In my 20-plus years of reviewing audio equipment, I think I’ve auditioned more models from NAD than any other two brands combined. Amplifiers, tuners, CD players, receivers, and soon a turntable -- I’ve covered the waterfront with the Canada-based brand. And I’m glad. Most often, I’ve found NAD gear to be honestly designed with excellent sound quality, a lack of flash or trash “features” that do nothing to enhance one’s listening, and build quality that’s up there with some of the best budget-priced gear. I believe that NAD prices their products to be affordable for any audiophile.
SVS has firmly established itself as an online retailer of loudspeakers, first with its highly acclaimed subwoofers, and then through its Ultra and Prime speaker lines. The Ultra line comprises its higher-end speakers, the Prime line its more budget-friendly models. I first became acquainted with SVS through my review of the Prime Tower speaker, which I thought punched well above its price.
One of the traditional problems in standard loudspeaker design has been the placement of a speaker’s different drivers at different points on the speaker’s baffle. A solution is to superimpose a tweeter on a midrange cone -- basically, the tweeter is nested within the cone -- to create a single point source for the wavefronts of the soundwaves produced by both drivers. This sort of arrangement is called coincident because the two drivers that comprise it share the same axis. Coincident drivers have been around for 60 years -- Cabasse made them for movie theaters in the 1950s -- and have mainly been used in recording-studio monitor and car speakers. In 1991, speaker maker KEF adapted the concept to create the first truly hi-fi coincident driver intended for use in home audio, calling it the Uni-Q. KEF’s Q150 bookshelf model is the eighth and latest evolution of the Uni-Q.
MartinLogan is best known for its electrostatic tower speakers, which range from the ElectroMotion ESL ($2500 USD/pair) up to their flagship model, the Neolith ($80,000/pair). While I’m a longtime fan of their electrostatic designs, the MartinLogan models I’m more likely to recommend to friends are found in its budget-leaning Motion Series, which includes a trio of floorstanders: the 60XT ($3000/pair), the 40 ($1999/pair), and the 20 ($1599/pair). Philip Beaudette reviewed the Motion 40 for SoundStage! Hi-Fi in October 2012. Here I listen to ML’s entry-level floorstander, the Motion 20.
Norway’s Hegel Music Systems makes CD players, DACs, and amplifiers -- integrated, pre-, and power -- and since its founding has focused on solving the problems that plague contemporary amplifiers, such as harmonic distortion. In fact, harmonic distortion so intrigued founder Bent Holter that, in the late 1980s, he wrote his thesis on the subject. Among the technologies to come from this research has been Hegel’s patented SoundEngine circuitry -- now reincarnated as SoundEngine2 -- which seeks to retain the original detail and dynamic range of the signal with error-correction technology. The various stages of an amplifier -- input, gain, output -- are usually connected in series. The trouble with this is that any distortion produced in one of these stages is then sent on to the next stage to be amplified, along with the signal. At the end of this series, this cumulative distortion is then, hopefully, minimized by a global feedback loop.
I’ve become well acquainted with Monitor Audio in the past few years, having visited their offices in Rayleigh, just east of London in the UK, in 2014. I reviewed their Bronze 6 loudspeaker in 2016, and recently I used as my reference loudspeaker the flagship model of their previous generation of Silver models, the Silver 10 floorstander. I respect Monitor’s no-nonsense approach to loudspeaker design: not much pomp and circumstance, just sound engineering and modestly attractive looks.
Monolith THX Ultra 15” subwoofer measurements can be found by clicking this link.
The Monolith THX Ultra 15” subwoofer (product no. 24458) is a radically different product for Monoprice. As I’ve written previously on SoundStage! Xperience, Monoprice’s business model is to sell products that are pretty good, yet are more affordable than those of most competitors.
I’ve owned or reviewed half a dozen KEF products over the past five years, and with good reason. KEF makes sensible, high-quality, well-engineered loudspeakers. But for all my experience with this British brand, I’d never heard any of their affordable Q speaker models.
There’s a never-ending controversy about which type of phono cartridge is better: moving-coil, moving-magnet, or moving-iron. I fall firmly in the MM/MI camp. It’s not that I don’t appreciate MCs -- some MCs I’ve heard have created an almost magical sound -- but I’ve resisted, for a number of reasons:
Note: Measurements taken in the anechoic chamber at Canada's National Research Council can be found through this link.
Bowers & Wilkins has had an action-packed two years. In May 2016, the storied English loudspeaker maker was bought by EVA Automation, then a 40-person startup run by a former Facebook executive, the stated goal of the acquisition being to marry EVA’s expertise in automation with B&W’s prowess in audio engineering. B&W also launched the 800 D3 loudspeaker, the top model in the company’s flagship 800 Series Diamond line. More recently, B&W announced its new 700 Series of speaker models, the successor to its outgoing CM Series. Does the new line continue the magic of past Bowers & Wilkins models, or does it strike off in a bold new direction for one of the high end’s biggest players?