OHM Walsh fit the bill except cost is $1000 to $7000 or so depending on room size and options.
72 responses Add your response
Zu Definition 4. Despite having even higher resolution than Definition 2, it makes even 1980s CDs more listenable than any speaker I've listened to so far. Yet exceptional recordings will be revealed for all they are worth. I didn't expect the boost in listenability of CD. $12,995/pr. now, direct, 60 days mbg. 101db/w/m efficiency but high power handling too. Usable with a very wide range of amplification.
A good question, but I think it's the wrong question. Rather than focus on specific speakers at an arbitrary price level, you should look at your entire system (including room and setup) for a solution.
I suggest you start with a loudspeaker that doesn't have to fight against your listening room and placement options. Ignore your lower dollar limit. The right speaker could be well below $10k. You can then match the speakers to appropriate electronics.
So many people focus the high frequencies when dealing with loudspeakers/systems being forgiving. I think getting the lower midrange and bass right, which are primarily room interaction related, are more important in addressing the issue, particularly if don't have the audiophile aversion to tone controls/EQ.
Personally I find the source and amp to be more of a factor regarding good/bad recordings. My local dealer used to sell Sim Audio and to me it sounded extremely detailed. With great recordings it is fantastic but with poor recordings it brought out all recording flaws. I found myself listening to the equipment more than the music. Naim on the other hand had a better and more musical balance.
That being said my local dealer had these set up with a variety of Dynaudio speakers up to the C4's. It has to do with total system synergy. I believe you need to find the speakers you like the most and find the right electronics to match because in my opinion the speakers make for the greatest difference in sound characteristics.
Interesting question, and one I think is appropriate. What may sound spectacular in a demonstration may also wear on one's nerves over the long haul, for the reasons you mention. Onhwy raises good points also. I find Tyler Woodmere speakers extremely 'listenable' over a broad range of recording qualities. They are also very pleasing for long periods of listening. Even though they are "as good as what you feed into them," they have a way of remaining pleasing to the ears and emotions.
Well chosen system and proper set up go a long way toward getting the best out of ALL kinds of recordings. Onhwy61's advice is good as a starting point for building a system. The speaker, and its interaction with the room, is the biggest factor in determining how any system will sound, so one should start with finding the best speaker--even if that means stretching the budget there and waiting to upgrade anything else.
There are lots of candidates out there that are not overly analytical, lean and bright, so I hope some of my suggestions, and those of others, will work out for you. But, I hope that you keep in mind that we all have different systems and different ideas of what are more forgiving speakers and I have often been pleasantly surprised by hearing stuff that I did not like in several settings sound wonderful in another, so listen to as much as you can and keep and open mind.
In various settings I have liked the following:
Gradient Revolution --very flexible in terms of placement options, I've heard them sound good in small rooms and up against a wall.
Gershman GAP 828--warm and musical sounding with just about any kind of music.
Audionote speakers (various models)--plain looking (okay, perhaps ugly), but, they work well in corner locations and are never harsh or dry sounding. They work well with low powered tube gear which also helps in making bad recordings sound decent.
Magnepan 3.7--these require space around the speaker, particularly behind the speaker. In a good setup, these manage to be detailed and reasonably fast and dynamic without being harsh sounding. The tweeter on these speakers is amazingly good.
Vandersteen Quattro and 5A--I have not heard a Vandersteen that did not sound fundamentally musical and enjoyable with a wide range of recordings and accompanying equipment.
I have not heard they current lineup of JM Reynaud speakers, but in the past, I have found the whole lineup to be warm and musical.
I like Onhwy61's advice!
Speakers that are designed explicitly to be highly coherent through the mid range (where most of music occurs) and fit into the room well without overpowering it should work best. Find that first, get them tuned into the room optimally, run them off a well matched amp and tweak the sound from there if/when needed with the rest. There are many less expensive speakers that can fit the bill.
Also you have to manage your expectations when it comes to recordings. They are what they are, not what the listener wants them to be. IF you want to enjoy music on a good system, you have to keep this in mind. No good system will make a lesser recording sound like the best, so do not expect to throw money at the problem with that as your goal.
