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Towers of Power: A Look at the Best Super Speakers Cont.

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Legacy Aeris

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For those seeking state-of-the-art speaker design, a very attractive alternative to the JBL M2s are the Legacy Aeris speakers. Released at roughly the same time and sharing nearly the same price ($20k), they also both come with their room correction equalization processors to better remove the room’s acoustics from the end sound. Like the M2s, the Aeris have met with intense acclaim since its introduction. However, unlike the M2s, the Aeris are drop-dead gorgeous speakers, and come in a variety of exquisite finishes. Their ravishing good looks do not come at expense of performance either. The Aeris is a feat of audio engineering mastery; a 4 ½ way full-range speaker with a passive open-air top section for dipole dispersion which turns into a cardioid dispersion from 200 Hz to 80 Hz. Below 80 Hz, the Aeris uses a hybrid bass-reflex/ passive radiator subwoofer system with two high-excursion 12” woofers and a 12” passive radiator hidden at the bottom of the speaker. Each of the subwoofer drivers have their own 500 watt amplifier which adds up to a kilowatt of amplification for the deep bass of each speaker alone. The open-air top section uses a 4” AMT folded ribbon tweeter with a 1” AMT super-tweeter, and these tweeters carry the frequency range above 8 kHz. A titanium-encrusted 8” midrange woofer takes over from 8 kHz to 2.8 kHz (an astonishing range for a 8” woofer), and a 10” midwoofer takes the range from 2.8 kHz to 80 Hz.

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As can be seen, there is a lot going on with this speaker. The fact that Legacy can combine so many different design elements in the Aeris and have it be not only listenable, but have an award-winning high-fidelity sound is a testament of Legacy’s world-class engineering. Along with its extraordinary linearity, it has a very wide dynamic range, as you would expect from the array of drivers on display. The sensitivity of the passive section of the Aeris is an above-average 95.4 dB (in-room) and is rated to handle up to 500 watts. That is a lot of firepower at the listener’s disposal, and THX Reference levels should be an easy reach of the Aeris on movie night. With such a powerful subwoofer section onboard, the bass extension digs very deep with a +/- 2 dB response of 18 Hz to 30 kHz. Most dedicated subwoofers cannot match the low frequency capability. All of this comes in a reasonably small footprint too, at 19” x 17.5”, so the Aeris is not a floor hog, however, there is its formidable 170 lbs. weight per speaker to contend with. But, as was previously mentioned, one cannot have a massive sound without sheer mass.

Funk Audio 8.6P 

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In our roundup, the winner for highest spouse-approval-factor is undoubtedly the Funk Audio 8.6P speakers for having the smallest footprint, thinnest enclosure, and top-notch veneers and cabinetry. This does not mean it is all style and no substance; far from it in the case of these speakers. The 8.6Ps are a fully active system with three 500 watt amplifiers on board each speaker: one amp for the tweeter, one for the mid range drivers, and one for the bass drivers. Needless to say, drivers that can handle that level of power have to be extremely capable, and the drivers used in the 8.6P are very capable indeed. To begin with, the large 6” x 2.5” planar tweeter can move a lot of air for the high frequencies, and its size gives produces tall vertical coverage while its planar design keeps a narrow vertical dispersion with a wide but tightly-controlled horizontal pattern. This minimizes acoustic reflections from the floor and ceiling, which can be very uneven in an MTM design, so a planar tweeter is ideal for this design. The 5” midrange drivers boast a 1” peak-to-peak excursion, which is an enormous amount of stroke for that driver size. They operate within 280 Hz to 1,650 Hz, and four of those bad boys driven by 500 watts for a range of only two and a half octaves will guarantee you ultra clean mids, which is a great design choice, since, as was mentioned earlier, music lives in the mids, especially vocals to which human hearing is most sensitive to anything ‘off’. The two 8” midbass drivers, which also sport a 1” peak-to-peak excursion, have powerful low-end yet retains high-sensitivity thanks in part to the powerful Neodymium magnet motor. Shorting rings help keep inductance and distortion at bay. 

