How to audition speakers?


When auditioning speakers (1000-1500ish), are there things i should be aware of in terms of where i position myself, or playing music that works best for testing (i experiment with all types of music)etc.? How do you folks audition speakers?
brosenbe93f1
Always pay attention to the EQUIPMENT (including and especially IC's (interconnects, PC's (power cords) and speaker wire. Also take note of the speakers positioning in the room (in relation to room boundaries). For a listening room NOT to have any effect on the low-frequency characteristic of a loudspeaker (300 Hertz and below) the speakers should be about 6-7 ft from wall behind the speaker and side-walls. Naturally, such distances would require a very large room that many of us do not have. Point being, keep in mind the size of your listening room and the distances (from room boundaries)that you are able to position your speakers.
On the listening side, bring in music you are familiar with. A fine acoustic sound-stage; precise, stable stereo images should develop between and beyond the speakers themselves. Ideally, music should appear not to come from the speakers themselves --the effect as much to do with speaker quality as ALL other components. Also, listen for a neutral (ie; accurate) tonal balance) where voices and instruments have a natural/real "feel" and perspective.
Good luck. Let me know how it goes.

peter jasz
Select some music that you really know well. Pick 5-6 cd's (or albums) that highlight different parts of what you care most about. For example, cd1 track 2 for bass or cd2 track 4 for female vocals. Then compare each set of speakers with a concentrated listening of each of your key tracks.

You may need to narrow things down by listening to them at the dealership. As stated above, do so with the same other components (cd player, preamp, amp, cables). Or, try to optimize the speaker cable for each speaker and be prepared to buy both speaker and correct cable as a "system". I'd suggest the latter for a fairer comparison. If possible, make the base system (cd player, preamp, amp) as close to your system at home as possible.

Once you narrow things down a bit, take the speakers and appropriate cables home for an audition. It is very important to audition at home if you can. Experiment with toe-ins, distance from walls and listening position. Find where each of your finalists sound best and then compare. Generally, try to keep the speakers a few feet out of the corners and try to keep them aimed at or toward the sweet spot. A tip I just read: crouch down and, while listening, move back and then toward the speakers. If it sounds better after you moved back, then move the speakers closer together to get that same sound in your listening position. If it sounds better after you moved forward, move the speakers further apart. A good place to start is with the proverbial equilateral triangle -- speaker, speaker, you. But move the speakers together or apart based on what sounds better. Don't listen to them in a position too near the rear wall since the rear wall reflections will get to you too soon. The distance from the rear wall to the listening position should be greater than the distance from you to the speakers (ideally).

Good luck. If that's all too complicated, just make sure you listen to them at home after you've moved them to where they suit you and make sure you are using the same musical test on all of them.
Keep this simple. Arrange to drag a demo pair home and LIVE with them for a couple days in YOUR environment with YOUR equipment. If they work great with YOUR equipment, then seriously consider them.
Oxfly covered it, great advice!
Okay, the big idea is not to find the speaker that's the most initially impressive. The idea is to find the speaker that you can listen to hour after hour, and never grow tired of. Live music is like that, ya know.

You may have to "take charge" of the audition. I don't really like quick back-and-forth A/B comparisons, and be aware that dealers sometimes use them to subtly steer you towards the speaker they want you to buy. Also, don't let the dealer put on his chosen demo discs (at least not until you're done with yours). You be the one in charge of the volume control, but don't turn it up so loud you risk damaging the equipment. I once had a customer crank the volume control way over without asking me first and quickly damage a fifteen grand pair of amplifiers, so if in doubt ask.

Choose and bring along a few songs or passages that you will use for your initial evaluation. Pick recordings with instruments whose live sound you are quite familiar with. Solo piano is good, as are male and female vocals, and maybe a drum kit to check out the dynamics and bottom end.

When you listen, ask yourself, Do the instruments sound natural? Can you easily pick out and follow an individual voice or instrument? Are you aware of the sound coming out of a box (either tonally or spatially)? Any harshness on the female vocals? How about chestiness in the male vocals? On the piano - can you hear the richness of the overtones? Do the lower registers have weight and natural resonance? Can you tell that the piano is a percussion instrument? On the drums, how is the impact? Do the drums sound solid and precise, or thick and sluggish? Do the snares snap, the cymbals shimmer and crash?

How does the presentation affect you, emotionally? Does it get through your defenses, past your facade, and touch your heart? Do you feel yourself filled with and even joining in the energy of the music? It is natural to tap your toes, or do you have to make yourself do it? How about goosebumps? Give extra credit for genuine spontaneous goosebumps.

Okay, now put the same cut on again, and listen up very close to the speakers - like maybe 3 feet away. This will put you in the nearfield, and will pretty much eliminate the room's contribution. This helps you separate the sound of the speakers from the room.

