The Dynaudio Contour series (3.4 would be under your budget used) are excellent all-around musical speakers. In a properly set-up room, they will sound very rich and full with excellent frequency extension. After owning B&W speakers for several years, I continue to be amazed by the Dynaudio Esotec tweeter.
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It's too bad you heard the Dyns so poorly setup. IMO, they are the best pick on your list, as some of the others are more colored, ie. sonus faber. But if you like that type of sound, that's cool too.
I would try and hear the Gallo 3.1s as well. I think i'll be ending up with those after hearing many speakers in the 5-10k range.
I'd recommend Duke's Audiokinesis Jazz Modules. Efficient at around 93db sensitivity and can be used with a range of amps. I have a pair that I am very happy with and if you search the web, you will hear nothing but good things about them. Duke is located in Idaho, but will travel some distance for auditions or might be able to refer you to a local owner.
Cost is $4500, but he sometimes runs promotions. Parts cost about 60% of what he charges, and includes TAD prosound drivers for woofers and compression driver and waveguide for high end.
Plus Duke is one of the nicest guys in the business. Check out audiokinesis.com!
I would recommend a used pair of Revel Studios. Your $4K budget is just enough to get a pair. They are nearly full range, as they go down to 30hz, and with room reinforcement, they will sound full range. These are very accurate speakers, and the bass is very quick and tight, and not boomy at all.
Check out the glowing reviews both online and in stereophile (see link below):
Stereophile Review of Revel Studio
(FYI: Kal Rubinson, the Stereophile reviewer, bought and used these as his reference for a few years.) I lived very happily with them for five years before moving onto the Eggleston Andra IIs.
I will state that they do need a fair bit of power though. I recommend 200 wpc, but 100 wpc will do, if it's a very powerful 100 wpc (i.e. a beefy solid state amp, and better yet, monoblocks). I started out with the Levinson No. 27 (100 wpc), and while it worked acceptably, (the bass was a bit loose), upgrading to the Mark Levinson No. 23 (200 wpc) was a definite improvement, as the bass tightened up, and the speaker seemed to open up very nicely.
My two cents worth.
Good Luck in your search!
From the tone of your post and comments on choices it souonds like you want a warmer and more "musica;" speaker rather than something hi fi sounding and overly detailed.
The Sonus Faber clearly fits that bill, as does the Opera Callas. Both make beautiful music in most situations. You don't need to have the best of the best in front of them to get a good tone. Then again, the upgrade bug could bite after a while with them also.
Am I assuming that you are saying you have 4K for the speakers and 2.5K for the int amp, or $4k total for all? Assuming the former...
Take a hard look at Vienna Acoustics Beethoven Concert Grands: A pr. just went @$3500 used, but you could proabaly be patient for a bit better price in a few months. Full range, nice cabinets, long range satisfaction factor, not too terribly hard to drive, great vocals and staging. That would leave you an extra $500 for the int amp. At $3000 for an int amp, I would expect the deals to be getting even better towards late summer...if you could scam a Pass or Accuphase that would be berry, berry nice...
Or, get real real and look at some Quad 989's...might not have enough of that classical umpff for you, but you might not care by then. Sound good on relatively cheap gear. If I were you, I'd do the Quads...
I'll cast a vote for the Piega P10s. Beautiful in piano black, and they sound terrific. I drove several hours to audition a pair a few years ago, and within two hours of listening to all kinds of music, I was writing a check. Other gear has come and gone in my system, but the Piegas remain. If you get a chance to hear them, take it.
Komaki I have a pair of Tyler Acoustics Linbrook System 2's that have been upgraded with the 10" bass driver for sale. Check the listings for my ad. They are very easy to drive and sound wonderful. I have heard several speakers come through Ty's shop and listened to several others including Thiels you mentioned around the price point you speak of. I prefer the Tylers by a longshot. I am not just saying that because they are for sale. His speakers offer alot for the money period!!!
Wow, thanks for all of the responses! It sounds like every speaker on that list has at least 1 fan, plus a few more. I will look into the other suggestions as well.
Unfortunately, it doesn't really narrow it down too much! How about this: any I should eliminate, for one reason or another? Any I should eliminate as not being a particularly good value?
Is the Cremona too "warm"? I don't want a detailed, etchy hi-fi sound, I just want it to sound like music, for lack of a better term. Watching a live jazz band doesn't sound hi-fi'ish, it sounds full and natural. That is the sound I am going for, simply an accurate reproduction.
I did a search of Audio Kinesis and didn't see anything listed here. He is in Southern Idaho, and I am in SLC from time to time, so perhaps I can work out a demo.
I own Cremonas (non-M series) and they feature a modestly elevated "warmth" region. Unlike some of the older SF speakers (I have also owned Minuettos for app 15 years) these speakers have more output through the presence region. The net effect is a nicely balanced, musical sounding, (though not strictly speaking "neutral" or "accurate") loudspeaker. OTOH, these are not so colored -IME - as to eventually wear on a critical listener.
Mine are in my living room with a Pathos One integrated amp and a matching Digit cd player. It sounds very nice and looks terrific. By audiophile standards this may not be the last word in system performance, but - even after listening to the more "pedigreed" speakers I use in my listening room - I'm never disappointed when I use the living room system. IMHO, it's really quite good.
Duke sold a set of speakers to one of my friends here in town, so I got to hear them in my system before delivering them. I really was not prepared for how good the speaker was! Very well integrated, good bass extension (into the upper 20s to my ear) very detailed and extended, but relaxed and easy to listen to.
I was using a pair of our M-60s (60w into 8 ohms) and was really challenged to clip the amps- I think Duke is very conservative about his efficiency ratings. They were very nearly the efficiency as the ZU Druids (which seem to be about 97 db), so I make the Stormbringers to be in the area of 94-95 db by the same standard.
In my friend's home, they replaced a set of Carver Silver Amazings. My friend thought he was down-sizing to please his girlfriend, but he is ecstatic about the move- they sound better than the Carvers in every way (his girlfriend likes them a lot better too), plus they are a lot easier to drive. At the time, the Duke was retailing the speaker for $2800.00/pair. Hard to argue with...
Another vote for Audiokinesis speakers. I started out with the Stormbringers (no longer made) and then upgraded to the Jazz Modules. Ralph Karsten has summed up the speakers quite well.
For 10 years previous to owning Audiokinesis speakers I was committed to Spendor, my most recent pair being the 1/2e. Phenomenal speaker in its own right. The Audiokinesis speakers don't have the magical Spendor mid-range, but overall they have an incredibly natural sound that never ceases to amaze me.
Duke delivered both sets of speakers to me personally and helped me set them up. Its not like I live that close to him either. One of the good guys in the business for sure.
BTW - Dukes speakers are flexible and easy to place as the bass (via the rear port) and tweeter (via plug in resistor) are adjustable. Click on my system link to see pictures of my set (in walnut).
Komaki, I have not heard all of those speakers on your list, but I have heard the Devore Super 8's and for me personally I think they are one of the finest sounding 2 way speakers available.
I found they were very well mannered yet had a really great snap about them. Snare drum sounds on the Devore are just right on the money. With the right equipment they have a beautiful bloom to their sound. I would be extremely happy with them.