Bookshelf Speaker Shootout

TheWarrior

TheWarrior

Audioholic Samurai
Ratings
1,152 14 4
#1


Bookshelf Speaker Shootout
by Alex Datka

Introduction:
As an enthusiast being given the opportunity to sample 7 unique Bookshelf speakers in my home for an indefinite time period, I felt it only right to chronicle the experience. My hope is to share this so that especially new comers are given a verbal taste of how rewarding this hobby can be, and that it need not plummet one into debt. Each of these speakers would be welcome in my home in various capacities as they all offered an enjoyable experience with more than half leading one to question the benefits of commercial movie theaters.

With no winners or losers, my objective is to establish in the readers mind an auditory image of what a speaker can be reasonably expected to achieve at a given price.

These speakers are tested using dual receivers to switch between, with the active (self-amplified) Focal Solo6 Be serving as the reference ‘third’ speaker. Volumes are level matched as closely as possible to account for sensitivity differences while 10 tracks are played and the unique experiences are noted.

Equipment and Room:



Dual Marantz SR-6001 Receivers
Oppo BDP-93 BD Player
APC H15 Power conditioner
12 gauge equal length speaker cables
Monoprice Banana plugs
Acoustically treated listening room




 
TheWarrior

TheWarrior

Audioholic Samurai
Ratings
1,152 14 4
#2
Speaker Lineup:




EOS 150 SP MSRP $129.99/pr Street Price $99.99

- Gives sense of deep bass, although not the most accurate
- Great Soundstage, especially considering the speaker’s size
- Excellent example of what a consumer should expect in performance at such a low price.

The smallest and least expensive speaker in this lineup also happens to leave one of the biggest impressions. This speaker makes a case for what a correctly designed and implemented crossover is able to provide. It is doubtful any part of this speaker costs more than a few dollars to produce, yet these speakers are capable of producing a Diamond Level experience that would likely best other Jewel Cube speakers that sell for significantly more!

Sensitivity - 83dB XO - 3.5khz 1” Silk Dome Tweeter 5.5” Polypropylene Woofer
9.8” H x 7” W x 7.5” D





Pioneer BS22 MSRP $129.99/pr Street Price: Similar

- Impressive clarity, imaging, and sound stage for price
- Easy listening, neutral response at low - medium volumes
- Likely a near perfect surround speaker when mated with FS52

Yet another example of what good design can yield. Although not an extremely high performing speaker, it did reveal aspects of each track that were only fully apparent with significantly higher priced speakers. With a full lineup to match with this speaker, Pioneer has provided new comers to our hobby an opportunity to have it all with out sacrificing it all!

Sensitivity - 85 dB XO - 3 khz 1” Soft Dome Tweeter 4” Structured Surface Diaphragm Woofer 12.5” H x 7.2” W x 8.5” D





Energy RC-10: MSRP $1198.00/pr Street Price $349.00/pr

- When considered at street prices, represents an excellent value
- Especially needs smaller spaces to really shine if used as Front Speakers
- Impressive sound staging

A respectable little speaker that was able to offer several convincing renditions that were very similar to its higher priced brethren. Its Aluminum tweeter can be a bit pitchy or fatiguing at higher volumes, but does provide an inexpensive look in to what a difference tweeters can make, especially in a 2- way bookshelf.

Sensitivity - 91dB XO - 2.4 khz 1” Aluminum Tweeter 5.5” Kevlar Ribbed Elliptical Surround Woofer
13” H x 6.7” W x 10.5” D





SVS Ultra: MSRP $1000/pr Street Price: N/A Internet Direct Company

- Delightfully clean, airy sound stage
- Surprising accuracy
- ‘Looks’ as if it would cost significantly more

Possibly the best value found in this line up. The Ultra offers much of the performance of the only 3 higher performing speakers here, and in many ways is able to out perform even the RBH 61 LSE. Only mild fatigue could be reported at high volumes.This speaker has such superb dynamics that I often found myself confused as to which speaker was playing when comparing.

Sensitivity - 87dB XO - 2 khz 1” Aluminum Tweeter 6.5” Composite Glass Fiber Woofer
15” H x 8.5” W x 10.6” D





RBH 61- LSE MSRP: $1895/pr Street Price: discontinued

- The most easy listening speaker in this line up, at any volume
- Features the drivers and crossover upgrades of the higher end Status Acoustics Decimo
- Soft, sweet, and addicting sound

Armed with one of the best silk dome tweeters Scan Speak ever made, the relaxed nature of the tweeter makes this an all day listening speaker at ANY volume! The woofer did not play too deep, but always maintained its composure as the volume increased. Here’s hoping the current 61/R is able to keep this legacy alive!
Sensitivity and XO : (Can’t find it! Help?) 1” Silk Dome Scan Speak 9500 6.5” Aluminum Woofer





Paradigm Signature 2: MSRP: $3398/pr Street Price: N/A

- Opens your mind to the idea of being there without actually being there
- The best perceived bass reproduction in this line up
- Stratospheric highs can be fatiguing

Introduces the listener to the benefits of Beryllium tweeters. The extra stiffness combined with lower moving mass makes for a driver that can place your ear on to the other end of the microphone. Nothing is missed with this speaker.

Sensitivity - 91db XO - 1.8 khz 1” Beryllium Tweeter 7” Cobalt-Aluminum Woofer
15"H × 8.25"W × 14"D





Focal Solo6 Be: MSRP: $2990/pr Street price: $2700/pr

- Astounding accuracy
- Very easy listening and non-fatiguing
- The subjective favorite in this review

While this is an active, near field studio monitor, it excelled in my medium sized listening space. Due to its all around non fatiguing nature, this speaker became the bench mark for this comparison so that my inexperienced reviewer ears had something to rely on.

