Laid Back Speakers amps, players etc

I've heard this term so many times, usually describing a speaker but I can't seem to understand what it actually means. I've heard so many equipment in this hobby the last 8 years but I have never heard something that I could describe as "Laid Back".
I would be very interested to know your definition of this term...
Laid back generally means a warm resonant bass (typical of small ported designs with underdamped response and big "hump" in the bass) often combined with a "scooped" midrange (scooped midrange means the power response, which is combined on axis and off axis, dips from 1 Khz to 5 Khz.)

These type speakers are extremely popular and have been best sellers since the 80's - although they can make it difficult to hear dialog on movies they make music sound rich, warm with the impression of a listening position a bit further back in the audience.

When you listen to speakers like this you feel like humming along to the music - very relaxing.
Shadorne thanks for your answer. I can see your point.

So is this supposed to be a good thing, a bad thing or is it a matter of personal preference?

From what you say I understand that the ultra hi-end equipment should not be laid back....

Can someone give some examples of laid back components?

From what I understand I would consider laid back amps the Lamm, speakers like the Verity, and cd players with tubes. But is this really what laid back is all about?


Laid back sound comes primarily from the speaker, as Shadorne says. Choose a laid back speaker, and add neutral components, and you should be done. I've yet to hear a laid back speaker at any of the several audio shows I've attended. Maybe I just missed those rooms.

I don't agree that Lamm amps are laid back. In fact, they attempt to be absolutely neutral, which is the goal of the majority of high end audio components, IMO.
I also use that term to describe a sound with less tendency to "bloom" along with the dynamic transients. It certainly doesn't mean reduced dynamics, just more stability.

The antonyms could be "forward" or "aggresive". A "laid back" soundstage would extend behind the line of the speakers. A "forward" soundstage places some imaging in front of the line of the speakers. "Aggressive" can be like jumping out at you and slapping you in the forehead.

The most "laid back" amp I've found so far is the Plinius SA100, which is very capable but doesn't try to impress. The tube amps I've tried tend be a bit more forward. The most aggressive amp I've had was the mosfet-based Mission 777, from the early 80's, which was a lot of fun in a masochistic kind of way. Never left any bruises though.

Often, just adjusting the toe-in of the speakers will have a dramatic effect on the perception of depth of the soundstage and imaging.
Often, just adjusting the toe-in of the speakers will have a dramatic effect on the perception of depth of the soundstage and imaging.

Ngjockey (Threads | Answers)
Very true.
Indeed, to your first point, generally, hi fi shops tend not to feature "laid-back" sounding equipment (at least not in my experience), nor, in fact, is that much of it made (if what you're talking about is really about an easy going mid-hall kind of sound). Most shops feel compelled to show equipment with a lot of "wow" factor--lots of detail, very "in the same room as the cymbals" kind of sound.

The "wow" factor is kind of fun, but you get it at a cost. The "wow" equipment that I've had has tended to become fatiguing with lots of hours of use with lots of kinds of music and recording styles. In one of the earlier incarnations of my system, about 1 in 4 CDs sounded fabulous, 1 sounded pretty good, and 2 of 4 were distinctly unpleasant. I concluded that was not how I wanted to live my musical life, and went on a long quest to find more of a mid-hall sound (or what I think of as a more "forgiving" sound). I'm sure some would say that I lost some accuracy. I certainly lost of bit of detail...but my ears told me, after a while, that what I lost wasn't what real music sounds like (generally) anyway. Instead of being focused on the treble (where a lot of the "wow" factor is), my system is now more about mid-range and to some extent bass.

And, with all due respect, it's not just speakers, by any means. It's in the whole ball of wax. I now use Harbeth speakers, Cardas Cross cable, a BAT pre-amp with NOS tubes, several different CD players, and I've gone back to analog as well, which tends to sound more "laid back" than CDs, to me. All of these items, compared to other items I tried, made a notable difference in going the direction I wanted to go. And, I can make a simple amp change, and go from laid back, mid-hall to "you are there" sound...I just switch out whichever of my tube amps I'm using and plug in my transister BEL amp. I can get some of the same effect by switching CD players (Wadia modified by GNSC, EAR Acute, EMM CDSA) as well. And do so, on purpose, depending on what I'm playing and how I want to hear it.

