Monitors vs. Floorstanders - What an eye opener


I was 100% intent on buying a large floorstanding speaker, thinking that a stand mounted, monitor type speaker just couldn't reproduce music in a realistic fashion (full range), and that you've just got to have bass extension down to 20HZ and multiple, large drivers.

Well, I just bought a pair of Energy RC-Mini's because they were one of only two or three speakers that would fit on a specific shelf in our family room. These are for a second system I'm putting together for my wife, and I don't have the source components yet.

I was anxious to hear how they sounded, so, I unboxed these tiny little speakers (two-way with 4.5" woofer and dome tweeter), and hooked them up to my big rig. I sat them on two dining room chairs in a much less than ideal position (sitting too low on a cushion with total disregard to placement), put on some Rikki Lee Jones, and my goodness, I almost fell out of my chair!

Straight out of the box these tiny little speakers are unreal! The imaging is incredible, and I simply cannot believe the range of music they can reproduce. These things are the size of PC speakers! Of course they won't move your chest with dynamics or make your ears bleed, but they are punchy, detailed and reproduce a soundstage that even my vaunted Von Schweikert VR-4's couldn't manage. I can't imagine how good they might be if set up properly! Voices, piano, triangles, cymbals, etc. are ridiculously realistic sounding. So good, I'm tempted to get some nice stands and buy my wife a shelf system for the family room!

Funny thing is, I've now come to realize that this obsession with "full range" is waaaay over-rated. Aside from the ultimate in extension, these little speakers aren't missing much, so I can't imagine how a monitor with wider range credentials might sound!

I'm going to give this monitor idea some heavy consideration while looking for a pair of speakers. If these little Energy speakers are 90% satisfying with bass response to only 80HZ, I have to think that a larger system just might be the cat's meow!

Any recommendations on monitors to check out?
Piano's can't be all that realistic with the frequency range you quoted. Unless you don't care much for what the left hand is doing. You may not need 20Hz but you need 32
You are so correct in your findings. Monitors can do things floorstanders can't in most cases as the larger cabinets can get in the way. A good inert monitor can throw a huge image. The Stone Image Rothschilde is the best sounding monitor I have heard and does bass and scale like a floorstander with speed and a clear midrange.
I can relate to your experience due to a past experience of my own. A friend brought over his B&W Signature 805's and after playing them on my system we returned to my floorstanders, which I admit that I could never get right, and I prefered the Signatures in every single way. I ended up selling the floorstanders and purchased a set of the S805's myself and the system I last had with those speakers is still one of the most fun systems I ever had.

There is a lot of music in those lower octives that smaller speakers can miss, but if the "bigger" speakers can't get the bass right, you are better off with a good stand mount, IMO. (That isn't saying that you can't have both.)
I think the reasaon I love my Merlin VSMs so much is that they are essentially a two-way monintor on top of a sand-filled stand. The small cabinet and the simplicity of the two-drives with one Xover is much of the reason for their cohesive sound. The one big advantage over a normal mini-moinitor on a stand is their BAM (bass augmentation module) that brings the response down to 33Hz -1.5db - not a "full range" as the bigger brethren, but for most music more than sufficient bass - tight, tuneful bass at that.
The ProAc Response 1SC monitors I've had for a few years now continue to amaze me on all kinds of music. I also have a REL sub (Storm III) with them, but they sound fine without it on all but the bassiest of music.
It's my opinion that every audiophile should "learn" how to listen on a set of monitors before advancing to a floor standing speaker.
The amplifier I heard most recently may have been one of these:
Full range is worth the effort, just not by using floorstanders. A good sat/sub system gives you more flexibility of placement, better imaging and can be less expensive.

Sealed monitors: NHT M6, M5, Classic 3, Xd System, Snell LCR7, Lipinski

Ported monitors: Revel M22
Old Energy Pro 22 monitors were really good (1980's). Energy make good speakers IMHO. Power handling was not their forte but they sounded great at low levels.
Small speakers often times throw a big soundstage and sound quite coherent. They can reproduce a majority of the frequencies quite well. However, to get realistic size images, dynamics, impact and bass foundation, you need big floorstanders. Especially when you want to bring the musicians to your room, you need the big guys. For a small room, small speakers will do a better job though. The heavy bass from big floorstanders can easily overload the room.
Look into the Vandersteen line, you get the great strength of the monitor but with full range ability due to its non-baffle design.
You may want to consider the magnificent Intuitive Design Summits.

In the November issue of the Pacific Northwest Audio Society's newsletter (starting on page 14 of the pdf document) the Summits were awarded "Best of Show" at the 2006 Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. The author is Dick Mueller.
Also worth having a listen to the Mark & Daniels Maximus Ruby which has stunning bass extension allied to a very transparent and open ribbon tweeter crossing over at around 900Hz. The best bass I've heard in a small monitor by a mile! But needs powerful amplification (at least 100w/8Ohms) and some room to breath (at least a metre from all walls). At under $2000, they are the new mini-monitor benchmark IMHO. Only reason I don't have a pair is my small second system listening room wouldn't allow them the space they need.
You might also be interested in the input on this thread.

My personal recommendations for outstanding monitor speakers: Silverline SR17's, Reference 3a DeCapo i, and for much less money, Era Design 5 and Dali Menuet II. The later two are mini monitors and would require more current, but are a whole bunch of fun if fed the right diet. Much like what the original poster describes; amazing to hear that kind of boogie coming from such a small box. I would add a bit of qualifier to the comment about the actual dynamic range being a necessary component of the illusion of 'presence'. It can be a vital component, but it can certainly be the downfall if poorly implemented. Without an actual reference to compare it to, though it may not be entirely convincing, those little monitors can still be a hair raising illusion that penetrates all your fibers, even if they roll off at much higher frequencies than an instrument is capable of. OK, scale will suffer, and ultimately you may not believe it if you give it any thought, but it can be mighty fun if you let go and let it take you away. It's not about 'thinking' anyway! My further input on the subject of monitors vs. floorstanders is covered in the thread linked above, as well as some helpful input from others.

Thanks everyone.....

Indeed, you can tell that something's missing, but what's there is very revealing and satisfying. The lower registers of a piano might be light, but the registers the speakers are capable of reproducing are eerily realistic sounding. What shocked me most was the quality of voice, and the pin-point imaging.

I'll try to check out the speakers mentioned above....
If you haven't heard the Totem Mani-2, you owe it to yourself to hear them. These little guys not only disappear, but have a powerful low end. With dual 6.5 inch woofers configured in a push/pull Isobaric fashion, extension gets down to 30 Hz. They have incredible bass, but they're inefficient at 85 dB and are a difficult load to drive -- not unlike many floorstanders, but in a petite package.

Haven't heard the RC-Minis that you bought, but have heard and liked the RC-10s which is the next step up in the Energy's Reference Connoisseur line. This line is a redesign and a big step up from Energy's popular Connoisseur line of speakers while keeping a similar price point of the old Connoisseur line. I think these speakers are an excellent audio value and compare well with many monitors in less than thousand dollar range. As matter of fact, I heard them along side the popular NHT Classic 3 and for my ears, liked the RC-10s better.