Active Internal Amplification Adjustable Sensitivity Focal TB871 Beryllium inverted-dome tweeter 6.5" Focal "W" composite sandwich cone 13"H x 9.5"W x 11.5"D
 
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TheWarrior

TheWarrior

Audioholic Samurai
Ratings
1,152 14 4
#3



Track List:


#1 Tom Waits - Grapefruit Moon - Early Years Vol.2 CD
Tom exhibits distinct emotion in his raspy voice that singles him out as a good male reference voice. This song goes between sung choruses and story telling that almost sounds spoken more than sung in some verses. The band only serves to back up the lyrics for this song, and as such, each speaker tells a slightly different version of his story.

#2 William Warfield - Old Man River - Showboat Soundtrack CD
A baritone/bass, William has an incredible operatic voice. Unfortunately this recording is not ideal, but that truth is only revealed as the speaker quality improves.

#3 Tori Amos - Northern Lad - From the Choirgirl Hotel CD
A great track not just because of her voice, but for the depth of the perceived soundstage. A woman and her grand piano with back up instruments were often able to appear in the room right in front of me!

#4 Nora Jones - Don’t Know Why - Come Away with Me CD
Well known singer and track. Each speaker truly has a unique way of presenting her voice, from deep and dark, to fun and playful.

#5 Meschiya Lake & The Little Big Horns - Catch ‘em Young - Foolers’ Gold CD
She is a NOLA jazz singer no more than 5 ft in height but can mow you over with her voice. Have seen her live twice, and it was a real treat how some of these speakers could put me right back in the French Quarter.

#6 Rush - Hope - Snakes and Arrows Live DVD
Having learned to play this 12 -string acoustic solo on my 6- string, I felt my familiarity with it made this a great selection. Alex Lifeson uses a unique tuning that further increases the natural chorus effect inherent to 12 - string guitars.

#7 Mr. Holland’s Opus - American Symphony DVD
Another well known track from a fantastic film. Although not an actual live recording, the unique combination of instruments over a typical symphony adds a great twist with modern flair through the use of electric guitar and bass as well as drum kit.

#8 Into The Woods - Prologue - BD
An almost 20 minute introduction in to one of Stephen Sondheim’s most famous works. He completely re-wrote the music, and insisted on the original musicians for this film adaption. This opening scene runs the gamut for sound play back as is includes male/female spoken and sung lyrics, a full symphony, and modern movie sound effects.

#9 Bernadette Peters - Move On - Sondheim: The Birthday Concert DVD
No review would be complete with out Bernadette! This is an operatic duet sung with Mandel Patinkin from Sondheim’s ‘Sunday in the Park with George.’ You can see the effort put forth by the singers in their neck muscles. Some of these speakers worked just as hard trying to keep their voices in unison.

#10 Rush - By-tor and the Snow Dog - Exit Stage Left from Replay X3 Collection
The ultimate power ballad and my personal favorite Rush song. With each musician effectively soloing the entire time, this song is difficult enough to play and even more so to reproduce!
 
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TheWarrior

TheWarrior

Audioholic Samurai
Ratings
1,152 14 4
#4
Listening Tests:
The following is a write up of key differences that were heard while listening to the selections from the Track List. Many of the notes pertain to what is ‘missing’ as compared to the Focal Solo6 Be. This should not be viewed as ‘negative’, but as subjective differences that the author heard while training his own ears for speaker review. The Focal’s serve as the most accurate speaker the author has heard to date.


EOS 150SP:
Just like a book and its cover, never judge a speaker by its diminutive size. The perceived sound stage eminating from these petite black boxes often had me questioning which speaker was playing. It was only in critical listening that I was able to realize where the limits of this speaker could be found.

Tom Waits' piano keys lacked clarity, similar to what is heard in highly compressed digital music. His voice sounded quite full, but his characteristic tone was not convincing. However the perceived bass response helped lift the overall presentation to a comfortable place for casual listening or 'background' music. That same bass response helped the EOS give William Warfield a respectable treatment favoring the bass side of his voice, over the higher baritone.

For the female voices, an entry level speaker such as this has difficulty with high crescendo's. Any vibrato comes across as if it were in slow motion like Tori Amos was merely warming up and stretching her jaw. That lack of speed and authority came through with Nora Jones as well, as if the EOS could not determine if she was speaking or singing. Like American's attempting to speak French, Meschiya Lakes' lips did not seem to be articulating the lyrics, either.

However for the sparkle and twang of acoustic guitar strings, the EOS bested the next two higher competitors. Twelve string guitars provide a natural chorus effect when strummed, and the EOS was well versed. Yet as well as it did with extra body of sound coming from this guitar, it was forced to muddy together the symphony in Mr. Hollands Opus. The sound was similar to that of a middle school band performing Beethoven. Dah Dah Dah….blah!

Surprisingly, when asked to reproduce 'Into the Woods', it did so quite gracefully. Providing a respectably sized sound stage, the EOS only mildly struggled keeping the orchestra and singers in unison. This was similar to the experience heard with Bernadette Peters. This speaker lacks the accuracy necessary to put singers and orchestras on an equal sound stage. For casual listening, though, it was more than adequate.

Again, the EOS favored the bass section over the higher tones, and did a very respectable job with Geddy Lee's bass lines in Rush's 'By-tor and the Snow Dog'. I've heard actual bass players that could not even do as well.

For a new listener, the EOS certifiably provides an upgrade over generic TV and media speakers!

Pioneer BS22:
The BS22 was rather surprising with amount of clarity it was able to provide to both Tom Waits and William Warfield. It did favor the higher pitches in their voices, sometimes to a fatiguing extreme with too much emphasis on “Grraaaaaaape-fruit.”

