Need a system for Chamber music--ideas?

My current system does well with larger scale works - orchestral, choral, etc, and also with solo works. Where it struggles is with chamber music. String quartets in partiuclar are a problem. It is essentially impossible to distinguish between the 1st and 2nd violins. Maggies are always going to struggle with this due to the side by side arrangement of the ribbon tweeters with the midrange panels. I could go two ways.
1. A completely distinct system in another room, using monitors. If I go this way, I might like a reccomendation on a tube integrated to pair with the speakers, and the speakers should be able to go close to the wall for flexibility. A concern here would be decent reproduction of piano-- don't want to create a new problem in listening to piano trios etc. I'd probably like to stay under 7K for the amp and speakers new or used.
2. A set of floor standing speakers or monitors to swing into place in my current system for listening to chamber. They should be below 80lbs each to facilitate moving. The maggies are going to stay for large scale works. I'll keep the current system in place, so the floor standers should work well (at least initialy) with high powered SS amps like my Cary 500.1's. Again, 7K-10K, new or used. Accurate timber and coherence, especially with violins, are imperitive. It will not be necessary for them to play above 90dB. Also, the speakers must be able to throw a convincing stage for string quartets. Speaker placement will be along a short wall in a 15.5 x 19 x 8' room. I do like the sound of Sonus Fabers. Might be open to Dali's. Wilsons in this price range are out, and I don't like Dynaudio, Theil, Aerial 7T's. Haven't heard Ref 3A Grand Veenas or Merlins but you hear good things about them. I will not buy speakers unheard, so I'm wanting to generate a list of speakers to audition. When I bought my maggies it was a 2 year process. Your thoughts please?
Hi Brownsfan, you are facing an interesting dilemma. I believe you will be hard pressed to find a dynamic speaker in that price range that will satisfy your need for correct timbre, coherence, and ability to throw a convincing stage with smaller ensembles; specially after living with Maggies. The last requirement is, ironically, and as you have found out, at least as difficult to achieve as with large scale works. In a string quartet recording, for instance, the proper spatial relationship between, and size of, each instrument is imperative for the music to sound realistic; often, the first violin (closer to the mic) ends up sounding as large as the cello.

All bias aside, I own what I feel is the best chamber music speaker that I have ever heard, the Stax F-81 electrostats; incredibly beautiful and true timbre and coherence, and sound staging to die for. They also, unlike the Maggies, don't need to be played very loudly at all to sound alive. They are, however, a brutal load for most amplifiers (although yours should do just fine), and bottom end weight can be lacking for piano recordings. A properly integrated, and fast, sub can correct this problem. This is a long- discontinued product, and I bring it up for two reasons. Agon member "Kentaja" (no affiliation), runs an outfit devoted to restoring Quads and Stax (Electrostatic Solutions?) recently had a completely restored pair listed here. If this is something that insterests you, you might want to contact him. Quads are another possibility with a lot of the same attributes, somewhat better bottom end, but not quite as magical through the mids, and would probably do best with a small tube amp. Good luck.
What you want is increased resolution.
Best way to get that is to start working on power conditioners..
With your current system.
I have magnepan 3.6s...
I use a Furman REF20i with my analogue stuff. and a PS Audio P600 for the digital.
Pangea powercords...
Frogman, Thanks. I knew I was asking for a lot, but I thought taking faithful reproduction of Mahler out of the picture might simplify things, though doing the Shostakovich piano quintet right is no small feat. I hadn't thought of quads. That might be interesting to try. But you know, I remember some pretty convincing recordings of piano trios (yes, a much easier ensemble to record) with my old ADS 570s back in the early 80's. Convincing with respect to stage if not dynamics and timber. In this day of 20-40K monitors, I thought we might have some interesting trickle down by now. I could probably have the Pacifica live in my living room for less. I need to start sitting dead center first row and close my eyes to get that reality check. I usually sit just to the left of the first violin, about three rows back, where I face the cello straight on.
Elizabeth, it's not really resolution that is the problem. The system resolution is quite good actually, and I think my power conditioning is pretty good although I have a ways to go on the PC's. I will take your suggestion as a reminder to start upgrading the PC's and I might get some help there. The problem is that because of my room size and the fact that the maggies are out 5 ft from the back wall, I'm listening near field. Quartet seating has the first and second violins together on the left, sitting only 2-3 ft apart., with 2nd violin seated pretty much behind the first with only a slight left to right offset as a microphone would see them. Even in a live performance, I need some help from my eyes to know who is playing what. Much of the violin's range is in the ribbon and much of it is in the midrange, which inevitably gives some smearing of a violin placed either left or right of center stage. A dead center violin, as in a Bach partita, does not suffer from this effect and reproduces as a well placed dead center image. Maggies inherently are at a disadvantage because of their design compared to point source types. If I were in a larger room, I think it would be better, but still probably not ideal.