In the end, it's all a preference issue, seems to me...except it's kind of hard to get the more laid back, forgiving sound, because you really have to look for it and, as you did, ask a lot of questions. Sometimes I think some of it might be a function of age. I'm 52. I went to music school and played in a fusion band...all testosterone and adrenalin. "Wow" factor was everything. Now, I guess I'm like Shadorne describes--if not a few stages beyond--you young guys can have your "wow" factor...I want my music like a warm bath.
Now, I guess I'm like Shadorne describes--if not a few stages beyond--you young guys can have your "wow" factor...I want my music like a warm bath

Exactly. And nothing wrong with that. It is a preference that is totally valid.

From what you say I understand that the ultra hi-end equipment should not be laid back....

No. High end should be whatever the customer wants and some want accuracy and detail (and the fatigue that inherently may come with that) whilst others want a beautiful warm sound.

Sonicflare explains it.

We are all wired differently and we probably change over our lifetime too.

If you understand this then you can do better with selecting your own system - basically no system can be all things - if you have a nice warm system with a small ported monitor - then don't expect a realistic rendition of Mahler with 110 db SPL peaks. Instead learn to enjoy the great ambience and sound of acoustic music, small jazz ensembles and vocalists (where your system may absolutely excel in a way that a Mahler optimised system may not).
'Laid Back' to me refers to a lack of artificial brightness, a lack of added odd-ordered harmonics, IOW the system has no loudness artifacts and will play in an effortless and authoritative way without generating the desire to turn it down. Laid back is where your SO asks you to play more tunes rather than to turn it off.

Laid back is essential if you actually listen to your system and expect it to do what it should do for the thousands of dollars that you have invested: draw you in to the music.
"Laid back is essential if you actually listen to your system."

Love it, Atmasphere. Wish I'd said that. You and me and Shadorne could probably enjoy a pleasant listening session on the same system. What are some examples of equipment you view as reasonably laid back?
With respect to a speakers, the Spendors would meet the laid back criteria.
Could someone recommend some more "laid back" sounding speakers? I have a great pair of little floor standing detailed "wow" factor speakers yet can't stand them for very long. they drive my older kids out of the room....ahhh but the detail and soundstage and dynamics!
I notice in my car that I can turn the volume up and not experience sharpness and listener fatigue. I know about room conditioning and have made some steps in that direction but I am not willing to go any further with it in my living room. Thanks.
Shoe - Harbeths and ProAcs. But it's not just speakers. Everything matters. Tubes often help, but it depends on the designer. Cable (Cardas Cross)...but I think I may have already been through my own list above.
Great answers everybody!!

I would suggest Verity speakers, purist audio cables, cardas cables, most tubes, spendor speakers, sonus faber maybe, Lamms, generally anything that makes you relax as real music does.
Shoe, add Silverline speakers to your list
Shoe, add Silverline speakers to your list
Shadorne (System | Reviews | Threads | Answers)

My Silverline Sonata III are very revealing of what's upstream. Laid back they are not.

Perhaps other models in the Silverline line-up are.
With the possible exception of the B&W line and maybe Epos, check out any speaker made in the UK. As one member posted - Harbeth and ProAc, you could add Stirling and especially Spendor which I mentioned ealier.

In speaking with many Dealers by phone over the years it seems that the British products(not all and I am not painting them into this corner)have a rep for having a more laid back sound then products made here in America or its other European counterparts. Fire up a JM Lab next to a Spendor and you will get an idea.
I own an Arcam CD36 as a front end and Spendor S6e speaker. My system is very much on the laid back warm side. For me, I am looking for a bit more of a neutral open presentation at this point though.

Good luck.

You are right - not all Silverline are laid back.

I was in particular thinking of the "scooped midrange" on these or these. And the harmonics in the bass here, which will add warmth.

I have not heard your speakers but they are sometimes favorably compared to Sonus Faber Amati (in the magazines) - which suggests they have a much more detailed and flatter response then the above.

