Most "Accurate/Realistic" Sounding Speakers?


I am a major audio enthusiast and I was listening to some live, non amplified acoustic jazz and I could not help but wonder what speaker sounds that "live"? To me, the most "accurate/realistic" speakers would accurately reproduce acoustic music as if it were playing right in front of you, and also human voices as if they were talking directly to you. I guess that is my gauge by which speakers and audio systems should be judged. I know there are a ton of "accurate" reproductions, but I have never heard anything even close to the realism, super deep bass by the acoustic bass, and slam of the snare and cymbals. Have you heard any speaker truly close to this? As an over analytical audio nerd, instead of truly enjoying this great music, I could not help but think about the system that would come even close to that realism, deep bass, and gritty fast sound. I guess the closest I have heard has been Wilson Audios, but even those were not truly accurate reproductions. I have also heard that Quad planars and ATC powered speakers do a pretty amazing job.

Please opine!
regafan_1972
I am not actually sure what Most Accurate and Realistic speaker is but I fell in love with the Kharma speaker line many years ago.I am not saying its perfect but I must say that they are incredibly involving and Natural sounding to me..There are many other speakers out that many prefer but I find the Kharmas do it all for me..
See if you can find an MBL or Avantgarde dealer in your neighborhood. If they are attached to anything decent, they will open your eyes, and drop your jaw.
within its range, stacked quad 57s are as realistic as it gets.
See thread above titled: "Pros and Cons of built-in amps?"
it begs the question, what is realistic. i bet if you put 10 different reviewers in a blind test with 10 great systems you would get multiple responses. also, i love live jazz too and so much depends on the room. tubes or ss, xrcd24 or vinyl, it is interesting to read how audio crowd interpret your post anyway.
Sound labs, Apogee, NOLA,
I was not impressed with Quads the others I have listed are serious contenders for the best ever loud speakers that I have heard in 35 years, ATC are studio monitors and will reveal any system limitations, but in the right system using active ATCs they are great
As an Upright Bass player I think what your looking for is not a function of any particular speaker system, not that they don't play a substantial roll. 

Its the generational distance from the original recording be it digital or magnetic tape along with the initial recording method. I've heard some very modest studio playback equipment sound quite good monitoring the original recording.

That same recording after the mixing, all the conversions, reclocking and/or the mass production, the life can get sucked out of it. Fortunately and far more importantly the music itself is still there.   

Until they make a Bernie Grundman machine personal speaker taste should win out. In my case I got off the merry-go-round some years ago when my used Avalon Acoustics Eidolons became affordable supplemented by a pair of Velodyne DD Plus subwoofers. Since then the only other brand that sounds right to my limited listening experience is Vandersteen. I'm told they both have good time and phase characteristics which suits my taste. 

Have fun. 
For me it is Thiel.  Happy Listening!
Charney Audio!

Full range single driver tractrix designed rear loaded horns. Charney's design will change all misconceptions about single driver designs. I have the Maestro and constantly amazed at what I'm experiencing.

Charney is in Somerset NJ and well worth the the time to audition.  
I am a major audio enthusiast and I was listening to some live, non amplified acoustic jazz and I could not help but wonder what speaker sounds that "live"?
...

Going by the context you’re outlining here I’d say the most live-like or "real sound" approximation would be achieved through big, high quality and high sensitivity (100dB+) horn speakers (preferably all-horn) in conjunction with lower wattage (some 15-20 watts at most) SET amps. I suspect the combination of this, and many things "being equal," would produce the most effortless, dynamic, tonally accurate, properly scaled and fluid presentation - closely emulating a live, natural sound.
It's a complicated question as folks here clearly already know.
Depends on what you are trying to reproduce as well - voices?  A big band?  A whole symphony?  A rock band?

