2018 Editors' Choice Awards: Loudspeakers $100,000 and up

Equipment report
Categories:
Floorstanding
|
Products:
Gauder Akustik Berlina RC 9,
Lansche Audio No.7,
Magico Q7 Mk.II,
Magico Ultimate III,
MBL North America 101 X-Treme Omnidirectional,
Raidho D-5.1,
Rockport Technologies Lyra,
Wilson Audio Alexandria XLF,
Wilson Audio WAMM Master Chronosonic,
YG Acoustics Sonja 2.3,
Zellaton Reference MkII
2018 Editors' Choice Awards: Loudspeakers $100,000 and up

Lansche No.7
$105,000–$113,000 depending on finish
With its massless corona-plasma tweeter, the Lansche No.7 brings something different to the upper-end-loudspeaker arena. This driver works by modulating a plasma field surrounding an electrical arc, producing sound with no moving parts. Transparency, delicacy, resolution, and transient fidelity are stunning. A pair of 4" midranges and dual 8.7" woofers are optimized to blend with the massless tweeter—that is, to sound quick and clean, at the expense of conveying a sense of weight, body, and dynamic impact. It’s a good trade-off; the No.7 sounds totally coherent from top to bottom. The overall sound is breathtakingly beautiful, extremely engaging musically, and remarkably free from listening fatigue.

YG Acoustics Sonja 2.3
$112,800
This flagship from YG Acoustics sports driver diaphragms machined in-house from solid aluminum blocks coupled to new motors that reduce audible and measurable distortion. The Sonja 2.3 also comes with new crossover components. A larger version of the Sonja 2.2, the 2.3 adds a passive bass module on which the rest of the speaker is mounted. Sonically, the Sonja 2.3 delivers world-class performance, with a spectacular sense of presence, transparency to sources, and palpability. Its bass is extended, powerful, and articulate. Its overall coherence, as well as its ability to portray a wide range of image sizes, is exceptional. It is as adept at reproducing an orchestra as it is a solo acoustic guitar.


Zellaton Reference MkII
$150,000
The Reference MkII is a three-way floorstanding loudspeaker with a single 2" true cone tweeter, a single 7" mid/woofer covering the range from 200Hz to 6.5kHz, and three 9" woofers, all housed in a gorgeously finished, multi-layered, matrix-braced, open-backed enclosure. Every one of the Reference’s drivers uses Zellaton’s unique sandwich cone, rather than a mix of cones and domes made of a variety of materials—which is one reason why the speaker sounds so remarkably ’stat-like and of a piece. Of course, the main reason the Zellaton Reference MkIIs are reminiscent of electrostats is the forehead-slapping realism with which they reproduce voices and many acoustic instruments. With really great recordings of acoustic music, the result is a truly remarkable sense of being in the presence of actual vocalists and instrumentalists.

Rockport Technologies Lyra
$169,500
The Lyra is a three-and-a-half-way, five-driver design with a rear-firing port. Two 6" midrange drivers flank the 1" waveguide-loaded tweeter, with two 10" drivers on the bottom. The enclosure is made from two massive shells of cast aluminum, with the cavity between them filled with a proprietary, high-density urethane core material. Musically, the Lyra delivers a horn-like visceral immediacy with its absolutely stunning dynamic performance. Yet for all its verve and panache, this is a speaker of great delicacy, capable of conveying the subtlest nuance of texture and shading. It’s also the most beautiful in timbre that RH has heard, combining high resolution with lush textural liquidity.


Gauder Akustik Berlina RC 9
$175,000
Loudspeakers are often described as being a window on the performance. The best of them remove the window (and walls) entirely in an effort to place you within the performance, capture you, and let you explore—holistically or analytically—the essence of the composition as well as the individual musical lines. The Berlina RC 9 fits the description of the best of them. This is not because of its price (which is in part the result of using incredibly expensive pure-diamond midrange and tweeter drivers); it is because of the consistently stable pianissimo-to-fortississimo resolution, clarity, and dynamic capabilities methodically crafted into its DNA. This loudspeaker plays like a chameleon to music reproduction, says AJ, as well as to the source and amplification components in front of it.


