In my opinion, the Stereophile ratings have become next to meaningless as an accurate way to gauge the performance of audio components from one rating category to another. I have heard all three of the speakers you list, and not one of them would have earned a "Class A-" rating when G. Gordon Holt was running the show at Stereophile (which may explain why he now writes instead for The Absolute Sound).
Since I am feeling opinionated today, I'll also add that NO speaker deserves a "Class A" rating -- minus or not -- if it can't essentially reproduce the full audio frequency range. Several audio reviewers and critics have questioned Stereophile's "Class A-" rating as nothing more than a mechanism to include products from manufacturers that spend a lot of advertising money with Stereophile. Logic would dictate that no $2000 speaker could compare favorably with other "Class A" speakers costing $10k or more, UNLESS the more expensive speakers were seriously flawed.
In one of Richard Hardesty's issues of "The Audio Perfectionist" online newsletter, he commented that some (maybe many) high-end manufacturers are using high prices as a way to position themselves in the market, rather than being reflective of products with genuine high-performance. Some speakers, for example, are designed with a boost in the upper-mid and/or high frequencies, which tends to make the speaker sound more "transparent" and extended. Infact, such an imbalance is NOT true high-fidelity and becomes tiring to hear over time. Of the three speakers listed in your post, I'm inclined to say that the Triangle Celius sounds the most natural to my ear.
All of this, of course, begs the real issue: what do your OWN ears tell you? If you do an objective personal evaluation of the three speakers above -- in comparison to essentially full-range speakers in the $2-3k price range -- and conclude that they merit inclusion in the "Class A-" rating, then so be it. I've always told other audiophiles to trust their own ears before the comments of reviewers, and I think that advice has more merit today than ever.
Your next-to-last line in the post makes the most valid point: how do these "Class A-" speakers really compare to some of the more expensive speakers in "Class B"? The only way to know for sure is extended listening comparisons, preferably in your own system. If audiophiles were less influenced today by the ratings of audio critics, I suspect that many would be very surprised to find in blind listening tests that some moderately priced speakers offer performance that comes very close to much more costly models.
I haven't looked at Stereophile in years--and seeing what comes up about them I'm not missing much. I thought their definition of Class A was "state-of-the-art." Class A restricted LF meant that definition minus that last octave of bass. I'd give those speakers a high strong C+. I'm not saying they suck, but they're not state-of-the-art when there's $1,600 ribbon drivers (Raven R-3) out there and lots of $500 tweeters (Scanspeak Ring Radiator, Focal TLR, Dynaudio Esotar, etc) that when well designed into a system can deliver the goods. I agree with alot of SDcampbells statements. You can do some good stuff with cheaper drivers, but you can't make'em outperform better drivers that were executed into the design with equal attention to detail.
To answer your question "but I wonder if speakers are getting much better for the money"
They're getting better, but the expensive ones should be getting better too, so the entire bar is constantly higher than it was 5 years ago. Stereophile is just stupid. Isn't even the Avalon Eidiolon using a $200 Accuton tweet, which is better than any of those speakers. Scan-speak Revelator at $220 is another good one.
I like Stereophile a lot - it's not what it once was, but it's still an enjoyable read and the price is right. The Recommended Components section, however, has gone from suspect to laughable. I'd love to see somebody try to put the "meaning" around the ratings - I can't imagine even Stereophile is trying to say that the $2K monitors in Class A truly outperform some of the $8K speakers they list in Class B. Those of us who have heard one of each often loudly disagree that that would be the case. I don't know how anybody could or would take anything meaningful out of those ratings other than that Stereophile liked the speakers they list in Class A.
They've always been so protective about their Recommended Components list - "we might make it available but we'll charge for it". With the way the ratings are now, that's comical.
Class A means it is worth a listen. For 2K I thought the celius sounded very good.
TAS is a lot more in line with their rating system
I still think Stereophile is fun reading - just more like fiction these days :)
Tim is exactly right. Worth a listen. I have never been sorry I listened to (or read about) a recommended component. I have liked some of them.
