Can you tell me why I didn't like the Reference 3a MM's?

So I recently asked about a new amp on the Amplifier forum.  I got a lot of good advice and ended up with a Pass XA25.  I really like this amp and the sound.  I have been told by Reno Hi Fi, Pass Labs and B&W, all of whom I contacted, that the XA25 is under-powered for my B&W 705S2 speakers.  But it sounds very good.  However a little flat when the volume is low.

So I am looking for some more efficient speakers.  I tried a used set of Reference 3a deCapo MM's, but they did not have the clarity of the B&W's and sounded a bit muddy at times.

I am looking at Omega Super Alnico HO's.  But I am wondering if the full range driver sound is what I didn't like.  

Am I wrong in thinking more efficient speakers will sound somewhat better at a lower volume?  Can you possibly tell my why I didn't like the MM's?  Something about their design or build?

Any thoughts on the Super Alnico HO's?  I don't want to move down the speaker sound chain.

Thanks much!  Any other speaker suggestions welcome!  But not horns.  I am not a Klipsch fan.
How about the speakers from ZU Audio?  They are very efficient and just may be the ticket to happiness. 
I have no experience with the de Capo MMs or with Omega speakers, but it may be relevant that according to measurements of the BE version of the de Capo performed by the National Research Council of Canada their sensitivity (86.7 db/2.83 volts/1 meter) is considerably lower than their 92 db specification, and is only about 1 db greater than the sensitivity the same organization measured for your B&W speakers ( 85.4 db/2.83 volts/1 meter).

B&W 705 S2 measurements

Reference 3A MM de Capo BE measurements

In any event, congratulations and good luck with your purchase of the excellent XA25!


-- Al

Thanks almarg,

From what I have learned, that makes some sense to me.  Which is good, I am learning.  It's also why the MM's didn't sound any louder and perhaps even a bit less.
I have looked at the Zu's as possibility.  What about the 12 ohms impedance?  Is that an impedance to good sound with my amp?
Reference 3a seems to not always provide useful sensitivity specs. 

Small speakers with good bass extension Tend to always not be very efficient. It’s just the law of physics that you need a lot more power to get good extended bass out of a smaller package. Some do it better than others though.

Other than that I have read only good things about ref 3a speakers.
The character of the B&W speakers is pretty unique and colorful.

The amps less so. Those are more neutral.

If you like the sound as is, keep what you have. Remember that good room acoustics can make your speakers sound louder and taught.

If they won’t play loudly enough, change your amp, and consider class D solutions.


OK, who am I to give advice when I picked out my preamp and amp before choosing my loudspeakers?
Here is the conundrum. Many of us (myself included) believe that source and electronics and cabling are more important than choice of loudspeakers. This drives the other camp bat-shite crazy. That's fine, we are all entitled to our own opinions. 
My experience from 45 years in the hobby is that with everything else carefully selected, a very humble set of loudspeakers can sound amazing. On the other hand, the finest set of loudspeakers imaginable will always sound like crap fed a crappy signal. 
Sounds like I am arguing for your course of action and not against, doesn't it. Yep. I am. But now you have to choose your loudspeakers carefully. Anyone and their brother on this crazy Board can throw out suggestions for relatively efficient loudspeakers but they are all going to sound different in your room and may or may not suit your preference. Asking here for suggestions is worth maybe 5 cents and a used piece of gum. 
I happen to have spent ten great years loving a pair of B&W Matrix 805's I bought new in 1998. Your 705 S2's are basically the same loudspeaker with technological advancements. That means they image like champs and have a very pure sweet midrange but don't give you the immense wall of sound that only larger speakers can provide. For example, I remember taking the Mapleshade recording of The ARC Choir to my retailer and with the larger B&W floorstander's I heard the complete choir spookily in front of me while I could not coax the same with the 805's. have not given us a budget and you have not told us what you like in the way of speaker attributes. Every loudspeaker on Earth has strengths and weakness and character traits. No exceptions. 
My first piece of constructive advice is decide your budget and which speaker characteristics you like. Then call Galen Carol and ask him. 

I have looked at the Zu’s as possibility. What about the 12 ohms impedance? Is that an impedance to good sound with my amp?