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Beefy drivers are great and all, but a good speaker needs more than just a stack of powerful drivers; a good design is needed to tie them all together to produce a cohesive sound. The baffle shape, which has been designed to optimize the planar tweeter’s performance, would normally cause time alignment and phase problems if the 8.6P’s were using a passive crossover, but an active DSP crossover system is able to set precise delays for the drivers to relieve these issues. What is typically done in passive systems to keep the drivers time-aligned is to move the larger drivers forward, as their ‘acoustic center’ is further back in distance compared to smaller drivers, however this causes diffraction problems of the shorter sound wavelengths of the smaller drivers when they reflect off of the front baffle of the larger drivers. With Funk’s active crossover system, the 8.2 can make the drivers behave as though they are at any distance position relative to each other, while physically being in the best positions for diffraction, thereby allowing the speakers to have the best of both worlds. The 8.6Ps are not inexpensive speakers at $15,675 shipped, but considering that includes a high-quality veneer, 3,000 watts of total amplification, and DSP settings that can tailor the sound to fit the user’s taste among many other features, they are a bargain.

RBH SV-831 / SV-1212

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Unveiled at the 2015 CES, RBH’s New SV speaker line holds a speaker setup well worth inclusion in our roundup. While not technically a single speaker, the modular design of the RBH SV-831 LCR speaker and SV-1212 subwoofer is intended to be used as a full-range tower as much as they can be used separately. For the purposes of this article, we will consider the SV-831 and SV-1212 as a single full-range speaker. The SV-831 and SV-1212 can be thought of as the successor to the RBH T2 (Audioholics review of T2 can be read here), with some very substantial improvements using the same basic design. For starters, the SV-1212 subwoofer section is using high excursion 12” drivers instead of the 10” drivers in the T2, as the SV-1212 is very similar to the RBH SX-1212P/R since it is using the same drivers and same 6” port. The SV-1212 will be available in Standard and also Reference versions, much like the SX-1212, and also in passive and amplified versions. For those who wish to use the SV-831/ SV-1212 combo as a single tower, there will be a passive crossover network available on request that allows a single channel of amplification to power both, although it is intended to be bi-amplified which is the standard configuration for it. While the Standard version of the SV-1212 looks to be a very capable subwoofer system, the Reference version may prove to be a monster - with enough amplification, as its predecessor measured to have outstanding performance in this Audioholics review.

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The midrange drivers from the T2 have changed from four 6.5” woofers to three 8” drivers in the SV-831. While that is a substantial 30% improvement in cone surface area, it becomes a huge upgrade when considering that the new drivers have almost double the excursion capability of the 6.5”s. The AMT tweeter also has a much larger surface area than the three dome tweeters in the T2, effectively doubling the T2’s surface area, which allows a lower crossover point of 1.5 kHz. The results are a speaker with 2 dB greater sensitivity (which puts the SV-831 at 93 dB sensitive) and 6 dB greater peak dynamic SPL. That should put THX Reference levels within reach of a normal sized home theater with even a moderate amplifier. The SV-831 and SV-1212 are expected to begin shipping around March. Initial pricing at the 2015 CES was said to be $2,515 for the SV-831 and $2,585 for the SV-1212, which would place the cost for a tower pair a little over $10k, which is quite a bargain for what you get. An option for powered SV-1212s with a 2,400-watt amplifier will be available for an additional cost. As with other upper-end RBH products, we expect the SV-831 and SV-1212 to be available in a variety of fine custom finishes.

Soundfield Audio Dipole1

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The Soundfield Audio Dipole1 speakers received high praises at their debut at the 2015 Axpona show. As the name implies, the Dipole1’s use a dipole dispersion pattern that is achieved in a couple different ways. In the lower section of the Dipole1, the bass drivers have an open rear baffle, while the upper midrange driver and tweeter on the front baffle are sealed. The dipole pattern of the front upper midrange and treble drivers are maintained by a horn-loaded planar mid-tweeter mounted on the opposite side of the front horn-loaded planar driver. The driver arrangement of the of the Dipole1’s from top to bottom with their cross-over range: a horn-loaded super-tweeter (14 kHz-28 kHz), a front-firing horn-loaded 11”x9” planar mid-tweeter (650 Hz-14 kHz), a rear-firing horn-loaded 10”x7” planar mid-tweeter (650 Hz-18 kHz), a 12” mid-woofer (60 Hz-650 Hz), a 12” subwoofer (60 Hz-14 Hz). The system is fully active with a dual 400 watt Hypex amplifiers for the mid-tweeters and mid-woofer. The subwoofer section is a 375 watt Rythmik system with adjustable volume, crossover frequency, and phase, so it can be tuned to listener’s preference. Altogether, the layout of the Dipole1 suggests an enormous amount of headroom and should be able to fill almost any size room with clear, powerful sound.  

