Two very different models in this class distinguished themselves at RMAF, one of which was new for this year’s show, while the other was an acknowledged winner that debuted at last year’s RMAF.
Joseph Audio’s Pulsar ($7000/pr.) two-way standmount monitor took up where it left off at last year’s RMAF, convincing new groups of listeners that it really is possible to enjoy near full-range performance from a small-ish monitor speaker. Even more so than at last year’s show, the Pulsar sounded refined and quite full-bodied, so that even on pieces featuring pipe organ material the speaker acquitted itself admirably.
Perhaps my personal favorite of all of this year’s RMAF loudspeaker discoveries came in the form of Naim’s Ovator S-400 ($5,250/pr.) floorstander, which is a downscaled version of the Ovator S-600 that debuted at last year’s show. Both Ovators feature the innovative NXT/BMR (Balanced Mode Radiator) driver, which behaves as a pistonic driver at midrange frequencies but then transitions to become a ripple-motion driver at higher frequencies. The Ovators also feature special decoupling technologies to isolate the BMR driver from the speaker enclosure and the enclosure from the floor. The result is a speaker that offers superb midrange/treble coherency and dispersion, with really exceptional bass pitch definition.
In this category I’d like to single out five models that showed remarkable performance potential and great value for money.
Anthony Gallo Acoustics was demonstrating a prototype of its not-yet-released Classico 3 loudspeaker (projected price, $2000/pr.), whose intended purpose is to deliver much of the performance of Gallo’s critically acclaimed (but very futuristic-looking) Nucleus Reference 3.1 speaker, but in a smaller and more conventionally styled enclosure. The little Classico3's are two-way, three-driver, mini-floorstanders that stand just 26” tall, yet they easily filled their demo room with sound and cast images much larger and taller than you might think possible.
TAS writer Dr. Robert E. Greene has commented favorably on Harbeth designs many times, and I’m ready to join in, too, now that I’ve heard Harbeth’s Super HL5 ($4995), a beautiful three-way, three-driver standmount monitor cast, more or less, in the mold of classic BBC studio monitors from the past. If you wanted to, you could analyze this speaker’s strengths using the usual catalog of audiophile virtues, but that would be missing the central point. These babies purely and simply manage to sound like music, while leaving the all-important element of natural, organic warmth intact (an essential musical ingredient that, through many über-speakers, often gets lost in translation).
LSA’s Statement 1 standmount monitors ($2600) have shown up in previous show reports, yet somehow they remain one of high-end audio’s semi-undiscovered secrets. So please, don’t let the low-ish price fool you; the Statement 1’s are among the best two-way, ribbon driver equipped monitors available at any (sane) price, provided you drive them with electronics good enough to show what they can do. I heard airy highs, smooth and articulate mids, astonishingly full-bodied bass, and killer imaging, which were helped along by LSA’s hybrid tube/solid-state integrated amplifier.
The Studio Electric Monitor ($2295) represents a break from design themes established in the firm’s higher-end models (some of which look almost like 21st-century avant garde sculptures). Instead, the Monitor offers what might be termed “Arts and Crafts” styling—kind of like what might happen if you handed William Morris or Gustav Stickley a plain black two-way monitor and asked them to dress it up a bit. But the sound is what really matters, and where the Studio Electrics succeed in particular is in combining reasonable neutrality with an uncanny ability to convey the dynamic energy and “life” inherent in good recordings.