The smaller Zu models which are 12 ohms (Omen MkII, Omen Bookshelf) are rated at 97 db/1 watt/1 meter. While the XA25’s power capability into 12 ohms will presumably be about 1/3 less than its capability into 8 ohms, that reduction should be more than compensated for by the relatively high efficiency of those speakers. But having no experience with Zu speakers I can’t comment on their sonics.

Also, as Mapman indicated small size, efficiency, and deep bass extension tend to trade off against one another. So a concern with those Zu models may be the adequacy (for your purposes) of their deep bass extension. And I would not judge that by the published bandwidth specs, in part because the bandwidth specs for those models don’t have any +/- tolerance indicated, and in part because we don’t know how much placement-related "room gain" such specs are based on.

Good luck. Regards,
-- Al

Here is the conundrum. Many of us (myself included) believe that source and electronics and cabling are more important than choice of loudspeakers.

Well this perspective is the hardest to correlate with any measurements anywhere. As some one who builds speakers and has recently gone through a few rounds of amp changes this does not align with my experience at all, but it does again show that you can train your ear/brain mechanism to ignore some signals and be sensitive to others. I see it all the time at shows.
I have good source.
Metrum Onyx with a Kitsune tuned Singxer DDC
Audioquest speaker cables - the $18ft ones
Cardas and Audioquest interconnects.
MPD on a linux Raspberry Pi
E.A.T C-Major turntable with a Black Cube phono amp.
Aric Audio Unlimited preamp
Pass XA25 amp

I had a Odyssey Khartoga. Good amp, but I felt it was my weak spot. So I got the Pass.

I really need to stick with Bookshelf, as my "listening room" is my garage and the speakers are about a foot off the ceiling and wall for protection.

What do I want? Magic! I want it all! I do have a subwoofer, B&W to compensate for low end. I want good midrange, imaging, tonal and clarity. I want to go "Wow, that sounds really good." at times. Which I have now, until I turn the volume down. But as I get older, my wife and I both tend to listen with the volume lower. Sure, I still crank it up every now and then, but that is getting further and further apart. So I am hoping/thinking that a more efficient speaker would just plain sound better at a lower volume.

Most reviews of the B&W agree, they are really good with the volume up. Maybe less so at quieter levels.

Budget - up to $4k maybe, if everyone is raving about the speakers.
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I am a bit surprised at your reaction to the Ref 3 speakers, as my experience with them is quite different than yours.  I ran a pair of de Capo i's for several years with a 35 W tube integrated (Primaluna Dialogue One), and I loved the sound.  They were very articulate IME, somewhat reminding me of electrostatics with their jump factor and delineation of musical lines (attributed to there being no crossover element on the woofer/midrange driver).  Regarding volume, one downside of the amp/speaker pairing in my system and room was that I couldn't get the volume knob up past ~10 o'clock, because things just got too loud.  This made it a challenge to get volume level just right, since the pot wasn't as finely sensitive at its lower end.

I actually tried a pair of B&W 805's in the same system/room and decideldly did not like them.  They just didn't have the life that the Ref 3's brought.  Maybe this is all about amp/speaker interaction?  Or room acoustics and positioning?
This too is priceless. What you "see at shows" is like what you see at a cheap carnival with a funny house full of mirrors. You implicitly feel the same way but condescendingly conclude that those who like what they hear at a show must be intellectually and audiologically impaired.

You missed the meaning of my last two sentences, and you have to be a very insecure person to come to that conclusion.

does again show that you can train your ear/brain mechanism to ignore some signals and be sensitive to others. I see it all the time at shows.

It is clear to me that we train ourselves in how we choose to listen to music and audio equipment. If you hear cables and amps more than you do speakers, that’s you, and it’s personal. The ear-brain mechanism is plastic and flexible enough to allow for this, I think. There are often rooms I go to where other listeners and I hear entirely different things. No where do I ascribe superiority to either approach. Buy what you like.

I will say that from what I’ve read, the average listener finds frequency response the single most important attribute. If that’s true, then for the majority the room and speaker are going to matter most. If that isn’t you, then that isn’t you.

Mr. Squires-you seem to do nothing on this Board but pontificate as though you alone have all the answers.

The mark of a true gentleman is calling them Mr. right before you say they are bloviating. That’s a class act I aspire to reach.

