High-End Audio Buyer's Guide: Floorstanding Loudspeakers $2000-$5000

Equipment report
High-End Audio Buyer's Guide: Floorstanding Loudspeakers $2000-$5000

Vandersteen 2Ce Signature II
The Vandersteen 2 is the classic three-way floorstander, delivering excellent top-to-bottom balance and an engaging musicality. Moreover, Vandersteen’s baffle-less, time-and-phasecoherent design can suggest the spatial focus usually heard with planars. It benefits from bi-wiring and should be placed away from walls. The first-order crossovers essential to the time-coherent performance somewhat limit maximum sound-pressure levels.

Dynaudio Excite X32
Sounding surprisingly large for its relatively small dimensions and driver complement, the Excite X32 also delivers a fair amount of detail and dynamic impact at its price. The details come across as well integrated into a musical whole that also blends in tonal colors and a sense of weight quite well. While it can’t keep up with more expensive Dynaudio speakers like the Confidence C1 in soundstage size or that sense of a continuously layered musical event, the X32’s main attraction is its engaging, compelling musical verve.

Thiel SCS4T/USS SmartSub
The SCS4T is an excellent, smaller-room floorstander. Equipped with Jim Thiel’s coincident driver it is a beautifully executed product with class-leading imaging and spatial precision. On its own it has a fast, tightly controlled presentation, leaning a bit to the drier side in the treble. Partnered with Thiel’s powered USS SmartSub it takes on an entirely new character. With Thiel’s patented room-boundary correction circuitry and outboard passive crossovers, the SmartSub becomes one with the SCS4T. Bass frequencies are delicately feathered in precisely where the towers roll off, adding greater ambience, dimensionality, and acoustic warmth. Integration is both natural and seamless.

PSB Imagine T2
These elegant floorstanding speakers of moderate size offer a surprisingly “big” sound, with dynamics sufficient to present largescaled music convincingly and enough bass to cover orchestral and rock music, though pipe organ enthusiasts will want to add a subwoofer or two. The T2s vanish into the soundfield and present a suitably expansive sonic picture when the recording justifies it. They sound very low in distortion with a pure midrange and a very clean treble. And they have a truth to timbre, a tonal neutrality, that is top level, showing a clean pair of heels in this regard in particular to many high-end speakers of far higher price. Orchestras have a life-like tonal realism that is startling, pianos sound like pianos, vocals like people singing. Paul Barton has produced a masterpiece here, and at a most reasonable price.

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