Speaker Shopping - one man's experience with High End models

Discussion in 'The Cutting Edge' started by jblnut, Mar 15, 2017.

  1. jblnut

    jblnut Don't Overthink It Subscriber

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    So...I've been into this vintage audio hobby for what seems like forever, but in reality is somewhere around 35 years. I've bought, sold and horse traded my way up to a fairly nice system and I'm very happy with it. I reached really far 10 years ago to afford a pair of JBL 250Ti's and have been slowly bringing my system up to their level ever since. And lately I have been wondering "what would a modern 250 sound like" ? So I set out to find what a current large floor standing speaker sounds like in 2017.

    Previous visits to my local shop (Natural Sound) had showed me that there wasn't much under 10k that was even comparable to what I am used to (maybe in one particular area, but not overall) so I set that as my baseline and worked my way up the speaker ladder.

    What follows are my observations about several modern speakers, paired with different components. I played a variety of my "go to's" for system evaluation (mostly rock and electric jazz). Listening levels were quiet to moderately loud.

    Focal Sopra N3, Mcintosh C47, McIntosh MC452, Luxman SACD

    Straight away I thought the bass was missing, and that impression never left during my listening session. The high end was sublime (right up there with the best I've heard, below) and extremely smooth/non-fatiguing. I really liked the imaging too as that mid directed down at you somehow paints a very 3D soundscape. But try as I might, I felt these missed the "impact" I was looking for.

    Out comes the hand truck and a few minutes later...

    Wilson Sabrina, same electronics as above

    Well now, this little 8" 3-way is punching WAY above it's size class! It's got the bass impact I was looking for and a whole lot more. The imaging is spectacular and the speaker seems to just disappear. I loved it a lot for the first 15 minutes. Then I started to miss the smoother high end of the Focal. As time went on I just couldn't get passed the "jazzed up" sound. It really does grab you, but in the end I thought it was trying a bit too hard.

    Revel Ultima Salon 2, Mcintosh C2500, MC275, MT10, MCD550

    OK now...how much will you give me for my car in trade, right now ? Oh, only that much eh...bummer. This folks, is what I was - and will be forever now - looking for. I should have expected a large 4-way from the Harman corporation would be my ultimate destination after all. All the reviews I have found later about this speaker are positively gushing, and why shouldn't they be ? It has it all - effortless but smooth highs, liquid mid-range and powerful lightning-fast bass. I just didn't want to stop listening. I could get details I've never heard on my 250's with no fatigue or apparent downside (except for a little loss of sensitivity).

    I left the store happy (to have found my grail) and sad (to know that until kids are done with college, ain't no way momma is gonna be cool with that kind of purchase).

    With a few hours of daylight left, I headed to an even higher-end store closer to Boston. That'll be part II....


    jblnut
     

     

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  2. Blue Shadow

    Blue Shadow I gotta get me a new title

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    Thanks, Nice to read about the gear that many folks just can't understand.

    Which cassette deck is that in the pic that you no longer own?
     
  3. jblnut

    jblnut Don't Overthink It Subscriber

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    It was a Luxman K-10.

    I debated about whether to even post this on AK at all, and even then - which forum ? I love the vintage stuff as much as anyone but I can't stress enough that if you think audio has in any way stood still or had no advances since 1983...you are quite mistaken. These new loudspeakers are simply amazing due to advances in materials science, CAD cabinet construction, etc. Granted the prices are eye-watering, but sooner or later these will be our next vintage scroes.

    Just look at this as a preliminary scouting report for AK's speaker forum circa 2027 :)

    jblnut
     
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2017
  4. Blue Shadow

    Blue Shadow I gotta get me a new title

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    It did look like a 10 or 12. The 12 was amazing. Wish mine was a new unit today. Great ergonomics.

    New high performance speakers are nice. Heard the Magico Q3 and it was something. The new build on speakers is very interesting. CNC of a block of aluminum or whatever other special techniques that were not feasible in the past. Capacitors in all price ranges and of course computers. Lots of work but still the numbers these have on the tag can make your head spin. And we're looking at lower or mid models.

