The futuristic, 2-way, three-driver Dali Fazon F5 ($4495 – $4795/pair, with built-in floor stands) uses driver technology initially developed for the firm’s traditional Mentor 5 speakers, while introducing a curvaceous and exceedingly stiff enclosure die-cast from aluminum. But don’t make the mistake of thinking the Fazon is a glorified “lifestyle” product; in truth, it offers an unmistakably high-end sound, while its rigid enclosure gives Dali’s high-quality drive units an audible performance lift.
Offering astounding value was a sat/sub system from Hsu Research featuring horn-loaded HB-1 MkII monitors ($298/pair) and a VTF-1 powered subwoofer ($449). If you like large scale music played at realistic levels with plenty of articulacy and jaw-dropping bass extension, this $747 bundle is just the ticket.
Representing a terrific desktop audio solution was a sat/sub combo based one Sonus faber Toy monitors ($1300/pair) and a REL T5 subwoofer ($500). With a little help from the REL, the Toys happily unleashed deep 3D sounstages that could make even jaded audiophiles smile.
The team at Emerald Physics also turned to REL for low frequency support, pairing their 2-way, coaxial driver, open-baffle, controlled dispersion CS3 floorstanders (normally $3000 and up, depending on finish) with a REL T7 subwoofer—all at a bundled price of about $3500. The CS3 also comes with a custom-programmed, Behringer-sourced digital EQ/electronic crossover box that simplifies driver and subwoofer integration tasks. The resulting sound is focused, three-dimensional, and explosively dynamic, with the REL contributing potent (but never overblown) deep bass.
Also exploiting the benefits of an open-baffle, controlled directivity design is the GR Research Super-V floorstander, which sports two servo-controlled, self-amplified woofers. The catch is that you can’t buy a fully-finished pair of Super-V’s, though if you’re handy with tools GR will sell you a kit containing everything you’ll need to build a pair ($2495 for the core components including woofer amps, plus $1350 for unfinished enclosure panels). While there’s definitely “some assembly required,” this $3845 package may well offer the most performance upside of any loudspeaker in this report. Expect a huge, wide-open, and richly detailed sound with muscular dynamics and great bass.
Wharfedale’s flagship Jade-series Model 7 floorstander ($4199) is a large 4-way, five-driver speaker that marries exotic “Acufibre” driver technology with a sleek, curved-wall enclosure design. The Model 7’s demonstrated quite impressive levels of detail, subtlety and finesse, though the demo room had an apparent bass suck-out that made it difficult to judge low frequency capabilities.
Von Schweikert’s 3-way, four-driver VR-33 floorstanders ($3750 - $4500/pair) are sold on a factory-direct basis and billed as offering five-figure sound at a four-figure price. Last year I would have said that claim was overreaching, but this year the VR-33’s came a whole lot closer to making the manufacturer’s performance claims stick. The VR-33 is designed for near-wall placement, and once correctly positioned it offers very good levels of detail, excellent soundstaging, and potent bass.
Nola’s Baby Grand Reference II speaker is a superb design now made even better, yielding spectacularly 3D sound, with ARC electronics.
Sjöfn’s (the clue) monitors ($999/pair) sounded ridiculously sophisticated for not a lot of moolah, while Hegel electronics did their part.
For under $2k the Audez’e LCD-3 planar magnetic headphone provided near state-of-the-art purity, subtlety, dynamics, and full-range frequency response.
Analogue Productions SACD reissue of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here reminds us what high-end audio is about: the music.
Now more than ever, high-performance headphones are winning the hearts and minds of serious listeners—whether the high-end establishment takes notice or not.