Best high-efficiency speaker under 10K

I have never played in the high-eff speaker / low-powered amp space, but I've read so many things that I would like to give it a try. I own an EAR 859 integrated amplifier, De Paravicini's interpretation of SET. It's pretty incredible, especially if you consider its price tag. I am now in the business of choosing the right speaker. I listen to a lot of jazz and vocals and opera. So, I can do without the sub-40HZ frequency range. I would like to stay between $3K to $7K, certainly below $10K. Here are the options i am considering:

1) Zu Audio Essence.
2) Beauhorn Virtuoso (single driver)
3) KCS louspeakers (the model that uses the SEAS exotic driver)
4) Devore Gibbons 8
5) Living voice Avatar

If I had to choose right now, I'd go with the Beauhorn, but I know their limitations.

Any thoughts/personal experiences with the above or any other speakers in this range? Thanks.
Tannoy Glenair. PRAT like the Zu with single source imaging.
Omega Loudspeakers are another good choice at the lower end of your price range, and they are a great value for the money. I have a pair of the Omega Super 8 Alnico XRS and they are terrific with small ensemble (jazz or classical), solo instrumental, and vocal music.

For a completely different flavor, you might also want to consider the DeVore Fidelity 3XLs - an extremely impressive monitor speaker that uses the same tweeter as is used in John's Reference Silverbacks.

Good Luck!
Consider Silverline Bolero's. 92db and easy to drive (impedance curve wise). Dynaudio drivers including the Esotar tweeter. Full range and very smooth FR. Polite upper-mid range makes them non-fatiguing but they remain very revealing non-the-less. Excellent imaging and great looking as well. They cost 12K new. There is a pair for sale on A-Gon for 4695, about 50% of their price. I've had mine for 3years and haven't looked back!
Attend RMAF or CES and listen to your choices. Forget trying to choose speakers by relying solely on comments from others.
Tvad, you put way more weight to half-hour listening sessions in a hotel room than I do. In my experience, listening to a speaker in a hotel room with equipment that is very different from yours is not very informative. The beauty of audiogon fellow travelers is that they have lived with a particular speaker for long, and they know it inside out. Plus, you can get leads like what suggested by newbee on pieces of equipment that you would have not considered. While I knew about silverline, they never came to mind before newbee mentioned them. So, thanks for your comment, but I still think there is a lot to be learned from fellow travelers.

07-14-10: Ggavetti
Tvad, you put way more weight to half-hour listening sessions in a hotel room than I do.
I give hearing speakers significantly more weight than anyone's written opinion when making a purchase decision, regardless of the potential shortcomings of a hotel room audition.

I also do not recommend making a purchase decision after only a half an hour in a listening room.

07-14-10: Ggavetti
In my experience, listening to a speaker in a hotel room with equipment that is very different from yours is not very informative.
In my experience it far more informative than discussion group comments or reviews.

Having been down the road several times, and having purchased speakers based on hours and hours of reading comments, reviews and taking personal recommendations, I have learned that hearing speakers for myself is worth tenfold of what others say.

In fact, of any element of a stereo system, I believe speakers are the easiest to gauge in a relatively short amount of time in an audio show setting.

Hey, if you choose not to attend a show and hear speakers for yourself, than that's your prerogative.
Zu Essence blows goat. Cheap Ribbon, poor integration.

Devore is great but a little warm and not as transparent for my taste. BUT I have a good friend that builds $15k plus guitars and he loves Devore speakers.

As Tvad said, you need to listen for yourself.
Also consider Coincident Speaker Technology in Canada. If you trust reviews, Stereo Mojo loved the Super Victory. They are $9500, so maybe too pricey for you.

I have an older model, the Super Eclipse IIs.

Tvad, don't get me wrong. I do listen to a lot of speakers, and local dealers know me well (and I am lucky enough to live in boston, which has pretty good dealers). all i am saying is that system integration is key, and room layout even more. it happened to me more than once to pick up a speaker i loved at a local dealer and then return it because it did not sound right in my setup. that's why listening to others' opinion is an important aspect of this hobby...and one i enjoy too. then of course you have to be intelligent enough to interpret what other people say. the purpose of this post, for me, is to know what speakers made other people happy, why, and in what system. if you think there is little information in all this, that is fine. i respect your opinion. but newbee for instance suggested that i consider a speaker that i did not consider prior to this post. it's possible that i'll have a chance to give it a listen somewhere, and that i'll like it enough to try it out in my system. to me this is useful feedback. that's all.
i think you should use the search function---this subject has been discussed ad nauseum on the forum this year.
The "you need to audition" advice is doubtless right, but sometimes overstated.

