Is There a Speaker for Me/Impossible Requirements? (budget: $2000)


Well, I just lost a very long and detailed post. Here’s my second shot:
After years in headphone purgatory I’m finally dipping a toe into ’real’ hifi. Turns out, its not as straightforward as I expected.
My equipment: 320-lossless files into a Moon i-5 in a 9 1/2 x 11 1/2’ room with 7’4" ceilings and a large rug. No issues or concerns regarding acoustics nor any interest in treating. Listen at 60-90 db for 3-8 hours a day- music is all over the map but a strong preference for neo-classical/ambient (Olafur Arnalds, Nils Frahm, Jonsi and Alex, etc), baroque/solo piano, fingerstyle guitar, and ’indie’ (whatever that means nowadays).

After reading a whole lot I purchased the following speakers based on my headphone preferences (HD650):
Wharfedale Denton 80th Anniv: VERY forward, VERY mid-centric, and not at all for me. They seem to have the veil people associate with the Senns, though I’ve never experienced it myself.
Spendor S3/5: These are much more interesting. Imaging is amazing- they do seem to disappear completely on certain tracks. However, the sound is rather unexciting. Perhaps this is closer to neutral but I find the speakers end up falling into the background and don’t really pull me in to the music. Tonally, the 3/5 seems very coherent though the lack of visceral bass is quite evident.
Spendor SP-1: The best of the bunch to my ears. The imaging is maybe a little behind the 3/5 but the sound seems much more balanced with more bass presence. On some songs they sound a bit U-shaped (maybe a little ’thin’ vs the ’non-present’ 3/5) and not quite as unified (lack of mids?) as the other Spendor.

My hope is to find a speaker I can keep for a long time that fits my listening space and music preferences. Given my experience where would you head from here:
A) Keep the SP-1s and spend more time placing them within my space/experimenting with stands and/or upstream gear?
B) Get a sub for the S3/5 and compare against the SP-1 again?
C) Try for another speaker altogether? If so, my max budget would be $2000 with a preference for value. I do have a pair of Meadowlark Kestrels on their way to me, but I haven’t heard them yet. Harbeth, Totem, ProAc, Vandersteen, Ohm, and Revel all sound interesting to me.
Grateful for any thoughts,
NM
joincoolkidclub
My hunch is you will know when you hear the Kestrels.

Yes, give the Kestrels some time, they're a remarkable value. Since you're searching by brand name the two that have repeatedly impressed me in terms of long-term satisfaction me are ProAc and Devore, I've owned a couple of models of each.
@sfar
@millercarbon

Thanks for your responses. I'm very excited to hear the Kestrels (especially at $230!) and will have more context after spending some time with them. I think my major concern is feeling somewhat underwhelmed by my speaker experiences thus far after hearing for so many years that they outperform headphones by a considerable margin. Working to not judge so quickly...
With the music you described... if your ultimate goal is top end air, detail and three dimensionality...put the Sierra 2 with the RAAL tweeter on your audition list. 
Monitor Audio.

https://www.partsconnexion.com/monitor-gold4g-floorstnd.html

Those are a little outside your price range, but if you follow the bread crumbs  you can find the silver floor standers.
Since you like the Spendors, you would probably love the Harbeth P3esr.

@smrex13 Do you feel like the solve the issues I identified with the S3/5 and the SP1? I suppose, at this point, that's how I would best describe what I was looking for- as a compromise between mid-centric/coherent/holographic (S3/5) and engaging/dynamic/visceral (SP-1)...
In a similar vein as the Harbeth, Spendor, Graham Audio group take a look at JM Reynaud from France.

You might want to try contacting this seller as the ad expired but I don't think he sold them.

https://www.audiogon.com/listings/lis9a90b-jean-marie-reynaud-bliss-silver-speakers-with-magic-stand...

