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. 

First off no speaker is going to do everything perfect can't be done.  If you expect something to be perfect it simply won't happen.
A question when you are doing the demonstration are you doing it with loaners?  If so are they new in the box?  If they are most speakers have a substantial break in period usually 50 hours or more.  Only manufacturer I know of that solves this for you is Zu Audio in Utah.  They break all of their drivers in before installing in cabinets.
The shape of your room is not a good thing for speakers.  I have a  square room and it tends to reinforce bass waves.
Also early in my audio journey I went to a local audio shop and they had an interesting demo.  They would play some music and midway through the track the salesman would take a tapestry off the wall between the speakers and the treble would come alive.  (This was because the tapestry absorbed the reflected sound).  I found that very informative.
It may seem far fetched but sometimes carpets can absorb sound because it will not reflect it back into the room as well.  Same for stuff on walls.
Last, life is a compromise if you expect any audio system to sound the same as a musician playing acoustic guitar in your room it siimply will not happen.
Good luck on your journey
     I tried out a top Marantz AVR.  It was practically free if I wanted it.  I hooked it up to my B&W 803's, and guess what?     " Various B&W- Metallic, boring, no dynamics"  Your words.
     Yep! They sounded just like the electronics.  I immediately re-boxed it.
 That is the problem with accurate speakers. They require big power supplies for dynamics, don't add sounds, and can reproduce the gratingly bright sounds of cheap transistor circuits and computer chips used in AVR receivers.  Admittedly, I do use separate, matching amp and pre-amp for subs, but that is required for my fairly large (700 square feet, average 12' tall) listening room, which is most of my house.  With normal ceilings in a Tennessee 400 Square foot, half basement, subs were a luxury, not a requirement.  Martin Logan's are pretty good for AVR's, because, like all electrostatics without added tweeters, they lack treble  AVR's do not have the power supply required for bass (or dynamic range on inefficient speakers).  That is why they have sub outputs..
Do NOT spend any money on gear yet. You are showing us all that you are an audiophile in pursuit of great sound. You will have marginal success at best with your current layout. It just won't happen. The speakers will need to be brought out into the room at least 2-3 feet to get the bass to clean up, and imaging to appear. Period. Even if you do this only when listening to 2 channel music, and put them back for use in a Family Room environment, you will be happier. Try this first. beg forgiveness for the wife, and spend some hours experimenting. This will give you an education about the speaker/room interaction. 
Next. If possible, spin the room 90 degrees. Put curtains on the window, and maybe even use a blanket on the TV if it must be on a stand in the center.

If you are stuck on the long wall try covering the TV with a blanket and moving the speaker out into the room at the same time. Prepare for an experience!
Now, in the present situation, some great stand mounts with a subwoofer will probably be the best solution, but the sub may need to be across the room or off to the right side to get a good integration.
Everyone is different, but I had the Focal 936 tower(similar to the 948 you mentioned). I upgraded to the Focal Kanta 2 and finally got that extra thing that I was looking for. A great all around speaker with the detail in the top end with sounding harsh or brittle.
Hi mjt8,

Simply Put  - You Have Out Grown Your System !

IMHO start to strategically put together a budget / foundation to grow from to accomplish your goals. You may want to check out some Virtual Systems on Agon as a guide. As others have pointed out - Take into consideration, Amp/ Pre Amp / Integrated/ Power Delivery, Cabling etc. 
The best bang for your buck will be the used market.
Take your time, Plan 3,5 - 10 times, spend once.