Admittedly a bit lost


I am a long time music lover who is dipping his toes into high end audio for the first time. I have long enjoyed high quality headphones (Sennheiser HD650) and earphones (Etymotics all the time) but have not spent the big bucks (that I don't have) for high-end equipment. :)

However, I have recently acquired a Jolida tube amp (40W output) and am looking for good speakers to pair with them. I intend to go around listening to a bunch of speakers but I need to at least narrow down what sort I should ask my local dealers to have available for me to try. That is what this thread is about.

My constraints are thus:
- My musical tastes run the gamut from classical choral pieces (Bach's cantatas and mass, Arvo Part, Hilliard Ensemble's works etc - i.e. all mid-range frequencies) to experimental electronic music (Autechre, Aphex Twin, Flying Lotus etc - i.e. deep sub-bass and full-frequency spread music with absolutely zero traditional instruments and every sound is synthesized).
- My amp is a 40W tube amp
- I live in an apartment and so listen at volumes ranging from low to moderate.
- My budget for speakers is about $3K (slightly flexible).

With those constraints, my dilemma is that I don't know if I should be trying out high-efficiency speakers or low-efficiency ones? Should I look for 8ohm speakers or 4ohm ones? Something tells me that with low power tube amps, I should be looking at a high efficiency low impedence speaker. However, will that sort of speaker be able to navigate the high speed bass attack of electronic music when driven by an amplifier such as mine?

I am not sure where to begin, so I would really like some advise from folks here. Thank you so much!
You are likely to get all kinds of suggestions regarding equipment, brands and the like- I'm less inclined to offer that, and to suggest some methods to approach this.
First, be careful what you wish for- low bass, particularly of the synth variety, and apartment living, can be challenging. I guess you want something that can play deeply and clearly without being too loud, but before you start dumping money into gear, I think you need to determine what will set your neighbors off. Wonder if any dealer (or electronics geek) with the ability to run some kind of sweep tone through amplification can help. (Do you play and have a synth and instrument amps? That could be telling, and you may already know the answer).
Second, the amp-speaker relationship is critical, but I wouldn't center my decision on finding a speaker that works well with that amp- you could and should listen to a variety of speakers and then determine what best matches your needs. I don't know the current Jolida line (certainly heard of the brand), but worst case, you could sell or trade the amp to optimize the speaker-amp relationship. Am I saying that the speaker is the most important? No. But the relationship between the speaker and amp is critical and you are already limiting yourself by confining the universe to those speakers that will work well with that amp.
Third, the biggest limitation is probably the dealers themselves. Even if you live in a large metro area, it is tough to listen to, let alone compare, various brands on the same system, in the same room. If you are located in a less audio gear-centric city, the challenges are multiplied.
There's lots to learn about impedance, amp performance and efficiency (people can argue endlessly about what works best), but the final arbiter will be your ears. There are folks that have used relatively low powered tube amps with speakers that are not supposed to be friendly with tubes or low power and others who use high powered solid state amps with horns, when a few watts will suffice.
Is there an audio club in your city? It is a good way to get to hear gear in a home environment without the limitations and agenda that may be operative at a retailer. (Not all dealers are bad, but finding a good one you can work with is not easy, even when spending mega-bucks).
A couple other random thoughts- buy Jim Smith's book, it is called something like 'Better Sound.' It's all about how systems get set up and tuned for the room. (Jim does private consultations to voice systems, and much of what is in his book is basic knowledge, but may prove helpful). The room is a big part of the equation.
One other thought - and I am treading into 'gear' suggestions here, but I'll take the risk. I have been using horns after decades of electrostatic speaker use. The can give you the punch and jump, the bass can be trickier and making it cohere with the upper ranges is often difficult. But one sort of bargain is certain lower priced JBL horn arrays that are not marketed to hi-fi cognoscenti. These may float your boat, and may be OK with the Jolida. They are typically discounted new, and while not "audiophile approved" can probably deliver much of what you want at a reasonable price. (The company's upper priced stuff is marvelous sounding, despite the "branding" as a commercial/industrial product). Good luck, and make it an adventure rather than a frustration. I'm sure you will get many product suggestions from others- many of which may be worth exploring. But, in the final analysis, you have to be pleased- and that's hard to judge in limited showroom listening sessions that have many uncontrolled variables in system and room. If you do visit dealers, my suggestion is to make appointments in advance, and bring some of your own source material- of different types, to reveal the full range of a given set-ups' performance.
Is the Jolida just a power amp or is it integrated? If not, what are you using for a preamp? Also, what is your source?
You wrote: "With those constraints, my dilemma is that I don't know if I
should be trying out high-efficiency speakers or low-efficiency ones? Should I
look for 8ohm speakers or 4ohm ones? Something tells me that with low power
tube amps, I should be looking at a high efficiency low impedence speaker.
However, will that sort of speaker be able to navigate the high speed bass attack
of electronic music when driven by an amplifier such as mine?"