Having taken this approach, I find 85-90% or more of most anything I listen to on my rig, vinyl or digital, to be enjoyable and involving these days. I have two separate systems running speakers in 5 different rooms (and a deck over the summer). It's all good, but it took a lot of thought and time even more so than funds to get there sooner rather than later.
As a long time fan of music that's poorly recorded (Todd Rundgren, anyone?), I've faced this question, too, and I think that this animal exists.
I'd look for a gentle mid bass elevation and slowly, smoothly falling FR thru to the highest frequencies. As noted above, it's hard to predict exactly which speaker might do that in your particular room, but IME it's a fair bet that Verity's Parsifal series will do a pretty good job of it. It's also remarkably resolving thru the mid-band. Unless the gentle 40hz -60hz (ish) bump gets goosed by the room, the P/E will generally sound very good with mediocre source material and wonderful when a good recording allows.
Strictly speaking, it's not the last word in neutrality, but it might be just what you're looking for.
Investigate the Silverline Bolero speakers. They are a (very) high resolution speakers but their tonal balance can really get you were you want to go. They are high resolution speakers with no artificially pumped up upper frequencies to help create a 'sense of resolution' and imaging. What they have is a mild frequency dip between 1500 and 3000 hz. This dip is right in the range where you hear most of the objectionable (harsh/fatiguing) information referred to as 'upper mid-range brightness'. You give up nothing in resolution or imaging from the best box speakers to get this tonal balance. The speaker are good with tube amps - they are easy to drive, but you can sure tell the difference in components and ancillaries with out difficulty. I use them in a 13.5' x 19.5'x 9' room with great success (I've had them 4.5 years and they aren't going anywhere). They were very easy to set up in a traditional placement in a dedicated room and the fit, finish, and overall appearance is outstanding.
These speakers were preceded (over 30 years) by quite a few high end boxes, and panel speakers including Quad 63's, and have been driven by some fairly high end electronics (all tubes), none of which have approached my content with them.
Highly recommended! There are a number of reviews on line which will give you an idea of what they might sound like to you.
Hope that helps a bit.
Music lies in the midrange and achieving purity there goes a long way to making a speaker listenable and forgiving. When a speaker becomes less forgiving, it is usually due to problems in the treble, which can cause that grating, hard sound that annoys after a short time. For me, a speaker that is tubby in the bass, with one note flatulence is also fatiguing. I also prefer warmth over a clinical presentation. I want to feel the music, not disect it. So, the speakers I think do that best in your price range are:
Sonus Faber Cremona M or Elipsa
I use the words warm and/or musical in place of more forgiving, but I think the Verity Audio Parsifal Ovations would fit the bill here. They certainly aren't the last word in transparency, but as you have noted, sometimes that can be a blessing. Combine the Verity's with a nice tube amp and I don't think any recording could sound bad.
I'm surprised Zu Definition Mk 4 ($12500) hasn't been noted yet. I have the Mk2, and have not yet heard the Mk4, but this was the speaker that got me off the audio merry-go-round several years ago.
With other systems/speakers I TRIED to listen to ALL the music I love, but mostly would gravitate to only the music that sounded good (best recordings). With the Zu's that tendency has been dramatically lessened. Good recordings sound great. Bad recordings are clearly not as good, but I don't end up focusing on the recording, just tapping my foot. This is a HUGE difference, IMO.
For reference, previous speakers: Ridgestreet Audio Sason's, Magnepan MG3.6R, Avalon Eclipse, Kharma Ceramique 1.0, Martin Logan ReQuest, Mirage M3Si. Variety of amps and sources used with above, both SS, tube and OTL, where appropriate for the speaker load.
Look into speakers by Sonus Faber (Cremona M), Vandersteen 5 or 5A or Quatro Wood, Silverline (as Newbee offered),many of the British made speakers are "kinder and gentler". Also, you can get some of what youre after by careful component choice-my TW AKustic Raven One turntable tends to soften the music very slightly to the forgiving side and thats what I like. Stay away from cables and interconnects like Nordost which tend to make things a little hard or steely (less forgiving). A forgiving cartridge like the Clearaudio Virtuoso Wood can get you there too. I realize some prefer to have their system speak only the unvarnished truth and thats just fine.
