Hi-Fi+ Products of the Year: Loudspeakers
- Hi-Fi+ Staff
- Mar 2016
Value-Priced Loudspeaker of the Year
KEF had a long and fruitful connection with the BBC LS3/5a loudspeaker because it built the drive units for every original variant. So, when it came to celebrating KEF’s 50th year in style, what better way to show what the company was capable of than to make an homage to that quintessential standmount monitor. The result: the £800 per pair LS50. Featuring a custom Uni-Q two-way concentric drive unit derived from the top-end Blade, this loudspeaker sounds as striking and as exciting now as it did when first launched in 2012. The LS50 faces and still sees off many hot challenges, almost irrespective of price. We tested the LS50 in the context of a basic system featuring Arcam’s A19 amplifier and irDAC converter, and we think you’ll struggle to find a better-balanced system unless you spend thousands more. If that doesn’t represent good value, what does? (Reviewed in Issue 116).
Standmount Loudspeaker of the Year
We’ve long been fans of Raidho’s ported two-way standmount concept. Starting with the C-1, and then the C-1.1, Raidho’s earlier standmount designs featured a stepped baffle with a sophisticated ribbon tweeter, and distinctive aluminium oxide-coated ceramic cone driver. But a couple of years ago, the company replaced that aluminium oxide coating with one and a half carats of industrial diamond, turning the bass driver black and making the Raidho D-1 as far above the C-1.1 as the C-1.1 is above most standmounts. It makes a clean, bright – yet not forward – sound with outstanding imaging properties and surprisingly deep bass. Paradoxically for a small loudspeaker it works best in free space in a big room, and when placed properly makes you wonder if you need anything bigger. Starting at £15,000 per pair with stands, the D1 is not the cheapest standmount option around, but when has the best ever been the cheapest! (Reviewed in Issue 105).
Joint winner: YG Acoustics Carmel 2 floorstanding loudspeaker
With build quality that would do military aircraft proud, YG Acoustics’ Carmel 2 is an exceptionally well-made two-way floorstanding speaker that, despite it’s modest size, delivers sonic performance that would put any number of larger and/or more costly loudspeakers to shame. Part of the speakers’ success involves their largely handmade drivers and the extraordinary quality of the parts (resistors, capacitors, inductors, and even machined—not printed—circuit boards) used in their crossover networks. But perhaps the biggest single factor influencing the Carmel 2’s sound is the proprietary, Yoav Geva-developed CAD/CAM software used to design the speakers—software said to be the only design package of its kind that simultaneously optimises both frequency and phase response. The result is a very nearly full-range speaker ideal for use in small-to-mid-size listening rooms and one whose qualities of focus, resolution, soundstaging, and overarching neutrality are second to none. (Reviewed in Issue 128).
Floorstanding Loudspeaker of the Year
Joint winner: Wilson Sasha Series 2
Reviewed in the context of an Audio Research, Crystal Cable, and HRS system context, the £30,998/pr Wilson Sasha Series 2 builds upon one of the foundation stones of today’s high-end audio world – the WATT/Puppy loudspeaker. Although no longer supplied as separate sections, the Sasha retains the two-way top box and two-driver bass unit sections of older designs, but now separated by a micrometer-precise adjustment system to perfectly integrate the loudspeaker in the listening room. In use, the loudspeaker retains all the best aspects of classic Wilson Audio designs (such as awesome scale, power, and ‘you are there’ dynamism) but adds increased dynamic, musical, and spatial coherence. Truer harmonics, a broader tonal palette, and sweeter, more natural balance are valuable by-products, but the key musical results lie in its more emphatic delivery, its ability to sound both more delicate and purposeful. Wilson Audio is at the top of its game here! (Reviewed in Issue 128).
Joint winner: Magico S5
Magico has two loudspeaker ranges. The no-quarter-given Q range, and its more universal S series. Almost any of the range could be nominated for each of the ‘best of’ categories, but the £33,000/pr S5 in particular may just have the best balance of performance, engineering, and price in the whole range. The three-way S5 loses the aluminium spaceframe construction of the Q models, but instead is made from half-inch thick curved aluminium extrusions. It also features a beryllium dome tweeter and a mid and two bass custom-made Nano-Tec drivers. The result is one of the most honest loudspeakers around. If you are one of the few who absolutely must know everything that is laid down on your recording then few audio loudspeakers come close to the Magico S5. (Reviewed in Issue 94).
Cost-No-Object Loudspeaker of the Year
Joint winner: Marten Coltrane Supreme 2
Perhaps the most ambitious loudspeaker project ever undertaken by a small manufacturer, the Marten Coltrane Supreme 2 is a loudspeaker of extremes. Each speaker stands two metres tall, weighs 300kg, requires 30m of top Jorma cable internally, and the whole €390,000/pr system arrives in five large flight cases. Marten has a very close working relationship with drive unit maker Accuton – it needs to, because this loudspeaker has 16 of the company’s drivers per side! Of course, the Coltrane Supreme 2 needs exceptional upstream equipment and a very big room, but suitably partnered and installed, we were exceptionally impressed by the effortless and uninhibited dynamic range, the lack of distortion, the absence of a noise floor, and the remarkable sense of stereo imaging these loudspeakers produce. They also ‘scale’ and these big speakers can sound remarkably ‘small’ when the music demands – a sign of something truly exceptional. (Reviewed in Issue 123).
Joint winner: Estelon Extreme
Unlike many loudspeaker designs, where their often imposing height is fixed, the first and most obvious ‘thing’ about the Estelon Extreme is the remote controlled front baffle. This can rise or fall to fine-tune listener positioning, or can be effectively ‘stowed’ for more room friendly appeal. The curved, elegant £140,000/pr Extreme uses two separate enclosures per loudspeaker. The first is the fixed bass unit with its two side-forward firing bass units, while the floating front baffle contains mid-bass, midrange, and tweeter units, all from Accuton. Unlike many statement loudspeakers, Alfred Vassilkov’s best eschews drama and power, and goes for the ultimate in refinement and precision, portraying both the sophistication of the recording techniques and the mastery of the musicians. These are loudspeakers that can impress, but impress because of the way they portray musical intent and emotion, as well as sheer scale and energy. (Reviewed in Issue 117).
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