I have never found a $2K speaker that sounds as good as a great $10K speaker. However, I have listened to $10K speakers that do not sound as good as some great $2K speakers.
If Class A == "Worth a Listen", what does Class B == ??
I agree, by the way, that your definition of Class A is how people should take it. Unfortunately, it's the same definition I have for Class B.
Dont confuse price with performance...the quality of affordable speakers...such as the Stereophile CLass B Trinangle Titus...and the Class C paradigm Studio 20...both $500-600...can compete very favorably....and sometimes surpass...many pricier models...just because something has a high pricetag doesnt automatically insure it is a quality product...if anything...the "entry" level hi-end is gaining ground...and more esoteric hi-end companies are struggling...case in point....Dunlavy...
Even within Stereophile's recommended components there are some components rated class B that I easily prefer to the class A components in the same category. I think their ratings reflect the standing of some reviewers among their peers, a bias against certain sound characterisicts, and deference for some of the more elite brand names in audio.
For example, no one but Sam Tellig could get a Class A rating on a component without even a set of measurements (this happened with the Triangles and PS Audio amp). I would also point out the Dunleavy SC-IV rating because JA thought the midrange and treble was shelved.
To get back to your 2k speakers. I believe that at that price point a speaker has too many compromises to be great. I find that you have to get to the 3-5k range till speakers can start sounding exceptional, even then there are no guarantees.
I think Stereophile is a nice entertaining magazine. However, like everything, you must take it with a grain of salt.
The Stereophile rating system for equipment is a bit misleading. I have found from my own experience that there is a very big range of equipment in any given Stereophile Class (A, B, C, D, or E). Not every piece of equipment in ANY Stereophile class is remotely equal in any given system. They do however, stress that these are 'recommendations' and a person should listen to the piece of gear in their own system before they buy. No truer words could be said about audio.
My big problem about the Stereophile Recommended Components list is that it really, really, subjective. It seems that if any one reviewer loves a component, that component will make the list. Also, it is sometimes arbitrary at how long any given component can stay on the list. Some components have been on that list for several years, while others slip off very quickly. I know Stereophile has guidlines for how components stay on the list and when they are dropped, but it seems that these rules are many times ignored. This ends up IMHO causing a serious range of products to appear in any given class.
How does this happen? Well, let me give you an example that I am pretty familiar with. I used to have a Camelot Uther mk2 v3 DAC/digital preamplifier. This 24/96 DAC/preamp was in Stereophiles Class A digital since Stereophile first reviewed it. I got mine a little over 2 years ago and it sounded good. It was the best digital I had ever had in my system. I even bought into the idea that Stereophile published in the review that using the Uther as a preamp was the way to go, giving the best possible sound. I got a little adventurous and tried a Sonic Fronteirs 3SE preamp with the Uther just to hear what it would sound like. OMG, my system with the SF preamp sounded A LOT better than with the Uther pumping direct into my amps. Well... Next, I decided to get an EMC-1 mk2 CDP to hear how it compared to the Uther. Folks there was no comparison. The EMC-1 mk2 was better than the Uther in nearly every way imagineable. It was not-even-funny better. How could Stereophile keep the Uther in Class A when the best 24/192 CDP's blew it away 2 years ago?????? Now I have an Ayre CX-7 which is a CDP that made the EMC-1 mk2 sound well... not-so-good.
Everyone must remember that Stereophile is really interested in selling HiFi because that is what sells and keeps their magazine on firm financial ground. If they REALLY wanted to review components, they would do comparisons/direct comparisons between multiple pieces in reviews of those pieces. They would do an issue with reviews of say the Ayre CX-7 vs. Cary 306/200 vs. EMC-1 mk2 vs. Gamut CDP vs. Sony SCD-1 modified CDP (playing redbook CDs). Direct comparisons such as these, could really give us a glimpse into how these pieces of electronics stack up against each other.