It also exudes a large sound stage similar to even the Focal, even out performing its rendition of the bass guitar lines that support Tori Amos! Her crescendo's also received numerous accolades from the Pioneer's that let me know it was time to 'turn the page' from the EOS. Yet this speaker took the darker tone of Nora Jones' voice from the EOS, and inexplicably gave her the wind pipe of a life long smoker. I don't know why.

For the powerhouse New Orleans singer Meschiya Lake, what the Pioneer lacked in sound stage compared to the EOS, it made up for in clarity. This track was particularly tricky as despite the alluring presentation of her sultry voice, the Little Bighorn band was not able to usher in the excitement expected of a live performance.

In an interesting comparison, the Pioneer clearly lacked the dexterity of Alex Lifeson's fingers in the 'Hope' solo from Rush. It did so to the point of sounding like the chorus effect was divided between two different guitars. The brass and twang of the strings was largely absent, yet when Mr. Holland's 'American Symphony' called upon the first chair trumpet player, the brass was clear and not over powering. It did not give the symphony the greatest clarity, but was an impressive overall performance given the speakers price.

'Into the Woods' also found increased clarity and detail with the Pioneer's. As long as the volume did not reach too high, it favored an increased sense of realism over a slightly fatiguing experience. Yet the Pioneer struggled to improve upon the already impressive display of the EOS for Bernadette Peters' duet. It was, however, able to give Neil Pearts' drum solo the respect it deserves and kept up with his incredible pace and constant time changes in 'By-tor and the Snow Dog.'

Value is ever present when listening to this speaker!

Energy RC-10:
With the first hard dome tweeter in this line up, the Energy showcased a few of the benefits inherent to this design such as sparkling highs, accurate brass instrument reproduction, and a subjective increase in overall resolution. This was first made clear with Tom Waits, who’s voice gained clearer definition. The overall presentation and sound stage was enhanced over the former pair of speakers, but did make the piano sound as though there was a pillow on the strings.

William Warfield sounded a touch condensed like a 1950’s recording, yet his voice was very pleasing to hear. However the improved accuracy of the tweeter allowed this speaker to be the first to spotlight the audible break up in the final chorus that is only a fault of the recording itself. Again sounding condensed, like listening to tin cans connected with a piece of twine, Tori Amos’ vibrato could not be adequately resolved. The piano still suffered, but the drums and bass were much tighter than heard previously.

Although a smaller soundstage, much of the Focal’s resolution in Nora Jones’ voice was heard through the Energy’s. Her voice still sounded a bit darker, similar to the EOS and Pioneer, but was able to convince the listener of the lighter side of her voice. This was also true for Meschiya Lake, the size of her band on the perceived sound stage was a bit small, but her voice rang through loud and clear. The double-bass and drums were very forceful.

While the chorus effect of the 12-string guitar was lacking, its brassy sounding strings were very clear and pleasing. This was similar to Mr. Holland’s Opus with the trumpets sounding out quite balanced, only suffering with high volumes.

Into the Woods came through with an extra ‘coat of clear’ with all voices. The symphony did not command quite so much of the soundstage. There was a bit too much emphasis on the ‘esses’. However, with Bernadette Peters, the Energy’s simply were not up to the task of giving two operatic voices an equal share of the stage. The bulging veins in their necks were portrayed as harsh as the volume was increased to try and compensate for their unequal vocal balance.

Finally, with Rush’s ‘By-Tor and the Snow Dog’, the Canadians show they are all sticking together with how well this speaker performed even compared to the SVS. The instruments were only slightly muddled together.

Overall this was a very impressive presentation!

SVS Ultra Bookshelf:
While the high MSRP of the Energy’s is not fully understood, the Ultra stands in the way of those conventional distribution channels by providing distinctly higher performing drivers at a lower MSRP. With a rear port, the Ultra is the first speaker to give that ‘musical instrument’ sized sound and presence. This was true to the point of besting the Focal in its rendition of Tom Waits. The piano sounded like a ‘Concert Grand - sized’ in my living room and was ultimately more pleasing to listen to. Although lacking some minute amount of resolution with William Warfield, this actually served as a benefit in hearing the ‘esses’ more cleanly than the Focal’s.

For Tori Amos, this speaker is the first in the line up to really provide that ‘airy’ sense of realism. Close your eyes, and you will see her singing at her piano with great articulation of her voice, only lacking in a bit of bass reproduction. That light and airy side really came through with Nora Jones, and the song really starts to sound much more playful than with the previous three pairs. The Ultra only went a bit too far with crescendo’s if the volume was increased too high.

Naturally, much of what you hear being sung, is determined by the singer’s tongue. These speakers are accurate enough to begin to pick that up. For Meschiya Lake, you could imagine her mouth moving as she sings each verse, and her band is given the space they deserve. Like the Ultra’s presentation of the 12-string solo, ‘Hope’, if this was all I heard, I would not know to ask for more.

As compared to the Energy, the Ultra was an eye opener with Mr. Holland’s Opus. The trumpets were never pitchy or fatiguing, and the sound stage was as expansive as one would expect for a symphony. This was also true for Into the Woods, and the only fault I could find with the Ultra’s, was that each instrument was not so accurately placed on its own ‘pedestal’ as the Focal’s were able to offer.

However on the final track, with ‘By-Tor,’ the Ultra could not quite figure out what to make of Geddy Lee’s high voice, and gave it priority over the guitar! The drum and bass section were tight and accurate, but the guitar often faded to the background.

This speaker was also compared to the more expensive RBH 61 LSE, and as such, really proved its worth!

Arguably the best value in this line up!


RBH 61 LSE:
This speaker will forever remain one of the author’s favorites, owing to its incredibly soft and easy listening nature. This speaker could be listened to all day without fatigue. The volume only need be turned up a bit higher to really get it to sing!

As compared to the Ultra, Tom Waits was portrayed in almost the exact same light with the RBH. There was almost no discernible difference in detail or resolution between the two. This was true with William Warfield as well, as both the Ultra and RBH broke up at the same places with the lesser recording quality.

