Mega speaker audition (Long Post)

Discussion in 'Speakers' started by PaulDA, Feb 27, 2004.

  1. PaulDA

    PaulDA Cinematographer

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    I had a nine hour speaker audition marathon yesterday. I went to four stores, listened to six brands, almost had a winner but got blindsided at the end of the day. I have a couple more to check tomorrow but I have a few questions/notions to pose before round 2 begins.

    A bit of background.

    I have a new (haven't had it home yet) Arcam AVR200. On the advice of several in here plus some of my own research, I have, in the last few weeks, auditioned (the bulk of them yesterday) the following speakers.
    (in the following order)

    Monitor Audio, Bronze series, B4 floorstander w/mid range Yamaha electronics
    Impressions: nice mids, smooth highs, warm and polite, an early favourite
    Monitor Audio, Silver series, similar size, can't recall the model number, same electronics
    Impressions: too polite, like listening through a thick bedsheet
    Salesguy very good about letting me play in the room by myself, made few recommendations or sales pitches.


    Definitive Technology, bookshelf, don't remember the model number, MacIntosh amplifier, sony cd player
    Impressions: too aggressive in the highs, too in your face, was fatigued in 5 mins.
    Kef Q series, bookshelf, don't remember the exact model number, same electronics,
    Impressions: too muddy, no clear definition, too warm
    Energy xl250s, floorstanders, same electronics,
    Impressions: nice mids and clear highs, a tad bright, good with acoustic guitar
    Salesguy friendly, not pushy, let me listen at my own pace, fairly knowledgeable

    Energy C-5, C-9, through Denon 2803, Integra 7.4, Arcam AVR200,
    Impressions: too harsh w/Denon, decent w/Integra, came alive w/Arcam, a bit more detailed than my usual preference for warm sound, but tamed by Arcam--helped me decide on the Arcam
    Salesguy/owner friendly, reasonably knowledgeable, not pushy

    Today's marathon

    Paradigm Monitor 5s with and without Reel Acoustic 10" sub (don't know model number) through Rotel DVD/av receiver combo
    Impressions: warm sound, strong mids, a touch too relaxed on the highs, successfully tamed some of my harsher cds (Matthew Sweet)
    was very impressed with several tracks of O Brother Where Art thou Soundtrack, thought I had a winner
    Salesguy pleasant, friendly, patient (spent 3 hours) thorough answers to my many questions, did not push to my budget's limits just to make a buck

    PSB Image 5T, through Marantz, don't know model number
    Impressions: incredibly bad room (especially since it's dedicated to audition speakers) bare hardwood floor, large glass wall,
    Moved to another, marginally better room. At low volume, nice balance from highs to low-mids, mids disappear at moderate to high volume. To be fair, the rooms were horrible.
    Salesguy young, apologetic about room, reasonably pleasant

    Quick recheck of Energy C-5s through Cambridge Audio amp/preamp
    Similar to experience w/Arcam, not as nice as Paradigms
    Mission M34s, same electronics
    smooth highs, good bass response but mids too reticent, a bit like the PSBs, (though in a much better environment, so less pronounced), a bit more detailed highs than Paradigm but not nearly as well rounded
    Salesguy reasonably pleasant, somewhat aloof

    By this point, I thought I had a winner. I've been searching for the elusive match to my old beloved speakers, the mid 80s vintage Celestion DL6s and the Paradigm Monitor 5s seem quite close.

    I had time for one more store before meeting some friends for dinner and that's when all my assumptions about what in sound I want were unexpectedly and seriously challenged.

    I went to the only store on my list that, according to their website, carries both Arcam and a brand recommended to me by several people, Acoustic Energy. On arriving the manager informed me that they no longer carry the brand but invited me to listen to some other speakers. He was somewhat pedantic but this was a different kind of store. Unlike all the others, each listening room was set up with only one system at a time. Speakers are placed one pair or set at a time and removed for replacement with others. The rooms are set up like semi-idealized versions of real world environments, tasteful furnishings, wall hangings, rugs etc. The manager explained that each room had been tested for ideal speaker placement for each speaker set they carry and marked for such (you can sense the attention to detail here, this is not Best Buy).

    He then told me something I'd never heard or read about, but provided a demonstration. He asked me if any of the places where I'd auditioned various speakers had any rooms that had only the speakers actually being used for the audition. The answer is no and I asked why. His answer (the short version, I'm not an engineer or technician) was that even speakers that are not active are "driven" by the same soundwaves that are picked up by the human ear and this has the effect of altering the sound characteristics of the active speakers, something to do with phase issues, frequency cancellation and the like. To prove his point, he placed a pair of speakers in the room, played one of my test tracks, added a single speaker to the room without hooking it up, replayed the track, and repeated the experiment with another of my test tracks. There was a detectable, though slight, interference with the sound. (I know that this could be simple psychoacoustics, but I feel pretty certain that the effect is real) His point was if one idle speaker could do this,if only slightly, two to three dozen idle speakers would have a commensurately greater effect. I don't know enough physics to argue this point and cannot imagine an effective way to test for this, at least not in a time-efficient manner. (No I do NOT intend to go back and relisten to everything individually without other speakers in the room. I don't have that kind of time or strength)

    I wondered if the effect was noticeable because the speakers were, to my ears, unusually detailed. The speakers in question were the B&W CM2s, a bookshelf pair. I'd auditioned the 300 series last fall, through mid-level Yamaha electronics, in my early stages of speaker shopping and found them too bright and forward for my taste, similar to my experience with Boston Acoustic VRMs (I think that's what they were) and so I'd dismissed the entire B&W collection. However, and herein lies my dilemma, the CM2s have me re-examining my otherwise solid preference for the Paradigms.

