Not Enough Options for Auditioning Speakers


am in the market for a great two channel music system. They will be set up in a dedicated listening room that is 12'x17'x9'. The room is carpeted but not treated.

My budget is around $15k-$20k for speakers, wires, amp+preamp (or integrated).

I prefer towers as I like the full range and have had bad luck with integrating a sub. I started my search with B&W 805's and Sonus Faber Olympica I's (which are still on my short list)

My problem is that most of the dealers in my area do not carry very many brands, so it is hard to compare. I cannot even find one that carries the KEF reference.

I am leaning right now to the Sonus Faber Olympica III's but also really like the B&W 803 D3. I wish I could hear them side by side. The dealer with the SF's is great and has let me do home testing with several speakers and he is recommending the Olympica's.

I read a lot online about auditioning several different speakers but cannot find any place in central Florida that has most of the lines they are suggesting. I know if I pick the SF Olympica's I will be very happy, but I have not even heard the III's! I am just a little frustrated that the consistent advice is to listen to a lot of others, but I can't.

Am I the only one with this problem?

Thanks!
-Mobius
mobiusmu
You owe it to yourself to find other speakers to demo. There are much better options out there with that budget. 
The loss of most audio retail joints has made it difficult to hear stuff. I'm interested in hearing a pair of modern "Heritage" Klipsch Heresy IIIs as a not too expensive high efficiency speaker option (to go with my low powered single ended amp), and even in the somewhat crowded Boston area nobody sells 'em where you can actually audition a pair. The only option is to buy things and send them back if they suck, eating the shipping cost as a penalty. 
No you are not, most of us are in the same boat. Even in New York area it is difficult. That's the main reason, I think, why many end up with wrong or not exactly what they want equipment, especially speakers and turntables.
Your budget is pretty good even if you are talking new pieces.
I recently heard the Paradigm Persona 3Fs and they are fantastic. Might want to check to see if there is a dealer close. As you said you cannot demo the KEF reference but they are really great as well. I would much prefer these to the Sonus Fabers or the B&Ws for my tastes. 
Some really good internet direct brands as well but even harder to demo unless there is an owner close. 
Rocky Mountain Audio Fest is coming early in October.  If it were I, I would attend the show and listen to everything I am interested in in one place.  I plan on attending for the first time as I am looking for a better integrated than the Parasound Halo I am using now.
@mobiusmu, 

As suggested by @stereo5, I would try to attend one of the two upcoming audio shows. RMAF is one of the best and largest audio show. If you're unable to attend the RMAF, then try to attend the SHOW in Anaheim. 

https://thehomeentertainmentshow.com

One thing I like about this show is that it's far less crowded than RMAF or AXPONA. 
Road Trip


I know I guy who did just that with a budget a bit higher than your own - he bought some Personas (as his wife nixed the Maggies he wanted).

Or... pay shipping and buy with a return priv.
Wolf, Audio Video Therapy sells the complete line of Klipsch Heritage speakers. They are in Nashua NH. I'm not sure if he still has them but they have a pair of demo Heresy III speakers on sale for $1600. I'd give them a call they are open Tuesday through Sunday.
Mobius: Despite the difficulty, I’d say your challenge is shared by most everyone in this hobby. Even if a dealer represents a brand, they don’t carry all models in stock and certainly not to demo.

Shows are fun, however, in my opinion, there are few true positives and many false negatives. If you attend, keep this in mind. The only way to know is in your room with your gear.

Best of luck.
@mobiusmu,

You may wanna check Salk Sound, I heard them at AXPONA this year. Fabulous sound and choice of exquisite wood grain. 

http://www.salksound.com/type.php?format=Floorstanding

I believe they do offer in-home trial. 


It's possible that you really will have to travel to hear demonstrations of specific loudspeakers.  It's just the way it is.  Call ahead and make arrangements.

