Audiophiles may fondly recall MartinLogan’s late, lamented Aerius hybrid electrostat, which was a budget classic in its day, but now history is repeating itself with the launch of MartinLogan’s ElectroMotion ESL hybrid electrostat ($2000/pr.). In a nutshell, the ElectroMotion ESL’s gives listeners a big taste of electrostatic goodness at an unexpectedly low price and in an attractive and easy-to-drive package. You get lightning-fast transient response, razor-sharp detailing, and precisely focused imaging, all leavened with a good measure of fast, well-defined and surprisingly well-integrated bass from the ESL’s piston-type woofer. There’s huge value here, making the ESL by far the least costly way to sample the time-proven joys of electrostats.
Wharfedale VP Walter Schofield had his Wharfedale Diamond 10.7 floorstanders ($1299/pr.) singing in rare form at CES. The Diamond 10.7’s, like all Wharfedale speakers, are made in China in one of the largest—if not the largest—vertically integrated speaker manufacturing facilities in the world, meaning the plant produces every single part of the speaker, right down to the wood pulp from which the MDF speaker enclosure cores are made. The may explain how Wharfedale is able to offer the four-driver, 3 ½-way Diamond 10.7’s—a speaker that sounds as if it should cost $2k/pair (or more)—for a tick under $1300. Those seeking balanced performance from a speaker that offers both sonic refinement and near full-range frequency response will discover the 10.7’s are a tough deal to beat.
At CES, two affordable floorstanders captured my attention, and that of many of my TAS colleagues, in ways few other inexpensive speakers have ever been able to do. The speakers in question are the GoldenEar Technology Triton Two and the Nola Contender, both of which offer exceptional performance in an absolute sense and represent stunning achievements at their respective price points. Let me supply a bit of background on each.
GoldenEar Technology was founded by two audio legends: Sandy Gross and Don Givogue (formerly founders of Definitive Technology). The two men counterbalance one another in a synergistic way, with Sandy Gross serving as a high-end visionary who wants to build world-class speakers at Everyman prices, while Givogue serves as the no-nonsense, pragmatic engineering counterpart—helping to translate Gross’ vision into practical, real-world products. You can see both influences in the Triton Two ($2500/pair), which is an ambitious and sophisticated full-range floorstander that is also, by design, both affordable and easy to drive. The tower-type speaker sports an upper MTM array consisting of a Heil-type tweeter flanked by two 4 ½-inch wideband midrange drivers, plus a bass section incorporating two forward-facing oblong active woofers, two side-firing passive radiators, and a 1200-watt, DSP-controlled, class D bass amplifier. The result is a speaker that offers fabulous imaging and soundstaging, superb low-level detailing, a health dollop of dynamic clout, and terrific bass depth and control. What is more, the Triton Two is so uncannily and disarmingly smooth that it takes some listeners a while to grasp how thoroughly revealing the speaker can be. This watershed design will, I think, force many high-end poseurs to step up their games.
Nola designer Carl Marchisotto is best known for his superb and expensive Grand-series loudspeakers, but at CES he focused on the opposite end of the price spectrum, giving us his extraordinary three-driver, 3-way Nola Contender floorstander ($3400/pair). The tower-type Contender is loosely based on the design of Nola’s Boxer bookshelf monitor and features a rear-ported upper chamber housing a silk-dome tweeter and a 6 ½-inch mid/bass driver, while a downward-ported lower chamber houses a second mid/bass driver that shoulders the low-frequency workload. Though the Contender might not look exotic at first glance, it certainly sounds exotic, channeling not just a little but a lot of the sonic character of Nola’s top-tier designs, and at a bargain basement price. Consequently, the Contender is accurate, delivers excellent imaging and soundstage depth, and produces near full-range bass. More importantly, though, it conveys the elusive sense and sensibility of music—in all its intellectual and soulful beauty—as few high-end speakers at any price are able to do. Bravo, Mr. Marchisotto.