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The Dipole1’s are a top-to-bottom dipole system. A dipole dispersion pattern is chosen because, according to the Dipole1’s designer, “they enhance the spatial reproduction of stereo sound fields in a way that is more realistic, given the severe limitations of the format.” With some stand-off distance from the wall behind the speaker and a bit of diffusion, the rear reflections add a sense of spaciousness, size, and depth to the sound. Perceptual science has found that part of the way that speakers ‘image’ depends on the ratio of direct sound to room-modified indirect sound, and the Dipole1s use this phenomena to its advantage by having tightly controlled dispersion in front of the speakers as well as behind them. An advantage of a properly-executed dipole speaker is that much of the indirect sound produced by them can have a relatively flat frequency response. The benefit of this approach is that the loudspeaker becomes far less affected by room acoustics in rendering the recording, hence the quote in Soundfield Audio’s slogan, “room-friendly loudspeakers by design.” The base price of the Dipole1s is $12k, and can be ordered with a host of customized options such as different finishes, internalized amplifiers, a sealed compartment for the subwoofer driver, and, our favorite option, a choice of doubling up on the Rythmik subwoofer drivers for two 12”s per speaker.

Concluding Remarks

As was said previously, a big sound usually requires a big source. A set of mini Bluetooth speakers are not going to convincingly recreate an eighty-piece symphony orchestra in a major auditorium. A desktop sound system cannot fool you into thinking an earthquake is happening, nor will it be able to induce that involuntary flinch that seems to occur with a live snare drum or gunshot. Headphones can sound good, but they do not have the ability to realistically convey the presence of the low notes on a piano or pipe organ, let alone the power of a passing freight train. The speakers in this article cannot be discreetly tucked away where they will not be noticed (unless you hide them behind a false wall). They demand space. Hoffman’s Iron Law certainly plays a role here, which states that you can have two of the following but never all three: efficiency, bass extension, and small size. Clearly the speakers in our roundup have opted for efficiency and bass extension over small size. And for a wide dynamic range and bass extension, small size isn’t an option, period. That is part of the price that must be paid for a speaker system of such high fidelity that it could truly be mistaken for the sound of a full symphony orchestra or a passing  freight train.

 

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Recent Forum Posts:

rmk posts on April 17, 2016 20:01
Defcon, post: 1133584, member: 75988
Didn't realize they had to be full range but looking at the article it makes sense now. IMO most people buying this kind of speaker also get a sub though, since many of these for HT use as well.

Yeah I understand your confusion. These speakers represent a very small market segment. As for subs, I've got 2 15" high excursion drivers in each of the LCR's. That's 6 15's across the front.

In other words, I don't need no stinkin subs … for music or Home Theater.
Defcon posts on April 17, 2016 19:14
rmk, post: 1133538, member: 29294
I have heard properly setup Danley speakers (SM-60's) in a Home Theater environment and they sounded really good but Danley speakers are not full range and so do not belong in this category.

Didn't realize they had to be full range but looking at the article it makes sense now. IMO most people buying this kind of speaker also get a sub though, since many of these for HT use as well.
rmk posts on April 17, 2016 12:36
Defcon, post: 1127451, member: 75988
From what I've read Danley speakers should be considered in the same class although they are pretty much the opposite of a tower. The speaker they are most compared to is the JTR, loud and dynamic with very sweet sound according to everyone who's heard them.

I have heard properly setup Danley speakers (SM-60's) in a Home Theater environment and they sounded really good but Danley speakers are not full range and so do not belong in this category.
Defcon posts on April 11, 2016 05:04
From what I've read Danley speakers should be considered in the same class although they are pretty much the opposite of a tower. The speaker they are most compared to is the JTR, loud and dynamic with very sweet sound according to everyone who's heard them.
AcuDefTechGuy posts on April 09, 2016 21:33
rmk, post: 1127131, member: 29294
You're probably right and you can certainly get a very nice sounding speaker for that price. Just not one that will play reference level at 20hz -24khz with ease. I'm just guessing about 24khz cause my hearing drops off at 16khz.
Yeah, I don't think I can hear very much beyond 16kHz either.
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