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Speaker auditioning thoughts (loooong) (1 Viewer)

Jason GT

Second Unit
Joined
Dec 12, 2002
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452
Just got back from an AV dealer, and had a pretty good time chewing the fat about the a/v industry and where it is in this town.

Anyways, I learned a lot while listening and hope that maybe this thread can help others that are also auditioning. First of all, I'm of the opinion that speakers that sound good with music will do well with HT (more on that later, though). One thing I have found is that I've started listening to more music since I've got my HT set up.

I ended up listening to 3 pairs of speakers connected to midfi Unison components: A Unico Remote integrated amp (80 w/ch) and Unico CD player (Canadian price for the pair in the neighborhood of $4-5000). The Unico amp was described to me as "warm".

Key pieces of music:
"Elsewhere" (Sarah Mclachlan, "The Freedom sessions") - a wonderful jam/improv recording. Useful in comparing resolution of different instruments, and how "alive" a speaker can be.
"Angel" (Massive Attack, "Mezzanine") - a dark, moody piece, quite bassheavy.
"That Girl" (Esthero, "Breath from Another") - poppy type music with a rich blend of female vocals and instruments. Reasonably dynamic, and listened to with that in mind.

1) Paradigm Reference/60 - floorstanding 2-1/2 way, list price $1450ish CDN, $2000 for the wood.

My original reason for auditioning. Crisp, detailed highs, probably the crispest of the three speaker pairs I auditioned. Probably the best bass extension, by far the most dynamic -- it could play, and sound good, at much higher volumes than the other two. Bass, if scrutinized, had a slight but noticeable bloat to it. Vocals sounded good. In black laminate, these guys were pretty fugly, appearancewise.

"Angel" is quite nice -- the darkness of the track is captured, but at the same time, did highlight the bass problem a bit. "Elsewhere" benefitted with nice separation of the different instruments and overall with a nice pluck of guitars, etc. Imaging was fair, but sound was fairly well distributed among the room - there was less noticeable of a difference moving around the room with these speakers than the other three, but this could be attributed to the outstanding imaging of the other speakers.

2) Totem Arrow - narrow floorstanding 2way. List price $ ??? but I think about $1500 CDN

Tested as an alternative. More laidback highs (probably the most laidback of the three). Bass was a bit more controlled than the Paradigms but did not extend as deep or hit as hard. "Elsewhere" was fantastic - there was an irresistable groove to the track and it felt like an actual jam session! In fact, my dealer at one point got into it as well! Instruments and soundstage were well resolved. Of the three speakers, the Arrows produced the a most pleasing piano sound - resonant and rich, the nicest of the three demoed. The speakers were finished in maple and fairly attractive, if slightly short and small.

Moving around the room had a more detrimental effect on the sound than the Paradigms, but this was probably attributable to the superior imaging of the Totem.

3) Opera Super Pavarottis - compact floorstanding 3way or 2-1/2 way (not sure). List Price in the neighborhood of $2500 CDN.

Easily the most musical speaker of the three. I keep reffering back to "Elsewhere" - again, it had that groove to it, but this time the imaging was so incredible -- I now know what people mean when they speak of the illusion of sound! I cannot emphasaise how impressive this was -- I suppose you'd just have to be there :D

Bass was quite good and controlled, but it seemed like the Paradigm had better extension again. Highs were almost as detailed as the Paradigms, definitely more detailed than the Totems. "that Girl" and "Angel", however, revealed the dynamic limitations of this speaker. At moderate listening volumes, these speakers sounded simply incredible, but at slightly elevated (but reasonable) levels, this speaker began to sound strained, compressed. Not unlistenable, but very far from the sweet sound dispensed a couple of dB ago.

These guys are finished in a gorgeous hardwood, on quick appearance, a bit nicer than the Totems.

