In pointing to the future we must err on the side of caution. We cannot know with any certainty what may or may not arise. Trend observation is as much the result of one’s own subjective filters as it is any objective reality.
Exemplifying: the dramatic expansion of the headphone market in undeniable but in sifting that space for more granular data we see an increasing number of planar-magnetics soliciting applause: Audeze, MrSpeakers, OPPO, Hifi Man.
Reviewers and journalists can apply self-biased lens adjustments to focus on the future they might wish to see. My experience with both versions of KEF’s X300A showed me what’s possible below the US$1000 threshold with DAC-d-up active loudspeakers. On lateral layer deconstruction the X300A outstrip the performance of even an outboard-amped passive LS50.
Unfortunately, the audiophile’s desire to tinker, to mix-n-match amplifiers with loudspeakers, means the LS50 continues to outsell the X-series. An active LS50 has clear potential be the loudspeaker to give audiophiles serious pause for thought. I’ve been at KEF for almost two years about bringing such a product to market. Whilst their behind the scenes R&D work is held on a need to know basis, the active loudspeaker market segment continues to be greeted with suspicion by your average audiophile. WHY? Is it snobbery? Resistance to change? The lack of tweak-ability? Probably a combination of all three.
Therefore, one possible future I’d like to see is an uptick in the popularity of powered speaker solutions among the audiophile community. The pro audio sector has been at it for years and we’re slowly seeing hitherto-only passive loudspeaker manufacturers and pro-marketing players trying their hand in the home hi-fi space.
The technological benefits of going active are real and unassailable. Driving out the guessing game of matching amplifier to speaker whose impedance curve swings from woah to go, amplification can be tailored right down to driver level with crossover applied electronically.
With actives in play the endless cycle through loudspeaker cable – often the audiophile’s metaphorical tuning fork – is nixed. Most active models sport rear-panel EQ switches to accommodate a broad range of positional scenarios. Do the speakers sit on a desk? On stands? Near-field? Do they sit close to a rear wall or side boundary or do they sit in freer space?
That’s precisely what we see when considering the Canton AM5 lautsprecher (€299). With the big room demo running dark and long in their native German tongue, I was left to piece together the key points from the ‘talker’ that fronted the AM5’s static display. The AM5 aren’t new to the world but they are to me. On offer are understated aesthetics and affordability backed by Canton’s 40+ year heritage.
Moreover, speakers like this are often dismissed as desktop solutions, blatantly ignoring their potential as proper standmounts in a smaller living space.
Firstly – and this is important – this is no master-slave active-passive configuration. Like the aforementioned KEF X-series, each Canton box carries its own amplifiers and associated IEC power socket. Unlike the KEF, signal input is all analogue: single ended (RCA) and balanced (XLR). A 25mm wave-guided aluminum tweeter and
Rear-panel switching goes deep with custom modes: 1) three input sensitivity notches better tailors the M5 to its upstream electronics; not all DACs and pre-amplifiers commit to industry standard voltage outputs; 2) High pass filtering direct the low bass roll-off point [50Hz, 70Hz or 100Hz]; 3) +-2db options for bass [240Hz], mid [350Hz], treble [3.4kHz – where speech lives] attenuation; 4) ‘AMP-mode’ allows for always on or auto-shut off power.
A quick Google reveals that the Canton AM5 has so far seen coverage predominantly from the European press corps so I thought it an appropriate starting point from which to build more extensive coverage of active solutions presenting at Munich High-End 2015.
Further information: Canton
Munich High-End 2015 coverage sponsored by LH Labs: