My Demo results: I feel like I'm at a frustrating block in my speaker journey


Hi all,

New poster and longtime lurker. 

As the title says, I feel like I'm at a frustrating endpoint in my audio quest, and hoping to draw from your guys' experience for some direction.

I bought my first speaker system a couple years ago because at my old house my tv speakers were not cutting it. 

First I bought an old budget pair of Klipsche bookshelves (P15s?  I dont really remember)  They were really shrill, and I sold them fairly quickly. 

After reading a bunch of the mainstream audio review sites (I now understand these platforms are often pay to play) I purchased the ELAC Unifi UF5 Towers.  These had beautiful, lush musical bass but sounded about engaging as energetic as a sponge.  They also had kind of a dark muffled sound at times- like there is a wet blanket over them.   Paradoxically, they also sound inorganic and kind of metallic. 

In the past few months I decided to start demoing speakers to see what I like.  Ive found some speakers that do certain things right, but not everything right.  Every one of the high-end, expensive speakers I have tried have had certain large flaws. I've been kind of shocked at this whole experience, because to my ears my $60 set of logitec computer speakers handily beats a number of speakers 50x more expensive. Like, they dont have great detail retrieval or clarity but at least they dont color the sound a ton, and they present very engagingly.

Im still lookijng for my goldilocks speaker.

  • Various Kefs- very similar to the ELACs but worse imo- very metallic and unengaging
  • Various B&W- Metallic, boring, no dynamics
  • Warfedale Evo 4.4- nice highs!  Absolutely sloppy bass (for my room at least) and terribly muddy mids
  • Tannoy Revolution 6XTE- Similar to above.  Very, very dark speakers.
  • Martin Logan 35XTI bookshelves-  Eureka!  These are much more organic and clear.  Guitars actually sound like guitars instead of a bad digital rendering of them.  Theres energy in what I listen to.  This is what I was missing in the others... things sound like theyre supposed to!   Only issue is they arent as full-bodied as towers.  They just cant play very loud and I wish they had more bass to be better full range speakers.    Somewhat more minor issue is that they sound slightly grainy.  Though thats not a total dealbreaker. 
  • Martin Logan 60XTI Towers- I had high hopes for these.... but where did the magic for the 35s go ML?  These are very "meh".  The highs and satisfying acoustic resonances are gone.
  • Focal Aria 906 bookshelves- holy clarity batman!  But it sounds almost too clinical to the point that theyre not engaging.
  • Focal Aria 948 Towers-  Holy clarity and body batman!  These sound almost perfect- but they dont quite come alive until higher volumes (and I have a small space), and there's still something missing... a certain *zing* in the acoustic guitar resonances. 
  • Def Tech 9060- Hard to describe.  Sometimes they sounded good, sometimes they sounded imprecise and like the drivers were way too small.  Bass gets bloaty in my room.  Theyre also ugly as hell. 
  • Ascend Sierra Tower with RAAL-  After all the others, I had only tthe ML 35XTIs and the focal 948s remaining.  I was hoping, based on my extensive reading of forums, that the ascend towers could give the best of both worlds- the clarity/full body of the focals with the acoustic resonance/energy/zing of the MLs.  Unfortunately I was once again disappointed.  They seem unbalanced to my ears.  Like, they have very punchy bass but they color the sound to be sweet and there seems to be something missing in the middle of the sound.... some body that just isnt there.  The highs are very sweet and engaging, but almost a little artificially so.  Where the MLs sound like an actual acoustic guitar being played in front of me, the Sierras make it sound unnaturally sweet or high.  Theres unnaturally sweet zzzing out of string instruments that I dont think actually sound that way....  Im bummed because I really wanted to like these speakers. 


I think I've established a list of qualities Im looking for:
  • The etched sound of the MLs
  • Full body and clarity of the Focals
  • The forward, engaging nature of the ascends
  • Not overly smooth
  • Not metallic (I dont think I like aluminum tweeters)
  • wide horizontal dispersion (my room is wider than it is long)

Where do I go from here?  Im at a loss.  Id appreciate any recommendations you guys have. 

mjt8
I'm curious how you're able to glean so many subtle speaker characteristics from a demo. You did say demo, right? So completely different electronics, rooms, everything. Each time. Right?

