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AXPONA 2018: Six Interesting Speakers under $6,000/pair

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Summary

  • Product Name: Diamond 11.3, STAGE, SW5, LSA-10 Statement, Song3 BeAT, V80F
  • Manufacturer: Wharfedale, HRT, Aurender, Living Sounds Audio, Salk Sound, Aurum Cantus
  • Review Date: April 23, 2018 00:00
  • MSRP: $998 - Diamond 11.3, $1,450 - STAGE, $3,000 - SW5, $3,500 - LSA-10 Statement, $4,250 - Song3 BeAT, $5,250 - V80F
  • First Impression: Pretty Cool

Brand Model Price/pair Design Tweeter Midrange Bass
Wharfedale Diamond 11.3 $998 2.5-way tower 1” fabric dome 5” Kevlar cone 2 x 5” Kevlar cone
HRT STAGE $1,449.95 2-way desktop 1” dome, underhung
3 x 2.75” aluminum, underhung
Aurender SW5 ~$3,000 2-way active, wireless bookshelf 1” dome
4.5” woofer
Living Sounds Audio LSA-10 Statement $3,495 2-way bookshelf 1” copper-beryllium dome, XBL^2
6.5” black-anodized aluminum, XBL^2
Salk Sound Song3 BeAT $4,250 3-way tower 1” beryllium dome 4” Audio Technology 7.5” papyrus cone Satori
Aurum Cantus V80F $5,250 3-way tower 5”x1” aluminum ribbon 5.2” carbon-fiber cone 8” carbon-fiber cone

Executive Overview

Audio Expo North America, more popularly known as AXPONA, was again held in the Chicago area. This ever-larger event is one that we at Audioholics would dare not miss due to its exploding popularity and growing importance. In the last few years, AXPONA has been growing in both exhibitors and attendance to the point it had to move to the Renaissance Schaumburg Hotel and Convention Center in Schaumburg, IL. We saw a lot of interesting products on display, but we can only cover a small fraction of them. So, we decided to limit our scope to a small selection of speakers from what was on display at the show. The AXPONA coverage will be divided into two parts, this article covering speakers under $6,000/pair and the other covering speakers over $6,000/pair. The $6,000/pair price point is a nice demarcation for affordability given the speakers that we wanted to take a closer look at.

Wharfedale Diamond 11.3

MSRP: $998/pair

Wharefedale diamond 11.3 

Wharfedale brought their new Diamond 11.3 speakers to AXPONA as proof that nice floor-standing speakerWharedale singles do not have to cost a fortune. These may have been among the physically smaller speakers at AXPONA, but they sounded much larger than they looked.  I listened to a range of tracks from Chet Atkins to Infected Mushroom, and the Diamond 11.3 speakers sounded incisive and natural with anything I threw at them. The bass power and extension might not be quite enough for the extreme low-frequency use of electronic and pipe organ music, but it was more than capable for almost any conventional music recording. For those who want to plumb the depths of sound, you could always add a subwoofer. The Diamond 11.3s are 2 ½ way speakers that use a 1” fabric dome tweeter and two 5” Kevlar woofers. The pole pieces of both the tweeter and woofers are fitted with a copper cap in order to lower induction, and the woofers look to be using cast aluminum baskets. With their petite size and a variety of high-gloss real-wood finishes available, the Diamond 11.3s are not likely to see resistance from other household inhabitants for aesthetic concerns. They sound good, they look nice, and, unlike so many other speakers at AXPONA, they are not hugely expensive. In fact, they may be the least expensive tower speakers there, and their price was a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stuffy environment.  