Good point.
From what I've been told by folks that have heard two, if not all, the Sonata iterations, the Sonata I and Sonata II were indeed warmer and more forgiving in their presentation than the Sonata III. I suspect this may also be true of the Bolero.
Classe30, I too am using the Arcam FMJ CD 36 , great player. . I currently have Sonus Faber Grand Piano Home and a James EMB sub and get some fantastic sound but the speakers do have some bite to them at times...somewhere in the low highs like with high pitched voices and the dang snare drum on some recordings.... My plaster walls don't help either..
I am using a BelCanto Evo 2i Gen 2 integrated. Other speakers didn't quite sound so hard in the low highs so I do believe it is the speakers. great detail and bass though.

Thanks for the sudgestions everyone....
Shoe, yes it is, I am very happy with it and it sounds like you have a really nice system.
Spendor, Harbeth would be something you might want to look into. Plus with the Sub you have you needn't worry about the bass response.
With the Spendor you may... not 100% sure.... sacrafice some detail with your current SF GP's. I have minimal experience with Harbeth, but they sounded awesome when I heard them at a dealer in Sarasota Fl.
I am sure you will see my S6e's on sale within the next couple of months. Nice speaker, but I would like a change a bit in the other direction.

Where are you located at?
Eweedhome, I should clarify that I do not regard a laid back presentation as a coloration, rather it is a lack of artificial coloration such that you can easily listen to it all day and night and you always want to play it some more.

Some speakers: Audiokinesis, Classic Audio Reproductions, Sound Lab, Quad, Ocellia, Tonian Labs, Coincident Technology, High Emotion Audio, Tannoy, JM Labs, Vandersteen, Audio Mechanica, Avalon, to name a few.
Atmasphere - agree that "laid back" is not necessarily a coloration, although some would say it is, which gets back to the argument that more detail must therefore = more accuracy, which is silly, but whatever...

I respectfully dissent as to the characterization of Avalons (at least the most recent incarnation of the Ascendants) as "laid back." I'd call them "fun", but also leaning in the "too much information" catagory.

I'm inclined to put the Vandersteens in that catagory as well, but I admit that it really depends upon how you run them. They don't have the magic midrange of the Harbeths, however, and I've fallen for that, so I'm not the most objective, perhaps.

Shoe, I auditioned the Sonus Faber Cremonas and whatever the monitors were called, and noticed the same edge or bite that you describe. For that reason, I didn't buy them. I heard some very recently, however, that sounded more relaxed, and was told that the tweeters are new. Don't know much about them, though.
if a presentation always sounds "laid back", and all recordings are not recorded that way, then "laid back", is a coloration.

incidentally, the connotation of "laid back" is usually, recessed treble response, or artificial depth.
"incidentally, the connotation of "laid back" is usually, recessed treble response, or artificial depth."

I totally agree with that statement.

"Laid back"... to me, I always took as a reflection of a personality. Not calling attention to oneself, in the background, polite not exciteable.

Take a Spendor for instance, to me that is a nice example.
Audition one, and the first thing that comes to mind is a recessed treble and a music presentation that is behind the plane of the speakers.
Hmmmm, I equate 'laid back' with 'relaxed', 'easy', 'non-fatiguing'... so to have a meaningful conversation the difference in meaning attached to the phrase would have to be overcome first.

To me, 'laid back' has nothing to do with a lack of highs or speed. It has to do with a lack of artificially-generated loudness cues that the human ear perceives as brightness. How you would differentiate this from a tilted up tonal anomaly is that 'laid back' measures flat on the bench and the tonal anomaly does not.

Thus, 'laid back' is a lack of coloration of the odd-ordered harmonic type (you could listen to a laid back system, get the full range of frequencies, and not be oppressed by the volume, with no sense of having to turn it down). I often perceive transistor amplifiers as not being very 'laid back'; not very relaxed.

So- if this is not an acceptable meaning for this phrase, then we need to sort out what this thread is about, right?
Hey Atmasphere, I agree with the phrase you wrote.

"""Hmmmm, I equate 'laid back' with 'relaxed', 'easy', 'non-fatiguing'..."""

I would agree as well that it has nothing to do with speed.
Though Dynamics...yes. IMO.

For me, I was just using the actual general definition of the term "laid back" as it pertains to speaker presentation.
It does not draw attention too itself, the speaker does not highlight(is that the term, with respect to color?) anything. The presentation is recessed, where yes, you always feel you can turn the volume up.