As Whart suggests, listen to as many different types/brands of speakers as you
can but in response to your "intuition" above, I'd suggest higher
impedance speakers (8 ohm preferably, 6 ohm min.) rather than low. I'm
guessing you're talking about an integrated amp (JoLida 202B??). Drag your
JoLida along with you if at all possible when auditioning. I also suspect for your
electronica and deep bass music you'll want an efficient design to get the most
out of those 40 wpc.

[Had a JoLida 502B for years...really enjoyed it.]
You might need a powered subwoofer to get the bass right.
Something like REL.
I can tell you what I listen to without recommending you follow exactly the same path. I also have a 38 watt tube amp. In my home, I use speakers with Fostex drivers and dual 8in subs run in parallel. These will address your mid range preference and provide separately adjustable bass with a driver fast enough to keep up and deep enough to sometimes feel the bass without shaking the building you live in at moderate volumes.
Like Whart, with whom I agree, I believe you have some fundamental limitations in space and volume levels permissible, which will to a great degree dictate the equipment (in this case speakers) you will be able to use.

You don't want large bassy/boomy speakers. In fact speakers with a early roll off of bass, say below 60hz might be a good thing. Keeping smallish speakers off the floor on stands (no floorstanders perhaps) might also be a good thing to limit the transmission of 'thump, thump, sounds to your neighbor.

Another limitation in choices is that you will want to choose a speaker which sounds linear (especially in the bass) at low volume levels a reasearch project in itself. A lot of speakers only sound alive at medium to high volume levels (that is why the early audio gods created tone controls in their pre-amps etc, so you could boost the bass a tad, or provided a loudness contour).

I hope that helps you to focus a bit. But it is a pretty steep learning curve so take your time making decisions. FWIW I don't really believe in making decisions based on dealer demos with different equipment in different rooms. It will always be different when you get it home. So unless you know what you are chasing down you are likely to make some poor decisions (learn all you can about each products design, performance, synergistic equipment, etc. before you get caught up in the web.

Hope that helps a bit, but I think it is premature for me to be making recomendations. BTW, I think you should be able to match a pretty good speaker to your Jolida.

Good luck.
Go on your local Craigslist and pick up a pair of Klipsch Heresy’s or Quartet’s. Few hundred bucks. You can always unload these. If this is your first pair of high(ish) end speakers, buy used. Also, never buy speakers without auditioning first.
What about the Q Acoustics speakers?
I would go to as many dealers as you can to get a flavor of the speakers that sound good to you. You will need to determine if you want stand mounted or floor standing models. When you can narrow it down it would also be a good idea to bring your amp to the dealer for a demo. This can be a bit overwhelming, but trust your ears for a speaker that sounds musical to you with various types of music.
I recommend that you buy amplifiers for speakers, not speakers for amplifiers.
Merlin monitors on non-spiked massed 24" stands. The lack of spikes will deter vibration through the sub-flooring. Efficient enough for Jolida 40 wpc with great low volume resolution, the speaker will respond linearly with future upgrades.
40 tube watts is decent, though I would lean toward efficient speakers, not necessarily 'highly efficient' speakers over 6 ohms/90db. Therefore I would not feel comfortable recommending less efficient speakers like Vandersteen and Evolution Acoustics. In your price range, I would recommend looking at the pair of Proac Response D-28's on the 'Gon -

