Contemplating DEVORE SPEAKERS (and others)....LONG audition report of many speakers
Told you it was long!
I figure what the heck, some people may find all of it interesting, maybe only some, maybe none. No one forced to read it. So onward....
I've had Thiel 3.7s for several years and love them dearly. As I've mentioned in other threads, I have to downsize simply due to some ergonomic and aesthetic issues in my room - the speakers have to go partially by the entrance and so any big, deep speakers tend to get in the way.
Over the last two years or so I did a whole bunch of auditioning of many speakers over a year ago to find a replacement - Audio Note, Audio Physic, Focal, Raidho monitors, JM Reynaud, Paradigm Persona, various Revel models, Monitor Audio, Proac, Kudos, Harbeth, Joseph Audio...
I was going to give a report on all of them individually, at one point, but it's been a while so I'll just throw out some thumbnail impressions. They aren't meant to be particularly descriptive of the sound so much as brief reasons as to why I enjoyed or moved on from those speakers. I always sought the best set up achievable for an audition, but of course that's still not like being able to tune a speaker in one's own room. So caveats given, on with some brief impressions:
(I forget which exact model but it was in the "quite expensive but not impossible" zone for me)
Excellent clarity. Good impact. Nice woody tonality (as in does wood instruments like cello, stand up bass etc with a convincing tone). My main issue is that I could really hear the corner loading aspect of the sound, especially in the lower mids down. Not that the bass was incontinent per se, more that I was just aware of the way the illusion of the bigger bass and sound was being created, in terms of using wall re-enforcement.
Also, I'm a real stickler about instrumental tone and timbre. I've always found that the more room you introduce into the sound, especially in the upper frequencies, the more it will tend to cast a scrim of room sound over the timbre of voices and instruments, homogenizing the most delicate aspects of the timbre. As the Audio Notes pretty much require or are meant to use the room, this was an aspect it would seem hard to get around. (That's one reason I tend to like speakers that will work closer to my listening position).
I'm very familiar with the AP sound - have had the Virgos, Scorpios and Libra in my home and heard much of the line through the years. The Avanti was terrific, tonally neutral sounding, clear lively treble without ear piercing. And of course their magical disappearing act, which I love. But didn't have enough of the richness I'd become used to with the bigger Thiels. I suspect the larger Codex woud be killer, but they get in to the too deep/large category.
I've always found Focal to have a "look at me" sound to their tweeter. Nonetheless I often admired the rich tonality of their large speakers at audio shows. Unfortunately I never found this to transfer to their smaller stand mounted speakers. They struck me as more clinical and left me cold. Recent Audition of the Kanta 2 still had the "check out our TWEETER!" Focal sound, but was smooth and vivid enough. Unfortunately to my ears sounded too "hi-fi" with disjointed bass. My Thiels at home sounded far more organic and believable.
Listened to the tiny X1s which were remarkable performers for their size. Super clear, clean, open, killer soundstaging, good snap on drums - represented Joe Morello's solos on Brubeck at Carnegie Hall far more convincingly than any tiny speaker has a right to. Ultimately, too small.
Dealer had a killer deal on the larger C 1.2 stand mounted speakers and I had hope there. I have never, ever liked a ribbon tweeter with cones because every time I hear the discontinuity. I'd say the Raidhos are the first time I did not hear that discontinuity. So it was all that air and delicacy without the usual drawback. However, I'm thinking part of the magic for this has to do with their house curve, which isn't flat but has a "concert hall" dip in the upper mids (I think). Ultimately I tended to hear this as a coloration, a recessing of a portion of the sound. I'm used to the Thiels which at my place are phenomenally linear sounding top to bottom. So there would be percussion instruments, piano parts, and other instruments that would be more distant and subdued on the Raidhos, losing some of the realistic liveliness. I didn't really hear more detail than I was used to from my Thiels, found the sound a bit "grayed" tonally, though rich in the mids and upper bass. These things KICK in terms of upper bass presence and sound much bigger than they are. But I also found that a slightly over-bearing.
