Older generation Sonus Faber speakers fit the "mellowness" bill, but I'm not sure that there were any floorstanders in their line back in that day. You could also look at the Verity Parsifal/Encore, if your budget allows. I use Ohms as my main loudspeakers these days (and highly recommend them), but they're pretty neutral in tonal balance IMO, while I'd say that both older SF and Verity definitely lean warm, FWIW.
I agree that Vandersteens are good candidates. A lot harder to find would be Tyler Acoustics speakers; I heard the PD15 and thought they sounded pretty good.
Odyssey Audio makes a small floorstander called the Lorelei that sounds pretty good.
If you need a floorstander that can be placed close to the back wall, or even the corner, one of the more flexible speakers with decent, warm, sound is the Gradient Revolution.
Many moons ago I've owned the KEF 101,103,and 105. Never did have the 104. The older KEF's were a mellow laid back speaker. Since you are looking for a floorstander on the same plain as the KEF I think the Vandersteen ( I've owned the 2 and the 3's ) should fit the bill. If you decide on a standmount with a relaxed easy to listen to sound then I would recommend the Spendor 3'5. BTW, I now use the Harbeth P3ESR and it is a tad brighter than the Spendor!
Mellow? Pretty subjective like "laid back". I always found Paradigms "mellow and or "laid back". To the point where they bored me but many listeners like them. Vandersteen's are mellow for sure and a good listen. I found most B&W speakers to be mellow as well. Another option might be GoldenEar Triton 7's. Very airy, open and not forward. They have a fantastic tweeter. Magnapan MMG's to me are not forward but they do like power (current). Also, they need plenty of room around them but will reward you greatly.
In answer to some of your excellent questions:
I've got an Ortofon 2M Black on the VPI, and a Musical Impressions phono pre.
The harshness I hear occurs on both digital and analogue. I'm secretly afraid that my old musician/sound guy ears are tired and sensitive. But my best listening buddy also hears the edge...female voices, pianos, brass bring it out the most. Plus, the PMCs just lack the body of floorstanders.
I've played with speaker positioning, but I have limited ability to move stuff around. My listening chair is in the triangle sweet spot, but the speakers can only move around a couple of feet in any direction. My room is not terrible...a medium living room with lots of furniture. I've played with measuring the room response with RoomEQ Wizard software (great fun!), and the room actually performs pretty well. I need to go back and look, but I don't recall any obvious peaks in the mid treble area...mostly bass issues.
Thanks for all your input...sounds like there are lots of options and the Vandersteens keep coming up. Better do my research on them.
DeVore makes some very nice, not at all harsh, floorstanders that are more cat-friendly than the Vandersteens. Their speakers sound very good and are relatively easy to drive.
Although not necessarily in the "mellow" and warm camp, I like speakers made by Neat because they don't have the brittle edginess and sibilance that is quite common in high end speakers these days. They are also a pretty good bargain price-wise and should also be cat-friendly.
You need to look more systematically at the little things in the system.
First cables can make a huge difference so can power conditioning.
The Ayre preamp isn't particularly warm, if the speakers are doing things yo like you need to address why there are things present in the system that are not, PMC speakers are accurate, they are not bright or sibilant, however, if the speakers are being overdriven, not enough power, or you are using cables which are not good or good enough which might excerbate the problem.
I would not change the speakers I would:
Change to a tube preamp, a Cary or CJ
Look at replacing or upgrading your cables
Adding a power conditioner.
The 104.2 is a mighty fine speaker even by today's standards. The connecting rod serves to couple the internal woofers so they work in unison. There is a lot of support and spare parts available for these drivers so I wouldn't let age dissuade you from diving in. Yes, the foam surrounds degrade with age, but they are relatively easy to replace of have serviced.
That said, I feel the TOTL KEF 107 and 107/2 of this era are an even better speaker if you can find a pair with the Kube equalizer (which always seems to "have been lost in a move", but sellers piece these out separately on the bay to maximize profits). Since you're running a separate pre amp and amp, these would integrate into your system easily. They present a constant 4ohm load.
Mellow is good but you want accuracy ( hopefully) as well! This, of course, must fit into your price point(?)
you happen to be on the right track, however. You mentioned "old" kef 104's.
try to listen to or just BUY a pair of pre owned Spendor BC1, SP1 or Thiel Cs models. Modern wise, listen to a Harbeth or preferably the NEW Spendor designs . If you've never heard quads do yourself a favor ; as a re conditioned up to date pair of ESL 63 could possibly be in your price range! Also..... Take a good listen to the KEF Ls50... You may be shocked at what you will hear!
