Most high-end speaker manufacturers practice some form of quality control (QC) measures to ensure that their products leave the factory performing and looking exactly as they intend them to. These QC methods typically involve visual inspections—sometimes with special lighting or other tools that make obvious the smallest cosmetic flaws—and listening tests. The best manufacturers add acoustical testing to these QC steps.
There was a time when I was an audiophile but not an audio-equipment reviewer. Although I have been with SoundStage! since 1997, I recall a time before that when I had the gleam in my eyes that comes from pursuing the audio truth with limited means but an unquenchable curiosity. I dare say it was a more enjoyable experience in many ways than being “in” the industry. Sometimes, though, I feel brief moments of wonder like I did in my youth.
Something struck me when I interviewed Michael Levy, president of New York’s Alta Audio, for a recent SoundStage! Talks video on the SoundStage! YouTube channel. First, Michael is a wealth of information, and his speaker-design knowledge goes back—way back. If you haven’t checked out that video, and you only know Alta from a few ads and maybe a quick experience at an audio show, you’ll gain a whole new perspective on the company and its products from watching that Talks episode.
When I visited Magico at its Hayward, California, factory back in July of this year, my main focus was exploring the new Magico flagship, the mighty M9 ($750,000 per pair). I saw M9s being built and tested, and I got to hear a pair of these in Magico’s custom listening room. It was quite a treat.
With the process of setting up the SVS SB16-Ultra complete, it was time to put this monster of a subwoofer through its paces to see how it performs. The first question I wanted to answer was whether the SVS app is preferable to the included small, plastic remote control. In a word, yes. The remote does provide basic controls such as volume and turning the display on or off, but the app gives the user far more control with direct access to functions such as the Parametric EQ and adjustable crossover. For users who don’t want their smartphone by their side in the listening room, the remote is handy in a pinch. The app, however, is made for you control freaks who want everything the sub is capable of right at your fingertips. I’ll use the app.
I’ve had a set of Monitor Audio Studio standmount speakers ($1400 per pair when available, all prices USD) anchoring my multipurpose music/movie/YouTube stereo system for a few years now. This two-way minimonitor (mini Monitor?) is a high-resolution transducer, what with its AMT tweeter and dual midrange-woofers—both drive units derived from the company’s costlier Platinum series of flagship loudspeakers. The thing they lack, though, is deep bass. That is of course where SVS comes in.
In my May 1, 2021, SoundStage! Ultra article, “What Matters Most in an Audio System: The Loudspeaker Drive Unit,” I interviewed Vivid Audio’s technical director, Laurence Dickie, one of the world’s preeminent loudspeaker designers. The interview was all about drivers, obviously, and their importance above all other single factors in the design of a finished loudspeaker. In that article, Dickie—whose Vivid loudspeakers such as the Giya series are legendary in the industry—said something important:
Rarely does high-end audio offer a value proposition like that seen in the SVS SB16-Ultra subwoofer ($1999.99, all prices USD). Now that might sound like a bold statement, but as I was unboxing this big, bad SVS sub, I couldn’t help thinking about just what was enclosed in the massive cardboard box my son and I had hoisted up into my listening room.
My visit to Magico LLC at its Hayward, California, factory on July 16, 2021, was all about the company’s new M9 flagship loudspeaker ($750,000 per pair; all prices USD). You’ve seen the M9 press release. Maybe you’ve seen a few of the available M9 photos. My goal was to dig into the heart of it. I wanted to see the guts of the M9: cabinet, drivers, nuts, and bolts. And once I had all of that digested, I wanted to hear it.
As I said in “Part 3” of this series, Monitor Audio sent a Gold W12 subwoofer ($3300 USD) to pair with the Gold 100 loudspeakers I had in for audition. I’ve owned Monitor’s discontinued Studio loudspeakers for several years, and I wondered what the logical next step up the Monitor line would be. The Gold 100 proved to be a worthy successor to the Studio, although the improvements were more subtle than groundbreaking—after all, the Studio is a fantastic speaker in its own right. Would the W12 take the Gold 100s to the next level?
Happy with the transition from a pair of Monitor Audio Studios to a pair of Monitor Audio Gold 100s, I wanted to see what it would take to get to the next level of sound quality with my A/V setup. The current system is powered by a vintage Coda Model 11 stereo amplifier capable of outputting 100Wpc in pure class A. The Coda is fed by an Oppo BDP-103 Blu-ray player using its analog RCA outputs and integral volume control. Cables are AmazonBasics speaker cables and RCA interconnects. The primary source for this system is an older Roku digital media player connected to the Oppo via an HDMI cable. I watch Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, HBO Max, YouTube, and FloSports over this system.
In “Part 1” of this four-part blog on my journey with Monitor Audio loudspeakers, I gave you a brief rundown of the physical and design differences between the Monitor Audio Studio ($1400 per pair, all prices USD), a pair of which I own, and the Gold 100 ($2300/pr.). I decided to compare the Gold 100 to the Studio for a couple of reasons: first, the Studio is now discontinued, and the Gold 100 is a logical purchase for someone in need of a reasonable-sized standmount speaker at a good price. Second, what audiophile would not enjoy the experience of comparing some closely matched loudspeakers?
Monitor Audio’s Studio loudspeaker was introduced in 2018 and was touted as having Platinum-level drive units in a clean, simplified cabinet (Platinum is Monitor’s flagship speaker line). As I needed something to fill the (speaker) void left when I moved from my longtime residence to a rental house, while my family and I searched for a larger home, I promptly bought a pair. I detailed this purchase in “Jeff’s New Temporary Audio System,” published in May 2018 on SoundStage! Ultra. The $1400-per-pair Studios (all prices in USD) would be driven by a vintage Coda Model 11 class-A, 100Wpc stereo amplifier. When we moved into our current residence in summer 2018, the Monitors and the Coda moved, too. Although I built a new reference system, the Studios and the Model 11 were set up as part of a simple A/V system that I still use today for streaming movies and listening to music over YouTube.
The Revel Ultima2 Salon2 has been around since the beginning of high-end audio. OK, not really, but it feels like it. Doug Schneider reviewed it and made it his reference back in December of 2009, and it’s still his go-to speaker to this day. At $21,998 USD per pair, the flagship Revel represented to many the best you could do for 20 large back in the day. With the excellent Harman research and testing facilities and a design team led by industry stalwart Kevin Voecks, the Salon2 was part boutique high end, part corporate branding exercise, and part measurement reference for other companies to shoot for—it’s a high-end audio icon of sorts. The four-way, six-driver Salon2 is still a very competitive product by today’s standards—a testament to its design team if there ever was one—and you could do much worse than acquiring a new pair.
I’m forever counting my blessings as an audio reviewer. Despite having been with SoundStage! for over 23 years now, I’m always mindful that I get to do something most audiophiles only dream about: listen to, enjoy, and assess a wildly varying array of stereo equipment from talented designers and forward-thinking companies from all over the world. I got my first stereo system from my parents on Christmas Day—Santa bought it from Sears—when I was 12 years old. Back then, I could never have dreamed of listening to the system that is set up before me today.
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