I've always been fascinated by the whole real vs reproduced question so
for many years I even went to the lengths of recording sounds I'm familiar with (I work in film sound) which I would play back through systems.  For instance I recorded my acoustic guitar, my son playing sax, my family's voices, other acoustic sounds, etc.  Then when I had a speaker in my house I could directly compare the playback of the sound to the real thing.  It was always illuminating.  Usually those speakers whose "voice" sounded "right" to me in the store or wherever I first heard them, were the ones that passed this test best.

Of all the speakers I tested I'd say the most astonishingly life like (within their frequency range) has been the MBL speakers.  I'd had some startling experiences with the 101Ds and Es before - when set up well not only did they manage to produce the most individualized and authentic range of instrumental timbre I've heard, but also the most realistic presence (in terms of bringing objects to life dimensionally and dynamically).

These impressions continued when I managed to buy a pair of the smaller MBL 121 omni-directional monitors.  Playing my recordings through those things can be disarmingly realistic.  And when I do the "from the other room" test, for instance play the recording of me practicing my guitar, or my son practicing sax, it simply sounds like someone in there playing an instrument.  I would not know it wasn't my son in there playing saxophone if you didn't tell me, and in fact I've fooled a few people doing this.

Just a couple weeks ago I played some cuts from Requium For A Pink Moon - Nick Drake music done in an Elizabethan style.  This has some of the most natural voice recording you'll find:

http://www.allmusic.com/album/requiem-for-a-pink-moon-an-elizabethan-tribute-to-nick-drake-mw0002357...

Played through the MBLs, they recreate the sense of 3 dimensional space, a 3 dimensional performer, with just the right richness, timbre and organic quality, that, when I close my eyes, makes it almost effortless to think I'm at the live performance.  

My Thiel 3.7s do spectacularly well with this recording as well, though edged out by the MBLs.

But of course when we start talking of larger demands, we need much more fire-power.  I'd think a proper horn set up (lots of them and big) could come closest to reproducing a full orchestra or big band blasting away. 

Though, I highly doubt that same system would reproduce voices.  They may produce vocals with presence and clarity, but that's not the same as "how voices sound in real life, when someone real is in front of you." And thus far the omnis and certain cone speakers do it best I've heard.
(Electrostatics, like the quad ESL 63s I owned, and the 57s which I love even more, do the startling clarity thing, and get close, but lack that last bit of roundness, thereness and body to vocals to cross that barrier to 'real.').

That's my take, anyway.

And of course there is the age old audiophile question of whether we want realism in terms of "they are here" or "I am there."  That is, either the sense of musicians having been transported into our room, or our having been transported to the acoustic event, even artificial ones. 

I've had speakers that lean either way, and in fact I'm comparing two speakers right now where one brings musicians into the room and in that sense sounds "more real," the other turns my room into whatever sonic event is depicted.




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Like already stated, the best sounding speaker can't be realized until you have some of the best of sources to work with. Having no garbage at the beginning makes it easier to whittle down your speaker choices at the end. 

Having said that, the best I've heard, relative to what I could afford, was a full range driver augmented with a ribbon tweeter and of high efficiency. Right now, my monitors with ceramic drivers are a close second, and they fill out the lower regions better. It's always going to be  a toss up of sorts.

All the best,
Nonoise
Wind rustling and blowing tumbleweed through dusty streets in a long abandoned town... lol ! It seems like too many threads are like this lately
I don't know of any speakers that can sound like live music. 

In my mind the best I can hope for is a great speaker that will speak to me. One that plays music to me.

For 10 years  Sounds Real Audio had a room at the RMAF, I would always go from room to room searching for that "much sought after sound". Getting back to my room I never felt cheated. For me my set up and speakers provided complete satisfaction.





https://www.stereophile.com/content/dunlavy-audio-labs-signature-sc-vi-loudspeaker-specifications

?

Wouldn't the most life-like reproduction start with the most life-like recording? Who attempts to record live music like a pair of human ears hear it?
kosset_amojan

That is it isn't it. Nobody I know of.



