Recommended Reference Component: Focal Utopia Headphones

Recommended Reference ComponentWhen Tyll Hertsens reviewed Focal’s Utopia headphones in August 2016, that former editor of Inner|Fidelity called them the “World’s Best Headphone.” Wanting to hear how, four years later, they’d stack up against his own current favorite headphones, our own Brent Butterworth reviewed the Utopias in June 2020 for SoundStage! Solo. We’re glad he did. He ended that review by asking, then answering, a question: “Are the Utopias the ‘world’s best headphones’ like others have claimed? No -- well, not now, at least -- but they are among the world’s best headphones.” (Brent’s italics.)

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Recommended Reference Component: Rockport Technologies Avior II Loudspeakers

Recommended Reference ComponentLocated in South Thomaston, Maine, Rockport Technologies is a boutique audio manufacturer known for the tremendous attention they pay to every detail of their loudspeakers. As revealed in a SoundStage! Shorts video featuring president Josh Clark, every Rockport speaker is thoroughly checked before leaving their shop to ensure that its finish is flawless; its acoustical output is listened to and measured, and its crossover is tweaked, until its sound duplicates, as closely as possible, the sound of that model’s prototype. Rockport is not a high-volume manufacturer.

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Recommended Reference Component: Magico A1 Loudspeakers

Recommended Reference ComponentMagico’s A1 loudspeaker measures only 15.6”H x 8.5”W x 12”D but weighs 48 pounds -- all of its cabinet walls and internal braces are made of 3/8”-thick aluminum. The A1 costs $7400/pair USD and is as solid-feeling a loudspeaker as you’re likely to find outside of something made of concrete or stone. But its density isn’t its main calling card; instead, as Doug Schneider wrote in his review on this site last month, the A1’s “full, rich, superbly voiced sound belies the speaker’s size.”

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Recommended Reference Component: Focal Sopra No1 Loudspeakers

Recommended Reference ComponentFrance’s Focal-JMlab has been on a roll in recent years, producing many highly rated headphones and loudspeakers across all price ranges, several of which have received our Reviewers’ Choice award and made it on to our list of Recommended Reference Components. So far in 2019-2020, four Focal products have won both accolades: the Stellia headphones, reviewed by Brent Butterworth for SoundStage! Solo; the Spectral 40th and Chora 806 loudspeakers, reviewed by Diego Estan for, respectively, SoundStage! Hi-Fi and SoundStage! Access -- and, this month, the Sopra No1 loudspeaker, reviewed for this site in March by Diego.

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Recommended Reference Component: PSB Alpha P5 Loudspeakers

Recommended Reference ComponentLast month, we added to our list of Recommended Reference Components Focal’s Chora 806 loudspeaker ($990/pair). This month, we add a speaker that costs less than half as much: PSB’s Alpha P5 ($399/pair, all prices USD). Hans Wetzel reviewed the Alpha P5 for SoundStage! Access in March 2019, when it cost even less ($349/pair).

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Recommended Reference Component: Focal Chora 806 Loudspeakers

Recommended Reference ComponentIn August 2019, we reviewed Revel’s PerformaBe M126Be minimonitor ($4000/pair, all prices USD). Two months later, we recognized it as a Recommended Reference Component, and in December we made it one of our 2019 Products of the Year. In fact, the PerformaBe M126Be’s sound is so neutral and transparent that we’ve found it provides an ideal benchmark against which to gauge the sound qualities of other stand-mounted loudspeakers. So last month, when Diego Estan reviewed for SoundStage! Access the Focal Chora 806 loudspeaker and found that, for $990/pair, it came close to matching the M126Be’s sound in some respects and exceeded it in others, we knew this French minimonitor was something special.

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Recommended Reference Component: MartinLogan Motion 60XTi Loudspeakers

Recommended Reference Component“It’s fair to say that MartinLogan is at least partially responsible for popularizing the electrostatic speaker,” Diego Estan pointed out in his review of the MartinLogan Motion 60XTi loudspeakers, published last month on SoundStage! Access. But the 60XTi ($3499.98/pair, all prices USD) is not one of the electrostatic models for which the company is still best known. Instead, it’s the flagship of ML’s entry-level Motion series, which comprises speakers with dynamic drivers at prices more people can afford.

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Recommended Reference Component: Paradigm Defiance V12 Subwoofer

Recommended Reference ComponentSoundStage! writer Diego Estan strongly believes that the proper integration of one of more subwoofers into a two-channel stereo system can elevate the sound quality of that system above what can be expected from an unassisted pair of stand-mounted or floorstanding speakers. In a July 2019 article, “Integrating a Single Subwoofer into a Two-Channel System for Beginners,” he cited two main reasons for this:

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Recommended Reference Component: AKG K371 Headphones

Recommended Reference ComponentAKG’s new closed-back, over-ear K371 headphones ($149 USD), reviewed by Brent Butterworth for SoundStage! Solo on November 20, 2019, are designed for “professional” use, and they sound so good that that distinction shouldn’t discourage anyone from buying them for everyday music listening. As Brent wrote, “I think every serious headphone enthusiast should at least hear the K371 headphones, and I expect many will want to add them to their collection.”

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Recommended Reference Component: Focal Spectral 40th Loudspeakers

Recommended Reference ComponentIn his review of the Focal Spectral 40th loudspeakers, published on this site on September 1, 2019, Diego Estan wrote: “In their beautiful, superbly finished cabinets, the Spectral 40ths provided me with stunning sound that always left me grinning from ear to ear.” To our staff, he also remarked that the 40ths sounded so good that he seriously considered buying the review pair to use as references.

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