If audiophilia is a human subculture, and those devoted to tube amplification a subculture within the audiophile community, then those tube devotees who reserve their enthusiasm (and their funds) for SET amps must be a sub-subculture of the audiophile world. Or something like that.
That said, the community of SET lovers requires speakers through which to play the music that waits to pour forth from the speaker binding posts of their 1.5 to 8 watt amps, and those speakers must be of such efficiency and sensitivity that they will respond to every nuance of every precious electronic pulse that those “flea watt” amps produce.
Even prior to selling my Reference 3A De Capo’s, I’d begun to research what was out there, speaker wise, for SET amps. Here’s a catalogue of what I’ve found.
I’ve subjectively divided this survey into two groups: Pricier (which, narcissism running rampant, means, “I can’t afford it without winning the Texas Lottery…) and More Attainable.
The Pricier Stuff:
Audio Note: Audio Note UK is totally committed to single-ended tube amplification, and they make some of the world’s most breathtakingly expensive examples. They also offer a range of highly efficient box speakers originally based upon the classic designs of Peter Snell. These two-way speakers feature broad, boxy, undamped, “lively” wood cabinets and hemp coned main drivers. They are also designed to be situated close to room boundaries (walls, or better yet, corners). They don’t look like much (okay, they’re kind of retro-ugly, IMNSHO) but when I’ve heard them at audio shows (fronted by tens of thousands of dollars worth of Audio Note electronics) they’ve sounded fabulous – dynamic, exciting and musical. The AN-E seems to be the one to have, and it’s available in a dizzying array of “levels.” (The Audio Note UK web site lists no fewer than 10 variants of the AN-E, and that refers only to drivers and wiring options, not finishes!) The “entry level” AN-E (by no means cheap) is only ~94 dB efficient and uses copper voice coils in the drivers. The higher efficiency (~98 dB efficient) and thus much more expensive models use silver voice coils. Audio Note describes their very top of the range AN-E SOGON LX96 as “the ultimate 2 way speaker, [with] AN-SOGON LX96 silver speaker cable connecting to external crossover with Audio Note™ pure silver foil signal capacitors, solid silver inductors, specially selected and matched AlNiCo drivers with silver voice coils.” I will never own a pair of these in my lifetime (short of hitting the Texas Lottery) but I wouldn’t mind hearing a pair one day.
DeVore Fidelity: Built in the great NYC borough of Brooklyn (where I lived while in grad school many years ago) DeVore’s speakers are named after primates (“apes,” for those who have forgotten their high school biology). Their flagship speaker aimed at the low power tube market is the Orangutan O/96. The reviews of this 96 dB efficient 2-way floor stander (which bears more than a passing resemblance to the Audio Note AN-E) are ecstatic, the cabinetry is drop-dead gorgeous and the price is USD $12,000 (but don’t feel too bad because stands are included).
Coincident Technology: Canadian Coincident Technology is also devoted to purist tube gear, and its speakers are all said to be suitable for use with SET amps. (Their entry level, single-ended Dynamo 34 SE amp is purportedly a giant killer according to Coincident devotees on Audiogon.) This page will tell you all about their design philosophy, which includes using premium drivers and 1st-order crossovers. Their entry level monitor, the Triumph Extreme II (“It’s not just triumphant, it’s extremely triumphant!”) will set you back a cool $4000 with matching stands, $3000 without them.
Voxativ: From Germany, these single-driver speakers have been drooled over by Stereophile and The Absolute Sound. Voxativ hand manufactures its own, wood-coned drivers and elaborate cabinets. I was unable to find a USA price for their entry-level Pi speaker, but one US dealer is currently selling Voxativ Ampeggio floor-standers on Audiogon (B-stock, with cosmetic flaws) for a bargain price of only $19,800 a pair.
Daedalus: With a background in the cabinet making business, Daedalus Audio creates gorgeous, high-efficiency, multi-driver speakers with 100% wooden, furniture grade cabinetry (no MDF allowed). They are all 95-98 dB efficient. Their entry level model is the Pan, but I was unable to find a price on their web site. There is currently a guy selling a pair of discounted Daedalus DA-Rma v.2 (very large monitors) for $6400 on Audio Circle; the ad says that these originally went for over $10,000.
Teresonic: Teresonic, located in San Jose, California, makes single driver speakers based upon Lowther drivers, often housed in unusually shaped cabinets. I visited the Teresonic room at the California Audio Show a few years ago. I wasn’t taken with the sound (many others loved that room) but to be fair, it was packed and I couldn’t form an reliable opinion or get a decent listening position. Teresonic’s small monitor, the Magus, is rated between 98 and 100 dB sensitivity and sells for around $8000. Dedicated stands will set you back roughly $400 more. Unique among these brands, Teresonic allows the end user to swap Lowther drivers after the speaker purchase if circumstances dictate, due to changed room or ancillary equipment.
That wraps up the “pricey” part of this survey. In The Speakers of Planet SET, Part III, we’ll survey some of the more moderately priced SET amp speaker options.
Oh, and if you feel I’ve left out any brands that should appear in this part of the survey, please comment below!
Until next time…