Speaker Standings: Vivid Audio, Magico, Focal, Audio Physic, Tannoy, and More

To Doug Schneider,

I've been reading some of your reviews and comments in SoundStage! Hi-Fi, as well those from Jeff Fritz, which seem to mostly agree. You have reviewed the Vivid B1 yourself and heard the others at shows and had favorable comments. You also had a favorable comment on the Focal Electra 1038 Be 2 from the 2013 CES show reports. These two speakers are close to the same price. Which would you buy if you were putting out your money? I guess the new Magico S1 would be in the same range as well. Also wondering if your opinion of similar Audio Physic or Tannoy models would be similar to your other choices. Your associate seems to like Magico and Rockport. I am trying to make sense of where some of the pricing has gone in high-end audio in speakers and amps, and find it a bit mind-numbing and not justified in many cases. Looking for your thoughts.


I agree fully that the prices have, in some cases, gotten so far out of hand that they’re bordering on being nothing short of ridiculous. Can any conventional, passive speaker really be worth, say, 200 grand? Some even cost more now. Are you really buying something better for that much money? As surprising as this will sound to some, probably not -- there's often less real engineering with these high-priced contraptions than you'd think. As a result, the performance is usually a joke for the price (or, in the worst cases, a fraction of the price). Oftentimes, the problems with many of these extremely expensive designs show up in the measurements that a few publications do, but they're often explained away or ignored if they contradict the reviewer's listening impressions, particularly if the reviewer didn't hear some things he or she should have. On the other hand, I don't think that the buyers of some of these items are really looking for all-out performance; instead, I think a lot of it comes down to ego and status, both for the seller and the buyer (and even the reviewers who fixate on this segment), which amounts to it not being much more than a trophy purchase. To each their own.

I’m mostly interested in performance and the company that I think is doing the very best job of that right now with loudspeakers is Vivid Audio. I reviewed the Oval B1, which I found to be spectacular, as well as the Giya G2, which I think is one of the finest speakers you can buy, regardless of price. Vivid’s speakers aren’t cheap -- in the Unite States the Oval B1 and Giya G2 are, respectively, $15,000 and $50,000 per pair  -- but I believe their prices are justified because I haven’t heard any speakers priced close to them that are better. They’re also built very well and most of the parts, including the drivers, can’t be found elsewhere. They also look quite unlike anything else out there.

That said, you brought up the Magico S1. I believe Magico is also doing a very good job. I reviewed their V2 a couple of years ago and found it to be excellent, although I did find the B1 to be better (and $3000 per pair cheaper). But they have since released the S1, which is priced starting at $12,600 per pair, and the company said they’ll be sending me a pair for review soon. Until I get them here, though, I can’t say much more, since I just don’t know. The design looks promising, mind you, particularly in light of what I heard from the pair playing in Magico’s room at CES 2013.

As you mentioned, I covered the Focal 1038 Be 2s in one of my CES 2013 reports. The pair sounded really good with the Devialet amp, which is an amazing product. Focal is a well-established, reputable manufacturer that is always pushing the design envelope and is consistently making speakers that at the least sound good -- I have yet to hear a dud. They're also built pretty well and styled uniquely. As a result, I don’t believe that their speakers are overpriced, and the $13,000 being asked for the 1038 Be 2s, in particular, certainly doesn’t seem unreasonable or out of line.

I don’t have any valid experience with Audio Physic’s speakers, but I do have a pair of Tannoy Definition DC10As in for review right now -- the problem is that I haven’t really listened to them closely enough yet to comment. The one speaker you didn’t mention, but that I would like to get into my room, is KEF’s Blade. Every time I hear a pair at a show I’m blown away. That design is quite something.

But you asked where I would spend my money and the answer to that goes back to the first speaker I mentioned in this response: Vivid Audio’s Oval B1. That speaker, despite being eight or nine years old now (it was released in 2004), sounded incredible in my room, and has only been surpassed in any significant way by the Giya G2. So if I had the cash, I’d own a pair of B1s right now. . . . Doug Schneider