Deciding on the right huge speaker

Say you had decided that it was time to buy the speakers of your dreams, that you were willing to spend $30K for a pair and that you were going to utilize the full services of a dealer if necessary (ie, you're willing to pay list, more or less).

We all say it's essential to listen to your potential purchases before committing, preferably in your own setting. If you were choosing between, say, the Dynaudio Temptations, the Dunlavy SC-VI, the new Snell XA (in this months Stereophile), the Krell LAT-1 and a pair of Wisdom Audio's, how would go about getting an evaluation of this field? All of these speakers are huge, both in terms of dimensions and in terms of weight. How do you go through the process with some sense that you're going to make the "right" choice? -Kirk

the krell speaker is not even full range. great looking speaker though, but if i was to spend that kind of jack i would want full range. the jm lab utopias should be much better than any of the speakers you mentioned. i listened to a ton of speakers before getting a pair myself. the sound lab u1s would also be at the top of my list. find a dealer that has these speakers, take a listen , let them know you are serious. get the best price. if you like the speakers in the store, they will only be better in your home. if a speaker sounds awsome and you like it, find out what the return policy is. then buy them take them home . if you do not like them take them back. if you are to spend 30 k range and money is not an issue, i would buy used are demos of more than one pair and compare them. sell the loser, or if you have the room, home theater in the next room.
I would add the Montana line up to your list and Legacy all worth a listen, in the very large many driver speaker catagory.

How 'bout Maggie MG20's or Sound labs A1's?Utopias as well.
Pick the dealer and then pick the speaker. At this price level a good dealer will visit your house, assess your listening room and then recommend the appropriate speaker and accessories (acoustic treatments, power amps, cabling, etc.). Rather than focus on the speaker of your dreams, try to seek out the best music setup. Paradoxically, they're not the same thing. For instance, you may desire a certain speaker, say the SF Amati Homage, but the only available dealer is a low-life idiot who refuses or is incapable of optimizing your post-purchase listening experience. You could purchase the Amatis and on your own try to get them right. Who knows, you might be able to attain 80-85% of their ultimate performance. Alternatively, there could be an outstanding Avalon dealer available who will really work for you on a purchase. Regardless of which speaker is objectively the better speaker, you'll attain a better listening experience with the Avalon purchase. Hopefully, there are enough good dealers available to you to give you a meaningful choice. Good luck!
I would first and foremost research the dealerships in the U.S. that handle the speakers I wanted (Avalon, Kharma, Pipedreams...can't resist throwing in my favs) and have them available with the electronics you know and like, and in good sound rooms. Then make some appointments, buy airline tickets, and go and do the comparisons yourself. You are likely to find yourself at some of the larger Eastern shops that have several of your speakers available, with your electronics, and you will get good treatment this way.
Also, at this price level, many dealers will not only ship to you but will also come to your home (even on the other coast!) to help setup. The majority of dealers who handle dream-level speakers have customers all over the country and are used to this process.
Good luck.
Already some great responses here. I agree with Kirk on the JM Lab and Soundlab, and with Chazzbo on the Maggie MG 20's. I would add (used) Audio Artistry Beethoven, I think they are no longer made, but were EXCELLENT.

Last CES I heard a Dutch speaker called the Kharma, don't know if they have a $30K model, but the $75K one at The Show was superb. Avalon is another choice in this price range and even the newly improved Quad speakers.

I am forgetting some great ones, but if Kirk (our post master) can listen to as many of these choices as possible before investing, the education process will make his choice self evident.
Agree completely with AlbertPorter on the Audio Artistry Beethoven's. Its sad that this wonderful speaker is no longer made. You might just consider a diy product with a similar design, available from the designer's website (
There's no alternative to going out to the dealers where the equipment is located as well as the shows. My wife and I looked for speakers for close to a year. We went to CES and drove to a number of dealers (some long distances). Fortunately, the speakers that made the short list I either got an extended audition at CES or a dealer was within range. We bought the Wisdoms.
The size of your room is the most important factor you have to deal with.Tell us your room size and I am sure we can make some proper recomendations.
The Krell sounds like a totaly inapropriate choice.For the money and not to be full range.
Put Soundlab at the TOP of your must hear list. After I purchased a set of Legacy Whispers, I thought I made an intelligent decision. Then I heard my favorite music on a pair of Soundlabs. They re-define the word "transparency". Anyone want to buy a set of Whispers?
Kthomas -