    The Paradigms were like my old speakers, only better. They were comfortable and reassuring. The B&Ws were like meeting someone who challenges some of your most cherished assumptions but persuasively lead you to consider changing them. When I listened to the a capella choral spiritual (Track 4 on the O Brother... soundtrack) on the Paradigms, I heard voices that I didn't know were there and I was very impressed. On the B&Ws, the singers seemed to be right in the room with me. There was a whole new level of detail and realism. My first 30 second impression of them was like the 300s, too bright, but unlike the 300s, they didn't become harsh, just revealing. Perhaps the Arcam is much better suited to the B&Ws than the Yamaha, perhaps the CMs are significantly better, likely both. Over the next hour, I found myself more and more drawn to the life-like quality of the sound. Brubeck's Take Five, an old favourite, which I've etched into memory, sounded (and I know this is a cliche) almost like a brand new song. Certainly the tape hiss became more apparent, but that was more than made up for by the increased clarity of each instrument, the nuances I'd never noticed in the drum solo. I think I finally understand what is meant by soundstage and imaging, whereas before I really only guessed at it. Even Matthew Sweet's Girlfriend (title track), was much more detailed than I'd ever heard and this is an extremely unforgiving recording of high frequency music, sounding harsh on much more laid back speakers like the Missions (and so harsh in my crappy car speakers that I can't listen to more than two or three tracks at one sitting).

    I know that I'm sounding like some gushing, easily swayed listener (it is 4am) but those who know me and my preferences would/will likely be shocked at my comments about such a "clinical" speaker. Has anyone, assuming anyone reads this far, ever had such a conversion in sound preference? If so, were you satisfied to be on a new path or did you regret it and go back to your first love? Am I crazy? Do so many speaker auditions in such a short span make people nuts? All I know is that I was relieved to have found a familiar, comforting sound but now all I want to do is run away with the new player.

    If anyone has the stamina to read through this and respond, thank you in advance. Otherwise, thanks to this forum for letting me get this off my chest.
     
  2. Geoff Costello

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    Paul,

    Nice post. Many of us have been through the same cathartic experience I'm sure. After a while it will become the only way to buy and you are for ever Hooked at a new level of understanding of audio quality (expensive but satisfying)

    Some points to consider (all my personal view of course [​IMG] )

    The comparative listening with the same CDs / DVDs is different stores is good to do and will reveal some coarse differences in speakers or electronics, but the reality is differences in the room and other components used (even the volume played) can hide the more subtle differences. If find it useful to get a feel for what is available and to eliminate some obvious candidates. However the last dealer you went to, the one with the single speakers pairs in the room etc, is absolutely doing the right thing by you. Rooms with 6 or 10 speakers have their cones all vibrating in sympathy and muddying the sound.

    The B&W's CM series are very good - well above the B&W 300 series. You may like to try their newest 700 series as well which are a step up again in quality and similar prices. The sound you describe is (to my ears) a fairly accurate description of the B&W CM and 700 / 800 sound. With the right electronics and speaker cables, these are very revealing speakers that can give you new insights into the music. Quite a difference sound to the Paradigm Monitors (mind you the Paradigm Studio 80s or 100s are very very good speakers too and worth listenning to!!) Both of these are (IMHO - the "picks" of what you listened too and are recognised by many reviewers for their outstanding quality / value)

    I'd go back again, listen carefully. Bring your CDs etc. Discuss with the dealer what you are hearing. They may even do an in home demo for you.

    Sound is personal. At the same "quality" level different people will prefer speakers, electronics or (dare I say it) cables with different characteristics. This way you will find speakers that you can be comfortable with for years.

    Enjoy the journey [​IMG]

    Geoff
     
  3. PaulDA

    PaulDA Cinematographer

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    Thanks for the reply, Geoff. Incidently, after leaving the last store to hook up with some friends for dinner (half an hour late) I ended up meeting three Aussies who are my friend's wife's new co-workers. One of them is something of an audio buff and we had a long chat late into the night about the generalities of selecting audio gear (and lots of other things too).

    P.S. I hope you don't take this the wrong way but I absolutely DO NOT want to listen to the 700/800 sound. My wits (and my wallet) are already stretched tightly enough.[​IMG]
     
  4. ScottCHI

    ScottCHI Screenwriter

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    hehe. sounds fun.

    [​IMG]
     
  5. Michael R Price

    Michael R Price Screenwriter

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    Thanks Paul, even though I don't have any personal interest in most of these threads, it's really interesting to read. Auditioning more speakers can't hurt, if anything it will make you more confident in the decision you make.
     

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