Oh well. These speakers are all over the map. Some of them put you in a budget range of a Tekton Double Impact. Hugely popular, great reviews, and real value.

Only problem, you want etched sound. No idea why, most consider etched pejorative, but its your system. Other than that, hits all your other requirements. 
RE: Logitech speaker preference.
Maybe you like the sound of a small single driver crossoverless speaker? Some Logitech speakers employ a fake tweeter (seriously, Google it) and therefore you might be listening to a single driver speaker. In this case perhaps check out Omega Loudspeakers.
Also, you have mentioned a couple times bass issues in your room. It might be worth investing in bass traps. They can make a huge difference in how a speaker sounds in your room.
1. Budget?
2. Room size?
3. Type of music you prefer?
4. What gear are you using?



I’d be interested in the how/where regarding demos of speakers. A lot of that could give insight as to why you’ve come away with the opinions you have. For instance, I could call the Tannoys a lot of things, but I don’t think dark and recessed would be one of them.

Personally, I really like the KEF R series, my findings of the "metallic" sound are usually from poor component matching. If you like rock, the RAAL tweeter might not be the best match on the Ascends.

You say you don’t think you like metal tweeters, but didn’t think the Aria had enough "zing" on things like acoustic guitar. If I’ve ever heard a complaint on the Aria (and Focal in general) it’s brightness. Again, component matching and environment. Those are Al/Mg composite tweeters in the Aria and Chora.

I’ve been a huge Focal fan ever since I heard the Grand Utopias at the Stereophile SF show in 1997. It might be (although you don’t mention budget) you might want to demo their beryllium tweeter. Right now the 1028be (with awesome W composite cones) can be had NIB for about $4k as the last inventory goes away. I have Kanta No2’s and think they’re going to last me a long, long time.

If you’re interested in standmount speakers, I’d certainly check out the Kanta No1’s, which can be had for as refurbs $4k/pr at A4L. Another brand you might be interested in is Canton, also available for great prices on A4L. Their Vento line has titanium composite drivers and a ceramic tweeter that gets a lot of praise. Only problem is not a huge customer support infrastructure in the States.

Notably lacking from the speakers you list are Dynaudio and Revel. The former is one of the fastest, liveliest, most dynamic brands I’ve heard. The soft dome tweeters are a bit polite, but you might find them to your liking. Revel goes out of their way to make a speaker that can be placed almost anywhere, with incredible dispersion and soundstaging. Revel remains one of my favorite production brands. Dali is similar to Dynaudio, another great brand. You might also check SVS and Golden Ear, their technology might pique your interest.

I mention frequently (and see it mentioned above) I often find that when people are constantly swapping out speakers because of one issue or another, it’s almost always the listening room that is at fault. You mention you listen to them on the wide axis of your room, you should try rotating your setup 90°. Or, move one speaker closer to the other. Symmetry is not always your friend.
Miller,  

ive had a lot of these speakers  for at-home demos.  The only speakers I didn’t bring home were the KEFs, B&Ws, and the 60xtis.  
Tbh im not sure that “etched” is necessarily the right term for me to use, but I do find a lot of speakers overly smoothed out.  Especially the KEF and the B&Ws.  I even listened to a pair of the KEF blades and thought they were pretty boring tbh.
Thanks for your recommendation, I’ll look into them!
Prighello,

I'll look into it.  Thanks!
Have you listened to Maggie's. I spent many months auditioning speakers in stores and others homes once I heard the 1.7 with sub I knew that was it. I have since moved up the line to the 3 in 7i.
Yogiboy,Sorry, I should have added those from the get-go.

Budget- 3000 ish? Id prefer to go under that if possible.
Room: Here are some pictures: https://imgur.com/a/R9AF5mT
Music Preferences: I dabble in everything. Most heavily in acoustic guitar, classic rock, blues, jazz, and electronic. Ill be using these speakers as dual purpose with the home theater- so theyll be responsible for movies, video games, ect.

