Frustrating block in my search for nice speakers

M

Mjt8

Audiophyte
Hi all,

New poster and longtime lurker.

As the title says, I feel like I'm at a frustrating endpoint in my audio quest, and hoping to draw from your guys' experience for some direction.

I bought my first speaker system a couple years ago because at my old house my tv speakers were not cutting it.

First I bought an old budget pair of Klipsche bookshelves (P15s? I dont really remember) They were really shrill, and I sold them fairly quickly.

After reading a bunch of the mainstream audio review sites (I now understand these platforms are often pay to play) I purchased the ELAC Unifi UF5 Towers. These had beautiful, lush musical bass but sounded about engaging as energetic as a sponge. They also had kind of a dark muffled sound at times- like there is a wet blanket over them. Paradoxically, they also sound inorganic and kind of metallic.

In the past few months I decided to start demoing speakers to see what I like. Ive found some speakers that do certain things right, but not everything right. Every one of the high-end, expensive speakers I have tried have had certain large flaws. I've been kind of shocked at this whole experience, because to my ears my $60 set of logitec computer speakers handily beats a number of speakers 50x more expensive. Like, the logitecs dont have great detail retrieval or clarity but at least they they present very engagingly without parts of the sound spectrum seemingly disappearing.

Im still looking for my Goldilocks speaker.

  • Various Kefs- very similar to the ELACs but worse imo- very metallic and unengaging
  • Various B&W- Metallic, boring, no dynamics
  • Warfedale Evo 4.4- nice highs! Absolutely sloppy bass (for my room at least) and terribly muddy mids
  • Tannoy Revolution 6XTE- Similar to above. Very, very dark speakers.
  • Martin Logan 35XTI bookshelves- Eureka! These are much more organic and clear. Guitars actually sound like guitars instead of a bad digital rendering of them. Theres energy in what I listen to. This is what I was missing in the others... things sound like theyre supposed to! Only issue is they arent as full-bodied as towers. They just cant play very loud and I wish they had more bass to be better full range speakers. Somewhat more minor issue is that they sound slightly grainy. Though thats not a total dealbreaker.
  • Martin Logan 60XTI Towers- I had high hopes for these.... but where did the magic for the 35s go ML? These are very "meh". The highs and satisfying acoustic resonances are gone.
  • Focal Aria 906 bookshelves- holy clarity batman! It sounds very organic, but it sounds almost too clinical to the point that theyre not engaging.
  • Focal Aria 948 Towers- Holy clarity and body batman! These sound almost perfect- but they dont quite come alive until higher volumes (and I have a small space), and there's still something missing... a certain *zing* in the acoustic guitar resonances.
  • Def Tech 9060- Hard to describe. Sometimes they sounded good, sometimes they sounded imprecise and like the drivers were way too small. Bass gets bloaty in my room. Theyre also ugly as hell.
  • Ascend Sierra Tower with RAAL- After all the others, I had only tthe ML 35XTIs and the focal 948s remaining. I was hoping, based on my extensive reading of forums, that the ascend towers could give the best of both worlds- the clarity/full body of the focals with the acoustic resonance/energy/zing of the MLs. Unfortunately I was once again disappointed. They seem unbalanced to my ears. Like, they have very punchy bass but they color the sound to be sweet and there seems to be something missing in the middle of the sound.... some body that just isnt there. The highs are very sweet and engaging, but almost a little artificially so. Where the MLs sound like an actual acoustic guitar being played in front of me, the Sierras make it sound unnaturally sweet or high. Theres unnaturally sweet zzzing out of string instruments that I dont think actually sound that way.... Im bummed because I really wanted to like these speakers. That said, they are very engaging, and these are the first speakers where Ive truly understood "holographic imaging" !


I think I've established a list of qualities Im looking for:
  • The etched sound of the MLs
  • Full body and clarity of the Focals
  • The forward, engaging nature and the imaging of the ascends
  • Not overly smooth
  • Not metallic (I dont think I like aluminum tweeters)
  • wide horizontal dispersion (my room is wider than it is long)

Where do I go from here? Im at a loss. Id appreciate any recommendations you guys have. Budget is probably 3.5k, but Id like to stay well below that if possible.


