Speakers of the house

Make your home sound system boom without going bust.

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And then some. The difference was aurally evident from the git. Tool's "Vicarious" became a more engulfing experience, with warmth, depth and brightness added to the tensile power. The 685s couldn't quite bring out the character in the Jungr tune — I was beginning to wonder if there was any — but the acoustic bass had a real vibrancy missing in the prior products. Brian remarked, "If you heard these blindfolded, I'd bet you'd think they were a tower speaker."

We'd reached a level where amplifiers come into play. A weakling receiver is not going to push these B&Ws well enough, so you could be looking at an upgrade. The experts shied away from recommending a minimum watts-per-channel, saying it was a bad measuring stick. Brian suggested seeking out a "high-current receiver," which would start at around $250.

Klipsch RF-62 ($800, AVS)

Our first set of tower speakers. While the smaller units had acquitted themselves surprisingly well, the sheer mass of the RF-62s enables stronger bass and clearer sound at high volumes. When the guys played the Tool, I felt my ribs rattle for the first time (very pleasurably, I should add). The listening experience was more visceral. The changes in the song's dynamics were presented in far more dramatic fashion. The swells building to crescendos came with extra excitement. In all, these towers enabled me to better tap into the song's emotional tenor. And even Jungr started to take on some character and nuance.

"These speakers can convey a full symphonic orchestra, a singer/songwriter or something like Tool," George said. "Back in the '70s, you would've paid multiple thousands of dollars for such a package. Today, it's 800."

In terms of total bang for the buck, I'd have to say that these Klipsch beauties topped our survey.

Magnepan MG-12 ($1,195, AVS)

For grins, and for folks not ballin' on a budget, we decided to sample a couple of specialty products on the lower high-end. Magnepan, whose headquarters and manufacturing plant are in Minnesota, uses a whole different paradigm: The MG-12 is a flat-panel speaker that stands (on a slight upward tilt) 51 inches high, is 17 inches wide — and just an inch and a half thick. This means no standard woofers, tweeters etc. There's no way I can describe the technology here other than to paraphrase George and say that it uses wire-embedded magnets and ribbon tweeters. "You're getting lots of definition and fidelity," George said. "It takes a lot of power to get them going, and they won't play real loud."

Translation: This is not a speaker for Tool heads. Yet I thought the Magnepans repped the band pretty well. No gut-punch bass, of course, but the speakers gave "Vicarious" a sensitivity that I found appealing. The music was heavy but not an assault. During the louder, more intense choruses, the MG-12s sound tended to flatten out, just like their shape.

The flat-panel was the first speaker in our test that made the Barb Jungr song appealing. The subtle breaths, inflections and other nuances in her vocals came through. Zepeda summed it up: "The shrillness is gone."

Footnote: After the survey was over, George played some Miles Davis and Bill Frisell at a relatively low volume on the Magnepans, and it was a pretty euphoric experience.

Vienna Acoustics Haydn Grand ($1,500, Best Buy)

We'd reached the top end of our speaker session, and when the guys started to hook them up, I was taken aback. Another small box (roughly 14 inches high, 7 inches wide, and 10 and a half inches deep). Definitely do not put these on a shelf. The Haydn Grand gets it done with just a 5-inch bass/midrange driver and a 1-inch dome tweeter.

How? Hell, I don't know. But I do know that these things were extraordinary. They made Jungr's "Trouble in Mind" damn near pleasurable. The delicate mix of instruments achieved new clarity, while her singing emerged with more warmth than it had via anything previously.

Though these speakers are named after 18th-century Austrian composer Joseph Haydn, they seemed quite accepting of modern-day art-metal. The Tool was loud and physical, but it did not blare in the least. "You can hear the tighter, quicker bass response," George said, "and the rhythm changes, those little stutters, are very clear."

If I were to have stuck up the joint that night and walked out with one pair of speakers, the Haydn Grands would've been my choice (and not just because they're easy to tote and hide in a getaway car).

About The Author

Eric Snider

Eric Snider is the dean of Bay area music critics. He started in the early 1980s as one of the founding members of Music magazine, a free bi-monthly. He was the pop music critic for the then-St. Petersburg Times from ‘87-’93. Snider was the music critic, arts editor and senior editor of Weekly Planet/Creative...
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