Bookshelf to replace Martin Logan Source


Looking to replace a pair of Martin Logan ESL 'Source' speakers with a bookshelf set that can deliver similar sound quality with wider/taller dispersion. Trying to reduce the clutter and footprint (towers and subwoofer), and improve sound field. System will be powered by NAD C388 (with BloOS2i MDC) - once I figure-out how to get all the various firmware updates done and app to recognize it (wow NAD setup is unfriendly - compared to Denon).

Tried:
  • B&W FPM4 = Used these as computer monitors for years. They have terrific mids/highs, but require a sub.
  • Elac Debut2.0-6.2 = Great value (not on-par with FPM4 or Debut2), now in the garage system - replaced Micca...
  • Micca MB42X - also a good value, but these weren't intended to compete with ML - they were purchased for near-field computer speaker duty, and later moved to garage (prior to Elac). 
  • SVS Ultra Bookshelf = Had high-hopes for these, and they do play low along with good mid/highs, but they sound like old rotary phone speakers compared to ML Source.
  • Auditioned Golden Ear Aon3 side-by-side with SVS Ultra Bookshelf in a store recently, and couldn't immediately tell which I preferred, so likely Aon3 will compare similarly to UltraBS against ML's. Even though I'm a GE fan (Triton3+ in the HT system), Aon3 is a non-starter.
Next, I'd like to try Buchardt S400 (rated down to 33Hz), reviews say they are very good - especially bass and dispersion. One YouTube review I watched even mentioned 'ESL sound'.

Are there any other bookshelf possibilities in the sub-$2000 range that might be close to ESL? Oddly enough, think the biggest hurdle is bass. They don't need to have the 'magic' mid/highs of ESL's (I'd be very surprised to find that), but they need bass equal to Source (which are not especially noteworthy - for towers).

SVS UltraBS fall short on bass. I could leave the sub there, but with a sub the B&W FPM4's actually have better mid/high than SVS. Guess I'm looking for outstanding bass and mid/highs on-par with UltraBS and FMP4's.

Any bookshelf recommendations in the sub-$2000/pr range are appreciated!
4ada4c9d fd62 4401 b586 6a12f87037a6mwatsme
Eminent Technology LFT-16A.
If you ditch the MLs I believe you will eventually regret it.
+1 mazian    think real hard
I have no firsthand listening experience with the NAD C388. However, I do own a NAD C375BEE. Different from the 388 which is digital instead of analog. Without knowing the differences in these two amps this is what I have learned about my NAD experience......
After buying the 375 I tried it with some of the speakers I had as well as some at dealers' showrooms. Brands were Klipsch, KEF, Focal, Dynaudio, and some others. When paired with the NAD amp none could compete with PSB speakers. NAD and PSB were once sister companies. Again...I'm comparing bookshelf models.
Now, I use my NAD with a pair of PSB Imagine B's. I like the sound. I also use a pair of subs since my room is on the large size but without the subs the sound is still good. If looking at PSB bookshelves the only step up would be a pair of Synchrony 1B's. I would like to find a nice pair of those just to see how much better they sound compared to the Imagines. Just my opinion. Trust your ears.

Watkins Generation Four

I was listening to several ML .

The ML have a smaller sweat spot.
Do the 14 day trial.
Re: the Buchardt S400, note that the frequency response spec specifies +/- 3dB "in room".  So this measurement was probably taken with the speakers close to the front wall in a room of their choice.  If you look at the anechoic response curve, 33 Hz is more like the -10 dB point.  

I have a pair of the S400s on order, and will try to remember to post my in-room measurements when I get them.
Have you auditioned the Martin Logan Motion 15s? Great sound. I’m selling a pair with upgraded dark cherry cabinets. PM me if you’re interested. Also, the Revel Performa3 m 106 are worth a listen.
Quad Z-2's might be just what you are looking for. Best in class at $2k price range.
You have written the contradiction yourself. Bookshelf Speaker: Where's the bass?

IMO, get the best choice for mids, highs, imaging, and listen for a month without a subwoofer. 
BUT, have a sub location in mind, and have a sub in your budget.

My B&O bookshelf speakers died. I have a Velodyne powered 12" sub I used with them.

Hopped about like a cricket, chose a pair of Bowers and Wilkins DM100i.
http://hificollector.blogspot.com/2010/02/speakers-b-dm100i.html

Love them. I thought, they don't really need the sub, listened for a while, very happy. Then, why not, tried the sub, added just a touch more bass extension, just a touch, but now I would miss it.