The Proacs are 8ohms/88.5db efficient and are a simple 2 way design, but are capable of deep bass & dig down to 20Hz. They are bi-wirable or can be bi-amped. I think the Proacs would suit your taste in music & be keepers. Btw, with your spare change, I would consider a nice pair of bi-wire speaker cables. That is a subject for another thread however. Best wishes.
If you are anywhere near Nashville, I have a perfect pair of Proac Response 2.5 I would consider selling. They would probably fit your needs quite nicely.......
Go to Madisound or another speaker parts company and buy a kit that is easy to assemble. They will advise you as to your amps capability and speaker requirement. They are aware of your needs as to easy to drive speakers.
You don't have to be a great craftsman to build these speakers.
Enjoy, Peterh
For the low to moderate volume listening your apartment location dictates, that 40 watt JoLida will be sufficient with medium (honest 87 dB) efficiency speakers. I was a Jolida dealer for many years and imo you made an excellent first amplifier purchase for a newcomer to the scene.

There is an inevitable tradeoff relationship between small box size, high efficiency, and deep bass extension. Basically you can have any two of the three but not all three. So assuming there is a maximum box size you can live with, you'll be trading off efficiency vs bass extension within that box size limit, but I don't think especially high efficiency is needed for low to moderate listening levels.

One factor which is seldom obvious from the published specs is the shape of the impedance curve. Tube amps generally sound better with a speaker that has a fairly smooth impedance curve. Impedance peaks in the bass region are usually okay, but major dips and/or major peaks elsewhere in the curve can work against compatibility with an amp like your Jolida. I say this as a speaker manufacturer who designs with tube amp compatibility in mind.

I think it's great that you will be visiting several dealers to audition their speakers. Imo you should call them in advance and tell them what you've told us, and they can each make their best recommendations from their lineup and be prepared to put their best foot forward for your particular needs. You might approach your quest as a two-stage process: First round, listening in order to create a short-list of speakers that are the best candidates. Second round, bring your amp and listen more extensively to the short-list speakers to make your final selection.

I suggest trying speakers at a wide range of volume levels, as some speakers that sound great at medium levels tend to sound lifeless at low levels. Generally speaking high efficiency speakers tend to do better than low efficiency speakers in this regard, but there are enough exceptions to keep this from being a reliable rule.

One suggestion should help with selecting a speaker from your short list that is non-fatiguing over the long term: Turn the volume level up a bit louder than normal and walk out of the room, listening through the open doorway but with no line-of-sight to the speakers. From out there, all you can possibly hear is the reverberant field. Is there a reasonable illusion of live music happening in the room, or is it painfully obvious that you're listening to speakers? I believe that there is a good correlation between speakers that get the reverberant field right and long-term listening enjoyment, and this test, call the L.I.A.R test (Listening In Another Room), throws a spotlight on that.

You might also try the different output transformer taps, if your amp has them. Just because it's an "8 ohm" speaker doesn't mean you can't try the 4-ohm taps. You will probably lose some maximum output power with a "mis-match", but if you gain in sound quality and don't need the extra power, who cares? I built a pair of 8-ohm speakers for my parents, and they sounded better on the 4-ohm taps of their Jolida 302b.

If you'd like a crash course in the technical details that make one speaker better suited than another for tube amps I can do that too, but otherwise I'd say trust your dealers to make the best recommendations from their respective lineups.

The Speaker Quest is one of the most enjoyable ventures we audiophiles embark on. Take the scenic route instead of the fast lane and enjoy the journey!

