The Absolute Sound Insider with Robert Harley

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The Absolute Sound Insider with Robert Harley

<font face="Times New Roman">May 8 - Reviewing two affordable loudspeakers for the next issue of The Absolute Sound (August) drove home a fundamental truth about high-end audio: The smaller your audio-system budget the more important component selection becomes.</font>

<font face="Times New Roman">This isn't to say that those with a big budget can indiscriminately assemble products and expect to achieve a satisfying whole. Rather, budget products have more tradeoffs than expensive products, and choosing products that have the tradeoffs most acceptable to your tastes and listening preferences results in the best sound for the money and the greatest long-term satisfaction.</font>

<font face="Times New Roman">For example, in the two speaker reviews, one model (the $900/pr. B&W CM1) had limited bass extension, didn't play very loudly, and had rather polite dynamics. But through the midrange the CM1 was stunningly great; it had a transparency and resolution that reminded me of expensive ribbon-based loudspeakers. The CM1 had delicacy, purity, and openness that were superb by any measure, but jaw-dropping in a $900 loudspeaker.</font>

<font face="Times New Roman">The second speaker reviewed that issue is the $595/pr. Focal 706V. It is also amazingly great, but in very different performance areas. The 706V goes low, plays loudly, and does both at the same time.</font>

<font face="Times New Roman">It is extremely dynamic, lively, upbeat, and conveys a visceral excitement and physical involvement with the music.</font><font face="Times New Roman">Although a small-sized monitor speaker, the 706V sounded like a mid-sized floorstanding model in bass extension and dynamics.</font>

<font face="Times New Roman">It is also 6dB more sensitive than the B&W, meaning it requires just one-quarter of the amplifier power to achieve the same playback volume. The 706V does not, however, have the midrange magic of the B&W CM1. Although the 706V has an open and uncolored midrange, it lacks the B&W's seductive powers.</font>

<font face="Times New Roman">So which is the "better" speaker? Put on Buddy Guy's killer electric blues CD Sweet Tea at a healthy playback level with the speakers in a large room and you'll get one answer. Play Joni Mitchell or Ella Fitzgerald in a smaller room and you'll get quite a different one.</font>

<font face="Times New Roman">At the entry level of true high-end quality, designers must make more tradeoffs that at higher price levels. That's why it is even more important when on a limited budget to select products that match your listening habits, room, associated components, and favorite music. The sonic differences are much more pronounced at the entry level.</font>

<font face="Times New Roman">Another lesson I learned from these two products is that today's loudspeakers offer unparalleled performance and value. Speakers keep getting better, particularly those costing under $1000 per pair. Just be sure that your priorities match the speaker's particular strengths.</font>