My suggestion would be for you to invest some of that money in airline tickets (prices are quite low now) and travel to audition speakers that made your shortlist. Some dealers (such as yours truly) will help you with accomodations, and maybe even airfare if you end up purchasing from them.

It really isn't necessary to listen in your own room to make a well-educated choice. Let me offer a few ideas to make your auditioning most effective:

Start out at a pretty much normal volume level listening from the "sweet spot", to see if you like the overall presentation of the speaker. Do you want to tap your feet? Can you easily pick out and follow a single instrument? Listen especially to human voice and piano (or whatever instrument you are most familiar with). Can you hear the textures and inner harmonics of the instrument? Do the notes (piano in particular) decay naturally? Do you hear any grain, any boxiness, any harshness (especially on close-miked female vocals)? Can you readily follow the notes the bass player is playing? Going beyond hearing, does the music speak to your soul and make you feel? Music is as much an emotional as an auditory experience.

Assuming the answer to most of these questions is "yes", we need to predict the long-term listening enjoyment of the speakers, because you probably won't have several days to audition them at length if you travelled for the audition.

For each of the following tests, listen to the same track from the beginning. Go back and start over again for each test.

First, turn the volume level way down low, so you can barely hear it. At very low volume levels, you really can't hear the bass - mostly what you hear is midrange, because the ear is most sensitive to midrange frequencies at very low volumes. What we're doing here is isolating the midrange to see if there are any peaks or colorations. At normal volume levels, the bass can mask midrange peaks. Is the music still enjoyable at very low volumes, or does the midrange grate on you?

Now return the volume level to normal, and listen from very close to the speakers, like two or three feet away. Now you are isolating the first-arrival sound. Any harshness will stand out more, since it won't be masked by the reverberant sound. Note also the tonal balance.

Now turn the volume level up a bit louder than normal, and leave the room, leaving the door open. From outside the room all you can possibly hear is the reveberant field response. The speaker can't possibly image out here, so it has to rely on its reverberant field response and dynamics to sound convinving. Does it? Is there a convincing illusion of live music happening back in there? Is the tonal balance the same as when you listened near-field?

Come back in the room and walk around. Is the sound really only enjoyable from the sweet spot? Remember that live music sounds wonderful from anywhere in the room, and even in the next room.

The low-volume and next-room tests are very good predictors of long term listening enjoyment, especially the latter.

When you're done with these tests, you can go ahead and play some sonic fireworks cuts or whatever you want, but I would suggest bringing at least one poor recording of music you like, and one good recording of music that you don't like. See if the speakers extract enjoyment from the poor recording, and see if they can induce you to enjoy a good recording of the kind of music you normally wouldn't listen to.

A speaker that passes all of these tests is probably going to find a home with you.

Best of luck in your quest!

To Ehider -

I got a very nice e-mail from you and tried to respond, but it got kicked back saying that " domain no longer in use".

Do you have an alternative e-mail?
Audiokinesis,I would not ever buy anything from you.Your advice is abhorent.
To suggest one does not need to listen in his own room is foolish.
If you sell a 30K product and figure the room its going in is not important then you aint goin to be my hi fi guy.Get real.
Natalie -

I see that your audio passions run deep and if you thought I was arguing against in-home auditions, well that would indeed have been abhorrent advice.

I appreciate your post because it made me reflect on ways for Kthomas to more reliably extrapolate from the showroom to his listening room (see below).

Natalie, I'm not at all against in-home auditions. I'm quite comfortable delivering or shipping speakers to customers for in-home auditions and do so regularly, but 30-grand speakers are typically difficult and expensive to ship, and there is the very real risk of shipping damage. I have shipped up to 16-grand speakers for audition, but frankly it's much less trouble and expense on both our parts for the customer himself to do the travelling.