Once you have a handle on how the speakers sound nearfield, turn the volume level way, way down. Does the music still seem lively, or did the liveliness die away? Listen especially to the midrange - at very low volumes, midrange peaks are easier to hear because they are not psychoacoustically "masked" by the bass. Are the speakers still enjoyable at very low volumes? If so, chances are the speaker will not be irritating long-term.

Now turn the volume level up a bit louder than normal, and walk into the next room, leaving the door open. What you're doing now is isolating the reverberant field. Note that a live piano or vocalist still sounds like the real thing from the next room, where all you can possibly hear is the reverberant sound. A loudspeaker that sounds convincing from the next room is generating a tonally correct reverberant field along with good dynamic contrast. This test is a very good predictor of long-term listening enjoyment.

Now go back into the room, turn the volume down to normal or a bit lower, and listen from off-axis. See if the off-axis soundstaging is still enjoyable. If you plan to listen alone this test isn't necessary, but if you plan to listen with others then it's worthwhile to have an idea of how wide the acceptable listening area is.

Try the speakers up and down the range of volume levels at which you expect to listen. I've made the mistake of buying speakers that sounded great at volume levels louder than I normally listen, but then sounded dull and lifeless at my normal, lower levels.

Use the same cuts on every speaker you evaluate. Yes you'll get sick of them, so you may not want to use your most favorite songs. The consistency of program material is the apples-to-apples in your initial evaluations, assuming you are comparing at different dealerships.

Once you've narrowed down your short list to 2 or 3 contenders, see if you can arrange a longer session, and/or in-home audition, using a much wider variety of your own music. This is where you drag out all your beloved old mediocre recorings of superb performances. The wider the variety of music a speaker sounds good on, the better.

Remember that you will have to make tradeoffs. This is where you have to be very honest with yourself. For exmaple, maybe Speaker A will play louder and deeper, while Speaker B has better midrange. Only you can make the call. If in doubt, go with your heart. Go with the speaker that gave you goosebumps.

And, it is perfectly kosher to ask to listen to the finest speaker in the store, even though it's well out of your price range, just to give you a reference point. But this reference point is of course no substitute for your memory of live music.

Enjoy the journey! Enjoy the discovery! Every speaker you audition educates you, whether it tells you something to look for or something to avoid.

Best of luck to you on your quest!

Duke
Yeah, take music you know you want to listen to on the speakrs, on gear you think you can afford, and have at it! If you know you're going to move around the room while listning, then move around and listen while you audition as well! Some speakers will do better for some applications and some types of music than others. If the speakers do well with your requirements, then you're good.
Seriously, with your ears.
A while back, I wrote the following in a thread on this forum. It certainly applies to speakers. I am reproducing it here since I have no idea what is the best way for you to find it:

