TAS's recommended speakers under 2500


Earlier this year, "The Absolute Sound" magazine began a new feature called "Centerstage", which is their new format for recommended components. The "Centerstage" feature in the current issue contains their recommended speakers under $2500.

Their recommendations are grouped into 5 classes, with Class 1 being the "state-of-the-art" (within the stated price range), and ranging down to Class 5, which "offer a fair taste of high-end sound at the most affordable prices". I have summarized the ratings for those who may be interested (speakers are listed alphabetically, not by ranking within the class).

Class 1 ("state-of-the-art" within the price range):
1. Harbeth HL Compact 7 ES-2 (MSRP $2400)
2. Infinity Intermezzo (MSRP $2200)
3. MartinLogan Scenario (MSRP $2000) -- a "Best Buy" rating
4. Spendor SP-1/2 (MSRP $2495) -- a "Best Buy" rating
5. Thiel CS1.6 (MSRP $2390) -- a "Best Buy" rating

Class 2:
1. Aerial Acoustics Model 5 (MSRP $1800-2200, depending on finish)
2. Audio Physic Yara (MSRP $1500)
3. Magnepan MG 1.6 (MSRP $1495) -- a "Best Buy" rating
4. Sonus Faber Concerto (MSRP $1895)
5. Vandersteen 2Ce (MSRP $1400) -- a "Best Buy" rating

Class 3:
1. Definitive Technology Power Monitor 700 (MSRP $1200) -- a "Best Buy" rating
2. Harbeth HL-P3ES-2 (MSRP $1100)
3. PSB Image 5T (MSRP $800) -- a "Best Buy" rating
4. Polk Audio LSi-15 (MSRP $1740)
5. Spendor S-3/5 (MSRP $895)
6. Snell Acoustics K.5 Mk2 (MSRP $1200)
7. Totem Arro (MSRP $1100) -- a "Best Buy" rating

Class 4:
1. B&W 602.5 S3 (MSRP $700)
2. Dahlquist QX-6 (MSRP $500)
3. Paradigm Monitor 5 (MSRP $520) -- a "Best Buy" rating
4. Snell QBX 20 (MSRP $750)

Class 5:
1. Acoustic Energy Aego 2 (MSRP $399) -- a "Best Buy" rating
2. PSB Alpha B (MSRP $199) -- a "Best Buy" rating
3. Paradigm Atom (MSRP $189) -- a "Best Buy" rating

Comments (pro or con), anyone?

sdcampbell
I understand why the mags do this, but I have to admit that I'm really tired of the whole concept of component ratings. I'd be a lot more interested if they rated them in a matrix, with a bunch of categories including build quality, visual appeal, soundstage depth, soundstage width, etc. etc. (and if they could then avoid the massive temptation to total the ratings into the Grand Total rating to linearize everything). There are so many speakers in this price category that they don't rate, based on not having reviewed them (fair enough) that it can be really misleading. They stress in every review how system synergy is so important, you have to listen for yourself, in your own room, etc., and then they give simplified ratings for the products they review. Oh well, it doesn't hurt anybody.....Kirk
I completely agree with you Kirk, that's why I look at the magazines for pictures and info, then wait to see what "real" people with real experience think of the stuff. I wish audio rag reviews were more like car magazines. At least when a car has poor build quality or handles like a boat they say so, they don't always get on their knees for their advertisers.
Kirk: I like the idea of having a matrix to rate speakers -- rather like the matrix used by Road & Track mag uses to compare cars by class.

If the Audiogon regulars were to design such a rating matrix, we would need to identify the relevant factors (e.g., transient response), and a weighting scale (since some factors may be less important, such as the grade of veneer used on the cabinet exterior).

So, the question for other A-gon readers is: what factors should be included in a rating matrix, and what weighting would you give to each factor? If we can get enough responses to this, I'll be glad to collate the ideas and present a first-cut attempt at a matrix that A-gon members could use when presenting speaker evaluations.
You right on da money kirk. I think both the magnepan 1.6 and the vandersteen 2ce's are outstanding speakers, yet they couldn't be more different.

The matrix might work. I wish the audio magazines would be a little more up front in describing a component's weaker areas. They all have them. An audio physic has lightweight bass and sounds bad with cheap components, a vandersteen lacks detail and has fairly opaque imaging, a magnepan vertically oversizes images, has haze in the low level detail and has weightless dynamics. Wilson MAXX's are too big & look like they want to attack you. Why don't they just COME OUT AND SAY IT. I get tired and confused trying to read between the lines.

A criticism of the above list is that I don't see some truly outstanding speaker's here. I know they are limited in how much they can review, but I feel a magazine of their size should have a few more in there. Where are the Meadowlarks, Paradigm Studios, and Joseph Audio's ?
You right on da money kirk. I think both the magnepan 1.6 and the vandersteen 2ce's are outstanding speakers, yet they couldn't be more different.