Gear:  Marantz 5014 AVR
Post removed 
Monkey, thanks for your detailed post!
The vast majority of these demos were in my house using my gear. 

I agree, the tannoys struck me completely different from everything Ive read online.  Like, I didnt even have to spend 10 minutes with them before I boxed them back up.  My wife and I both agreed they sounded terrible in comparison to the focals and ML bookshelves, which were also in the room. 

I like the highs of the focals.  I think a lot of my concern for acoustic resonances might be more in the mids.  I'm not sure.  Like, I found the ascend towers had zing, but not in the way I was necessarily looking for.  I think Im looking for it lower in the register. 

Like, when you listen to an acoustic guitar in person, you're not just listening to the strings being strummed.  There's kind of sharp texture from the fretwork and a woody resonance/percussion from the box itself.  The ML bookshelves are the only speakers that have recreated that faithfully so far to my ears, and I'm not really sure why.  Though the focals are close, tbh. 

I could definitely see the issues being due to our room.  I posted a link to pictures of it in my response to Yogiboy.  I am planning on putting a rug down, but unfortunately there's really no way to flip the room orientation. 


From the list of qualities you are looking for you need to check the speakers of  this brands : Magico , Proac ,ATC ,PMC and Spendor. all this brands have wonderful speakers which have the qualities you're looking for . We don't know what gear are you using so it's difficult to give you specific recommendations .
Might want to consider that the ultimate sound you get from your speakers is based to a great extent on the synergy they have with your room and upstream gear.
To really get close to the sound of a’live’ acoustic guitar is no easy task for any system, The midrange and high frequency extension ...plus the source ability, really needs to be accurate.
OP:

I think you want Magico and Revels.
Back in the day Sony made a bookshelf speaker model ??? Something like ss-a3r or ar3 I forget.  The dome of the tweeter was an organic substance grown in a lab.   Till this day it is one of the best sounding bookshelf speakers I have ever heard.  That being said, 
the
 
Sony SS-NA5ES Bookshelf speakers if also a great sounding bookshelf.  After that the SS-NA2ES is an excellent floor stander.

Happy Listening.
I would suggest an in home demo of the Ohm Walsh 2000, provided your room is sized right for it.  There is a chart on Ohm's site that determines which model is appropriate for your room.  They seem to meet all of your requirements.  I have owned them for 10 years now, and couldn't be happier.  They have a 120 day return option, so you would only be out the shipping if they're not for you.
I agree, sounds like maybe upstream problem.
On the flip side, have you considered any horn speakers? I have no $ interest but at Atelier 13 Audio in Nashville (I have purchased equipment from Constantin there and he is a wonderful shop owner and help). He has a pair of demo RETHM BHAAVA which would be great for a small area and has, IMO, what you may be looking for.  $3550
Why are you going they all of this trouble when you have a Marantz avr? Nothing is going to sound decent with that except for video
Simply put Spatial Audio.
If you’re open to considering 1970s vintage, a well maintained pair of JBL L65s might be worth seeking out for an audition.
I'm missing something? you want musical music to sound like music, but I can't see the turntable in your room photo?

Please tell me your not trying to get distortion (I mean digital) to sound like music?
Were the speakers you listened to at home broken in already? Almost sounds like the Tannoys were not.
Wow, you are REALLY picky. Be glad your not into sports cars, or you would be very broke !
Looking at your pics on imgur it appears your towers are pretty close to the back and side walls which can hinder sound quality and may have contributed to some of your negative in home demos assuming similar placement. As others have mentioned, the Marantz AVR is also not helping things. My last big round of upgrades started with new speakers and a better sub. It was when I ditching my aging Marantz AVR in favor of something more musically focused that everything really started to shine though.
Tekton Double Impact or Tekton Electron SE
I hope I’m not sounding preachy but probably the best place to start is with fundamentals.