Monitors and tubes are well known for superior spacial presentations. I was hoping someone had the magic combo for chamber music.
Have you actually heard the bright line between 1st and 2nd strings on another setup and not yours, with the same recording? It may be just the source recording you have and not really your system.

Try some different recordings of the same music from different labels to see who better captures the qualities you seek.
In your listed price range (used) I`d suggest the Coincident Triumph II(very efficient). Driven by their Frankenstein 300b SET(or a used wavelength Cardinal for another example).I`m primarily a jazz listener but also getting into classical music. Chamber music is very realistic(seperation,space,nuance and tone) in my system(I`m loving it).I have the large Coincident speakers but their monitors would suit your desires fine IMO.I`ve really developed a fondness for Mstislav Rostropovich`s cello playing. I can listen to him for hours.
I would suggest obtaining well recorded source material. The danger with this approach is that, it might actually solve the problem.

Your problem seems to be that, you hear 100+ instruments just fine, and you hear one instrument just fine, it's those pesky Trios and Quartets. Does that pass the common sense test?
Lots of good comments here.
Nonoise-The next round of auditioning will focus on chamber music. When I bought my Maggies, I used orchestral, choral, piano, chamber, every type I have, in order to get the best general purpose speaker. As far as recordings, I have a half a dozen Beethoven cycles, two Mozart cycles, Haydn on a viariety of labels, with numerous repeats on certain pieces, 3 Shostakovich cycles, a good mixture of Brahms, Dvorak, Bartok, Britten, the list goes on--hundreds of recordings on numerous labels by a variety of ensembles. I can't think of a single recording that does what I am looking for.
Charles1dad- I am very interested in the Coincident stuff. I need to hear some of their gear.
Rok2id, large scale works aren't perfect, its just that after extensive auditioning, the Maggies were the best at orchestral stuff at anything close to the price. Im also not surprised they can be quite convincing on a well recorded soloist with a central image. That is a much easier problem. I think Frogmans comments lead me to know where to start. With a live performance, seated center front, with my eyes closed. String quartets are a tough problem both for recording and play back.
Of the speakers I have heard I would consider in your case from your description:

- PSB Synchrony
- Totem Mani 2
- OHM Walsh would be something different (omnis) but that might still fit the bill and share many positive attributes of both panel and dynamic designs

Others I have not heard specifically but would consider to start include the REf 3As and Triangle Comete and certain KEF Q series, maybe starting with the new LS50s.
Here's a completely out-of-the-box thought. Have you considered obtaining a pair of high quality headphones, such as one of the Stax electrostatic models? Aside from the differences in soundstaging and imaging that would obviously result relative to speaker-based approaches, they may very well provide what you are looking for. As well as taking room acoustics out of the equation, along with the smearing of detail that to some degree it will inevitably cause.

Best regards,
-- Al
The headphone idea is a good one!

I have Klipsch Image S4 earbuds and a pair of Stax electrets. The Stax have a lot to offer in terms of musical texture and detail, similar to panel speakers but without teh room acoustics as said. The Klipsch cost a pittance but are very good at just putting the music in your head with very good detail and minimal external acoustic effects to get in the way to help serve as a baseline reference for what is in the recording and what is not.
I think Almarg is spot on with his "outside the box" solution.

