I recently read a blog post by a very enthusiastic and well respected AV writer who created a list of "The Top Ten Greatest Audiophile Speakers" for the mighty CNET.com which is one monster of a web publication. While the idea of Top 10 lists is popular in all forms of media from David Letterman to my former publication's Sabremetric inspired list of the Top 100 Rock Bands of All Time - I had to chime in with my own list as I feel that the audiophile business is at a true crossroads today. The old-school, hardcore audiophiles (many of whom are terrible snobs) have made their living almost exclusively supporting antique audio formats and selling mainly to Baby Boomer clients. If audiophila is to be anything other than a niche, geeky hobby in ten years, there needs to be a new crop of music enthusiasts and audio lovers who are from the Gen X and possibly even the Gen Y demographics. Considering how many iPods they have bought to date - I truly believe that there is hope but they need the right list of speakers. To be clear, most audiophile speakers are expensive, high performance, beautiful and keep their value.
HomeTheaterReview.com Best Speaker List - Rules:
- Speakers on the list must be currently made.
- The speakers must have a modicum of mainstream distribution. Not much - just some.
- Listed speakers must play Jimi Hendrix, John Coltrane and Rob Zombie as well as/or better than they reproduce any audiophile test SACD or Jazz at the Pawnshop on 180 gram vinyl.
- Despite overall price - a listed speaker needs to offer a unique value and/or value proposition.
HomeTheaterReview.com's Top 10 Audiophile Speakers List
Bowers and Wilkins 802d ($14,000 per pair)
Used in many of the best mastering and recording studios in the world, there may be no higher statement of speaker engineering than the B&W (or Bowers and Wilkins as they call themselves today) 802ds. Like the Wilson WATT Puppy speakers, 802d's have a friendly footprint and can play a host of sources with ease. 802d's are not as easy to drive as Wilson speakers but many like their signature high end better. Which supermodel would you like to marry, sir?
Canton Reference 3.2 DC ($16,000 per pair)
From Germany's largest maker of loudspeakers comes one hell of a powerful musical statement in the Canton 3.2 DC floorstanding speakers. While priced in the stratosphere for most people, one could argue that you might never need another pair of loudspeakers ever again. Canton's fit and finish makes an S-Class Mercedes look like a Hyundai in comparison - that's how gorgeous these speakers look in your listening room, and they are even better as you bring up the volume.
Read Dr. Ken Taraszka's from September 2009 on the Canton Reference 3.2 DC.
Definitive Technology Mythos ST ($3,999 per pair)
Slim is in and the Definitive Technology Mythos ST speakers are the Giselle Bundchen of speakers. While 100 percent at home in a balls-to-the-wall home theater system, I have heard the Definitive Mythos ST speakers on low-powered tube amps playing kick-ass cool Jazz from of all sources, including a Sony Playstation 2, and they sounded incredible. The draw for the Mythos speakers is physically their width and emotionally their sound. They can do it all and for a very fair price.
For more information, read Ken Taraszka's October 2008 review of the Definitive Technology Mythos ST.
MartinLogan Source ($1.995 per pair)
Live from Kansas comes MartinLogan electrostatic speakers that pack some of the most deep, energetic and fun-imaging speakers on the market today. The visually translucent panel creates sound without blocking the visual lines in your living room. The MartinLogan sound is legendary and there is plenty of room to grow in their lineup if you have more money to invest, but for $2,000 this could be a first audiophile investment that starts a life-long audio obsession.
Meridian DSP8000 Digital Loudspeakers ($65,000 per pair)
Meridian's DSP 8000's speakers are the top-of-the-line transducer in the English luxury goods company's product lineup. Meridian's footprint is reasonable and their curved lines are downright feminine but it's the internal amps and DSP processing that makes Meridian's flagship speakers so special. Systems can be as simple as having one source component (think: Meridian 800 CD-DVD transport) and the speakers. More complex systems can be configured for 7.1 HD surround and more.
To learn more, read Jerry Del Colliano's August 2009 review of the Meridian DSP8000 digital loudspeakers.
Meyer Sound X-10 Studio Monitors ($30,000 pair and up)
We almost left the Meyer Sound X-10's off the list because of their lack of distribution in the consumer electronics space; however we just couldn't do it. These speakers are far and away the ugliest speakers on the list aesthetically, but no speaker on this best-of list can rock as hard or play as loudly as the Meyer X-10. Designed to be put behind a perforated video screen or used in a studio mastering lab - these powered or "active" horn-loaded speakers can create the most visceral sound you have ever experienced this side of being on stage with Van Halen. They can reproduce movie soundtracks (through a screen) more clearly and more dynamically than 99 percent of all movie theaters you can attend. While not on most audiophile shortlists - put Meyer X-10s on your short list when auditioning Wilson Alexandrias and the JM Lab's Grand Utopias. No other audiophile speaker can reproduce the energy of a real drum kit like the Meyer Sound X-10.
Read Jerry Del Colliano's August 2009 review of the Meyer Sound X-10 studio monitors.
Paradigm Atom V5 ($250 per pair)
Dollar for dollar you can't beat the Paradigm Atom bookshelf speakers from Canada. For barely any investment, you can have clear, dynamic and resolute sound that will trash the similarly priced "warehouse store" competition. In the world of entry-level sound, few can touch the Paradigm Atom speakers in terms of value. I've blind A-B tested them (behind speaker cloth) versus more expensive bookshelf speakers, with the Atoms being the clear winner.
To learn more, read Andrew Robinson's January 2009 review of the Paradigm Atom V5.
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There are a lot of speakers that are truly fantastic but don't make the uber-over-the-top audiophile list but in many ways meet the value proposition demanded by customers buying speakers today. One of the most popular are round speakers designed for use with today's 3D HDTVs and LED backlit HDTVs from Orb Audio. Orb has received some very good ink including a review of the Orb Audio Mod1 home theater system. Another player that gets a lot of hype is Aperion Audio who really specializes in loudspeaker value and customer service. The Intimus 6T tower speaker was reviewed in August 2009 by Andrew Robinson on HomeTheaterReview.com with glowing terms. For those looking to learn more about speakers check out the following resources for your reading pleasure: All About Floorstanding Speakers, All About Bookshelf Speakers, In-wall Speakers, On-wall speakers, subwoofers, headphones, and sound bar speaker systems.