Speakers 2010 Holiday Gift Guide 
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Written by Dick Ward   
Sunday, 05 December 2010

You can have the best TV, the most feature packed Blu-ray player and the highest quality receiver on the market, but to get the full effect you'll need to get your hands on some great speakers.  What makes a great speaker depends entirely on your tastes and needs, so we've crafted a list that should satisfy a wide range of needs.

Entry Level

When it comes to the entry level, we're looking at speakers for folks that are stepping up from their TV's built-in audio or from home theater-in-a-box type setups.  Whether sold as a pair or as a full 5.1 setup, these range under $1,000 and are some of the best you can get at the entry level.

energyEnergy 5.1 Take Classic

Audio enthusiasts can't agree on much, but what seems to be unanimous is the suggestion of Energy speakers.  If you're new to surround sound, you'll be surprised at the amount of sound you can get out of a set of 5.1 speakers this size.  It's perfect for apartments and smaller viewing rooms.

You'll get four 2-way Energy satellite speakers and a single center channel, all of which boast a frequency response from 115Hz to 20kHz.  A 200w eight inch subwoofer is included with this set, which will get you down to 33Hz and up to 150Hz.  It's not enough to fill a giant room, but for a speaker set that's regularly found between $400 and $600, you won't find better.

zvoxZvox Zbase 550

Sometimes a speaker system just isn't right for the room.  Space constraints can make floorstanding speakers an undesirable option and different materials – like cement walls – can rule out wall mounted speakers altogether.  In these cases, a soundbar is an excellent option.

If you're going to go with a soundbar, the Z-Base 550 is a great way to go.  Instead of sitting in front of your TV, it sits under it.  The speaker system is just under 3.5 inches high and packs five main speakers at two inches each as well as a single 5.25 inch subwoofer.    It boasts a 60 watt amp and produces frequencies as low as 45Hz, but offers an RCA output for an external powered subwoofer if you want to ramp things up a bit.

paradigmv6Paradigm Monitor 9 v.6

Paradigm's Monitor 9 floorstanding speakers are one of the best deals in loudspeakers today.  They've got an MSRP of $999 for a pair but you'll regularly find them for less.  As our reviewer Andre Marc puts it, "They are very nicely put together, sound great across the frequency spectrum, and are very versatile. They work equally as well for fronts in a home theater set up, or for main speakers in a two channel set up."

The Monitor 9 has a pair of 6.5 inch bass drivers and a 6.5 inch bass/midrange driver, all three of which utilize a one inch voice coil and a die-cast heat sink chassis.  It also utilizes a single one inch dome tweeter.  They can handle up to 150 watts at 8 ohms and have a sensitivity of 96dB.  

kefKEF iQ90

Though they've got a manufacturer's suggested price of$750 each, you can find these for $999 a pair in Black Ash, Dark Apple and American Walnut finishes. Not only are these great sounding speakers, but they've got a higher end look at an entry level price.

The iQ90 is a three-way bass reflex speaker with a 6.5 inch mid/bass Uni-Q driver that's designed to reproduce the human voice in all its nuances.  Low frequencies down to 33Hz are handled by a pair of 6.5 bass drivers and highs are tackled by a 0.75 inch aluminum tweeter. 



We're looking at prices between $1,000 and $3,000 for our midrange speaker setups, which range from incredibly unique floorstanding speakers to full surround setups.  It's here that quality really starts to pick up and we start to see more of a focus on aesthetics.

MArtinLoganMartinLogan ESL Source

MartinLogan speakers succeed hugely in two categories.  First and foremost, they're quality speakers that excel at sound reproduction.  That's important, obviously.  They're also unique in the use of an electrostatic panel which makes them some of the most interesting speakers around.

