For millions of music listeners, the smartphone has become their primary source component; digital music streaming services now represent close to 80% of the market with more than 50 million subscribers in the United States alone. Consumers put greater value on convenience vs sound quality and that shift has been a rude wake-up call for the high-end audio industry that has marketed expensive separates, loudspeakers, cables, and accessories for decades.
The reality is that consumers no longer see a need for so many expensive boxes; wireless active loudspeakers and one-box integrated amplifiers which include both wired and wireless digital streaming connectivity have made them unnecessary. The good news for consumers is that while prices at the top end have escalated beyond the cost of a luxury automobile for some audio components, there have never been as many affordable high-end components than what is available right now and that makes it a great time to assemble a system.
Kanto TUK ($799.99/pair)
Integrating ribbon tweeters into entry-level bookshelf loudspeakers as they offer superior levels of detail and airiness has become the new norm in the category but getting it right has proven to be elusive for some. The Kanto TUK featuring an AMT tweeter, and 5.25-inch aluminum midrange woofer get it decidedly right. With an internal moving magnet phono stage, USB DAC, headphone amplifier, and support for Bluetooth aptX HD, the active TUK are a remarkable bargain. The top end can get a tad aggressive if pushed, but Kanto has included tone controls that bring things under control quickly. BUY NOW
KEF LSX ($999.98/pair)
Offered as a more affordable alternative to the award-winning LS50 Wireless, the LSX are available in a wider range of finishes but lack the full-range capabilities of its more expensive sibling. The LSX lack the scale and drama of the LS50 Wireless. Where the KEF puts some daylight between itself and almost all of its rivals is support for Roon, Tidal, Apple AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, and one of the most intuitive control apps for iOS and Android-devices. The LSX feature KEF’s signature Uni-Q driver array with a 4.5-inch midrange driver, and a smooth sounding .75-inch aluminum dome tweeter which are powered by a 100-watt power amplifier inside each loudspeaker. BUY NOW
Acoustic Energy AE1 ($1,490.90/pair)
Acoustic Energy have had a lot of success building great sounding two-way loudspeakers, but this full-range two-way design is decidedly unique in a few areas. A 50-watt class A/B power amplifier in each enclosure, and the ability to connect to your pre-amplifier of choice allowing you to alter the tonal balance. The AE1’s 5-inch woofer, and 1-inch metal dome tweeter lean toward neutrality, making a tube pre-amplifier or warmer sounding source a good option. The AE1 are utterly transparent sounding, with layers of detail, tone, and impressive low-end response. No wireless capabilities but a level of sound quality that is high-end in every way. BUY NOW
DALI Callisto 2C ($4,750.00/pair)
One of the biggest negatives about active/wireless loudspeaker systems is that you are tied at the hip to a specific sound and ecosystem; unless that ecosystem happens to be one of the best at integrating dozens of streaming services. DALI has implemented BluOS from Bluesound and this MQA-certified and upgradeable three-piece system is about as future-proof as one can get in 2019. Powered by a 250-watt class D power amplifier, the CALLISTO 2C’s 6.5-inch woofer, and unique tweeter array which consists of a 1-inch soft dome tweeter, and hybrid ribbon module can fill a large listening space and offer world-class resolution. BUY NOW
Eikon Audio IMAGE1 ($25,000/pair with Eikontrol unit)
Former MartinLogan Co-Founder, Gayle Sanders, is back and that’s great news for the audio industry and those who care about the future of home audio. Sanders pioneered the next generation of electrostatic loudspeakers in 1982, turning the Kansas-based loudspeaker manufacturer into a global brand that is still a force in home audio today. Having relocated to Connecticut, Sanders launched Eikon Audio in 2018 after 4 years of extensive research focused on building an integrated active loudspeaker system that tackles room acoustics, and speaker placement making the IMAGE1 one of the most advanced loudspeakers in the world. While not inexpensive, the three-piece system is a game-changer. BUY NOW