best speakers for vocals?

Hi, I was wondering what people's thoughts are on speakers that are best for vocal centric music? I am looking for speakers that are best at reproducing vocals, especially female in the most lifelike, 3-dimensional, airy, emotional manner. I am trying to recreate a lifelike, live show, front row sound. To this end, I prefer a speaker that can create a holographic soundstage with a palpable vocal sound with some weight.

I listen mainly to jazz, pop, adult contemporary, down tempo.

My budget is < $15,000.
Green Mountain Audio speakers do voice scary well! In fact, they do everything scary well. Many times I have thought that sounds I was hearing in cd's or movie sountracks were outside because speakers cannot sound that real, right? Wrong. I recently ordered the first pair of the new Calypso's and am eagerly awaiting their delivery.
I would have three personal favorites within your budget/listening preference parameters. One's just out, one is tried and true, and one is venerated vintage. Each different from the others in physical size and system requirements, but all with one thing in common: they're electrostats.
Nothing comes close to electrostats in these areas.Once you live with them for a while you come to realise how tonally wrong and box bound dynamic speakers sound.
Other than that the Edgar midrange horns are pretty good and if you really want box speakers the modern day derivatives of the BBC designed monitors [like Harbeth and Spendor] come closest.Also adding ribbon super tweeters to pretty much anything adds "air".
Artists such as Alison Kraus,Eva Cassidy,Mary Black,Frances Black,Mindy Smith,Casey Chambers are good tests for this.Many speakers kill the vibrato in their voices.

Merlins....very clear and real...
I agree with Songwriter72 on this one. I own the Green Mountain Audio Callisto which are way under your budget. Live sound with voice like the band is right in front of me. Friends say the band is here. You could easily move up the GMA line. Give Roy Johnson a call at GMA.
Thanks everyone. My only problem with electrostats are their size and lack of bass...granted i have only heard the martin logans. but i agree the sound is crystal clear. one thing though, i did not find electrostats be as warm and emotional and I would have preferred. am i wrong?
The original Quad 57s. Nothing else, except maybe the big Soundlabs or the Beveridge, come even close.
I must disagree with Jtgofish - I have owned many speakers over the years. Electrostatics (Martin Logan CLS, Quad 57's, Quads 63's) and heard many others. Also owned ribbons (big Apogee Scintilla) and planars. I have come to the conclusion that great dynamic speakers sound the most real.
I really cannot say what the best speakers for vocals are. There is no correct answer given all the system and room variables. There are so many things out there and everyone has such varied tastes. However, I can say that the Verity Parsifal Encores were spooky real on voices. However, I do not think it will do everything you are looking for (not as dimensional and airy as some).
Audition a pair of Spendor S 3/5's (originals, not the se version)with some medium powered tube gear and you will be amazed.
I second Merlin.
Pro Ac Response 3.8 is just like that... except for the front row.
YOu would love horn speakers.
Aside from the modern horn speakers,
Highly recommend the vintage Jensen G and CX and EV TRXB coaxial speakers from the late 50s to early 60s.
Very sweet highs and good bass too.
The only thing you should keep in mind is build your own or finding the cabinet for these timeless drivers.

There is at least one electrostat that goes pretty deep in the bass.

I have several customers who have measured their SoundLab A-1 or M-1 speakers as having an in-room -3 dB point somewhere in the lower 20's (lower than the factory claims), and I've witnessed similar measurements. I would say their tonal balance is on the warmish side - their frequency response is gently downward-sloping rather than being "flat". But, they are quite large - no getting around that one. When I wrote to you I didn't realize size was an issue.

Best of luck with your quest,

Sonus Faber Extrema speakers have the most incredible (midrange) vocals you'll ever hear.
Tboooe, check out the new ML Summits. Modest in size with unbelievable bass system. The first ML hybrid stat w/ its own sub amp, so you can drive the panel w/ a tube amp as it should be. 10K new or $7.5K used. What more could you ask? Lots of good reviews on the Gon now.
Tboooe, I'm somewhat surprized that no one mentioned MG-20.1's or MG-3.6's, depending on your room size, they offer exactly what you are looking for sonicly, with the type of music you listen to.

