I was initially going to include the PS Audio Aspen FR30 loudspeaker in the regular product coverage, but when I realized that I wanted to write far more than a regular show-coverage caption, I thought it deserved to stand as a story on its own. The speaker was, without question, one of the most interesting new products at Montreal Audiofest 2022—and it was something I really wanted to hear because I’ve been wondering about it since about the beginning of this year.
When I first saw photos of the new PS Audio Aspen FR30 loudspeaker a few months ago, I knew it wouldn’t be impossible to make it work well, but I realized it might be difficult to design, mostly because of the complex driver arrangement. On the front baffle it has four 8″ woofers, one 10″ planar-magnetic midrange driver, and one 2.5″ planar-magnetic high-frequency driver. On the rear, towards the top, there’s another 2.5″ planar-magnetic driver to spray high frequencies rearward. And on each lower-cabinet side wall are two 10″ passive radiators, so four in total, which augment the bass. From the first photos of it, I wondered how well all those drivers would congeal.
I also wondered how they could build such a large and impressive-looking speaker—it measures 60.5″H × 16″W × 25.75″D, not taking into account the width of the short stand that props the whole speaker up, and weighs 230 pounds—and offer it for, in hi-fi terms, such a reasonable price: $40,000/pair (it’s $28,999/pair in the United States). The point about price was answered in Montreal—while the speaker was designed in Colorado, where PS Audio is based, it’s manufactured in China.
I knew those preconceived ideas about the drivers would bias my listening, but I tried to have an open mind as I listened to four tracks that the exhibitors selected. The electronics used with the speakers were all from PS Audio.
I didn’t take long to come to the conclusion that many audiophiles will be deeply impressed by a pair of FR30s, both sonically and visually. I didn’t know any of the musical selections that well, but I consistently heard super-powerful bass, a really rich and robust midrange, smooth highs, and the kind of effortlessness and scale that you get from big speakers with large and/or lots of drivers. I also couldn’t complain about how well the drivers played together—I heard no disparity between what the woofers and planar-magnetic drivers were playing.
The one thing I did wonder about was whether the highs were airy enough—the speakers had a bit of a dark-sounding character overall, so they could, at certain moments in the music, sound a little dull. But that could’ve been the music they played. There’s also a tweeter-level control on the back, so maybe that just needed to be turned up more. I also never experienced a tightly focused center image—it was always a little diffuse—but again, this could’ve been the music, or the way the speakers were set up.
While the listening might not have produced a slam-dunk recommendation from me, all told, I couldn’t complain that much about the sound—the FR30s sounded way better than I thought they might, and anyone looking for a pair of speakers that are this large and styled in such an unusual way should explore them. I could tell that there was at least the potential that amazing sound could emerge from them.
About the style—I learned that the FR30’s industrial design was done in Canada, which kind of surprised me because it has a really bold, out-there appearance that is not typically Canadian. We’re pretty laid back. I haven’t yet decided whether I like or dislike the look. Visually, the things that still stick out to me as odd are the square-ish top, the rounded bottom, and the way the stand props it up. These things combine to make it look a little top-heavy. But at the end of the day, I do applaud PS Audio for creating something original, because this is not another cookie-cutter-type loudspeaker—the company has definitely put thought and effort into the Aspen FR30, both acoustically and aesthetically, and we don’t see enough of that these days.