Click here to check out our entire list of RMAF 2011 blogs.
I’ve always believed high-end audio should be accessible to the widest audience possible, and so I was delighted to find my RMAF assignment was to cover a product category that potentially offers the most music for the least money—speakers under $5000. The great news is that there were sonic treasures galore in this segment at RMAF, some highlights of which I’ll describe for you below. Just know that for every model I describe, there were probably two or more worthy products I’ve left unmentioned owing to space constraints. Note, too, that I will mention some not necessarily new-for-RMAF models, especially in cases where speakers sounded better this year than in the past. As you’ll soon discover, this is a great time to shop for overachieving loudspeakers that won’t break the bank.
First up in our cavalcade of value is the 2-way, self-powered Emotiva airmotiv 5 monitor ($599/pair), which sports a Heil-type tweeter, a dynamic mid-bass driver, and dual onboard amplifiers (2 x 100 watts) with user selectable EQ controls. Together these features give the airmotiv 5 an open, balanced, and well-controlled sound, making it easy to go from zero to hi-fi in one simple step. Just add source components and you’re good to go.
In the Music Hall room I discovered the sweet new Epos Epic 2 monitors ($799/pair). The Epic 2’s mimic the appearance of such classic British monitors as the Spendor BC1, but offer a suave, engaging and evocative sound that’s thoroughly contemporary.
Living Sounds Audio’s (LSA) compact 2-way .5 monitor ($800/pair) sounded impressively vibrant and dynamically expressive, despite their diminutive size. While the .5’s may not look particularly exotic, one listen will convince you they’re something special.
Designed specifically for placement near walls, the Sjöfn HiFi (the clue) monitors ($999/pair), as powered by Hegel electronics, were wowing listeners with their 3D soundstaging, unexpectedly extended bass response, and all-around refinement. Rarely have such innocuous-looking compact monitors produced such a big, expansive sound.
One of the most significant products in this group is the sophisticated Polk Audio LSiM 703 3-way monitor ($1499/pair). This beautifully finished and sumptuous-sounding speaker leverages what Polk calls its “Dynamic Sonic Engine” module—a driver array consisting of a ring-radiator tweeter and a small, responsive midrange driver, which together give Polk LSiM-series speakers their signature sound.
Listen with your eyes closed and you might swear the Evolution Acoustics MMMicroOne’s ($2500/pair, stands included) were hyper-expensive, hyper-exotic monitors. The exotic part is mostly true as the MicroOne’s feature a D’Appolito-type array consisting of dual ceramic matrix mid-bass drivers and centrally positioned Heil-type tweeter. Evolution used a DartZeel amplifier and a Playback Designs player to drive the MicroOne’s at RMAF, reinforcing the idea that these sensibly-priced monitors are completely at home in the company of top-shelf components.
Next up is the impressive Klaus Bunge-designed Odyssey Audio Kismet Reference Monitor ($3500/pair, stands included), which is based on the ScanSpeak Revelator 4531 mid-bass driver and ScanSpeak’s terrific new Beryllium tweeter. Though more functional than lovely to look at, the Kismet Reference Monitors are certainly beautiful to hear. In fact, the driver’s mesh so perfectly in this speaker that you can’t help but listen and think, “these just sound right—and ultra-refined, too”
One speaker the caught me by surprise (even though TAS Publisher Jim Hannon had praised it in a past blog) was the Teresonic Magus A55 monitor ($4995/pair), which is based on a single full-range Lowther driver fitted with an Alnico magnet. Normally I wonder if such designs will provide neutral tonal balance or adequately extended frequency response, but the Magus quickly allayed my fears with exquisite highs, surprisingly full-bodied bass, and eminently cohesive and natural-sounding mids. Even when positioned on (far from ideal) floor spikes, the A55’s managed to throw wide, deep soundstages with impressive image height.