Welcome to the Stereomojo
Great Small Speaker Shootout 2007
This is the second in what will be a series of shootouts between many different components we have in store for our readers. The first was our “Emerging Technology Amplifiers” shootout where we conducted a blind comparison via panel of reviewers of 14 different stereo power and integrated amplifiers in Class D, Class T and Gaincard products.
It was the most ambitious and comprehensive undertaking ever in audio journalism. This time we focused on small, stand mount monitor-type speakers at a retail price of $1,000 or less.
We invited our readers to ”nominate” speakers they would like to see in the shootout. We received hundreds of emails with over 70 speakers named. Not all of them qualified for various reasons, usually price or configuration, but over 60 did. Every single company or distributor was contacted and invited to participate.
SO WHY ONLY 11 PARTICIPANTS?
Many reasons. Bear in mind that most of the companies are very small and don’t have warehouses full of speakers to send out. Many are hand made and take weeks or months to fabricate. For example, most of the speakers made overseas by small companies simply could not get them to the test site in time. Others were in the midst of changes to their current speaker so it made no sense to send an “obsolete” model. Prices on some had gone up which put them over the $1,000 maximum. There were several manufacturers who tried very hard to get their demo speakers back from other publications in time to participate – publications that had received them months ago but never returned them. That’s pretty sad.
Submitting a speaker to a large comparison is risky for the manufacturers. What if they don’t do well? Several declined to participate, they said, because their speakers had already received several rave reviews and thus it was not in their best interest to risk a negative outcome of a shootout. I can’t blame them for that. After all, they are in business to sell speakers. Ironically, a few of our most requested speakers were deemed ineligible because our Techical Editor, Danny Richie of GR Research, played a large part in the design of their speakers which would give the appearance of a conflict of interest, even though Danny was not one of the “judges”. We certainly respect those decisions.
Others, for whatever reasons, after repeated emails and phone calls to them from us, simply did not respond. Is that a poultry sounding “bawk – bawk” we hear in the background?
Prior to the shootout, each speaker was measured. Results published are the best speaker in each pair. The judges were not shown any measurements.
Each company was informed that we could not be responsible for burning in their speakers. They were strongly urged to burn them in before sending them to us.
This was a simple single elimination tournament. Each speaker was paired with another in an A vs. B blind comparison. The winner of each bracket went on to the next round while the other was eliminated. The panel was not told the brand, model, size or any information about the contestants at all, other than they were stand mount speakers which cost $1,000 or less. Even the speakers sitting on the floor and not in a particular round, were covered to make sure no one could accidentally catch a glimpse of them. We even went so far as to make the panel leave the room between each round as the speakers were being changed out for the next test. The only two people in attendance who knew the identities of the speakers were myself and Danny Richie and we were not part of the panel, but we both helped conduct the tests to make sure there was no favoritism.
Each speaker was assigned a letter name – A, B, C and so forth. However, and this is important, for each ensuing round, the “winners” from the previous round were assigned a different letter to keep the panelists from trying to identify the same speaker from a previous round.
All speakers were hidden behind a special order, black, speaker grill-cloth curtain. The room was dimmed to help insure no one could see through the suspended curtain. We even made sure to cover the speakers not in contention to make sure they were not visible. Bottom line, the judges had no clue what speaker they were listening to.
Prior to each round (with the judges out of the room), each pair was level matched using a B&K sound level meter ($3,000). Speaker comparator was a custom unit designed and built by Gary Dodd with the highest quality components.
A track was played on one pair and then repeated on the other. Shorter samples were then played from each track on each pair, followed by tracks requested by the judges played back with switching between speakers. Judges were permitted to request additional playback. The end of each round was by unanimous vote of the judges.
THE REFERENCE COMPONENTS AND THE ROOM
The reference components were pretty amazing. The amplifiers were custom built, very limited production, tube monoblock amps that weighed 275 pounds each. They were designed and hand build by master amp maker Gary Dodd, who was also one of our guest celebrity panelists. We will do a special feature on them for you.
The pre-amp was also built by Mr. Dodd with a hefty, balanced power supply.
The CEC transport was feeding a modified DAC-60.
