Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment


Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviewers' ChoicePSB Speakers is one of Canada’s most trusted makers of loudspeakers. Known for innovative designs refined at the world-renowned speaker-testing facility of Canada’s National Research Council, in Ottawa, PSB has pumped out award-winning speakers year after year. When I see the PSB logo, two things pop to mind, and the first is value -- many of their speakers have punched far above their price classes. The second thing is a person: legendary speaker designer Paul Barton, who oversees the design of all PSB speakers.

Note: Measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.

One of my first memories of wetting my feet in this hobby involved speakers made by Now Hear This (now called NHT), founded in 1987. This was the early 1990s, and I was in my teens -- but I had a driver’s license, and loved hitting Ottawa’s strip of audio stores. These were the days when bricks-and-mortar audio shops abounded, and this single street in Ottawa had no fewer than five -- or six, if you counted the big-box electronics store.

In 1962, a gentleman named Hideo Matsushita (no relation to the Konosuke Matsushita who founded Matsushita Electric Industrial Company, aka Panasonic) saw that, to faithfully transmit the full fidelity of LPs they played over the air, the Japanese broadcasting industry needed better phono cartridges than they had. To fill this need he founded the Audio-Technica Corporation, which to this day hews to that heritage: many of their products, while serving the audio community well, are aimed at broadcasting operations. But while Audio-Technica offers a wide range of phono cartridges, only recently have they begun to make turntables -- such as the subject of this review, the AT-LP7 ($799 USD).

Note: Measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.

Reviewers' ChoiceLately, I’ve gotten a lot of exposure to Focal products. In the September edition of SoundStage! Hi-Fi I reviewed their expensive Spectral 40th floorstanding speaker ($9999 pair; all prices USD), and I’m not ashamed to say that I gushed over them, and strongly considered buying a pair for my reference system. That impulse was reined in only by my commitment to subwoofer-satellite combos. Now in my room is one pair each of two different two-way minimonitors from Focal: the Sopra No1 ($9990/pair), review forthcoming on SoundStage! Hi-Fi; and the less expensive Chora 806 ($990/pair), which better fits the SoundStage! Access brief of affordable audio gear.

Reviewers' ChoiceSVS has a loyal following of audio enthusiasts who covet and value solid bass reproduction at reasonable prices. I’m one of that number -- my two-channel system includes two SVS SB-4000 subwoofers ($1499.99/each; all prices USD), and when I reviewed the SB-3000 ($999.99) for SoundStage! Access last June, I was so impressed that I bought the review sample and put it to work in my home theater.

Note: Measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.

Reviewers' ChoiceQ: What are those funny-looking speakers in Joey and Chandler’s apartment on Friends?

A: MartinLogans!

It’s fair to say that MartinLogan is at least partially responsible for popularizing the electrostatic speaker.

The UK company Audiolab has been around since the early 1980s. Some readers may know or remember them as TAG McLaren Audio -- the ownership and branding changed in 1997, but in 2003 TAG McLaren ceased production, and in 2004 Audiolab, once again under its original name, became part of the International Audio Group.

Reviewers' ChoiceWhen I became obsessed with high-quality audio -- in the 1960s, when woolly mammoths roamed the earth -- there were two serious choices for playing records. There was the automatic turntable, which could play as many as a half-dozen LPs in sequence. (Back then, the six sides of, say, an opera recorded on three LPs would be numbered like so: disc one, sides 1 and 6; disc two, sides 2 and 5; disc three, sides 3 and 4. Stack the discs on the spindle, sides 1 through 3 in order, bottom to top; when all three discs have been played, flip the entire stack upside-down, load it on the spindle. All six sides will have been played in numerical order.) This new development was a more precise and respectable version of the common record changer, which often damaged the LPs stacked on their spindles. Entering this market were models from the famous British company Garrard, joined by German newcomers (to North America) Dual, Elac Miracord, and Pereptuum Ebner. These first-generation autotables had all the conveniences of a changer but were gentler with one’s vinyl, and were better designed as turntables proper, producing less wow and flutter, and working with cartridges that could track records while exerting less damaging pressure on delicate grooves.

Note: Measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.

The United Kingdom has a long, rich history of birthing and nurturing makers of exceptional loudspeakers: Bowers & Wilkins, Harbeth, KEF, Monitor Audio, Spendor, Tannoy, Wharfedale -- and those are only the ones I can think of off the top of my head. That Monitor Audio, founded in 1972, is one of the newer kids on that block is further testament to the UK’s longtime stature as a fertile breeding ground for hi-fi, as well as to the staying power of Monitor and the other remarkable manufacturers on this list.

If you’re like me, you probably don’t know much about the Triad brand, but as it turns out Triad has been manufacturing speakers in their factory in Portland, Oregon, for 30 years now. Triad specializes in the custom installation of complete audio systems in homes and commercial spaces, and an interesting aspect of their product line is that they make multiple versions of each speaker: in-ceiling, in-wall, on-wall, and freestanding, to suit your room layout. At the 2014 CEDIA Expo, it was Triad that Dolby Labs partnered with to debut the Dolby Atmos home-theater system. Since then, Triad has designed and installed more than 600 Dolby Atmos home theaters.