"Oh but to be so sure of one's self! I don't put this out as some kind of procedure to follow under pain of banishment or anything like that. Just a few thoughts. For sake of discussion let's divide this into three phases: prior to, during and after auditioning. Prior to, I would recommend not reading any review of the piece(s) of equipment you are interested in. Not easy. Cuts down on the reading on the loo. I would recommend not talking about it to audiophile friends and acquaintances or non-audiophile friends and acquaintances. The former will surely have a ready made opinion and the seed will be planted. The latter will look at you in stunned disbelief and mention that you have a sound system, what you need is a giant projection HDTV compatible what's it. Never talk about your project to your wife/girlfriend, the money will become an issue and you will go for the cheaper model every time. Have some idea of what you are going to audition prior to going. Tear out the reviews and articles from the mags if you must, and only read the advertising, at least you know where they're coming from (dolus bonus, in Latin, I guess). Impractical? Maybe. But what the hell. À la guerre comme à la guerre. During the audition: Make sure you are in familiar surroundings. You should go to the audio shops so regularly that you are on a first name basis with the people there. Double back to see if they abruptly stop talking to each other when you re-enter their premises. The frequency of your visits, especially without ever buying anything, should be such that the audio shop personnel have learnt to detest you. Make it a home trial if you can. Better on everyone's nerves. Listen in your sound room, you should be familiar with the acoustics of the place, and at your normal listening position and volume level. Listen to a variety of recordings (including some poorly recorded material, mono, multi-miked or just plain bad, you would be surprised what they can reveal). Have a set play list of cuts that put different demands on the system. Play them in the same sequence. Play them through. Make sure you have something from all the audio food groups. Make sure you have spoken word, that's what we are all more familiar with. Make sure you have plain sounds of things that don't or barely qualify as musical instruments: hand claps, wood block, something along those lines. If you listen only to heavy metal or techno or whatever comes solely out of machines or amplifiers, you may discontinue the process as soon as you have ascertained that the whole thing plays loud. You need the voice of a male and a female singer, signing. On the topic of what constitutes "singing", tune in later. You need solo instrument recordings of piano, of guitar and something close to the range of the human voice, let's not quibble, say a clarinet. You need a well recorded small group, such as a small jazz ensemble or a chamber music group. You have to include one very dynamic excerpt of a symphonic work, well recorded. You need some kind of big band. You must have a violin, well played and well recorded. You need one monster organ recording of a real organ, in a real space, recorded by a real pro. You should have a dab of bass, both acoustic and electric. You need a very small sliver of rock and let's say a handful of blues, well played and well recorded. You need to believe that 95% of the time, three microphones are enough for a decent recording. If you listen to both analog and cd, you have to double your pleasure, double your fun, (sorry, no gum chewing while you listen) although I am not sure you need exact duplicates of these recordings in both formats. Why not, makes it more of an even match, just kidding. You are to avoid the demon rum and the demon weed and anything which may affect the usual chemical reaction in your brain. You should never do any of this if you have a migraine, cold, sinusitis, tinnitus or deafness. You may drink black coffee, but don't put the cup on top of the speaker enclosures. Do not cook on power amps while listening, wait until later. Preferably, you have to be alone. If you must, ask the other ears not to talk. Throw in that you don't want any obvious body language either. At this stage you will wind up alone, which is how it should be to start with. Warm up your trusty sound system. Acquaint yourself with the hardware you are going to audition. Only make one change at a time in, as we say in French, your hi-fi chain. Listen a second time to the cuts that have incited some overly negative or overly positive reaction on first hearing. Take notes. Get the lingo you want to use in these notes straight in your mind before you commit to paper. Never decide on buying the equipment on the spot. Negative reactions are very hard to get rid of. Positive reactions may not survive the light of day. After auditioning: make a note of your play list, place all your little records back on the shelf, ask yourself if you have actually heard a significant improvement in the overall sound quality with the new component in the chain. Remove the said component from the chain and go back to what you had before. Do you miss something the new component brought? If yes, you may be on to something. If no, stand pat. If you are unsure, don't push it. They ain't no hi-fi police gonna bust ya, unless someone on Audiogon reports you to the authorities. If you remain unconvinced, take the money you were going to spend on that upgrade, in whole or in part, up to the greater of $1,500 or whatever you fell like blowing, and go to the record shop, store, supermarket, and buy records with it. Yes, blow a wad on cds or lps, get the little plastic basket and fill it up with what you consider good music (I always think the people doing that have just settled that claim for the break-in with their insurers). You get to keep the records, you know. It's about the music in the first place, you know. Don't be a smart ass. Promise yourself no to do any of this for a considerable period. Six to twelve months, depending on the severity of your addiction. Hope there is something of some use to someone in here. The use of the actual "dreaded subject" is just the punishment for telling all those little white lies to others and, especially, to yourselves on the good, better, best vector. Regards."
I asked the same question on the Asylum and got a great response.

http://www.audioasylum.com/audio/speakers/messages/96830.html

"First of all, there is far more variation from speaker to speaker than from amp to amp or from CD player to CD player. So don't worry overmuch about not being able to get a perfect apples-to-apples comparison.

Okay, the big idea is not to find the speaker that's the most initially impressive. The idea is to find the speaker that you can listen to hour after hour, and never grow tired of. Live music is like that, ya know.

There are no perfect speakers, and we each have varying degrees of tolerance (or intolerance) for different colorations and inadequacies. So in a sense you are picking your poison - you are picking the set of imperfections you can best live with. For example, I can live with limited bass extension or indistinct imaging, but I can't live with harsh midrange or boomy bass.

Choose a few songs or passages that you will use for your initial evaluation. Pick recordings with instruments whose live sound you are quite familiar with. Solo piano is good, as are male and female vocals, and maybe a drum kit to check out the dynamics and bottom end.

Do the instruments sound natural? Can you easily pick out and follow an individual voice or instrument? Are you aware of the sound coming out of a box (either tonally or spatially)? Any harshness on the female vocals? How about chestiness in the male vocals? On the piano - can you hear the richness of the overtones? Do the lower registers have weight and natural resonance? Can you tell that the piano is a percussion instrument? On the drums, how is the impact? Do the drums sound solid and precise, or thick and sluggish? Do the snares snap, the cymbals shimmer and crash?

How does the presentation affect you, emotionally? Does it get through your defenses, past your facade, and touch your heart? Do you feel yourself filled with and even joining in the energy of the music? It is natural to tap your toes, or do you have to make yourself do it? How about goosebumps? Give extra credit for genuine spontaneous goosebumps.