    By putting this here, it won't get as many eyes but those that see it might not think that what they lusted for as a teen and purchased recently (for cheap) is the best speaker in the world and appreciate the discussion of these.
     
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2017
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  5. jblnut

    jblnut Don't Overthink It Subscriber

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    Hey you're spoiling my surprise (Magico) in Part II....

    :)
     
  6. Blue Shadow

    Blue Shadow I gotta get me a new title

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    I hope you are right about these newer speakers getting put on the curb in a few years. I have picked up a number of cl buys but it seems speakers are something that are discarded for fewer pennies on the dollar than other gear. I've got less than 1500 in a pair of MG-IIIa, A-200, L1590/2, 2 pair DQ-10s, sub, electronic crossover. And the second pair of DQs which came with the sub also included two Crown amps, Yamaha C-4, turntable, tuner and Ortofon MC-20 broken stylus in that total. Problem is I don't have enough time to listen to them all, they are heavy so moving them isn't the easiest and they all seem to sound great, but the A-200s haven't made it to the main rig, yet. Considering I have had the sub for almost 3 years and it just today got hooked up with a pair of DQ-10s, so much gear so little time and I haven't found one of the good JBLs to try. Those great new speakers can't get here quick enough so that I can downsize!!
     
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2017

     

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  7. Wildcat

    Wildcat Audio Sommelier

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    I think some larger used speakers are less expensive due to their size. Sellers would have to box or crate the larger speakers up, then ship them. It is easier to sell via pickup only, and that limits things to a local market, or the few who are willing to drive more than a few hours. That's fine though. More pickings for me. ;)

    The only problem is, locally, the really good speakers are rarely sold on CL.
     
  8. frankbooth

    frankbooth AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    I recently attended a Wilson demo at a local shop with my audio group. They had the Sabrina's , Yvette's, and Sophia's with VAC and Bryston gear. I too was surprised at the bass on the Sabrina's. some of it was the room but they really dug deep. Had the same overall impression as a speaker that was a little too much boom and sizzle, at least with the Bryston stuff in that room. The Yvette's with VAC monos were pretty amazing. Sounds like you're having fun. Waiting for part 2.
     
  9. Wildcat

    Wildcat Audio Sommelier

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    I don't "get" Wilson Audio. Everyone (including the press) were making this huge fuss about some new Wilson model at AXPONA last year (Alexx, maybe?). I listened for about a minute and walked out of the room--there was nothing about the sound I liked. I know the conditions are not ideal at an audio show, but consider that I spent three separate sessions in the room featuring the ProAc Response D48R and didn't want to leave because it sounded so natural, or hung around the Martin Logan room far longer than any person should be allowed, or stayed a while to listen to some Focals driven by Pass Labs monoblocks...that tells me something. Maybe properly set up back at the dealer here in Ann Arbor, and driven with tubes and high res or vinyl, they sound better...? That could be. At that price level, I would be comparing a lot of models, only if they were set up properly, driven by electronics similar to mine, and listening to my own choice of music.
     
  10. fredgarvin

    fredgarvin AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    Revel has been putting out great speakers for years. The little M20 bookshelf was a good one.
     
  11. theophile

    theophile Pheasant Plucker. Subscriber

    The difficult thing for really accomplished speakers is that they are totally at the mercy of what is being fed into them. Naturally, in a demonstration situation one would expect that the demonstrator would be partnering them with a system which suited their needs, but unfortunately that isn't always the case.
     

     

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  12. sqlsavior

    sqlsavior AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    After a long time in this hobby, I'm convinced that different people not only have different tastes, but actually hear differently than others. I can't think of any other explanation for the more vehement polarization between extreme devotees of MC vs. MM, horns vs. anything but, planars vs. dynamic drivers, tubes vs. solid state, etc., etc., on and on. I've never heard Wilsons, but somehow I doubt they would be likely to float my boat, either. But maybe some models would; I don't know. I believe that it is WAY too easy to make inaccurate or unhelpful generalizations in this hobby.
     