Sounds like you want a good mid-range driver.

Try a google search for "renowned soft dome mid-range"
Harbeth may not give you the front row perspective you seek, but I think they do vocals spectacularly well. There's a human-ness, a real-life-voicebox quality to singers, which I have not heard to the same degree with other speakers. But many other good recommendations above.
If size is an issue, then the Merlin VSM-MXs already recommended are definitely ones I would recommend you look at as well (very nice all-around speaker at $10K/pr., IMO). I also liked the GMA speakers a lot (I heard the Callistos) and can recommend them as well, but I preferred the Merlins (which cost considerably more).

If size is not as much an issue as I think it is, then there are some others that I can easily recommend along with the previously mentioned speakers above...

The Tyler Acoustics Woodmeres at $12K/pr. would be a good choice... They are large, but do not take up a huge amount of floor space (more tall than deep) and sound very good all-around, particularly on female vocals.

Finally, my personal favorites are just outside your price range new (18.2K/pr.), but easily within it used... They are the McIntosh XRT-28s. Like the Woodmeres, they are tall and a tad wide, but not particularly deep floorstanders that play female vocals *very* well. Allison Krauss sounds phenominal on them, BTW.

Quad electrostats or Harbeths are the best I've heard for vocal reproduction.
Try Silverlines with a good 300B based SET amp...Viva, Art Audio,etc. Absolutely spooky real on female vocalists.
The 300b valve is another important ingredient to consider.These struggle to drive many speakers though-certainly most stats.The alternative is to use a 300b preamp like the Supratek Cabernet.

there are hundreds in your pricerange. the female voice is not the best way to audition speakers. some favor certain frequencies often sound great with female vocals ....put on something a little complicated and the tone and weight of instruments just isn't there.
Wilson Benesch ACT speakers. Current model.

You won't be disappointed.

Plus they have a great WAF.
I know for sure if I could (had the money) their top of the line products would grace my house.
If high volume levels are not required, try the Merlins (mine are VSM SE) with a 300b set amp. I used the Cary monoblocks. This is the best vocal reproduction I've ever acheived and I've owned (or still own) a bunch of the speakers listed on this thread (including the Verity, Maggies (3.5) and Silverline Sonatina). While I'd still choose the Parsifal Encore overall, the Merlins are hard to beat for vocals, IMHO.

Another interesting way to go is to choose one speaker for overall performance and add a second, limited bandwith pair for vocals. Some of the single driver or minimalist crossover designs (e.g. deCapo MM) acheive excellent mid band performance at modest cost by trading away performance at the edges. On the theory that no single design does all things best, your budget would put ca. $2500 toward these and would still leave app. $12,500 for a pair of very dynamic full range speakers of your choosing.
I will add JM Labs Alto Be.Vocals actually sound better than on their bigger brothers.
Piega C-10 Limiteds with a Mcintosh 402 Amp will put you in "lolla land." A lot of good suggestions on this thread-have fun...brent
As a former owner of SF Extrema/Guarneri, B&W 802N, Merlin VSM, Dynaudio Confidence 5, Wilson Watt/Puppy (and many others), current owner of SF Amati & Cremona, my personal favorite for vocal is....

Dynaudio Consequence & Confidence 5.

Like electrostatis, secret lies in crossover, or lack of. Most 2 or 3 way speakers cross at vocal range and we all know what crossover can do to sound. Both speakers use midrange dome which covers vocal range without nasty crossover, the whole range is covered by one driver. Both speakers deliver real world bass unlike electrostatic. But penalty of either speaker is efficiency, <85db due to isobaric woofer design.
I think the best vocal reproduction I've heard were from a pair of Apogee Stage speakers...not much in the way of weight though as the bass was only around 40hz... or less.

If you have an small listening room, try the Rogers LS3/5 15 ohms version.
They are wonderfull with tube amplifier.
Although the speakers, for vocals you must use Tube amplifier.
Electrostatic and Planar speakers are great for vocals but you need big and good listening room.
Semi,What you say about dome mids is true tonally.Unfortunately this does not translate to really good imaging though.I have used many domes and none of them have well focussed imaging.Cones and stats are much better in this regard.The Edgar Mid horn uses a Dynaudio D54 and this changes dispersion patterns[not to mention sensitivity],which improves imaging.These have negligable"horn" colourations if the horn is sand damped.