The room was a large living room which has been professionally tuned with wall treatments and large columns. Note – for the test, the TV was covered with a large comforter to eliminate audio reflections. The reference speakers were custom made line arrays. The subwoofer was not used at any time.
In addition to our Stereomojo staffers, we invited two guest celebrity judges with no affiliation with us - just to make things all the more on the "up and up".
CELEBRITY GUEST PANELISTS
GARY DODD – DODD AUDIO
JOHN PRATOR – KCI CABLES
Descriptions quoted from company websites – prices are per pair – shipping may be extra
Frequency Response: 65 Hz to 20k Hz
Sensitivity: 87 dB
Impedance: 6 ohms, 3.8 ohms Minimum
Power Requirement: 10 W ~ 100 W
Midrange: 5-1/4” Carbon Fiber, S.V.F. & M.F.D.S. Driver
Tweeter: 1” Silk Dome
Crossover: 2.8k Hz
Finishes: Dark Sandalwood Piano High Gloss
Dimensions: H 300 x W 180 x D 207 (mm)
Weight: 4.9 Kg / 10.8 lbs
With the idea of a bookshelf speaker in mind, HWS-585 is designed to perform in/on a bookshelf or similar types of enclosed environment for most types of music. The HWS-585 utilizes center-mounted tweeter and midrange drivers. Best of all, the HWS-585 could also be floor-standing applications with matching stands. HWS-585 is finished with high gloss piano lacquer in wood finish. Custom colors are available at additional cost. The Synchro-Vibrate Flattop (S.V.F.) system is a revolutionary speaker driver invention from Hyperion. Unlike the conventional dustcover, the S.V.F. is an actual sounding device in our speaker driver. It produces the most direct and purest sound reproduction without passing any intermediate material, and minimize the distortion at high volume. With Magnetic Fluid Damping System, the S.V.F. has made the perfect sonic performance possible.
The Magnetic Fluid Damping System (M.F.D.S.) is another innovative design for our revolutionary speaker drivers. As shown in the picture, our S.V.F. driver does not have a spider, which is an essential part of conventional speaker drivers for holding and stabilizing the sound coil! Although the spider is important for conventional speakers, it is also considered as a source of vibration and sound coloration. Our M.F.D.S replaces the spider completely, increase the driver speed dramatically, and enable the purity of sound reproduction.
Available as kit – Other options available
HT2 Specifications :: 2 way bass-reflex design :: Parallel crossover network :: 1- RA104.5 Ribbon tweeter :: 2- 4.5" (shielded) paper woofer with a copper phase plug and cast basket :: 3 db down point is 60Hz see cabinet sizes :: Crossover point 4500 Hz 4th order mechanical 6th order acoustical :: Sensitivity is 87 db (1watt/1m) :: Recommended amplification 40-150 watts RMS :: Impedance: 10 ohms nominal :: Built with matched drivers :: Sonicap capacitors, Solen Inductors, Mills resistors, Sonicap Gen II By-pass caps :: Finished with real wood veneer ,Magnetic grill :: 3/4" MDF cabinets with Magnetic grills :: Dimensions: eg. Sealed .4cft cabinet tuned to 90hz 17" X 7" X 10" Ported .4cft cabinet tuned to 70hz 17" X 7" X 10" Ported .5cft cabinet tuned to 60hz 17" X 7" X 11.875" One Pair (2) HT2 Speakers (#HT2) :: Fully assembled, ready to play :: We apply a labor-intensive, multi-layered (6 coats!) lacquer finish, hand-polished to a vivid satin sheen that brings out the most intricate details of our standard real wood veneers; assembled by hand, finished by hand, applied by hand > only the highest of quality control standards are maintained from start to finish.