There are minor problems though with Direct Comparisons of certain pieces ofc. Different pieces can sound different any any given system. HOWEVER, I'd like to see them review all the pieces in a few different reference systems. This might be ambitious (maybe too ambitious), but I think this could give a reader a better idea of what the pieces sound like.
Anyway, as far as speakers go.... I will say this. I have had the Maggie 3.6's and the Vienna Acoustic Mahlers. Both of these speakers are rated Class A (limited low frequency) by Stereophile. These two speakers sound COMPLETELY different. And depending on your system, either can sound really good or very bad. However, I will wholehertedly say that the Maggies are NOT the speaker you want if you want to play rock. Maggies do not have the dynamics nor the bass to really represent rock well. Rock played through my Maggie setup sounded waaaaaaaaaaay toooooooooooo refined. The Mahlers on the other hand are a MUCH more well rounded speaker than the Maggies. The Mahlers can play all kinds of music very well and are great for HT. They may not have quite the Maggie's midrange, but in all other categories (with the right electronics) they are better all around speakers. OFC the Mahlers cost over two times the Maggies retail.
In my opinion, those 3 Class A Restricted Extreme LF should be compared against Class B Restricted LF rather than Class B Full range. In other words, there are 2 threads in the speaker rating system.
I don't know much about the classification scheme used by the Stereophile magazine, but my experience tells me a pair of Tannoy D500 sounds very good (street price around $3000 new or $1600 used). The build quality is first rate, and it's georgeous to look at, very high wife acceptance.
Try the following popular CDs on it and you will see what I mean:
1. Enya Watermark
2. Pink Floyd The Wall
3. Titanic sound track
4. Barbra Streusand One Voice (live concert)
As an analogy, as part of my work, I interview and hire engineers. I have never received a bad recommendation about a candidate from their college professors. The trick is to ask the right questions and read between the lines. Those of us who take the Stereophile ratings too seriously, or view them as the "ultimate status symbol" regarding our equipment are most at risk of being misled. Fortunately, there are many other avenues available to us when researching equipment, such as these forums, tracking the used market and which pieces hold their value, and ultimately, our own ears.
Stereophile, IMO, is an entertaining read which introduces me to ideas and equipment I would never have the opportunity or time to explore. I believe the reviews offer quite a bit of information about a piece, when the whole review is read. Their reviewers generally offer honest opinions of the positives and negitives of specific equipment, and their presentation of measurements can also provide an insight into the sound offered by a given piece. However, I agree with those who would like to see more direct comparisons between similarly priced equipment, and also with those who suspect (in some cases) the ultimate Class A,B,C ratings may be skewed toward the reviewer's bias, or (please don't say it!) the amount of advertising purchased. In the end, the magazine is what it is, and it actually does rely on advertising to stay afloat. I subscribe to Stereophile (and also to TAS), and I still enjoy reading about the music and equipment. As long as I am interested in this as a hobby, I will be supportive of all avenues for information, and at the end of the day I will rely as much on my interpretation of the information presented, as on the information itself. - Tim
I feel there is a 'snob' fest going on at Stereophile. I have listened to some of there rated 'class A' speakers and found them wholely lacking. I also notice they mainly rate the really expensive speakers higher than most of the lower end speakers, for example. I also feel that some speakers get a class A rating just based on reputation and previous ratings.
I think there are MANY overlooked speaker companies out there. I have a set of speakers that have been only rated in one or two magazines - price $1200 (Royd Doublets). I think they would rate well against speakers many times their price. Does the low price make them bad - NO - it makes them an amazing buy.
I wish speaker manufacturers would market their goods like most wine makers do. There are some excellent wine values at very low prices. That is make some speakers for lower prices, that sound great - JMLabs is one of the few that I think is doing this. I do not like the B&W low end speakers - I find them wholely lacking any character - just 'thump boxes'. This way as people get more money, they can try the higher lines of the same company.
If anybody in or around Michigan would like to hear what Royd has to offer, just email me.