Be best,


Erik, it would have been easy, perhaps, for you to interpret my comments to mean that in my opinion source and electronics have a greater influence on sound character than loudspeakers, but I never said that. I only said they are ultimately more important to SQ. Put differently, I happen to agree that choice of loudspeaker has the largest effect on the character of the sound, just not the quality of the sound. 
Angelica Huston's nose might be the largest contributor to her facial character but it sure as hell does not have the largest effect on her perception as a talented actor. So to use that most unexpected analogy-I am sure-I would rather have an Angelica Huston with her mind and personality and a different nose in my cast of actors were I to be a movie director than Angelica Huston's nose on someone else who lacked her talent. Perhaps this registers with you. Perhaps not. I don't care a wit. 

I am limited on what I can do with the room.  Athough I did take a measurement with REW and and a mindsp mic.  However, I am at a loss as to how to relate that to actual room treatments.

The Aric Audio puts out a lot of gain. I have the gain almost all the way down and the volume, even with the Pass, rarely gets past 10 - 11.  It could well be amp/speaker interaction, as I was a bit surprised and disappointed myself, what will all the good reviews over the years.  Not that the sound was bad, just not as good IMHO.
As already noted, an efficient lively standmount is something of a contradiction in terms. There are ways to get around your gain problem too. 
This comment has me scratching my head;
I really need to stick with Bookshelf, as my "listening room" is my garage and the speakers are about a foot off the ceiling and wall for protection.
Protection from what? I hope you don't mean your cars! Placing your speakers only a foot from the ceiling and from the rear wall is inherently problematic. Why? Well for starters that creates a room node problem. Second, most bookshelf speakers are ported and despite their name, never sound best on a book shelf. They need to be away from floors, ceilings, and walls. I am curious as to how you have them mounted there. 
I have them mounted on holders that stick out about a foot and are down about a foot from the top of the speaker. They tilt slightly downward towards where I sit and work. 

 Protection from cars, dust, dogs, kids, flying pieces of wood from a saw.  My garage is my space generally, shared with my shop, office, wife's car nights, grandchildren, pets, tools, saws, etc.

Not the best arrangement, I know, but it's what I have and it works fairly well.  I tried the foam plugs in the ports, but the imaging dropped wayyyyy off.
I saw you only had 13 posts and I was impressed by your humble photo/avatar and figured I would try to help you out. You have a lot of very nice gear for that environment. 
With that, I'm out :-)
I think I have the solution.  Fritz loudspeakers.  I heard these driven with a 300B SET headphone amp at CAF and they were excellent.  For the Pass it will be a breeze.  Look at the Carrera and Carbon models.  Fritz also offers a home trial.  BTW, they have excellent bass extension, so you're not giving up a lot by going with standmounts.
I've been curious about Fritz speakers.  They're not as efficient as I am looking for.   Funny, they say a set amp will drive them then recommend a 30 Watt minimum
I’ve heard the Fritz off a ~ 10 watt tube  amp at a show. Not efficient but an easy load and they sounded amazingly top notch at moderate volume in a typical size hotel room. One of the best of show. I would love to pick up a pair someday.
I have a pair of the MM de capo BEs; they're very good, but I find that I slightly prefer the Wavetouch Antero.  I'm talking about in my home, all else being the same, just switching speakers.  For watching DVDs, I use a solid state preamp and amp; for serious listening, I use a PrimaLuna Dialogue Premium preamp and Dialogue Premium HP amp.  Also a pair of subwoofers (with either preamp/amp).
I have spent many years with 3A de Capos, and found that they can be quite magical with the right amplifier. I tried a Pass J2 with them, and was surprised that the J2 did not do anything special with them. I know the J2 and other Pass amps such as the XA25 have sounded fantastic with other speakers. I am guessing that the reason you were not impressed with what you heard was due to a similar amp/speaker mis-match. The 3A speakers are a very easy load for even flea-powered amps, and can sound very lively with such amps, despite their true efficiency, which as mentioned above, is actually around 88db watt/meter. 
+1 @mapman

Certainly for the price and parts, they are amazing values. I was at a show and got to talking to some lady musicians / audiophiles who recorded DSD for Blue Coast. Fritz was one of their favorite rooms.