The Vandersteen 1Ci might also give you what you are looking for.
Yeah, I'd give the Kestrals a good run before buying anything else.  Past that, you might consider these...

https://www.audiogon.com/listings/lis9aj9h-silverline-audio-prelude-plus-rosewood-thin-colum-speaker...
" No issues or concerns regarding the acoustics nor any interest in treating ". Forget my personal opinion. My professional opinion. This is a big mistake, especially as you are coming from a headphone background. Any speaker you place in your room, you will hear speaker / room interactions, no matter how good the speakers might be. The room interactions will become more significant as you reach those 90 db levels. As a retired audio consultant, I would have done a disservice to my clients if I did not speak up about it, and help them. Your money. Good luck. Enjoy ! MrD.
+1 Harbeth P3!
I've owned the Spendors and the Harbeths.
Here ya go! 
 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vF1rWiEhEjY
I'd buy a pair of Thiel CS 2.2s, 2.3s or 2.4s.  I have the 2.2s and they are phenomenal for what you're describing.  In my experience you don't get good bass quality and satisfying punch from anything less than an 8" woofer.  The 2.3 and 2.4 have concentric mid/tweeters so they're less sensitive to distance.  You need to sit back a bit from the 2.2 which could be difficult in your room.  All three do ambience and imaging fantastically well.  
Your room is too small. Get a larger room!
the kestrels are an excellent speaker, esp. for the money. i'm sure you'll find the harbeth or some of the other above to be more resolving for your type of music, but the difference may not be cost-effective. fwiw, i didn't find the spendor 3/5 to be that engaging either.
Appreciate all the responses:
@loomisjohnson Very excited to hear the Kestrels when they arrive next week. The 3/5 appears to have huge acclaim but, like so many things, its all subjective...
@roberjerman & mrdecibel The reason I indicated I wasn't interested in treating my room is that we may convert the basement into a listening room. Its 12 x 20' and has plastered walls so I'd rather spend time fixing up that space, assuming time and money allow.
@yogiboy Still interested in the Harbeth as they come up again and again in my research. Are you able to speak to the concerns I had about the Spendor vs Habeth?
@jon_5912 Will certainly start reading about the Thiels. Like the Vandersteen, these seem to come up again and again in my reading based on my preferences and environment.
@soix Will do!
@jackd Its hard to find much info on the JMR, but what I had found was all positive. My one concern about the Vandersteen is that some think they don't really open up until you reach louder listening levels- since I'll be spending a lot of time between 60 and 80 db, I want to be sure the speakers won't be compromised at those volumes.

I think an issue you'll be dealing with regardless of which speaker you audition is that the headphone and speaker listening experiences are inherently quite different. Neither is better, they're just different. You often read discussions here about the burn-in time required for equipment. I suspect your ears are going to require some burn-in time with any speaker.
@sfar That's a great thought. I'll certainly be spending significantly more time with the Spendors and Kestrels getting to know them better before making any more purchases. My third option was more future oriented- if I'm not getting exactly what I want out of these speakers, is there something else that might suit me better. The ProAc (Studio?), Harbeth P3ESR, Thiel CS-2.x, and Vandersteen options continue to come up in my reading and so may be options down the road after I become more familiar with what I have now. Thanks again for your response.
@joincoolkidclub
I have owned many LS3/5A type speakers. Including all of the Spendor versions, 3/5, 3/5r and 3/5r2. The Harbeth P3ESR has a bigger brighter sound than the Spendor’s. I have tried different speakers including the bigger Harbeth Compact 7 and I went back to the smaller P3s.
It’s all a matter of what your taste in music and size of your listening room is!!

TOTEM..... if you are still married to the SIMAUDIO MOON i5 intergrated amp.... an ideal and proven synergy.

TOTEM and SIMAUDIO are both resident in Montreal and are mutually voiced to test each other’s product offerings.