I recommend these a lot, but it's because they fit the bill yet again. The Legacy Focus 20/20's. They make bad recordings sound awesome(they are a warm relaxed speaker, yet deliver dynamics to be exciting)and make great recordings sound amazing. I've had them in 3 rooms. 1 large, 1 medium, 1 pretty small. They sounded great in each one. If you can listen to some Focus, I would bet you would enjoy them. The new models are around 7k
Also the 20/20's were amazing with any types of music (jazz, rock, classical, rap, etc)
Dali speakers are "forgiving" or "easy to listen to." TAS calls them speakers you can marry for life, and Michael Fremer gave them a good review in Stereophile. You can find the review on their website.
There are a couple pair of their "Euphonia" line MS5 for sale for $7,500 and $8,200 right now. This is their top of the line normal floorstander type. They could be what you're looking for.
I own their Helicon 400s, which is one step down from the Euphonia line and they do sound good.
I think relatively "frequency flat" speakers are the way to go, and among most good speakers one should appreciate accurate treble as an important part of the musical experience (tonal "cues"), and only bothersome if your system has something wrong with it. If you try to use a speaker as a harshness filter everything cool suffers. Try tubes (love 'em)...or let your ear hair grow out...but keep the crisp! Everything from rustling leaves to a mandolin needs it. Don't put gauze over your earglasses to mute the tawdry aural wrinkles or you'll miss all of grandma's character.
"With great recordings it is fantastic but with poor recordings it brought out all recording flaws."
Audio dealers love to hear things like this.
If the flaws exist, they exist. IF the system filters these somehow to make the flaws sound more tolerable, you can be sure it is doing the same to the good stuff in the music as well. Works kind of like make-up. Take that for what its worth....
Counter to intuition perhaps, lesser recordings sound best when played on a system that is clean and highly free of distortion top to bottom. THat allows the more subtle good things to play and tip the balance towards the good. My estimate is that 80-90% of the recordings most people listen to are good enough to affect a music lover who cares about sound quality.
Now if you are one of the breed that music cannot be enjoyable unless the sound is perfect. then you are scr---d to a great extent perhaps, because a relatively small % of recordings approach perfection. They are what the producers want them to be. You can like it or not, but that is what recorded music is. It ain't perfect!
Tell us more about your room and listening preferences and I will attempt to provide an end to end recipe for a rig that can deliver the goods but is also "forgiving" for moderate cost.
Some good suggestions here. I would second Sonus Faber. I would add Dynaudio.
I think Onhwy61's advice is excellent: focus on system synergy. As others suggested, I would start with the speaker/room interface. Then choose an amp that mates well with your speakers. I'm not saying you should actually buy the speakers first and the amp second, though you could do that. I'm saying that thinking backwards from room to speakers to amp to preamp to source can be a very effective way to think holistically.
As to the issue of whether or not you want highly RESOLVING speakers, I believe the answer is: It depends. If your love the sound of your upstream components, then highly resolving speakers may be very pleasing. If the flaws of the upstream components annoy you, then highly resolving speakers will magnify that annoyance, IME. On the subject of the listenability of bad recordings, you may find this thread of interest.
As to the issue of whether a more neutral system or a more colored system is likely to yield good results with bad recordings, again I think the answer is: It depends. If the colorations are euphonic, they very well may improve the listenability of bad recordings. But of course many colorations are nothing more than audible distortions, and that can get old fast. Someone above suggested that, by increasing neutrality, you are more likely to reveal what a recording does right, and hence increase the recording's listenability. I think there's a lot of truth to that. But I also think that it is far more difficult to assemble a system with an ear to neutrality than an ear to coloration. On the topic of neutrality, you may find this thread of interest.
I also believe that the beneficial effect of neutrality on listenability stops at some point, and that the clearest window to a bad recording isn't always the most pleasant. Audiophiles often express this by saying they want more "warmth," a large subject in its own right. On the topic of warmth, you may find this thread of interest.
That should keep you reading until Easter.
I highly recommend Ascendo Systems speakers. They really push the boundaries of analytical vs. musical, giving a very highly resolving and very musical presentation. I have the System ZF3s. I have not been happier with a speaker since I got my Spica TC50s 25 years ago. I have also owned Spica Angelus, Talon Hawk, Sonics Allegra, Audio Physic Virgo, home auditioned Magnepan 1.6QR and Linn Espek, been to several CES/THE shows. The System M-S stood out as spectacular at the CES I heard it at, and the Z provides the same sound in my living room. It makes me think the bad recordings are not so bad, but are really just resonating with the problems in our systems.
