The challenge of speaker shopping: I'm sure many of you have been there before.

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by KeithH, Aug 13, 2001.

  1. KeithH

    KeithH Lead Actor

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    I finally decided that this past weekend would be the time to find a new pair of speakers for music in my home theater. I've been using Energy e:XL 16 bookshelf speakers for music that are part of a 5.1 set-up, but I wanted something better. They did not have to be Energy speakers. I was willing to buy a different brand and keep the Energys simply for home theater (I have no interest in buying a whole new 5.1 package). So, off I went to two local audio shops. I'll call them Dealer 1 and Dealer 2. To say that shopping for speakers is challenging is an understatement. Different dealers, different gear. Making a decision is not easy.
    On Saturday, I walk into Dealer 1 with a handful of CDs and tell them that I am looking for either quality bookshelf speakers or floorstanders, ideally for no more than $1000. This dealer is very high-end. I listened to the following speakers connected to a Classe CD player and Classe integrated amp (I didn't pay too close attention to the model numbers):
    1) Energy Veritas 2.2 bookshelf speakers: I expected the world from these speakers since the Veritas line is considered a significant step up from my e:XLs, which I've been happy with. The price for a demo pair of 2.2s was $750, and a new pair was $1000. Listening to Dire Straits Brothers in Arms and Rebecca Pidgeon The Raven on CD, I was a bit disappointed. The sound was what I would call diffuse. Some might call it warm, but I felt it was too warm. Placing instruments and getting an overall feeling of soundstage was difficult. The Energys looked great, as the dealer had them on custom Energy stands that go for another $450. While I was there, someone bought one demo pair of the 2.2s, but I was able to listen to another.
    2) Totem bookshelf speakers: Honestly, I forgot the model here. Totem seems to be a rather obscure brand. I rarely hear anything about them, but I saw an ad in a hi-fi magazine recently. Dealer 1 carries some top-end gear, so I figured Totem must make a decent speaker. However, with the Classe set-up, these speakers also sounded diffuse and uninvolving. The price was about the same as the Energys, and the sound appeared the same too.
    3) Totem Arro floorstanders: As the salesman was setting these up, he told me I would like them. He said they were in another league from the other speakers. He also said that a new pair sold for $1500. That's more than I wanted to spend, but I decided to give them a listen anyway. Wow! These speakers are excellent. Great bass and overall accuracy. They just made the music sound right. Clearly the leader. At this point, I asked to listen to the Energys again since they were quoted at half the price of the Arro floorstanders. Once again, I couldn't bring myself to like the sound of the Energys.
    On to Dealer 2. This dealer is not as high-end as Dealer 1 overall, but Dealer 2 has some quality gear anyway.
    1) B&W CDM 1NT bookshelf speakers: These were connected to a Bryston surround-sound pre-amp and power amp with a Pioneer DV-38A progressive scan DVD/DVD-Audio/CD player as the front-end source. I was quoted around $1000 for a new pair of '1NTs. To say the '1NTs were bright is an understatement. I could only take the first minute of Dire Straits "Money for Nothing" before stopping the disc. I did listen to them for a little while longer with a couple CDs, but they were aggravating. Now, for music, I suspect the Pioneer Elite DVD player could have been the weak link, but I can't rule out the possibility that the Bryston equipment or the speakers themselves were the culprit. Prior to listening, the salesman (a real used car salesman type) told me nothing would beat B&W in the $1000 price range, especially for top-end clarity. Anyway, I found the sound to be disgusting.
    2) Paradigm Reference Studio 60 floorstanders: I expected a lot from these speakers based on reputation. They are very nice looking. The price was a shade over $1100 for a new pair. The dealer had them connected to an Adcom GCD-750 single-disc CD player and an Adcom pre-amp and power amp. The bass put out by the Paradigms was very strong. Possibly too strong. My listening room at home isn't huge, and that much bass could be a problem. Despite the strong bass, the upper registers were once again harsh. All in all, the sound didn't do it for me.
    3) B&W 602 series floorstanders: I don't recall the exact model number (could have been 602 S2 or something like that). They were around $1000 for a pair. These were connected to a Pioneer Elite VSX-36TX receiver with a (gasp!) Pioneer DV-343 as the front-end source. Nothing against the '343, but it is not in the same league as any of the other front-end components I had been using that day. Overall, the B&Ws were lacking. The sound was muddy. I knew that the associated equipment wasn't ideal, but it had been a long day already, so I didn't ask them to move equipment around. By this point, the salesman was getting on my nerves too. He was like a used car salesman, as I said.
    Back to Dealer 1. I had to listen to the Totem Arro floorstanders again. And listen I did. These were the only speakers I heard that day that really made me sit up and take notice. In talking to the salesman, it turns out he misquoted the price. He showed me his price list that indicated the Arros were $1100 for a new pair, not $1500. What's more, he said I could have the demo pair for $895. They were already broken in, so I bought them.
    Was my listening experience conducted in a scientific manner? Absolutely not. I'm sure many of you have been there before. Listening to different speakers in different stores on different equipment, all the while trying to remember how one speaker sounded versus the others, is difficult. In the end, I went with the speaker I felt was best and took them home. I have until Friday to try them out at home, at which point I have to make a decision to keep them or return them.
    One thing that concerned me in making my purchase is that I might have sold some, if not all of the speakers at Dealer 2 short. I don't think any of their sound systems were as good as the Classe system at Dealer 1. It is possible, I suppose, that the Paradigm Reference or B&W speakers would have sounded great with the Classe gear, which, of course, I don't own. However, the Class gear doesn't make every speaker sound great, not surprisingly. As I said above, the Energy Veritas and Totem bookshelf speakers were disappointing. On that basis, I felt good about my purchase.
    Once I got the Totem Arros home and hooked them up in my home theater, I felt assured that my decision was a good one. These speakers are incredible. In A/B'ing SACDs and CDs on my Sony SCD-777ES between the Energy e:XL 16s and the Totem Arros (with an NAD C 370 integrated amp), there is no comparison. I am loving music again. For awhile, I realized that my Energy e:XL 16s were the weak link in my system for music, though they are good for the price. Having new speakers is exhiliarating!
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    [Edited last by KeithH on August 13, 2001 at 11:40 AM]
     
