Dynaudio Focus 600 XD
Dynaudio’s Focus 600 XD, the top model in a new line of wireless active digital loudspeakers, is an entirely self-contained audio system, with no need for amplifiers and garden-hose-thick speaker cables. Just connect a source and AC power, and you’re in business. The 600 XD is a slim, tallish floorstander with dual 7" woofers, a 5.5" midrange, and a soft-dome tweeter. Bass performance is outstanding, aided by user-adjustable smart digital signal processing. Dynamics are also exceptional for a speaker of this size and price. If the idea of a wireless, self-contained audio system built into a pair of speakers is appealing, the Dynaudio Focus 600 XD is an excellent choice.

German Physiks Unlimited II
Packaged as an entry-level loudspeaker, the Unlimited combines a single carbon fiber Dicks Dipole Driver (DDD), the ultimate Walsh-type bending-wave transducer, with an 8-inch woofer that is floor-loaded in a sealed, compact tower enclosure. The DDD yields a superbly coherent wave launch that puts most multi-way speakers to shame. An omnidirectional radiation pattern results in an exceptionally wide sweet spot and spectacularly solid imaging. The extreme treble is slightly deficient in detail and air, but as ample compensation expect a presentation capable of unveiling the music’s dynamic nuances with a level of conviction that is unmatched at this price point.

Magnepan MG20.7
These Maggies’ magical ability to transport listeners to a different space and time and to there realistically recreate (with lifelike scope and size) the sound of acoustic instruments and the venue they were recorded in is extraordinary. It almost goes without saying (since these are Magnepans), but the 20.7s are also incredibly good values, although you’re going to have to bring a lot of high-quality power to this party, and you’re going to need a good deal of room to house two speakers the size and width of a couple of NFL linebackers.

Dali Epicon 6
This second from the largest of Dali’s new Epicon Series is a modern-looking speaker, which features Dali’s latest developments in driver technology, including mid/bass drivers that are said to offer lower distortion via special magnet structures. The speaker sounds extraordinarily even, unprecedentedly pure, and grain-free. With full bass (though not the whole bottom octave) to cover both orchestral and rock music convincingly, its balance is somewhat on the warm side, with response contoured to recess the upper mids.

EnigmAcoustics Mythology M1
$14,690 (monitor/super-tweeter/jumper/stand; $13,690, without stand)
The M1 is specifically designed to partner the Sopranino self-biased electret super-tweeter (Issue 235). A critical design factor is the 34mm silk-dome tweeter, which is crossed over at 1.1kHz. The payoff is a midrange that is exceedingly pure, detailed, and transparent. The treble range sings sweetly and without a trace of harshness. Imaging can only be described as spectacular, the soundstage being totally untethered from the speakers. Expect exceptional tonal color fidelity, and against all odds, a believable orchestral power range with in-room bass extension to about 40Hz.

Harbeth M40.2
$14,699–$15,699 (depending on finish)
A large three-way that requires stand mounting, this is one of those rare speaker systems for which the term “monitor” is not in the least pretentious because it is literally accurate as a description of the speaker’s function and as a statement about its own intrinsic accuracy. The 40.2 is the virtual embodiment of tonal neutrality, and with a frequency response from 38Hz–20kHz (+/-3dB, but near ruler-flat across most of that range) it possesses an authority almost nonexistent in PS’ experience. By this he means there is an ease, effortlessness, and lack of strain in the reproduction that translates into a listening experience that draws all the attention to the music. This is now PS’ new reference when it comes to reproducing music in all its natural power and glory.

Carver Amazing Line Source
The Carver Amazing Line Source speaker system is one of the most remarkable speaker systems ever. It offers a dynamic capacity that allows realistic SPLs for even big bands and huge orchestras, with room to spare (120dB+ if you dare!), amazingly low levels of distortion, full frequency extension at both extremes, and an almost uncanny ability to reveal recorded space. Indeed, the ALS has few peers in reproducing the sense of hearing a live performance of large-scale music. If your goal is the reproduction of the live auditorium experience, then these speakers will be a revelation and an ongoing pleasure.

Marten Django XL
$15,000 in piano black ($16,500 in silver grey)
The Django wowed TAS editors at last year’s CES, and the review sample lives up to the promise. While the Django breaks no design ground, the canny choice of materials results in a speaker that, on many tracks, proved virtually indistinguishable from AT’s reference. Warm in character (lower piano notes are ravishing), the Django offers needle-sharp transients; details emerge distinctly and naturally. Most importantly, this is an unfailingly engaging speaker.

Wilson Audio Sabrina
The Sabrina is the smallest and least expensive floorstander in the Wilson line. Entry-level, maybe, but with no observable shortcuts. Its sonic character is marked by a commanding and linear top-to-bottom energy. It’s a ripe sound, a relaxed sound, with a slightly warmer signature that may surprise the brand’s followers. It’s a Wilson, of course, so it’s animated by remarkable dynamic energy, extreme low-level resolution, and a sense that it willfully wants to drive music forward rather than let it passively lay back. The Sabrina artfully combines low-level resolution with the most delicate bass dynamics. Unsurpassed in a smaller listening room, this sweetheart is pound for pound the best Wilson Audio loudspeaker available today.

Ryan Tempus III
Sometimes, an audio product can add up to more than the apparent sum of its parts. And the four-way Ryan Tempus III floorstander surely does. If you’re in the market for a speaker at around $20k, Todd Ryan’s best effort is priced about the same as “entry-level” models from a number of better-known and higher cachet brands—and is more than fully competitive. You may conclude, as AQ did, that it represents one of the more exceptional values in a full-range audiophile loudspeaker available today.

Magico S1 Mk II
There was a time when Magico’s enclosures were made primarily of wood; now they’re all-aluminum, every model. For both the S Series and Q Series, Alon Wolf has his “platform” established and continues to advance the performance of the drivers and other components he puts into these optimized enclosures. The two-way, sealed-box Magico S1 Mk II floorstander is indeed as much a Magico as the S7 or the Q7, and must be a top consideration for anyone in the market for a loudspeaker up to $20k. As the saying goes, it “comes from good stock.”

Gamut RS3i
From the moment reviewer Kirk Mitskog first connected the RS3i two-way mini-monitor without much regard to optimizing its placement, and just let music play, he heard a sound that was compelling, and it only got better with time and fine-tuning. The RS3i’s liveliness never proved anything less than entertaining and engaging. It offers all the advantages of a small stand-mounted speaker—those of illuminating imaging and wide-open soundstaging—combined with stunning dynamic presence. Capable of sounding much bigger than it looks, it is a honey that should be on anyone’s short list for a small-to-medium-sized room application.