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. 

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.

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!