I've heard that SALKS have a more full midrange and bass than the ascend towers? But theyre very expensive and the waiting time makes them seem inpractical to demo before I have to return the focals and the MLs.
Sonus Faber? Ive heard they have great woody resonances but also that theyre not very engaging.
Did I skip over soft domes, where I should have explored more?
Thanks all. I appreciate you taking the time to read all this.Ive also attached a pic of the space.
IMG_2567.jpg
IMG_2560.jpg
 
Auditor55

Auditor55

Audioholic Chief
Can I assume you listen to all those speakers in your home?
 
TLS Guy

TLS Guy

Audioholic Slumlord
I think your lay/out set up is your major problem. You have your speakers too close together, next you have hardwood flooring right in front of the speakers, causing early destructive reflections. Next those heavy chairs mean that the speakers are effectively playing into a blanket!

I did an installation using those Elac speakers you mention. I thought they were very good for the price. I did get an FR from them.



They really did sound like that trace and so I was not surprised by it. That 50 Hz hump was audible and gave them some artificial warmth.

Unfortunately that rise from 2 to 8K was also audible which gave them a slightly forward sound and gave violins and higher voices a slightly 'steely' character. Overall though I thought these speaker were well above average in performance and sounded better than most in their price range. They are low impedance and seemed to really stress the receiver if you turned the volume up, So they really need robust amplification.

The fact is that really good speakers are difficult to engineer and a rare commodity. So it often comes down to how you want to take your poison,

I really sympathize with those of you who have to go speaker shopping, it is tough with it being impossible to audition a large number of speakers and usually have to audition under less then ideal circumstances. Worse manufacturers don't want you to really know how lousy their speakers really are. So they provide minimal and often purposely misleading specifications. Providing measurements is a real rarity. So one is dependent on third party measurements and few speakers have had published third party measurements.

So the loudspeaker market is a jungle as you are finding out. Even within brands, some offerings can be good and others absolute dogs. That is something I never understand.

That is why I have always designed, built and measured my own speakers. So I do not get to audition many speakers and frequently appalled when I do.

It seems you likely have a discerning ear, so finding a speaker you like may be a difficult task. Your only other option is to learn to roll your own. DIY builders who do publish their designs more often that not provide comprehensive specs, and measurements. So you might want to consider building a good published design.

Speakers are an area where the amateurs can, and often do, put the professionals to shame.
 
S

shadyJ

Speaker of the House
I think that speaker placement is bad. They are too close to nearby surfaces, and there is no toe-in. This will do two things: boundary gain will give a big boost to bass frequencies, and any speakers that don't have a wide dispersion will sound dark because the treble will be rolled off at the angle at which you listen. This will create a tonality that is very weighted to low frequencies. Beggars can't be choosers- your suboptimal placement will wreck the sound. I know you can't bring the speakers out in the room more. If I were you, I would just get the MartinLogan 35XTi speakers and use them with some subwoofers.
 
vader540is

vader540is

Junior Audioholic
I think I've established a list of qualities Im looking for:
  • The etched sound of the MLs
  • Full body and clarity of the Focals
  • The forward, engaging nature and the imaging of the ascends
  • Not overly smooth
  • Not metallic (I dont think I like aluminum tweeters)
  • wide horizontal dispersion

    Where do I go from here? Im at a loss. Id appreciate any recommendations you guys have. Budget is probably 3.5k, but Id like to stay well below that if possible.



  • You should seriously consider JTR and Power sound Audio. A lot of people dismiss those brands for music...IMO would would need a Sub for the PSA speakers...some JTRs you don't need a Sub.
 
M

Mjt8

Audiophyte
TLS, Thanks for the really detailed response. It definitely is a jungle!

Yeah, Ive thought about going the DIY route, but my experience with speakers thus far is making me shy away from it. There seems to be a huge discrepancy between others experiences with certain speakers and mine. It would be tough to go through all the trouble of learning and making speakers, only to be disappointed in the result.