Birdseye Maple, Cherry, Cherry Figured, Ebony Maccassar, Maple, Oak, Padauk Qtr, Teak and Walnut Black
Available as kit – Other options available
RAV1X Specifications :: 2 way bass-reflex design :: Parallel crossover network :: 1- RA104.5 Ribbon tweeter :: 1- 5.25" XBL^2 woofer(M-130X) :: 3 db down point is 50Hz :: Sensitivity is 87 db (1watt/1m) :: Recommended amplification 20-100 watts RMS :: Impedance: 8 ohms nominal :: Built with matched drivers :: Sonicap capacitors,foil Inductors,Mills resistors, Sonicap Gen II By-pass caps,RAW ICE :: Cardas Lead Free Silver Solder :: Finished with real wood veneer ,Magnetic grills :: Dimensions: 12" h x 8" w x 11.625" d. Anigre Veneer (Qrtrsawn, Hvy. Figure)
Bamboo Dark QTR ,Cherry ,Cherry Figured ,Ebony Maccassar ,Mahogany AFR QTR , Makore, Makore Qtr Figured, Maple, Oak, Santos Rosewood, Teak, Walnut Black, Walnut FC Fig, Wenge, Zebrawood PS, Zebrawood QTR
Provided by Musical Hall - $899
Power Handling 120 Watt Max
Frequency Response 54 Hz - 20 kHz
Impedance 8 Ohm nominal
Amplifier Compatibility 50 - 150 Watt
Configuration 2 Way
Size W x H x D (mm) 200 x 375 x 250
Finish Real Wood Veneer: Light Cherry, Dark Cherry, Black Ash
Still a two way bass reflex design, the M12.2 features a 150mm woofer complete with phase plug. Replacing the plastic chassis used in the original M12 is the all new Epos die cast chassis. The tweeter used in the M12.2 is a 25mm aluminium dome with ferrofluid cooling and neodymium magnet system.
As you would expect with a speaker of this quality, there is provision for bi-wiring via the two sets of 5 way binding posts.
The Outlaw Bookshelf Loudspeaker
A custom designed 25mm soft dome tweeter with copper cap, vented former, ferro fluid cooling and a full video shield and bucking magnet to virtually eliminate any stray magnetic forces • A long throw 5-1/4" SEAS woofer, for deep controlled bass extension • Identically sized (internal and external) port baffle areas to equalize internal and external air pressures, and to provide fully symmetrical woofer excursion • Furniture grade cabinetry including book matched veneers for cherry finish and high-quality, hand-painted black finish on MDF • True Bi-amp/Bi-wire design using precision five-way binding posts with separate crossovers for woofer and tweeter • A proprietary 3-position Boundary Compensation switch for wall and corner placement • A proprietary 3-position High Frequency switch to compensate for either heavily damped or live rooms
Rated Amplifier Power: 50 to 200 watts
Frequency Response: 54 to 22kHz. +/- 3 dB
Tweerer 1" Custom Silk Dome designed and manufactured with precision Scandanavian parts
Woofer 5-1/4" SEAS Driver with Diecast Magnesium basket, treated paper cone, low-loss rubber surround and 26mm CCAW voice coil
Linear Coil Travel: 10mm p-p
Boundary Compensation Switch: 0dB, -2dB, -4dB starting at 400Hz where it plateaus at 250Hz and remains flat to resonance
High Frequency Switch: +2dB, 0dB, -2dB starting at 4kHz and peaking at 20kHz
Dimensions (HxDxW): 12-1/8" x 10-15/16"(w/ grill) x 7-1/4"
Weight: 16.5 lbs (each)
AV123 X-LS Modified by Skiing Ninja
Modifications and base speakers available separately as DIY - $603 total
x-ls v2 Monitor Loudspeaker by AV123
Base price $299/pr in Satin Black. Wood finishes slightly higher.
These speakers have been upgraded by Skiing Ninja Systems.
The upgrade is $304 and includes the following:
Fully custom build
Point to point connections. No wiring in the signal path.
All capacitors are provided by Sonicap
Alpha Core 16ga copper foil inductors
Full Onix IT-001 12ga OFC RED wire
Vampire silver solder used for all connections
60 durometer neoprene standoffs; keeps crossover from vibrating against the cabinet
SPAX screws for easy installation
The customer can also self-install and it comes out to $603 for satin black
and Mojo. The self install kit comes with the networks and PRE-CUT NoRez
for easy installation
Design (Bass Reflex): 2-way
Dome Tweeter: 1 x 1”
Mid-Woofer: 1 x 5”
Frequency Response: 48 Hz – 25 kHz
Sensitivity: 87 dB
Nominal Impedance: 8 ohms
Crossover: 3500 Hz
Recommended Power: 15-200 WRMS
Dimension (H x W X D): 11” x 6.5” x 8”
Weight (each): 12 lbs.