I hear everything my system puts out and more with just a more than decent set of earbuds and quality portable DAC, with my iPod. Granted, it's not the same listening experience as in room but that 'room' is now removed allowing lots more detail, bass reinforcement, separation and air.

This different perspective may be the solution.

All the best,
More good stuff! I have wondered about the Totem Manis. I should put them on my list of speakers to hear. I also like the headphone idea. That might give me a good option for chamber works while allowing me to continue upgrading the Maggie based system. I'm hoping more suggestions continue to come in, but I've gotten a good starting point and some ideas that would not have occured to me.
I agree with the headphones. Just be aware that phones can be brutal in exposing bad recordings. The old 'watching sausage being made' thingy comes to mind. Have many times sent me running back to my not so revealing speakers.
Rok2id, I do have a few that I'm sure won't get much playing time with headphones.

The headphones solves another problem too, which is early morning listening. My wife goes to bed at about 3 AM and I get up at 5. When I retire, the headphones will get me my morning listen. Right now I am thinking the headphones ought to be the first step. Trouble is, a lot of the stuff I had been itching to try was also mentioned above. I've wanted a set of Quads forever, and I am really interested in the Coincident gear. I want a bedroom system, and I thought the monitor/tube integrated could fit the bill there. Darn, just too much neat stuff out there, all with its own unique strenths and weaknesses.

There is a late Haydn quartet (Opus 70-80ish)that has a fugue where the melody rotates through each member of the quartet. I need to listen to that carefully, and see how the first and second violins are presented in space. That should be a pretty good test of what the system is capable of, and may also be a good piece for tweaking the toe in.
How close are you sitting to the 3.7s?

Just my opinion, but using a front row center seat as a reference is faulty. It's as if you're trying to bring the audiophile experience to the concert hall. Sit further back, even if only a few rows, and get better enveloped in the blend of direct and hall sound.

Unless you can optimize, or at least get real close, you would be better off with two separate systems in different rooms. In a normal sized room with any pretense of domesticity it will be hard to properly place two different sets of speakers. You could always move the speakers in and out of their optimal spots, but I think you'll get tired of that routine fairly quick.
if you go to a live concert of a string quartet, depending upon your seat, the hall and the spacing between the players, you may here the entire ensemble and not hear the violin and viola.

so the question is:

given a recording have you hear the violin and viola as distinct instruments on any system ??

i would advise you to take a recording and listen to it on other stereo systems and see if you hear the violin and viola , as indidual instruments.

the problem may be the recording, not the speakers.

if its resolution you want, a pair of quads or martin logan cls will do. perhaps roger sanders hybrid electrostatic may work , as well.
KEF LS50s are getting a lot of good press lately. I have a pair on the way and can report back. But a KEF with the UniQ driver could be work looking into.
IT's also a good point that experimentation with the placement of the Maggies in the room along with corresponding sweet spot might get you further towards what you seek, maybe completely. I've owned Maggies and proper placement is critical for good imaging and soundstage. IT usually involves significant distance from rear wall, 1/3 to 1/2 room length possibly, more so than most speakers. THere are some good threads here on A'gon that discuss some seemingly esoteric but effective speaker placement options for planars in particular that are worth knowing about.

I first heard Maggies in Jim Smith's shop called "Audition" I believe in Birmingham Alabama years ago. Those (Placed well into the room away from rear wall) were probably the best set up Maggies I have ever heard still to date. I bought a pair on the spot! JS is an acknowledged expert on getting the best sound out of most any gear. HE has a good book available that might be of value there if optimizing your Maggies performance is of interest.

