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fly under the radar because advertisement just too expensive or not viable.
I don't think I have ever seen ATC advertise although they are longtime supporters of the Audio Engineering Society and have published peer-reviewed engineering papers on speaker technology, which is a form of advertising if you think about it. ATC management and design staff are bona-fide degreed audio engineers rather than DIYers with a passion for audio that became gifted at cabinet making and went into business from that route. One of the few small companies that make their own transducers instead of sticking to wood work and third party parts assembly.
ATC is a UK company based in rural Gloucestershire (presumably for access to lower cost labour and skilled crafts people). They tend to sell speakers by word of mouth and have have barely began to penetrate US markets in the last ten years; they remain a name that the majority of North American Hi-Fi dealers and audiophiles have never even heard of. They fulfill a small niche for Studio precision/reference sound at realistic SPL levels/dynamics of live music but with audiophile precision rather than PA sound (PA or live event sound reinforcement is a much bigger market as JBL and Bose can attest to). Recently, ATC have began installs in exclusive night clubs/Jazz clubs and high end concert halls such as the Disney Concert Hall in LA....again a niche market. They also have made home studio installations for some well known musicans/artists.
Shadorne I would have to agree with ATC. These are very homely looking speakers. Outwardly the speaker is so understated that it looks more at home in a pawn shop than a high-end boutique. But you only need to listen to them to understand. Their styling and marketing does them no favours though.
I would nominate Lansche audio as a company that flies under the radar. They are the only other company to make plasma tweeters (the other being Acapella), only that the Lansche Corona tweeter goes down to 2.5khz. The Acapella ION tweeter goes from 5kHz up.
First let's start with some largely if not entirely under-the-radar companies producing high-quality speakers that I have heard and admired but presently have no commercial ties to (this list is from memory and no doubt incomplete). In no particular order:
- SP Technology: Advanced constant-directivity waveguides, very low crossover for a two-way.
- Omega Loudspeakers: High quality, natural sounding full-range single-driver monopole and bipole speakers.
- Pi Speakers: High value, very well designed high efficiency kits.
- Cogent: High efficiency speakers using very cool field-coil drivers.
- Classic Audio Reproductions: High quality high efficiency speakers, possibly offering field-coil as an option soon.
- Magnestand: Superbly done hotrodded Maggies
- Intuitive Design: Incredible precision and quality
- ACI: Excellent sound from conventional drivers through very intelligent design.
- Von Gaylord: Again fairly conventional format, but superbly executed.
- Amphion: Relatively wide-pattern waveguides from Finland.
- Green Mountain Audio: Probably not exactly "below the radar", but imho the pinnacle of phase-conscious design.
- Sanders Sound: The return of Roger Sanders with his excellent electrostats.
- Sonicweld: My nomination for best speaker; not cheap, but this is how you do DSP right. Very intelligent design.
- Shahinian: Voiced for orchestral music, gives a richness similar to a good omni but with more natural image size.
- Analysis Audio: High quality full-range ribbon dipole.
- Linkwitz: Multi-amped dynamic dipole.
- Daedalus: High efficiency and quality without horns.
- Tonian Labs: High efficiency wideband drivers augmented by a supertweeter, very well done.
- Huff: On a custom basis, offers ultra high quality omni systems.
- S.A.P.: Strange little Italian speaker whose driver complement is visually reminiscent of a Fisher-Price toy but they sound great.
- Duevel: Innovative omnidirectional designs.
And here are some companies whose designs I have not heard but find very interesting:
- Hornshoppe: Very high performance from a small fullrange driver.
- KCS Loudspeakers: Incredible parts and build quality for the price; I am amazed at what John offers and conclude that his profit margin must be extremely small.
- Ridgestreet Audio: Very high quality parts.
- Wolcott Audio: Innovative quasi-horn high-output omnidirectional system.
- Morrison: Another innovative omni system, more compact than the Wolcott.
I am omitting several imho worthy-of-mention loudspeakers that I have commercial ties to.
edit: Shadorne, I also think very highly of ATC but considered it to fly "above the radar horizon". Amfibius, I should have included Lansche on my list; that was one of my favorite speakers at CES this year.
North Creek Music.
Kits and systems. Unique designs (near-wall specific monitors, ribbons). Fanatically high-grade crossovers. Innovative work copied by others. Very rare to find any North Creek speakers used.
Outwardly the speaker is so understated that it looks more at home in a pawn shop than a high-end boutique.