Believe it or not, I'm trying to do exactly what you suggest - namely, "get real". Realistically, how many 30-grand systems is Kthomas going to be able to take home and audition? Chances are he doesn't have local dealers for all or even most of the brands he'd like to consider. I'm trying to offer him a useful listening strategy for evaluating speakers that he will have to travel to hear.

The tests I have described will reveal a great deal about a speaker's potential, and also about its interaction with the room. Where you and I may differ is that I believe there is a useful correlation between how a speaker sounds in a showroom and how it sounds in a well set-up listening room.

Let me give you an example. Suppose you are shopping for a piano. The timbral differences between a Steinway and a Yamaha are inherent and not room-dependent, and can be reliably evaluated in showrooms (or concert halls, for that matter). If you prefer the sound of the Steinway, that preference will almost always be independent of the room the piano is in. Only in a very poor-sounding room might the room itself determine which piano sounds better, and in such a case room treatment would be called for.

Just for the record, the most expensive pair of speakers I ever purchased were bought completely unheard. I'd only gotten one word-of-mouth recommendation, and had read no reviews. But I had spent years as an amateur speaker builder and student of psychoacoustics and knew enough to be able to tell what the speakers would do from studying their website. It was not only the best purchase I ever made, but eventually my love for these speakers inspired me to cross over to the "dark side" and become an audio dealer. But needless to say, I don't recommend anyone else buy without an audition!

Kthomas -

Natalie's post caused my wheels to start turning again, so let me pass on a few more thoughts.

I've had customers transport their amplifiers, preamps, and even DAC's when they've come for an audition. You might consider doing this if you decide to travel.

I presume you're familiar with the sound of your equipment and your room, but before you go out auditioning it might be worthwhile to focus in on the sound of your room a bit. Wait until no one is home (so they don't send the men in white coats after you), and walk from room to room talking out loud and focusing on the sound of your voice. This will give you a feel for what different rooms sound like. Of course the room you want to concentrate on is your listening room. Also, do the hand-clap thing in your room, to get a feel for how hand-claps decay. These two tests will give you a good sense of the sonic signature of your room everywhere except in the bass. But since you've obviously already had speakers in there, you probably have a pretty good idea of the room's bass characteristics.

Just before you travel for an audition, re-calibrate your memory of your listening room's sonic signature by doing the talking and clapping again. Hey if you need to do it while people are there, pretend like you're talking to someone on your cell phone as you walk around the room.

When you fly on the plane (or drive a long distance in the car) to the audition, wear hearing protection. Otherwise the nerve cells at the base of the hairs in your cochlea can be slightly bruised and fatigued by the long noise exposure, and your hearing acuity may be degraded.

In the dealer's showroom, before you begin to listen to music, do the talking and clapping tests. This is just so you get an idea of how comparable that room's sonic signature is to your room. For example, in an overdamped showroom the highs might be a bit softened, but by knowing in advance the different sonic signatures of the two rooms, you can make an intelligent allowance and evaluation.

Also, if you have gone to the trouble and expense of travelling for an audition, you have every right to ask the dealer to re-position the speakers (within reason) to approximate the way they will be set up in your room. Indeed, hopefully you have discussed your room situation with the dealer in advance. In my experience the room is usually among the first things brought up, either by the customer or myself.

Natalie's right in an ideal world - listening in your own room with your own gear is more reliable than listening in a dealer's showroom. The premise of my posts here is that not every speaker genuinely worthy of your consideration is going to be readily available for an in-home audition, and even if they all were, you'd still want to reliably narrow the field to the top two or three contenders before going to the effort to get them into your home.
We still need to know the size of your room to see of any of the speakers you chose would be appropriate.
I really appreciate everybody's advice. I have to clarify that I'm not currently looking to buy a pair of huge speakers - my room wouldn't allow for it, my finances wouldn't appreciate it. I read a lot of reviews of speakers, and comments on forums such as this, about speakers in the mega-cost / mega-size range and, recently when I was reading one, I got to wondering how somebody goes about evaluating them. They're tough to find at a dealer unless you live in a big city, and they're tough to move around. You can't really buy a pair and just hope they work out, the way you might with monitors. And, given their expense, you want to do your homework and find the right answer.