Tori Amos was quite a delight. The RBH being so relaxed in its presentation convinced me to crank the volume up just for fun. It remained composed through out the entire track, and because of the ease of listening at high volume, provided one of my favorite performances. Zero fatigue!

Nora Jones was also a treat, yet the only significant improvement with the RBH was an increase in perceived resolution with her voice as there was a touch of vibrato in her chorus line that was not heard before. And the crescendo in the second repeat of ‘You’ll be ON my mind’ was flawless and seductive!

Where this speaker falls short would be with brass instruments. The silk dome tweeter is renowned for its light and non fatiguing nature, but this is the intersection of those qualities with the need for high frequency sparkle necessary in accurate brass instrument reproduction. There was no ‘pop and sizzle’ for Meschiya Lakes band, and this track honestly sounded quite bland for a NOLA jazz recording.

Similarly, the brass sound of acoustic guitar strings were also held back by the silk dome tweeter. ‘Hope’ is a song that requires great finger dexterity to play, and uses many finger shredding ‘pull-offs’ that would often limit the practice time for the author. The sound and personality of this style is truly necessary for this song, and is sadly missed with the RBH.

For the remaining tracks, very little difference could be found between the RBH and Ultra. The Ultra had a touch more bass, but the high vocals were favored by the RBH.

A great speaker worthy of remembrance, and sought after performance in a ‘listen all day’ package!



Paradigm S2:
As my first taste with a beryllium tweeter, the sound is simply addicting. Subtle nuances, equal soundstage of one or dozens of instruments and voices can all be heard with either beryllium variant in this line up.

Due to the excellent accuracy already being heard by the RBH and SVS Ultra, the S2 was able to provide little else with Tom Waits. But its heightened accuracy really makes poor recordings such as William Warfield almost un-listenable.

The S2 has by far the deepest bass reproduction in this line up. For Tori Amos, it did not do quite as well with the sweet, airy side of her voice. But reinforced its respectable performance with the most accurate rendition of the low notes of a large Concert Grand Piano. Even the bass guitar that was largely absent on other speakers, was given new life on the S2.

Sharing in that spotlight, were also the bass sections for both Nora Jones and Meschiya Lake. The S2 was more forward and forceful with their voices than either Focal or RBH. This is not a criticism, but would fall under ‘listener preference’ as to what is

‘Hope’ received a very snappy and crisp treatment on the S2. And the forward presentation, again found with Mr. Holland, was subjectively preferred with the S2 for this track. The size of the symphony was as impressive as being there. The emotion conveyed was on par with seeing Mr. Holland being gifted the baton for this performance.

The operatic voices in both Into the Woods and for Bernadette Peters were a marvel. The superior bass reproduction of the S2 gave a slight edge over the Focal, but you really need to ‘pull at hairs’ to select which performed better. That bass would be the only determining factor for Rush’s ‘By-tor’ as it is so essential for the sound of this band. The low end is so tight and defined between the bass and drums, that the guitar has such a pleasant space to perform in and tie it all together.

Accuracy to rival the best available, with bass that raises the bar for bookshelf speakers!


Focal Solo6 Be:
The Focal’s beryllium tweeter took what was great about the S2’s, and gave it further accuracy and depth. For the S2, it was truly like having you ear hooked up to the other end of the microphone, while the Focal was able to eliminate the mic all together!

Every single track benefited from the Focal’s treatment of the high frequencies, even though that was sometimes an extremely subtle difference. While the Focal lacks the bass of the S2, its highs were very ear friendly and came quite close to the easy, ‘all day listening’ of the RBH. The male and female voices of the the first five tracks were all displayed with the similar quality of the other speakers. The Focal simply gave them all equal sound staging with their accompanying instruments while maintaining the clarity of their voices as was originally recorded. Even the chorus effect of the 12-string guitar in ‘Hope’ was undoubtedly the most accurate in the line up.

Simply put, a pair of these speakers with even my modest DAC, the Emotiva XDA-1, combined with the best subwoof-age one can afford;

Allows the listener to step up to a level of quality previously thought to only exist near five-figure price tags.
 
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TheWarrior

TheWarrior

Audioholic Samurai
Ratings
1,152 14 4
#5
Conclusion:
Each of these speakers offered a different flavor of the same sounds, providing the listener a unique experience. Considering the breadth of quality products found in this review one might assume that top dollar is the only means ‘to an end.’ Of course the Focal Solo6 Be was my subjective favorite, but in realizing the number of different experiences that can be had, one could make the argument for multiple main speakers. (Take that, Atmos!) All of the speakers in this review were able to prove themselves in some way to verify that quality is not always indicative of high prices!

The little EOS will remain a favorite of mine due to its utterly shocking sound quality and massive sound stage. Further up the ladder, the SVS Ultra and RBH 61 LSE really duked it out to win my favor. Each provided its own pleasing experience that left me constantly changing my preference with each new listening track. Sparkling, airy highs of the Ultra versus the sweet, seductive clarity of that completely non-fatiguing 61 LSE tweeter. They each have their strengths, and it genuinely comes down to which track was being listened to.

In the end, my advice is to leave any pre-conceived notions at the door, and listen to anything and everything with the same eager, ‘kid in a candy store’ enthusiasm. Like pictures of beautiful landscapes, our eyes see things differently from one another, and specific colors are given preference. We tie these images to our own personal experiences and often refer back to them simply for the emotions they evoke. Speakers are no different. They are an investment in SENSE-ational experiences that can lift us up from a rough day, or bring a family together in the comfort and security of their home.

Although there is much we still do not understand about human perception of sound and its correlation to speaker and driver configuration, we do have a very good idea of what ‘good’ sound can be and how it should be implemented. It is my hope that the reader will take these literary descriptions of sound as a compass as they navigate their journey in seeking out their own ideal’s in auditory bliss.

