Enjoy the Music.com's Special 20/20 Award
High-End Audio Loudspeakers --
Steven R. Rochlin chooses the most notable products during
the past 20 years.
As Chosen By Enjoy the
Director Steven R. Rochlin
Beauhorn Virtuoso With Lowther
DX4 Fullrange Driver
When Thorsten Loesch first encountered the Beauhorns ($6100 per
pair) he was listening to a pair of DIY Wilson Audio Watt/Puppy clones driven by
a PSE 300B vacuum tube amplifier. The opportunity presented itself to test the
Beauhorns with the then very recent DX3 Lowther drivers. He had heard Lowthers
before that, both in the Acousta 90 bass reflex enclosure and in Fidelio or
Bicor horns and admits to thinking Lowthers sounded dreadful. Fast-forward to
October 2000 with the Lowther DX4 driver and things changed for the better. According
to Thorsten, "The speakers where placed fairly close to corners, making their visual impact on the room less, however these are never unobtrusive speaker. And not only visually are these not unobtrusive, music played through these speakers takes on a quality that makes it difficult to ignore. The music demands attention, makes you want to listen. This is not a speaker for background music. Listening to this loudspeaker can be a very unusual and somewhat frightening experience. But let me first note what this loudspeaker does wrong.
So if it is a loudspeaker that has no bass, no treble, a colored midrange and upper bass, what does it do well!? It plays music. Never before have I had in my living room such an immense feeling of listening to the Real Thing. Never before has my own system been able to communicate, what is in the music so clearly, directly and with such an emotional response.
On measured performance this whole system, when set up correctly and when measured in normal listening conditions sets extremely high standards. In all conventional disciplines (frequency response, phase response, load compatibility this system matches or exceeds anything I ever encountered and when it comes to low distortion and compression I have yet to encounter better. This is most definitely absolute reference grade performance."
You can read Thorsten's
full review of the Beauhorn Virtuoso with Lowther DX4 fullrange driver here.
Magnepan MG 1.7 Planar Magnetic Loudspeaker
Magnepan's Magneplanar 1.7 speaker ($1995 per pair) is an extensive redesign of a predecessor, the near iconic
12 years running Magneplanar 1.6. The Magneplanar 1.7 is bumped up to a three-way fullrange
quasi-ribbon design with a quasi-ribbon bass/midrange, tweeter and super tweeter. The term Quasi Ribbon refers to a fabrication technique that differs from a true ribbon in that the conductive metal is laminated to a thin sheet of Mylar film. The super tweeter in the 1.7 is improved by bonding the conductive aluminum foil to a much thinner Mylar backing. The Magneplanar concept is similar to an electrostatic speaker in that both produce sound by moving a membrane of
film to generate pressure waves. Both of these designs are referred to as dipole
speakers, meaning that sound emanates from the speaker radiating in equal amounts from both the front and the back of the panels.
"Its greatest strength is its lack of personality, excellent coherence and
low coloration" says reviewer Ron Nagle. "Every thing about it tells
you everything you hear is the truth. In my room the 1.7 can be intimate or they
can be an exciting and formidable presence easily able to take control of the
listener and the listening space. Finally, I can only echo what others have said
before me, the Magnepan 1.7 speakers are unique, an amazing performance, at
$1995 nothing near this price can compare." Ron's
review of the Magnepan MG 1.7 Planar Magnetic Loudspeaker can be seen here.
YG Acoustics Carmel 2
Whilst he previous generation of YG speakers including the Kipod,
Anat and Carmel
as reviewed here had drive units from Scan-Speak, the Carmel 2 ($24,300
per pair) has special BilletCore drivers. These are produced to a very exacting
and necessarily expensive process. Cone is machined to very high tolerances from
a massive slab of aircraft grade aluminum, and incorporates ribbed sections to
greatly increase rigidity. The result is a cone of very light weight but
tremendous stiffness over a very wide frequency range. "But the magic, and
the reason to fork out the asking price of $24,300 for a pair of two way
speakers, comes when the sound field is more complex than a solo instrument or a
jazz trio" says reviewer Phil Gold. "Most speakers, even very
expensive ones, begin to unravel when you throw in more and more voices or
instruments. One voice will tend to obscure another, or strings will begin to
sound like one big instrument. The Carmel 2 has the uncanny ability to keep the
integrity of every instrument or voice in the mix. It makes orchestral music
much easier to listen to, since it is far closer to a good concert hall
experience than we are used to in our living rooms." You
can read Phil's review of the YG Acoustics Carmel 2 here.