Audiokinesis - I really appreciate all your feedback. You and the others who suggest both the shows as well as plane tickets to go to the speakers seem to be right on - I really hadn't thought about the fact that some cheap airfares are small in comparison to the purchase price. Going to the shows probably gives you a good overview and helps you narrow your possibles down, and going to dealers (even in another state if need be) allows for auditioning.

Also, Audiokinesis, even though you've probably lost Natalie as customer, I'd work with you on a purchase in a heartbeat - some of the best, most practical advice I've ever gotten from a dealer. Thanks. -Kirk

I think you are putting the cart in front of the horse in assigning a value to what you will spend. Just go out there and listen and pick what you like and dont bother with the price tag. Remember that there are many factors including room and what the balance of system is that will also influence the sound. Who knows you may even like vintage. Keep an open mind not wallet.
My room is 14x18x7.5 and would clearly not be appropriate for any of the speakers I (or anyone else) has mentioned. Again, I'm asking out of curiousity for the process, not because I'm going to go do this right now.

Phantom1 - you're absolutely right that you should start with looking for what you like, not by deciding how much to spend. You raise an interesting variable which is how would you evaluate a really big, vintage speaker. All of the excellent advice about visiting shows and travelling (even by plane) to dealers wouldn't work if you were trying to buy a 300lb. vintage speaker (obviously) used. -Kirk

Kirk -

Thanks for your kind words above! I appreciate your taking the time to post them. You really made my day!

Should the time arrive that you embark on that quest for your last pair of speakers, you'll run into a sobering reality - even at price ranges as high as 30 grand ballpark, you'll still have to make tradeoffs! The thing to do is figure out what qualities matter the most to you, and what you're willing to trade off to get them. As far as I know there is no speaker that really "does it all", but some speakers to some things extremely well.

As far as your present room size goes, several of the speakers mentioned would work well in your room, assuming you could position them properly. I know the big Maggies and Sound Labs would work well in that size room, and more than likely the Audio Artistry Beethovens would as well. Note that these all use dipole bass loading, which significantly minimizes the room's influence on the bottom end. Disclaimer - I peddle Sound Labs.

There are probably four general types of loudspeakers one might consider: High efficiency systems; full-range dipole systems; omnidirectional or polydirectional systems; and conventional systems. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, and would be worth experiencing if you haven't already done so.

Best wishes to you.
To answer your first question only. Based on my reading the reviews only on the speakers you mention, I would select the Dynaudio Temptations. Not to mention that the Temptation's sonic characteristics are about 90% of the Masters which sell for $80k.

All the others (not sure about the Wisdoms) appear to have 1 or more serious shortcomings when compared to the Temptations.

The Temptation is the best looking of the bunch also.
I agree with Stehno. I have heard the Temptations and they are awesome, they really are about %90 of the performance of the Masters at less then half the price. IMHO they are way more natural then the Krell LAT1 or the Wilson Maxx.
I'm a Dynaudio fan through and through - if I were truly going to purchase speakers in this caliber, I'd have to be convinced to buy something other than the Temptations.

I recently heard the LAT2's ($10K monitors) - they weren't very impressive sounding. I also don't much care for that look, though I can see why some may like it a lot. Again, I'm a Dynaudio fan, but I thought the Contour 1.3SE's that I listened to directly after the LAT2's were much more enjoyable for 1/3 of the price. -Kirk

Before choosing, you should listen to a set of Lowther speakers that have been broken in properly. Some people believe that these are the best sounding speakers. There are several enclosure types that use Lowthers, and have different sonic characteristics. They all are very efficient and can be driven with just a few watts. The primary strong points are extreme detail and great mids and highs, but the bass rolls off a little early. There are designs out there(Carfrae) that add a built in subwoofer to fill out the bottom end. The search would not be complete without hearing a speaker that many say is the best in the world(whether others agree with that or not). They deserve a listen .
Cut Audiokinesis some slack. Given the distribution realities of big speakers the fact is most people don't live near a dealer for most of these products so in home audition is almost impossible. And do you really expect a dealer to truck freight a $30,000 pair of speakers half way across the country to your home on his risk theat they will survive intact, and not be damaged by you in the unpackacking and evaluation and repacking? Just so you can send them back without buying? And for this multi week shipping evaluation return process his store demo room is down?