If you like the "snap" or "slam" of the snare and cymbals, you may consider adding a dbx 3bx III or 3bx DS (or the holy grail - the 5BX) component to your system. While it may or may not add "color" it will likely provide the realism you're looking for by expanding the dynamics and increasing attack in the audio signal. I have noted that it adds a slight "warmth" in my system as well as the snap and slam you are looking for... and I like it. 
Get a listen to Vandersteen 7 Mk IIs and then work backwards in that designers work to your comfort zone.
 Best JohnnyR
Actually kosst and soundsreal, binaural recordings are an attempt to do exactly that. Many of them sound amazing on headphones, the only correct way to listen to them.
Infinity Irs Betas........
Meh.... I think headphones are a lacking experience in terms of recreating the more visceral facets of a live performance. I don't listen to polite chamber music. I listen to Tool, DCD, Bassnectar, and stuff along those lines. This is stuff meant to be felt as much as just heard. It takes speakers, not headphones. 
In continuation of my respons above a more general observation, one that may "only" be an aspect of realism in sonic reproduction (albeit a very important one), namely the frequency spectrum from some 100-400Hz - or the upper bass/lower midrange. As such this would serve to highlight no individual speaker principle or brand/model in particular (although one could rightly point to specific items, as is the case with linked review below), but rather stress the relevance of named aspects’ implementation in loudspeakers more widely. Reading a review today by Robert E. Greene over at The Absolute Sound of the Stirling Broadcast LS3/6 speakers, I noticed his elaboration on this important issue in the comments section:

...
The truth is, that as I discussed in my "guest editorial" in TAS some months ago, many audiophiles have come to perceive the hole in the warmth region that occurs all too often with floorstanding speakers as being accurate and lively and "realistic". But of course it is not. Does anyone really believe that a big dip somewhere between 100 Hz and 400 Hz and a big midrange projection above is really the way things ought to be?
Properly set up the BBC speakers avoid this --but this does not mean they are coloured by warmth,. It means that they are correct, This has nothing to do with personal taste(though I do in fact like warm concert halls for instance). It has to do with being correct. Inducing a hole in the lower mids and a projection above does not let you hear what is on recordings and it is wrong. Saying it is modern and that the alternative is "lazy" and "old school" is to use semantically loaded phrases to misrepresent reality. There is truth involved here. One just neeeds to figure out what it is.
http://www.theabsolutesound.com/articles/stirling-broadcast-ls36/?page=5

I'm sure some will find above quote controversial in seeing Mr. Greene speak of "correctness" (repeatedly, I might add) in sonic reproduction, but I fully agree with him; it does make sense to speak of reproduced sound that borders more closely that of live instrumentation and voices, and that doing so doesn't necessarily cost a fortune. We're up against an industry that seeks to keep the financial wheels turning (through branding, not least) more than any endeavor to seek out authentic sound, and introducing "subjectivity" into this mix makes it all the more easy to cater to these mechanisms. 

I would add the importance of physicality/air displacement area and speed in the upper bass/lower mids as well to more significantly approach sonic realism, something I find a variety of larger horn speakers in particular to be capable of.

I'm a fan of Robert E Green's writing.   That said,   I don't know that I've noticed the floor standing "dip" phenomenon he mentions, at least insofar as being more common than among monitor speakers (i.e. I hear dips and colorations in both types of speakers).

I know that Mr. Green has long extolled the truthfulness of Harbeth speakers.   I briefly owned the very well regarded Harbeth Super HL5plus speakers, on approved-height stands, in an acoustically excellent room.
They were really wonderful in some ways (vocals!) but I found my Thiel 3.7s beat them handily in just about every area I could think of, even in terms of the Thiels midrange sounding more substantial and believable.