Okay, now put the same cut on again, and listen up very close to the speakers - like maybe 3 feet away. This will put you in the nearfield, and will pretty much eliminate the room's contribution. This helps you separate the sound of the speakers from the room.

Once you have a handle on how the speakers sound nearfield, turn the volume level way, way down. Does the music still seem lively, or did the liveliness die away? Listen especially to the midrange - at very low volumes, midrange peaks are easier to hear because they are not psychoacoustically "masked" by the bass. Are the speakers still enjoyable at very low volumes? If so, chances are the speaker will not be irritating long-term.

Now turn the volume level up a bit louder than normal, and walk into the next room, leaving the door open. What you're doing now is isolating the reverberant field. Note that a live piano or vocalist still sounds like the real thing from the next room, where all you can possibly hear is the reverberant sound. A loudspeaker that sounds convincing from the next room is generating a tonally correct reverberant field along with good dynamic contrast. This test is a very good predictor of long-term listening enjoyment.

Now go back into the room, turn the volume down to normal or a bit lower, and listen from off-axis. See if the off-axis soundstaging is still enjoyable. If you plan to listen alone this test isn't necessary, but if you plan to listen with others then it's worthwhile to have an idea of how wide the acceptable listening area is.

Try the speakers at the range of volume levels you expect to listen at. I've made the mistake of buying speakers that sounded great at volume levels louder than I normally listen, but then sounded dull and lifeless at my normal, lower levels.

Use the same cuts on every speaker you evaluate. Yes you'll get sick of them, so you may not want to use your most favorite songs. The consistency of program material is the apples-to-apples in your initial evaluations.

Once you've narrowed down your short list to 2 or 3 contenders, see if you can arrange a longer session, and/or in-home audition, using a much wider variety of your own music.

Finally, remember that you will have to make tradeoffs. This is where you have to be very honest with yourself. Speaker A will play louder and deeper, while Speaker B has better midrange. Only you can make the call. If in doubt, go with your heart. Go with the speaker that gave you goosebumps.

And, it is perfectly kosher to ask to listen of the finest speaker in the store, even though it's well out of your price range, just to give you a reference point. But this reference point is of course no substitute for your memory of live music.

Enjoy the journey! Enjoy the discovery! Every speaker you audition educates you, whether it tells you something to look for or something to avoid.

Best of luck to you on your quest!

Duke"
Ahh, Brosenbe NOW you've initiated a very good thread!

All the previous posts are excellent. You need to be aware of and note the associated equipment because they will affect the sound of the speakers you're auditioning. Also, to be very honest when I first started listening to various setups in high end shops my biggest weakness was that I didn't have enough experience and therefore not enough listening sessions to reference what I was hearing. What helped me was reading other people's experiences and doing more listening.

When you go to the audio store bring along some favorite CDs to sample and see how they impress you on the gear you're auditioning. I don't walk in with a checklist of criteria, but rather look forward to the experience and try to immerse myself in it. After awhile certain aspects of the playback will jump out at you. Does it sound lifelike? Is the soundstage wide and deep? Good center focus and placement of musicians and singers? Are you fooled into thinking some of the instruments or vocalists are in the room with you? Is the system too bright or dull and lifeless? Not enough bass or too much in one area of the bass spectrum? Does it have good pace or does it drag along? Do you feel you can listen to it for extended periods without listener fatigue?

Certainly a lot of characteristics to consider, but they usually make themselves apparent when you're just sitting there relaxing and listening. Since this is what I listen to most, I bring along a small mix of CDs which feature female vocalists, acoustic guitar and piano, and also some music with fast paced electronic influences to see how well the speakers hold up during complex sections. And yes, it's very good advice to listen to a system that is supposedly state-of-the-art and financially out of your reach in order to form a comparison reference of the speakers you're considering.

Some things to look for when assessing the store's set up is placement of the speakers. Most, but not all will produce their truer nature when kept a decent distance from the back and side walls. Floorstanders with woofers or any speaker with a rear port may exhibit exageraterd bass if placed too close to the back wall. Being too close to the side wall may inhibit the width of the soundstage. Some speakers perform better when toed in directly at the listener, but you may prefer them firing straight ahead or marginally toed in. Try to audition the speakers in a setup where placement is symmetrical to the side walls. Try changing your seating position by moving closer and further away from the speakers.

Most of all, it's really fun. You'll discover that you might not like the expensive well-reviewed, gotta-have-it speaker and like the lesser known cheaper one. And the more you listen, you'll find yourself adding to your own personal speaker auditioning experience. You'll definitely realize what you like and don't like. But no matter what it's always fun the first time the salesman cues up that first track.