Audiokinesis makes some geat points especially about the impedance discussion. One other tip I forgot to mention is that I will generally like a speaker that I want to keep turning up louder rather than the ones I want to turn down.
Nice post there, Duke!
You rock, Duke!
+1, Goose with one important proviso; that you are not turning the volume down because you are clipping the amp.
10-25-15: Peterh
Go to Madisound or another speaker parts company and buy a kit that is easy to assemble. They will advise you as to your amps capability and speaker requirement. They are aware of your needs as to easy to drive speakers.
You don't have to be a great craftsman to build these speakers.
Enjoy, Peterh
That's a good point Peter. In Australia, a friend of mine Paul Spencer has a business called 'The Loudspeaker Kit' & has some great value and good sounding speaker kits. The LSK F6 Mk3 is their top of the range model. I heard its predecessor at the Melbourne Hifi show and was really surprised how good they sound. Stuart Ralston from SGR Audio designed the crossovers and cabinets, whilst Paul has a knack for tuning speakers to get the sound he wants. And with the low Aussie dollar, you could pick up a pair for just over $1kUS & invest the spare change in better cables. Food for thought.
You have received much great advice above. Pay attention to the Audiokinesis post. I see no problem in finding a quality speaker to match with your Jolida that meets your listening/environmental requirements. I would search out a monitor speaker having 87dB - 92dB sensitivity, nominal 6 ohm impedance, and relatively flat impedance across the frequency range not dropping much below 4 ohms. Include in your budget a good pair of solid stands for the speakers. The idea of adding a subwoofer may prove beneficial in achieving and controlling the bottom end in your apartment.
Not sure what aspects of sound reproduction (i.e. Neutrality, tonal richness, imaging, soundstage, micro/macro dynamics, pace/timing, disappear as sound source, etc.) are most important to you, but a few that shoot pretty much down the middle of the fairway and are relatively benign loads are Joseph Audio, Silverline, and Reference 3A. If you have any of those available nearby, or even if you would have to travel a bit, those are worth a listen IMHO. And I'd bring the Jolida if at all possible. Best of luck.
"One other tip I forgot to mention is that I will generally like a speaker that I want to keep turning up louder rather than the ones I want to turn down."

I think its better to have a system that doesn't make you feel the need to increase or decrease volume.
I noticed the OP hasn't responded to any posts. Looks like he's had a change of direction..
Don't we often write for two reasons, at least? One to help and another to give voice to our views? Sometimes, these threads have a life even after the OP has taken a powder....
Badri --

In light of your circumstances with the Jolida tube amp and stated taste in music comes to mind the moderate to high-ish sensitivity (relative to the sensitivity of typical, direct radiation "hifi" speakers) Pendragon and Enzo XL speakers from Tekton Design, priced at slightly more than $2000/pair. Stereophile's fairly recent review seems to indicate these (the Enzo XL's, and I'm sure the Pendragon's as well, had they been placed on the test bench) are versatile, true full-range speakers:

The Enzos didn't just play Rick Laird's bass notes—they let me feel them. The XLs didn't present to my brain the idea of bass, as all of my small speakers do—they massaged me with expanding wavefronts. There was something unique and extremely natural about the way the Tektons projected bass energy into the room. They got not only the tone, the attack, and the decay, but the plucked-string pulling-up emphasis of the bass player's art. The Enzos did an especially good job of connecting me to the humans making the music.


The Enzo XLs gave me 90% of the coherence and joy of my Class A reference speakers, along with at least one additional, deeply gratifying octave of big, live-sounding, pants-flapping, room-filling bass. Unbelievably, they also gave me something like 90% of the accuracy and authority I heard from Wilson Audio's "giant robots" back in the late '80s.

Today, the average price of the speakers listed in "Class A–Full Range" of Stereophile's "Recommended Components" is over $56,000/pair. In that world, the $2100/pair Tekton Enzo XLs are practically free. Based on my reviewing experience, these practically free speakers will get you a satisfyingly big portion of those $50,000 models' performance. Consider this review a thoughtfully considered, heartfelt recommendation. These giant monoliths are great fun!

