Alta Audio Alyssa
$5000–$6000, depending on finish
Audiophiles have many choices when they look for a high-resolution loudspeaker that delivers a lot of detail. They can also find many loudspeakers with sunny musical dispositions. But in Steven Stone’s experience, a loudspeaker that can deliver high resolution and inner detail yet remain musical in the process is as common as a unicorn. In SS’s systems the Alta Alyssa did exactly that. He could listen all day at reference levels without fatigue, and yet never feel as if he were being spared any of the micro-details.
Rosso Fiorentino Elba 2
This gorgeous Italian-made floorstander sounds as good as it looks. With walnut side panels and a baffle covered in textured leather, the Elba 2 exudes Italian elegance. The two-and-a-half-way Elba 2 features dual 6.5″ coated-fiberglass midrange/woofers mated to a silk-dome tweeter. The Elba has a remarkable refinement, coherence, resolution, and a flat tonal balance. The tweeter is exceptionally smooth, revealing fine detail without etch. The bottom end has real extension, giving the Elba 2 a sense of weight without bloat. When properly positioned, the Elba 2 is capable of outstanding soundstaging.
Vandersteen Audio 3A Signature
$5774 (stands included)
Like all Vandersteens, the 3A Signature is time-and-phase accurate. Its driver complement features the patented midrange and tweeter used in the vaunted Vandersteen 5. The 3A Signature has a relaxed presentation, is musically seductive, and will appeal to those who want to forget about the sound and enjoy the music, though it does trade-off some dynamic contrast and midrange resolution for its overall ability to involve the listener.
Stirling Broadcast LS3/6
This modernized version of the BBC-licensed LS3/6 (the BBC version of the legendary Spendor BC1) maintains the nearly perfect midrange neutrality and startling stereo imaging of its ancestor but adds much greater dynamic capacity and more extension at the frequency extremes.
This small speaker, designed by Yoshiyuki Kaku, who also designed Sony’s larger AR1 and AR2 speakers, offers a superbly clean and neutral midrange, considerable bass power for its size, a pure-sounding treble, and startling dynamic capacity for a small speaker. The NA5ES speakers are very satisfying listening on their own, and with the matching super-woofer added, they achieve a position of one of the finest small systems available, one almost ideal for rooms of moderate (or small) size.
Audiovector R1 Arreté
$6250 (gloss finish, $600; Freedom Grounding Concept, $850; stands, $975)
Audiovector builds all its own drivers in Denmark including the Heil Air-Motion Transformer tweeter of the R1, a design that permits very extended high-frequency reproduction with the acoustic output of a much larger dome. A portion of Audiovector’s AMT output is sent backwards, enhancing the R1’s spatiality. The R1 mates exceptionally well with a good subwoofer, and although it’s among the finest stand-mounts to be heard at its price point all by itself, with the addition of a sub you have a three-way, full-range loudspeaker system that, deployed in anything other than a very large room, will beat the pants off any $10k floorstander you’d care to put it up against.
Focal Aria 948
A three-way, bass-reflex floorstander, the 948 is the top model in Focal’s Aria 900 line. The 948 uses Focal’s unique flax-sandwich drivers—two 8″ woofers and one 6½” mid/bass in a vented enclosure—along with an aluminum/magnesium alloy, TNF, inverted-dome tweeter. These painstakingly engineered drivers enable the 948s to really strut their stuff when it comes to detail, transparency, and resolution—particularly on vocals, percussion, and strings. JM found the sense of realism they delivered downright spooky at times. Although the 948s required some set-up tweaks to avoid excess brightness, they were excellent after break-in, bringing so many musical layers to life they created a truly immersive soundscape.
Harbeth M30.2 XD
The best compact two-way speaker system PS has heard outside of Harbeth’s 40.1, the M30.2 boasts high neutrality, superb resolution, and a matching of drivers with respect to sonic character that is equaled by only a small handful of multiple-driver dynamic loudspeakers. Speaking with a single voice in a way reminiscent of Quad ESLs, it is also of similar vanishingly low coloration and distortion, high transparency, and sheer musical authority, with a ravishing midrange. You can listen to it without fatigue for literally hours on end.