HRT STAGE

MSRP: $1,449.95/pair

HRT stage 

The HRT STAGE system is a setup of speakers, amplifier, and DAC. Its size and design make it a great fit for desktop systems, especially considering its asynchronous USB interface, but its analog inputs also make it a nice solution for other applications that need a simple and small system. The 2.75” woofers are small, but three of them plus their underhung motor should be able to produce a nice amount of bass for the size. The STAGE system has been out for a couple years and has garnered some very positive reviews, but the system that was presented at AXPONA this year was something I had not seen before:

HRT stage arrays

The system at AXPONA was comprised of two stacks of eight and made for a conceptually interesting line-array. One problem with this array is that the tweeter-to-tweeter distance is not quite correct for a line-array, and that might have been a factor in the less-than-perfect imaging that I heard. But, nonetheless, I admire the out-of-the-box thinking evident here. A good design is possible for a bookshelf speaker with the option of creating a modular line-array out of it in the manner depicted here, but multiple tweeters would be needed with the ability to control their operation. That is something I would like to see, and this is a step in that direction.

Aurender SW5

MSRP: approx. $3,000/pair

aurender SW5 pair 

At first glance, the Aurender SW5 speakers look like somewhat conventional bookshelf speakers. Look a bit closer and you might see something strange, or more accurately, the lack of something: no cables at all. The SW5 speakers are not only self-powered, they also carry their own power supply in the form of an 18v Bosch battery that is normally used for power tools. So the SW5 has no signal cable and no power cable; it is a true wireless speaker. It streams through a USB dongle transmitter that you can plug into any USB device for instant streaming from a wide range of sources at a 16-bit/44.1 kHz sampling rate. The battery will supposedly give you 50 hours of playback from a single charge. The drivers are a Scanspeak tweeter and SEAS woofer, and the enclosure is made from thick aluminum, so the parts for a high-fidelity speaker are there. Indeed, I listened to a selection of recordings and was surprised by the nicely balanced sound and punchy bass that the SW5 could produce. The size and lack of cables make the SW5 a truly portable hi-fi speaker. The user could take these things anywhere, from a bedroom for easy listening, to a desktop PC system, to the office for a presentation meeting, or to a party at the beach (hopefully, Aurender will include a carrying case to make transit easy). One thing I like is Aurender has wisely chosen to use a widely available, high-power battery instead of a proprietary design. Aurender is currently looking for a North American distributor for the SW5, and I hope they find one because this product could be a hit for how practical it is.

aurendur SW5 single      aurender SW5 rear

LSA-10 Statement

MSRP: $3,495/pair

LSA 10 

Living Sounds Audio introduced a few new speakers at AXPONA, one of which was the LSA-10 Statement bookshelf speakers.  I listened to the LSA-10 in their demo room and the sound was quite good: balanced with a wide soundstage and excellent imaging. At nearly $3.5k/pair, the LSA-10 Statement speakers are pricey but not outlandishly expensive, and when one considers the construction they might be considered something of a bargain. To call a pair of $3.5k bookshelf speakers a bargain, let’s take a look under the hood: XBL^2 topology on both the tweeter and woofer, copper-beryllium dome tweeter, black-anodized woofer cone, a 5”x7” passive radiator, and an 8th order linear phase acoustic crossover topology with premium crossover components. It even comes in a high-gloss rosewood veneer with magnetically-attached grille. With a parts list like that, one would normally expect to pay more than $3.5k, so what makes the LSA-10 Statements so cheap? The answer is they are a manufacturer direct product which cuts out all of the middleman costs. With such deluxe construction at a reasonable cost, I expect we will be seeing a lot more of LSA Statement product line being mentioned as a top pick for its price points.

Editorial Note about XBL^2

XBL^2 driver designs are an innovative way to increase and linearize the motion of the woofer, so that the driver stays accurate even at high output levels.

Salk Sound Song3 BeAT

MSRP: $4,295/pair

Salk Song3 BeAT 

When we hear the  Salk Song3 floor-standing speakers two years ago at AXPONA, we were mightily impressed by the exquisite sound that could be had for such a reasonable cost. This year Salk has brought an upgraded model featuring beryllium tweeters and an Audio Technology midrange. In our listening demo, we were again impressed by the resolution, detail, and pristine imaging, all of which rivaled far more expensive speakers at the show. As we said in our initial preview of the Song3 speakers, one of the secret ingredients of the low cost is the woofer, a Satori 7.5” driver, which has excellent performance yet does not cost a fortune. Another ingredient, as with the LSA speakers, is that Salk Sound speakers are manufacturer direct, so middlemen costs are eliminated. The new components of the BeAT Song3 are quite expensive and do add considerably to the cost, but those who want to take their sound to the next level are going to have to pay for it. Salk Sound’s designs are reliably good, and the Song3 BeAT are certainly no exception. Audiophiles who do not have unlimited funds can always find a safe bet with the Salk Song3 series.

