I like Stereophile‘s idea of ranking components with grades. The latest ratings divide speakers into categories according to how much bass they produce and how deep it goes. This makes a lot of sense, but confuses me a bit. .
The ten Class A (Full range) speakers averaged $58,800. (Gasp!)
There is a Class A Restricted Extreme LF with tiny stand-mount speakers and small towers, priced from $1500 to $42,000, etc.
The rest of the ratings have lots more that is too pricey for my blood, so I’m going to point out only some of the ones I sell.
GoldenEar Technology made the speaker list in Class B (full range)
GoldenEar Triton One: $4999.98/pair $$$ ( $$$ indicates a super bargain, which makes sense if you look at their Class A speaker prices. Wylie)
Preceded in the GoldenEar line by a number of less-expensive loudspeakers, the Triton One is their new flagship: a 54″-tall tower whose cloth wrap conceals a powered, passive-radiator–loaded subwoofer system, two 5.25″ midrange drivers, and, as RD describes it, “GoldenEar’s version of the famed Heil Air-Motion Transformer, called a High-Velocity Folded Ribbon tweeter.” Other distinctions include a fully balanced crossover, the use of DSP in the active portions of said crossover, and a 1600W internal subwoofer amp. According to RD, the Triton One performed with little strain on music played at “impress-your-friends levels,” but that was far from this pony’s only trick: “I could play the speakers at a low level and all the music was still there.” He added, “the bass always tuneful and firm. In music that didn’t reach down into the deep bass, there was no midbass emphasis to give a false impression that there was deep bass.” JA’s measurements confirmed the Triton One’s high sensitivity, but noted an impedance-phase angle sufficiently challenging that the user “will require a good 4 ohm–rated amplifier to drive the speaker to acceptably high levels.” In all, JA declared this latest GoldenEar to be “another finely engineered loudspeaker.” Borderline Class A. (Vol.38 No.2 WWW)
GoldenEar Technology Triton Two: $2999.98/pair $$$ ★
Designed by industry veteran Sandy Gross and his team, and made in China, the Triton Two is a three-way floorstander with a unique array of drive-units: a High-Velocity Folded Ribbon tweeter, two 4.5″ midrange cones, two 7″ by 10″ passive radiators, and two 5″ by 9″ cone woofers powered by a 1200W class-D amplifier. The speaker’s slim cabinet is made of high-density Medite, features a separate subenclosure for the midrange drivers, and is covered in black cloth. Though it exhibited some box colorations when pushed too loud, the Triton Two offered sweet, detailed highs, an uncolored midrange, well-extended lows, and excellent dynamics, said RD. (Vol.35 Nos.2 & 10 WWW)
Bel Canto Design made Class A with the DAC 3.5 MkII, though there is now an improved DAC 3.7but it’s too soon for the reviewers to catch up. The same for the new bel canto DAC 1.7 and 2.7
Bel Canto e.One DAC3.5VB Mk.II: $3495 ★
Like other Bel Canto products, the e.One DAC3.5BV is roughly half the width of a typical audio component and boasts a black-painted steel chassis with a beautifully milled faceplate of naturally finished aluminum. It accepts resolutions up to 24-bit/96kHz and offers a wealth of inputs: RCA and BNC digital, balanced AES/EBU digital, TosLink, ST fiber-optic, and a single pair of analog RCA jacks. While its D/A section is similar to that found in Bel Canto’s e.One DAC3, the DAC3.5VB has revised jitter-rejection circuitry for improved performance with high-jitter sources. Meanwhile, the optional VBS1 power supply ($1495) provides 12V DC and adds heroic LC filtering and energy storage. EL was most impressed by the Bel Canto’s ability to produce big soundstages with exceptionally quiet backgrounds. Adding the VB-REF power cable ($495) opened up those stages even more, reduced treble grain, and lowered the perceived noise floor. On the test bench, the Bel Canto exhibited high resolution and low jitter. The Bel Canto traded the sweet tone of Weiss’s DAC202 for greater overall clarity and cleaner highs; compared with the dCS Debussy, the Bel Canto lacked some bass, but offered a warmer, more musical sound, with blacker backgrounds and fleshier images, said EL. Review was of original version; Mk.II has improved power supply and a master clock with lower phase noise. Compared to the Benchmark DAC2 HGC, the Bel Canto had a more laid-back overall sound, with a larger soundstage and better image separation, said EL. (Vol.34 No.6; Vol.35 No.1; Vol.37 No.2 WWW)
A WireWorld interconnect cable and a speaker cable were recommended but they are so expensive it’s not worth mentioning.
Four versions of ASC Tube Traps were recommended.
Music Hall’s Ikura turntable made Class B
Music Hall Ikura: $1195
Designed in the US and manufactured in the Czech Republic, the Music Hall Ikura is a two-speed, belt-drive turntable that comes packaged with a 9″ tonearm and bundled with an Ortofon 2M Blue MM cartridge (the latter a $236 value when bought separately). The Ikura’s simple and distinctly attractive exterior—according to BJR, even the dustcover is “sexy”—conceals a clever two-plinth design, with motor and electronics fastened to the bottom structure and the platter bearing and tonearm fastened to the top, with rubber cones in between. A pre-lubricated, stainless-steel ball bearing with a Teflon sleeve, a platter machined from MDF, and a DC motor are also featured. The aluminum tonearm has Swiss-made ABEC 7 (that’s good) stainless-steel bearings, adjustable VTA, and a falling-weight antiskating mechanism. Cartridge alignment and arm height are set at the factory, although future adjustments, tools and instructions for which are included, can be easily made. In his listening, BJR discovered high-frequency performance that was “impressive for a $1200 turntable” and bass performance that was “even more impressive.” On the downside, he found that the Ikura–2M Blue combo could be flustered by unusually demanding passages. (Vol.37 No.12 WWW)
In cartridges both Ortofon and Grado had recommended models, but I’m sure you are as tired of reading this as I am of writing it, so if you want to see the whole deal visit the article on Stereophile.