The reason the op doesnt like what hes hearing is the lack of custom tuning. Get your crossovers custom tuned and be happy. 
Why buy another speaker when all it needs is retuning? 
I own the omega Hemps good  on some material but get taxed out and a bit peaky in the upper mids. When pushed some.
i had them with both a 70wpc tube amp
ss well as a bat 250 with bat pack 
get a good sub like a svs3000 totakeload off the amp ,and speakers will be much more at ease, the Sb 3000 model,a fantastic sub at under a grand a steal sub of the year ,it worked for my monitors  when I had the 25 watt model 6    class A pass labs.
The high, tight corner placement is likely problematic with the Ref 3A's.  I sold mine because my wife finally insisted that I put them back very close to the wall in our living room, and that was not enough for the rear porting to work.  The upper bass and lower mid's were kind of congested in this setting.  I would look for forward ported speakers or sealed enclosures, if that placement is truly fixed.

Regarding the favorable comments on Fritz speakers, I have only heard them at the shows, but they have consistently sounded quite good to me, too.  They might be worth investigating.
Jgoldrick, while it may not be practice given your listening environment, the single best thing you can do for your system is move your speakers. Some how, some way. If even temporarily to ascertain if your “issue” is actually the speaker. I’m going to go out on a limb (not a very long one) and suggest that is most of your issue listening-wise. Give it a shot if at all possible. I would argue, in that placement, very few, if any, speakers will sound truly great.
You know jbrrp, between you and almarg, I think you have both nailed it.  Lower sensitivity and speaker placement.  Makes sense.

geof3, I would love to put my speakers in a better position.  But if I do I will always be unhappy with where they are.  

So I am taking some advice and seeing if Omega and possibly Fritz can come up with a solution to my speaker placement.  See what they say.  Thanks all!
I use my de Capos with a 4 watt Decware Mini Torii in a 12 x 22 with the speakers at the back of the 22ft

plenty loud not concert loud but good full rich sound detailed life like sound with voices
I am getting excellent results driving my Bache Audio Tribeca speakers with both my Pass XA25 and my First Watt SIT-3. Very smooth midrange with detail and no fatigue, huge soundstage, and tight bass. 
Here is the conundrum. Many of us (myself included) believe that source and electronics and cabling are more important than choice of loudspeakers.

While Eric builds speakers, I manufacturer DAC, Phono, Preamp and Power Amps.  I do agree with the statement above to some degree.  I use an old pair of AR 510 model speakers.  The source to me has an impact on the tone, dimension of sound stage, clarity, etc.  The AR speakers are and old box design that are typical old speakers, nice mids, more of a muddy sounding booming bass and the tweeter in them is really a piece of crap with the typical box sound.  Inserting the new hybrid amp we built changed the sound of the speakers completely.  The sound was way out of the box.  I never heard that change before so that steers em down one path of thinking.  But then hearing the Vandersteen model Seven speakers makes me realize how much better those speakers are compared to my Vandersteen 5As.  Much more relaxed sounding, better clarity, better spacing of instruments and vocals, dimension, etc.  But the amp is a lot less that $68K speakers.

Foe monitor speakers I recently heard the Vandersteen monitors with the new sub and they sounded excellent compared to the ProAc monitors.

Happy Listening.

mapman and I were at the same show.  Call Fritz up and ask about minimum recommended wattage.  Printed specs tell only a fraction of the whole story.  For years I drove ProAc Response 2.5's with a 14watt Cary 300b, and those speakers were never listed in the usual places as SET-friendly, but they definitely were.
@jgoldrick the Unlimited can use multiple signal tubes all all different Mu, so having too much gain can easily be remedied. What tubes are you using in the signal slots (ex: 12AU7, 12AT7, 12AY7, 12AT7, 5751, etc.?
If you restricted to a placement that close to the wall then you might want to look at a front ported transmission line bookshelf like the Reynaud Bliss Jubilee. Call Bob Neill the US distributor and proprietor of Amherst Audio and see if he thinks they will work in your situation.  I own the Fritz Carrera's and they will work with the XA-25 with no problem but the bass may be a bit much that close to the wall.  But like others have said a phone call to Fritz is worth it to get his opinion. 
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Hi aricaudio