I agree - they are plain and ugly looking. They make only a few models - basically different box sizes and limited by the fact they use their own drivers (apart from tweeters which are often of a cheaper variety). Rather than spend money on cabinetry they seem to devote their energy to transducer R&D and active designs that change only once in a blue moon. In essence one of their strengths is the sound barely changes between small to large models (just gets progressively louder/greater dynamics) and from one decade to the next (making the same transducers for 20+ years). They certainly make it difficult for a reviewer to get excited about a new product!
I think ATC was fair game for "obscure". About as bizarre as it gets in an audiophile world which seems to be a constant sea of change; where companies come and go and seem to either completely change designs every few years or offer hundreds of choices which often sound very different....clearly a fashion/aesthetics driven world in which ATC, with a handful of staff, is very much out of place.
I agree with Duke that they may not be obscure enough in the sense that was perhaps intended on the thread (meaning relativley unknown) - they certainly have amassed a loyal following which allows them to behave with relative impunity towards industry norms (aesthetics/marketing/dealer networks/attractive price point usually being quite a bit more important than the actual sound...although their newest consumer range looks like an assault at a lower price point for better value).
I've recently taken in Lansche to our stable of distributed brands, so I'm in complete agreement with you but hope that efforts here will help them fly right into the radar!
On the issue of the Corona tweeter: The 8mm plasma ball in the Lansche system is twice as big as that employed by Acapella, lending it the ability to perform at an octave lower - as you noticed. What most folks don't know is that the Lansche Corona also performs out to 150kHz - the only tweeter I know of that can do this. From what I gather, Acapella's Corona HF limit is 40kHz.
I'm not sure how this translates to what humans can hear, but I suspect that it may help with the rise time of HF transients.
As a package - due to the active bass as well as the plasma tweeter - the Lansche 4.1 system rolls in with the most impressive specs I've ever seen for a loudspeaker system: 20Hz-150kHz @ 99dB sensitivity, able to sustain 115dB.
- Chris (distributor)
Here is a list including everything mentioned:
Green mountain audio,
Danish System Audio,
Classic Audio Reproductions,
Duevel (not a belgian beer),
North Creek Music,
Cannot verify for spellings as I copied from above respponses.
Are there any others this seems to be a long list?
I am an ATC man and have used their professional products for years. Check out the 20s and 150s. Never heard anything better for a precise sound. They play all genres well: I like 20 different styles, and am never disappointed. As Shadorne said, they like to be played LOUD and have more intense dynamics as you move up.
For musicality, I also like Almarro tube amps matched to their speakers. Really relaxed sound and plays Jazz and R & B in truely wonderful ways. Some of the best organic sounding gear I have heard for pure pleasure. Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye and Miles Davis sound fantastic.
Leema is an up and coming monitor company out of the UK. Make wonderful amps that marry well with their speakers. Along with LFD, probably the next "buzz" product from over there.
For cheap pro gear, I think that Blue Sky Audio make wonderful product for budding musicians.
Well, Pedrillo, since you asked...
Okay this brand has advertised in at least one of the big magazines, but they sell direct only and even sell through Audiogon (surely that qualifies them!): Tyler Acoustics. At CES 2008, the best under-ten-grand-total (electronics, wires & all) room I encountered was the Tyler Acoustics room.
Selah Audio is designer Rick Craig's house brand, and his speakers have also impressed me greatly.
Finally, you probably didn't catch this but Musicfile suggested my designs, which I sell under the brand name "AudioKinesis".
Add to this list the following:
Oskar Heil Speakers--keeping alive the Heil pleated ribbon speaker technology. I heard these at CES a while back and thought they sounded pretty promising.
Trenner & Friedl -- Austrian, I believe. They make very musical sounding compact dynamic speakers.
Gradient--very good sounding speakers that are specifically designed to be very versatile when it comes to room placement. I have heard the Revolution (active biamped) at shows placed very close to both a back and side wall in a small room, and the sound was quite good for such a conventionally bad location.
ESP-- heard the big boys at a show and liked the overall weight and good tonal qualities, although they did sound a touch "slow" and lacking in dynamics.
Gershman--several quite good models, in terms of overall tonality, weight and musicality.
I never heard of Silverlines, but even if I had they still belong on this list, they are not as well known as Maggies or Quads. The idea of this list is to see how many options are out there, where they are coming from and also to discover the variety in concepts and materials of these new cutting edge designs.
It's not our responsibility to get the word out to the unbeknowest p*nk I mean citizen, but obviously this industry is certainly fragile, and can use help in any way possible.
As much I like to support the family owned bistro and THE LA Trattoria when funds allow me to, I would like to do the same with audio equipment, Sony and Mcdonalds will not be disappearing any time soon, but these small companies hang on a string.