Also always a good idea to have a reference recording that in fact contains the sonic aspects you seek. You can't get it if its not there to start. Recordings all vary. Make sure you have the right reference recording for what you are looking for. Many recordings on Dorian and Mapleshade labels in particular are very good (often "magical") in regards to 3-D detail, imaging and soundstage.
Onhywy and Mapman, The room is 19 ft long, with the Maggies out 60" from the back(short)wall. My listening position is back as far as I can go, which means I'm about 12' from the speakers. I have Smith's book and found it useful. Interesting point on the concert hall experience. Its pretty much always the same crowd, same people in the front at every concert. A lot of the early quartets were written for very small rooms. The conversation between the instruments was a substantial part of the music. For me, sitting back further in a larger venue looses this aspect of quartets from the classical era. Orchestral (symphonic) arguably should be "together heard" as you are suggesting, but I'm not so sure this is what Haydn and Mozart had in mind for their quartets.
Mr. Tennis, No problem distinguishing (spacially or otherwise) the viola from the violins. The viola is (usually) far right, and the violins far left and left center, with the cello right center. Most of my recordings appear to be close miked. I can't think of a single string quartet recording that gives a mid hall perspective. This is part of the problem. The rather clear spacial distinction between the viola from the cello, the cello from the violins, and the viola from the violins, fails with the two violins.
My point with sitting front and dead center in a live concert was to determine what it might be possible to hear in a close miked recording if the system were ideal. If what I am seeking is not obtainable live, then perhaps I shouldn't be trying to recreate it.
Another idea would be to go old school - pair something from the Klipsch Heritage series, say the Cornwalls or Fortes or Hereseys with a nice tube integrated. I am listening to the Brahms Piano Quintet on my Cornwalls, which are driven by a PrimaLuna Dialouge 2 as I type this. A set up such as this definitely meets all of your stated criteria, at quite a bit under your stated budget.
Brownsfan: given the nature of the material, Quads would be ideal. And not necessarily new ones. I've owned Quads since 1973, in various iterations, and still have an early pair of the original ESLs as well as a pair of Crosby modified 63's. I haven't listened to them in a while, since i switched to a horn based system back in 2006.
I was stunned at how good a (restored) pair of the original ESLs sounded in Robin Wyatt's room at the Waldorf back in April 2012. He was using a pair of smallish tube amps and a Charlie King built preamp made from old Levinson parts. Granted, the source was tape, which was peerless, but the string tone and elucidation was beyond reproach. The normal caveats about the original ESL are also not problematic given the program material you want to use this system for- the lack of deep bass, the limitations in dynamic range, and the relatively narrow sweet spot. But, man those things are good. Not sure what you have in mind for source and preamp- perhaps the same gear you use for your current system- but worth hearing a good pair. And you can get in (and out)* of them pretty easily if they were properly restored.

*Most people who have owned the original ESL usually regret selling them and often buy another pair. They should be set up a little higher than the factory feet allow, and placement in the room is critical. They also seem to like small tube amps. My impression- not necessarily shared by others- is that the original ESL's midrange is better than the later 63, even my Crosby version, though the latter is not as constrained in bandwidth or dynamic range. I haven't had hands-on experience with the latest Quads, so my comments don't necessarily apply to the current models. Plus, the old ones are a classic.
Learsfool, its been ages since I heard the Cornwalls. I did not like them with orchestral music, but as a speaker for chamber music they might be worth a listen.
Whart- I really do like the Quad suggestion. As you point out, they are legendary for a reason, and I've always wanted to own a pair. I've always known I couldn't live with them as my only speakers, but this could be the time to pull the trigger. My listening room is already set up around a narrow sweet spot (though the 3.7's are not as bad as previous Maggies). I will not want to change the amps at this time, so they will have to deal with solid state.
Rok2kid and Mr. Tennis-- I did some more listening last night -first to some old Haydn by the Takacs on Decca. I had forgotten how bad the recordings are. I never listen to them. They are miked away from the instruments, so that it sounds as if you are listening to the quartet seated at the opposite end of a tunnel 300 feet away. You get a rather tiny central image with no separation of the players. Next I listened to the Mozart Oboe quartet K370. This is the Linn recording and is very well done. Its close miked, but not too close. Good localization of the oboe and cello, but the violin and viola sound like they are seated pretty closely, so its hard to localize them in space. However, it is important to note that none of the instruments are larger than life, which really makes this recording compelling in its realism. This recording suggests to me two things-- Typical recording techniques are probably adding to the problem, but there may be a limit to what I can achieve with my current set up.
I may suggest the ClasicAudioLoudspeaker T3.4,it is a horn speaker which I have in my bedroom.Fantastic for violin reproduction.Speakers are very efficient 100db/w.m at 16ohms.You can look them up on the web.They are sold manufacturer direct.They will sound best with tube amps.The imaging is spectacular,in my room they are not great for Mahler or Shostakovitch orchestral music but very good for chamber music.
Brownsfan, this thread got me thinking about returning to a project I started
four (!) years ago and put aside. Sitting in my basement is a pair of
MGIIIA'S that I used for about fifteen years until I lost the midrange sections
on the panels due to corrosion of the wire grids. I had very heavily modified
the Maggie's with upgraded xovers, wiring and removal of the socks (which,
no doubt, was responsible for the corrosion). Anyway, I purchased the
rebuild kit from Magnepan and never got around to it. I bring this up to point
out that I am very familiar with the sound of the 3 series Maggies, and
indeed, the sound of these speakers was spectacular in what was, at the
time, an ideal room.