Auditioning is a lot of effort, given that many manufacturers have limited distribution: I've been looking for a speakers for about a year, and through business travel, I've now heard speakers in Carolina, California, Missouri, Kansas, and Illinois. I've tried, and failed, to set up auditions in Arkansas and Tennessee. Still no decision.

Given constraints of time, etc, the auditions may not be all that informative: like other relationships, it's difficult to project from a few hours to a dozen years.

Also, even with notes, memory fails: I know I liked speaker X pretty well, but its hard to compare the memory of X with the experience of Y as I listen now (maybe I could compare a recording of X!;).

Given all this, and given that the conditions in any audition may be only distantly related to the conditions you'll face in your room with your gear, I'm not sure how much benefit auditions are.

My experience is that the negatives are informative: if I don't enjoy it for an hour or two in audition, I eliminate the speaker, even if I suspect set up problems at the audition. As they say about marriage, "if you've got reservations now, you'll be making 'em later." To my surprise, I've quickly eliminated numerous highly regarded speakers in audition. But as for a "good" audition, who's to say: Will it work this way for me? Will it stand the test of time? Is it really better than the competing model I heard three months ago?

Given all this, I think the information found at places like this is well worth seeking out.

Happily, some manufacturers, like Salk, allow in-home demos, which can answer a lot of questions off site auditions cannot.

Here are two of the recent threads in which high efficiency speakers have been discussed, as Keith mentioned. These threads are lengthy, but are well worth reading imo.

Also, if your listening includes classical symphonic music having wide dynamic range, which I would guess is the case since you mentioned opera, I would suggest that with your 13 watt amplifier the speakers be rated at 95db/1w/1m as an absolute minimum (and more if your listening distance is greater than about 10 feet).

For non-planar speakers, 95db/1w/1m + 13 watts + a 10 foot listening distance corresponds to a peak spl capability at the listening position of approximately 100db. That will be adequate for the peaks of most classical recordings, in my experience, but there are at least a few that I have encountered which require several db more than that.

Good luck!

-- Al
Ggavetti, I agree that collecting info and recommendations is a good starting point. I did the same thing in a couple of threads asking a question similar to this one, but at a lower price point.

I took what I learned from that thread and from other research and developed a list of ten speakers I wanted to hear. Then, I went to RMAF for a day and listened to only these ten speakers with the exception of adding one more. Eight of the ten speakers were eliminated within the first five minutes of hearing them. I spent the rest of the day listening to the remaining three.

The decision to attend RMAF and to hear the speakers in one concentrated setting was one of the best I've ever made.

Jodoris wrote:
...even with notes, memory fails: I know I liked speaker X pretty well, but its hard to compare the memory of X with the experience of Y as I listen now (maybe I could compare a recording of X!;).

Given all this, and given that the conditions in any audition may be only distantly related to the conditions you'll face in your room with your gear, I'm not sure how much benefit auditions are.

Jdoris (System | Threads | Answers | This Thread)
Listening at an audio show removes some of the negatives of auditions held over time and in different cities or in different showrooms.

Yes, attending an audio show is a PITA. Yes, it costs time and money. However, considering the cost of the speakers on my list, I found the cost of attending the show good insurance against a costly bad decision, and I found the time invested well worth the time saved in the buy-and-try method.
Far superior to the Beauhorns are the Horning Hybrid speakers from Denmark which also use the Lowther drivers. The Hornings are some of the best commercial speakers out there at present, especially for ensemble jazz and vocals. If you want your favorite mezzo-soprano to bring you to your knees, you want a Lowther, but you will also want a tweeter and some credible bass...Get down to NYC and visit High Water Sound. If you have a huge room, get the huge Hornings, for small rooms the Aristotle model is within your stated budget and will blow away the other speakers you mentioned in the presence and "passion" departments...
I was on a similar quest and went to RMAF to listen to some of the choices. The 2 best I heard were the Devore Gibbon 9, I did'nt find them soft at all. They do'nt look exciting, but a lovely neutral, musical sound, I could have listened to forever.
In the end, the Devores were pipped by Daedalus Da-Ra Mas, a better sound in that it was quicker, more dynamic and excellent value at the direct from the manufacturer price. Lou the manufacturer is great to deal with too.
I agree with Newbie about the Silverline Bolero. I really enjoyed liastening to them at RMAF. I just think they have got a bit expensive, in the latest version.
I have owned the following (love the high sensitivity speakers)
Beauhorn, Lamhorn, Exemplar horn, Tonian TLM (original model), KCS Seas Exotic, and currently use the Tonian Classic 12.1s.
I have listened extensively to several Horning models (Alkabiades, Agathon Ultimates) as well as the Gibbon 9's and silverbacks and the Living Voice Avatar OBX