I was really surprised by the ascends for some of the reasons you stated- they measure so well and so many people rave about them on forums.
 
M

Mjt8

Audiophyte
I think that speaker placement is bad. They are too close to nearby surfaces, and there is no toe-in. This will do two things: boundary gain will give a big boost to bass frequencies, and any speakers that don't have a wide dispersion will sound dark because the treble will be rolled off at the angle at which you listen. This will create a tonality that is very weighted to low frequencies. Beggars can't be choosers- your suboptimal placement will wreck the sound. I know you can't bring the speakers out in the room more. If I were you, I would just get the MartinLogan 35XTi speakers and use them with some subwoofers.
Yes, I agree. I think that having ribbon tweeters have been a huge advantage for speakers in my room for that dispersion.

I do have a sub. My one hesitation about going 2.1 with the MLs is that they just dont seem to integrate that well with my sub for some reason. Im using an SVS PB1000. Kinda scratching my head at that, because if I could get that to work Id be exilerated.
 
Hench4Life

Hench4Life

Junior Audioholic
Hahaha, I answered you on another forum, I see here my suspicions regarding your room were spot on now that I see photos of the layout. That's one of the issues with a multi-task room. If I was doing this from scratch and didn't have a TV to contend with (usually the death-knell for bad sounding 2-channel) I'd place the speakers where the POV of the camera is. I've had insanely great setups with speakers close together. If you could get those things at least 12-18" from the wall I think you'd hear a huge improvement.

Salks are excellent (they were one of my finalists), but I thought you weren't as excited about slightly laid-back sound. Also be fully prepared for a 6 month wait. TBH, this room really looks like you'd have much greater success with stand-mount speakers. When I set up for my living room (12x16x12 with open wall) I'll be doing stand mounts. I'm so glad i didn't try to stick my Kanta's in there.

Looking at your setup, one thing I'd be sure to avoid is a speaker ported out the rear. I'd actually think something like the Buchardt S400 would be very well suited to the space, the passive radiator eliminating some of the potential port issues while giving you some decent bass. The RBH SV-61R with AMT tweeter and aluminum driver could also fit the bill. I feel you on the subwoofer. I've not heard many 2-ch setups where I felt it fully integrated.
 
Gmoney

Gmoney

Audioholic Field Marshall
TLS Guy and Shady J are correct your room is killing your tower’s, that sofa is killing that one tower in the corner for sure. I see this all the time at friends homes, a nice setup Stuffed in the living room with No way at all too Properly set up their system right.
Usually the first thing that’s asked when I come over they ask my thoughts and when I tell them that tower’s are over kill in a room setup like yours they look Blank at me. I tell them, setup has No sound stage at all No sweet spot. The first thing I’d do is get that love seat out of that room it’s all but killing your left front main. Put a nice big rug on the floor, a pair of nice bookshelve speakers a good sub. That room is really Not ideal for tower’s to small a room for tower’s.
 
lovinthehd

lovinthehd

Seriously, I have no life.
Looking at your feet I gotta ask....why do you listen from there? :)
 
D

dan3952

Audiophyte
This is my first post, and support helping people make good decisions about expensive audio equipment.

I am sorry to hear about your woes with the Ascend Towers: I had almost bought them, having had high hopes for that SEAS midrange driver that appears to be much like their much vaunted Excel W15 series (the "mag" one you tend to see in speakers that sell for $4000 and more). The RAAL ribbon tweeter they use when you choose that as an (expensive) option, probably outperforms the AMT that ML uses. I had wondered if the Ascend's smaller 5 1/4 inch woofer system could produce satisfying output with classic rock or electronic music.

I had the Wharfedale EVO 4.4s for about a week, and had returned them, after having read WhatHiFi's glowing five star review. I hadn't agreed. Those were the most laid back speakers I've ever had. Female vocals had sounded good, but rock music, didn't have the dynamics and slam that my previous Monitor Audio Silver 6's had.