The future looks bleak when all we see is Duane Reades, Payless and Wendys. I used to cross the streest to avoid walking past these chains (think of all the outgassing) now I have to walk down the middle of the street, then I run into Mr. Softee what do I do then?
I wonder if those guys selling the Shish Kebobs on the streets of nyc are running a chain they all taste the same? Thank g*d for the internet, wait that's not run by a family is it? (Actually it is run by a family, they live in Switzerland and handle your money for you, well not your money, or my money or even U.S. money. If it was really your money you wouldn't be charged tax on it.) But I can't go back to morse code or pidgeon carrier, they got us now we are doomed!!! Those chips they plan on inserting into our brains will be made by a big corporation and not your local butcher, oh well it'll probably be cheaper. (Too bad if it came from the butcher we'd be getting glandulars(I live in an ethnic neighborhood) and that would extend our lives, good thing glandulars are still available in supplements). I see those chips coming, I hope it'll be analog I would hate to think in digital, we have to fight for analog chips with some tubes so when we light up nobody can tell if it is an idea or it is the tubes?
Just think about it, we won't have to do any thinking, we will be just like the masses who are glued to the tv following orders without even knowing it. Believing everything they hear and read. When did they start the subliminal messages? I hope it never made it into the vinyl, but if it did I bet it started with.. wait vinyl came after relig ,,, Got to go.
Thanks for starting this thread, Pedrillo. I and the other small companies appreciate the acknowledgement and are encouraged by your efforts here to raise awareness and interest. And most of us are friends with each other. One of us (Dale Pitcher of Intuitive Design) was quoted as saying something like this:
"I'm not trying to take market share away from these other small manufacturers; I'm trying to take market share away from B&W!"
As the number of two-channel brick-and-mortar stores dwindles, and as audio shows and internet word-of-mouth plays a larger role, the playing field between the little guys and the big guys may be levelled out a bit. And I think many of us can give 'em a real run for their money on sound quality.
Ascend Acoustic is another company that doesn't advertise and follows the sound quality over looks philosophy. They concentrate on the budget market with their most expensive offering being their Sierra 1 monitor that is under $1K. The Sierra 1 is likely the first consumer price level bamboo cabinet speaker. I know Escalante uses bamboo cabinets too but wouldn't consider them to be consumer priced.
Escalante should make this list too. Very neutral and balanced sound.
I would like to propose a suggestion to the off the radar small companies making speakers:
The one way audiophiles meet and share ideas and do some listening together is through the local audiophile societies dispersed throughout the country.
Maybe a program can be developed through a concerted effort between the speaker(or other manufacturers) companies and audio clubs, and distribute on loan for a fee to all the audiophile societies for a set amount of time. It can be a rotating system that goes from one a. society to another. And in a years time 12 different brands will be heard in each of these clubs.
And as a bonus, each club can descibe their experience using the equipment at hand to point out which equipment matches best with the different speakers.
What do the manufacturers think on this idea?
I purchased my speakers after hearing them in someone's house, I didn't have any intentions of buying speakers at the time.
Excellent lists, although I am surprised nobody mentioned Zu unless I missed it. :)
However, IMHO the list is beginning to sound like Lake Wobegon where every child is above average. It would be good to know if a speaker stands out even among these good ones, and if so, how: Perhaps you could indicate the value a speaker provides: is the best speaker up to certain price point? Is it much better suited to certain kind of music or space than most others? Maybe the best WAF. :)
I also like the idea of local audiophile societies picking up the task of speaker comparison. Whether manufacturers cooperate or not, people could always bring what they have and have chosen and demonstrate them to others.
Anyone looking into Feastrex online already knows how ardently I admire them, so I won't repeat all that here. Another really nice Japanese speaker that is cheaper than Feastrex is the Flat series of drivers made by FAL. I heard their Supreme-S and was extremely impressed. If I was not a Feastrex user I'd probably be using FAL.
Here is a list including everything mentioned:
Blue Sky Audio
Classic Audio Reproductions,
Danish System Audio,
Green mountain audio,
Mark And Daniel,
North Creek Music,
Oskar Heil Speakers,
Quads(not off the radar, inc. since it was mentioned)
Trenner & Friedl
Cannot verify for spellings as I copied from above responses.
Let me know If I have missed any.
Another brand I found at the UK HiFi show in london last weekend, Acoustic Plan.
A very nice open baffle design, with base drivers that can be driven actively or passively. That gives a sensitivity of 98 driven active and 88 passive. They really sounded very good, open, transparent, good soundstaging. I always think if a sytem sounds good in show conditions, it must really be good.