The matrix might work. I wish the audio magazines would be a little more up front in describing a component's weaker areas. They all have them. An audio physic has lightweight bass and sounds bad with cheap components, a vandersteen lacks detail and has fairly opaque imaging, a magnepan vertically oversizes images, has haze in the low level detail and has weightless dynamics. Wilson MAXX's are too big & look like they want to attack you. Why don't they just COME OUT AND SAY IT. I get tired and confused trying to read between the lines.

A criticism of the above list is that I don't see some truly outstanding speaker's here. I know they are limited in how much they can review, but I feel a magazine of their size should have a few more in there. Where are the Meadowlarks, Paradigm Studios, and Joseph Audio's ?
Hi, John:

Thanks for your comments, but I can't let one of them pass without disagreeing. I own Vandersteen 3A Sig's, supplemented with a stereo pair of Vandy 2Wq subs, and I can assure you that this system does NOT lack detail, nor is there anything remotely opaque about the imaging or soundstaging. I am not saying this to attack you personally, so please don't misunderstand my clarification. Over the years, there has been a lot of utter hogwash written about Vandersteen speakers, and it sometimes needs to be challenged because it does a real disservice to people who might/ought to consider buying Vandy products. (This comment applies equally well to other brands of speakers/electronics/etc.)

Over the years, I have owned a number of speakers, including Quad ESL 63's, Acoustat 2's, and several excellent British and American monitors, and I've sold a number of speakers made by respected high-end manufacturers. The Vandersteen 3A Sig's (paired with the right electronics and set up properly in the room) will go toe-to-toe with the best dynamic speakers on the market. The 3A/3A Signature speakers are sufficiently revealing that they readily identify differences between sources, cables, amplification, not to mention the relative quality of recordings.

If nothing else, this discussion points out the need for a much more structured way to compare loudspeakers and their relative performance. One of the hoped-for outcomes would be less "information" based on hearsay being passed along as gospel fact.

Hence, I move the question again: what comparative factors should be included in a matrix rating scheme, and how should each factor be weighted?
Hey SdCampbell,
I will note here that I am a vandersteen lover too, and I've owned several different models over the last 12 years. In fact I recall that you almost bought my vandersteen 3a Sigs when I upgraded to the van 5 a few years ago ! (you found one in seattle)

I still feel that vans are challenged from a detail and transparency viewpoint. I know you are in Seattle. If you like, come down to Portland and listen to my audio physic avanti's and my vandersteen 2ce Signature's. The avanti's will demolish the vans in terms of soundstaging, imaging, speed, and level detail. The vans will smoke the avanti's playing rock and are the more 'easy to live with' speaker. Their laid back upper range 'invites' you to listen into the recording more. I swapped the avanti's for the van 2ce Sigs in my main listening room for a couple days last week, hooked up to high resolution electronics.

Now I realize that comparing an $1800 speaker to a $10,000 speaker is unfair, but the same generalization holds true of the $11,000 vandersteen 5 which I also owned for around a year. If you like to hear things like the low level detail of a violin bow across the strings, finger's hitting bass strings, and Nadja's sobbing, the avanti will give it to you. The vandersteen won't. If you want to feel the room shake when pete townshend hits a windmill chord, or sense the weight, size and body resonance of a 1940's martin, the vandersteen will give it to you, the audio physic won't. People pooh pooh low level detail, but to me it's still very important. I LIKE hearing the nuance. Now the van 5 gets closer with greater low level detail, but still wasn't even in the same neighborhood when it came to displaying 'nuance' and imaging. I owned both the avanti's and the 5 at the same time. I consider the 5 the more desirable speaker in general, but I know what the tradeoffs are. I sold the 5's because it was too big, the lovely girlfriend silently hated them (A glance tells everything), and it had bass that I couldn't tame in my room without awkward placement. I also didn't like the fact that you have to crank a van 5 up to get it to sound good. I like low listening levels.

Bad speaker ?!? No, great speaker. One of the very best. I'd choose it over several of the 20-30K speaker's I've heard. Just wrong for my needs and tastes at the time. If I had a 20x30 room with high ceilings I probably would have kept them.

My point in the original post is that there are real tradeoffs in speakers. Things like size, fit'n finish, WAF, speed, imaging, balance, voicing, instrument weight and low level detail are all factors that will appeal or repell different buyer's.

I wish that audio magazines would be a little more brutal in their descriptions. The reviews look WAY to similar for such different performance characteristics.
The Road and Track matrices were what I was thinking of as well when I suggested a set of ratings for speakers - it's really easy to look at the R&T ratings and understand a lot more about the things that are most important. There hasn't been much uptake on the question you raise, and this is in no way comprehensive, but some of the ratings I would suggest include: Build Quality (medium) Placement Flexibility (medium) Acceptability for putting in your Living Room (modest) Bass performance (high) Mid-range performance (high) Treble performance (high) Soundstage Width Soundstage Depth Width of "sweet spot" I'm sure there are many many more, but this is the type of thing I was thinking of. -Kirk
Let's do it!
Other potential categories: How "revealing" are they of source material and source components? How detailed are they? How are they for rock music? Ochestral music? Jazz/blues/vocal?
Just bought the Spendor SP3/1P (6.5" with Scan 1", vented), to get more bottom than the 3/5. Why does everyone ignore this speaker?