You may want to re-examine the Martin Logan 35XTi or 60XTi. I had bought the 60XT's at a discount, after the newer one came out, which is a refresh only, and not one that I had wanted to pay full price for. Frequency response, is flatter with the 35, down to its natural size related roll-off frequency. The 60XTs have a bass peak that the 35XT lacks; and so this may have made you feel like there was detail missing in the midrange of the 60XT, due to their tipped up frequency response at some point below 200 Hz. One thing I like about the 60XT tweeter, is they cross it over well at below 3kHz, allowing you to hear more of the advantages of the technology (most ribbons can't go that low).

Brent Butterworth's 2015 of the 60XT, I feel is excellent, because he got into things that other reviewers hadn't brought up (Phil Beaudette's review being my second favorite): primary driver resonances, and room effects. You are avoiding the 80 Hz resonance by crossing the 60XT over higher than that, or augmenting the 35XT's natural lack of bass below a certain frequency. He himself, had said that he would have looked at the 35XT and a sub if he was buying them himself; not wanting to EQ the 60XT like I have. Admittedly, the 60XT is now the old model, but I doubt that ML had designed a totally new woofer system, without the 80 Hz resonance. Ideally, that would be moved lower (perhaps the product would have a lower efficiency then and act more like a sealed model). Wish somebody would publish FR curve for the 60XTi, so I can see if they had taken steps to flatten it out any.

One of the most important things I had ever done with my system was getting a MiniDSP UMIK-1 microphone ($70), and REW (Room Equalization Wizard) software (free). It's intimidating at first to use, and there's a steep learning curve compared to other room correction systems, but implementing it correctly will allow you to do three things:

1. Set your sub level correctly (there's a room simulation mode so you can enter the dimensions of your room and see what the gain is supposed to be, helping you to interpret the FR plots correctly).
2. Set your crossover level correctly (I use a power amp and an external Ashly crossover).
3. Spot and equalize out room nodes (to a point, you can't get rid of nulls by boosting the response, better idea to lower the peaks around it).
4. Spot and equalize out frequency response problems related to your speakers (most of use can't emulate an anechoic chamber, and it's some work to figure out what's going on with the graphs).
5. Place your speakers correctly (I found out in my measured response, why ML had chosen the value they had for how far away from the rear wall).

I can't read distortion and phase correctly with REW.

My Rythmik sub doesn't have room correction, but it has a number of other useful features.

Let me know what you had decided upon, and how that went.

  • Various Kefs- very similar to the ELACs but worse imo- very metallic and unengaging
  • Various B&W- Metallic, boring, no dynamics
  • Warfedale Evo 4.4- nice highs! Absolutely sloppy bass (for my room at least) and terribly muddy mids
  • Tannoy Revolution 6XTE- Similar to above. Very, very dark speakers.
  • Martin Logan 35XTI bookshelves- Eureka! These are much more organic and clear. Guitars actually sound like guitars instead of a bad digital rendering of them. Theres energy in what I listen to. This is what I was missing in the others... things sound like theyre supposed to! Only issue is they arent as full-bodied as towers. They just cant play very loud and I wish they had more bass to be better full range speakers. Somewhat more minor issue is that they sound slightly grainy. Though thats not a total dealbreaker.
  • Martin Logan 60XTI Towers- I had high hopes for these.... but where did the magic for the 35s go ML? These are very "meh". The highs and satisfying acoustic resonances are gone.
  • Focal Aria 906 bookshelves- holy clarity batman! It sounds very organic, but it sounds almost too clinical to the point that theyre not engaging.
  • Focal Aria 948 Towers- Holy clarity and body batman! These sound almost perfect- but they dont quite come alive until higher volumes (and I have a small space), and there's still something missing... a certain *zing* in the acoustic guitar resonances.
  • Def Tech 9060- Hard to describe. Sometimes they sounded good, sometimes they sounded imprecise and like the drivers were way too small. Bass gets bloaty in my room. Theyre also ugly as hell.
  • Ascend Sierra Tower with RAAL- After all the others, I had only tthe ML 35XTIs and the focal 948s remaining. I was hoping, based on my extensive reading of forums, that the ascend towers could give the best of both worlds- the clarity/full body of the focals with the acoustic resonance/energy/zing of the MLs. Unfortunately I was once again disappointed. They seem unbalanced to my ears. Like, they have very punchy bass but they color the sound to be sweet and there seems to be something missing in the middle of the sound.... some body that just isnt there. The highs are very sweet and engaging, but almost a little artificially so. Where the MLs sound like an actual acoustic guitar being played in front of me, the Sierras make it sound unnaturally sweet or high. Theres unnaturally sweet zzzing out of string instruments that I dont think actually sound that way.... Im bummed because I really wanted to like these speakers. That said, they are very engaging, and these are the first speakers where Ive truly understood "holographic imaging" !
I've heard that SALKS have a more full midrange and bass than the ascend towers? But theyre very expensive and the waiting time makes them seem inpractical to demo before I have to return the focals and the MLs.
Sonus Faber? Ive heard they have great woody resonances but also that theyre not very engaging.
Did I skip over soft domes, where I should have explored more?
Thanks all. I appreciate you taking the time to read all this.Ive also attached a pic of the space.
 