Jean-Marie Reynaud.
I've heard everything else available in N.Z.
Nothing compares.
Reynauds are warm, emotional, immediate, tonally accurate and wonderful with vocals and acoustic instruments
Thanks everyone...great speakers and many I have never even heard of. I am looking forward to hopefully auditioning all of these. Unfortunately, some like the Wilson Benesch are not readily avaiable in my area...I have heard the Sonus Faber and they do sound very nice, warm and relaxed. Based on all of the responses here, I will give the electrostats especially the ML Summits another thorough listening.

Thanks again. Keep the recommendations coming.
Old Apogee Stages. Anyone agree?
I'll chime in to support those who have suggested Spendor and Harbeth speakers. Both are well known for their ability to bring life to female vocal recordings. That is one of the things that I love about my Spendors.

I have listened to electrostats and I never really liked them, although perhaps my opinion would change were I to live with a pair for a while. I am not bashing 'stats by any means, it's just that (to my ears) they are missing some sort of warmth that dynamic speakers possess.
My 2 favorites (and I own both, so my bias is clear), though very different are Sonus Faber Electa Amator II's (romantic), and JM Lab Micro Utopia (not as warm, but oh so refined and smooth).
I got the Reynaud Orfeo and you are right, Reynauds are warm, emotional, immediate, tonally accurate and wonderful with vocals and acoustic instruments.
But I also got the KEF 201 and if you want to focus on Vocals, nothing beats the KEF 201 reference
Martin Logan Summits are far and away one of my favorites. Others to consider are Vandersteen 5a, SF Cremonas, Magnepan 20.1, BW802D, Usher Dancer Be10, Wilson Sophia, JM Labs 1027Be.

Long time reader, never posted. Have had a variety of high end low end systems, TL's, electrostatics, several variants of the LS3/5A and clones (KEF CS2, KEF CS2A), the LS5/12A, several different Monitor Audio (Studio 2, Studio 20, Studio 12).

My wife has a hearing issue and as such has difficulty with listening to the news on a radio and TV. Last year I build some "Metronome's" ( first with the Fostex FF125Wk and later with the FF105WK. Now no other speaker will do. Imaging is superb. Drawback is that complex orchestra's and high sound levels are not its strength. I much prefer the FF105WK version (the FF125WK was just put together as a test box but my wife does not let me make them in a more final version - afraid I'll spoil the "magic" for her).

If we had the space them I would make a larger one with the Fostex FF165WK.
7 year old thread.
Sorry, I didn't read all answers, so my apologize if I repeat some.

May be the speaker is not the only thing to consider. Interest of some speakers comes from the amplifier that you can use, as SET ones.
If you want something "plug and play" and compact, you can consider a full audio note system.
If you have more space dedicated to the hifi usage and if you are able to put the hands in the machine, you can have a look on old Klipschorn or Altec speakers.

I still have in mind a wonderful session, 50s jazz, all mono, with SET amps and voice of theater. It was just great.

But the amp is a big part of the sound!

Old thread, good topic!

I find often when vocals are clear and easy to understand, the rest is pretty good as well.

Vocals are a great test in that one knows when the words can be understood or not, since people themselves and not some foreign device designed by people are the instruments. Plus the human voice is a fairly broad range instrument compared to most others I believe.

Its much more cut and dry than assessing most other attributes of good sound.

Good clear vocals are a very good omen for good sound overall I think.

I have heard a lot of variation in ability to deliver vocals clearly using different gear in my system.

Best speakers for vocals of the ones I own and use often:

1) OHM walsh
2) Triangle Titus
3) Dynaudio Contour 1.3mkII

All are pretty good but some better than others.

I find I like speakers that crossover at higher frequencies in general best for coherent and understandable vocals. OHM and Triangle do this. REf3A is another I can think of that I recall takes that approach as well. Most good quality single full range drivers should do an excellent job as well but overall frequency bandwidth would likely be more limited.