SIMAUDIO and TOTEM even had a joint venture that produced the TOTEM AMBER integrated amp based on the SIMAUDIO integrated amplifier platform.
 Not so sure about Thiels in a room that size, I tried CS1.6 in my second system in a room slightly larger and couldn’t get them to sound tolerable. The Thiels had been displaced from my main system after 6 years by Naim NBLs so I was quite familiar with them. I then tried a pair of Totem Dreamcatchers, these things are the opposite of dull and I’d have bought them except that I listen to too much piano music and they made a Steinway concert grand sound like an upright. Feed them some Wishbone ash and the’ll warm it up nicely. Then I happened on a pair of Naim allaes at a good price and these were keepers but I have solid brick walls, they don’t work with stud walls behind them and they will be a rare find across the pond but the Totems showed great promise with my Rega Maia, which is about the same power as the Moon, so probably worth thoroughly investigating.
@yogiboy My other concern with the smaller monitors is that they may not have as much air and openness as a cab with larger speakers- just using my current references (S3/5 vs SP1). Sounds like tonally they would be more to my liking but it feels like a bit of a risk given the asking price...@akg_ca Will keep that in mind. Some of the descriptions of the Totems sounded interesting but I was initially concerned that they were not tuned to my liking. After having a mixed experience with the BBC style monitors, I may try something from up North. Any chance you have any experience with the Meadowlarks for comparison's sake?@yeti42 Thanks for those thoughts. It sounds like the Thiel 2.3 and 2.4 is easier to place, so maybe that would facilitate things on my end? Your echoing of AKG's comments regarding the Totems is certainly pushing them towards the top of my list assuming the Kestrels don't blow my mind. I've struggled to find the Naim or Rega speakers on the used market over here- Totem seems much more common.
With your sized room, go with the Thiel CS1.6es.  They're fantastic and if you find them used they'll probably be cheaper than the Silverlines I mentioned earlier.  But a pair of Joseph Audio RM25s would be just as good and easier to drive, although neither of these speakers come up used much, and for good reason.  Thiel is out of business, which would push me toward the JA RM25s.  

"Your room is too small. Get a larger room!"

Some of my favorite listening rooms are that size, with the right type of walls.

No room treatment, now that's a little off. I wouldn't recommend dampening the room but I would certainly tune it.

mg

How about open baffle? Emerald Physics got an Absolute Sound Speaker of the Year (or was it product?) anyway, I own their KCIIs with upgraded Wireworld OCC internal wires and Clarity Caps

I am currently powering them with PS Audio Stellar M700s and GC Dac. wiring is all WireWorld series 7 & 8

They play all kinds of music with panache and they look cool. Stock MSRP is $1995!
@tweak1 I've heard open baffle speakers sound very 'present', but most of what I was seeing were single driver designs that I'm afraid might sound a bit thin relative to other two way designs. I do listen to a mix of music including a lot of acoustic (which they may excel at?) but also a fair bit of heavily produced electronic music. Looks like the EP are also single drivers?
Look up the KC IIs on the Emerald Physics www.  I think you will be excited . Recently I made several WireWorld wire and cable upgrades, which took the KCIIs to an even higher level of enjoyment

I owned Magnepan 3.5Rs (separate true ribbons) the KCIIs do it for me at less than half the physical size. If you're anywhere near Ft Lauderdale, you're welcome to hear them 
Another thing you could try is to listen nearfield.  I've found that I prefer nearfield for speakers with higher order crossovers and smaller drivers.  The closer you are, the more direct sound you're getting as opposed to room reflections.  You'll also get more punch up close.  
@tweak1 Unfortunately that would be a bit of a drive from up here in Maine, but I appreciate that generous offer. Might consider trying to visit salons in Boston or NYC at some point though it seems a bit disengenous as I would almost certainly leave and try to find what I liked on here or eBay....

@jon_5912 There seems to be a lot of discrepancy in what constitutes nearfield. I had been listening at distances of ~4-5’ though have moved the smaller Spendors (3/5) downstairs and am now listening at a distance of 11 1/2’. 

If anyone one is following this thread: I’m starting to really warm up to the Spendor S3/5. They seem to work well at all levels where as the SP-1 really needs more power to open up. Listening to Joanna Newsom’s Ys in a larger space with the 3/5 at moderate levels (65-70 db) sounds pretty great. It sounds ‘right’- I stop thinking about the tone of the speakers, or their placement, and can enjoy this beautiful record. I’m a bit disappointed to think that my prev space (the one listed in my op) is inherently problematic. May end up using headphones in that room and using monitors elsewhere... Or one way/open baffle speakers up there to compensate for the lack of air....?? Too much to think about!
join

that's exactly why I got out of the biz. Got tired of educating,  demoing, putting on events,  only to have people shop for lowest price, but I think EPs are only sold direct

That aside, you can contact EP to see whether someone owns them in your area. You'll b glad you did, assuming they do. 