So at least in my case, anecdotally, the BBC type monitor did not display the purported superiority over a larger floor stander.
Many people don’t care about sound systems that try to sound like live music. Many more younger people (Ipod generation) care even less about this. This is compounded by the fact the vast majority of speakers do not sound like live music.
I think another question might be, how much money does one have to spend to do a magic trick into fooling your ears and brain (for a brief period of time) that you are listening to live music. That will differ from one person to another.
My guess is around $10K, maybe more.
I've had very good results with DX3 Lowthers in Fideleo cabinets (with a sub) driven by a 5 watt 6550 SET amp. Vocals are spooky real with a well recorded album. Not saying it's the end all... but very very good. 

To prof,  you mentioned Thiel 3.7.  Yes, maybe realistic and often uncannily open sounding, but the models I have auditioned sounded bright. I once auditioned a pair of Thiel 1.6. I was amazed at the clarity and openness of the top end, but after about 20 minutes I had a headache from highs that were too bright. Obviously, this was a lower model to the 3.7's,  but it steered me away from the brand. They are beautifully made speakers with apparent quality drivers, however, they also need above an average size room so they properly integrate the audio spectrum. 


To regafan, if you have no reservations of buying older models, you might want to check out  the B&W Matrix 3MkII. I owned a pair from 1988-1995 and they offered amazing sound quality..especially tight bass and lighting fast transients  My one caveat is to match them up with either Conrad Johnson, ARC, or some combo of  tube preamp or power amp because even the earlier models could sound edgy on certain CD's  with SS electronics combos  Good Luck, S.J.

 

S.J.,

If Thiels sound bright, and they can, there is a mismatch of/issues with components/cabling upstream that needs to be sorted. What is provided is reproduced.

Dave
sunnyjim,

I understand your perspective. I seem to remember feeling similarly when I heard the 1.6. It lost too much of the warmth range.

The 3.7s are both super smooth (not peaky or hashy), and I combined them with Conrad Johnson amps, in a nice sounding room. My audio-reviewer pal who said Thiels at audio shows had previously made him want to run shrieking from the room, did a 180 once he heard them in my set up. I have tinnitus and bright or peaky sound bugs my ears way before they bother most people, and the 3.7s in my set up are the smoothest, least fatiguing speaker I’ve ever owned.

And fully fleshed out in the midrange.

So what I heard with the Harbeths was a very clear, well controlled sound, with that Harbeth lushness in the midrage for vocals and other instruments that reside there. Beautifully balanced speakers. But perhaps because of the "lively cabinet" design philosophy they never quite disappeared sonically. When I played the same tracks on the Thiels it was amazing how, even being far bigger speakers, they utterly "disappeared" sonically in a way the Harbeths never did. Everything cleared up around instruments, and the sound was simultaneously as detailed or more detailed, yet more solid and "there," while, amazingly, also sounding more relaxed and organic in rendering detail They just seemed to do what speaker designers always seem aiming to attempt: sounded more "real" in all the right ways to my ears.

The Harbeths did have a certain "rounded, fleshy" character with vocals that I haven’t quite heard from other speakers, though.
My opinions:

1 - I don’t usually want LIVE volumes. I’m afraid 80% of my listening is background or late night, low volume. So I need speakers that sound good even then. Having actual performance level volumes is not my first priority

2 - Imaging. I challenge everyone to go to a live acoustic event and close their eyes and listen. Compare to home. The truth is most real life venues imaging is not that specific. Listen to a street busker even. Close your eyes and compare. IMHO, "hyper imaging" is not at all realistic and a deliberate artifact of speaker tuning.

3 - I do care about butter smooth frequency response, natural attack and decay, and the ability to convey the music, voices and environment with complete effortlessness. Again, listen to real instruments for this.

Best,

E
+1 Eric. Real instruments, especially horns, cymbals, piano, and female vocals often "bite the ears" a bit at real SPLs in real life venues.

A danger point is aggressively trying to tune this aspect of real instruments at accurate SPLs in real acoustical environments out of an audio system as other consequences inevitably accompany this path. Better just to reduce the volume...

