Wanted: an “affordable” reference

To Doug Schneider,

A friend of mine owns the Revel Salon2, and it is without question the finest true high-fidelity loudspeaker I have ever heard. It is the real deal. In fact, I know a few people with these speakers, who have also had very expensive speakers ($40k, $80k, and $100k) from very famous brands (I would rather not disparage any company here, but you would know them all well), and these individuals have all found the Salon2 impossible to beat. They have noted that the other speakers might have other attributes in certain areas that distinguish them over the Salon2 (e.g., greater sensitivity, even more impressive bass, etc.), but the standout opinion is that there is nothing out there that outright displaces what the Salon2 can do. It has an unusually high level of genuine refinement that resolves the music flowing from them in the most natural way any of them has heard. It is profoundly coherent. The constant pattern is to sit down and simply listen to music rather than to focus on audiophile concerns. It is disarming how effortlessly it achieves this in the listener; one is relaxed and at ease, with no hint of tension.

So what is the point of my inquiry?

Well, these lovely gifts to audiophiles cost $22k (which by high-end standards is an affordable steal); however, to a layman $22k might as well be $100k. I finally found the speaker that does it all at the highest level (Salon2), but I have not found the speaker for the everyman. The question then becomes: "What, if anything, genuinely affords the everyman a lion's share of the Revel Salon2 performance, but at a price he/she can aspire to?" I am not talking here of what is a really good bargain among speakers in the affordable range, but rather whether anything seriously provides 75 to 80 percent plus of the Salon2’s performance.

The first speakers that come to mind as potentials are Revel's own Performa F52 and the PSB Synchrony One (some have even suggested that the new Magnepan 3.7 might be a valid choice, sans the last octave). However, no one who has reviewed the Salon2 has also reviewed or A/B’d the Performa F52. Those that have reviewed the PSB Synchrony One (such as yourself) have not typically included it in a "comparison" section of a review with the Salon2 (I imagine largely due to the price discrepancy). Then again, and not in a desire to take anything away from the PSB, it may be that it simply can't compete -- the Salon2 is just that good. The Maggie is never discussed in this context; rather it is always championed as the great technical achievement and value that it is -- which is quite a bit different than championing it in the absolute sense. Bottom line, is there anything out there that comes close to the Salon2 for under $10k, or near $5k? To give a little perspective regarding the "everyman": $5k is quite expensive ($5K multiplied by four or five components is $20k to $25k -- an extremely expensive stereo for the middle-class layman). How many middle-class folks have $25,000 anythings? A car and that's about it. There is a reason the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, and the rest of the "affordable mid-size car market" is the hot spot for the automobile industry -- it is the best that the average person in the country can actually afford. Any insight you would be willing to share on the matter would be appreciated.

David V.

A number of people have asked me why I still use Revel’s Salon2 as a reference and the answer is pretty simple: it’s one of the few loudspeakers that I think approaches the state of the art in terms of what I consider “high-performance” loudspeaker design. Among its many attributes, it’s a full-range loudspeaker that is very neutral sounding and with distortion levels that are commendably low. From the lows through the highs it is extremely refined-sounding, and its transparency and resolution are second to none. As you pointed out, there are speakers that cost tens of thousands of dollars, sometimes even a hundred thousand or more, which might be impressive in some areas, but in terms of across-the-board performance, they rarely hold up to what something like the Salon2 does at a fraction of the price. That’s not to say you can’t find a better loudspeaker, just that they’re few and far between. The Salon2 is a great loudspeaker, "the real deal" as you put it, and, all things considered, can be had for an extremely reasonable price. Still, 22 grand is a lot of money.

Unfortunately, I never reviewed the Revel Performa F52, which is priced much lower, so I can’t tell you how close it gets to the performance of the Salon2. But I can tell you that I heard through the grapevine that Revel is currently revamping the Performa line and that we’ve already asked for review samples when they’re ready. I obviously can’t guarantee we’ll get them, but I think it would be prudent of the company to get them to us given what’s been written here about the Salon2 in the past. Readers are going to want to know how the new speakers stack up.

I’ve never reviewed a Magnepan speaker, but I have reviewed the PSB Synchrony One and I’ve said many times it’s one of the best speaker values out there right now. How it compares to the Salon2 would take a thousand words, if not more, so I can only say so much here. What I will say briefly is that although the One can’t quite reach as low in the bass as the Salon2, and its highs aren’t quite as refined, it is cut from the same cloth in that it is extremely neutral and very transparent-sounding, and its distortion is so low that it betters almost every other speaker out there. The One is a great loudspeaker and can be considered a true reference for the common man.

That said, I can’t stress enough how important your comments are about affordability for the masses. There are many people who want to know what’s the best out there, or close to the best, that can be purchased on a middle-class income. The One is one of the great affordable speakers out there (the play on words is deliberate), but there are undoubtedly more. We’re working to address this issue at SoundStage! Hi-Fi and, of course, on GoodSound!, our sister site, which has a mandate to cover only affordable gear. . . . Doug Schneider