Sunday, May 17, 2015

Top 10 Tower Speakers: $3,000 or Less (eng)

Floorstanding “tower” speakers have been the darlings of audiophiles forever. It’s no wonder: The best towers deliver dynamic, full-range sound with exceptionally well-integrated and powerful bass, along with the neutral midrange and detailed high-end and air you can expect from any well-designed smaller speaker. Towers can stand on their own or serve as the centerpiece of a kick-ass home theater, and many can eliminate the need for a standalone subwoofer on much music or even movie content.We’ve compiled a list of 10 top performing towers for your consideration and offer a rationale for why each model made the cut along with a link to the original review (just click on the speaker name/model number). Per-pair prices start at $1,400 and scale up to three grand with several models in the $2,000 range. You really can’t go wrong with any of these speakers.
GOLDENEAR TECHNOLOGY TRITON SEVEN: $1,398/pr
(reviewed as part of a multichannel home-theater setup, November 2013) 
If you’re in the market for a small tower, it’s hard to beat the value proposition of the GoldenEar Triton Seven. The newer, slightly larger Triton Five ($1,998/pr) will give you similar performance with deeper bass (an S&V-measured –3dB point at 49 Hz vs. 62 Hz), but if a powerful low-end without a separate sub is your end goal, the self-powered Triton Three tower (–3db@27 Hz, described elsewhere in our list) shares the same sonic profile. All the Tritons are defined by an essentially flat response that rises slightly in the highs, but it’s the delicacy, transient snap, and imaging of the company’s proprietary magnetic-planar folded ribbon tweeter that makes them special.
PARADIGM MONITOR 11: $1,598/pr 
(reviewed as part of a multichannel home-theater setup, SoundandVision.com, October 2013) 
We’ve got to hand it to Paradigm: the latest update of its long-running Monitor series has brought the line to new heights for a new generation of listeners. At less than $1,600 for the pair, the Monitor 11s deliver excellent bass (we measured the –3dB point at 42 Hz) and a truly crisp high end delivered by a 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter that’s been tuned for a little peak around 15 kHz. Reviewer Tom Norton evaluated these as the centerpiece of a full Paradigm Monitor theater system, praised for its “excellent value” and “immensely satisfying” performance with music and movies.
Definitive Technology BP-8060ST: $1998/pr
(reviewed as part of a Dolby Atmos home-theater setup, January 2015) 
Definitive Technology makes some outstanding late-generation towers, among them the new flagship Mythos ST-L ($4,998/pr) introduced last year. But the BP-8060 ST, based on a 2011 update of one of Def Tech’s early and most iconic designs, not only remains in the line but represents a unique proposition among today’s tower offerings. First and foremost, it’s a bipolar speaker that radiates sound from both the front and back baffles of the speaker. This makes it sensitive to room placement—you’ll ideally want it out a bit from the back wall so the rear soundfield has room to bloom. But if you have some flexibility with placement, you’ll be rewarded with a remarkably deep, three-dimensional soundstage that few speakers can match, especially at this price point. Second, these are powered towers that play down to a measured 39 Hz prior to room reinforcement. Third, if you’re using them in a full home theater system (as we did), they can be upgraded at any point to be Dolby Atmos-enabled by adding the company’s beautifully integrated A60 caps ($499/pr).
SVS Ultra Tower, $2,000/pr (reviewed June 2013) SVS has long been known for its excellent subwoofers, but the company’s Ultra speaker line brought it into the realm of serious full-range speaker design. The Tower represents an outstanding audiophile value. Dynamics are its strong suit—powerful deep bass output without the need for a sub, though from an admittedly big and bulky cabinet that stands nearly 4 feet tall and 16 inches deep. Still, the cubic volume is used to good effect, and the build quality is outstanding. The company’s recently introduced Prime series is also worth considering—we very favorably reviewed the Prime Satellite 5.1-channel budget system ($1,000). But that line’s compact tower ($500) won’t likely compete with the Ultra Tower’s big, bold sound.
MartinLogan Motion 40 Speaker System: $2,000/pr
(reviewed as part of a multichannel home-theater setup, June 2013) 
MartinLogan reinvigorated the electrostatic speaker category with some remarkably transparent-sounding and beautiful tower speakers, and we’ve got one of those in our Ten-Best-Under $3K line-up as well (see MartinLogan ESL). But the Motion series offers conventional passive speakers at lower prices, with one key twist: a folded diaphragm magnetic planar tweeter that helps capture some of the transient speed, low-level dynamic contrast, and clean, transparent delivery of an electrostatic speaker. The Motion 40 mid-size tower measured out with a —3dB point at 48 Hz, so unless you go with one of the bigger Motion towers (we have the Motion 60-XT in for evaluation presently) you’ll need to mate it with a sub to get those titanic home theater effects. But 40s alone were more than respectable for much music fare, and reviewer Darryl Wilkinson commented that “they’re so frickin’ amazing at how close they do get to the light and airy sonic character of an electrostatic speaker that it’s hard to believe.”
GoldenEar Technology Triton Three: $2,198/pr
(reviewed as part of a multichannel home-theater setup, March 2012) 
The success of GoldenEar’s Triton series, currently five models wide, is now almost legendary. All share a relatively similar column design and fairly close sonic signature from the mid-bass on up. Where they diverge is largely in dynamics and bass response, a function of cabinet size, low-end driver configuration, and critically, the use (or lack thereof) of a powered bass section. We mentioned earlier in our list the passive Tritons Seven and Five. Among the powered towers, the Three strikes a good compromise between bottom-reach and price, hitting an S&V-measured –3dB at 27 Hz, plenty enough for theater use without a sub for all but the hardcore bassheads, and it’s mated with an exceptionally neutral midrange and an airy top-end from the company’s folded-ribbon tweeter.
PSB Imagine T: $2,200/pr 
(reviewed as part of a multichannel home-theater setup, March 2012) 
Designer Paul Barton’s speakers—at virtually all price points—are characterized by a deliciously natural midrange and detailed (but not sizzly) high end. If neutral musicality is your bent, you pretty much can’t go wrong with PSB, and the Imagine T is no exception. These are relatively small towers (37-inches tall) that will fit easily into many decors; build quality is excellent and you have some gorgeous woodgrain options beyond the classic piano black. That said, you’ll want to mate it with a subwoofer to get useful bass output below 40 Hz or so.
Monitor Audio Silver 10: $2,500/pr 
(reviewed as part of a multichannel home-theater setup, SoundandVision.com, July 2014)
 