Pogre

Pogre

Audioholic Warlord
Yup. Speaker placement. Too close together, too close to the wall, in a corner/cubby-hole... It'd be tough for any speaker to sound right handicapped like that. You might wanna rethink and rearrange a little.

Then audition all those speakers all over again because they'll all sound completely different when set up properly!
 
KEW

KEW

Audioholic Overlord
  • Martin Logan 35XTI bookshelves- Eureka! These are much more organic and clear. Guitars actually sound like guitars instead of a bad digital rendering of them. Theres energy in what I listen to. This is what I was missing in the others... things sound like theyre supposed to! Only issue is they arent as full-bodied as towers. They just cant play very loud and I wish they had more bass to be better full range speakers. Somewhat more minor issue is that they sound slightly grainy. Though thats not a total dealbreaker.
  • Martin Logan 60XTI Towers- I had high hopes for these.... but where did the magic for the 35s go ML? These are very "meh". The highs and satisfying acoustic resonances are gone.
I have listened to many of the speakers you listened to and among those, I agree with your assessments on the ones I know!
The one exception is the ML 60XTI, which I thought was very nice in the top end! I have not heard the 35XTI so cannot specifically comment on the differences. However, given that you liked the 35XTI so much, I think it would be worth the trouble to try the 60XTI in your home! I'm assuming BestBuy is where you heard these, and they offer a 14 day return period/satisfaction guarantee. I don't know if they play louder than the 35XTI (normally you can expect them to).

I recently heard the Elac Debut DBR-62 and liked it a lot. It is well under your budget, designed by Andrew Jones, but not a dull speaker like the UniFi (one of the speakers where I agree with your assessment). I also might try out the Revel M16 (which I have not heard, but measures well). Both of these can be bought through Crutchfield which has a $15 return fee for anything you return within 60 days (they will pay return shipping).

But based on what you have said, I think the Canton Vento's are probably the best value for your tastes.

I believe the Vento 830.2 is the least expensive speaker capable of what you want, but any of the 7" Vento models (linked below) should be great. However, I have 2 concerns! One is that the waveguide on these speakers may be in conflict with your room setup/layout. Two is that Accessories4less doesn't really offer any type of satisfaction guarantee, so you'd be buying on faith.

Where are you located? I could let you borrow my Vento 830.2's if you are near Atlanta (and there may be others elsewhere willing to help although with Covid-19 that is iffy).

 
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B

Beave

Senior Audioholic
This is my first post, and support helping people make good decisions about expensive audio equipment.