There are a number of excellent YT show reports which you can link to from EPs www 
@OP,
Vandy's sound good at just about any sound level.
Someone recommended the 1ci's. I would also recommend the VLR's.
I have them in my office, mounted near the ceiling (my desk is almost underneath them)with a pair of Hsu subs.
I find them very listenable.
Bob
Wow finally someone brought in the Vandersteen's.  Just call the factory and talk to Richard Vandersteen, he is the king of affordable speakers with high fidelity playback.  You need to know if you are a first order crossover guy or not before you move forward.  
Harbeth P3 good but think you will
relish a larger cabinet more if
you can get one as no matter
the driver - a bigger cabinet just needs to work less and portrays a sense of scale much better.
and this is from me - just upsizing from a Harbeth 30.1 to a Tannoy Arden 
Falcon Acoustics RAM Studio 10 or Studio 20 (full disclosure I own a pair of the Studio 10’s).
Non-fatiguing with excellent imaging and great bass performance for their size. A bit of a sleeper right now as their NA distributor recently changed to MoFi and they are currently focusing on Falcon’s LS3/5A reissue, also a loudspeaker to consider. Hope this helps.
Check out ADS Speakers Although they are not built anymore you can find a nice used Pair.
For the size of your Room a pair of L710 or L780. Both are 3 way.
Upgrade the source. As far as I know 320 kbps is not lossless. Try some flac or wav files!😎
@arcam88 Certainly correct, but I think he meant "from 320 to lossless." Could be wrong, obviously. On topic: I heard the Harbeth 3 for the first time the other day at The Listening Room in Maryland (amazing store with one of the great owners in the biz) — and it's pretty damn great, if you can live without the bass or can augment with a sub. The imaging is what you'd expect, and theyy play WAY louder than you'd think possible from such a small box. Scansonic 2.5 would also fit the bill at used prices ($3500 new). They're not the last word in bass, but the ribbon tweeter is killer and they are perhaps the best-imaging speakers I've ever heard — they're forward without being aggressive at all. In full disclosure that's a little self-serving, as I have a pair I'm thinking about parting with to move up in the line, but there it is.
I have the Harbeth P3esr speakers.  I bought them a few years ago as part of my "downsizing" project – a more compact hifi that didn't take up half the room for listening at sensible volume levels.  I no longer feel a need to impress anybody but myself or blast at 110 decibels.  These speakers are perfect for me!
I get mixed reactions from others who listen to my system.  They either love them and can't wait to buy their own, or they decry the lack of bass and a sizzling top end.  I can generally classify these two groups:  those that like the P3s listen to a lot of music, prefer to listen to entire albums, and would rather spend their evening listening to a few albums than watch TV.  Those that are ho-hum about them prefer short listening sessions, will rarely listen to an entire album, and prefer to listen at higher volumes with chest-thumping bass.  The second group also tend to have home theater systems and generally prefer watching films over listening to music.
An unexpected bonus is that my wife will now sit down and enjoy listening to music with me.  She loves the Harbeths.  They have a tendency to draw in the listener;  their non-stridant sound is pleasant and engaging.  I suspect that she also appreciates their small size; my old system was large and imposing and the room it took up was a constant annoyance.
Try before you buy.  You will know right off the bat if the P3s are right for you.
With $2000, what I'd do is score a pair of late 1970's vintage KEF Calinda loudspeakers and then pair it with a VTA ST-120 power amp.  A buddy of mine has a Calinda pair he drives with a Marantz 8B power amp.  Absolute magic!  Will make you forget about everything else.

Your best bet for finding a pair of Calinda loudspeakers is at the hifishark website.  They go for about $400 or so.  Most of them are in the UK and Europe.  Not often for sale in the USA, but still very affordable.

https://www.hifishark.com/model/kef-calinda

VTA sells directly through their website at http://tubes4hifi.com/

They sell their amps as kits and fully assembled.  There's an enormous satisfaction you get from building a kit, but the premium they charge for building it for you is reasonable.  Their 60 wpc ST-120 is comparable to a Mac 275 and some say better.  In kit form, with tubes, is about $1200.  Preassembled is about $1700.

