SOUNDSTAGE! ON HIFIHot Product Archives

Published January 1, 2003

 

2002 Products of the Year: Dynaudio Evidence Temptation and Polk Audio LSi15 Loudspeakers

Determining the onhifi.com Products of the Year for 2002 was simple. In a year when I listened to a lot of great-sounding products and when I heard not one, but two amplifiers I would nominate for best I ever heard, it was actually two speaker products that dominated my listening experience: the Dynaudio Evidence Temptations ($30,000-USD/pair) and the Polk Audio LSi15s ($1739.90-USD/pair).

Two speakers? And one priced at about one-twentieth the cost of the other? How can that be?

They both illustrate that speaker building is an art and a science. Both started with solid chunks of sound speaker-building theory and then their designers started listening and their final iterations began to evolve.

But that's not why they both got Product of the Year status. Each earned that one disc at a time.

Dynaudio Evidence Temptation Loudspeakers

The Temptations illustrate what a company can do if it throws out every preconception about loudspeakers and lets a world-class crew of engineers start with a blank piece of paper. Dynaudio is one of the world's leading loudspeaker driver manufacturers and one of Europe's leading loudspeaker manufacturers, so its R&D department is the stuff of fantasy, compared to what's available to smaller, less technologically intensive firms.

And they really pushed the limits in designing the Evidence line (the Temptation, the no-holds-barred Master, and the Center), developing a rigid front baffle constructed of over an inch-and-a-half of aluminum, a special crossover unit, and custom-built drivers that incorporate features that would put them out of reach for any ordinary loudspeaker. And, being Danish, the designers didn't stop there -- they made the speaker's lines as clean and simple as Arne Jacobsen's classic Weber & Asmussen radio, which hid all its complex electronic innards beneath a sleek wenge and Formica case.

However, it wouldn't matter how much theory went into the Temptations, nor how lovely they looked, if they didn't deliver the goods -- and deliver the goods they certainly do. Do you like music? If you haven't heard the Temptations, you ain't heard nothin' yet.

Forget all your preconceptions; the Temptations won't fit into them. I thought I didn't like big loudspeakers. It so happens, I don't like large speakers that step all over the music, masking its grace with their box-resonance or obscuring its clarity with their broad baffles. But when I hear a big'un that doesn't add any colorations and still manages to render deep bass and loud orchestral climaxes with the speed and precision of the real thing, I like big speakers jes' fine.

The Evidence Temptations happen to do all that better than any other loudspeaker I've ever heard -- and they image as precisely and soundstage as holographically as any compact monitor you can name. Maybe even better, since they have a bottom end no compact monitor can match and can play louder than anyone could ever listen to without a trace of dynamic compression or limitation.

As a result, I spent hours, days, weeks, months reveling in their sound and listening to my favorite recordings over and over. And I developed a new frame of reference for the loudspeaker art. That, after all, is what a reference loudspeaker is supposed to do.

For setting the bar -- for establishing the standard against which every loudspeaker I'll hear from now on is judged -- I simply had to name the Dynaudio Evidence Temptation loudspeaker Product of the Year.

Polk Audio LSi15 Loudspeakers

Fantastic as the Temptation is, however, its cost will prohibit most of us from ever owning a pair. There's no debating its worth -- both iconic and genuine -- as an expression of what is possible and as a template that will pay off in future products that are more affordable, such as the new Confidence C4 and C2 loudspeakers.

Besides, it's not so much the Temptations I covet (not much!) as what they deliver: the sheer magic and transportable joy of the music they reproduce. And, thank heavens, that's also what the Polk LSi15s manage to do at such a reasonable cost.

Now understand, I'm not equating the two. But there are more similarities between them than a difference of $28,390 might lead you to expect. Like Dynaudio, Polk is a big company (one of the top two or three American speaker companies) and it devotes a lot of its resources to honest-to-gosh research. Also, like Dynaudio, it builds its own drivers (although it also knows when to buy from other vendors, as in the case of the LSi15's Vifa ring-radiating tweeter). Polk's founder and guiding light Matthew Polk is second to none when it comes to a belief in engineering, but like Dynaudio, Polk uses that foundation in solid engineering as the base on which to build a great-sounding loudspeaker. That's when the art starts, not to mention the listening.

But all of that applies only to the logical side of my brain -- that little accountant checking off pluses and naughts trying to make the books balance. Logic is all well and good, but falling in love doesn't happen simply because the figures add up.

Quite simply, the Polk Audio LSi15s sent showers of neural sparks coursing through my brain, stimulated my corpus callosum, and produced endorphins by the bucketful -- or, to put it in lay terms, they made music.

With acoustic music, the LSi15s had an enveloping sense of presence I've never heard from any speaker even approaching their price point. Their seamless integration of the entire musical spectrum is startlingly even-handed and natural. Feed 'em some hard-driving rock'n'roll or soul or jazz and they'll roar like a lion; feed 'em a soothing folk air and they'll purr like a kitten. And no matter the musical material, the LSi15s delivered its letter and spirit intact.

That's not just pretty good for a speaker under $2000/pair -- that's pretty good for a speaker.

But factor in price and it's darn near miraculous.

So, for living up to the highest ideals of the audiophile sensibility, the Polk LSi15s deserve to be one of onhifi.com's 2002 Products of the Year. And for doing it at such an eminently affordable price, they deserve to be huge.

 ...Wes Phillips
wes@onhifi.com


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