My bias has been exposed. I have owned the 2CE, Kestrel and just got a pair of the MMG's. I must like mellow speakers. Started to look for an amp/pre combo to upgrade the NAD receiver. Sounds decent, just want some more current. I can listen to these speakers all day long. The "digital" hardness tends to be tolerable. iPad through a Musical Fidelity V-DAC and I am a happy camper.
I have the same sensitivity as you. I cannot stand that edginess because it hurts my head and ruins the musical illusion for me. I have spent years fixing it and i finally have a system that sounds amazing and more like real music than ever before. As you may have discovered each component can contribute to the problem or the solution. I have found there are detailed/harsh speakers (most audiophile speakers sound this way to me partly because i am sensitve to it, and partly because too much treble detail is what many audiophiles want, because they equate that with a more live and realistic sound. Then there are more balanced speakers, like vandersteen or old Proacs or Snell Type A1 (one of the most amazing speskers ever). But even they dont fully remove the edge, especially if you listen to recordings that are not perfect. This is all, of course, just my opinion!
So, in answer to your question I will give you one unfailingly mellow speaker, the Spendor S100. It is incapable of sounding harsh and has a magic midrange. I found over time is was almost too dark, even for me... But it fits your bill. The other speaker is my current reference and will be for years: Quad esl-63. The quads are so musical, have the best midrange i have ever heard, and for some reason the way they reproduce treble is different that any speaker i have heard. They just seem to avoid that edge but still present treble energy is a convincing, real way. I bought a newly refurbished pair from Electroststic Solutions in Kansas City three years ago and they are amazing. I recently bought a pair of Audio Note AN-J spe speakers to possibly replace the quads amd after head to head listening the darned quads won again. I kind of wanted the Audio Notes to win because they mate better with my Shindo amp and look better too. But as wonderful as are the Audio Notes in terms of dynamics, tonal balance and musicality, they still have too much treble energy for me and sounded like hifi moreso than the magical Quads. I am afraid some of the dynamic speakers like vandy and quad may sound mellow to many people, but may not do enough to solve your need, if you are like me.
Anyway, feel free to send me a private message if you would like to talk more. I have thoughts on other components like DACs (I was thrilled to find out none-oversampling dacs like Audio Notes take away much of the digital edge, for example).
Time sensitive info: Just received an email from Ohm yesterday (9/2/16) http://http//ohmspeaker.com/speakers/walsh-tall/#wt-1000 Walsh 1000 Talls for $749 each and http://http//ohmspeaker.com/speakers/walsh-tall/#wt-4000 Walsh 4000 Talls for $2099 each (the link says $2199 each; I don't know what the deal is with that!). If you are interested in the 4000s, write to John@ohmspeaker.com and ask him about the $100/speaker difference between his email and the link. Here's what the email said: "More Than 25% OFF On Two Models of Walsh Talls: These Walsh are built for you -- brand new. The veneer choices are unlimited. The Walsh 1000s are for small rooms and the Walsh 4000s are for large rooms. Both work well with Home Theater systems using subwoofers. They all come with our 120-Day Home Trial. The Shipping and Handling charge is just $50 per pair. This SALE ends on Tuesday, September 6, 2016 at 11:59pm EDT. No trade-ins accepted at these SALE prices."
Meanwhile, back to my comment:
Yes, the only "upgrade" I've ever regretted was selling my big Vandersteen 4 speakers to replace them with something newer and more than twice as costly. With their huge brown (alt. black) nylon sock coverings, they would be vulnerable to Beastie, but that would be true of anything, assuming you'll leave the grilles on any pair of floor standers you purchase to protect the drivers. Also, the Vandersteen 4 have a nylon-covered opening in the oak cap-piece that made a perfect "hammock" for our British Shorthair cat, who thankfully left the socks alone (most of the time). When I sold the Vandersteen 4 and delivered them to the new owner's cavernous great room overlooking the rugged pacific cliffs and ocean, she wanted them tucked under the stairs at the side of the room not even facing the "listening area." I hooked them up to her mediocre mid-fi electronics and was utterly floored by the glorious sound filling the entire room! Since she hosts a music academy in her home and is a concert pianist, I felt I had done a service to her and her students, but I'd gladly buy them back. I'm happy with the newer Genesis III speakers I have, but I still miss that old pair of Vandersteen 4.
