Price: $3695 per pair in black, white, or full white painted finish; $3995/pair in birch, cherry, or walnut real-wood veneers
Philip said: At just under $4000/pair it isn’t cheap, but I’ve heard more expensive speakers that don’t sound nearly as good. While there’s no such thing as a perfect speaker, Amphion’s Argon3L comes as close as I’ve heard to reaching that elusive ideal.
The gist: Perhaps one of the best small floorstanders under five grand a pair that you can currently buy.
Price: $1090 per pair
Thom said: In prizefighting, there’s a phrase to describe a boxer who hits like a fighter in a heavier class: "He punches above his weight." That was the case with the Aperion Audio Verus Forte Tower. I found it to be a really fine speaker overall, and a pretty remarkable one for its size. No, it didn’t have the ultimate bass performance; that’s where a subwoofer would come in. But on their own they provided a wide-bandwidth sound with excellent detail and a fine soundstage, and their depth of soundstage was especially good. This is a speaker that can sound great in many environments, though it does need some space behind it to sound its best. Overall, it was attractive and capable -- I recommend it to anyone looking for a really high-value speaker that sounds good and looks just as good.
The gist: Aperion's smallest floorstander stands tall in performance.
Price: $598 per pair
Colin said: Aperion Audio’s Verus Grand Bookshelf reminded me that great things can still come in small packages. The Bookshelf isn’t just a fine-sounding speaker, it’s a refined-sounding speaker that doesn’t offer only a glimpse of high-end performance -- it’ll take you on a full tour and give you a T-shirt at the end. With a beguiling tweeter and a clean, overachieving midrange-woofer, the Verus Grand Bookshelf proves that its name is no oxymoron. It’s a speaker well worth an audition and its asking price. And it looks fabulous.
The gist: Look at that finish!
Price: $1798 per pair
Jeff said: Aperion Audio has ticked off all the areas you’d want ticked off by a floorstanding loudspeaker: clean, textured, articulate, full-range sound; solid build quality and a beautiful finish; nice touches such as dual sets of binding posts and magnetically attached grilles; and a price well under $2000/pair.
The gist: The new speaker-to-get-under-$2000 class leader.
Price: $499 per pair
Jeff said: Just do the easy thing: Get some Zonas, plug ’em in, dial ’em in with the remote, then sit back and enjoy the experience. The Zona might not take over the audio world -- such little guys can do only so much heavy lifting -- but they fill a void in the real world consumers live in, and do so while offering more performance, build quality, and features than you might expect for the price. To me, that makes them a solid recommendation. Thumbs up to wireless!
The gist: Wireless speakers that actually sound good!
Price: $2500 per pair
Ron said: The Atlantic Technology AT-1 is more costly than its closest competitor I’ve yet listened to, the $1995/pair Dynaudio DM 3/7, but the extra $505 buys a whole lot in terms of fit’n’finish and performance. The AT-1 just does more, both on paper and in the listening. Nothing about this speaker annoyed me in the least -- and usually I find something that does. To say that the AT-1 should worry other manufacturers is an understatement. Smart people will buy a pair for $2500; the same smart people would be justified in considering the AT-1 even if it cost two, three, or four times as much.
The gist: The standout budget floorstander of 2011.
Price: $1999 per pair
Colin said: If you want deep, natural bass, silky highs, a natural midrange, detail enough to satisfy pickers of the tiniest nits, and a soundstage so natural that a photo of this speaker should appear beside the dictionary definition of the word, the CST-1 is the speaker for you.
The gist: A standout in a crowded field of sub-$2000 speakers.
Price: $2000 per pair
Jeff said: All in all, the DM 3/7 safely preserves and extends Dynaudio’s reputation for good-sounding speakers. The company remains a strong competitor, even at this lower end of the market.
The gist: A very solid buy in the impressive Dynaudio loudspeaker range.
Price: $2495 per pair
Thom said: The Focal Chorus 826Vs sounded very fine with nearly any music I threw at them. To paraphrase the old song, I found them delightful to look at, lovely to hear. They seem to be French down to their very souls: distinctive, attractive, artistic, individualistic pieces of art. And for $2495/pair they’re an excellent value, and among the best speakers I’ve heard.
The gist: Mid-line Focal is one of their best values.
Price: $1395 per pair
Colin said: The Gemme Audio Tonic G5 is an outstanding speaker. It is the most exciting audio product I’ve crossed paths with this year, and it’s the biggest bargain, too. In fact, it’s probably all the speaker that most people with smaller rooms will ever need or want.
The gist: Colin has officially fallen in love with a speaker.