While i can see the point of trying to make poor recordings sound better to make more music worth listening to, and i think you can find many forgiving speakers, but will you forgive yourself for a speaker that does not show you what is recorded ? Surely the only way it can correct a bad recording is by removing information or changing it, so what will it do with good recordings vs an accurate and revealing speaker? I am more and more leaning towards thinking that 'detail is king' and if you truly present enough accurate detail then other much sought after attributes like soundstage, timbre, etc will fall into place and that emotional connection to the music will be there. I dont think it comes from forgiving speakers for myself. I tried that route to some extent and more music certainly is pleasant, but it made me sleepy.
Some excellent suggestions, Silverline, Sonus Faber, Harbeth. When I have listened to them, theyseem on the warm, forgiving side. This is set against, Focal and B and w. Excellent speakers, but I find they have an edge to them, which seems to make them unforgiving.
I second Dodgealum about Daedalus. Everyone is sure to recommend there own speakers, but I have'nt really found a recording, over 2 years, that I've wanted to turn off with my DA-RMA monitors. They are also unfussy about positioning and room dimensions
Interesting about the Daedalus. I had high hopes for these speakers after hearing someone play an electric violin through one of their combo amps (a combination preamp/amp/speaker all in one box for musicians to use on stage) at a NAMM convention (Music instrument euivalent of CES). It sounded so obvioously superior to anything else there I never forgot it. When I read years later they made home speakers, and people were describing similar sound to what I heard, I was intrigued. Finally a couple years ago, I got a chance to hear them at someone;s house. My immediate impression was that they were very bright and fatiguing in the high frequencies. I had brought my Sonics Allegras along for comparison, adn they sounded as I expected, much more listenable in the highs. The Daedalus was superior in the lower freuencies, though. If you're interested in them, I would definitely give them a chance, but call Daedalus and see if there is someone in your area who can let you have a listen.
03-09-12: Honest1While I don't question your perceptions under whatever circumstances existed at the time, including room acoustics, source material, etc., there is no way that the Daedalus speakers, the recent ones at least, can be characterized as bright and fatiguing. Their treble, IME and that of many other Daedalus owners who have posted about them here and elsewhere, is one of their strongest attributes, combining speed and detail with a very natural sound that is easy to listen to.
I should mention, also, that the Ulysses model I have has a three-position tweeter level control on the back, which can provide a slight cut or boost to the treble (indicated as 1 db) if necessary to compensate for problematic room acoustics. Perhaps the owner of the speakers you listened to had it set to the boost position unnecessarily? In my case, btw, I've been sufficiently pleased with the treble balance in the neutral position of the switch that I've never even tried the other positions.
I have found that, in general, I prefer speakers with soft dome tweeters. To my ears, when they are properly fed, I am less likely to be bothered by them and can enjoy lesser quality recordings vs. other tweeter types. That and a good supported bottom end also contributes to less fatigue for me. This is probably why I prefer the sound of Eggleston speakers. Are they the most revealing? No. But to my ears they are very musically engaging and highly satisfying.
Honest1 - As a Daedalus Ulysses owner, I'd bet that the Daedalus speakers you auditioned where not properly broken in. I've had my Ulysses for about 4 months now, and initially, I was ready to give up on them... but armed with good advise from fellow Audiogoner "Raquel", I put my Ulysses thru a formal & regimented break-in process for approx. 200 hours. The break-in process was a PIA, but now the brightness & fatigue you referenced is gone and they are making beautiful music.
BTW, my previous speaker prior to the Ulysses were Harbeth M-40.1's. Another great and very forgiving speaker... more forgiving that the Daedalus Ulysses IME, but also a bit darker in presentation. Both outstanding speakers, just different flavors. I could be happy with either one.
Detail can't happen without accuracy.
Accuracy can be pretty or ugly.
An accurate image of a pretty girl is pretty.
An accurate image of Medusa ain't so pretty.
What happens to the pretty girl if you apply the same tweaks necessary to make Medusa presentable?
