For months I knew my Speaker of the Year was going to be the Magnepan .7. Its see-through transparency, awe inspiring soundstage depth, and treble purity are easily competitive with speakers that sell for two or even three times the price. In the US the Magnepan .7 runs $1,395 per pair, in the UK it's £1,590, in Australia they're AU$2,590.
I've heard a lot of more expensive speakers this year, including the Zellaton Stage, Wilson Sabrina, Technics SB-C700, Bowers & Wilkins 802 D3, Genelec M030, and many more, but the Magnepan .7 was the one that seduced me.
To be clear, I'm not saying the .7 is the best sounding speaker of the year, just that it's an incredible value, and sounds better than anything near its price.
The .7 is five-feet (1.52 meters) tall, and while it may be statuesque, it's also a downright skinny 1.25 inch (31.7mm) thin panel design. Not only that, most high-end speakers have round dome and cone drivers, the .7 doesn't. Lurking behind the cloth grille is a thin-film, 44-inch tall (1,117 mm) tweeter, and a huge 8.5 by 44 inches (216x1,117mm) mid/bass driver! While box speakers only project sound forward, the .7 radiates sound from its front and rear surfaces. No wonder the .7 sounds like no box speaker you've ever heard. Magnepan has been refining this technology since the early 1970s, and builds all of its speakers in White Bear Lake, Minnesota.
I'm not claiming the .7 speakers are for everybody. Their dynamic punch and bass power are easily bettered by conventional box speakers such as the SVS Prime Towers or Klipsch Reference Premiere RP-280F towers. The .7 speakers aren't party animals, but they make a decent amount of bass, so I never felt a need to add a subwoofer.
These speakers must be paired with decent electronics to deliver their full potential, few AV receivers or feeble integrated amplifiers will cut it with the .7 . The Rogue Sphinx amp is a great starting point, but I've found the perfect match with the Schiit Ragnarok amp, that combination is awe inspiring.
The Audiophiliac's budget speaker of the year: ELAC Debut B6
Let's face it, today's speaker shoppers are on the lookout for bargains, they want speakers that blow away the competition at a rock bottom price without sacrificing quality. The ELAC Debut B6 is that speaker, it's a stunning achievement, and in my listening tests the Debut B6 beat out Bowers & Wilkins much more than twice as expensive 685 S2 speaker on a number of counts. In the US, the Debut B6 runs $280 per pair, £299 in the UK, sorry, but at this time I don't have their price in Australia.
Debut B6 is a fairly large bookshelf speaker. Its medium-density fiberboard cabinet is covered with an attractive "brushed" black vinyl finish, and there's a removable, black cloth grille to protect the 1-inch (25mm) dome tweeter and a 6.5-inch (165mm) woven Aramid fiber midrange/woofer. There's a single bass port on the rear panel, and one set of gold-plated, all-metal binding posts that work with speaker cables terminated with banana plugs, spades, pins, or stripped bare-wire ends. The Debut B6 stands 14 inches (356mm) high and weighs 14.3 pounds (6.5 kg), but it sounded like a much bigger speaker. Bass was deep and clear, and in fact it's the Debut B6's overall clarity that sets it apart from the competition.
So there you have it, the Magnepan .7 and ELAC America Debut B6 are both truly astonishing designs, worthy of Audiophiliac Speaker of the Year for 2015 acclaim.