All these speakers, and several of the other mentioned, have great qualities.
I love the Hornings but find they like to be played a bit louder than some of the others to really gel but boy are they nice.
I prefered the lamhorn with the AER driver to the Beauhorn with the Lowther in my systems (used severl different amp preamp combos...mostly all SET 45,2A3, 300b, 845 based) but both are very good

The KCS are great and definately a value winner....I had the ones with the original single SEAS driver but see that John now has a version using the RAAL ribbon...I bet these are great

For me, I love the Tonian's with the modified Raven ribbon and Phy drivers....just a great, musical take your mind off anything high-fi speaker...seem to me, in my system, to be less overall compromised than any other I have had or heard.

I run mine with a Berning ZH230 (the new one) and have what I think is the best sound I have gotten in my room.

I think you would do well with any of these speakers if you really pay attention to your own preferences, put them into the right system and then just enjoy the effortless, musical sound such transducers are able to convey.
Legacy HD, or some used Legacy Whispers.
I see you've gone back to the Tonians Kurt
They must sound awesome
Don't buy anything without hearing the Audio Note AN/E Spe and the Tonian models.

DeVore are very nice speakers but not really HE, and they don't sound like it. Yes a 300B will drive them but they do not give the dynamics and nuance of an HE speaker.

PHY, Supravox, and Ferting WB drivers on a simple OB can be incredible.

Beauhorns are very nice but not available new - very rare.

Fostex back horns (Cardersound, Cain) are certainly worth considering. Many prefer them to the far more expensive drivers. They are not as detailed but frequently win in the fatigue department.
Folks thanks for the many suggestions. I notice a consensus around Tonian models. Also, Devore seem to be liked by most, together with the Silverline models. This looks like a pretty good set to explore. Too bad the local dealer only carries Devore. But I will find ways to try the others.

Paulofbrecht, I am curious about the beauhorns. You seem to have tried them. I will take a listen to them in a few days (a local guy owns a pair). How do they compare to, say, the Tonian classic 8.1? Based on what I've heard about them they are technically more flawed than other HE speakers (coloration and limited extension, both high and low) but they have a magic that is addictive.

Thanks again. This is really helpful.
Yes, they are clearly some of my favorites

I forgot to mention the Audio Note earlier...I have owned the ANE/SEC silvers and they are terrific speakers as well.
Keep in mind that AudioNotes were designed to work in the corners of your room, if that's an issue for you...
Will Tonian appear at RMAF anyone?
Assuming that 96 dB meets your definition of 'high efficiency', I would strongly suggest that you look into Duke LeJeune's Audiokinesis speakers. I own his Planetarium Betas, and have found them to be quite extraordinary. The Swarm system DOES take up space, so if your listening room is tight and/or you're not willing to have 4 small boxes scattered about, you should look elsewhere. I am assuming that his slightly lower efficiency speakers such as the Jazz Modules (92 dB, $4500) are not efficient enough. If I'm mistaken in that assumption, they might make a great choice. Good luck!
I am assuming that his slightly lower efficiency speakers such as the Jazz Modules (92 dB, $4500) are not efficient enough.

That would depend on the size of the room and how loud the OP listens. I have a small room, listen to the same type of music as the OP (sans the opera), and at levels that don't exceed 90 SPL very often. I have an 8 watt SET amp that drives the Jazz Module nicely and auditioned a 10 watt solid state amp that had no problem driving them either. So a 13 watt EAR, which will play more like 8 or 9 watts with the 12 ohm Jazz Module should do fine. IMO, I think Duke understates the efficiency of his speakers. I much prefer the Jazz Module to the Planetarium series too, but that's just me.

The Tonian Lab speakers are phenomenal as well. I have the TL-D1 ($2500 these days) which is pretty much an entry level model. I can only imagine how good the upper end models sound. They do produce a lot of detail though and are extremely transparent. Not everyone's cup of tea in that respect. I doubt Tony or his speakers will be at RMAF. However, I did ask him once about a home audition and he offered 7 days with only shipping charges as my risk. If you contact Duke at Audiokinesis he will work with you as well to see if he can get you a home audition. He personally drove two pairs of speakers to my home and allowed me to listen to them before buying.
Along the lines of my earlier comment, imo the most important factor in determining the necessary speaker sensitivity is the dynamic range of the music being listened to. Meaning the difference in volume between the loudest notes and the softest notes, or perhaps more appropriately in many cases, the difference in volume between the loudest notes and the average note.

