First and Final Impressions -- Totem Acoustic’s Skylight Loudspeakers

When I look for products to write about in this column, I often search the Internet. Go to Google.com, type in “speakers $1000 bookshelf” or “complete turntables $500,” and you get a boatload of results. That’s how I found the U-Turn Audio Orbit Plus and Fluance RT83 turntables, which I respectively wrote about in late 2018 and early 2019, and the Monoprice Monolith speaker stands I highlighted last month. But to find this month’s subject, Totem Acoustic’s Skylight loudspeaker, I went straight to the source.

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Cheap and Sturdy -- Monoprice Monolith 24” Speaker Stands

When people visit my house, particularly my main listening room, they’re often taken aback by how much hi-fi gear they see. With what’s in the room now, I could set up half a dozen complete systems, priced from $1000 to over $100,000. This is partly why I’ve been able to review the inexpensive gear that appears in this column as well as the stratospherically priced stuff that shows up in my full equipment reviews. Suffice it to say that, regardless of its retail price, I can almost always evaluate a review product in the context of a system comprising components of commensurate price that I know well.

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From Holiday to Heaven 11 -- the Billie Integrated Amplifier-DAC

There were two main reasons I wanted to test Heaven 11’s Billie integrated amplifier-DAC in my current System One. First was its reasonable price: $1450 USD. The other, far more important reason was how much careful consideration seemed to have gone into so many aspects of its design. This is a product -- and a company -- that began life as a Kickstarter project. Now that those Kickstarter pre-orders have been filled, the Billie is available for sale at Heaven11Audio.com, backed by a 30-day money-back guarantee and a five-year warranty.

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The Budget British Invasion Continues with QED and Wharfedale

These days I’m seeing so much great-sounding, great-looking, inexpensive audio gear, particularly from the UK, that I’m not sure there’s ever been a better time for the audiophile on a budget. In my August 2019 column, I wrote about two spectacular values from a British company founded in 1983: Audiolab’s 6000A integrated amplifier-DAC and 6000CDT CD transport, which respectively retail for $949.99 and $499.99 (all prices USD). This month I write about two high-value products from two other UK brands: Wharfedale’s Linton Heritage loudspeaker ($1199/pair, or $1498/pair with stands), and QED’s XT25 speaker cables ($84.99/2m pair).

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Amazing Values: Audiolab 6000A Integrated Amplifier-DAC and 6000CDT CD Transport

Last March, when I mentioned to some colleagues that the market in integrated amplifiers costing less than $1000 is “owned by a few companies,” I was aware that fewer manufacturers these days focus on low-priced integrateds, and of those that do, only a handful come up among our reviewing team. In our minds, Audiolab wasn’t one of those brands. It should have been.

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Paradigm Monitor SE 3000F Loudspeakers Conquer Systems One Old & New

Paradigm’s Monitor SE 3000F loudspeaker isn’t new to SoundStage! Network readers. This three-way, 39.5”-tall floorstander has a 1” aluminum-dome tweeter and three drivers with mineral-filled polypropylene cones: a 5.5” midrange and two 5.5” woofers. In Diego Estan’s review on SoundStage! Access, published April 1, he called it “a solid, dependable speaker that, set up correctly, can give its owner a glimpse of true high-end sound for a mass-market price.” And you’d think that would have been that.

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Big Surprise -- Fluance RT83 Turntable

In last month’s column, I expressed the disappointment I felt when I first unpacked Paradigm’s Premier 100B loudspeakers. For speakers costing $798 USD/pair, I thought the 100B looked a bit too much like its little brother, Paradigm’s Monitor SE Atom, which costs only $298/pair. Thankfully, the 100B’s sound didn’t disappoint.

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Disappointment and Surprise -- Paradigm's Premier 100B Loudspeakers

When I first unboxed Paradigm’s Premier 100B loudspeakers, I was a little disappointed. I still had Paradigm’s Monitor Atom SEs, which I’d written about in the very first edition of this column, in September 2018. Although the Premier 100B’s front baffle looks markedly different from the Atom’s, their sizes, weights, and textured-black finishes seemed pretty much the same. The 100B measures 11.125”H x 6.625”W x 9.125”D and weighs 12.9 pounds, while the Atom is 12.75”H × 7.125”W × 11”D and weighs 12 pounds. Both speakers also come in gloss-white finishes, but only the 100B comes in vinyl veneer, in a faux-wood finish they call Espresso Grain. The build quality also seemed comparable -- not a criticism of the 100B ($798 USD/pair), because it’s very good, but very high praise for the Atom, given its low price of $298/pair. But while each speaker has a 1” aluminum-dome tweeter and a 5.5” midrange-woofer, both in similar positions on their baffles, those drivers aren’t identical -- as I learned from Oleg Bogdanov, Paradigm’s director of engineering. Nonetheless, in many ways these speakers look very similar.

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PSB's Alpha P3 Loudspeaker: Paul Barton Aims for High Sound Quality at a Very Low Price

Want a great meal from a Michelin-starred chef? You’ll never get one for the cost of a McDonald’s Happy Meal. Want to buy a hand-tailored shirt created by a famed fashion designer? You won’t find it at Costco, or anywhere at a Costco price. Want a loudspeaker from one of the world’s greatest speaker designers? Now, that you can have, and for about as much as you’d pay for a mass-market wireless speaker.

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Hands Down . . . or Up? The Q Acoustics 3020i and 3050i Loudspeakers

“Those are really nice speakers -- can we keep them there?”

Those are words seldom uttered by my wife when new speakers enter our home. But that’s what she said when she laid eyes on the pair of Q Acoustics 3020i minimonitors ($299.99 USD/pair) that had replaced the Paradigm Monitor SE Atoms ($298/pair) on the shelving unit in our living room that holds my “System One” components.

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