Cuttin-Edge, On-the-Spot Reporting

From comments that I hear, I'm led to believe that many people think two things about me: 1) I favor mostly two-way, stand-mounted (i.e., bookshelf) speakers, and 2) I like only cheap stuff.

The thing about two-ways is likely because in the past I reviewed plenty of two-way speakers and always championed them. Here's the thing, though: I championed them for people who listen in small rooms, which is what I used to have. I believe there's nothing worse than trying to cram too big of a speaker into too small of a room. However, now that I've moved and have an incredibly spacious listening room, I tend to review speakers that are a whole lot larger, which is exactly what's suitable for a big room. So I favor stand-mounted speakers for a particular purpose, but I certainly don't believe they're superior in every application.

The part about me liking cheap stuff comes from me promoting so many lower-priced products, particularly speakers. The reason is that there are a significant number of companies selling astronomically priced speakers that are built poorly and sound pretty bad. The difference between me and some reviewers is that I'll say just that, such as in my commentary from CES 2011 where I wrote about speakers from Avalon and Venture that, in my opinion, represent exceedingly poor value. So people tend to think I like only cheap stuff, conveniently forgetting that I love Revel's Ultima Salon2 and Vivid Audio's B1, which are priced north of ten grand, and I just heaped lavish praise on the Devialet D-Premier, priced in North America at $15,995, which is a lot for an integrated amp.

This brings us to today. Even though I've moved to a much larger listening space, I still champion the idea that small speakers are better for smaller rooms, so I'm always on the lookout for good ones that I can recommend to people they'd be suited for. And when it comes to high prices, providing the product can justify its price tag through build quality and performance, I'm receptive to it. I'm also prone to admire speakers that have enough pizazz to make them distinctive and unique -- frankly, after this many years of reviewing, I'm getting pretty bored of me-too products.

So while at High End this year I was on the lookout for stand-mounted speaker designs that really caught my eye. Three did, and they all have this in common: they're exceptionally well built and distinctively styled, and they possess such luxury appeal that I consider them "sinfully sensational." Sinful because of their high prices, sensational because they can cause quite a stir in your listening room just for the way they're built and look. And while I couldn't listen to any of them in Munich, the care with which they seem created and the potential they show because of their design details makes them worth singling out and mentioning here. In no particular order, here they are:

Crystal Cable Arabesque Mini

Crystal Cable's new Arabesque Mini is inspired by the all-glass, groundbreaking Arabesque that the company released about two years ago. Unlike the original Arabesque, the Mini's cabinet is made from aluminum instead of glass. But its distinctive shape when viewed from the top is the same. Nothing from any other company looks like it. The Mini uses a 1" Scan-Speak beryllium-dome tweeter atop a 5" Scan-Speak Illuminator mid-woofer and is priced at 12,000€ per pair with stands that, incidentally, are clear like the original Arabesque.

Sonus Faber Guarneri Evolution

I've never reviewed a Sonus Faber speaker before so I've never had the chance to say this in (screen) print, but I'll mention it now: I've always thought that Sonus Faber speakers of yesteryear looked awful. Why? "Gaudy" is a word that always came to mind, and the shapes seemed awkward.

Sonus Faber's latest speakers have changed all that. The new Guarneri Evolution model that debuted at High End has the kind of styling that audiophiles will lust over. The chromed aluminum panels not only "bracket" the speaker to make the structure stronger, but they also look great. The two available finishes, Red and Graphite, are gorgeous. The integral stand is as handsome as the speaker is elegant. In terms of styling, Sonus Faber has taken a big step forward with the sensational-looking Guarneri line. The price for the Guarneri Evolution is 15,000€ per pair. Like Crystal's Mini, there's nothing else quite like this in the world.

Magico Q1

Magico is a company that can be praised for being on a constant quest to improve their products. Gone is the wood that they used in their cabinets before; enter an all-aluminum enclosure that has been anodized and finished to perfection. Magico's new Q1 isn't quite as glitzy or distinctively shaped as either the Mini or the Evolution, but I've come to admire Magico's rather simple and elegant styling that first came to life in their floorstanding Q5 model. There's a BMW-ish look to these models. A distinguishing design feature on this model not found on the Q5 or the Q3 is a little copper insert that bear's the model name -- a nice touch.

Magico Q1

The Q1 uses Magico-made drivers: a 1" beryllium-dome tweeter and a 7" Nano-Tec woofer. The Q1 sells for 28,000€ per pair and, as with the Mini and the Evolution, comes with an integral stand, something that brings me to an interesting final point: Since all of these speakers come with stands, they can't be classified as bookshelf-type designs the way most two-ways can. They are all stand-mounted loudspeakers. Besides, built the way they are, they're so heavy that they'll likely break any shelf someone rests them on.

In closing, I have to say again that my assessments here are based only on appearance -- at the time of writing, none were set up and playing, at least when I visited the displays. But given the interest these three speakers piqued in me, I'm extending this invitation to all the companies: I'm happy to review them if they're sent to me, and I'll be sure to set them up in the appropriate kind of space. Time will tell if that happens -- and if they sound as sinfully sensational as they look.

Doug Schneider
Publisher and Founder, The SoundStage! Network