British speaker-maker Monitor Audio hangs its hat on delivering speakers with a take-notice soundstage: the company’s trademark ribbon tweeters, found in their Platinum and Gold series speakers, deliver sweet highs and image like nobody’s business. The Silver 10s, from one of the company’s more affordable product lines, use a 1-inch dome instead, made with the company’s C-CAM diaphram material that combines aluminum and magnesium with a ceramic layer. The overall character is a crisp high-end that should delight detail freaks; a smooth, uncolored midrange; and a robust low-end that measured usable output in the mid-30 Hz range. Real wood veneers join the classic gloss black or white finish options.
Definitive Technology Mythos STS SuperTower: $2,998/pr
(reviewed as part of a multichannel home-theater setup, March 2009) 
The Mythos STS, reviewed in 2009, is aging now, and you’ll need to turn to the company’s relatively new Mythos ST-L flagship (at $5,000 for the pair) to benefit from all the latest thinking and technology in the Definitive Technology arsenal. But if you’re on a tighter budget than that, the STS remains an excellent choice for capturing that highly neutral, dynamic Def Tech sound in a slightly smaller powered tower. We measured usable bass down to about 30 Hz in our lab (–3dB at 38 Hz), and reviewer Mark Fleischmann found the STS to be a truthful, revealing speaker that lays bare the quality of the content you send to it.
MartinLogan ElectroMotion ESL: $2,998/pr
(reviewed as part of a multichannel home-theater setup, December 2011) 
The ESL is MartinLogan’s least expensive electrostatic speaker; $3,000/pr in the gloss black we tested and an even cheaper $2,500/pr in satin black finish. They come with the usual caveats endemic to the electrostatic breed. You’ve got to plug them into a power outlet, and they deliver little bass from the electrostatic panel—thus requiring a (usually slower and less dynamic) cone driver in the base of the speaker for low-end reinforcement. And, as dipole radiators with sound coming from front and back, they are highly sensitive to placement and work best pulled out from the back wall. But there’s a reason many audiophiles swear by electrostatics: the large radiating panel delivers music with a huge image and the kind of transparency and detail that lets you hear into each note, and when properly positioned, you can walk right into the uber-deep soundstage and never come out. Sure, they can be a pain in the ass to integrate in your environment, but even with this “budget” model, you gotta hear ‘em to believe it.