Maybe you’re well beyond this point...but this book was my starting point and opened my eyes about how sound behaves, how to make the most of a room, and speaker placement. It’s a basic start...but a good one.
 
https://www.amazon.com/Great-Sound-Stereo-Speaker-Manual/dp/0830632743

I think a lot of speakers that many people think sound dull, are just fine...they just need to find the right position in the right space. I think there are modifications to furniture layout that can withstand SAF (spouse acceptance factor). In fact, I think it’s easier to match amps and preamps etc. than matching a speaker to a room.

Do you want to truly understand what really great imaging is like? You won’t get it from a special amp. It’s room layout. 
I temporarily lost low and mid tone hearing in my left ear this winter. I couldn’t concentrate on a conversation with multiple people talking in a restaurant. It also completely eliminated my ability to get proper imaging from system. 

Get to know where a particular speaker sounds best in a room and you’ll be more than half way there. Different speakers want different positions.






Need more information:  what is your source of music?  Dac / Streamer / Phone / CD Player?  I think you have the Marantz because it is able to do movies, play Spotify, Pandora etc.  Is that correct?  Your room is pretty small so you probably don't want any speaker that will be to in your face.  If it were me I would upgrade your amplification.  I would find a good used integrated amp for under $3k.  I think, if you had that, the Focal speakers you talked about would be a great choice.  It is such a hard price point given what you are hoping for in sound.  You may want to check out Maggies,  Tekton is definitely in your price price point plus they have a return policy.  At your price point I would definitely try to find the best speaker that you can afford on the used market.  Especially now....people will be willing to deal.  
Looking at your room, honestly, I would get some in walls. There is too much going against you and I don’t think a pair of $100k magico speakers would sound any good either.
First, you have a chair sitting inches away from the speaker and blocking 3/4 of the speaker.
You have the speakers up against the wall and an inch away from your cabinet, you need space to let the speaker breath.
You have an avr!
If you get some decent in walls like from totem or revel, you can place them way above any piece of furniture and the wall will actually help rather than hurt the sound
Cannot go wrong with Focal. Please throw a carpet on the floor. Bring the front of the speaker out 36” from the back wall. Use your “experienced” salesperson to establish if you have clean power to drive those Focal speakers. 
Enjoy. 
If you manage to get help out of this diverse group of suggestions,
you have a divine power. 

Did you ever manage to disclose what you amp/Int is?

I am suspect that your post is not for real.

Assuage me.

Just saw your room pictures. I believe it’s your room setup.
No amount of money spent on gear is going to fix that. First issue is that your speakers are on the long wall and they’re too big for the room and one is firing into the side of a chair.

iI sounds like you’re not willing to change that and it’s a smallish room so that’s going to compromise things a bit.  You may be able to get away with it if you placed more modestly sized speakers closer together but you would need a narrower media console.

I’ve tried all the speaker placement formulas to no avail but one that worked for me is to divide the room into 5 parts...side to side and front to back. But you don’t have front to back width...so let’s just ignore that for now. Have the speaker tweeters 1/5 in from each side wall. Then play with spacing off the back wall. Tweak from there.
You might also want to try the Acoustic Zen Adagio, or Adagio Jr. speakers.
Going to jump in here and recommend the ML Motion 40's.

I have those speakers and they have a sweet sound.

They just might be the sweet spot for you between the ML 35's (since you mentioned you liked them) and the 60XT's, not to mention you might be able to find a good deal on them since new versions have come out.

Happy Hunting!
Hello I see your dilemma. First i do not like any of the speakers you have listed. They individually have great points but overall do not cut the mustard.  May i suggest an alternative.
If you are able give the Gauder Akustik speakers from Germany a look. The main reason their crossovers are amazing which helps with room problems, Also i see a post re the Magico 100k speakers. I have a pair of Gauder DARC 200 full monty and they were way more focused than  Magico. 
Regards Alex
ML’s and a couple REL’s and you’re golden. ESL’s and you’re hooked! 
A Marantz AVR! LOL! Ditch that and get some serious electronics! 
Since you are doing a 2 channel or 2.1 ditch the avr and pick up something like a parasound Hint6 integrated amp which is basically an all in one, dac,phono, tons of watts and weight to it. I used it for my tv and a pair of dynaudios for an amazing system in the past.