For well recorded, minimally compressed, classical symphonic music, particularly on audiophile-oriented labels, based on my experience 95db/1W/1m would be an absolute minimum requirement with a 13W amplifier, with several db more than that being preferable. For most other kinds of recordings, and at typical listening distances, considerably less than that would be acceptable.

Keep in mind that a dynamic range of 30db, which is easily reached by many classical recordings, means that the loudest notes will require 1000 times as much power as the softest notes.

-- Al
I'm suprised more people don't try open baffle designs when looking at HE speakers. A good open baffle speaker can provide a large soundstage similar to planars while also being tube amp friendly. You remove the coloration of having an enclosure and if you have any DIY skills OB speakers are very cost effective.
For those interested in listening to Tonian Labs I believe they are scheduled to be at the inaugural California Audio Show in Emeryville (Northern California) from July 30 - Aug 1st. I've heard about Tonian for a long time - looking forward to listening to them.
I was not unfortunately able to hear the more expensive Tonian models. I owned Beauhorns and they are very good, but pretty bandwidth-limited as you said. What they bring is smoothness missing from almost all Lowther speakers. Front-loading the drivers brings up the low-mids to eradicate the peaky mid-high mids.

You better look for the real thing. Real HE no plastic cones.There is a certain minimum point of sensitivity to deliver the nuance & dynamics and it is far beyond the 92dB.

Just for inspiration:
DIY copy of Shindo Altec 604
Lowther America BIG OPEN BAFFLE/Lowther Field Coil/Altec 416 B
Carfrae LBH copy (by creation audio)/Lowther PM7A/Goto SG116TT
Sachiko/Fostex 208 Sigma/T 90 A
Cardersound MADISON/Fostex 206E/BMS 4540

The above mentioned tweeters are a subject of an added upgrade if you feel the need for. (I do)

used Avantgarde Unos should be available in the $10K range. Full range, 103dB sensitivity; but you must be able to sit 12' away in your room.
I would also look at the Tannoy Dual Concentrics (with the pepper pot wave guide). I picked up my used Kensingtons in excellent condition for $4500 earlier this year.
Hello fellows, I just had a chance to listen to a pair of beauhorn that a local gentleman owns. I first listened to them with his electronics ($65K worth of equipment..a nice audio note SET power amp and a battery powered preamp whose brand I don't recall), and then with my own Lavardin IT. It's a very interesting speaker, the sound is palpable, 3-dimensional. It really looks like you're a few feet away from Ray Charles. Of course the extension is limited, especially the low frequencies and I did not like the use of REL subwoofers (after the first tune I asked him to diconnect them). The way he positioned the speakers made for a very intimate experience with the speaker or player or orchestra. it's an incredible experience but I probably like a more distant perspective, which can be had by simply repositioning the speakers a bit closer to the walls and the listening position a few feet farther away from them. By the way, these speakers used an optional supertweeter. I tried them both with and without the supertweeter. There is some difference but I am not sure which option I like best. It probably varies with music. As for my Lavardin vs. Audio Note, well, it was day and night. The AN was warmer, more textured, quieter. The Lavardin was drier, more extended, leaner. Through the AN you have the impression to almost touch the players. The Lavardin puts you a bit farther back in the audience. Both of them did very well. Which one is best is a matter of taste.
When I made my journey to RMAF listen to speakers, the primary quality I sought was the ability to make me forget about the system and focus entirely on the music.

The speakers had to disappear, and they had to free me from critiquing the sound reproduction.

I made my purchase decision when I found a speaker that did this better than the others.
If It were my money I would move KCS up to top position in your speaker hunt.
For the money you are wanting to shell out I think you would be hard to pressed to find better than one of JohnK's offerings from a bigger loudspeaker manufacturing concern.I have a pair of KCS Oris 150's bought as cheap as chips on here, the previous owner of my 150's I beleive had a pair of Avantgarde Trio's prior and I beleive he prefered the KCS 150's, and at a fraction of the cost new. I have personally not heard any of the Avantgarde range of speakers.
Gawdbless thanks for your suggestion. I haven't heard a single person criticize the KCS's, ever, which means they're really good. I have two extra-audio issues with them. First, I don't like their standard look (while many other speakers in this niche are prettier to my eyes). Second, I am not sure what their resale value is. From this standpoint, a more mainstream brand should be a safer bet.
I would suggest building your own, I just did it and could not be happier. There is a designer and a cabinet builder I can put you in touch with. Here is the designers site, mine are pictured through the link.