THIEL SCS4 Monitors With SS1 SmartSub Subwoofer
Coming as the then new generation of THIEL designs, their SCS4 ($990) is somewhat unique in the company's line up for price. It is a two-way bookshelf loudspeaker that offers a 6.5" woofer coaxially mounted with a 1" tweeter. This is the first product from THIEL that was not manufactured in the United States. The SS1 SmartSub features one 10" woofer powered by a 500 watt Class AB amplifier. It should be noted that although it is "entry-level" in their product offering in the subwoofer category, it is by no means an entry level product. At $2900, the SmartSub is certainly neither inexpensive nor entry-level in anything but the fact that it is the smallest of the THIEL subwoofers.
"On Dark Side of the Moon "Us and Them" the multi-channel reproduction is almost eerie in how realistic and holographic it sounds" says
Enjoy the Music.com reviewer Brett Rudolph. "The sound comes from all the right places to create a setting of overwhelming experience and satisfaction. You can almost imagine feeling the artist's true meaning while drifting into your own world carried by the sounds of the music."
Check out Brett's full review of the THIEL SCS4 monitors and SS1
Tannoy Dimension TD12
Tannoy's award winning TD12 floorstanding loudspeaker is a
massive, costly high-end design using updated Dual Concentric drive units with
updated asymmetric designer enclosures. The top-mounted SuperTweeter is
positioned behind the apex of the 30.5cm Dual Concentric bass cone, which is an
arrangement designed to provide time alignment in the forward listening plane.
The statistics are little short of awesome! It stands 1030mm tall, weighs 108
lbs and has a 92dB/W/m sensitivity so you can use this giant with a good 8 Watt
single-ended triode amplifier. With a frequency bandwidth (-6dB) extending from
30Hz all the way to 54kHz and a price tag of $10,000 a pair we're talking some
serious bit of speaker here. "The Tannoy TD12 generated some of the most
realistic orchestral tonality I have experienced in a long time, perhaps ever
outside the concert hall, and the sheer physical breadth and scale of the sound
came as a revelation" says reviewer Alvin Gold. "The hushed opening to
the second movement of Vaughan Williams London symphony (in the Richard Hickox/LSO
version on the Chandos label - a worthy winner in this year's Gramophone awards)
had a raptness and density of sound, along with and an exquisitely varied range
of tonal values that bought the performance to vivid, glowing life. There was
never a hint of any loss of density and passion even during the quietest
moments. This is also an extremely dynamic loudspeaker.
The word dynamic is a multi-purpose adjective that can be used to cover a
multitude of sins, so let's specify by saying that the TD12 obeys the everyday
meaning of the term, namely that it has the ability to reproduce the loudest and
the quietest passages of a work in their correct relationship, better, arguably,
and often more dramatically than with any other loudspeaker I can recall, and
certainly at the price. But the Tannoy TD12 is dynamic in another sense too,
namely its ability to resolve low level information in the presence of louder
events, and this is the kind of ability that is necessary to make sense of the
complexities that are found again and again, not least in the previously
mentioned Vaughan Williams recording." Read
Alvin Gold's review of the Tannoy Dimension TD12 for Enjoy the Music.com
at this link.
Reference 3A MM de Capo i
It is no secret that Enjoy the Music.com's Creative
Director, Steven R. Rochlin, has been using variants of the MM de Capo for
decades. In this newer version, Reference 3A MM de Capo i ($2995 per pair) there
is a low resonant frequency 1" textile dome tweeter and specially-designed
8.25" hyper-exponential shaped woven carbon midrange/woofer driver. Improved cabinet construction
uses perforated braces and a vertical spine piece to eliminate undesirable
cabinet resonances. Within the crossover are Mundorf Supreme Silver Oil capacitors used as the tweeter high-pass filter for extended, more dynamic and faster high frequencies.
"What I did find however is that the Ref 3A acts like a magnifying
glass" says Phil Gold. "It seems to succeed brilliantly on the best
recordings, such as these two SACDs. The agility of the speaker is very evident,
there being no discernable overhang. In fact my notes read "floats like a
butterfly, stings like a bee." But the converse is also true. It will
reveal all the imperfections on less stellar recordings. Some speakers tend to
romanticize the sound, adding a patina of warmth to a thin sounding recording,
glossing over a slight digital edge, but you won't get that forgiving nature
here. So for example, through these speakers you'll really appreciate how much
better the remastered Beatles albums are than their older equivalents. If you
really want great Beatles sound, you'll want remixing as well as remastering,
and the Beatles Love album
[Capitol 094637981023] is the one to go for. "Because" throws a very
wide image, birds tweeting well to the left of the left speaker. Depth and
location are excellent and resolution quite strong, although not in the same
league as the reference Wilson Benesch Act 1s. As in the Brahms, the Ref 3As
play the music, but they don't have that superb sense of ease and clarity of the
very best speakers, the sense that comes from working well within their margin
of safety." Read
Enjoy the Music.com's review of the Reference 3A MM de Capo i here.