----

So what did I learn, after all that longwindedness? :)
(much of this will sound familiar with readers here)

1 - bring your own music, hopefully stuff that you're familiar with, even if it's your first time shopping hi- or mid- fi. You might hear things that you never heard before, like I did. Try to bring a variety of stuff fairly representative of what you like to listen to, and try to different pieces that have different emphasis (bass, vocals, "groove" or what have you). FWIW, I personally confirmed that pop type music isn't too stressful on components in terms of differentiation.

2 - find a good dealer who you feel comfortable with. Self-explanatory.

3 - don't be afraid to use better quality source and amplification components than you have at home. Sometimes it's the only way to differentiate speakers. Try to find parts that reasonably approximate your home stuff in character(for example, my receiver is warm, so I appreciated the warmth of the store's amp).

4 - listen to all sorts of stuff, even stuff that you don't think you'll buy (your dealer can help you in this). You might learn about what aural qualities make a good loudspeaker, and about different characteristics of speakers.

5 - don't go too crazy with the speakers you compare, or else you may miss out on the personality of each speaker.

----

So what now? Well, if I were listening to music, the Operas would be the clear winner, and if I were going for a 2-channel system, I'd pick up the Operas in a heartbeat, they were that good, musically.

However, HT wise, their limited dynamics concerned me. The same held true, to a lesser extent, with the Totems. (Operas and Totems are also a tougher amplifier load). With the HT requirement in mind, of these three I could only really consider the Paradigms ...

Any thoughts or responses on my novel would be appreciated :D
 

Chris Tsutsui

Screenwriter
Joined
Feb 1, 2002
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1,865
Thanks

For certain types of music, I like laid back speakers, that just flow and are very fluid. I like silk dome tweeters and paper woofers that have a natural and pleasing sound.

Other times I like speakers that can play loud, and are sensitive with a forward yet accurate presentation. A speaker that reveals everything on the track, even if it's hiss. This speaker does not have to sound natural, but it definitely should not sound laid back. It could be perhaps closer to Pro Audio speakers. Something with at least full and rich sound.

Movies, I generally like speakers that have some extra bite to them, and do not sound compressed whatsoever at high volumes. I like speakers that are able to play reference+ without any signs of distortion. I guess metallic tweeters, or even horns can fit this. I think I am used to the way commercial movies sounds with THX JBL horns. I really don't like laid back speakers with movies that much. I do want a speaker that sounds convincingly real.

This sort of leaves me in a situation where I need three audio systems :). Then again, I sometimes get tired of hearing the same "room" with the same speakers, so I like to rearrange the speakers or better yet, try a different room.
 

John Garcia

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Bass, if scrutinized, had a slight but noticeable bloat to it. Vocals sounded good. In black laminate, these guys were pretty fugly, appearancewise.
To me, this is true about all Paradigm speakers by design. The midrange seems to be unilaterally soft, possibly due to crossover design. I find them very pleasant to listen to, but they seem to give up a bit of midrange detail for that bass extension, IMO. I have been considering 20s/40s + Studio CC for my front stage in my HT. I auditioned 20s in my system on Friday. While they sounded noticably a bit better (smoother, clearer) than the Monitor 5s I have now, they did not blow me away. They had the exact same midrange character described above. The 20s have a smooth, full sound to them, dynamic I suppose is the right description to me. They definitely filled the room with sound, and bass extension was impressive all by themselves. (these 20s are well driven in, they are a few years old, belonging to a friend of mine).