Price: $2995 per pair
Jeff said: I’ve been completely blown away by Gingko Audio’s ClaraVu 7 MkII. My listening room is a difficult space for many conventional speakers, but the Gingkos excelled in this tough environment. While tolerant of less-than-ideal placement, they really sang when I took the trouble to get their positions just right. This was when the ClaraVu 7 MkII became not merely a very good loudspeaker, but one of the most interesting I’ve heard in a long time.
The gist: Unconventional in some ways, but impressive to hear nonetheless.
Price: $2495 per pair
Ron said: There is no question that it looks the part of a modern, good-looking loudspeaker, but the Mezzo 8's performance is really the key to its success. Twenty or 30 years ago, given its sonic excellence, such a speaker would have been boxy, ugly, perhaps hard to drive, and yet would still have been proudly displayed in the listening rooms/man caves of discerning audiophiles. Thankfully, times have changed for the better. Recommended!
The gist: A looker that sounds great, too.
Prices: $99 each (SuperZero 2.0), $349 (Super 8)
Roger said: The pristine sound quality of these speakers satisfied the audiophile in me, and their ability to play loud and low made them, together, a system that I could enjoy and live with over the long term. If you’re looking for a speaker system in the neighborhood of $500, the NHT SuperZero 2.0 with Super 8 is a real find. I’ll be buying the review samples to use as my reference real-world speakers.
The gist: The model that continues to stand the test of time.
Price: $398 per pair
Doug said: Most important, the speaker sounds remarkably robust in the bass for its size, exceedingly natural from the upper bass through the mids, and lively but extremely clean in the highs. All told, Paradigm’s Atom Monitor continues to be one of the best deals in high-end audio, and the highest-value entry point in the company’s vast speaker line. Very highly recommended for those looking for a lot of music for very little money.
The gist: One of the best minimonitors under five bills.
Price: $279.99 each in Ash Black Grain
Brooke said: I can’t think of any similarly priced passive speaker that equals its overall performance. The DSP gives the A2 the deep low end of a bass-reflex design, but with the tightness of a sealed cabinet. The A2 offers genuine high fidelity in the form of a very balanced sound throughout the audioband that never left me feeling tired. Despite its affordable price, it has no significant shortcomings.
The gist: Powered Paradigm to the people.
Price: $698 per pair
Philip said: The Paradigm Special Edition SE 1 has reminded me that a well-designed pair of inexpensive speakers can give more than just a taste of what the best have to offer, at a price that many music lovers are actually willing to pay.
The gist: What more could you want for the price?
Price: $499 per pair
Doug said: For $499/pair, there is absolutely nothing I can quibble about in terms of how the CS1000 is built, what features it contains, and how it performs. The CS1000’s biggest selling feature is that it sounds like a good traditional indoor speaker -- the kind you’re used to listening to as part of a decent stereo system -- and it sounds that way outdoors, too.
The gist: Inside sound for the outside audiophile.
Price: $2650 per pair
Tim said: They are supremely musical devices fully capable of uncovering and communicating the most important aspects of recorded sound. They don’t reach too far into the upper or the lower extreme, but they pretty much nail everything in between, which is where, for most people, music lives.
The gist: A well-engineered two-way with great drivers and terrific sound.
Price: $3650 per pair
Philip said: Thiel’s newest floorstander is a true reference product, and the attention to detail that has gone into both its construction and the execution of its design is extraordinary. Given the SCS4T’s neutrality, transparency, and wonderful balance, it is a loudspeaker that you’ll likely own and cherish for many years. It’s difficult to put a price on that.
The gist: Thiel’s smallest floorstander plays big performance-wise.
Price: $3895 per pair
Aron said: I have been charmed by these speakers, and commend Triangle Manufacture Electroacoustique for offering such a high-value product at such an attainable price. Every time I listened to them, they had a way of luring me into the music and not letting me go. Is there any better definition of a good loudspeaker? Not in my book.
The gist: After 30 years, these guys know how to deliver the goods at a realistic price.
Price: $149.95 per pair
Rad said: . . . they are most at home when connected to a laptop on the go. In this application they’re easy to transport, a snap to connect, draw no power from the AC outlet that you might not be able to find anyway, and will surely deliver better sound than your laptop’s own speakers. Nor do you have to remember to plug them in and charge them up so they’ll be ready when you need them -- the UCubes are always ready to rock. They’d be a solid addition to and extension of any laptop. And they’re just so cute and stylish!
The gist: Cute little speakers for your computer.
Price: $3500 per pair
Doug said: Vienna Acoustics’ Mozart Grand SE doesn’t toe the line of accuracy to the nth degree, but it’s balanced well enough overall, and its genuine strengths include: generously full bass that belies the speaker’s size; silky-sweet, thoroughly extended highs; and a smooth, sultry midrange that gives the sound real presence and makes it an absolute joy to use for listening to all kinds of music.
The gist: Voiced just like Doug likes them.