And no, I have no affiliation with Tekton Design, it just appears they may fit your bill, one way and the other, quite nicely.

Additionally, I'd like to second the comments above made by poster Whart.
@Whart, I guess I have a different constitution. I believe if you post a
thread asking for opinions from members, it is common courtesy to
participate in your thread & reply to posters...if only to thank them for their
Badri....providing that you have a very good headphone amp, you will never get better sound than from your Sennheisers. I have 650's and Entymotics for the Ipod, but truth be told, there are many things that the 650's do that my Vandersteen's don't. That's not to say that I even prefer the earphones...I mainly listen to the speakers since they are a more normal means of listening. ...but in high end terms, earphones provide a higher level of sound....especially since you don't have a large room, or appropriate electronics to accomodate a large Vandersteen, Maggie, (my faves)..etc.
@Melbguy1 - OP has been mostly overwhelmed with the quality and amount of kind & detailed advise he has been getting. After the time delay it takes to get the post reviewed, I only noticed on Monday that this thread had grown into a wonderful treasure trove of information.

@Whart, @ Audiokinesis - I can't believe the amount of time you have taken to provide me the advise you did. Thank you so much for taking the time to do so. Both of your advise also centers on finding the speaker I like more than finding the right speaker for the amp I have right now. I will definitely keep that in mind.

@Whart - thank you for the reading recommendation. I will certainly give that a read.

To all the other people on this thread that have been so generous with your time, I will need to take some time on Saturday to read each of your posts and reply back to each of you. In the meantime, please keep the advise coming. I am literally soaking it all in - at times resorting to jotting down the advise in my notebook so that I remember it. This is - as many people point out - something that appears will take me a little while to decide. So the information will be welcome.
Some other points I should have mentioned is some details on what kind of speakers I have now and where I live - in case that plays a part in your recommendations for dealers.

I have floor standing speakers made by Energy - specifically the C-300.

I live in San Francisco - in the city. I am currently talking to folks at AudioVisionSF ( on California St & Polk St. There are at least a couple of others in the city (and Berkeley) that I think I should hit up.
Badri, fair call. Hopefully you've got some good options out of the responses so far (including my own).
Badri, you are lucky to have a good choice of dealers in the area. You should be able to find an excellent speaker. In your quest, be sure to listen to speakers that are above your budget. It is helpful to see what you may be giving up at your price point....or not. The dealers may also have some used or demo gear that would allow you to get a better speaker for your budget. I have built my system on demo or used gear and often you can save 30-50%. Enjoy your listening.

I have enquired with some of my local dealers and most have said that they used to allow customers to try the speakers out at home, but that they no longer do that. I have not enquired as to what made them change their minds, but at least they seemed to really want me to bring my amp along and were willing to move all the pieces I wanted to audition to one room so that I can compare them all relative to each other without much variation in the surroundings. I think this might be as good as I can get in the San Francisco area.

The book is ordered and is on it's way. I look forward to reading that!

As for horns, you are not the only person suggesting that. I had a friend also suggest that I try some of the older Klipsch horn-loaded speakers. I have no idea how to try out the JBLs - but I will try and see if there are vendors around here that I can try them out at.

Thank you once again for your advise!