the hint6 will be perfect with your Tv setup but will make sure your music is more important if not equally. Connect to a streamer and a used oppo blu ray and you are set!!
My guess is that your electronics are revealing their shortcomings when used with different speakers.
This is all hilarious; all this fuss over speakers when the source of most of the problems is most likely the Marantz AVR.
Epos ES 11 speakers....musical.
A lot of helpful suggestions here ( other than cousinbilly's feeble attempt to turn this into a digital vs. analog thread...really helpful cb)

As others mentioned, you've got limited speaker placement options in your space. The loveseat isn't helping, unless you can get the drivers higher than the arm on that piece of furniture.

You might try focusing on speakers that are designed for near wall (right up against the wall) placement. Larsen Model 4 speakers come to mind. Alternatively,  as suggested earlier, of an omni design might work best in your space (Ohm Walsh).

If you start with the speakers and get 70% of the sound you're searching for, you could then start exploring upstream components that will get you the remaining 30%.
There are some amazing integrateds on the market for reasonable prices that would still allow HT and 2-channel audio use. Best of luck in your search.


 
If the room configuration is to remain the same.....you will never get
acceptable sq.

With the room exactly as it is you might try Elac bookshelf speakers
placed on top of the existing TV speakers. With a relatively small
integrated.  OH WAIT!

PS Audio offers a very nice combo:
https://www.psaudio.com/product-category/system/
Free home testing, they pay shipping both ways if you don't like it,
and its $999.

Otherwise you'll need to move to another room in your place or
(at least) lose the love seat.  Just my 2 cents.
You should try out the Dynaudio Evoke series and go up from there. The Evokes may have everything you need. I have the Special 40s and they sound incredible--so clear with plenty of bass. Hope this helps--good luck!
Here’s a review of the Larsen 4. Some relevant notes on width of sweet spot, and even comparison between an AVR (Denon) and higher end components.

https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=https://positive-feedback.com/revie...

At 30" tall, that love seat would still present a problem. How about a single seat lounge chair for that corner? 😁
Magico for 3k. I’d like those as well. Marantz avr? That’s gotta go. You will need to change your hardware and speakers. Your hearing your horrendous receiver through detailed speakers. That’s a big problem. 
You have a bad room and bad electronics. Stop blaming the speakers.
you're going to get a different suggestion from everybody. 

The deal with hifi is synergy and finding components that play well together and compliment your room acoustics. A lot of major brands have complex xovers that suck the juice out of the average ht receiver and that in itself can ruin a demo of speakers that could sound great with a different amp. A lot of companies are offering powered speakers that will take the guesswork out of component selecting for example the kef lsx and an affordable sub could be a solution for you and if you like the idea there's a $hit ton of brands offering the powered approach.
Having the sofa in front of the speaker I think you would get better results using bookshelf and sub. If You can afford it powered speakers are good advice as well. 
Listen to Open baffle designs before taking the next plunge. For nothing else, an education. 
Full disclosure: This is my first response to a question. I have been on a similar voyage that has led me to a 'field' of options that seems to grow, instead of narrow my choices. 

I decided to go with Klipsch Cornwall IV's, as I heard a pair of III's that sounded amazing and checked a lot of the 'boxes' that you have mentioned.

My current situation is to identify the right amplifier combination,  another journey to no end.

Two speakers I have found to be interesting are the Salk speaker line up the Song3 BEAT (bookshelf version) are worth the research time to see if they are what you nay be looking for. Call Jim, he's a great guy, and willing to help guide you in your journey. Jim will tweak/custom build to your specification a d liking.

The other speaker I'd look at are the Liberty X-VOX (i believe they are a sister company to PBN audio, another amazing speaker lineup).

I wish you the best in your continued search, and will be interested in seeing what you decide on and of course the 'Sound Report'!

Cheers!