These are my actual speakers driven easily with 30 watts.
Ggavetti, I can understand where you are coming from, but for me personally a speaker is a speaker and they ain't pretty,lol. I would go for sound quality everytime rather than the look of a speaker, or its resale value on the used market, I mean you could very well end up with something not as good as a speaker made with a personal touch just because it holds a better 2nd hand value than a non mass produced piece of kit?! If on the other hand you bought a 2nd hand pair for the price of a bag of chips you could/should be able to recoup what you paid if you decided they were not for you in the end. No loss. Result.
Then again there is always a plethora of reasonably priced lovely sounding gear on here, either way buying wisely should mean a lossless investment.
Let us know what route you decide to go.
You can never go wrong with Coincident Technologies. The Gallo 3.5 Reference at $6K is also excellent. The new Vaughn Cabernet at $8500 may be the best speaker south of $10K--heck, might be the best up to $15K.


I think it would be important if you first stated what YOU consider "high efficiency" to be.

Is it 92dB and up with a high stable impedance curve?
Is it 95dB and up?
Is it 100db and up?
I just received a pair of Beauhorn Virtuoso cabs and installed "new" DX4's. I am using Tempo Electric's single solid-core pure silver speaker wire, also "new". The Beauhorns are rated @ 106 and were purchased for, and soon to be, used with SET 45's, but currently powered by Heathkit SA3 (3) watts per channel. In a temporary small apartment setting, I've had volume set to 1/3 max. While not yet broken in, I am enjoying the heck out of these!! I am invited to listen to Musical Affairs Grand Crescendo's...w/12" PHY coaxial's, @97 rating? A very interesting theory behind thier cabinet design. They are above your $$ limit as new, tho. I second the suggestion of speaking with JohnK.
'I am invited to listen to Musical Affairs Grand Crescendo's...,"

I also think these are interesting speakers. Please come back and share your thoughts with us.
I for one like the Essence. It took me three weeks of playing with toe-in and position from the rear wall, but they sound fantastic in my room. I'm told they suck compared to the Zu Soul Superfly. That may be true.

I can also offer 3 other options. My Triangle Celius esw's were unbelievable in my old house where I had them on a long wall setup in a larger space. They did not sound that great in my new listening space which demanded a near-field setup. Triangle's aren't for everyone, but if it is a good fit you will IMMEDIATELY know. My wife is still angry with me for selling them. BC Acoustique is another manufacturer that horn loads their tweeters.

Also consider WLM La Scala Monitors or floorstanders. Truly an exceptional all-around speaker with the benefit of a level control for the tweeter. I persoanlly like my Zu's better, but the La Scala's were much smoother with less coloration. Audition the La Scala floorstander. I suspect you will end your search there.

Finally, don't overlook the new series of Klipsch La Scala. Sam Tellig bought his review pair.

I have heard the Devore Gibbon 8s and they are excellent. At the lower end of your price range, I own Omega Super 8 XRS single drivers that can be had for $3500 new. These excel at vocals and small jazz and other instruments. I recently heard the new Horning speakers and must say that they were the best I have heard with SET yet. Outstanding dynamics, effortless sound. I heard the Eufrodite model but the smaller Aristotle version should have similar characteristics and is under 10k.
Thought Sam returned the Klipsch
Please take a look my HAS crossowerless Bache Audio
Phalen, (others) Musical Affairs Grand Crescendo's. We listened to PC music source through a Leben CS-660 integrated 22 watt amplifier, which is really nice itself, and provided more than enough umph! I'm not at all versed in giving reviews, but I can't imagine anyone with complimentary amplifiers etc, not being ultra satisfied with these! The only thing I didn't like about them....they weren't mine!
Vaughn Loudspeakers Zinfandel or the Cabernet. Absolutely fantastic full range high efficiency speakers with a benign load. Ideal for SET amps. Also works with any type of amps.
I am presently using the Zinfandel in my system driven by the Symphonic Line RG1 amp and the sound is gorgeous. It uses the fostex driver, ribbon tweeter and a 12" bass diver.
Thank you Isochrnism. I know that there is no substitution for an audition but one of the shortcomings that single driver speakers seem to be labeled with is that the do a relatively poor job of reproducing dynamics and complex passages. Did you listen to any challenging music e.g., large scale orchestra?
One of my friend's favorite references is Stravinsky Rite Of Spring w/ Valery Gergiev Kirkov Orchestra. I was VERY impressed, to say the least.