In fact, that's a problem I often have with monitor speakers. So many of them are engineered to sound bigger than they are so you don't feel like you are missing base, but the goosing of the bass to achieve this can be to my ears a bit obnoxious vs the more linear bass of a good floor standing speaker (though down lower, they can have their room problems...my Thiels do not).
JM Reynaud Offrande Supreme v2
I was very serious about these speakers. I'd been around for the initial JMR hype years ago, and heard most of their models at a local store. Always had nice tone, both incisive and warm, but a bit too far into the ever-present-coloration territory to my ears. Still, I believe the Supremes had been updated since then and I had two separate auditions at a Dealer when I was visiting Montreal.
They certainly had the JMR virtues. Super clear, almost hot high end, lively presence all around, yet somehow allied to a gorgeous warm tone. This brings in one of the things I like in a speaker - a warm tone not necessariily in the sense of a ripe lower midrange, but rather timbrally - warm in the sense that when an acoustic guitar track is played through the speaker, the signature is that of the warmth of wood, instead of the cold, electronic coloration of most systems. The JMR does this with acoustic instruments and voices. Everything with an amber or blond-wood "glow." And they definitley have a dynamic/transient/open sound that gives a feeling of musicians being right there, playing right now vibe.
Ultimately I found they were a bit biting to my ear in the upper frequencies. While the forwardness was a boon to putting musicians right in front of me, it also tended to fore-shorten depth. An always "they are here" vs "I'm transported to there" vibe. Also, the bass which was really big and deep - they are huge stand mount speakers! - was a bit on the pudgy side. But I get why people love them. If I had the opportunity I'd have liked to try them at home. (Though...maybe not. I actually don't like how they look, and REALLY don't like the JMR wood finishes).
(I believe it was the 3F). Yup, these babies are clear, clear, clear and grain free. They are balanced top to bottom and were, like the Revel, the closest to my Thiel 3.7 speakers in terms of sounding balanced from top to bottom. Drum snares, cymbals, rim hits, percussion, guitar strings etc all had a fairly riveting precision. They had an open-window into the recording studio feel on almost every track. Plus, for their size they sounded BIG, including the image sizes, depth, width of the soundstage. A tremendous speaker for the money. Ultimately I couldn't get on with their looks, at least for my room. But most important, I did find them somewhat fatiguing to listen to after a while, and a bit less organic than my Thiels. (Though I'd bet that could change for the better if set up at my home on my gear).
I'd repeat most of what I just wrote about the Paradigms. They sounded similar, though the Paradigms seemed to have a next-level sense of purity and transparency vs the Revel. And the Revels tended to sound just a bit more linear and controlled top to bottom. The Revels just sounded like really competent speakers, but didn't grab me.
Again, something about the timbre/tone I get with the Thiels (and some other speakers) have an "it" factor I don't get with the Revels.
Monitor Audio (Gold, I believe - a smaller floor stander)
I've always liked the Monitor Audio sound. My father-in-law uses a HUGE pair of Monitor Audio monitors from the 80's that still strike me as one of the best marriages of believable tone with size and richness I've heard.
I own Monitor Audio bronze monitors for various uses, including home theater surrounds. Though I found once they moved to the Platinum line, with ribbons, the tone became a bit too bleached for my comfort.
The smaller Gold line still was able to do the "golden, bronze" tones in the upper frequencies...just turning toward silver a bit. They were astonishingly clean and clear, with a rainbow of timbral colors coming through. My main gripe is that I realized nothing actually sounded "real" - in the sense of believably organic. Everything sounded a bit hard around the edge - sibilance in vocals for instance being laid bare as processed in a bit too ruthless manner.
Proac - D20R (I believe...)
Love the look of these especially the wood finish in ebony on the model I auditioned. Would really have been a perfect size replacement for the Thiels, and went down about as low. Unfortunately I couldn't get around the extremely obvious character of the ribbon tweeter vs the mids/bass. I was always aware of it, and generally found the sound too cool in the upper frequencies to really get into. Bass was also not particularly impressive in terms of tone and control. One of the more disappointing speaker auditions.
You really don't hear much about Kudos around here. Lack of dealers and North American presence I guess (as it seems to me a majority of people posting here are from North America...if I am indeed right about that).