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2017
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  13. theophile

    theophile Pheasant Plucker. Subscriber

    If any aspect of the system/room/set-up/ changes, so too does the sound of an excellent speaker. This accounts for the majority of the divergence of opinions. All are listening to the speakers under differing circumstances in differing rooms and registering differing opinions. If one can make a particular pair of speakers, "sound different", by merely moving their positioning around in one specific room, how much more will they "sound different" in another room on the end of another dissimilar system?
     
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  14. Yamaki

    Yamaki Not For Hire Subscriber

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    If you get a chance, look around for an Aerial Acoustics dealer in your area that has a pair of 7T's on the floor. Give them a listen.
     
  15. Wildcat

    Wildcat Audio Sommelier

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    This is true. I still, today, read a lot of generalizations about speaker characteristics in general that I've found don't quite click with me. Such as, ported speakers are not as good as sealed. I have to be honest--I've heard more ported speakers sound more dynamic and have deeper bass than sealed systems. Yet sealed systems can be made with clean, deep bass also--the Vandersteens 16 ft. away from me at the moment have it in spades. I will also freely admit to being a planar speaker lover, and I've read complaints about them squashing dynamics. Yet the demo of the Martin Logan Renaissance last April put that rumor to rest quickly. Some think that metallic drivers sound, well, metallic...yet I've heard some that are so smooth, you never would have known it.

    There are certain sounds I am no fan of, such as horn speakers, or anything like the Advent or AR speakers, but it is not my place to say they are bad designs. Do I personally feel they reproduce what I want them to in music? No; in fact, far from it. But there are fans of that type of sound and if they like it, more power to them.

    That is true to a point. There are some speaker characteristics which cannot be overcome by any room placement. Such as, a system that doesn't reproduce low bass (due to a high rolloff), or has rather ragged sounding drivers in it. Sometimes we just don't like the tonal balance or coloration built into them. But yes, proper placement can also make a good speaker great, or a great speaker poor. If I were making a choice, there would be a lot of audition time, even at different dealers carrying the same brand, to see if I liked a particular brand or not. Dealers that take time to set up a proper demo room will be able to present a much better representation of what the speaker should sound like in a person's home.
     
  16. jblnut

    jblnut Don't Overthink It Subscriber

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    OK then....Round II...

    Later that day found me at Goodwin's High End - a rather appropriately named dealer of audio gear in Waltham. It's located on a main street and the front door has a buzzer (can't have just anyone wandering in here I guess). The store manager Paul buzzed me in and very quickly made me feel welcome and at home. I ran down what I had at home and went over what I was looking for. He was familiar with most of my system and proceeded to give me a quick tour.

    Goodwin's is the kind of place that real audio nuts would setup (and did). Off a long central hallway are six different sound rooms, which are more like living rooms. Instead of being packed to the gills with racks of gear and 20 pairs of speakers, they are instead comfortably furnished and outfitted with only a few sets of source components and one or two pairs of speakers. It's all setup mostly by pre-arrangement so that you can hear exactly what you want, in whatever setting you want. Since I didn't call ahead, we talked for a bit and decided to start at the top.

    In some (most) foodie circles, you start with the best wine first. Your taste buds are still fresh and you can appreciate all of the subtleties of a better vintage, or so that line of thinking goes. And that line of thinking had me in their 'high end' room. This had to be a 25x30 space with special walls and ceiling (at least 12' high) which sounded very quiet as soon as I walked in. Situated in the center of the room were a pair of Magico Q7's. Powering them were mono Spectral amps connected with speaker cable worth more than my whole system. The Pre was also Spectral and the CD transport (looking more like a giant Server) was a DCS Vivaldi with matching AD/DA. Room cost + system cost > my house. This was serious.

    I set down with a stack of CD and SACD and he left me to enjoy. And what an hour it was! It is hard to describe what I liked best about the setup because simply, it had it all. Everything sounded very natural and imaging was downright scary. I could close my eyes and see the drum kit in front of me - snare right "there", hat just a bit to the left, etc. Vocals hung in the air with power and presence that was uncanny. Bass was fast, accurate, and deep. But what really grabbed me was the shimmering, shifting display of harmonics and micro details that hung in the air like the northern lights. It was as if I was immersed in a Ridley Scott movie where you can see/feel the air - only with sound...there was so much information adding to that sense of realism. I have never heard a stereo like this and if I'm honest I've never quite heard live music like this either. It was more. Good more, not just excess either. Clearly, this was audio on a different level than I am used to.