So clearly accuracy and detail is desirable but still can be a double edged sword. Recordings are what they are. They typically range from mostly good to not so good, but few worth listening to are the audio Medusa, ie few have no sonic merit at all.
There is an up and down side to almost everything.
Don't have the experience to comment on all (or even most) of the suggestions but I did in fact seek to answer that very question myself, and ended up with the Verity Parsifals. Lesser recordings sound great. Exquisite recordings sound exquisite. But, certainly and overlooking upstream electronics for the moment, room interaction is likely the single most important factor regarding how any given speaker will sound at any given moment. So, considering speakers in the abstract apart from the "ecosystem" in which they will be asked to perform is likely not capturing much of what is material to the question.
Just as an example, my listening space is pretty confined, has a nasty (and unfortunately untreatable) first reflection point on one speaker, but an open room on the other (so pronounced asymmetry), and a limited ability to pull them too far off of the front wall. Thus, the Parsifals "fit" in my space better than many: adjustable front- or rear-firing bass modules gives fantastic flexibility and the heavily-loaded midrange driver (providing the lush and wonderful midrange for which they are known) is wired to roll off naturally without imposed crossover points resulting in a relatively "beamy" presentation. That is, the dispersion pattern coming off the midrange is relatively narrow. This may be a huge disadvantage in some spaces, but where first order reflection points are a real issue, it is very helpful. Finally, they're real small. As much as I'd love to play with the likes of Avalon, Maggies, Wisdoms, etc., just plain dont have the real estate. Thus, even before hearing them, their design rendered them an almost-ideal prospective fit for my space.
In sum, I wouldnt purport to have The Answer and there likely isnt one but there are certainly many factors to consider. Ive settled on my answer, but certainly not one size fits all.
If a loudspeaker makes mediocre recordings sound good, then something is either wrong with the loudspeaker or the components it is matched with. If you find that some high resolution speakers sound worse than might be expected on mediocre recordings, odds are that the speaker either doesn't have well-matched drivers, or that the crossovers are not optimal for the selected drivers.
You should always want to hear the "truth" out of any loudspeaker. Any loudspeaker that editorializes some sounds is a poorly made piece of kit.
If you have a well-made speaker that you have heard at a dealership that sounded great there but not at your house, chances are the sound problems are in your upstream components. Never try to ameliorate the soundscape through buying speakers that editorialize. You can do that with components (such as tubes vs. solid state), or even interconnects and other wires.
In the $10K - $20K speaker range I would have to opt for the Coincident Technology Total Victory V (MSRP $14,999). It is a high sensitivity speaker (95 db, which allows you to use any number of excellent low-powered tube units, such as the Coincident Technology Frankenstein at 8 watts Class A/channel (MSRP $5,999/pr). The Coincidental Technology Line Stage (MSRP $5,999)is also the best I've heard under $10,000 and is actually better than almost anything even further up the food chain.
I don't know what went wrong with the Daedalus speakers I heard. I was very surprised to hear tehm sound that way, and disappointed that the search would have ot continue. I do remember that they did not have the crossover upgrade to the capacitors (the owner was going to have that done). Who knows - bad cable match?
I second Rockadanny's Eggleston recdommendation. I heard them briefly at CES, and found them to be fairly resolving and very non-fatiguing. I considered them as an alternative to Ascendo, but never got around to doing a comparison in home.
Larry i certainly gave some well thought out choices. As a former owner of Parsifal Encore's, I can certainly agree with the Parsifal recommendations. Even though forgiving, the P/E's do allow the character of upstream components to be revealed. In my system, they sounded very good w/ an Accuphase amp, and even better with tubes. They DO need some power to come alive though. Another speaker, well below your price range, is the Eggleston Andra 1. The Andra's need big power though. If it were me, I would re-read Larry i's comments on the Audio Notes. I think his comments about going w/low power tubes, may be in line with what you are looking to achieve. That said, I would also consider the DeVore 0/96's...! I am running them quite happily, with 25 watts.
No speaker, including highly detailed ones, presents the music exactly as it was recorded on the disc or lp. In fact there is no one sound that represents what the grooves or digits represent. Every stereo system, including the mixing engineer's, gives its own interpretation of what's on the disc or lp. Our ears and brains all hear differently too.