Dave
@dlcockrum

Check out Trombone Shorty's Parking Lot Symphony though for amazing sound and dynamics and music! :)
Also, I get "bitten" more by "High End" loudspeakers deliberately tuned bright, and ragged. It makes the speakers seem like you can hear never-before sounds in your recordings.... and tires you out fast. Again, not realistic, but pays the bills.
Yes that is very true Erik, not only of speakers but DACs too IME. I am learning so much from extended listening to a Exogal Comet Plus DAC. Somewhat unimpressive on first listen, but very instructive re: true timbre, subtle yet ample and expressive detail, etc. and completely unfatiguing. However, bite from instruments that sound so is present as it should be IMO.

Thanks for the music recommendation. :) The trumpet on Laveau Dirge No.1 has that realistic bite I am droning on about.

Dave
yeah, that’s a great track.

I do hear what you mean. It’s easy to get that wrong. Either sounds like Tupperware lid, or etched. It’s a good test.

This was a fail on the Revel’s I listened to recently, but not a disaster. Seemed to play the mouth piece louder than the horn.

Erik, the track "Familiar" is an exceptionally powerful sounding performance. I am not usually much of a bop (?) fan but I am impressed at the sheer power of the percussion and horns from 1:35 to 2:20 on that track..

Just "starred" the album on Tidal :)

Dave
Dave,

In terms of musical versatility, chops, and recording quality, Parking Lot Symphony may be the greatest album I have ever heard. 

Best,

E
Also, PLS is an example of my problem. I really can’t listen to these tracks right now! :) It’s too good and I want to play it full out.

Lots of other albums to play in "night mode." 
Roger that.
erik,

2 - Imaging. I challenge everyone to go to a live acoustic event and close their eyes and listen. Compare to home. The truth is most real life venues imaging is not that specific. Listen to a street busker even. Close your eyes and compare. IMHO, "hyper imaging" is not at all realistic and a deliberate artifact of speaker tuning.

I accept the challenge :-)

I hear the "live music doesn’t really image" claim so often and I don’t agree. I’ve always been in the habit, especially when listening to acoustic sources, of closing my eyes when listening.

I’ve tended to prefer closer seats at the symphony and when I close my eyes and find the "imaging" fantastic. I could easily point to whatever instrument is playing, as it occupies a dense easily identified space in the soundfield. (If someone is used to sitting at the back of the hall, this will be less the case, but even from the back when I do this I get pretty good imaging with eyes closed). This is also the case whether I’m listening to smaller jazz ensembles, or even if I come upon people performing on the street. I close my eyes and the sonic images are like the best imaging I’ve ever heard.

That is one of the reason I enjoy a speaker that images precisely. Because when that happens all the sound energy is condensed such that the "force" of the sound seems to be coming from the specific instrument, more like a real source I hear in life, rather than being distributed in some vague, swimmy manner. (Though imaging isn’t my number one concern - timbral beauty being first, dynamics etc being important...if those aren’t there I don’t care at all how a speaker images).




+1 prof. I find myself quickly fighting the urge to look about the listening room (and notice others often pulling out their social media devices but I refuse to do that), a sign of boredom, when listening to a system that fails to image well.

I think that we both prefer the closer seats at the symphony etc. because we value the impact of imaging on the listening experience. Not coincidentally, we both own Thiels. :)

Dave
To the OP's opening question.... don't know if you can actually define a "best". Line up every audio nerd that is an A'Gon member and you'll get as many different answers as there are people on that list. What sounds correct and accurate to you, in your home is what counts. I do think there are some things that will help in the quest, however...

1. Don't spend too much time listening to reviewers and pundits. Their perspective is skewed and they generally don't listen long enough to a given model to get a true representation of performance (although I do believe there are a handful that are pretty good, the aforementioned REG being one of them). If you want a benchmark amongst professional reviewers, find out what they've actually purchased. Not what they have on loan, not what they'd "buy if they could", but what they've actually put their hard earned money into.

