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How to buy new speakers?


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#1 of 167 DaveF

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Posted January 31 2010 - 06:23 AM

I need tips, or perhaps a support group, in buying new speakers. :) I'm not sure how to effectively go about this. I've got a ~$2000 budget to upgrading from my 5.1 KLH set bought ten years ago for $250 when I was a poor grad student: obviously, anything will be a step up. (WAF is pretty broad, so I don't need teeny-tiny satellites.)

Whereas there's a good selection reviews online for TVs, Receivers and Blu Ray players, I'm finding very little on speakers. There's too many makes and models to be reviewed in any comprehensive way. Or perhaps the good reviews are in the print magazines, but since they're not online, I can't find them.

The stores are a mixed bag. We have two local boutique stores, which I'm visiting. But they have limited setups, usually in awkard, cramped rooms, are nothing like my living room. I had a nice demo at one high-end shop, but I'm standing up for it, because there's no chair for that demo section. The stores can't do A/B comparisons either: they have to unplug a speaker set, bring in new speakers from a different room, set them up, and continue the demo.

Where to start? How do you pick speakers? Where do you get review info? What about buying sound-unheard from an internet company? (e.g. Aperion or SVS) 

I'll gladly take specific recommendations, but I'm as interested in meta-recommendations on the shopping process.

If it helps, my setup is:
Onkyo 707 receiver
Pioneer 5020 plasma
Living room is 15' (wide) x 16' (deep), with one side open to the kitchen & dining room.


#2 of 167 gene c

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Posted January 31 2010 - 07:45 AM

You should start by spending some time listenning to as many different speakers, and types of speakers. as you can.  If you can figure out the type of sound you like you can narrow it down a bit.
Are you looking for towers, bookshelves, in-walls, complete-systems?

You can save a bundle by buying last years models on close-out like these: Polk-Newegg, Energy-Audioadvisor.com, PSB-Saturdayaudio,

The best thing to do is order 2-3 bookshelves from quality companies that offer a good return policy and listen to them in your own home. This is time consuming and troublesome but you'll have a better chance of ending up with what you want. I ordered speakers from Swan, Aperion and Ascend and kept the one I liked best and returned the other two. Then filled out the rest of the system.

Aperion, Ascendacoustics, Axiomaudio,  HSUresearch, Audioadvisor and Ozhometheater (they both may offer a special price on a package deal), as well as SVS and Elemental-Designs already mentioned. And a few I'm sure I forgot.

As for BM speakers, I like Infinity. But you should also consider Paridigm, Def Tech, Polk LSi's and KEF. And even more I forgot.

Yes, there are tons to chose from, but your sub should come from SVS, HSU or ED Designs of course.

And the best of luck. This will be much harder than the receiver.

EDIT: I can't believe I forgot to mention this /img/vbsmilies/htf/eek.gif. When listenning to speakers in the store be sure to take a cd that you like with you. And remember, the receivers settings will probably be all messed up.


"Everyday room": Panasonic 58" Plasma, Dish HD DVR, Pioneer Elite vsx-23, BDP-23 BR, dv58avi universal dvd player, Paradigm Studio 20 V1, CC-450, Dayton HSU-10 subwoofer.

"Movie/Music room": Toshiba 65" DLP, Dish HD receiver, Marantz 7005, CC-4003, BD-7006, Polk LSI25's-LSi7's-LSiC, 2 original Dayton 10" "Mighty-Mites" subwoofers. (subject to change without notice).
 
Also have  MB Quart Vera VS05 +.....too much to list. Help me.
 
 

 


#3 of 167 DaveF

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Posted January 31 2010 - 09:10 AM

Gene, thanks for the great comments. I'm looking for a complete 5.1, perhaps 7.1, system. Satellite or Bookshelf or Tower speakers, whatever is the best value. That's part of the dilemma, understanding whether Tower speakers make sense over Bookshelf speakers, with a subwoofer? Or whether dipoles are a better choice for surrounds? And whether to adjust the budget to allow for two Front Height speakers in a 7.1 configuration? (Haven't seen a Front Height demo at stores)

So this first outing was dipping my feet in the water. I need to take a CD and DVD next time for a consistent demo. And see how the salesman does with repeat visits: next to the speaker kit I demoed was a kit where single speaker costs more than my entire budget.