There are tradeoffs in every speaker design. Some speakers provide lots of detail but may sound thin or bright, timbres may not be natural, or they may not communicate emotion very well.
Really the only way to tell if a speaker is right for you is to put it in your system and listen to it for a while. I wish it was easier but it's not.
Most people don't know what the TRUTH sounds like in a recording because they weren't there when it was recorded and played back in the studio. Some believe that if your ears don't bleed while playing a mediocre recording then you are not hearing the truth, but simply masking its warts. While there is some truth to this it is not completely accurate. I have heard some expensive speakers which sound highly resolving, but only because they don't seem to properly reproduce all of the complex harmonic structure in the recording, and thus sound thin, giving a false impression that they are more accurate. At some point during my speaker search I realized that NO speaker completely tells the truth. Every speaker and component in your system lies at some level. Once I accepted that fact I stopped chasing the "most accurate" speaker and changed to the speaker which gave me the "most satisfaction". Granted, that turned out to be a fairly well resolving speaker, but one which is also able to not drive me out of the room on lesser quality recordings. I suspect that you too can find a well resolving speaker which can also play mediocre material, but the sad truth is (IME) you must compromise somewhere between the two. Hopefully you can satisfy both types of recordings, squeezing out enough resolution with well recorded material, yet still achieve at least acceptable playback with lesser recordings.
It's not a question of speakers making mediocre recordings sound good, as much as making mediocre recordings sound their best. There is a lot of equipment that makes mediocre recordigns sound worse by compounding the problems, while making good recordings sound artificially more detailed than they really are by boosting highs and cutting lows. This gear will ultimately become unbearable on the good recordings too when the thrill of false detail wears off.
If you did get the worlds most forgiving speakers they would probably put you right to sleep.
I have been in love with the Wilson Benesch Curves for about 8 years now. They do everything you are asking about. Extraordinary on good and great source material.
Wilson Benesch has a new speaker out called the Vectors that I recently added to my show room floor. Amazing.
Check them out.
Making bad recordings sound good may not be all bad. In the case of open baffle speakers it is adding back the ambiance that is missing. Live music is usually listenable even though the artists arent great performers. A lot of that enjoyment is from the ambient sound that is missing on most speakers. Including ambiance is a valid approach.
This discussion has reminded me of how glad I am to have tone controls. (Go ahead, barbecue me!) I listen almost exclusively to classical music, and I seek out recordings for the music and the performance, not so much for the sound. Unfortunately, when you take this approach, you get quite a few poor recordings. My pet peeve is screeching violins. (Please, no system recommendations; good recordings DO sound good.) When things get too bright, I just dial in the tone controls.
It's not an ideal fix, because most treble controls are centered on about 10K Hz, while I believe the actual region of violin brightness is quite a bit lower, probably about 2K to 5K Hz. (That's why I wish they still made presence controls to cut back a little in this region.)
I know folks talk about all the bad things tone controls are supposed to do, but I've never heard them. I think, when needed, they fix far more problems than they might possibly cause.
First time I heard the Beatle's "I'm Looking Through You" I was stunned by how amazing it was...on a 4" (maybe) single crappy dashboard ('61 Dodge Lancer) car speaker. I've listened to Yamaha NS10s in major recording studios and still think being waterboarded would be preferable to ever hearing those damn things again. I think ancillary gear, the music, and your taste is all that is ever happening, and to sort of paraphrase an old Buddy Rich comment, "there is no bad sound, just bad music." This isn't true, but it certainly made me feel better to write it.
"This discussion has reminded me of how glad I am to have tone controls."
I bet you have picture quality controls on your HD TV that muck with the pure natural picture quality that would exist otherwise as well!
Not to mention all kinds of fancy pre-configured settings on your digital camera that make pretty pictures even in low light but muck with the beautiful natural washed out dimness that would be captured otherwise!
Tubes help with harsher recordings I have found. Try tubes (and tube rolling) if you listen to problematic recordings. And the tubes help with great recordings too, even though this seems illogical on the face of it. Tubes really helped Beatles music for me. By the way, I have Lahave Mela speakers, very nice on difficult recordings (Beatles included) but they don't mask things (like the way a lot of familiar vocal character on Beatles music was missing in action when I had Harbeth SHL5s).