They sound so good I re-arranged my office for perfect stereo imaging triangle. Previously I used balance control to adjust for slightly off center position. Goodby file cabinet, new keyboard shelf, built new suspended shelf to hold pc, dvd, back up drive, so glad I did. 

No matter what speakers you get, consider how ideal your listening position is.
that sub is overkill, I just had it.
Thank you all for your recommendations! Investigated all and have the following comments:

bdp24, thank you for recommending Eminent LFT-16A. The look really appeals to my (science experiment) design sensibilities (looks like something I would build). Also a fan of alternative driver technologies (getting away from domes). Price is good. Seems best matched with warm electronics (not sure where NAD C388 is on warm/bright scale) to offset their bright tendencies, combination of 8ohm and low sensitivity is not ideal (this could be argued otherwise). Ultimately, for me - a contender, but not top of the list.
Eminent LFT-16A: 8 ohm 3-way, 85dB/1w/1m, +/- 4dB 45Hz - 20kHz

grinnell, thanks for Ref 3A de Capos (currently MM de Capo BE) recommendation. These are interesting, made me think about the idea behind sloped front bezel (not uncommon) for correct time alignment.
-Random thoughts:
Doesn’t that also make the drivers slightly off-axis? Wouldn’t it be better to back-set the tweeter relative to the mid/bass and maintain correct axis? Maybe ’pointing’ the tweeter apex up above direct line of listener’s ears helps reduce sharpness (alternate form of apex dampening). This would likely be particularly beneficial with beryllium.
-End random thoughts.
The 8.25" mid/woofers have no crossover, and I like that (fewer/simpler crossovers the better), reviews agree - they play deep, on the expensive side. They answer the difficult request for bass from a bookshelf.
Ref3a MMdeCapoBE: 8 ohm 2-way, 92dB/1w/1m, +/- ?dB 42Hz - 40kHz

jrpnde, recommends PSB Imagine B. Another great-looker, really like the rounded cabinet. Favorable spec’s, well under $1,000/pr, everything to like.
PSB ImagineB: 8 ohm 2-way, 89dB/1w/1m, +/- 3dB 55Hz - 23kHz

DavidGWillett, I never heard of Watkins, and the Gen4’s seem like a great choice. Reading through the website, really like what they’re doing - focused specifically on 2-way bookshelf, with an abundance of recent awards for their efforts. 1st-order crossovers with only high-pass capacitors (no coils or resistors = simpler crossover, same a Ref3a deCapos above) is good. Spec’s say they play low.
Watkins Gen4: 8 ohm 2-way, 88dB/1w/1m, +/- 2dB 41Hz - 20kHz

plinytheelder, Martin Logan Motion 15 is interesting because I’m a ML fan (besides ESL Source, HT is made-up of dual SLM-XL as center-channel, 4 ML CI-** in-ceiling). It reminded me of a forgotten contender, ML 35XT, which I had mean to investigate. So glad you mentioned ML! 35XT is step up from Motion 15, so consider 35XT. Revel m103 are -3dB @ 59Hz... don’t extend low compared to others in this group.
Martin Logan 35XT: 4 ohm 2-way, 92dB/1w/1m, +/-3dB 50Hz - 25kHz

sixsigmaguy, Quad Z-2, now those are beautiful cabinets! Nice and curvy with an expensive-looking finish. Big ribbon tweeter (sound like ESL) and carbon fiber (light and rigid) mid/bass. Sensitivity is low.
Quad Z-2: 8 ohm 2-way, 84dB/1w/1m, +/-3dB 50Hz - 20kHz

