There are lots of great choices in that $$ range. Room size and amplification would really help home in.
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The Vandersteen 5 is definitely a good recommendation IF you can find them within your budget. The Harbeth SHL5 would also work though they're probably the extreme end of the warm/forgiving side of things that you might consider within your price range. I'd also suggest looking into the Vaughn Cabernet. There's really too many options to narrow it down without knowing more about your room and other equipment.
If you listen to a lot of rock, I bet you would love Wilsons, as they have good low-end punch. While they are quite expensive new, I think they are very good deals used. Check out the Sophias or, if you have the room, the Watt/Puppys. I've seen both for well under $10K, which is pretty amazing, considering how much they cost new. If you like it loud with a big low end, you should listen.
A couple of weeks ago I auditioned a pair of Sonus Faber Cremona M's. They were seductive and addicting. I think they have that balance of warm musicality vs. detail that you describe, and they'd certainly excel on all the kinds of music you like.
Yes, they list at around $12K, but it doesn't seem to hard to find them under $10K. When you add in how physically gorgeous they are, it's a beautiful combination of virtues--looks, construction, design, fit 'n' finish, flat response, detail, warmth ...
And their maple slat construction really works. The Stereophile measurements of various Sonus Faber speakers (especially the slatted ones) show unusually low cabinet resonances. This translates into great low level detail in the proper perspective and the ability to play complex music such as classical with clarity, even at volume peaks.
Don't forget the Dali Euphonia M5's, occasionally go on sale here for around $7k/pair; retail at over $14k; a great and under appreciated speaker; it has the slight warmth you are looking for; with their wood-pulp drivers; and they have a great integrated ribbon/dome tweeter for nice room dispersion. Even their Halicon 800's at around $4k/pair sound very good...just my two cents.
If the speakers are going on the long wall I suggest a used pair of Revel Studio 2's. They are a good match for your stated preferences. The Vandy 5's will have more slam, but the Revel's have a very pure sound that somehow makes even marginal recordings listenable.
On a 13' wall, I'm not sure. A monitor/sub combo may be best.
Legacy would also be a good choice. At your upper price range you could get a new pair of Focus HD's. This is a truly full range speaker with good midrange resolution, smooth non fatiguing highs and extended bass. You can listen to these for hours on end with no fatigue. Kinda what you could call the "everymans speaker".
I know I'm biased, but you can't go wrong with Daedalus speakers. Beautiful to look at and they sound stunning, easy to drive, neutral, transparent, very quick, built to sound near to a live sound.
There is a used pair on the Audiocircle site under Trade Classifieds. My DA-RMa are staying for keeps.
Barefoot sound Micromain 27 (fully active), runs perfectly from a dac with level adjustment (ex: antelope zodiac gold+volticus) or a cdp with volume control (ex: wadia 381). Needs to have balanced outputs though as speakers amps are only taking balanced (xlr). Best bargain i have owned during my 16 years..
Judging by your description I'd recommend Aether Audio's(formerly S.P. Technology) Continuum 2.5, Continuum A.D., or the (somewhat large) stand mounted Timepiece 3.2 - the latter of which can actually be had as a new pair within your budget.
They're all wonderful speakers with a very natural, honest, dynamic, whole, and organic sound; detailed and informative, yet never intrusive or analytical.
I also agree that Vandersteens would be great but see that you don't like the looks. Revel and Joseph are two others that I agree with.
But here's one I don't see recommended: Avalon Ascent Mk II. These rarely come up on Audiogon but when they do, they usually go for about $5K. They were widely considered the "best" during their day (early 1990s). I know someone who has these and he thinks they are more musical than any other speaker currently made including stuff like the TAD Ref One (which I consider to be the best speaker I've ever heard; I've heard the Ascents but it was ~20 y ago - they were fantastic).
Based on your room size, I would also consider the Vandy 5s. But you should budget for a dealer to pay you a visit and set them up. If that isn't a possibility, consider a pair of Quattros, new, at about $8K. That price should include dealer setup.
For something completely different, consider a pair of Ohm Walsh 3000s. New, they are $4K pr. Their sonics are very much what you are looking for, IMHO. They come with a 120 day in home trial, so you only lose the shipping if you return them. I've had a pair of 2000s for 2.5 years, and I can't think of a new speaker under 10K I'd rather own. You can read my review in the speaker review section. Used, might be a different story. But you need to audition before you buy, and a home audition is the best way. FWIW, your idea of buying the amp after you choose your speakers is the right way to go about it.
I support the recommendation for Ohm speakers. It takes a leap of faith to buy a speaker you can't audition. I did just this and started with a pair of Micro Talls. I was so impressed. I got my tax return and upgraded to a pair of the new 1000's. If I could afford it, Id have a pair of the 5000's and never have to buy another pair of speakers as long as I live. Miss them at your own loss Joe
The Joseph Pulsars are indeed very good but will sound best when paired with a good Subwoofer. Two others (used) to consider in your price range are Thiel 3.7's and Verity Audio Parsifals. For an absolute screaming bargain you can pick up a well maintained pair of Aerial 10T's for under $3k. It is an oldie but "excellentie"!
if you have the space, and the upstream components up to task, i highly recommend the Magnepan 3.7s. I would have to spend 3-5x the price to get something better. Paired with a Velodyne or JL sub, you have full range goodness. A wall of sound. I own them and will be upgrading to 20.7s but hard to imagine anything better than 3.7s.
The reviews I've read of the Liutos indicate that they're sort of a "lite" version of the Cremona M's. There's one less woofer and the Liuto's use a dome tweeter where the Cremona M uses a ring radiator, which tends to have more speed and detail. The Liuto is considered an excellent speaker at the price, but I found the Cremona M to be ... breathtaking.
The best news is that the Cremona M setup I heard was being driven by a $999 Marantz PM8004 integrated amp. This amp uses the HDAM circuit making for an amp section with a s/n ratio of 125 dB. It was a fantastic combo. So what you spend on the speakers, you might be able to save on the amplification.
The Philharmonic 3s are only $3.5k new and they probably would meet your requirements. One guy has highly reviewed and respected speaker that are $22k and $15k. He likes his Phil 3s better. The Phils have the most natural midrange that I have heard. The treble is not rolled off but it is smooth as silk so no fatigue. If you can stretch it to $8k, then the Salk SoundScape 8s will buy you a slightly crisper midrange, higher quality finish, killer bass, ability to play a bit louder, more efficiency, smaller footprint and totally dead cabinet. They are both hybrid open baffle speakers so you would need at least a couple of feet behind them to the wall.
I have listened to philharmonic speakers at audio fest. My opinion is the are a nice sounding speaker, however the bass unit is very large and I believe it could sound better. Do not buy unless you demo you may be dissapointed. Also I would suggest listening to the new dyn focus line and the kef r900 both different in approach and sound but both very good. Best luck.