Wi-Fi speakers are an easy option to recommend. You might be a millennial looking to upgrade from a Bluetooth speaker, or an audiophile seeking to downscale from a component-based system -- either way, a Wi-Fi speaker could very well be the ticket. But most Wi-Fi speakers aren’t much to look at: Sonos made the mold with its own nondescript designs, and most companies since have used Sonos as a template.
The PW 300, the latest addition to Paradigm’s family of wireless speakers, joins the PW Soundbar and the PW 800 and PW 600 all-in-one speakers. Vince Hanada recently reviewed the PW 600, in a system that included the PW Soundbar, for SoundStage! Xperience. “Configured as a stereo pair,” he wrote, “the PW 600s sounded outstanding, easily rivaling separate speakers and electronics costing many times their $1198/pair price.” That’s seriously high praise for a Wi-Fi speaker -- high enough to make me wonder if the PW 300 ($329 each) would be equally impressive.
What’s in a name? For old-school audiophiles, the name Thiel conjures up images of stately speakers in sumptuously finished cabinets of natural wood, of company founder Jim Thiel’s emphasis on the principles of time and phase coherence, and his use of coaxial drivers and first-order crossovers in his designs to achieve those ends.
In February 2017, when I reviewed the Hegel Music Systems Röst integrated amplifier, the experience was revelatory in several ways. The main eye-opener was the Röst’s sound, which was notably dynamic for a 75Wpc integrated amp, and presented a strikingly clear window on whatever music I played. Another revelation was that a modestly powered amplifier could comfortably drive any speaker I paired it with.
Stereo receivers are now a thing. Yamaha’s R-N803 ($749.95 USD) is the third model I’ve tested in the last two months, the other two being Onkyo’s TX-8270 ($499) and Outlaw Audio’s RR2160 ($799). While the Outlaw review was posted in October on SoundStage! Access, the Onkyo’s wired and wireless network streaming capability made it a better fit for Simplifi, also reviewed in October. How does Yamaha’s take on the network stereo receiver compare?
If there’s one thing I know about Onkyo, it’s that the company’s A/V receivers are the first to pack any new feature. Dolby or DTS have a new format or technology? Look for Onkyo to incorporate it as quickly as the silicon is minted. With stereo receivers enjoying a rebirth (look for a review of Outlaw Audio’s new RR2160 on our sister site SoundStage! Access), Onkyo’s models continue the company’s tradition of feature one-upmanship -- not that I’d have expected anything less.
In the high end, powered or active speakers have been mostly designed for the desktop, where they provide a convenient solution for computer-based listening. But some companies, notably Denmark’s Dynaudio A/S, advocate the use of active models in regular listening rooms. The company’s Xeo 2 active speakers have been reviewed on SoundStage! Access. Their Focus 20 XD models have much of the technology found in the Xeo line, but with more powerful amps and sturdier, more attractive cabinets in a range of natural wood veneers. For review, Dynaudio shipped me a pair of Focus 20 XD stand-mount speakers ($5999-$6499 USD per pair, depending on finish).
Most all-in-one speakers are produced by generic audio companies looking to take a slice from the Sonos pie. That generalization doesn’t apply to Riva Audio. This California-based outfit has a personality behind it -- that of Rikki Farr, a British music promoter and manager who gained fame as the ranting MC of the 1970 Isle of Wight festival, a notoriously off-the-hook event that nonetheless hosted an eclectic roster of artists ranging from Leonard Cohen and Miles Davis to Jimi Hendrix and the Who.
When I entered Naim’s room at last January’s Consumer Electronics Show, my attention was immediately captured by the company’s Uniti offerings. On display were three new network-capable integrated amplifiers -- the Nova, Star, and Atom -- each capable of streaming via a wide range of protocols. All three had large, front-panel LCD displays showing album art in full color, and the Star had a disc drive plus built-in storage for ripping CDs. In a CES that seemed low on excitement, the Unitis were something to get stoked about.
For many people, computers have become an indispensable tool for listening to music. Computers rip CDs, and play tracks using software such as Audirvana Plus, iTunes, and JRiver Media Center. They download high-resolution files from sites such as HDtracks, and stream music from services that include Spotify and Tidal. Linked via USB to a DAC, preamplifier, or integrated amp, a computer can function as a source component. Alternatively, in a networked setup, it can be tapped to direct the flow of data via Ethernet.
An understatement: all-in-one speakers come with built-in limitations. Destined to be placed on a shelf or kitchen counter, they’re usually quite small, with little drivers designed to fit the space available within. The downside of all-in-ones, of course, is their limited output of sound, along with soundstaging that barely extends past the edges of their small enclosures. Convenient? Yes. Replacement for a system of separate components? Hmm . . .
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