I'm specifically interested in SVS (having seen them grow up at HTF), Aperion (friend's recommendation) and Paradigm (good demo at local store). Glad to hear you recommend Paradigm: Their online presence has a snakeoil feel, frankly, with no good reviews and an information-deficient website.

Heard a KEF demo; they sounded boomy, with uneven voices. And being ignorant, I get antsy when speakers have unconventional design features that no other manufacturer uses. But maybe they're great and the demo was poor.

Not sure about ordering online kits for in-house demo. Even if I wanted to, WAF is in the red zone on that :) But will consider.

Is there a particular website or magazine that tends to have quality reviews on speakers? I found a promising review on a Paradigm set, but then the reviewer said the speakers are finicky to the particular speaker wire used, and I tossed him into the virtual trashcan. Getting good info is hard...


#4 of 167 Ed Moxley

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Posted January 31 2010 - 10:40 AM

I second SVS.............
My online forum communities I frequent (several, in fact), have some people that have them, and they just rave about them. I have figured for awhile that if I get to a point that I can ever buy new speakers, they will be SVS. I've not heard any bad about them. One guy here got some, and at first wasn't loving them. But, once he got all his settings right, the more he listened, the more he liked them. I guess they need a little breaking in time too. Anyway, he kept them, and was happy.
Good luck with whatever you decide on.

Samsung HL61A750 (LED DLP)            Onkyo TX-SR805
Oppo BDP-83 Blu ray                                  Polk Audio LSi9
Polk Audio LSiC                                  Sony SS-MB100H
SVS PC12-NSD (Sub)                       ...

#5 of 167 gene c

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Posted January 31 2010 - 11:23 AM


Quote:
Satellite or Bookshelf or Tower speakers, whatever is the best value. That's part of the dilemma, understanding whether Tower speakers make sense over Bookshelf speakers, with a subwoofer?
Bookshelf's  are the best value when using a good sub woofer. It's also easier to adjust their height than it is with a tower. Speaker positioning is also very important to how they sound. And a speakers cabinet is usually the most expensive part and a tower has lots of wood. Some believe a tower can be a bit better in the lower mid-bass area, say 100-250 hz because of the extra cabinet volume. I bought towers for the pompous "look at that" reason (at least I'm honest) but the bookshelf equivalent would probably have been just as good in my situation.

Quote:
Or whether dipoles are a better choice for surrounds? And whether to adjust the budget to allow for two Front Height speakers in a 7.1 configuration? (Haven't seen a Front Height demo at stores)
 
Quote:
Living room is 15' (wide) x 16' (deep), with one side open to the kitchen & dining room.
 


I don't really know enough about the differences between dipoles and bi poles to be helpful.

From what I've read, Height speakers can raise the vocals when a center speaker is mounted below the display. But having vocals coming from two different places doesn't sound like a good idea to me. I think the Jury is still out on PLIIz.
A really good 5.1 system is usually better than an O.K. 7.1 so I spent my money on 5 up-graded  speakers vs. 7 lesser ones. But there wasn't hardly any 7.1 material available then anyway so the decision was much easier for me. Besides, if one side is open do you have a place for 4 surround speakers to be properly placed? BTW, I went with bookshelf's for surrounds in a 5.1 setup because I felt they would be better for music. Not sure how effective this is but I believe some bi pole/dipoles can be used for both Surrounds and Rear Surrounds by using the outboard drivers for LR/RR and the inner drivers for BL/BR. This way you get 4 rear channels from 2 speakers. Again, I don't know if this is a good idea or not.
Quote:
Is there a particular website or magazine that tends to have quality reviews on speakers?
Not sure about the quality of the reviews because they re from users and not professionals but I usually find my way to Audioreview.com. As with any type of review you have to take it for what it's worth but I just look for consistent comments like "too bright" or "boomy" etc. They also have a "Share" section (forum) where members discuss the products they own. But remember, too much information can be a bad thing. Trust your instincts and stick to products you're familiar with. Oh, and I forgot about Axiomaudio in my list of Internet speaker companies. Owners swear by them. 
"Everyday room": Panasonic 58" Plasma, Dish HD DVR, Pioneer Elite vsx-23, BDP-23 BR, dv58avi universal dvd player, Paradigm Studio 20 V1, CC-450, Dayton HSU-10 subwoofer.

