The 2015 holiday shopping season is upon us, and new speakers are sure to be on many AV enthusiasts' wish lists. Here are several speaker systems that recently impressed me with their fidelity as well as the value they represent.
Powered Bookshelf

If you have limited space for a speaker system and have no interest in buying an integrated amp or separates, what you want is a powered bookshelf or monitor-style system. Here are a few options that sound great while taking up very little space.

Value: Vanatoo Transparent One  ($500 per pair)

I recently reviewed the Vanatoos, a compact pair of powered speakers that offer myriad inputs, great sound, robust bass, and excellent built quality. The Transparent One system is quite robust given its size, and the inclusion of a subwoofer output with a built-in crossover means you can assemble a compact 2.1 system around them. But even without a sub, the Transparent One system offers eye-opening performance—rated frequency response is 48 Hz-20 kHz +/- 3dB. Just add a Google Chromecast Audio ($35) to give the Transparent Ones multi-room audio streaming capability.

Performance: Sonos Play:5 Generation 2  ($1000 per pair)

When I heard the Sonos Play:5s at CEDIA 2015, I knew the company was getting serious about sound. Now, I have a pair in for review and I'm willing to offer a preview—these are genuinely great-sounding speakers. Forget what you thought you knew about Sonos, a pair of Play:5s can play louder, deeper, and clearer (I measured bass response down to 24 Hz) than a lot of passive speakers at the same price point.

Thanks to the way Sonos works—its an entire wireless ecosystem—the Play:5s can do a whole lot more than simply serve as a stereo system, but they also happen to handle that task extremely well. There's an analog input that only requires you to connect to one speaker in order to get stereo sound. Furthermore, iPhone users can take advantage of Sonos Trueplay room correction; it's fast, easy, and effective. The Sonos Play:5 is a clever, attractive, compact, convenient, and capable speaker system.

Cost No Object: Devialet Silver Phantom  ($4800 per pair)

With its futuristic looks and 3000 watts of amplification, the Devialet Silver Phantom is no ordinary wireless powered speaker. Each speaker has a concentric 2-way driver for mids and highs, as well as dual-opposed bass drivers that allow it to dig deep relative to its size.

Devialet's software lets you configure multiple phantoms in various ways, but what I auditioned at the recent TAVES 2015 show in Toronto was a pair of Silver Phantoms in a stereo setup. While they may not be as miraculous as some of the marketing material from Devialet implies, they are undoubtedly innovative and eminently capable speakers.

Passive Bookshelf/Monitor

There's a near-infinite variety of bookshelf and monitor-style speakers out there, so many that there's no way I could hope to hear them all and choose the best. These sort of speakers tent to perform very well but are limited in terms of bass. When used in a subwoofer/satellite system, many bookshelf-style speakers offer similar performance to pricier towers from the same speaker line.

Value: ELAC Debut B6 ($280 per pair)

The buzz surrounding Elac's Debut B6 bookshelf speakers is undeniable—famed speaker designer Andres Jones has struck again and created a speaker than punches well above its weight class. The 1" waveguide-mounted tweeter and 6.5" woofer are good for a frequency response of 44 to 20,000 Hz. Each speaker handles up to 120 watts of power and has 6Ω impedance. These are budget-friendly speakers I actually look forward to reviewing.

Performance: KEF R100  ($1200 per pair)

The full-range Uni-Q driver in the KEF R100 offers listeners an extremely precise way to enjoy high fidelity audio, which leads to a very satisfying listening experience. KEF's signature driver behaves as a true point source, so everything you hear coming from it is phase-coherent.

The specs for the R100 are 56Hz–28 kHz +/- 3dB, with 100 watt power handling, 8Ω impedance, and a rated sensitivity of 86 dB/W/m. Add a competent sub or two to a R100-based system, and the resulting sound is quite profound. Oh, and they look extremely cool.

Cost No Object: Bowers and Wilkins 805 D3  ($6000 per pair)

The new 805 Diamond Series 3 from Bowers and Wilkins ups the audio quality ante for a bookshelf-style 2-way speaker system. When the 805 D3 launched, I auditioned a pair playing various tunes during a visit to Sterling Sound in NYC, and the fidelity they achieved was undeniably top-notch. The 805 D3 offers a frequency response of 42Hz to 28 kHz +/-3dB with 88 dB/W/m sensitivity and 8Ω impedance.


Nothing beats a great pair of floorstanding speakers when it comes to rocking the house. Here are three that blew me away in 2015.

Value: Klipsch RP-280F  ($840 per pair street, $1200 from Klipsch)

At its street price of $840 per pair, the Klipsch RP-280F is the speaker to beat when it comes to getting maximum performance for your dollar. These are powerful towers that nonetheless achieve a remarkably polished presentation. You get smoothness, precision, power, and dare I say it—refinement—for under a grand.

Frequency response is 32-25kHz +/- 3dB, and rated sensitivity is 98 dB/w/m. You'll have no problem achieving reference-level output with these speakers, which struck me as a being a good deal when they sold previously for almost twice as much. At the current street price, they are a straight-up steal—which is why I made the RP-280F my value-oriented choice, despite the somewhat high price.

Performance: GoldenEar Triton Five  ($2000 per pair)

Every time I revisit the Triton Fives for a listening session, my jaw drops. The Triton Five is a 2-way tower speaker featuring a folded-ribbon tweeter and dual 6" woofers arranged in a D'Appolito array. The tall, sleek tower looks thoroughly modern and almost mysterious wrapped in matte-black cloth.

Frequency response specs are 25 Hz to 35 kHz, with a rated sensitivity of 90 dB/W/m and up to 400 watts of power handling. The soundfield they create is lush, detailed, and has depth as well as width to it. The listening experience the Triton Fives provide is at once pleasing and thrilling, with detail and nuance that you'd only expect to hear coming from considerably pricier speakers.

Cost No Object: JBL Synthesis Everest DD67000  ($75,000 per pair)

If cost were truly no object and I could have any speaker I wanted, my choice would be the Everest DD67000s from JBL. I spent last weekend listening to a pair that belong to Harry Weisfeld of VPI Industries, powered by a McIntosh MC303 amplifier. Harry was pegging the VU meters on the amp, and the Everests were turning all that electricity into some of the most dynamic sound I have ever heard come from any pair of speakers. They look as good as they sound, which is to say they are awe-inspiring.