Others may do well also but there is a lot that can go wrong when crossovers come into play in the primary frequency range of the human voice.
from Stereo Times review.- click here!

“it would be difficult for any speaker to equal the mid-bass articulation and tonality of the Grand Tetons and most speakers, even some highly touted models, don’t even come close.”

Human voice = Horn speaker. Period!
Seven years and he is still looking! Hey some guys take their time!
Hey great to see this topic pop back up! Yogiboy, I am indeed back in the market for speakers. Admittingly I am a Sonus Faber fanboy, having lived with the Cremona Auditors for a while. I still very much love these speakers but I will be moving these to my bedroom so I want to upgrade for my main system. Right now I am leaning towards Sonus Faber Memento. I hear SF is moving away from their traditional house sound and towards a more detailed presentation. I need to verify this with a listening session of the Evolution. I have also auditioned the Raidho C1 which is a fine, clear speaker but I feel like it was missing that midrange magic. The search continues.
Tboooe,Did you ever give Harbeth or Spendor a listen? If you like vocals these are the ones!
I still believe electrostats are (or a qualified "can be") the most accurate sound reproducer -- with some of the best horns, domes, and air-motion devices coming very close.

The 'qualification' with respect to 'stats', is they MUST be driven with a tube amplifier in order for them to deliver a 'complete' signal. One whose weak and tiny (but very necessary) nuances have not been lost in the "cracks" of a typical (solid state) push-pull amplification circuit.

Electrostatics are SO articulate/accurate/analytical/revealing (or whatever adjective you want to use) that when driven by (except the very best) solid state amps, they render EXACTLY what they receive from a solid state gain stage: an audio signal with a few "missing parts", including much of the low-level 'micro detail' which is responsible for harmonics, timbre, and overtones -- the stuff that makes reproduced sound believable to our brains; and which combine as sound waves in air to help create the audio 'hologram' we call 'soundstage'.

Even though it's a little off-topic here, I feel I should explain WHY (very genrally speaking ;~) tubes seem to be better than transistors at 'preserving' an audio signal: it is in fact because of a tube's SHORTCOMING as an 'electrical valve' - it is slow to turn on and off (like a light bulb.) And so there is some 'overlap' as one tube (of a pair) hands the signal off to the other tube. Transistors by contrast, are extremely high-speed devices which turn on and off instantaneously -- and if a pair of gain stage transistors are not PERFECTLY (and laboriously) matched, there will be a little time 'gap' as one hands off the signal to the other, where some subtle parts of the signal will be lost.

Unfortunately, many audiophiles believe that electrostatic speakers require gobs of current (NOT) and so drive them with huge solid state amplifiers. Thus missing out on the enormous pleasure their electrostatic speakers could provide! They need only stop and remember that the amazing Quad 57 was, from the very beginning, driven with a low-powered tube amps. Later on, no solid state amp has ever been able to improve their amazing ability to reproduce the human voice.

Thanks for your kind indulgence ;~)
Chiming in 9 years since the original post, I must put in a vote for Harbeth. A couple of weeks ago, I went over to a distant relative's house, who was clearly not an audiophile, but just as clearly had money and was advised by someone who knew their stuff. I don't know which model, as I'm not a Harbeth kind of guy. They were a large stand mounted model, maybe HL5 or 30.1? Front end looked like Musical Fidelity all the way. The music itself was some female vocal work that I neither knew nor cared about. Nonetheless, I was stopped in my tracks. I'd never heard such eerie, downright spooky vocals. Confession: I'm an entry-level kind of guy, but I've had some decent gear through the years (the usual suspects - ProAc, Thiel, Snell, Ref3A, SF, etc.). These Harbeths made me wonder how I could have been so far away from lifelike vocals. I guess it's because I always wanted a slew of specs before I gave a speaker a listen. Harbeths don't look good on paper, because of their price to performance. Not good value. But these sounded beyond anything I've heard. I'd love to hear about any "poor man's Harbeth's" if anyone out there has any.