A big thank you to Audioholics, SVS, and the respective owner’s of the speakers found in this line up! This experience has been incredibly educational and further reinforces the author’s own Audioholism.

Now go forth in pursuit of truth and experience, with great sound for all!

 
XEagleDriver

XEagleDriver

Senior Audioholic
Ratings
236 1
#6
Warrior,
Thank you for a well written and thoughful comparison with a positive approach.
Your conclusion was what I liked best:
In the end, my advice is to leave any pre-conceived notions at the door, and listen to anything and everything with the same eager, ‘kid in a candy store’ enthusiasm. Like pictures of beautiful landscapes, our eyes see things differently from one another, and specific colors are given preference. We tie these images to our own personal experiences and often refer back to them simply for the emotions they evoke. Speakers are no different. They are an investment in SENSE-ational experiences that can lift us up from a rough day, or bring a family together in the comfort and security of their home.
Cheers,
XEagleDriver
 
KEW

KEW

Audioholic Warlord
Ratings
4,192 22 4
#8
Great write-up, Alex!
Thanks for taking the time!

I thought I'd add some miscellaneous comments. Hope you don't mind (and please correct if I get anything wrong).

Background:
I met Alex when he invited me into his home to check out his room treatments (love the Golden Gate Bridge treatments in the top of the gable!).

He is an audio enthusiast, with a keen ear, planning on building DIY speakers and is also learning speaker design with the assist of some of the generous experts on this forum (as well as the normal texts). His current system is RBH WM-30's with dual SVS PC-12 plus subs, Emotiva "drive train", and Oppo Player.

Notes on review:
For those of us who gloss over the details, I wanted to reiterate that Track number 2, William Warfield's "Old Man River" is a recording from 1951. So comments that a speaker sounded better on this track are often indicating inaccuracies of the speaker (though the reader may conclude a speaker is more "listenable" since it does not reveal the failings of the recording). For example, when Alex commented that the Energy speakers made this song sound like a recording from the 50's - that was a complement!

In the interest of full disclosure... I really don't think it makes much difference, but Paradigm recommends having the grill in place on the signature S-2's for best sound quality. I loaned him these speakers to listen to and did not think to dig out the grills. For my own purposes, I cannot bring myself to cover up those cool, "industrial strength" drivers. The grill would have taken just a little bit of the "fatigue edge" off of the S-2's, but I sincerely doubt it would make any difference to the conclusions of the review. If time allows, I will provide the grills to see what he thinks.

Comments on speakers:
I tried not to predisposition Alex about expectations among these speakers. It was great fun watching his opinions formulate over time... and informative, as he noticed some things I never had!

The one common factor of all of these speakers is they represent very good performance for the cost (except Paradigm, but they were bought used). All were bought after careful consideration of information provided through the AudioHolics site!

Personally, I put the EOS ahead of the Pioneers: I think the big difference is that I primarily listen to them in a bedroom. A quick glance at the dimensions of the EOS would make it clear these would have the disadvantage in a good sized LR with gabled ceiling (impressive that they can pull it off at all!). I think a reasonable interpretation is that the EOS would be ideally suited to a smaller room and the Pioneer to a larger room.

I have been recommending the Energy RC-10 every time Fry's puts them on sale for $220. I will not do that anymore. I think they are incredible speakers at $220 (or even $350),but Alex has young ears and is very sensitive to harshness and fatigue. He experienced places, where at volume, these speakers became painful for him. Once he pointed out these places, I could hear them, but they would not slap me in the face the way they did him! My experience with the RC-10's has been good, but unless you can pick them up from the store, bring them home, and listen to decide for yourself, I can no longer recommend them.

The SVS Ultra's were new to me. Alex let me spend some time listening to them with an array of music. This is easily the best implementation of an Aluminum tweeter I have heard! It captured much of what a Be tweeter can do (at a more reasonable price) and there were many places where I could barely (or couldn't) tell a difference (cymbals and brass instruments). It took chimes with their harmonic overtones to hear a obvious difference, but I would have never noticed what was missing if I did not have the Be tweeter for reference!

Listening critically, I noticed a subtle over-emphasis of the chest resonance in Landon Pigg's Coffee Shop when he sings in his lower register. It is subtle and by no means a deal-breaker - this speaker did far too many things well for that!

Compared to the RBH 61-lse, I would easily give the nod to the SVS. I like a forward speaker, and the SVS with the Al tweeter delivers. The fact that Warrior had little fatigue issues indicates that the forwardness comes with little breakup/distortion penalty. The RBH has great midrange accuracy and the Scan Speak tweeter is indeed among the best in its class, but as someone who plays in a Big Band, every time a trumpet or trombone plays on the RBH, I am reminded of the absence of those clear upper harmonics (that a soft dome has never delivered IME). Kudos to SVS for putting together such a well executed speaker with an excellent tweeter option for this price. My understanding is only SVS subs will be available at Best Buy Magnolia Stores. That is a shame, if these started showing up in Best Buys, a lot more people would experience them. However, SVS does offer a 45 day trial period, risk free (free shipping, both ways),so there you go!

The Paradigms are excellent speakers, but they are simply over-priced. Paradigm has great name recognition and an established network of mid to high-end dealerships. At $3400 MSRP, they are substantially more expensive than the Focals. In my experience you can haggle a little with the dealer and get about 15% off or around $2900 (I got 25% off buying my Studio20's, but that was a lucky scenario - he needed to pad his order to reach Paradigms minimum order requirements if I understood correctly). I bought the S-2's used off of Audiogon for less than half MSRP and the stands were thrown in. I got lucky, as they were in excellent condition! Looking for positives of the Paradigms as compared to the Focal. The Paradigms have more warmth, and their bass is more substantial (for a 2.0 bookshelf system).