Waterfall Audio Iguascu EVO
It is difficult to describe in prose about these speakers made in
France, yet nowhere in hi-fi is there really a clearer case of what you see is what you get and what you get is a perfectly executed column of tempered glass with
truly flawless edges. Clever dressing of the internal wires up the front panel
appears as an art-deco element of the design; almost like the face of the Empire State Building.
Makers of their own Atohm drivers, and unable to use conventional wadding to dampen the speakers output owing to their choice of transparent cabinet material, the mid-bass drivers are inset into their own enclosures just large enough to contain them and tame the back output of the drivers. The mini-enclosures are, however, vented, with bass supplemented by a passive radiator positioned in the base.
In a design twist, the Waterfall Audio Iguascu EVO speakers are supplied with different weights that you can apply to the passive radiators to adjust their response. In three sizes, the larger the weight, the deeper, if slightly more sluggish bass.
"On a diet of Bob Marley, Pink Floyd, Norah Jones, Maria Callas, the Clash, that bastard T. S. Eliot, Allison Krauss and Led Zeppelin, the Waterfall Audio Iguascu EVO loudspeakers never failed to deliver or made you think you were listening to
glass" said Enjoy the Music.com reviewer Dr. Jeff Rabin. "Throwing a wide and delineated soundstage, with good front to back layering, image height could have been higher but was perfectly adequate on the couch. Bringing the speakers away from the wall as much as possible without endangering the cats endangering them did wonders for the bass, not so much as reducing it, but giving the speakers a better opportunity to integrate with the rest. The Waterfall Iguascus are not for everyone, but for those that appreciate fine sound and fine craftsmanship and want something just a bit out of the ordinary, one will not go wrong with these French beauties."
should check out Dr. Rabin's review of the Waterfall Audio Iguascu EVO here.
While the below are designs older than the 20 year cut-off, we'd
be remiss if they were not mentioned within our Special 20/20 Awards list for
their importance in legendary design and sound.
Wilson Watt / Puppy
The original design of the Wilson Audio Watt/Puppy were a bit
brash and that sound personality was tamed to some degree as newer versions
refined the design. Before the Puppy dual-woofer was released, audiophiles
would place a cloth 'beard' under the Watt monitor in hopes of achieving some
bass extension to reduce the peaky sound of the Watt two-way unit. Even with its
shortcomings, Dave Wilson kept at it and over the years and his company has
brought to market some impressive designs. With cabinets seemingly made from
Kryptonite, and weighing three times as much, Wilson Audio strives to produce
the best loudspeaker they can with the classic design of conventional drivers
mounted to a cabinet. In the early days of bragging rights, the combination of
Watt/Puppy and Goldmund amps with MIT cabling became in vogue.
Infinity IRS V
What massively large, multi-megadriver loudspeaker was the most
lusted for by many audiophiles worldwide in the 1980's? If you answered the
Infinity IRS then you got it right! Seen above is the Infinity IRS V, the final
version before designer Arnie Nudell move on. Founded in 1968 by Arnie Nudell, John Ulrick and Cary Christie,
in the early days Infinity produced home and mobile audio products by employing innovative materials
such as their EMIT tweeter and EMIM midrange drivers. As the high-end audio
industry's first ultra-high end system, it would have set you back $65,000 in the
1980s (about $200,000 in today continually devalued United States Federal
Reserve Dollar Debit Notes). Infinity's IRS V employed 76 EMIT tweeters, 24 EMIM midrange drivers, and twelve
12" polypropylene woofers. For those curious total system weight was well
over 1300 lbs. Steven R. Rochlin, Enjoy the Music.com's Creative
Director, had the smaller version of these for a period of time and found that
they were excellent with techno music and large-scale classical music. The
tweeter and midrange panels had the greatest synergy with vacuum tube
amplification, while the woofer towers benefited from gargantuan solid-state
power such as that offered by Nelson Pass designed Threshold monoblocks.
The Quad electrostatic, Klipschorn, circa 1969 Tannoy 12"
Gold monitor plus early Advent and KLH designs should be mentioned. So should the
sand-filled cabinets of the early Wharfedale and the interesting dual-concentric
and adjustable impedance driver design by Stentorian. Early Lowthers with Alnico
magnets is a natural too. Both the first and more recent Limited Edition version
of Goldmund Reference speaker get the nod as does the interesting design by MBL.
ELAC's just-released Debut series, designed by Andrew Jones, is a wildcard and
perhaps the best bang-for-the-buck within the marketplace today. We predict
ELAC's Debut series will win a plethora
of awards in the coming months.
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