Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

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I’m not really a subwoofer guy. Getting a pair of ballsy floorstanding loudspeakers perfectly set up in a dedicated listening room is hard enough, but trying to integrate the output of a small sub with those of a pair of bookshelf speakers in a modern, open living space can be nearly impossible. But I get the appeal. A sub, properly set up, can quickly turn a cheap pair of two-ways into a nearly full-range system without having to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on a pair of big, three-way towers. It also gives you system flexibility -- like the possibility of an ultimate desktop setup. I just wish there were an easier way to dial in a sub’s sound without having to constantly get up and fiddle with rear-mounted cabinet controls. Paradigm, it seems, has an affordable solution.

Scansonic HD came into being in 1970, as a speaker line of Scan-Speak, the famed Danish maker of drive-units. Scan-Speak was then purchased by Scansonic’s current parent company, Dantax Radio, in 1977, before being spun off on its own some ten years later. This left Scansonic under the Dantax umbrella, along with loudspeaker brands GamuT Audio and Raidho Acoustics. While Raidho’s ultra-high-end speakers are famed for their fast, airy sound, thanks in no small part to the ribbon tweeter used in all their models, their retail prices stretch well into six figures and make them pipe dreams for all but the wealthiest audiophiles. Scansonic’s mandate is to make available to a wider audience some of the Raidho magic at more affordable prices.

In my city, the Crosley name carries a lot of weight. It was here in Cincinnati, in 1920, that successful auto-parts manufacturer Powel Crosley Jr. found himself appalled at the price of radios: a simple crystal set cost $100 -- the equivalent of $2262.20 in 2018 dollars -- but that didn’t include the necessary headphones and long outdoor antenna. His son really wanted a radio, but Crosley was frugal. Instead, he bought a $9 book on how to build a radio. He built it, then hired a couple of engineering students from the local university to build replicas, which he sold for $20 apiece ($452.44 in 2018). He sold a ton of them. By the mid-1920s, Crosley was the largest radio manufacturer in the US, mostly because he made radios affordable for so many; he was often called “the Henry Ford of radio.”

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

Paradigm has been around since 1982, and still designs and engineers all its loudspeakers in its headquarters just outside Toronto, Canada. The company can always be counted on to deliver high-quality products with good sound, at a variety of prices.

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

Reviewers' ChoiceThe pursuit of perfection is a lonely endeavor, and talent, on its own, doesn’t guarantee success. That talent must be nurtured and honed through years of practice and adversity, to fortify the constitution and single-mindedness required to create something of true excellence. Paul Barton founded PSB Speakers in 1972, and by 1974 had set to work in the anechoic chamber of Canada’s National Research Council (NRC) with Dr. Floyd E. Toole, one of the early pioneers of measurement-based loudspeaker design. Barton has worked vigilantly in the NRC ever since, having reviewed, by his own estimate, hundreds of thousands of measurements, all in the quest of slowly but surely improving his designs. He is, for me, firmly fixed in the pantheon of great loudspeaker designers.

Reviewers' ChoiceMea culpa

I’ve been at this reviewing gig for a while now, and save for the odd wrinkle with a couple of products, I’ve never committed a faux pas, such as returning a product damaged or missing any of its accessories -- until now.

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

Though Q Acoustics has long been on the fringes of my consciousness, their products had never found their way into my listening room. My introduction to this British manufacturer was in 2013, when I visited electronics manufacturer Arcam in Cambridge, England, and found that they were using Q’s Concept 20 bookshelf speakers in their listening room. I was taken with the little speakers’ dynamics and overall clarity, and said as much to some of my SoundStage! Network colleagues.

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

Bowers & Wilkins is a rarity in high-end audio. Founded in 1966 by John Bowers and Roy Wilkins, the British brand has in the five decades since built a loyal following of audiophiles. Other boutique audio companies have enjoyed this sort of staying power, but the list is relatively short, and few are known outside the high-end community. B&W’s roots go back to the year the Beach Boys released Pet Sounds, Syd Barrett was still the face of Pink Floyd’s psychedelic sound in the London underground, and the Beatles had yet to release Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, arguably the beginning of their most interesting period of work (with apologies to those who claim that this began with Revolver, an exceptional album in its own right).

Since 1977, with a brief break around 2000, Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab records have had a reputation for being some of the best vinyl available anywhere. BDA (Before Digital Audio), Mobile Fidelity’s half-speed-mastered SuperVinyl LPs had incredible dynamic range and superquiet surfaces. Finally, after all these years, Mobile Fidelity offers its own line of turntables, sold under its MoFi Electronics brand. I had the pleasure of auditioning their basic model, the StudioDeck.

MartinLogan’s slogan is “Truth in Sound.” Like most speaker companies, they strive to make products that re-create the most complex musical passages as faithfully as possible. In their lines of large hybrid-electrostatic speakers, they try to do this by using an extremely thin, light membrane with excellent transient response. For optimal horizontal dispersion, the panel is curved. This panel is coupled to a conventional woofer cone to reproduce deep bass frequencies that the electrostatic panel cannot.