At $2700, I believe the Focals are an outstanding buy. You have to have pre-outs and an AC outlet to plug in each speaker. You need RCA to XLR cables for connection. You need to flip a switch on the back of each monitor every time you turn them on (or get a power conditioner with switched outlets). You can't buy those monoblocks with the big-a$$ meters you always wanted. However, if you prize accuracy, I don't think anything else can compete in this price range. No pro audio dealer will negotiate the price of the Focals (fixed pricing like Apple products); but if you ask, they (Sweetwater, in my case) will likely give you a very nice discount on accessories bought with your Focal order (just don't tell them I told you). Unfortunately, Focal is discontinuing the red wood-grain side panels to convert to a more industrial gray. Focal may have realized their pro audio offerings were starting to eat into their consumer audio profits.
 
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TheWarrior

TheWarrior

Audioholic Samurai
Ratings
1,152 14 4
#9
Thanks for your help! This would have never been possible without your assistance!
 
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zieglj01

zieglj01

Audioholic Spartan
Ratings
2,282 4
#10
Conclusion:

The little EOS will remain a favorite of mine due to its utterly shocking sound quality and massive sound stage.
They are my favorite budget speaker - The marketing department blew it.
A good lesson on how to make budget parts work.

Nice to know that other ears can recognize, that it is not all about price.
Use to list for only $100 a pair.

Keep an eye on Ebay.
 
gene

gene

Audioholics Master Chief
Administrator
Ratings
4,264 21 9
#11
Alex;

Great effort on this and it's much appreciated!

I do have a few comments/observations:
1. You room seems pretty lively with the wood flooring, high ceilings, and windows, etc. Ever think about getting a thick padded throw rug to help absorb the first reflection point? This would likely have a very beneficial audible effect. I did this in my theater room. I know it's kinda a crime to cover such a beautiful flooring but its worth it if you're after better sound.
2. Realize that your lively room has a masking effect that can make the differences less obvious between the good vs great speaker. I've seen this happen at other shootouts where the hosts room was an echo chamber and all speakers sounded mediocre and their differences were not as pronounced as they were in a more acoustically controlled environment.
3. How did you level match? Did you use BW limited pink noise of full BW pink noise?
4. Are you able to repeat this comparison in a more acoustically controlled room? Perhaps you can pick two pairs at a time and see if the differences are more pronounced.

Again your efforts are greatly appreciated. It's very difficult and time consuming to do proper shootouts like these. I always attempt to list my biases and areas of improvements for the next time we conduct such tests.

Thanks again.
 
TheWarrior

TheWarrior

Audioholic Samurai
Ratings
1,152 14 4
#12
Alex;

Great effort on this and it's much appreciated!

I do have a few comments/observations:
1. You room seems pretty lively with the wood flooring, high ceilings, and windows, etc. Ever think about getting a thick padded throw rug to help absorb the first reflection point? This would likely have a very beneficial audible effect. I did this in my theater room. I know it's kinda a crime to cover such a beautiful flooring but its worth it if you're after better sound.
2. Realize that your lively room has a masking effect that can make the differences less obvious between the good vs great speaker. I've seen this happen at other shootouts where the hosts room was an echo chamber and all speakers sounded mediocre and their differences were not as pronounced as they were in a more acoustically controlled environment.
3. How did you level match? Did you use BW limited pink noise of full BW pink noise?
4. Are you able to repeat this comparison in a more acoustically controlled room? Perhaps you can pick two pairs at a time and see if the differences are more pronounced.
I always attempt to list my biases and areas of improvements
Thank you for helping make this happen!

1. I used to have a rug out, but took it away as I felt the room was too dead after the panels arrived. Specific dialogue became far more coherent, proving the panel's benefit. There is a lot more absorption than seen in that singular photo. 5' black on the right is to cover the window(which is the unfortunate first, vertical, reflection point),6 total mounted high, 2 discreet bass traps. GIK Acoustics explained to me that the enormous echo in this room was a result of the parallel high walls. The floor bounce is almost imperceptible, it is the coffee table that creates audible interference and was moved out for all listening tests. I think a few diffusors are all that is lacking to help balance the right and left seats, which I switched between as well!

2. Realize that this room is not at all lively, but much more natural sounding. I have no data, but the bamboo flooring does not play in the way you would expect, which was a pleasant surprise! My hearing is acute enough that I was able to detect a tiny vibration from a half-turn loose screw on a 61 LSE tweeter!

3. The SR-6001 receivers unfortunately do not have half decibel volume increments. Between that, and every track having subtle recording differences, the volumes were adjusted for each track as closely as the receivers would allow. For reference, CD's were listened -35 to -30, and DVD's and BD (because some were live concerts) kept a broader range of -25 to -15. I don't think I mentioned it, but the EOS for example, is rated at 83dB sensitivity, but both KEW and I were having to turn up the BS22 +2, rated at 85dB, to level match.

4. I do not know anyone locally who owns a more controlled theater space.

5. I am definitely a fan of RBH products, but I feel my only bias is that Rush is the greatest band in the world!
 
gene

gene

Audioholics Master Chief
Administrator
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4,264 21 9
#13
Alex;

OK your room looks a lot livelier just from the images shown. Typically its best to treat the first ceiling or floor reflections rather than treating the sidewalls. Sidewall early reflections are beneficial to increasing spaciousness but the floor ones not so much.

Again how did you level match? This is a very important question. Did you use BW limited pink noise or full range pink noise? Believe it or not, just having one speaker play 1-2dB louder than the other can adversely affect the outcome.

Note sure I follow regarding comment #5. I wasn't implying brand bias. I like Rush too but their music does NOT make good source material. Most of their recordings are unlistenable on good gear.