I'd build the kit and buy the Calindas and then enjoy the magic.  Really.
I am streaming some material from Spotify Premium as well as playing local lossless files- I can’t tell the difference and never have been able to.

I don’t know that I’m going to continue to search for additional suggestions at this point as I already have a long list of contenders. Still experimenting with the 3/5 while I wait for the Kestrels to arrive. May end up experimenting with the Harbeths, though I’m not sure the jump from the the Spendors would be significant (let alone at 4x the price). May try a pair of Vandys if they pop up locally <500. Plenty of options certainly but I find that most people end up suggesting what they own regardless of others’ parameters- certainly not malicious, but it seems to me as though there’s a very strong drive to justification or validation as with many hobbies/human affairs. Suppose that's what essentially what I was doing (in my own way) from the jump, though my thoughts and concerns have changed since the OP. Think I'll take a step back and just enjoy the music for awhile. Regardless, I appreciate all the feedback.
Hello,
I had a budget of $5,000.00 for speakers and bought a pair of Revel and then a pair of
I was, after 100 hour break-in period, comparing them to Polk A9s.....both sounded inferior
to  the Polks believe it or not....both of the $5,000. speakers lacked an acceptable presence 
in the mid-range and just acceptable in the low frequencies.
The message here is don't be seduced by high prices....I would still buy a speaker pair for $5,000.00 if demonstrably superior to the Polks.  I was just tired of moving 80 lb+ speakers
around.
I was fooled as well by listening to speakers at the dealer....all speakers will sound different in the home.
A friend suggested a pair of higher end FOCALs $6,500.00...I may give those an audition 
someday.
Good Luck,
David Woodruff


 
I’m curious what you think of the kestrel.       I really like that speaker for that price it’s really good.   I think I paid about 1200 or so when those were new and used them at least 10 years daily 
If you like neoclassical/ ambient, you should look into Vandersteen. I have 2ce sigs in an 11 x 16 room, but you might want to try the smaller, 2-way 1c, which I have not heard.

It's true, as others have suggested, that you should try to audition the first-order crossover sound, but I will tell you that the Vandersteen design principles are pretty much ideal for the kind of music you listen to. I only find my speakers a bit congested and less-than-ideal with rock. With just about anything else, especially classical, ambient, folk, indie rock: heaven.

1c models come up regularly for $400-600. With that you could get a good sub, either the 2wq or a REL t9i, and still come in under budget.

Also something to consider, many of the classic speakers people recommend used are from companies no longer in business, e.g, Meadowlark. Vandersteen is still in business, answers the phone, and rebuilt a driver of mine that they no longer stock for 150$, shipping included. This is a guy who sells $60k speakers. That's service!

-Paul
Whoa, I misspoke. Meadowlark is still in business: www.meadowlarksings.com
Buchardt 300 or s400 with 100 hours run in and good solid stands. Free audition.
The Silverline SR17 used is in your price range. I heard it next to the Harbeth P3ESR and it’s a lot more balanced of a speaker....actually it is just a lot better of a speaker period. 

Rega RS5 is also worth a look. Really nice tone and detail without fatigue. Great value used. 
If Meadowlark is in business it IS a new company  !They went out of business over a decade ago, I have a pr of Kestrel 2's
that were among the last made , still good as new and an excellent
speaker esp. on Acoustic Music .
If same guy is running it hooray , if not .............

They are back in business and it is still Pat running the company.  Most of their new speakers are fully or partially active.
I've always thought Sennheiser phones and Ohm Walsh speakers have an overall more laid back sonic similarity along the lines you indicate appeal to you FWIW.   I've had several of each. The Ohms still draw me in best overall. 
+1 for Vandersteen. Get the 2ce sig II used... sometimes can find for $1500 or so (3k speaker brand new)
I've always thought Sennheiser phones and Ohm Walsh speakers have an overall more laid back sonic similarity along the lines you indicate appeal to you FWIW.   I've had several of each. The Ohms still draw me in best overall.

I own Ohm Walsh tall and HD650 headphones and I agree. Zero fatigue after hours of listening and all genres sound good on both.