Speaker Connections: Bi-wired
High Gloss Black
High Gloss Mid-Night Blue
ROLE Audio Kayak
Although it measures only 5.5 inches wide by 8 inches high by 6.5 inches deep the Kayak will fill any moderately sized room with accurate, full range, non-fatiguing music. It is small and beautiful enough to place almost anywhere. And it is fully magnetically shielded so it may be placed near to CRTs. You can play loudly of softly. Either way, it will out-class the competition.
When it comes to construction, the Kayak is as high-end as it gets: From its immaculately finished acoustic suspension cabinets, which are constructed in-house for the highest quality control, to its transducers and crossover components, no cost is spared. It uses one of the finest soft dome tweeters available which is mated to an extraordinarily accurate woven carbon fiber cone woofer.
Inside, the Kayak has design features which are unprecedented for a speaker at its price point: film foil capacitor, metal oxide resistor, laminated perfect lay coil, DH Labs silver plated copper wire to the tweeter, and oxygen free multi-strand copper wire to the woofer. Then we outfit the Kayak with the Superior (TM) five-way binding posts, some of the finest in the industry.
Unity Audio Inner Spirit
A bookshelf speaker that is easily driven with as little as 3 watts. Perfect for single ended tube amplifiers. These can also be used with most solid state amplifiers with ease. This crossover-less design gets the midrange right like no other speaker on the market. The imaging is rock solid, the speakers dissapear, leaving the performers in front of you. Standard finish is a serene white (as shown), optional colours red, green, blue, yellow, etc. are limited only by your imagination.
Type: rear ported, single driver, bookshelf or stand mount
Cabinet: MDF construction
Finish: multiple coats of hand finshed enamel and clear coat
Driver: Fostex 4.5 inch full range, shielded, modified for Unity AUdio
Internal wiring: Unity Link series
Frequency response: 59Hz - 20kHz
Sensitivity: 93 dB
Impedance: 8 Ohm
Dimensions: 8.25W X 8.25D X 12.75H inches
Weight: 19 pounds/pair
Warranty: 10 years, limited
Assembled as tested $560
Kit $490 w/cabinets
This pair of great sounding monitor speakers is based on the legendary LS3/5a speaker design. The real walnut veneered wood cabinet houses a 5” cone woofer and a 1” silk dome driver. The crossover components are specially selected to provide the “high-end” sonic performance that compares favorably to other monitor and floor-standing speakers that cost many times over. The GINI LS3/5a sounds “big”! You will be surprised by how much bass the mini monitors can generate. The mid-band performance is nothing short of stunning!
Frequency Response: 50Hz-20kHz
Input Impedance: 8 ohms
Maximum Power: 50W
Drive Units: 1" dome tweeter, 5" cone woofer
Dimensions: 12" H by 7.5" W by 6.25" D
Crossover Frequency 2000Hz
Dimension 7"(w) x 12"(h) x 6.25"(d)
Weight 9 lbs (each)
The LSA1's offer explosively dynamic musical performance, the likes of which is rare even among the finest monitor speakers.
The silk dome tweeter and treated paper mid-bass driver operate in their optimal ranges, resulting in an unstrained, airy performance that listeners can enjoy for extended sessions.
The LSA1's convey vocals and instruments with the startling realism one might expect from a speaker costing two or three times their price. The effect is an emotionally involving musical experience.
Or, you could call it believable.
Finishes: Black Ash, Rosewood Veneer
Connectivity: Bi-wire recommended, jumpers provided
Tweeter: 1" Silk Dome
Mid-bass: 6 1/4" Treated Paper
Frequency Response: 45 - 20K Hz
Crossover Point: 2K
Dimensions: 13 1/2" (H) x 14 1/2" (D) x 8 3/4" (W)
Weight: 24lb / 10.88KG
Warranty: 5 years
GREAT SMALL SPEAKER SHOOTOUT
PART II - The Shootouts