2011 SoundStage! Network Equipment Buying Guide

Paradigm Shift A2Price: $279.99 each in Ash Black Grain

Website: www.paradigm.com/shift

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. 

Great Buy

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The gist: Powered Paradigm to the people.

Carnegie Acoustics CST-1Price: $1999 per pair

Website: www.carnegieacoustics.com

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.

Reviewers' Choice

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The gist: A standout in a crowded field of sub-$2000 speakers.

Atlantic Technology AT-1Price: $2500 per pair

Website: www.atlantictechnology.com

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.

Great Buy

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The gist: The standout budget floorstander of 2011.

Aperion Verus FortePrice: $1090 per pair

Website: www.aperionaudio.com

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.

Great Buy

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The gist: Aperion's smallest floorstander stands tall in performance.

NHT SuperZero 2.0Prices: $99 each (SuperZero 2.0), $349 (Super 8)

Website: www.nhthifi.com

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.

Great Buy

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The gist: The model that continues to stand the test of time.

Vienna Acoustics Mozart GrandPrice: $3500 per pair

Website: www.vienna-acoustics.com

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.

Reviewers' Choice

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The gist: Voiced just like Doug likes them.

Triangle EspiritPrice: $3895 per pair

Website: www.triangle-fr.com

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.

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: After 30 years, these guys know how to deliver the goods at a realistic price.

Thiel SCS4TPrice: $3650 per pair

Website: www.thielaudio.com

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.

Reviewers' Choice

Read the SoundStage! Hi-Fi review.

The gist: Thiel’s smallest floorstander plays big performance-wise.

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