elliottbnewcombjr, recommending B&W DM100i, those are some ugly speakers. I have mixed feelings about B&W that haven’t quite come to grips with yet - they challenge my basic musical preference (what sounds good to me?). Audiophile types will say something like "You either like surgical accuracy, or warm rolled-off highs." Then there is the term "neutral" floating around. Some speaker brands signature voicing is bright, while others are warm - as intended for their customer base. B&W tends to be on the bright side of neutral. I think this is because of the hard-dome tweeters that produce surgical accuracy, and occasionally (to some people’s ears) a piercing sharpness. This makes them fatiguing to listen to for long periods. On the other side of the spectrum is something like ML ESL’s, which are warmer with ’rolled-off’ highs (some call ’natural-sounding’). I have a set of FPM4’s on the optional table stands, and have been using these (along with a sub) for 2-channel music. They have become my reference set for others (Elac D2-6.2 and SVS Ultra) to be judged against. Over the years, I have always considered them too sharp, and at times have hated their sound. Hated it enough to replace them with ML SLM-XL’s in the HT (that’s how they ended-up in the 2-channel room). But comparing them to newcomers, (with a sub) they sound very good. This has made me realize why some people like the accuracy - because you hear more detail... detail missing when other speakers are playing the same track. Whenever I’ve demo’d B&W in a store, they always sound too sharp (same as DefTech), same as horns always sound like horns to me and I lose interest. So while I’ll say I prefer hearing the details, and FPM4 are better at that than SVS Ultra BS, another aspect is the sharpness that can sometimes be painful from those hard dome tweeters. Think my best bet is to stay true to what I know works for me - no hard domes, no horns, no size large t-shirts (they’ll always be too tight after the first washing - how many times have I re-learned that lesson).

Thanks everyone for the recommendations! So far order of interest is:

Watkins Gen4 $2500/pr: 8 ohm 2-way, 88dB/1w/1m, +/- 2dB 41Hz - 20kHz
Ref3a MMdeCapoBE $?/pr: 8 ohm 2-way, 92dB/1w/1m, +/- ?dB 42Hz - 40kHz
Eminent LFT-16A $1250/pr: 8 ohm 3-way, 85dB/1w/1m, +/- 4dB 45Hz - 20kHz
Martin Logan 35XT $1,000/pr: 4 ohm 2-way, 92dB/1w/1m, +/- 3 dB 50Hz - 25kHz
Quad Z-2 $2550/pr: 8 ohm 2-way, 84dB/1w/1m, +/-3dB 50Hz - 20kHz
I agree with elliotbnewcombjr about bookshelfs and bass. As being hooked on electrostats, I have ML Source in bedroom system, and like them a lot, including bass w/out subwoofer.

Recently on an impulse bought Emotiva B1 bookshelf still on discount for just $229/pr., planning to eventually use them for desktop or basement system. The folded ribbon tweeters are very ESL like. Very nice clear and detailed mids and highs, in some ways more satisfying than ML Source. Dispersion differs resulting in somewhat better imaging than the "smearing" effect known for ML ESLs.

That would leave you $1700 or so for an amazing sub to cover the bass. Or get some ML Motion 15 or LX16 or 35XT whatever (not heard any but similar folded ribbon tweeter as Emotiva). Two ML LX16 would be $480 leaving $1500 for sub. Or Quad S-2 with $1K left for subwoofer.

As a bass fan, I would get a sub for any bookshelf system. Personally I would probably try the 92db sensitive LX16, an $800 sub like ML Dynamo 800x, and have the remainder for a class A EL34 or similar tube amp, and you would have some realistic full range music. Or stick with NAD class D if you are happy with it.

Some years ago I replaced the power amp side of my older NAD integrated with a primaluna 36W/channel power amp and my 90 db ML Sources really came alive.
Following up.

I did try the ML LX16, very affordable, didn't compare favorably with other bookshelves in the stable at the time (SVS, Elac, B&W, Buchardt), they did sound better than Micca. The cabinets were beautiful, and I really liked the grills (cat-proof). To me, LX16 (and the entire line of Motion) sound like the cabinets are made too thin or not braced enough internally - resulting in cabinet resonance. I always hear the cabinets when listening to ML box speakers, and LX16 is same.

Also tried Buchardt S400, and those are wonderful speakers. They compare favorably to SVS Ultra Bookshelf. After extensive A-B between SVS and Buchardt, decided the high frequency detail and much lower cost of SVS gave them the win.

Then I abandoned the search for best bookshelf and purchased $120 pair of Polk T50. They are essentially a two-channel bookshelf with two passive radiators added to form a mini tower. I'd never heard Polk, and the price was right for demo. The little towers sound awesome, easily besting all (even ML electrostats). For a small to medium-size room - they must be the best bargain ever. Soundfield is wide, detail is there, bass is adequate, tonal quality is outstanding. I have them setup next to ML Source, and occasionally A-B switch between them. If you hold your head just right, Source sounds a little more 'airy' and fuller midrange, but T50 sound great everywhere in the room and without rolled-off highs.

Polk T50, inexpensively bests many others. They have become my reference set for 2-channel listening without a sub. Second place goes to SVS Ultra Bookshelf due to value - you could buy eight pair of T50 for the cost of one SVS pair.