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HolidayBuyer's Guide

TAD ME-1

Vizio SB3621

Klipsch Forte III

Vanatoo Transparent Zero

Harbeth Monitor 30.2 40th Anniversary Edition

Yamaha YAS 207

Magnepan MMGi

KEF R300

Zu Druid VI

Dynaudio Special Forty

Emotiva T1

Sonos Playbase

Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2

KEF Reference 1

DeVore Fidelity Orangutan 0/96

No doubt about it 2017 was a great year for speakers. This best-of list is brimming with budget, mid-fi, and high-end contenders, and each one was selected for its exceptional sound quality.

The TAD ME-1 is quite possibly the best small high-end speaker money can buy, the sound is pure, accurate, and powerful, but it's a very expensive speaker. It sells for $12,495, £12,995 per pair, the price for Australia have not yet been set, but the conversion price comes in around AU$16,000.

Caption by / Photo by TAD

The Vizio SB3621 delivers stellar performance for an ultra-budget sound bar. The sound bar offers a decent selection of inputs including Bluetooth and will decode both Dolby and DTS processing. The sound bar and wireless sub feature excellent build quality and seamless setup. The Vizio SB3621n-E8 sells for $150, too bad it's only sold in the US.

Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET

Klipsch speakers, as we audiophiles like to say, have a sound. That is, they don't sound like other speakers, and when you look at the Klipsch Forte III without its grille in place, you'll start to understand why: it's a horn speaker. While most box speakers have their drivers all mounted flush with the front baffle, the Forte III's tweeter and midrange are horn drivers, with the drivers recessed in the horns. The Forte III sells for $1,800 each in the US.

Caption by / Photo by Klipsch

The Transparent Zero ($359 per pair) is a bi-amplified speaker system with built-in twin 48 watt Class D digital amplifiers, one amp drives the 1-inch (25mm) soft dome tweeter, the second one drives the proprietary 4-inch (102mm) aluminum woofer, and there's also a 4-inch passive radiator that augments the little speaker's bass output.

Caption by / Photo by Vanatoo

I love that the Monitor 30.2 makes everyday, even highly compressed recordings sound more listenable than I would have thought possible. The Monitor 30.2 sells for $6,495, £3,655, AU$6.950 per pair. A full review is in the works.

Caption by / Photo by Harbeth

The YAS-207 ($300, £333, AU$599) was so good I sometimes forgot I was listening to a sound bar and just enjoyed the movie! That's high praise for any sound bar.

Caption by / Photo by suzukikenji

This made in the US flat panel speaker stands 48 inches high (1.2 meters) and its 14.5 inches (.4 meter) wide, but just 1.25 inches (32mm) thick, and chances are you've never heard a speaker that sounds as transparent as the Magnepan MMGi, for just $650 per pair, that converts to £494 and AU$856.

Caption by / Photo by Steve Guttenberg/CNET

There's an undeniable ease to the sound, the R300 doesn't shout "detail" or "resolution," but the clarity is there. It's just easier on the ear, it's closer to the way live, unamplified music sounds in real life. The KEF R300 sells for $1,800, £1,000 or AU$2,795 per pair. 

Caption by / Photo by KEF

Zu speakers have always been Audiophiliac favorites. Their Druid VI (review forthcoming) is a big advance over the still available 'V. The VI is a world class design and prices start at $9,999 per pair.

Caption by / Photo by Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Do you know about Dynaudio speakers? Designed and made in Denmark, the looks of its latest speakers are understated by high-end standards. The Special Forty can fit in with any decor, with a sound that's similarly low-key, but that's why they'll wear well over time. The Dynaudio Special Forty speakers retail for $2,999, £2,500 or AU$4,499 per pair. 

Caption by / Photo by Dynaudio

The Emotiva T1 is a large three-way speaker with a folded ribbon tweeter, 5.25-inch (133mm) midrange, and dual 6-inch (152mm) woofers. That's unusual, most similarly priced towers are two-ways,  with one or two woofers and a tweeter. The T1 sells for $350 each.

Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET

The Sonos Playbase ($699, £649, AU$995) may be flat as a pancake, but it belts out a big sound. It's not just the scale of the sound that impresses, the Playbase sounds transparent and precise in ways that elude most other sound bars and bases. 

Caption by / Photo by Sarah Tew/CNET

The Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2's sound is low in distortion and high in clarity, so guitarist Ry Cooder's darkly atmospheric score for the film "Paris, Texas" had oodles of detail along with the scratchy texture of his acoustic guitar. More than just resolution, the 705 S2 brought back the sound of the guitar's wood and its metal strings, it was all there. Treble was nicely extended and easy to listen to. Price: 2,500, £1,800, AU$3,500 per pair.

Caption by / Photo by Bowers & Wilkins

This one's a music lover's speaker. So even if you don't give a hoot about its technical wizardry that's fine, the KEF Reference 1's natural sound will be more than enough to win you over. You can get a pair for $8,000 (£4,500, AU$15,799) in immaculately finished piano black, or pair-matched real satin American walnut or gloss rosewood veneers. The Reference 1 is made in the UK.

Caption by / Photo by KEF

The Orangutan 0/96 speakers don't look like contemporary speakers, and that's a good thing. They're hand crafted in Brooklyn, NY, and feature a 10-inch paper cone woofer and 1-inch silk dome tweeter. The sound was seductively sweet, and they totally drew me into the music. The Orangutan 0/96 speakers sell for $12,000 per pair.

Caption by / Photo by DeVore Fidelity
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