I am looking to improve the musical aspect of my HT system thanks to SACD (and the greater detail I get from my 2ch system), so I was naturally looking to move to Studios from the Monitors. After the audition however, they do not have me 100% sold. I will have to bring home a pair of 40s next to see if they sound better. I was looking for a lot more detail with the 20s, but did not find it, though it is a very pleasant sound overall, which would do well for movies as well as music. In the end, they (20s) may still be what I end up with, as I use this system for about 50/50 duty these days. I have a separate 2ch system, because I expect different things for music than movies, though I want to improve the other system as well.

blah,blah,blah...anyway, to aditioning:

If you like Sarah (Freedom sessions is a very good CD that I audition with as well); I also use Tori Amos Under the Pink - lots of piano, subtle detail, clean vocals, Fiona Apple's Tidal - she has a good vocal range, brooding material, and it is a good recording. Whether you have an SACD player or not, I HIGHLY recommend Patricia Barber's Cafe Blue. The SACD was mastered by Mobile Fidelity (stereo hybrid, so it will play on regular CDPs). It is simply one of the best recordings I've ever heard. All of her music is exceptionally recorded, but I happen to enjoy this disc the most.

I auditioned the Denon 2900, which I am considering picking up later this year, with a B&K 507 and Vienna Acoustics Motzarts. The Motzart's sounded wonderful with Cafe Blue (they should for $2600/pr).
 

Ron_L

Second Unit
Joined
Feb 21, 2002
Messages
273
Jason,

They are a good shop. I bought my Studio ADP's there. Paul is a good guy.
 

James Edward

Supporting Actor
Joined
May 1, 2000
Messages
855
My novella in response:



This is a problem that you will always run into. The Totems, and I'll bet the Operas, have a first order crossover network- the slope between crossover points is only 6 db per octave. This puts a greater strain on the drivers, since they are operating at higher levels outside their range. But it also means that the crossover is completely 'phase accurate', which will generally mean the purest sound. The problems occur when you drive them too hard. Dunlavys, Thiel, and some other brands that don't get much mention in HT circles all use 1st order crossovers. Even when Widescreen Review used very large Dunlavys in their newly built room, if I remember correctly, some people lucky enough to get an invite reported that the drivers bottomed out at times.

The sweet spot is also much narrower with 1st order crossovers, hence your experience. When everything is perfect- volume not too high, and your head locked into position, I don't think anything images or sounds more real than these speakers. But...

HT demands a lot of speakers. I own all PSB, both in my HT and stereo systems. I like it loud, and I can't sit in a dedicated listening chair all the time. Like Paradigm, they will play significantly louder because of their 3rd order crossovers, which have a slope of 18 db per octave. The drivers operate in a much narrower range, and are therefore less stressed at high volume. I'd bet that some of the other speakers(Axiom, Rocket, and others that I can't recall right now), frequently praised for their ability to play loudly in HT systems, also don't have 1st order crossovers.

Of course, companies can use crappy parts and make crappy sounding speakers regardless of crossover design. That's where listening comes in. It sounds like you nailed it very well with your observations.

Moral-If you like it loud, you'll probably find speakers with 2nd or 3rd order crossovers more to your liking.
 

John Garcia

Senior HTF Member
Joined
Jun 24, 1999
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I chose my music speakers because they use a 1st order x-over. Imaging is great, and detail is smooth, but the sweet spot is definitely limited and the speakers are picky about their placement within the room.
 

Jason GT

Second Unit
Joined
Dec 12, 2002
Messages
452
James -- I never knew about crossover order and imaging. Thanks for your experience and expertise!

Speaking of Dunlavys, (Dunlavies?) the shop had this pair of Dunlavy ... speakers which really redefine what a "Tower" is (apparently one of the better know Dunlavy models) -- about 7 ft high, I *think* a 4way, 7 driver sealed enclosure, and if I understood things correctly, the drivers were aligned for phase coherency.

One of the things I forgot to mention that I learned -- picking a speaker really can be a compromise, but never really learned how much so until that day!

Thanks for the responses guys, I love 'em!
 

Doug_B

Screenwriter
Joined
Feb 11, 2001
Messages
1,081
When shopping for "high end" end speakers, I have noticed that they tend not to be broken in as much as the cheaper models, I assume due to the fact that there's a smaller market for them. It can make auditioning a challenge, especially considering that such brands are typically not carried by many dealers within a given geographic area.

Doug
 

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