Anyway, at a TAVES shows a few years ago I was frankly astonished by the sound coming from a pair of Kudos Super 20 floor standing speakers. It had a brilliant, reach out and grab me "alive" tone that made my brain think "real performance" more than most of what I'd heard that day. A bit forward...but wow what an effect. So they went on to my radar.
Turns out a local dealer carried Kudos, and there I heard some very small floor standing Kudos X3 speakers.
Well, there it was! That tone! Like the bigger model I'd heard at the show, this one had a dialed up upper frequency range that gave liveliness and detail. But it was, somewhat like the JMR speakers, allied to a generally warm tone, with a spectrum of timbral color to trumpet, wood blocks, acoustic guitar etc. If found the sound quite compelling, and so wondered about Kudos higher end models. As it turned out, Kudos in the last year has come out with the Titan range, a trickle down from their flagship. I really liked the design of the Titan 606 speakers, they were a great replacement size for the Thiels from the specs. But...my local dealer didn't want to bring them in so I would never hear them (I certainly did not want him to order them just for my sake, given I couldn't know before hearing them if I'd want to buy them).
But then during a recent trip to Europe I ended up in London for a couple days, so I found a Kudos dealer there.
And not only did he have the 606s for me to hear, but also the literally just introduced stand mounted Titan 505 that had many people raving at a recent British audio show. Very cool. Both speakers, as with most Kudos speakers, employ isobaric loading for the bass.
Both the 505 and 606 displayed the Kudos house sound which was that lively top end. Great for adding bit to guitar picking, hearing the bow on strings, transient aliveness etc. Even if not strictly neutral, it's fun (so long as timbres to my ears are otherwise organic). I found the 505 to actually sound a bit less balanced than the floor standing speaker. I suppose this is my allergy to the "tiny speaker trying to sound like a big speaker" tuning, but the bass seemed somewhat over-warm, and the speakers themselves a tad clinical from the mids up. Still, they were spacious, enthusiastic sounding, with great separation of instruments and voices. And certain tracks like Lightfoot's If You Could Read My Mind were actually magical on the 505. A similar warm timbre to the JMR speakers, and the added top end sparkle livened up the guitars and strings which can sound a bit tepid on many other speakers.
The larger 606 speakers sounded more linear, richer, a bit darker, and produced a satisfyingly large sound for their size. Similar to the Revel or Paradigm speakers. The upper frequency balance was a double edged sword: it could make drum high hats, snares, cymbals, guitars stand out in particularly, and satisfyingly, vivid relief. But could also highlight the studio/microphone/effects on voices making vocals sound a bit more "hi-fi" than most. But naturally recorded vocals were by the same token vivid and clear. Bass had an interesting character, sort of tight, punchy and big...a sense of the bass "spreading" in the room. My impression veered between "impressive" on the bass and "hmm...not sure I'm sold on this isobaric bass." I'll say that Herbie Hancock's Chameleon, one of my test songs on most speakers, was produced in a particularly compelling, vivid manner. The drums were just crystal clear and had that "live drum playing" feeling. It was one of those "wow" moments that kind of haunt you when you hear a certain track sound different and more realistic than normal.
That said, some other tracks veered into the intolerable territory (e.g. horns too piercing on Earth Wind and F ire live). It's the kind of audition that was very promising in some areas, leaving me thinking "these COULD be awesome if I could tame the problems and keep the good parts." Maybe on tubes, and in my well damped room. But a one time, not terribly long audition didn't allow me to commit to such an expensive purchase, when I hear some things that leave me with misgivings.I wish these models landed locally because I could further warm up to them, but that was the only shot at them.
I auditioned the various models - Monitor 30.1, C7ES-3, Super HL5 Plus. (Also listened to the 40s, since they had them set up).
I love the Harbeth sound and there's little need to describe it, since so many are familiar. But wow...their particular magic with voices is something. They somehow capture voices actually being produced by an organic person vs an electronic version of a person. No matter what type of material, jazz, processed pop, R&B, even electronica/dance, they always seem be be able to find the "person" singing in the mix. And of course they have such a smooth, full, rich sound with acoustic instruments sounding very much themselves.