My solution to the "mellowness" issue was to put together a second system in our bedroom based around an old pair of ProAc EBS, and they sound great, even on terrible digital recordings that would make my ears bleed in our main system. The "secret" of my contentedness is Wadia CD players, Audio Research LS15 and 16 tubed preamps, and Levinson solid state amps. I've tried vastly more expensive CD transport and DAC combinations, but settled on the cheapest Wadias (the 23 in the bedroom and the 830 downstairs) and I forget about gear and just enjoy the music. Best wishes to you on your quest.
With kind regards,
One thing the old designers knew was that if you extend frequency on top it needs to be extended on bottom. Today many loudspeakers are voiced hot in treble. Toss in small drivers running off high power thermal compression sets in and you have a recipe for listening fatigue. Why so many systems sound great for about 45 mins after its hard on the ear.
Seems I'm not the only one who has this problem with too much of a good thing. I appreciate the transparency and accuracy of a modern speaker...but sometimes they're just too much. I heard a big Bryston system with Ariels recently...it was amazing, but I would quickly tire of the aggressiveness of the overall sound.
Quads, KEFs, Vandys, ProAc, Harbeths, Ohms, Spendors!!!! I've got a lifetime of speaker listening to do!
If you have a medium size room and can position your speakers about 20-24 inches from that back wall...... consider the Fritz Carbon seven, it is absolutely bliss. The sound is very warm and lush, with a huge sound stage and great 3 d imaging. They make everything sound great. Cannot recommend this speaker enough. If my living room was bigger and they didn't have to pull double duty for home theatre I would be off the upgrade wagon.
educeus, sorry about the delay in getting back to you but I've been out of town and away from my computer. I'm in North Georgia, on the border with North Carolina and close to Tennessee; 100 miles north of Atlanta, 100 miles west of Asheville and 10 miles east of Chattanooga. I too am not sure about PM's on this forum. If you're interested you can send me an email to email@example.com
Well...I've had the KEF 104/2s in the house all weekend, and it just goes to show how great it is to have a good shop to do business with, so that you can take stuff home and give it a good listen. The KEFs are going back to the store. In short, they're simply too much speaker for my room! Both physically and sonically. Sonically, they have a pronounced low mid bump...really over emphasizes the bottom end of snare drums and causes a honky, muddy, ringy sound in the room. I'd have to do some serious room treatment to control it...I'm game but I suspect my wife would resent me throwing out all her furniture and replacing it will room treatment stuff!
After all the reading and wondering, I'm disappointed they are not going to work out for me. Now that I've placed a floor stander in the room, I better recognize the limitations of my small living room. I may be stuck with stand mount monitors, because they stick up over the tops of the two chairs in front of them. A floorstander has to go closer to the center of the room so as not to be blocked by the furniture...and that makes them too close together, seriously affecting the sound stage. I suppose a floor stander whose drivers start about 28 inches above the ground would work.
The same shop currently has some Audio Physic Tempo III...but no Harbeth, Spendor, OHms, or Vandys. Maybe I'll give them a listen. Thanks again for all the helpful comments.
The sound you describe is common with most any speakers if your floors are suspended plywood or anything designed to have some give like that.
If so relatively inexpensive isolating stands or pads solve the problem easily and make a huge difference in sound.
You might want to determine if this is your case or not and address it up front in that most any good fuller range speaker is susceptible unless designed out of the box to provide the isolation needed.
Also note that OHM speakers are sold factory direct only these days (no dealers now for many years) so you have to order direct and take advantage of their extended in-home audition period or find someone local with a pair to sell. Return shipping costs would still apply. OHM is located in Brooklyn NY.
I realize that a 'mellow' speaker might sound more pleasing than a neutral/resolving speaker, but you should realize that this is due to a relative deficiency in the design of the mellow speaker. If a well-designed, neutral/resolving speaker sounds harsh, it is most likely due to a harsh recording. If you listen to a better recording with the mellow speaker, you will not have the benefits of neutrality and high resolution that a better speaker could provide. So, its better to focus on neutral equipment and better recordings, rather than trying to use a mellow speaker as a correction for a poor recording.