"Movie/Music room": Toshiba 65" DLP, Dish HD receiver, Marantz 7005, CC-4003, BD-7006, Polk LSI25's-LSi7's-LSiC, 2 original Dayton 10" "Mighty-Mites" subwoofers. (subject to change without notice).
 
Also have  MB Quart Vera VS05 +.....too much to list. Help me.
 
 

 


#6 of 167 Ed Moxley

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Posted January 31 2010 - 12:45 PM

Also http://www.soundandvisionmag.com
and http://www.hometheatermag.com
They have magazines at the bookstore also.

Samsung HL61A750 (LED DLP)            Onkyo TX-SR805
Oppo BDP-83 Blu ray                                  Polk Audio LSi9
Polk Audio LSiC                                  Sony SS-MB100H
SVS PC12-NSD (Sub)                       ...

#7 of 167 DaveF

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Posted January 31 2010 - 02:04 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by gene c 

Bookshelf's  are the best value when using a good sub woofer. It's also easier to adjust their height than it is with a tower. Speaker positioning is also very important to how they sound. And a speakers cabinet is usually the most expensive part and a tower has lots of wood. Some believe a tower can be a bit better in the lower mid-bass area, say 100-250 hz because of the extra cabinet volume. I bought towers for the pompous "look at that" reason (at least I'm honest) but the bookshelf equivalent would probably have been just as good in my situation.
I'm particularly interested in minimizing the gap between mains and the sub. My current bookshelves have a distinct attentuation in the lower male vocal range, before the sub picks up. It seems Towers cover than near-80 Hz range better. But, as you say, the price delta is big. I'd settled on Bookshelves until the Paradigm demo with Towers. (The sales pitch was that Towers aren't much more than Bookshelves with stands.)

From what I've read, Height speakers can raise the vocals when a center speaker is mounted below the display. But having vocals coming from two different places doesn't sound like a good idea to me. I think the Jury is still out on PLIIz. 

Besides, if one side is open do you have a place for 4 surround speakers to be properly placed?
Going Front Height, I wouldn't have Rear or Side Surrounds; and there's room on the front wall for it. I've read a few very positive comments on it. A more theoretical explanation explains that Front Height is a much better use of two extra speakers than Rear Surround. Haven't heard about it raising the voice; will have to read more. As it's Matrixed, 7.1-specific material isn't needed; it will work on all material. Given how well DPL IIx works on conventional stereo, I'd expect IIz to do a good job extracting Height info. So, it seems pretty neato and worthwhile. :)  But your point on spending money judiciously is noted.

Quote:
I second SVS.............
My online forum communities I frequent (several, in fact), have some people that have them, and they just rave about them. I have figured for awhile that if I get to a point that I can ever buy new speakers, they will be SVS. I've not heard any bad about them. 
Ed - thanks. I need to see if there's an owner in my area that could demo them. I need to talk with SVS and see what system they'd recommend. Their ~$1000 entry kit is tempting!


#8 of 167 Ed Moxley

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Posted January 31 2010 - 02:44 PM



Quote:
Originally Posted by DaveF 
Ed - thanks. I need to see if there's an owner in my area that could demo them. I need to talk with SVS and see what system they'd recommend. Their ~$1000 entry kit is tempting!
From everything I read and hear, their customer service is outstanding. So, I'm sure they'll be glad to help you.


Samsung HL61A750 (LED DLP)            Onkyo TX-SR805
Oppo BDP-83 Blu ray                                  Polk Audio LSi9
Polk Audio LSiC                                  Sony SS-MB100H
SVS PC12-NSD (Sub)                       ...