The Monitor 30.1 had those qualities, but I was a bit too aware of their bass limitations (cut off at the knees), and was also aware of a bit of darkness, lack of "air." In the close my eyes "could I believe that guitar or person is really there" test, a darkening of tone, a shelving of the upper frequencies, are usually a dead giveaway to me of the artifice. But within it's range....gorgeous.
The C7ES-3 were wonderful. There was that bass extension! Displayed the Harbeth mids if not quite as refined. But over all I found the bass a little less controlled than I'd want.
Super HL5 Plus was the Goldilocks choice of the group. It had the added bass extension I heard from the C7ES, but with better integration and control. It had super refined, open, smooth, rich midrange, but with the added top end openness and extension (addition of the super tweeter?) that made the sound more realistic and believable to me. Though I was still hearing some things that I felt my Thiels did better so I wasn't quite sure yet.
Unfortunately, when I came back to this particular store to audition the HL5 Plus I didn't have a good audition experience. I've described the experience elsewhere here, so won't repeat it. But suffice it to say, it did not make me want to move forward with this particular store. (I have more recently had very good interactions with this store, so I would say my bad experience probably turned out to be an anomaly at that location).
Anyway, the Harbeths dropped off my radar for over a year until I heard the Super HL5 Plus sounding superb in the Montreal Audio show. Intriguing. Later on an audio mart I saw a pair in a gorgeous rosewood finish for, by far, the best price I've ever seen for a used Harbeth. I grabbed them, knowing I could definitely sell them without losing money, with this thought: They are not in the finish I want. So I'll use them as a "home audition" of the Harbeths and if I love them, I'll sell these ones and go to my local dealer to buy brand new ones in the finish I require.
It turned out I really really liked the Super HL5 Plus, but didn't love. They did all the wonderful Harbeth things, that big rich sound, in this model especially, also with a studio-monitor clarity, and generally organic sound.
However, I simply found my Thiels did essentially everything the Harbeths did, but better. I never could get a satisfying depth to the soundstage of the Harbeths (not usually a problem in my room), always sounding a bit fore-shortened. And it seemed a flip-side of the fullness/lively cabinet design was a certain "filling in the spaces with texture" quality. The Thiels, for instance, separated the Los Angelese Guitar Quartet's guitars more effortlessly, with more precision and realism and tonal density, but without sacrificing any image size or warmth of tone. Nothing quite sounds like the Harbeth on vocals. But ultimately they could not budge me from the Thiels and I sold them.
That said, I now have a store near me selling Harbeths and I'm in there buying vinyl a lot. Every time I hear the Harbeths playing I just want to sit down and listen, thinking "These are so beautiful. Why don't I own them?" But then I remember, I did...I did the comparisons. Would love them in a second system, though.
Joseph Audio - Pulsar and Perspectives.
As a long time high audio rag reader, I've long been familiar with the Joseph Audio name, but it wasn't until last year in Montreal that I actually heard a JA speaker: the Pearl 3. Jeff Joseph was playing an acapella group piece and I was just stopped in my tracks. It wasn't just the clarity - tons of high end speakers produce vivid vocals. It was the authenticity of the timbre of the voices! It just sounded bang on. Not cold, gray, steely, silvery, or darkened, or all the "off-timbre" electronic signatures that define for me hi-fi voices vs real. It was that human warmth timbre, that sounded just like the people talking in the room. This was so rare and magical it put the JA speakers immediately on my radar. Upon reading that the stand mounted Pulsars had a similar presentation I found a local dealer and auditioned them. Yup, they did! They were fairly mesmerizing. Even despite my misgivings about small speakers trying to sound big, the Pulsars did this better than almost any other stand mounted speaker I've heard - very rich and satisfying. Though I did note a bit of excess warmth here and there in the lower midrange, upper bass. And I still wondered if I could end up with a stand mounted speaker after living with big floor standers. At home, I listen not only in front of the speakers for "critical listening" but I'll also crank them to listen just down the hall, in my work office or through the house. And at these times I really start to hear the limitation on the small speaker. It can sound like it's going low, but it becomes sort of "fake bass" in a way, where it just doesn't have the solidity and impact of a big speaker.