I have some 12ax7 and some 5751.  All have mu between 1450 and 1500.  Love the preamp, BTW. minimize the merry go round, I would take the advice, and try the speakers, in a more optimum position, especially for the purpose of hearing the problems a speaker will have, being 1 ft off, two reflecting surfaces ( the ceiling and back wall ), and the proper " functioning " of the speakers. Unfortunately, ime, speaker and room interaction accounts for much of what we hear, and that is the facts. Based on the current situation, an eq might be of help, as well. BTW, when was the last time you heard a pair of Klipsch. The Heresy IIIs will actually do well in your current speaker location, although, they are a bit larger than a bookshelf speaker ( I am a Klipsch guy ). Good luck, and Enjoy ! MrD.
@jgoldrick Thanks, I'm glad you're enjoying the preamp! I was just looking to help a bit regarding the "high gain" you were experiencing. The 12AX7 has an overall gain factor of 100 and the 5751 is 70, so both of these are considered high-Mu/high gain tubes. If you wanted to set the gears a bit lower and have more available range in the volume control, you can roll in a 12AT7 (gain= 60), 12AY7 (gain=45) or 12AU7 (gain=20). Best regards, Aric
I have been living with a pair of Reference 3a De Capo i speakers for 16 years the silk tweeter version.I run them on VTL tiny triodes at roughly 25 watts a side in triode mode.A marriage made in heaven.I would not blame the speaker.Its not the right match for your amp.I always choose my speaker first then do a deep dive into researching what sounds best for my taste.Tubes that dont sound to warm or Golden is my preference.Your mileage will vary.Peace
I would agree re: the Ref 3A's...the bass seems to have a bubble sound to it....ProAc makes a nice sounding speaker that you should like, the small one...the Tablette
@sounds_real_audio  I'm having trouble understanding what you mean by
"the bass seems to have a bubble sound to it".  It's not a descriptor that I have encountered before.  Could you elaborate further, please?
In my experience tube amps sound much better and more linear at lower volumes. I owned the Pass XA 30.8 and could never warm to the sound. Seemed to me like it (Pass) tried to serve too many masters and ended up not serving any very well.

I think you need to specify what version Reference 3A MM De Cappo you were listening to as they've been around since 1980! and have gone through numerous iterations of upgrades since. The latest being their 40th Anniversary edition with Beryllium tweeter, cabinet reinforcement, heavily reinforced rear and side panels, modified woofers, capacitor and wiring upgrade. I find the sound very smooth articulate, musical and non fatiguing.
That's a fair point regarding the many iterations over a long lifespan.  I have owned three versions spanning from the late 80's into the mid-00's and I never experienced bloated one-note bass, except when my wife insisted that they reside in the bookshelves in our living room.  I only sold them because the bookshelf location became non-negotiable as soon as I got my own dedicated listening room (fair enough trade!).  If you hear such bass from these speakers you aren't using them correctly, I'm guessing.
One of the problems with the older 3A MM’s is the soft dome tweeter sounds a bit wooly. This may be attributed to an inferior dome material or perhaps the 5.18uf Russian military capacitor used in the high pass crossover. A friend of mine is currently retrofitting a new pair of Morel Elite ET-338 tweeters into his De Capo i speakers. The big green Russian metal can capacitor is being replaced by an equivalent value Miflex copper foil capacitor. This should clean up the sound quite a bit. The hand coated Acuflex dome Morel tweeters from Morel sound amazing and are a tad less hot sounding than the Eminence ASD1001 compression drivers used in my Zu Omen DWII speakers. If Morel made a 97db acuflex dome tweeter, it would immediately be retrofitted into my Zu DWII’s. With regards to the impedance mismatch between Pass XA25 and the Omen DWII’s, Zu provides a guide for selecting snubber resistors to reduce any impedance mismatch. Gauging from the chart provided at the link below, perhaps a 20 to 22ohm pair of loading resistors would level up the impedance to match the Pass XA25 amplifiers 8 ohm output impedance to the 14ohm charcterisitc impedance of the Omen DWII’s. You can always call Gerrit or Sean at Zu. They are always helpful in answering any questions you may have. They are great ambassadors to this hobby!