Wilson Audio XLF
$210,000
Wilson loudspeakers have long been famed for their astounding dynamic capabilities. The introduction of a new silk dome tweeter, however, has permitted Wilson to create a substantially more musical loudspeaker, one that achieves a degree of relaxation and flow, of transparency and timbral richness, that is profoundly enticing. It almost goes without saying that the XLF is also prodigiously powerful, capable of recreating a realistic simulacrum of a symphony orchestra without ever creating a sense of strain or urgency. The speed of the loudspeaker approaches that of a horn loudspeaker. Colorations are almost nonexistent. The size, power, and refinement of the XLF suggest that it is best suited for large rooms, where its virtues can be fully appreciated.


Raidho D 5.1
$225,000
Raidho’s wonderfully updated version of its flagship, seven-driver, three-way ribbon/cone floorstander, the D 5.1, uses brand-new versions of its very-costly-to-make diamond/carbonite midrange drivers. The theoretical advantages of these diamond membranes (which are also used in the woofers) are greater stiffness, higher linearity, and lower distortion. The audible differences are denser tone color, higher resolution of low-level detail, and better blending of the cones with Raidho’s superb single-ended ribbon tweeter. The D 5.1’s new midranges, which are said to have twice the rise time of the originals, improve on all of these things, making for an even more seamless blend with the ribbon tweet and filling in the original D 5’s suckout in the presence and brilliance range to wonderfully lifelike effect. Like the D 5, the twin-ported D 5.1 suffers inherently from too much mid-to-upper bass. Care will be needed in setup, placement, and room treatment. However, when the stars align, this svelte Danish loudspeaker is capable of simply gorgeous timbre, unexcelled resolution, lightning-fast transients, and enormously powerful tuttis, making for an astonishingly lifelike and addictively enjoyable presentation on every kind of music.

Magico Q7 Mk II
$229,000
Magico has taken the Q7, a speaker RH has long considered to be the state of the art and, surprisingly, made it significantly better. The Q7 Mk II benefits from an entirely new tweeter designed from the ground up, a midrange diaphragm made from graphene (a new carbon-based material), and a redesigned crossover with exotic capacitors. The Mk II obviates the classic dilemma of resolution vs. ease by combining extraordinary midrange and treble resolution with tremendous delicacy and complete lack of hardness and glare. The reduction in distortion is so profound that the Mk II sounds as though it has a different tonal balance, but the two speakers have identical responses. Although the woofer section remains unchanged, the Mk II’s bass is considerably improved, perhaps by virtue of the greater midrange resolution reproducing bass instruments’ overtones. The overall result is a much deeper connection with music. If there’s a better loudspeaker than the Q7 Mk II, RH hasn’t heard it. RH’s ultimate reference.


MBL 101 X-treme
$263,000
These “mirror-image array” Radialstrahler towers (like two 101e’s, one facing up and the other downward directly above it), with separate powered bass columns, simply don’t sound like other speakers (even MBL’s 101e’s). The X’s are tonally neutral and sonically nearly invisible; voices and instruments don’t seem to be coming from drivers in frames or boxes. Instead they hang in space—free-standing objects that are so three-dimensionally “there” that listening to the 101 Xes is like going to a play, where listening to other speakers is like going to the movies.


Magico Ultimate III
$600,000
This massive all-aluminum horn loudspeaker—Magico’s “ultimate” effort in high fidelity—is digitally optimized to produce flat frequency and phase response, and perfect impulse response, at the listening position. Though the speaker necessitates digitizing incoming signals, it pays back for the slight losses of analog warmth and dimensionality in simply incredible transparency, resolution, transient response, image focus, and realism. Though it is not the last word in bottom-octave (or top-octave) extension, if you can afford the U3 you can also afford one of Magico’s subwoofers to fill out the bass. Even without a sub, this may be the most lifelike loudspeaker for digital sources (particularly high-res digital files) that JV has heard.


Wilson Audio WAMM Master Chronosonic
$685,000 (Master Subsonic Subwoofers are an additional $45,000 each)
With the new WAMM Master Chronosonic, an entirely re-conceived version of the legendary original, David Wilson has broken new sonic ground. A vanishingly low noise floor supplies the foundation for the WAMM’s sonic prowess. Its scale and dynamic power have to be heard to be believed, and even then it requires something of a mental adjustment to comprehend just how expansive a soundstage it reproduces. Despite its large size, however, the most beguiling aspect of the WAMM may not be its capacious soundstage, deep bass, or seemingly limitless dynamics. Rather, it is the ability the loudspeaker has to draw you into the music, banishing any sense of electronic haze or glaze. It is literally and figuratively a towering achievement.