I think we are in agreement over the term, we are just using different examples of words.... I think :0)

I think some Transistor Amps can be defined as "laid back"
Ayre comes to mind that I have heard.
Agree with Atmashere's description. Dark and laid back are two different things.
We do NOT have a consensus on the meaning.

I did not infer any tonal qualities at all. Although there probably is a relation between the presentation of the soundstage and frequency, harmonics, and many other factors, I have yet to isolate the common ground among the systems I would consider to have a "laid back" soundstage. Dipoles seem to be a good start though.

Even what could be labelled "character" is beyond my intent. I would not use the terms, "easy-going" or "relaxed" in the same way as "laid back" in describing audio. Perhaps, I put too much emphasis on "laid BACK" in trying to find the antonym of "forward".
are all speakers laid back ? if not, then, either those which are laid back are colored in the respect to which the definition applies, or, those which are not laid back are colored.

the problem i have with this term is the relation between recorded music and speaker presentation. if a speaker has a consistent character, while all recordings do not, it would seem that the speaker is colored in a certain respect.

thus, i would say that laid back is a coloration.

if someone suggests that having a relaxed presentation is the meaning of laid back, it too is a coloration, since all recordings are varied in this respect.

regardless of how the term laid back is defined, its consitency implies a coloration in speaker performance.

let the chips fall.......
Hello Ngjockey -

So, I have always used that term as non agressive, not highlighting any frequency band, and yes, at times a presentation that was behind the plane of the speakers. In essence similiar to the meaning I always took for "laid back" in any description... within reason. Not neccessarily always in a physical sense but also by personality.

Dipoles - Nola comes to mind... I have heard the Viper 1 and 2, so yep... I see your point.
I guess I keep thinking of my Spendors, they are definitely "laid back, polite, non aggressive, a bit thick in the middle".


By the way on a side note do you have any experience with the Nola Viper 1a?
Hmmm... you make some very valid points Mrtennis.

So, I always here reviewers say this component had a front row character, or a mid hall, or a back of the arena.

So is the sound colored if the designer of a speaker prefers a mid hall presentation? Or is it colored if another designer prefers the front of the arena?

I may be off base here :o) But I think with respect to a speaker showing a laid back characteristic, that designer may prefer being in the back of the hall and his/her presentation is going to mimic that. As opposed to the other designer who prefers the front row center.
Which is colored? They both heard the same show?

If the laid back speaker still has the lead vocals in the forefront of the band, but it is presented only at the plane of the speaker it is still true to the recording(to him). While the first row guy has the lead vocal in front of the plane and in your face.

Just another viewpoint.
whenever a designer voices a product in a certain way, it incorporates an intended characteristic. as i understand it, that's coloration.

coloration is either intentional or unintentional.

at any price point, it is almost impossible to create a product having no audible sonic signature. it is unrealistic to expect otherwise.

thus, choose your coloration wisely. configuring a stereo system is an art of balancing intended and unintended coloration to achieve a sound that pleases the listener.

personally, i prefer a rear hall or laid back perspective, but i realize orchestral recordings are not engineered that way.
I agree with just about all of your comments.

However, I believe I have a different viewpoint on "colored".

To me it refers to the tonal balance. Meaning a certain frequency range is highlighted, therefore it is "colored".
Uncolored = (neutral) tonality
Now I am sure as hell open to be corrected on my understanding of "colored" :o) I am sure some other members of the forum will add their thoughts.
But that was how I took the term.
hi classe30:

i agree with your view of colored. i think the concept can be applied to the subject of the thread. a laid back perspective has a non neutral tonal balance.

thus, front row, mid hall and rear hall have different frequency response characteristsics. as i have said, i prefer a rear hall or laid back presentation, and i admit it is not accuracy.
Hey Mrtennis - can the concept be applied to the subject of the thread. a laid back perspective has a non neutral tonal balance?

It could be.

I guess it could be argued as well if we are talking about where the actual presentation is, then we are getting into the label of Soundstaging. How the speaker presents the images of the instruments, including image width, image depth, image size, and image height.
That seems to match the front,mid, and back of the hall as well.

I guess I prefer more of a mid hall to laid back as well.
I have never associated the term 'laid back' to have *anything* to do with perspective, i.e. the ability to reproduce the correct sound stage width and depth.