My amp is an older JD202 model. It is an integrated amp and delivers 40W. My source is a Sonos (without the W4S mods) and while I mostly play FLAC files from my local library, I also stream content from Spotify on occasion.
@Ghosthouse - most of the dealers I have spoken to have been extremely positive to the idea of me bringing the amp along. So I will definitely be doing that. My amp incidentally is the 202a - and an integrated as you guessed right. I did roll the stock tubes and replaced them with the Mullard EL34 though.
@Mt10425 - dual subs seems like a wonderful idea if I can find the space and money for it :) At the current house rent rates in San Francisco, I would be in a pickle if I needed to find an apartment big enough for that amount of equipment :)
@Newbee - that sounds like useful advise. What speakers do you know of that sound "linear"? I am not sure I am familiar with what that term means. Do you mean that they sound good and have good grip and response at low/medium volume? Any suggestions for examples of good speakers that demonstrate this behaviour?
@Celtic66 - the merlins seem to be a bit out of my price range. Am I mistaken about that?
@Melbguy1 - that is a brand I had no heard of at all - but the reviews of the piece do make it sound great. I don't see any dealers for Proac in the BayArea though. Might need to see what I can do about that. Also - the price point for a new set is way out of my budget - but perhaps I should keep an eye out on this site to see if any go on sale.

Thanks so much for that tip!
@Yashu - Unfortunately I am nowhere near Nashville- but hearing the second recommendation for Proac just makes me even more eager to audition them!
@Serge_s, @Wim1983 - thanks for those tips.
@Audiokinesis - once again, thank you so much. As you might have guessed, I am going about this as a three pass process - in which steps 2 & 3 are the same as what you proposed!

a) Collect recommendations/suggestions from this group and see if I can find a place to audition things that come highly recommended from here.
b) Do a first round of listening to a combination of what the dealers think would be a good idea and the suggestions from here and see what sounds best with the wide variety of music I like to create a shortlist.
c) Take my amp around with me and do a deeper listen from the shortlist.

This does sound like it will be a long process - but I am quite excited to get started :)
@Mesch Is there a reason you suggest restricting myself to bookshelf/monitors over a floorstander?
@Soix- thank you so much for all those recommendations. I will see if I can seek them out.
@Phusis - I don't know how I missed that review. I usually make it a point to read all their speaker reviews especially if they are reasonably priced. Thanks for pointing those out to me!
@Stringreen I think you may be right. The Sennheiser HD650 and the Etymotics are very very different though fantastic sounding headphones/earphones. The HD650, I find quiet, laid back and dark. The Etymotics on the other hand are transparent beyond words. While they are both detailed, I must admit, I use them for very very different kinds of listening - and what I am looking for in my speakers is probably something closer to what I get from my Etymotics than what I get from the admittedly gorgeous sounding - but very dark Sennheiser.
"My amp is an older JD202 model. It is an integrated amp and delivers 40W. My source is a Sonos (without the W4S mods) and while I mostly play FLAC files from my local library, I also stream content from Spotify on occasion."

Given that, I would split the 3k up and use some of it for speakers, and the rest for a new source. The Sonos is only going to get you so far. A new dac connected to your integrated with IC's may make as big a difference as new speakers will.
@Zd542 A new DAC is definitely on the cards - but for a little bit later. I would rather get really good speakers now and invest in a proper outboard DAC and maybe a synchro-mesh device later. I have been looking at DAC+headphone amp combos - and might look into the Benchmark DAC - but not for another year or so after I have saved up some more.
Badri, I didn’t mean to suggest restriction to monitors, I just prefer them. Always thought they provided better soundstage/imaging for the $$$. That line of thinking may not hold true today. One additional thought I had was that a monitor on solid stand might be isolated from the floor better than a floor standing speaker which may be important in an apartment setting.
@Mesch ah- thanks! I think I missed the emphasis on the isolation bit. I have actually heard some bookshelf speakers which really do give floorstanders a run for their money (the Totem Mani-2, specifically). But apart from that, I had always thought that their bass-extension was less than floor standers. That said - that was before I realized that what I wanted most from my speakers was speed and transparency in addition to just plain old bass extension. So I was wondering if you were pointing me towards any specific bookshelf speakers with that in mind.
I have a difficult time recommending speakers as i have not heard many of the reported great ones and everyone’s preference differs. I own Esoteric MG-10s and like them for detail, speed, dynamics, coherance and tonal balance. No longer sold in the US and difficult to find used. That said I am not so sure how they would match with your Jolida.

Have you taken your Jolida to any dealers for a listen yet?