So the dealer suggested I listen to the floor standing Joseph Audio Perspective model. I said I don't know, they cost more than I was thinking of spending. But, he persisted and...his up-sell worked ;-)
The Perspectives really grabbed me. They sounded more linear than the Pulsars to my ears through the mids down, had really thick, punchy bass that seemed to make every type of music fun, yet seemed controlled enough to make "audiophile" stuff very realistic. They really disappeared with a huge soundstage and great imaging. I'm a tone/timbre buy first, but I ultimately want speakers to disappear and soundstage well - it's part of the illusion, the magic show, that I appreciate and that makes me want to sit in front of a high end system in the first place.
But what really grabbed me was the overall tone/timbre of the presentation! I remember playing some Chet Baker and some Julie London mono recordings and being shocked at how clear the sound was - how the Perspectives took a central mono image of voice, guitar, bass, drums etc and seemed to effortlessly unravel the different timbres and individual players. And how realistic the voices were. Another moment I remember were some tracks from the Bullet soundtrack (I'm a soundtrack fiend). Every instrument that entered the mix - a single sax, a flute, an organ, a group of saxes, horns...sounded incredibly pure, distinct and accurate in timbre! That's one of the things I always loved about going to the symphony, and sitting close, closing my eyes: that rainbow of different acoustic sources, materials, shiny silvery bells, brassy cymbals, woody reeds, woody cellos, golden hued horns...
The Perspectives (and the Pulsars) were giving me more of this sensation, of "surprise" in how each new instrument sounded, than I typically get from most speakers. And they did it with a particular purity, and lack of hash in any part of the frequency spectrum, making for a less mechanical sound than usual (Fremer nailed this in his Pulsar review).
Plus there was a great sense of "flow" to the Perspectives, the way dynamically the sound would swell dramatically when called fo (again, soundtracks were great on the Perspectives). All these elements came together to produce a great emotional connection to music through the speakers.
So, they sounded special to me.
I got a home audition and they continued to sound beautiful in my home. But having both the big Thiels and the Josephs meant I could compare, which inevitably gave some ground to the Thiels - the bigger more realistic image size, the slightly better precision in imaging and tonal density, a more linear presentation from top to bottom from the Thiels, where the Perspectives could sound a bit "puffy" in the bass sometimes.
And yet, the Perspectives still had a magic the Thiels couldn't do with tone. I remember playing back Talk Talk's Happiness Is Easy and thinking "I literally don't think reproduced sound gets better than this."
So stuck between A and B I realized this: I couldn't give up the Thiels. After all my auditioning, nothing really did everything as well in the same package and the 3.7s had become very rare on the used market, no longer made, so it could be a big regret to let them go.
BUT...I was also bitten by the Perspectives. Once heard, they were hard to unhear.
So I decided, dammit, I'll have both! I tend to hoard speakers somewhat, so I'd keep the Thiels but buy the Perspectives, and I'd have the Thiels to throw in to the room whenever I wanted the Thiel sound.
But....this meant I'd no longer be selling my Thiels to pay for new speakers. So I'd have to save up for the Perspectives. And this I've been doing.
Then, aha! A pair of Thiel 2.7 speakers in the ebony finish I've always wanted showed up on Audiogon. I grabbed them for a killer price and they have been fantastic! Smaller than the 3.7s, better looking in the room, they have the Thiel attributes. Done...right? Naw...I haven't been a fervent audiophile for decades for nuthin'.
I've been on track toward the Perspectives for so long, it's hard to get off. So once I got the 2.7s my thinking changed to "Well..now I can sell the big Thiels and have that money to put toward the Perspectives!"
So as I've been readying to sell the big Thiels, and about to spend more than I ever have on a pair of speakers (Perspectives are expensive to us Canucks), I thought "If I'm about to spend this much, I better do some due diligence and make sure I didn't leave another option on the floor." So I recently checked out a speaker brand that I'd wondered about for a while now. Devore Fidelity.
And that will lead to my next post.