I am sorry to hear about your woes with the Ascend Towers: I had almost bought them, having had high hopes for that SEAS midrange driver that appears to be much like their much vaunted Excel W15 series (the "mag" one you tend to see in speakers that sell for $4000 and more). The RAAL ribbon tweeter they use when you choose that as an (expensive) option, probably outperforms the AMT that ML uses. I had wondered if the Ascend's smaller 5 1/4 inch woofer system could produce satisfying output with classic rock or electronic music.
The midrange in the Ascend towers isn't a SEAS driver and isn't very similar to the SEAS Excel W15.

I had the Wharfedale EVO 4.4s for about a week, and had returned them, after having read WhatHiFi's glowing five star review. I hadn't agreed. Those were the most laid back speakers I've ever had. Female vocals had sounded good, but rock music, didn't have the dynamics and slam that my previous Monitor Audio Silver 6's had.

You may want to re-examine the Martin Logan 35XTi or 60XTi. I had bought the 60XT's at a discount, after the newer one came out, which is a refresh only, and not one that I had wanted to pay full price for. Frequency response, is flatter with the 35, down to its natural size related roll-off frequency. The 60XTs have a bass peak that the 35XT lacks; and so this may have made you feel like there was detail missing in the midrange of the 60XT, due to their tipped up frequency response at some point below 200 Hz. One thing I like about the 60XT tweeter, is they cross it over well at below 3kHz, allowing you to hear more of the advantages of the technology (most ribbons can't go that low).

Brent Butterworth's 2015 of the 60XT, I feel is excellent, because he got into things that other reviewers hadn't brought up (Phil Beaudette's review being my second favorite): primary driver resonances, and room effects. You are avoiding the 80 Hz resonance by crossing the 60XT over higher than that, or augmenting the 35XT's natural lack of bass below a certain frequency. He himself, had said that he would have looked at the 35XT and a sub if he was buying them himself; not wanting to EQ the 60XT like I have. Admittedly, the 60XT is now the old model, but I doubt that ML had designed a totally new woofer system, without the 80 Hz resonance. Ideally, that would be moved lower (perhaps the product would have a lower efficiency then and act more like a sealed model). Wish somebody would publish FR curve for the 60XTi, so I can see if they had taken steps to flatten it out any.
I'm not sure what you're referring to when you discuss an 80Hz resonance. Are you referring to a driver resonance at that frequency? If so, how was it measured? Even in an anechoic chamber, it would be hard to accurately measure/capture a resonance at 80Hz.

At any rate, here are measurements of the 60XTi:

ML 60XTi NRC Measurements from Soundstage!
 
B

Beave

Senior Audioholic
OK, I just search for and found Butterworth's review of the 60XT, in which he mentions hearing - and measuring - a resonance at 80Hz. The speakers very well may have a bass hump in that region, ie, a hump centered around 80Hz, but that's not the same as a driver resonance at 80Hz. It's an overall system tuning - drivers, cabinet, port output combined to have a bass "hump" instead of a flat response. It was probably done on purpose to give the speakers an extra sense of kick in the midbass.

The newer 60XTi might very well have similar bass tuning, but the NRC measurements don't include the rear ports, so the overall bass reponse can't be determined from the plots I linked to above.

In any case, the room will add/subtract its own peaks and dips in this region that can compensate for - or add to and accentuate - the bass hump in these speakers. Room EQ can help flatten the response.
 
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killdozzer

killdozzer

Audioholic Field Marshall
@Mjt8 Looking at all the speakers you've tested, my only advice is to stop looking for a problem in them. Some of the speakers you've mentioned perform really well and shouldn't give you such noticeable bad results.

As expected, there's a large portion of your impressions that is very subjective and can not be addressed. Not that I don't believe your listening experience, but, for example, speakers not being engaging is not something directly identifiable. It can be a number of things, your mood included. Maybe on that day you were hard to engage.

If I were you, and I see a few members already suggesting this, start regarding your room as a sort of restriction, a boundary to your speakers' performance and try to match your speaker choice to the room in question.

It is not hard to imagine that even a "lesser" speaker would outperform some of the pricier and more famous speakers simply because they match the room.

It is down the @TLS Guy 's path, I'd think.
 

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