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The best-sounding speakers of 2010

The best speakers of 2010; priced from $250 to $45,000!

Gallo Reference 3.5 speaker, shown without grille
Anthony Gallo Acoustics

I heard a lot of great-sounding speakers this year, but the following four topped my list.

Magnepan, based in White Bear Lake, Minn., builds nothing but panel (boxless) speakers. To say I was knocked out by Magnepan's new 1.7 speaker earlier this year would be an understatement; it is the best-sounding under-$2,000 speaker (a pair) on the planet. The 64.5-inch-tall design is a mere 2 inches thick! I reviewed the 1.7 for Tone Audio magazine. Magnepan prices start at $599 per pair.

The Anthony Gallo Acoustics Reference 3.5 ($6,000 per pair) is a radical update of the Gallo Reference 3.1, with new drivers. The small, 35-inch-tall floor-standing speaker projects a huge, precisely focused soundstage. The cast aluminum and stainless steel design feels remarkably solid.

Sonically, the Reference 3.5 has the ease and poise of a much larger and more expensive speaker. It's nowhere as fussy about electronics and room acoustics as the Magnepan 1.7, so the Reference 3.5 might actually be less expensive to buy and use in the long run. I reviewed the Reference 3.5 for Tone Audio.

Earlier this month I heard a new satellite-subwoofer system, the SuperCinema 3, from a brand-new company, GoldenEar Technology. The system comes with four SuperSat 3 satellites ($249 each), one SuperSat 3C center channel speaker ($249), and a ForceField 3 subwoofer ($499). The SuperCinema 3 set a new performance standard for lifestyle-friendly systems. And the little ForceField 3 sub is easily the most powerful, yet refined $499 compact sub I've heard this year.

Moving up to bona fide high-end exotica, Vandersteen Audio's incredible Model 7 ($45,000 per pair) features balsa wood/carbon-fiber woofer, midrange, and tweeter drivers individually hand-crafted by Richard Vandersteen himself. Each driver can take up to one day to build. The Model 7's sound is more believably natural and realistic than any speaker I've heard this year, including ones that sell for many times the price of the Model 7. Its stereo imaging was full-bodied and dimensionally convincing in ways no other speaker can match. Vandersteen speakers are priced starting under $1,000, and they're all made in Hanford, Calif.