PS. Porcupine Tree is a better band :)
 
TheWarrior

TheWarrior

Audioholic Samurai
Ratings
1,152 14 4
#14
More pics of my space, that go through its stages of development (as well as random F1 pics:) can be found here.

In reading from Dr. Floyd Toole's 'Sound Reproduction', I completely acknowledge the benefit of early reflections in home theater. Its one of the many compromises in this room that my right side, first reflection, is a window. The popcorn ceiling, being a non-parallel surface, is not the issue. I had a horrible cathedral style echo that the parallel wall treatments are able to suppress. Realize that the bottom of those panels are 8'+ high!

KEW came by today for some more listening, and I mentioned your thoughts to him. We agree folding over some large towels, to imitate a 'front door' style mat is a worthy experiment to see what more can be gained from a smaller carpet in front of the speakers; As opposed to the 9'x11' that left this room awkwardly dead. Eager to try it all! Tis' the burden of being an Audioholic!

For level matching, I have identical receivers. I would turn one on, mute it, and then turn on the other. A single remote operates both simultaneously, so the transition between speakers is seamless. Hardly scientific, but these receivers do not offer the .5 dB control of my DAC. Once the volumes were adjusted, there were only a handful of times that any audible volume difference could be heard. If there was, it was noted, and I would experiment hearing one pair higher, and then the other just to verify any issues that were experienced. The only 'control' in this experiment, were those ranges of volumes that I specified previously.

#5 was a humorous response to your comment of 'listing your biases.' And at least for my relatively new reviewer ears, the benefit of beryllium for a band like Rush, was simple: Because all three musicians are effectively soloing the whole time, no other speaker was able to put them on as equal of a sound stage as the two beryllium models; the sound was undeniably superior!

Let me know when you fuel up the Audioholics Jet, and you can bring Porcupine Tree up here, and I'll bring my copies of Rush to you and perhaps after a few adult beverages, nothing will be resolved but new respect for each, found!
 
KEW

KEW

Audioholic Warlord
Ratings
4,192 22 4
#15
On the topic of level matching, we listened to music. Since the set-up allows instantaneous switching of receivers (and thus, speakers),it is very easy to discern and verify differences. Even after we have finished, it is apparent which is louder, but it is as close as the 1dB resolution of the receivers affords. What I am saying is with instantaneous switching, it is easy for the ear to calibrate with certainty to less than 1dB. I have done this many times and will verify impressions of a speaker by giving one more dB to the quieter speaker to make it slightly louder to ensure it does not matter. In my experience that 1 dB (or less) difference is not great enough to shift impressions.

I have found that level matching pink noise does not consistently give the perception of level match at our ears when playing music. It depends on the music content and the specific speaker. I would argue that it is better to have perceived volume matched than pink noise matched. If we could not do the instantaneous switching to repeat, verify, and know matching was as good as possible (to the resolution of the receivers),then we would need to resort to pink noise.

If you are used to working with a more strict lab-type approach, this may seem atrocious, but let me ask one simple question: "If a speaker is perceived louder, doesn't it have an unfair advantage?" Because level matching with Pink Noise does not provide a consistent perception of level matched speakers!

I believe this fact is reflected in the very question: "Did you use BW limited pink noise or full BW pink noise?" Doesn't this question reveal that the results will be different depending on the range of the bandwidth? Is it a stretch to conclude that the content of different recordings would have the same effect?

Bottom line is Pink Noise matching is easier, but it is a compromised approach as far as I'm concerned.
 
gene

gene

Audioholics Master Chief
Administrator
Ratings
4,264 21 9
#16
On the topic of level matching, we listened to music. Since the set-up allows instantaneous switching of receivers (and thus, speakers),it is very easy to discern and verify differences. Even after we have finished, it is apparent which is louder, but it is as close as the 1dB resolution of the receivers affords. What I am saying is with instantaneous switching, it is easy for the ear to calibrate with certainty to less than 1dB. I have done this many times and will verify impressions of a speaker by giving one more dB to the quieter speaker to make it slightly louder to ensure it does not matter. In my experience that 1 dB (or less) difference is not great enough to shift impressions.

I have found that level matching pink noise does not consistently give the perception of level match at our ears when playing music. It depends on the music content and the specific speaker. I would argue that it is better to have perceived volume matched than pink noise matched. If we could not do the instantaneous switching to repeat, verify, and know matching was as good as possible (to the resolution of the receivers),then we would need to resort to pink noise.

If you are used to working with a more strict lab-type approach, this may seem atrocious, but let me ask one simple question: "If a speaker is perceived louder, doesn't it have an unfair advantage?" Because level matching with Pink Noise does not provide a consistent perception of level matched speakers!

I believe this fact is reflected in the very question: "Did you use BW limited pink noise or full BW pink noise?" Doesn't this question reveal that the results will be different depending on the range of the bandwidth? Is it a stretch to conclude that the content of different recordings would have the same effect?

Bottom line is Pink Noise matching is easier, but it is a compromised approach as far as I'm concerned.
BW limited pink noise can create level differences between speakers based on the usable BW of each speaker. For example a speaker with a lot of bass will play louder with real program material then the speaker with less bass if you calibrated with BW limited pink noise b/c the bassier speaker will appear to be less efficient during calibration. This is why I asked very specifically if fullrange or BW limited pink noise was used to level matching.

The BEST way to level match speakers is to use full BW pink noise (many of the newer receivers utilize BW limited pink noise) and B-wt (preferred but c-wt is close) on an SPL meter.

It is discussed in this old shootout I conducted back in 2010:
http://www.audioholics.com/tower-speaker-reviews/2010-1k-faceoff/1k-faceoff-methodology

This should produce a far more consistent and trustworthy level match than just doing by ear with music alone.

