Q: I'm adding speakers to a mid-size man cave (26 by 15 feet) to replace my college-era Large Advent speakers. My stereo dealer let me take two pairs of speakers home to try. I was stunned (in a good way) when I heard the $999 Focal Aria 906 bookshelf speakers and the way they easily filled the room with plenty of bass, even without a subwoofer. I also considered the $1,499 Focal Electra 1008BE, but despite the considerable difference in price, I thought the Aria 906 speakers sounded more realistic than the 1008BEs and their dominating bass. Have you reviewed these speakers, and do you have a favorite between the two models?
A: French manufacturer Focal is one of the world's most respected audio manufacturers. While I have not reviewed any Focal speakers, I have heard them at trade shows and liked them. One Focal product I have reviewed is the Sphear wired earphones, and they quickly became some of my favorites.
Don't be swayed by the prices. Cost is not always an indicator of sound quality, and there are lots of examples where I preferred a less-expensive speaker from the same manufacturer, sometimes even within a model line. A great example of this is Polk's original LSi speakers, which were Polk's first foray into creating a high-end product. All of the LSi models were very good, but the very best of these was the LSi9, a large, heavy, stand-mount model. The LSi9 was $1,039 per pair and was second up in the LSi pecking order in terms of price (with the LSi15 and LSi25 both costing more). But I (and many other critics) preferred the sound quality and sonic balance of the LSi9 to the more-expensive towers within the series.
That being said, the way you describe the bass of the Electra 1008BE speakers strikes me as atypical. I wonder if there was an issue with placement that caused them to react with the room in an unfavorable way, spiking the bass response. Still, given how smitten you seem to be with them, I would buy the Aria 906 and enjoy them.
Q: I'm struggling to find a cassette deck. The local audio stores don't carry them and tell me they are not being manufactured much anymore. I would like a nice deck, not an entry-level model, to be connected to my home audio system. Can you provide any advice?
A: While most manufacturers have stopped making cassette decks, there are models available online. But I wouldn't buy one of them. To get quality, you need a vintage model.
In the 1980s, Revox and Nakamichi made what still are considered the best cassette decks. I used to have a Revox B-215. Revox equipment was made by Studer-Revox, the Swiss company known for professional audio recording equipment. The Revox decks were built like tanks and automatically set the bias for each individual tape you recorded on. Unfortunately, parts can be hard to come by, so if you buy one, make sure it's not in need of repair.
I still have a Nakamichi LX-3. It needs regular maintainance, but I've been able to have it serviced several times without problems. One last piece of advice: If you do get one of these players, use it. The sound quality on both is as good as it gets.
Send questions to Don Lindich at firstname.lastname@example.org. Get recommendations and read past columns at soundadvicenews.com.