Dont get me wrong - I am absoultely committed to in home evaluation. But unfortunately, for some products its just not practical.

And just so you know the kind of dealer Audiokinesis is I'll tell you a little story. I recently bought a product that had a few problems out of the box. Duke happened to sell the line and some folks linked me up with him. Even though we had never met or spoken before and I did not buy from him he interceded on my behalf with the manufacturer to help out and even offered to send me a demo product to use until mine came back repaired. He knew I bought elsewhere. He knew I wasn't in the market for anything else. But he made this effort and I've got to tell you, I was impressed.

So before you start slamming him as a dealer think about what you are saying...

Audiokinesis--That was the best advice I ever read on how to evaluate speakers. Too bad I read it after I just bought new speakers. Even though my Von Schweikert gen III's only have about 50 hours on them, I'm going to do those things as soon as I get home.
I agree with Tireguy,the Montanas offer a great sound at a great price.(
Try the new EgglestonWorks Andras II. By far the best and the smallest in size.
Kudos to Audiokinesis for some of the best practical advice I've seen posted here on the topic of selecting speakers. I was delighted to read his "tests" because they are very similar to the procedures I've worked out in my own experience for evaluating equipment.

But Natalie also has an important point about room effects. I have good but not super-ultra speakers (JMLabs Mezzo Utopias). Your prelate cannot actually afford such nice reproducers but got one of those friend-of-a-friend deals that made it possible for him to acquire them.

Anyway, whilst I was converting the garage to a suitable listening room, I installed them in a 14x17x12 (sloped ceiling) room where they sounded....good. "Oh well," I thought. "At least they'll have great snob appeal and I can use them for a trade-in on something better." When the new room was done, I moved them in. HOLY COW! A totally different experience. In the new space (18x22x9 with some rudimentary room treatments), they simply exploded with delicious sound. My friends and I were so completely flabbergasted that we actually moved them back and forth twice just to confirm the difference for ourselves.

Now, I got my M/Us for less than 30% of MSRP, NIB. Yes, miracles happen. At that price, had I been buying from a dealer, I would not have expected him to go to enormous trouble to ship them in and set them up in my listening space. However, after this experience, if I were paying list--and certainly if I were considering speakers in the $50K+ range, you bet your booties I would insist on hearing them in my own room.

Tell the dealer you'll pay shipping (both ways, if you don't buy) and ample insurance. If he won't agree to that, shop elsewhere.


I have always dreamed of having service like what you refer to on gear at all levels and you sound like that kind of dealer. I have a friend who is a dealer and he will bend over backwards for people and he has one of the best ears of anyone I have met but he doesn't have the technical experteise you seem to show. You seem to be the best of both worlds. Since I buy used or get special deals it is rare that I would buy new but I would keep you on my short list for product that my buddy doesn't carry. Like I plan to by a Rel sub within the next year and expect to buy new since used doesn't save enough to justify. My friend can't/doesn't carry it so if you did I would consider this purchase with you.

Anyway, I think someone looking for speakers at that level and size would do well to listen to your advice. Don't ignore the room but make allowance and take it into consideration as needed. If anyone has ever seen the Sound Labs or a Grande Utopia they wouldn't be asking for an in home demo, that is not reasonable unless the dealer has a strong committement to purchase but even then, I have to imagine with the right preperation, planning, a person can find out everything they need to at the dealer/show or at other peoples homes which the dealer may recommend.

Thanks again for the service focus and the practical advice.