The ESL Source is currently the least expensive ($2,195 pair) way to get into MartinLogan, though the upcoming ElectroMotion series will change that.  The Source utilizes an 8 inch woofer that allows for a frequency response down to 44Hz, and can handle up to 400 watts of power.  It's adjustable too, and can be aimed at different vertical angles to satisfy your specific seating arrangement.

atlantic techAtlantic Technology AT-1

The AT-1 loudspeaker from Atlantic Technology is one that has to be heard to be understood.  The components – a pair of 5.25 inch woofers and a single 1.175 inch dome tweeter – aren't particularly impressive on their own.  Thanks to innovative new tech from Atlantic, the AT-1 is able to leverage those speakers to produce incredibly impressive bass reproduction.

How low can it go?  The AT-1 has a frequency response from 29Hz up to 20kHz thanks the H-Pas technology developed by Atlantic.  If you're in a situation where a subwoofer isn't practical, you could potentially get away with just using the AT-1s.    You can pick them up for just $2,499 a pair.

definitive mythosDefinitive Technology Mythos XTR-50

You've got a beautiful slim television mounted against your wall, reasons Definitive Technology, so why shouldn't you have speakers to match?  The Mythos XTR-50 is an on-wall speaker designed to replace your floorstanding left and right speakers as well as your center channel.
You're not going to get AT-1 style bass out of the XTR-50, which has a frequency response from 92Hz to 30kHz, but you'll find surprising quality out of otherwise incredibly unconventional speakers.  You can get three XTR-50s now along with a SuperCube III subwoofer to pick up the bass and a pair of Mythos Gem surround speakers for $2,796 from Definitive Technology.

boston acousticsBoston Acoustics RS 326

The RS326 is the flagship speaker of the Reflection Series from Boston Acoustics and it has certainly earned the title.  It's a 3-way loudspeaker that boasts a one inch EWB tweeter, a 3.5 inch midrange driver and a pair of 6.5 inch FCCM woofers that's at the top of the mid-range from Boston Acoustics.

Boston Acoustics boasts that the Super Linear Plane baffles significantly reduce diffraction and create a sound that's just as good with the grilles on as they are off.  You'll get a frequency response from 38Hz up to 26kHz with 3dB of variation.  They run around $999 each, which brings them to $1,998 for a pair.


High End

This is where things start getting really interesting and speakers range in pricing from $3,000 on up to the tens of thousands.  It's the point where you could legitimately decide between a pair of speakers and a pair of new cars.

theil scs4tThiel SCS4T

The newest speaker on our list the Thiel SCS4T just became available for sale this month.  As Thiel fans may have guessed, the SCS4T utilizes many of the same components as the very well received SCS4, but expands from the compact bookshelf design to a full floorstanding speaker.

The SCS4T has a frequency response from 48Hz to 20kHz with 2dB variance.  It uses an ultra low-distortion short coil driver system, boasts a die cast aluminum baffle and utilizes outrigger spikes for maximum stability and sonic performance.  You can expect to pay around $3,700 for a pair of these speakers.

signatureParadigm Signature v.3

Paradigm has one impressive set of speakers in the Signature v.3.  They've been around for a while, and every iteration gets better and better.  The latest update to the line brings them to version three, and increases audio output by a whopping 50 percent.  Paradigm says that this is in part due to significant upgrades to the midrange and bass drivers.

A pair of Paradigm's six driver S8 floorstanding speakers will run you $7,000, and you'll be shelling out around $14,000 for a full 5.1 setup using the best of the best, though this doesn't include a subwoofer.  You can of course mix and match from several different models, including the option between gold-plated aluminum and pure beryllium domes on your surrounds.  

bw diamondB&W 800 Diamond

What's a speaker list without a visit from Bowers & Wilkins?  If you're ready to shell out for some of the best speakers money can buy, the B&W 800 Diamond is well worth consideration.  It's the best B&W has to offer, and it's easy to see why – there's not much else you put into a set of speakers.

Diamond isn't just a luxurious sounding name after all - B&W uses diamonds created in a lab for the tweeter domes of the legendary series to help eliminate distortion.  You'll recognize a Nautilus shape to the tweeter as well, which does away with unwanted sound.  The 800 offers a frequency response from 32Hz to 25kHz thanks to a single tweeter, a six inch midrange driver with a Kevlar cone and a pair of 10 inch woofers.  You'll find the B&W 800 Diamond speakers at $24,000 a pair.

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