#9 of 167 gene c

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Posted January 31 2010 - 03:00 PM


Quote:
I'm particularly interested in minimizing the gap between mains and the sub. My current bookshelves have a distinct attentuation in the lower male vocal range, before the sub picks up. It seems Towers cover than near-80 Hz range better.
You shouldn't have that problem with some good bookshelves, as long as you buy the proper ones. I currently have Swan 2.1's (one 6" mid-bass) and Infinity Beta 20's (also one 6" mid-bass) and both are very good with vocals, including lower male's like Boz Skaggs. IMO, where towers can sometimes have an advantage is with things like bass guitar, drums, and certain sound effects in movies. Now, if you choose a bookshelf like the old Polk RTi6's which are somewhat harsh sounding to me, then you may have a problem with male voices sounding a bit thin.

Quote:
A more theoretical explanation explains that Front Height is a much better use of two extra speakers than Rear Surround.
I can agree with that. Better than bi-amping the fronts, too.

Quote:
Going Front Height, I wouldn't have Rear or Side Surrounds;
No rear or side surrounds? All 5 speakers in the front? I don't know about that /img/vbsmilies/htf/crazy.gif . But, I've never tried it either so who knows.

That SVS package should be pretty good and would be a huge upgrade from those KLH's. I had a pair of the SVS speakers for a while and really liked them. Bought them when they first came out just to see what they were. But if you truely have a $2000 budget then you can probably wind up with something even better. Unless that $1000 price is too hard to pass up.

"Everyday room": Panasonic 58" Plasma, Dish HD DVR, Pioneer Elite vsx-23, BDP-23 BR, dv58avi universal dvd player, Paradigm Studio 20 V1, CC-450, Dayton HSU-10 subwoofer.

"Movie/Music room": Toshiba 65" DLP, Dish HD receiver, Marantz 7005, CC-4003, BD-7006, Polk LSI25's-LSi7's-LSiC, 2 original Dayton 10" "Mighty-Mites" subwoofers. (subject to change without notice).
 
Also have  MB Quart Vera VS05 +.....too much to list. Help me.
 
 

 


#10 of 167 DaveF

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Posted February 01 2010 - 12:23 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by gene c 

No rear or side surrounds? All 5 speakers in the front? I don't know about that /img/vbsmilies/htf/crazy.gif . But, I've never tried it either so who knows.
Ah, I've misunderstood you. Yes, conventional surrounds. But not 7.1 Rear Surrounds, as I thought they were called. Nor side surrounds from the IIz. There's place on the "open" side for a surround speaker :) There's an 18" corner wall there, on which I may hang the future speaker. Surrounds wouldn't be equi-distance from the  listening position, but hopefully Audyssey could mitigate any ill effects.

I have $3000 max, including tax and shipping. The SVS MBS set is $2900, without shipping or stands, so would likely exceed the budget.


#11 of 167 Jason Charlton

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Posted February 01 2010 - 05:26 AM

Sorry to chime in a little late here, but if the Paradigm's were somewhat appealing to you, you may want to think about listening to some speakers from PSB.  Not sure exactly where you're located, but there is at least one authorized dealer in the Rochester area (you can search at the PSB website).

The PSB's are very similar to Paradigm's - they are good for both movies and dedicated 2-channel audio listening.  I have a pair of Image 6 towers for my mains, a matching center and a pair of their bipole S5 surrounds on the sides.  I would definitely recommend a subwoofer from another manufacturer, though.  PSB's subs have gotten better in recent years, but there are much better values out there.

I will agree with what some others have suggested - better to build a quality "core" 5.1 system than spread yourself too thin budget-wise by adding rear surrounds or front height channels.

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#12 of 167 DaveF

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Posted February 01 2010 - 06:32 AM

Thanks. PSB's are sold at a local dealer. Same one that showed me KEF (which didn't sound good, for some reason).


#13 of 167 gene c

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Posted February 01 2010 - 12:21 PM


Quote:
I have $3000 max, including tax and shipping. The SVS MBS set is $2900, without shipping or stands, so would likely exceed the budget.
 