Your 3.7's are clearly a much improved speaker over the stock MG3A.
What makes these speakers stand apart from the Maggies lower in the
lineup, is that amazing ribbon tweeter. The problem with discontinuity
between the midrange and tweeter is much improved with the 3.7's, but it is
still there to a degree. After living with these speakers for so many years I
became convinced that the issue was not one of tweeter level nor xover
point, but of a qualitative difference between the mid and tweeter which
contributed to the problem in the playback of chamber works that you are
trying to solve. I believe that this difference is part of what is contributing to
the lack of separation of the two violins on string quartet recordings. The
violins, having so much high frequency energy, both get "pulled"
towards the ribbon tweeter element regardless of spatial location in the
recording. It's not that the ribbon is doing anything wrong, but that the mid
panel is not doing it as well. I found this to be more obvious on chamber
works than on large orchestral works; although, in those as well, I would
often hear the image of the flute or solo violin suddenly get pulled left or
right towards the location of the tweeter ribbon. Why am bringing all this

Have you considered, as your "chamber music speakers", a
pair of the smaller Maggie's which don't use the ribbon tweeter? You
obviously like the sound of Maggie's, and in many respects even the
MMG's share many of the same attributes as your 3.7's, but in a smaller
package and with, arguably, better integration of the mid and tweeter; even
if the tweeter is not, in absolute terms, on the same level as the true ribbon.
The rest of your gear is so good that a pair of MMG's would probably
sound fantastic, would be easy to move around, and might solve the
problem; and you have a sub that you have already integrated with
Maggies. With a home trial available, you would have nothing to lose. Lastly, if you find they at least have potential, if you are not familiar with
Peter Gunn's mods, check this out:


Good luck.
Frogman, I love deep thinkers. As usual, you comments are golden, and you articulated well my thoughts on the violin problem. To answer your question, no, I had not thought about a pair of MMG's. I've heard them, and they are great for the money. I'm going to have to chew on that idea a bit. Unfortunately, the maggie dealer here closed, but I could still do an in home trial.

I have thought very, very seriously about your initial suggestion regarding the Stax and Quads. I have a faint memory of the Stax speakers when they were new, and recall that they were very will regarded. I have not heard them.
Do you think the stax could be moved around fairly easily, or would there be risk of damage? I am in a position to be patient for another restored pair to come up for sale.

On the quads, I could see using them in a separate basement system eventually and driving them with a nice integrated tube amp. I would think my 1000wpc Cary's might get the quads into trouble pretty quickly no matter how careful I am.

Since I opened this thread, I had a chance to listen to some chamber on a friends 50K system using Joseph speakers. I came out of that session wondering if I am just not expecting too much. I heard a similar presentation on his system.

The Maggies are going to smear violins because of the design. I think you are right, the discontinuity between the ribbons and quasi ribbons is substantially decreased, but it isn't zero. I wonder if the dipole design is not also a contributor. But still, the comparison with my friends system was a good calibration. I'm going to need to think long and hard about how to proceed, and do plenty of auditioning.
Wow, what a nice compliment; thanks. The Stax are very easy to move around, being considerably smaller than the Quads. Don't know if you have seen/read these, but you may find these links interesting:

Magico Mini 2 used wonderful on chamber music.