2. Define what's important to you. Tonal and timbral accuracy, bass response, dynamics, imaging, whatever it may be. Realize that NO loudspeaker is perfect (despite what we're led to believe by the press and the slick marketing of mega-buck manufacturers). If you do find a six figure (or even 7 figure!) loudspeaker that tickles your fancy, by all means, buy it! But, I'd venture to guess you'll find what you're really looking for at a much more reasonable price.

3. Take your time. Seek out every opportunity to hear a speaker you're interested in, preferably in your own home or at the very least an environment that you're extremely familiar with. And be careful; you may hear something "different" and be initially wowed by it, but it may not really be something better or more accurate.

4. Keep listening to all the live music you can. As a matter of fact, you'll generally get more for your money doing that than you ever will from any form of electronic reproduction, no matter how far up the audiophile tweak-o-meter you wish to rise. And when you do listen to live music, remember that you'll get just as many opinions about the sound and performance qualities of a particular performance as you do about loudspeakers. Ever read reviews after an opera or a symphony? It's our nature to critique...!

Lastly, being the good audio twerp that I am, I will throw out my opinion on a speaker: Acoustic Zen. In my opinion (and remember, I said opinion....), nothing else has ever come close. The Adagio is probably the best speaker for the dollar spent that's ever been built. If you can afford the Crescendo, so much the better. In any case, Robert Lee's (Robert is a musician himself...) creations are without peer in my book, and properly set up have come closer to the ideal of any I've had or heard (and that's a lot).

Enjoy the journey, and happy listening!

That post should be a stickey (if Agon had such a thing).

Good job, dogmcd!

Dave
I'm not saying there is no imaging in real life, obviously. I am saying that some high end speakers seem to make this effect more etched than real life. Like turning on the sharpness settings on a TV. 

Sometimes this effect is bought at the price of a dip around 2.4kHz. A convenient place since crossovers often occur around there. Designers can push the individual driver crossover points a little apart to achieve this. 

Best,

E
Maybe this will help. In the area of detail and imaging, I think there is a range:

Detail:

Dull -------> Natural ---------> Ragged and artificial

Imaging:

Poor ------> Natural -------> Artificial, over delineated

Buy what you like. I don't care what that is. I'm only discussing what I think is realistic. Let me put a brand out to discuss: Magico.

Not my favorite brand actually, but in these two areas I think they do a very good job. Detail is consistent, octave to octave, and imaging is enjoyable and natural over a wide listening location.

If a speaker makes you hear an album in "a way I've never heard before" it probably means the frequency response is less than ideally smooth. By accentuating narrow bands, and tilting up the treble, they make us feel we have the ears of a 19 year old. Smoke and mirrors.

The same with imaging. Listening to orchestral or large choral works, if you think you can pick out every single instrument it's probably not natural anymore. I certainly can't in real life.

But that's just me, and "realistic." As I noted before, realism is not always the goal. Listen to things that make you happy. Pay for only that which you can grasp with your own ears.

Best,


E
While on the subject of "realism" one thing that I think is under appreciated, but now Wilson is getting on the bandwagon, is the rear facing driver.

First time I can remember seeing this was in Snell speakers. In the right settings, these can do a couple of things:

1. Control dispersion
2. Create a realistic sound field by bouncing significant amounts of energy off of rear and side walls.

I have mixed feelings about this, but I think perhaps especially with piano sounds this could be a really big improvement, and allow us to experience something much closer to live, in some ways. I mean, truth is we are creating something new and not in the original recording, so I feel strongly this is like a post-processing effect.

On the plus side, if it sounds good, why not?

Best,


E
Erik, if I intimated that I prefer artificial or exaggerated soundstage, then I mispoke.

Just that I experienced a killer system recently that I felt to be lacking in soundstage depth and layering and it has been on my mind.

Peace, my friend. :)

Dave 
Dave,

Sorry no worries.



Best,


E