What I meant was that even though the $1000 SVS is very good, with a $2000 budget (now $3000 /img/vbsmilies/htf/smile.gif ) you can can get an even better setup from Axiom, Aperion, Paradigm, PSB, etc. I knew the MBS was way over budget.

We haven't mentioned room acoustics yet. It makes a big difference. I have two modest systems and the rooms do have a big influence on sound. Not sure how you can account for this but speakers can sound quite a bit different than they did in the store depending on the room they are in.

Also, when auditioning speakers much of the emphasis is usually on the bass and treble output. My main consideration was the mid-range, particularly male vocals. If a speaker got that right then I moved on to other areas.

And speaking of room acoustics, and speaker positioning, when auditioning in the retail store environment ask the sales rep if you can have the speakers moved to the same location when comparing one to the other. Particularly if some are on the top shelf or if smaller speakers are near the floor. And whether or not you listen to speakers accompanied by a sub woofer is up to you. I preferred to audition speakers without a sub but the stores usually have them blasting away. These are all things I wish I had done the first time around.


Quote:
Thanks. PSB's are sold at a local dealer. Same one that showed me KEF (which didn't sound good, for some reason).
 

KEF is a British brand and it's interesting how different areas of the world seem to produce a certain type of sound. There's the British sound of KEF, Wharfdale, Mourdant-Short (which I did like) etc. Canada has theirs with Paradigm, PSB and others. And then there's the softer side on the West Coast with Aperion and Infinity. Can't put a handle on the East Coast. Too many are based there. Of course there are those who didn't fall into line like Energy, Klipsch and NHT. But I thought it was interesting.

"Everyday room": Panasonic 58" Plasma, Dish HD DVR, Pioneer Elite vsx-23, BDP-23 BR, dv58avi universal dvd player, Paradigm Studio 20 V1, CC-450, Dayton HSU-10 subwoofer.

"Movie/Music room": Toshiba 65" DLP, Dish HD receiver, Marantz 7005, CC-4003, BD-7006, Polk LSI25's-LSi7's-LSiC, 2 original Dayton 10" "Mighty-Mites" subwoofers. (subject to change without notice).
 
Also have  MB Quart Vera VS05 +.....too much to list. Help me.
 
 

 


#14 of 167 DaveF

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Posted February 01 2010 - 01:16 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by gene c 

What I meant was that even though the $1000 SVS is very good, with a $2000 budget (now $3000  ) you can can get an even better setup from Axiom, Aperion, Paradigm, PSB, etc. I knew the MBS was way over budget.

We haven't mentioned room acoustics yet. It makes a big difference. I have two modest systems and the rooms do have a big influence on sound. Not sure how you can account for this but speakers can sound quite a bit different than they did in the store depending on the room they are in.
That's a real concern. My living is in an open floor-plan. My only real control is Audyssey MultEQ in my receiver. And the store's demo rooms are small, closed rooms -- very different setups. And then the matter of swapping speakers in and out, rather than a direct A/B switch, so I'm relying on poor "sonic memory".

I tell the salespeople I've got a $2000 budget, so we don't start too high and only go crazy from there. :)

Any benefit in buying, say, Paradigm's sub with a Paradigm kit over a 5-spkr set from Paradigm and an SVS sub?


#15 of 167 gene c

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Posted February 01 2010 - 01:50 PM


Quote:
Any benefit in buying, say, Paradigm's sub with a Paradigm kit over a 5-spkr set from Paradigm and an SVS sub?
 
I'm not really the one to give advice on subs. But from what I've read Paradgm is one of the few speaker manufacturers who are also capable of making outstanding subs. But unless your dealer gives you a great deal on a speaker/sub package I'd concentrate on the speakers first and then start a new thread on the search for the perfect sub for your application.
Quote:
I tell the salespeople I've got a $2000 budget, so we don't start too high and only go crazy from there. :)
 
Should have stuck to that with us, too /img/vbsmilies/htf/smiley_wink.gif .
"Everyday room": Panasonic 58" Plasma, Dish HD DVR, Pioneer Elite vsx-23, BDP-23 BR, dv58avi universal dvd player, Paradigm Studio 20 V1, CC-450, Dayton HSU-10 subwoofer.