    With the hour passing way too fast, it was time to get closer to my pay grade. So we headed for a smaller room.

    This room was maybe15x20 and equipped with Naim gear (mono amps + preamp). I used their music server in here just for convenience as it had most of the things I was packing. The first set of speakers was the ATC SCM100 SL (passive). These are certainly impressive looking and the dome midrange and overall look had me thinking "hmm...updated ADS". But that thought only lasted a few seconds into the music, for these were far, far more neutral than any ADS I have heard. They reminded me very much of another fine British speaker I was able to hear at another AK'ers home - Spendor. They did absolutely nothing wrong and were completely transparent, but they were not the kind of speaker I was after. So out they went and in came a smaller set of Magico's - the S5.

    Much of the magic of the larger Q7's is present in the smaller S5. You get a very similar presentation without quite as much low end, or quite as much refinement on top. They were something I could easily live with, yet they lacked a little impact compared to the (cheaper) Revels from earlier in the day. With time running out, I had my answer.

    It was truly great fun and I'd encourage any serious audiophile in the Boston area to visit both Natural Sound and Goodwin's. The folks there have both been around the block many times and sold all of the gear we're using now (30 years ago when they were much younger). They've heard it all and know it well, and they are great hosts to boot. They are here for us - to let us hear what is possible, to educate us on the best path forward, and to eventually help us cash in that unexpected stock IPO, forgotten great aunt's inheritance, or that rainy day fund you've been building forever.

    Once my kids are through college, if there's anything left...I know where I am going.....

    jblnut
     
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  17. Dr Tone

    Dr Tone Active Member

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    My last purchase audition included B&W, Focal and Wilson. I already had Focals 1028BEs and needed to solve the fatigue issues I had with them. Their low volume performance was also rather poor. I knew low volume listening was my priority so most likely a little colored and fun sounding speaker was in order.

    I demoed the following on my gear.
    804 D3, I didn't like the top end, it was too prominent. Apparently the 803D3 has better balance but is a bit to big for my room.
    Sopra 2s had that same top end as my 1028BEs, maybe a slightly improved. Same low volume issues.

    I really wish I could have heard some Magicos, but I ended up going with the little speaker that could instead.
     
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2017
  18. jblnut

    jblnut Don't Overthink It Subscriber

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    Totally understand the "little speaker that could" comment. The Sabrina is one hell of a loudspeaker. The slightly bright sound I heard could easily be tamed with some careful system tuning. 15 years with 250Ti's have at least taught me that, if nothing else :).

    jblnut
     
  19. BMWCCA

    BMWCCA AK Subscriber Subscriber

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    Too bad no one had the JBL M2 for you to compare. I'd have liked to hear your take on those, given your history with JBLs.
     
  20. jblnut

    jblnut Don't Overthink It Subscriber

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    Yeah it goes without saying that I am supremely disappointed at the lack of places to hear not only an M2, but also any of the high-end home models like K2's, Everest, etc. I did pursue the M2 a few years ago but the best I was going to be able to hear in terms of a real audition was a hastily setup pair in a music store so I passed. I did get to hear a pair briefly in the Harman store on Madison in NYC but it was about as far from an ideal audition (Goodwin's) as you could imagine.

    We've beaten Harman's sales and marketing failures to death on the Heritage site so I won't do that here. The "big boy" models are still on my radar for the future but in this price range I am no longer willing to buy something without hearing it (and hearing it properly setup) first.

    FWIW I did hear a well setup pair of Array 1400's and thought they were pretty nice. But now that I have heard the Revel Salons....I'm ruined. The 1400's would be a nice step up (only in the mid-highs though...bass is nearly identical) from the 250Ti whereas the Salon is in a different league.

    jblnut
     
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2017

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