You might want to give the big Magnepan set up a listen...the one that Pearson of TAS is using with the 20.1 as main front L/R.
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"Help me spend money..."! Geeze, that's like blood in the water to a dealer like me...
Seriously, of the speakers on your list I'd recommend the Rockports. And if you don't have a Rockport dealer, I'd recommend Ultimate Audio-Video, in the Chicago area. They were the very first Rockport dealer in the US. Ask for Ron Lapporte, and tell him Duke recommended him (no, I don't get a kick-back). Here's a link:
Now time for my song and dance (and I'll try not to be too blatantly self-serving). I believe that a realistic goal is to recreate as closely as possible the same perception the listener would have experienced at a live performance. This goal concedes that absolute waveform fidelity is not yet achievable (except in the marketing department), but calls for any deviations from absolute waveform fidelity to be as psychoacoustically benign as possible.
With this goal in mind, I'd like to describe what I believe to be an important factor in realistic sound reproduction, and one that is not given a high priority by most loudspeaker designers.
The ears derive timbre (the tonal and textural quality of voices and instruments) not only from the first-arrival sound, but also from the reverberant sound within the room. Indeed unless you listen nearfield, most of the energy that reaches your ears is reverberant energy. Unfortunately most loudspeakers do not generate a tonally correct reverberant field because their off-axis response (which is the dominant contributor to reverberant energy) is lumpy due to driver beaming.
Beaming as you know is the phenemona whereby a direct-radiator driver's radiation pattern narrows with increasing frequency. We're mostly accustomed to thinking of beaming as affecting the high treble, but it typically has a different but perhaps more detrimental effect in the lower treble region. At the crossover frequency between midwoofer and tweeter, the tweeter's radiation pattern is much wider than the midwoofer's. Assuming a flat on-axis response through the crossover region, the tweeter may be putting out 12-15 dB more energy into the reverberant field! This extra reverberant energy doesn't show up in a standard frequency response curve, but creates an audible over-emphasis in that region that can contribute to harshness and listening fatigue. Some speakers have an on-axis dip on the tweeter's side of the crossover which helps smoothe the reverberant energy. But with a conventional cone-and-dome speaker, it is impossible to equalize the speaker so that the first-arrival and reverberant sound have the same spectral balance.
Now let's examine at how the ears localize sound, for this is relevant to our look at the importance of getting the reverberant field right. The ears derive directional cues from the first .68 milliseconds of a sound impulse. After that, repetitions of that original sound (reflections) are largely ignored for localization purposes (although those reflections still contribute to perceived loudness and timbre). The way the ear recognizes a reflection is very interesting: It records the sound in a short-term (40 millisecond) memory and compares all incoming sounds to that memory. Now if the reverberant sounds have a significantly different tonal balance from the original sound, the ear/brain system has to work a little harder to accurately classify them as reflections. At some point if the reverberant sound is dissimilar enough it won't be recognized as a reflection. But the extra "c.p.u. power" required to analyze and classify tonally skewed reverberant energy can take a toll over time, in the form of listening fatigue - literally, a headache!
Note that live music generates a natural-sounding reverberant field, and doesn't give you a headache (well, trumpets at close range can make me run for cover, but maybe I'm just a wimp).
Okay the point of all that was to suggest you consider loudspeakers that do a good job of generating a tonally correct reverberant field. That's extremely difficult to do with cones and domes because of the inherent radiation pattern characteristics of such drivers, but it can be done. Several large planars also do a very good job in this respect, as do some well-designed horn or horn/woofer hybrid systems. As you have probably guessed by now, I carry several loudspeakers that do a very good job in this area. If you are interested, I'll let you know what they are, and I'll also tell you some I don't sell that do very well in this area.
Finally, let me make a suggestion you can try once you've narrowed down your short-list and start auditioning the contenders. Try turning the volume level up a bit louder than normal, and walk outside of the room. Through the open doorway, all you can possibly hear is the reverberant sound (assuming you don't have line-of-sight to the speakers). If the speaker sounds convincingly like live music from the next room, that means it's getting the reverberant field right and has good dynamic contrast. And that bodes very well for long-term fatigue-free listening. It's not the only thing that matters, but it's certainly up there in my book. It's an important but oft-overlooked part of recreating the same perception that a listener would have experienced at a live performance.
Incidentally, that test is called the L.I.A.R. test. Stands for "listening in another room".
Anyway, best of luck on your quest! May the audio gods smile on you for the generous sacrifice you are planning to make.
For those considering Wilson:
So exactly why does David Wilson use such cheap drivers in such expensive speakers? And just why does he use 7 in ch driver for midrange when any speaker designer who really understood physics would never use this size driver for that task?
I would like to know?