  2. Brian Shannon

    Brian Shannon Stunt Coordinator

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    Congrats!
    Sometimes the best advice is to go with your gut feeling.
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  3. Chip E

    Chip E Screenwriter

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    Congrats on your new speakers Keith. I'm sorry you didn't demo some PSB Stratus Silveri's. When i bought my pair (along with a C6i center channel), i had listened to some B&W's and Paradigms and felt there was better imageing and better mid & high integration with the Silveri's. I'm sure you made a great choice for you though!
    - Chip
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  4. John Morris

    John Morris Guest

    KeithH: Congrats on your new speakers!!!
    Speaker shopping can be exciting and frustrating as you have found out. And it is always nice to test speakers out in your home with your equipment. Still, when you listened to the Totem Arro speakers using the Classe A gear, you could hear the potential of these speakers, and if you liked what you heard, at least you knew what sonic heights you could eventually attain with those speakers. For me, speakers are one item I intend on keeping for 5 or more years. During that time I know I'm gonna keep upgrading my gear. So buying speakers what will not limit what you hear is always a good idea. It sounds like you've done exactly that!!! [​IMG] ENJOY!!!
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    merc
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    DFAST, 5C, DVI, HDCP, SafeAudio, Macrovision and Lewinski!!!
     
  5. KeithH

    KeithH Lead Actor

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    Thanks, everyone.
    Chip,
    I've heard good things about PSB speakers, but I've never lived near a dealer. It's amazing. One could make a speaker search take months given all the options.
    John,
    You are absolutely right about hearing the potential of the Totem Arros. My NAD C 370 and Sony SCD-777ES are not in the same league as the Classe gear used at the store for the demo. I suspect that my amp is especially a couple rungs down. Also, and this might spark some controversy, I am only using Monster cables and Monster speaker wire. The dealer was using better stuff. Anyway, although I don't own Classe gear, knowing that the Totems sounded great there gives me some peace of mind. It's nice to know that the speakers can sound good with high-end gear should I decide to upgrade my amp or CD source further. For now, the Totems sound great with my current set-up.
    I will probably go back to this dealer in time to look at better cables and speaker wire. It certainly pays to develop a good rapport with a local dealer rather than to buy everything by mail. With cables, buying by mail can really be hit or miss. Even if you get a "hit", there are a lot of cables out there that you probably haven't tried. The same goes for speakers, obviously. Anyway, the salesman I dealt with told me that based on the gear I have, he could make some solid recommendations for suitable cables and speaker wire without draining my bank account when I am ready. For now, I just want to keep everything the same in my system to properly A/B the Totems with the Energys. I won't have to do too much more hardcore A/B'ing though. The Totems are clearly better. Now I am A/B'ing more out of curiosity. It's fun to hear some of my favorite music on the Energys, a sound I am very familiar with, and then to see how much better the same music sounds with the Totems. At some point down the road though, I will probably be able to take a few pairs of interconnects and different types of speaker wire home from this store to compare. Then I'll bring back what I don't like. Yet another challenge, but it should be fun and rewarding.
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    [Edited last by KeithH on August 13, 2001 at 11:43 AM]
     
  6. John-D

    John-D Stunt Coordinator

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    Isn't it a pity that we are limited to auditioning only the brands our closest dealers carry.
    wish we could audition nOrh's somewhere.
    congrats on your purchase KeithH.
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  7. RicP

    RicP Screenwriter

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  8. BryanZ

    BryanZ Screenwriter

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    John,
    Just depends upon your local. Try emailing Namphung and see if anyone owns the nOrhs and lives in your area. Then try and see if you can go and audition them.
     
  9. PatrickM

    PatrickM Screenwriter

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    Keith,
    Its great that you found speakers that you liked in the price range you were willing to pay.
    As for the B&W CDM's and the Paradigm Reference. These two speakers have been reported to be somewhat bright and the source gear could have also been an issue. And, the other thing you have to wonder is how broken in the speakers were at the time you listened to them.
    You would hope your dealer would have broken them in but you never know. This could also cause a shrillness in the upper frequencies.
    Enjoy your new speakers.
    Patrick
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  10. KeithH

    KeithH Lead Actor

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    Thanks again, everyone.
    Ric,
    At this point in time, when other considerations are factored in (read: my significant other and my home), I decided that $1000 was a good amount to spend on speakers. I was not locked in at that price point though. Remember that the dealer originally quoted me $1500 for the Totem Arros, but I listened to them anyway. Had $1500 been the actual price, I probably would have paid it for the Totems or looked at other comparably priced speakers. I wouldn't have stuck with $1000 to get something I didn't like. The bottom line here is that I found a great-sounding pair of speakers for $895 (great-sounding in the store and at my home). Note that the dealer had the Totem Arros hooked up to Classe equipment that with speaker wires and interconnects was far more expensive than my NAD C 370/Sony SCD-777ES/Monster set-up, and the Totems sounded fantastic. Also, the Totems were already in the same room with the Classe gear when I got there. The salesman didn't pull them from another room. That suggests that someone had recently listened to them with the Classe gear. In any event, they work for me.
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    [Edited last by KeithH on August 13, 2001 at 12:51 PM]
     

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