Madison Fielding Flagstone PlanterSpeakers
Water and speakers don’t usually mix well. But when your speakers double as planters, you have to water them, if you don’t want the foliage contained therein to whither and die. Like most planters, the Flagstone PlanterSpeakers—which come in three sizes, each containing a three-way weatherproof loudspeaker—feature a drain at the bottom for water runoff. The speakers are passive, so power is required—and their performance with the Audio Research GS series amp and preamp and Gryphon DAC proves seductive.
After some initial listening to “Big Log” from Robert Plant’s Principle of Moments, I subject the Flagstones to about 100 hours of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music on the back porch, via the vintage Harman/Kardon 730 receiver from the “Old School” column in the previous issue of TONE. This experience reinforces that these are high-quality outdoor speakers—not those rock-shaped speakers you might have seen in recent years. A great vintage receiver might be a good place to start, but I’d suggest a better-quality source to get the most out of the Flagstones.
With a 10-inch downward-firing woofer and a front panel, of sorts, with a 4-inch Audax midrange and 1-inch dome tweeter, these speakers are certainly well equipped. Outdoor placement helps fight room effects, so in some respects the Flagstones are easier to set up than speakers in your living room. Of course, ultimate placement of the speakers will be dependent upon whether or not you want a more traditional stereo soundstage and listening spot in your outdoor area. Not limited to the speakers you see here, there are a wide range of sizes and shapes available, so check their website for something that will blend with your décor – and there are some new configurations on the way.
Positioning the speakers for rear firing, about 5 feet from any outdoor walls, creates a more diffuse area-filling presentation. This minimizes the precision of the soundstage that you might be used to from listening in your living room, but it bathes your outdoor listening space in music; it also requires more amplifier power to deliver a sufficient sound-pressure level. A forward-firing orientation requires less power, offering a more focused stereo image, though this arrangement doesn’t produce the best sound at a party—unless maybe it’s an audiophile party where everyone is competing for the sweet spot!
The Flagstones feature an 89 dB sensitivity rating; yet, compared to a few other speakers currently in the TONEAudio studio with a similar rating, they produce a couple decibels less sound output, according to the sound-level meter on my iPhone 6. If you only require modest yet high-quality patio sound, 25 wpc of tube power works wonderfully. However, if you’re planning on using the speakers regularly in party mode, Madison Fielding suggests at least 100 wpc, with a maximum of 500 wpc. Art Powers Jr., one of the company principles mentions that “under driving the speakers is the biggest problem they have with the speakers out in the field.”
The Flagstones possess a wide dynamic range and excellent coherence throughout, making them a true audiophile speaker in every respect (aside from the fact that they’re disguised as outdoor décor). Recent dinner guests particularly enjoyed the combination of the Flagstones with Tidal music streaming, allowing everyone to take turns streaming their favorite tunes from the comfort of the patio furniture. The Flagstones effortlessly handle every kind of music, from female vocals to rock, and those 10-inch woofers prove convincing when the party groove shifts to serious hip-hop tracks. The woofers even convince the neighbors on both sides of our fence to join the party—a good sign.
At $3,495 per pair, the Flagstones aren’t a casual purchase for your backyard, and the only negative aspect to having such great speakers out back is the fear that someone will hop the fence and make off with them when you aren’t home. A cursory call to my insurance agent suggests that, if you purchase a pair (or two), to make sure your homeowner’s insurance covers them. You may need to get an additional rider—or at least send your insurance provider a photo of the speakers and copy of your sales receipt. But as long as they’re in your yard, it’s happy listening. – Jeff Dorgay
Madison Fielding Flagstone PlanterSpeakers
$3,495 per pair