I would argue that all natural music is 'laid back' as it is absent of artificial loudness cues that cause listener fatigue.

So it appears to me that MrTennis has a very different meaning for the phrase! In fact it seems that there are at least three definitions being used interchangeably:

1) mine, I won't repeat it
2) a tonal coloration
3) a perspective distortion! -opposite of 'forward' as in: in-your-face presentation, a lack of depth.

So- how to proceed? Perhaps Argyro could comment, as it is he that started this thread? Or- can we agree to identify how the term is being used?

MrTennis, I don't agree that we should just settle for a coloration giving that nothing is perfect. IMO we should still try to get as close as we can to the ideal. Did I misinterpret your comment?
Hi Atmashpere, your description of "Laid back"(in your previous posts:o) ) is much more in tune with what I am trying to describe, be it the only difference is that I also related it to a presentation behind the plane of the speakers.

For the most part I do not agree with Mrtennis viewpoint on colored = laid back.

To me, the term "colored" is associated with the speakers tonal balance -- how evenly the speakers reproduce the audible frequencies. Uncolored = neutral tonality.

"Soundstage -- How the speaker presents the images of the instruments, image width, depth, size, and height."
Now is this the term that "laid back" could be classified in, if we were to classify a component/speaker that had a presentation behind the speaker plane?

If it is not agreed, then....OK, I am open for a change of thought :o)
the phrase "laid back" contains two words, namely "laid" and "back". i believe the context for "laid" is position of the sound, i.e., where is it coming from ?

the word, "back", would indicate a rear of the stage presentation. thus laid back would mean tat the sound of instruments appears to be projected from the back of a hall, studio, or other venue.

now, consider a recording. where is the microphone placed in the recording venue in relationship to the performing musicians ? each recording offers a different presentation with respect to placing the musicians at some position in the room.

if a stereo system always gives the impression that the music is coming from the back of a recording venue, is this not coloration and wouldn't such a stereo system be considered laid back. if so, laid back is not a coloration. if instead, laid back is not a coloration, does this mean laid back means lack of coloration or neutrality ?

one can't have it both ways. and yes, laid back creates a tonal balance in which, instruments placed in the foreground seem to attenuate treble frequency to a greater extent than bass frequencies. after all, treble frequencies have a shorter wave length.

i hope i don't sound like a lawyer.

i agree with you, ralph, that one should strive to create components which are faithful to the timbre, harmonics and dynamics of instruments. however, the best efforts of designers do not produce perfection. a well trained listener will discern a consistent sonic characteristic, i.e., coloration when listening to most stereo systems.

thus, it seems reasonable to accept that all components are colored (imperfect) and strive to minimize imperfection.

ralph, how do you minimize coloration in your designs ?
Let's take a poll. Maybe we can find out what "musical" means too. ;)

Classe30: Not familiar with Nola. ML, Maggies, IRS and Genesis are the dipoles I've spent some time with.
Mrtennis, I would be hesitant in this case to take the face value of the phrase for its actual meaning; if you think of someone who has a laid back demeanor I think you get a better idea of what I am talking about.

As to your question, we avoid coloration by avoiding synergistic effects. None of our gear is built to synergize with another piece, be it one of ours or someone else's. IOW there is no voicing of any kind. We don't have to worry about the effects of a transformer, so it comes down to the quality of the coupling caps, how many stages of gain (one), that sort of thing.

Being able to compare against master tapes helps.

Getting rid of negative feedback turned out to be a fairly easy way to get 'laid back' sound (in this case, my meaning for the term, see previous posts) without sacrificing bandwidth. That **does** mean that certain speakers just will not work with our stuff; turns out there's a set of rules about how to predict that- see
Something I thought and wanted to share with you.

Could it be that a laid back speaker gives you the impression that you are where the event was performed while a forward speaker gives you the impression of the event being performed in your room?

In that case I think laid back is more correct, due to the ambience of the reconding...
i think laid back means a greater distance between listener and musicians than the distance between the microphone and musicians, while forward is the opposite of laid back. both are departures from the accurate reproduction of a recording.

thus, there are 3 possibilities, laid back, forward and neither laid back nor forward.