As many of you know, I’m not only editor of Playback, but also an occasional contributor to Playback’s famous sister magazine, The Absolute Sound. This year at CES, as has become my custom, I agreed to research sub-$2000/pair loudspeakers on behalf of The Absolute Sound—a labor of love that turns out to have plenty of relevance for Playback readers, too, since many of the products discovered turn out to make great platforms either for surround sound home theater systems or for desktop (CyberListener-type) systems.
I thought I might list some of this year’s most promising affordable (~$2k/stereo pair) loudspeakers, earbuds, and headphones, if only to inspire some of you to go out and give them a listen. I’ve tried to pick models that struck me as having great potential for delivering big bang for the bucks.
Note that I have not heard all of the speakers, earbuds, and headphones listed here (some were, after all, shown only on static display at CES). So, what you’re getting here is a list based partly on brief listening experiences, and partly on intuition and instinct born of years of experience with this equipment genre (I’m an enthusiastic proponent of well-made, great-sounding, high-value loudspeaker systems).
• AAD (soon to be Phil Jones Pure Sound) Silver-1 monitors
• Acoustic Energy Radiance One monitors
• Air Tight MSM-1 “The Bonsai” monitors (based on a single, small, full-range driver, this baby won’t fit general purpose applications—except in small listening space, but it does offer a certain purity and grace).
• Amphion Prio 510 monitors. A cool looking, “controlled directivity” design from Finland.
• ASW Genius 100 monitors from Germany.
• Atohm Sirocco 1.0 monitors from France. Designed by Thierry Comte.
• Audioengine AP4—a very low-cost small monitor based on Audioengine’s very successful self-powered desktop monitor (as reviewed in Playback).
• Cambridge Audio S30 monitors: small, tasteful monitors that complement Cambridge’s new desktop-sized audio components.
• DeVore Fidelity Gibbon 3 monitors: superb imagers, just like the bigger DeVore Gibbons.
• DLS Audio M60 monitors.
• Dynaudio DM 2/7 monitors: the smallest and most affordable model in Dynaudio’s DM-family of entry -level monitors.
• Epos ELS8 monitors: a bigger, better, revised replacement for the Epos ELS3—a speaker many knowledgeable enthusiast regard as a budget classic.
• Highland Audio Siansa 102 monitors: this little speaker won the heart, mind, and ears of The Absolute Sound’s publisher (and Nextscreen VP) Mark Fisher.
• KEF XQ20 monitors: priced at $2k/pair, these little wonders look and sound as if they should cost much more.
• Mordaunt-Short Mezzo 1 and Mezzo 2 monitors feature the firm’s very distinctive and highly effective, rear-vented “aspirated” tweeter.
• Newport Audio G85-REC monitors: all the money in this speaker goes into high quality drive units, crossover parts, and a billet aluminum baffle plate. The matte black boxes aren’t much to look at, but the sound is big and bold.
• Onix of England Monitor 1 and Bravo monitors; it’s a crying shame these speakers aren’t widely distributed in the U.S., because they sound great and are reasonably priced.
• Opera Mezza monitors: Critically acclaimed in Europe, but not yet distributed in the U.S.
• Peachtree ds4.5 monitors leverage technologies borrowed from sister brand ERA.
• Phase Technology PC 1.5 monitors: a tasty monitor speaker from the guys who hold the core patents on fabric dome tweeter technology.
• Rega RS One monitors.
• Sonics Argenta monitors.
• Sonus faber Toy monitors. Toy is a new entry-level speaker line from Sonus faber with models that, like some earlier generation S-f products, feature gorgeous leather-covered enclosures.
Self-Powered Desktop Monitors
• Adam Audio A5 self-powered monitor (with, if you like, its matching Sub7 subwoofer)
• Quad 9L Active self-powered monitor
• NuForce’s three-piece system comprising S-1 desktop monitors, optional W-1 subwoofer, and matching Icon desktop integrated amplifier with built-in USB DAC (would make a great starter system).