Artwork, Spacecraft or Torture Devices: 8 Of The Weirdest-Looking Speakers On The PlanetBy Chris Weiss
If you’ve ever been around an audiophile for more than five minutes, you know that they tend to be an intense, obsessive lot. Even more obsessive than the guy that spends tens of thousands of dollars on surround speakers, acoustic tile and amplifiers is the guy that tinkers his way to a speaker company specializing in a pair or two of half-million-dollar speakers. Looks aren’t of any essence at all, and fluid, harmonious sound is the only objective. In all cases, the desire for ultimate audio pushed these manufacturers to break out of the typical tall, rectangular wood box to develop something that looks straight out of a science fiction or horror movie.
KEF’s answer to the exotic concept that every auto manufacturer has released at one point, the Muons were designed to be the essence of functional form. For the project, KEF tapped designer Ross Lovegrove and married an organic, naturally-flowing, artsy look with superior acoustics. The wavy cabinets are made from super-formed aluminum, giving them an ultra-modern look. Audio-wise the Muons feature four 10-inch bass drivers in front, two in the rear, one 10-inch mid-low driver and a 6.5-inch version of KEF’s Uni-Q driver (mid + center-mounted tweeter). These are a 100-model limited edition set of speakers, each selling for $140,000.
Wilson Audio Alexandria 2
Look up and down Utah-based Wilson’s line of high-end speakers and you’ll find a short geometry lesson– all kinds of shapes that don’t usually emit sound stacked and tucked for audio rich enough to make owner Dave Wilson stop and listen. The Alexandria 2 looks to us like some form of Transformer caught between robot and college dorm fridge. That odd form is designed to hold what Wilson believes to be the optimal configuration for eargasm-quality sound. The six-foot speakers include 13- and 15-inch woofers, two 7-inch mids, a one-inch inverted dome tweeter and a one-inch rear-firing super-tweeter. The three-headed monster is designed to adjust for the perfect driver dispersion in any room. These roll out of the store for no less than $158,000/pair.
Hansen Grand Master
Ontario-based Hansen speakers get weirder and weirder the farther upmarket you travel. As you could probably guess from both the looks and the name, this milk-bottle-looking m-fer is Hansen’s top of line. The $240,000 Grand Master features a total of 10 hand-assembled drivers set-up in a three-way configuration: four woofers, four mids and two high-precision tweeters. The odd shape was crafted to trade the traditional panel enclosure for an organic design that eliminates any and all diffraction distortion. They even came up with their own material to make it out of: a little something called Hansen Composite Matrix.
Moon Audio Titan
Without a reference object in the background, you could mistake the Titan for some sort of flash drive or computer internal. But at weight of 2,500 lbs./ pair they couldn’t be at a farther end of the electronics spectrum. In what’s undoubtedly one of the most exclusive pairs of speakers you’ll ever find, Minnesota-based Moon offered just three pairs of these “ultra-limited edition functional acoustic art works.” And each one doubled in price, with serial #003 costing $500,000, serial #2 costing a cool mil and the ever-desirable #001 costing a full two million. In an added exclusive touch, each speaker was named after its buyer. The speakers bear so much bulk because they are designed to eliminate every iota of vibration. They also include auto-tuning so that they can tune themselves for the placement room–because when you drop a million dollars on speakers, you’d better not have to spend much time fine-tuning them.
SWSpeakers Magic Flute
This funky jet turbine of a speaker is brought to us from Scandinavia, Sweden to be exact. Like so many others on this list, SW admits that its goal in making a speaker wasn’t to create something visually striking, it was to “create a new and unique shape for the loudspeaker cabinet shape, which did not disturb or distort the pure sound coming from the drive units.” Since the infinite sphere that SW had in mind was a practical impossibility, it did what it believed to be the next best thing: turbines. The turbines eliminate the corners and enclosure noise that drives down the sound of lesser speakers, providing SW’s own take on sonic perfection. A taste of that perfection will run a flat $100K.
Cabasse Artis Baltic Evolution
What exactly would you expect a French speaker to look like? Sexy and a bit meek sounds about right. Despite the Baltic Evolutions relatively weak looks when compared with the rest of our field, Cabasse promises that the 3-way coaxial driver mounted in a sphere delivers a realistic, 3D soundstage and “homogenous diffusion.” It comes in a variety of styles including a shelf model and a wall-mounted version, but we definitely prefer the ball-on-fin floorstanding model. Much more down to Earth than anything else here, you can find these three-way speakers for $8,000 a piece.
MBL 101 XTREME
How do you get a speaker even crazier and heavier than the ones we’ve looked at? Pair a funky-looking, omnidirectional, hanging driver array with a big stack of woofers–on each side of your stereo. That’s 3,600 lbs. of bass-spewing, high-finessing sound science. The open-framed speaker provides three pulsating spheres worth of mids, lows and highs that circumnavigate your ears and hit your drums from every possible angle. That big hunk of art uses all types of materials–carbon fiber, wood, aluminum, steel and acrylic to give it that unmistakable demeanor. Since such an odd audio mobile can hardly be expected to shake the floors with powerful bass, MBL uses a whole separate stack of four 12-inch woofers on each side of the system. The combination of four front pieces weighs nearly two tons and costs a lofty $180,000. Oh, and according to MBL, it takes 90 days to fabricate and calibrate each set, so order early.
Greensound Serac Series
There are a variety of glass speakers on the market, and most of them provide varying degrees of beautiful, functioning art. The Serac series from Irvine, California-based Greensound was lighting up the blogosphere just a month ago and is the most recent glass design that we’ve seen. Bearing little to no resemblance to a speaker, all of the electronic innards are housed in the base of the speaker, leaving the body as a thin, mesmerizing slice of glass. The sound works its way through the glass emitting in an omni-directional pattern that supposedly surrounds the listener in a rich field. Lows emit toward the base, while highs travel higher up and emit from the top. Greensound hasn’t dropped any prices just yet, but we’ve got one guess: way above our speaker budget. As far as aesthetics, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better looking speaker.