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, which translates 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.
Graham Audio LS5/9
The BBC-designed Graham Audio LS5/9 two-way monitor is an unusual and impressive speaker. It does a startlingly good job of transcending its small size to present large-scale music convincingly. It has a balance very close to neutral and surprising dynamic capacity. And its emphasis on the 50 to 100Hz region (just before its final roll-off) does a good job of providing a full sound, despite the near absence of the bottom octaves. Its imaging is simply correct, and its basic sound very much like actual music, with suitable sources. If you have a need for a small speaker, the Graham Audio LS5/9 is surely an item of extraordinary interest.
Larsen Model 8
The Larsen Model 8 speakers are unusual among floorstanders—they are designed to be placed against the wall, with the wall and floor used as part of the acoustic design, rather than as something to be avoided. This approach to producing sound in rooms grew out of work of the late Stig Carlssen (with whom designer John Larsen worked) decades ago, and the principles remain valid. The profound knowledge of how speakers and rooms interact embodied in the design leads to an unusually convincing presentation of music of all sorts, both small-scaled and large. The concept works; the Larsen Model 8 will deliver exceptional sound in even the most problematic rooms and against-the-wall placements.
GoldenEar Triton One.R
It doesn’t require a golden ear to recognize that the GoldenEar Triton One.R isn’t merely a good loudspeaker. It’s a fabulous one. The Triton One.R offers a lusciously large soundstage, one that will seduce all but the most skeptical—or hidebound—listener. With gobs of bass, excellent transparency, particularly in the midrange, and an invitingly pellucid treble that seems to soar into the ether, the only downside of this loudspeaker is that you must plug the built-in subwoofer section into the wall via a power cord, but then again GoldenEar is supplying you not only with a full-range loudspeakers but also a set of integral subs. There’s a relaxed, convivial feel to the music even when playing large-scale works, because the loudspeaker is never stressed. Not only your wallet but also your ears will thank you if you take the plunge on the Triton One.R.
Maggie’s three-way, true-ribbon/quasi-ribbon planar 3.7 successfully addresses three issues that have long plagued “true-ribbon” Maggies: the seamless integration of that ribbon; the retention of detail and dynamic range at relatively low volume levels; and the reduction of “Maggie grain.” The solution of these problems combined with the famous virtues of true-ribbon Magnepans produces what is, in JV’s opinion, a best buy. Be aware that the 3.7i’s are large, power-hungry, and limited in low bass and ultimate SPLs.
PSB Synchrony T600
Hailing from Canada, the T600 is the latest brainchild of longtime PSB designer Paul Barton. It features a tuneful midrange and precise, if limited, bass. The most remarkable aspect of this floorstander is its sweet pellucid treble. A seductive top-end is probably the last thing you would expect from a titanium-dome tweeter, but the T600 sails through complex passages with nary a smidgen of elevated treble. Instead, it’s a supremely linear and precise loudspeaker that punches well above its weight. The T600 offers many of the qualities of a fine mini-monitor with more heft and palpability.
Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4
The 800 D4, takes every element of the vaunted D3 up a notch. All models in Bowers & Wilkins latest flagship series, including the 805, get a cabinet with more aluminum, a rear-mounted crossover that yields greater internal volume, an elongated “turbine” for the diamond-coated tweeter, handsome leather trim, and a biomimetic (versus fabric) midrange spider mechanism. The resulting sound is pure 800: resolving, musical, and self-effacing. The drivers and cabinet are so quiet that the subtlest musical flourishes emerge. And despite being stand-mounted, the 805 goes surprisingly deep, with satisfying punch and low-end timbral complexity. A terrific value at $8000 per pair.
Sonner Audio Legato Duo
$8500–$10,900 depending on finish
From Boston-based Sonner Audio, Legato Duo offers an invitingly warmish signature that makes music more listenable rather than merely challenging. The mids and treble are faithful to timbre and demonstrate a presence range of fine articulation without veering into forwardness or being prone to sibilant exaggeration. Low-frequency response moderates steeply with a bit of compression but the drivers move a notable amount of air, giving the Legato Duo a heavier footprint than expected. Vocals are a strong suit—balanced, firmly weighted, and reproduced with liveliness. A fine debut and a welcome addition to the high-end neighborhood.
Graham Audio LS5/9f
The LS5/9f is the floorstanding tower version of the stand-mount Graham LS5/9, both BBC-derived models designed by Derek Hughes. The larger enclosure gives the LS5/9f additional bass extension and dynamic capacity, while sacrificing none of the neutrality and articulation of the LS5/9. The result is a speaker with bass and dynamics that are adequate for orchestral and rock music and with an extraordinary truth to the sound of real instruments. (The extreme top is a little rolled off: Fans of “air” may want to add a super-tweeter). An instant classic that far outperforms its understated appearance.
Monitor Audio Gold 300
The three-way, four-driver, bass-reflex Monitor Audio Gold 300s really impressed, thanks to their neutrality, powerful presence, and substantial sound output. There was a pleasing solidity to their presentation—courtesy of the cabinet construction and driver technologies—that won us over across more and more source material. Of course, the Gold 300s’ “fidelity to source” tendencies tended to reveal both a recording’s finesse and flaws. This isn’t to say that the 300s ever sounded sterile or analytical, but rather that they generally got out of the way to show you what was there in the recording. This made listening with the Gold 300s a voyage of discovery. If you appreciate or collect well-recorded material, the Monitor Gold 300s will enable you to reap its rewards.
Fyne Audio’s premier stand-mount speaker features an 8″ IsoFlare bass/midrange driver mated to a 1″ magnesium-dome compression tweeter, forming a time-aligned coaxial transducer. Its treble range is clean, detailed, and naturally balanced once the Presence Control is properly dialed in. What is nearly magical is its holistic presentation of the musical spectrum. Expect to be drawn into the music aided by a midrange of superb clarity and nearly electrostatic transient speed. And if imaging is a high priority, the F1-8 can generate an exceptionally wide and deep soundstage with precisely focused image outlines. A gem of a loudspeaker that delivers on the promise of a time-aligned point-source design.
Vandersteen Audio Treo CT
A loudspeaker of uncommon musicality and precision. Building upon the R&D that went into 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 immersion. 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 serious bass slam of that model, but you hardly miss it due to its excellent pitch definition.
Fleetwood Sound Company DeVille
The star attraction here is a solid-wood conical horn with impressive dynamic range. A 1″ compression driver covers frequencies to below 2kHz, while an 8″ woofer fills in the frequency range below 1500Hz. Listening height is a critical factor to obtaining the most accurate tonal balance. Ideally, your ears should be at the tweeter axis or slightly above it. The midrange is full-bodied and felicitous, while the upper octaves sound just a tad recessed relative to the core of the midrange. At its best, the DeVille is capable of breathtaking transient clarity and soundstage transparency. Its ability to resolve detail in a complex mix is exemplary. High sensitivity (94dB) and a flat impedance curve make it easy to drive. DO’s current favorite in the two-way stand-mount category.
Graham Audio LS8/1
Designed by Derek Hughes, this two-cubic-foot, stand-mounted box speaker, with one mid/bass driver and two tweeters, is the latest of several descendants of the original Spendor BC1, developed by Derek’s father, Spencer Hughes. The grand tradition is fully served, but the new speaker takes full advantage of modern driver technology; in particular, it will play much louder than the BC1 and has superior bass behavior. The LS8/1 has a very low level of resonant coloration and an essentially neutral mid and treble balance, with a slight warmth further down. The overall result is remarkably like live music, with suitable recordings. A classic revisited and an instant classic itself.
MartinLogan Impression ESL 11A
This hybrid from MartinLogan combines an electrostatic panel with dual 8″ woofers—but with a twist. ML has added DSP room correction in the bass, greatly improving pitch definition, transient fidelity, and one’s ability to follow bass lines. Compared with its predecessor, the highly regarded Montis, the ESL 11A is a bit more forward and assertive. The virtues for which electrostats are famous are abundant—transient speed, clarity, and resolution of fine detail.
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