First of all, it’s a miracle that anyone is able to gain any meaningful advice from posts like these, with so many different opinions being offered that ultimately steer you in a hundred directions at once. A lot of people don’t pay attention to what question is actually being asked by the OP or they offer ridiculous solutions that will almost certainly not be implemented for a multitude of reasons. You’ve had several of these posts already in this thread but it is a systemic problem throughout the forum for sure. It’s just a consequence of having an open forum where everyone can offer an opinion regardless of its relevancy. That being said, I think several people have made some good suggestions for you.


I personally own the ML 35XTi speakers and they were paired with a Marantz 5011 AVR when I first started out a few years ago, so very similar to your setup. I thought the MLs (bi-amped) sounded great with the Marantz, especially for around $2k total investment. I also used the system for 2.1 home theater and it saw a lot of movie time so the AVR worked out well as it offered built-in room EQ and easy hook up for everything.  It sounds like you might be at the point where you’d like to take your listening experience to the next level though (just as I did), and if so I would suggest looking into two things: the placement (room layout) and the amp.  I think people are correct in mentioning the room layout is less than ideal but this happens when you have a system in a general use family space and not a dedicated room. It is what it is. So you just have to find solutions. Rather than say something silly like “you need to get those speakers out 3 feet from the wall” I would simply suggest that if you are able to rearrange the room at all in order to free up some space between the left speaker and the chair it would certainly help.  It doesn’t have to mean completely switching the seating locations. It could just involve moving the stand and speakers to the right a bit. If the TV has a fully articulating mount this may be an option. That’s assuming you have space to move to the right. If not that’s fine. At that point I think it would be wise to only consider bookshelf speakers you could raise high enough on stands to clear the chair arm so you don’t block the output from that left speaker. I also like the idea of wall mounted or even in-wall speakers. Given the room challenges I think an on-wall or in-wall could be a great solution. It all depends on whether you can modify the room layout or not and whether you want to mount something in or on the walls. Room treatment may be able to help as well given how close the left wall is to the speaker and it being a pretty reflective environment but this being a living room I’m sure you don’t want to add a bunch of wall treatments. You could look into an area rug perhaps if that’s something you and your wife wouldn’t mind. Maybe even a picture or two on the left to help a little with reflection. Nothing glass obviously but more like a thicker canvas print. The art panels are great from companies like GIK but it depends on how much you want to spend. You could even do curtains on the left window if that’s something you wouldn’t mind. 


As for amplification, I think you could find a number of solutions for a modest sum that would offer improvement.  The Parasound suggestions are good but that would also eat up a lot of your budget unless you find a great deal on a used one. If you were only focused on buying a new integrated with a $3k budget then sure. But if you’d like to stay at $3k total for any new purchases there are several integrateds that could work well. The Cambridge Audio CXA81, Yamaha A-S801, Musical Fidelity M3si or M5si, Peachtree Nova 150 or 300, NAD C 368 or 388, Marantz PM7000N all have good build quality, built-in DACs, respectable power, get great reviews and most importantly they don’t suffer from the AVR design limitations.  Without having to worry about 5-11+ amplifier channels, a ton of video and audio connectivity options, bass management, etc. the integrated amps are able to focus more on sound quality. It really all depends on how you use the system and how much connectivity you need.  If you just need 2 channels of amplification and a DAC and maybe 2-3 sets of RCAs at most then the integrated amp could be a great fit and one that will probably take your listening enjoyment to the next level up.  Most of these are under $1500 new so that also leaves money for speakers. The 35XTi is currently on sale for $400 each, which is a steal. I know ML makes a wall mount model in the same series too that you could consider. I’m sure other people could make suggestions for reasonably priced on-wall or in-wall options too. However, if you don’t want to mount anything on the walls or cut the walls to install in-wall models then the ML 35XTi or even the Focal Aria 906 might be what you’re looking for. I think trying to do what you can with the room or at least with speaker placement will help a lot and combining it with a more purpose built integrated amp will be even better.  I don’t think you’d be unhappy with either speaker option at that point. Good luck with your journey.