"Movie/Music room": Toshiba 65" DLP, Dish HD receiver, Marantz 7005, CC-4003, BD-7006, Polk LSI25's-LSi7's-LSiC, 2 original Dayton 10" "Mighty-Mites" subwoofers. (subject to change without notice).
 
Also have  MB Quart Vera VS05 +.....too much to list. Help me.
 
 

 


#16 of 167 Jason Charlton

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Posted February 02 2010 - 01:28 AM



Quote:
Originally Posted by gene c 


But from what I've read Paradgm is one of the few speaker manufacturers who are also capable of making outstanding subs. 

 
I can attest to that.  The sub I'm using with my PSB Image setup is a Paradigm Servo-15.  I got it at a great discount from a buddy of mine who worked for Dolby Labs and got to use his company's discount /img/vbsmilies/htf/smile.gif.

I've had it for years and to this day, have never even cranked it up to full blast - it's just too much!

In terms of the subwoofer matching the rest of your speakers, the sub is probably the least-critical in this area - mainly because once set up, there's relatively little frequency overlap between the sub and everything else.  Contrary to what Audyssey typically tells you, if you're using a subwoofer in your setup, you should always set the rest of your speakers to "small" and utilize the receiver's internal crossover to fine-tune your system.  Let the subwoofer do the "grunt" work, and let your mains focus on what they do best - mids and highs.

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#17 of 167 DaveF

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Posted February 02 2010 - 03:42 AM


Excellent. That PSB-3400 was the first "large" sub I've heard for home use. It was a completely different experience than even the 3100, two model steps down. I really want something of that caliber. However, WAF is tougher on a gigantic box! :)

Quote:
Originally Posted by gene c 

Should have stuck to that with us, too /img/vbsmilies/htf/smiley_wink.gif .
LIke I said, I'm new to this /img/vbsmilies/htf/smiley_wink.gif

I'm home sick today, so I'm going to try to muster the strength and read online reviews and start building a cost comparison spreadsheet.



#18 of 167 Ed Moxley

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Posted February 02 2010 - 04:52 AM



Quote:
Originally Posted by DaveF 
However, WAF is tougher on a gigantic box! :)
How about one of these? http://www.svsound.c...cts-sub-cyl.cfm
These don't seem as big, but put out just as much bass.


Samsung HL61A750 (LED DLP)            Onkyo TX-SR805
Oppo BDP-83 Blu ray                                  Polk Audio LSi9
Polk Audio LSiC                                  Sony SS-MB100H
SVS PC12-NSD (Sub)                       ...

#19 of 167 DaveF

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Posted February 02 2010 - 07:39 AM

I've had my eye on those for a decade now :) I think it has higher WAF, but I've not pressed the matter.

Now, in recent browsings of SVS's website, the vibe I get is that their cylinder subs are now a lesser product -- no longer the apple of their eye -- with the effort and interest in the conventional box subs. In part, because their 5.1 kits use almost solely box subs. Maybe I'm just wrong about that? I need to contact SVS and see what sub they'd recommend for my room.


#20 of 167 DaveF

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Posted February 06 2010 - 04:26 PM

Is it just me, or is it very difficult to discern differences between speakers when there's any delay in listening to them? All three stores I've visited, I listen to some demo material on a set of speakers. Then wait a few minutes while the speaker selection is changed. Then re-listen to the material. And I find it impossible to compare and contrast except in the grossest of terms.

With one set of Vienna Acoustics at BestBuy, the salesman could switch between them with no interruption, and it was revelatory. The was a surprisingly clear difference between the two sets, when heard in via A/B switching. And it made the lack of that in every other demo all the more frustrating.

And then, trying to compare speakers between stores -- I'm not sure I'm not simply imagining differences to justify my efforts :)

I'm about ready to buy an expensive set of Paradigm speakers and be done with it.





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