Also in the article above, notice all of the disclosed test biases. It's not easy to accurately conduct a shootout and there are many variables that can skew the results. If I were to do this again, I'd certainly improve on my methodology as noted but the effort is quite enormous and I loath the idea of doing it again.

I also don't like to compare more than two pairs of speakers at a time for several reasons that can skew the results:
  • positional differences adversely affects what we hear
  • sensory overload - after switching back between multiple pairs of speakers, I've found it can really overload the senses and make it harder to pick the perceived better sounding speakers
 
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TheWarrior

TheWarrior

Audioholic Samurai
Ratings
1,152 14 4
#17
This is why I asked very specifically if fullrange or BW limited pink noise was used to level matching.

I also don't like to compare more than two pairs of speakers at a time for several reasons that can skew the results:
  • positional differences adversely affects what we hear
  • sensory overload - after switching back between multiple pairs of speakers, I've found it can really overload the senses and make it harder to pick the perceived better sounding speakers

Gene, I am very appreciative, but I think you are trying to give us more credit as 'audio engineers' than we deserve! This review never sought to crown a champion, but to make the experience more tangible to readers whom do not have the luxury of experiencing what KEW and I did.

The lack of data and measurements makes this review subjective. Not to mention, it is not an apples to apples comparison (perhaps 'Shoot Out' should be changed?). Just a chronicling of a fun experiment that was detailed and thought out enough to write about!

No matter what kind of sound is coming out of these speakers, the receivers do not offer the volume control sensitivity necessary to achieve what you are looking for. KEW and I both had instances where we could tell that we needed .5 dB steps, which is why we had to compromise with just turning up one speaker over the other, and then reversing and noting any differences.

Completely agree on multiple speakers creating 'sensory overload.' For clarification, as we maintained one 'control' speaker, the Focal Solo6 Be, we were effectively only comparing two at a time. The Focal was only there to verify what may have been missing from the two being compared. And this would be maintained through all 10 tracks before swapping out a new pair to compare to the Focal.
 
TheWarrior

TheWarrior

Audioholic Samurai
Ratings
1,152 14 4
#18
Also, your 2010 $1k Speaker Face-off includes a number of recommended revisions for future face-offs that we unknowingly adhered to!

- Find Less Lossy Grille Cloth Covering
All grill covers were removed (partially as a function of the owner's not being able to locate all of them)

- Reduce Number of Listeners per Session and Increase Number of Listening Sessions
There were never more than two of us at a time, and number of listening sessions spanned over 2 months, not just quickly banging out 10 tracks in an hours time and calling it day.

- Use the Most appropriate Listening Venue
We used an open floor plan living room with only partial acoustical treatment to tame the effects of the room that would make any speaker sound inferior.

- Better train inexperienced listeners
This experience, again spanning more than 2 months, was our training. And despite our admitted lack of experience, I feel the write up did exactly what you said in the forum post: "Going forward, I'd like to keep a more open mind and positive attitude towards all manufacturers and let the consumers decide based on our reviews and their experiences with the products if said products are right for their needs."

Even the biases on the first page, while being pertinent to your specific review that sought a winner, are even applicable:

- We have 3 seating locations on the couch, all of which were rotated between multiple times during this time period. Speaker distance, both to the listener, and speaker to speaker were constant.

- Statistical Sampling Accuracy was mildly achieved through varying time of day, listening position, as well as the age difference between us and therefore, our personal experiences as preferences. Even our own physiological differences in that his ear canal will not have formed exactly the same as mine.

We're working towards the same goal here, Gene. Reader's want information, facts, and they also sometimes just want to be told what to buy. I hope you can see our approach as beneficial and supplemental to your style of rigid, disciplined, scientific testing. I think there is a need for both!
 
gene

gene

Audioholics Master Chief
Administrator
Ratings
4,264 21 9
#19
Gene, I am very appreciative, but I think you are trying to give us more credit as 'audio engineers' than we deserve! This review never sought to crown a champion, but to make the experience more tangible to readers whom do not have the luxury of experiencing what KEW and I did.

The lack of data and measurements makes this review subjective. Not to mention, it is not an apples to apples comparison (perhaps 'Shoot Out' should be changed?). Just a chronicling of a fun experiment that was detailed and thought out enough to write about!

No matter what kind of sound is coming out of these speakers, the receivers do not offer the volume control sensitivity necessary to achieve what you are looking for. KEW and I both had instances where we could tell that we needed .5 dB steps, which is why we had to compromise with just turning up one speaker over the other, and then reversing and noting any differences.

Completely agree on multiple speakers creating 'sensory overload.' For clarification, as we maintained one 'control' speaker, the Focal Solo6 Be, we were effectively only comparing two at a time. The Focal was only there to verify what may have been missing from the two being compared. And this would be maintained through all 10 tracks before swapping out a new pair to compare to the Focal.
Alex;

That's great and as I said your efforts are appreciated here. My feedback is presented to help improve your testing for the next time. This is why we have peer review at Audioholics. We are always looking to improve our testing methods and reporting. You should see how much back and forth our articles go through prior to publishing. I may be able to line up a group of tower speakers for you guys next if you're up for it.
 
TheWarrior

TheWarrior

Audioholic Samurai
Ratings
1,152 14 4
#20
Alex;

That's great and as I said your efforts are appreciated here. My feedback is presented to help improve your testing for the next time. This is why we have peer review at Audioholics. We are always looking to improve our testing methods and reporting. You should see how much back and forth our articles go through prior to publishing. I may be able to line up a group of tower speakers for you guys next if you're up for it.

Outstanding! Having proven our passion, you can rest assured any task sent here, forward, will be met with the same level of class and intensive evaluation that seeks the truth, rather than marketing jargon.

Speaking for myself, push me! I have a lot to learn, and am eager to do so. And while I can buy all the books in the world, your expertise will need to come with a guiding hand.

Captain... energize!
 

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