Aurum Cantus V80F

MSRP: $5,250/pair

Aurum Cantus V80F 

The Aurum Cantus V80F look-and sound like they should cost a lot more than they actually do. This is true not just from seeing their stylish appearance but also from looking at their spec sheet. One reason for the low cost may be that Aurum Cantus is a major manufacturer of loudspeaker drivers, so they can use very high-end components in their own speakers for a lower cost than other speaker manufacturers. This is why you can see such a premium ribbon tweeter in a speaker that doesn’t cost a lot more than $5k/pair. Normally ribbon tweeters have to be crossed over at high frequencies since they are quite fragile, but the large APR1.0 ribbon tweeter in the V80F can handle an impressively low crossover frequency of 1,800 Hz, which is beyond the capability of even most dome tweeters. The same is true for the carbon-fiber bass-driver and midwoofer. Aurum Cantus also manufactures components on the crossover circuit. The V80F leverages Aurum Cantus’ manufacturing capability to produce a loudspeaker of a level of quality that traditional speaker manufacturers would be hard-pressed to match. To most people, it would not be considered a cheap speaker, but when you look at it from the perspective of the quality of components being used, it looks like a bargain. 

Check out the new RBH Sound Signature Reference speakers that also utilize the fabulous Aurum Cantus tweeter.

Conclusion

This was just a small cross-section of some of the more affordable speakers that were on display at AXPONA 2018. We found these to be interesting in particular, but there were many solid offerings to be found at the same pricing, and we sadly don’t have the bandwidth to cover them all. This is why we encourage readers to attend if they get the chance! Next, in our coverage of this year’s AXPONA show, we look at the pricier speakers which are mostly in the five-figure range. Tune in to see if you need to make a change in your dream system.

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About the author:

James Larson is Audioholics' primary loudspeaker and subwoofer reviewer on account of his deep knowledge of loudspeaker functioning and performance and also his overall enthusiasm toward moving the state of audio science forward.

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Recent Forum Posts:

BRIAN_PDX posts on May 09, 2018 22:17
I enjoy reports on affordable equipment. Thank you.
shadyJ posts on May 09, 2018 21:08
mtrot, post: 1247423, member: 57542
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Nice picture of the Revel speakers, I found it very difficult to get good shots of them in that darkened room. Your pic is a lot better than mine.
mtrot posts on May 09, 2018 19:09
Among the ~$10K options at AXPONA, I felt that the Revel F228 sounded fantastic. And it was such a simple system, comprised of a streaming device, integrated amp, and the F228s. I do think the Mark Levinson 585 integrated amp had a lot to do with the quality of the sound.
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The new Focal Kanta No. 2 sounded OK, but it was in a huge room with all sorts of other Focal speakers playing at the same time. The Paradigm Persona F3 also sounded great. I wasn't as impressed with the new Magico A3, but the room was so crowded that I did not get an optimal listen to it.

At higher prices, the Tidal Piano looked and sounded fantastic, as did the Joseph Audio Pearl 3.

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Focal Kanta No. 2
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Persona 5F 24188
Matthew J Poes posts on May 08, 2018 11:39
I just have to add that the TAD speakers were pretty amazing and that room was a lot of fun. It's probably my most memorable experience. When everyone left the room and it was just James, myself, and the folks from Primare, I fell into a kind of audio bliss. I really wanted to dislike the TAD speakers, they were just too expensive for a bookshelf. They really are impressive. They sound way bigger than they are.
gene posts on April 30, 2018 00:51
6 Interesting Loudspeakers above $6,000/pair at AXPONA 2018
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