I'm surprised no one has recommended that brand that makes all other loudspeakers obsolete.
Impossible to recommend something that doesn't exist
You are probably going to have to go to S. Florida or Atlanta to find shops with more brands to audition. Can you take a few days off? It will not only be fun, but you will learn a lot about what you like.
Bob
I bought Hyperion HPS-938 speakers without audition (3 month old dealer demo) based on glowing reviews.  Hyperion showed them only once in 2004, did not advertise and had very poor dealership base.  Closest dealer to Chicago was in Pennsylvania.  Hyperion Sound had fantastic product with no place to audition it (3 dealers in whole USA) and went bankrupt.  Speakers are still great but I'm worrying about future service.  Next time I won't buy anything from less known or hard to audition company.
http://www.hyperionsound.com/Images/HP%20938.jpg


However, this doesn't mean that there is nothing we can do to help. If you describe in details using an advanced language what you would like to accomplish and what your priorities in music and sound are, some people with a lot of experience, not me, might be able to point the way for you. Write a short essay not just say you want this and that.
Another thought. When auditioning insist on the very best source available, and electronics too if possible. The source will set the pace and rhythm. I heard systems with supposedly excellent speakers and amps but inadequate source, and the other way around.
For $10k new you should be able to find excellent speakers but don't expect too much, it will still be a modest level of performance.
When auditioning I first pay attention to the pace rhythm clarity and dynamics of the system, then on how it represents space, then the tone and textures. If it doesn't pass the first test I don't want it even if it has a tone of Amati. Also, the distortion that you may hear could be mostly in the recording.
Thank you all for the help and advice!  I will try to attend a show, if nothing else than it sounds fun.

@gdnrbob, I can travel and S. Florida and Atlanta are easy, I might have to do that.

@lalitk I researched Salk and thought about visiting them as I have family in Michigan.

I listen to all types of music, all classic rock, rock, country, blues, singer song writer, musicals, Motown, classical, jazz, and some R&B and rap and a little gospel.  I really do listen to everything.  I want a big sound stage with a lot of detail.  I want to experience the deep bass, warm midrange, and clear vocals.  I want a system that will fill the entire room and surround me.  When I play Roger Waters' "Perfect Sense, Pt.1" I want it to come from everywhere.  I know a lot of that depends on the room, but I want to smile when I listen to music and I want to feel the emotion.  

I do have a small vinyl collection but most of my listening will be digital.  I have a bluesound Node 2 streaming from Tidal as streaming from my NAS where I have a large collection, mostly FLAC.  I do have a huge CD collection as well but will need to get a good player.  I have an Oppo bluray drive in my family room that I love.

I am relatively new to the audiophile world.  I have always loved music but never could afford anything good.  That has changed and I am ready to fall in love with great sound!

Thanks again for all of the feedback!

-Mobius
A few years ago I attended RMAF and loved my experience. I submit shows can be a good place to get a general feel for the "potential" of a speaker.  
                                      
                                          T - E - K - T - O - N
T - E - K - T - O - N

LOL! I'm surprised that it took 19 replies to finally see this name!

What about Suncoast audio in Sarasota?  Don't know anything about them but it looks like they have lot's of options.
@ricred1  - very much agreed

If you can get to a show, that would be the best way to hear and see so much equipment at one time. Visiting dealers is the slow road to you know where.  

The last system I bought was based on my treks to a number of local dealers. I thought I had the best that my money could buy and was really happy for 5-6 years, and still am to a point. But I've been to a number of shows over the last four years or so. And I've heard some gear, in the next price range up that I would really like to own. When you go to a show it will help you to narrow down the sound you like and then from there you can visit dealers with products you know you had good first impressions with.

Remember the supporting gear when you are auditioning speakers. It will help you replicate a system that you really like. Not every speaker will work well with every amp - this is called synergy and it is very important. Especially the speaker/amp interface or synergy. Get that right and you are well on your way. Get it wrong, and you may really be upset with your final choices. Some well known speaker/amp pairings that have good synergy: McIntosh/Martin Logan, Wilson/Audio Research, Vandersteen/Ayre. There are many many others, but  this is a very large and substantial step to get this part of the equation right. Of course, getting the source right is paramount as well but make sure that you understand what amp manufacturer makes that speaker you really want sing it's best. Good luck in your journey.
Seriously:

If I lived in central FL and could get away for 3-4 days the RMAF would (to me) be a nice mini research vacation.

Denver (late October) is in the 60's during the day and close to freezing @ night.

Also, the dimensions of the listening room are important (including ceiling height and any openings to other spaces) in regard to informed replies as far as speakers to look at go.

The Tekton post was jokingly directed @ member Inna, who I assume fell asleep upon reading it and who is now (as I type this post) snoring on his keyboard.

DeKay




pokey77,

". And I've heard some gear, in the next price range up that I would really like to own. When you go to a show it will help you to narrow down the sound you like and then from there you can visit dealers with products you know you had good first impressions with."

I don't think anything is the "best" so no matter what I have, I'll always know there's something out there that I may prefer more. I do concur with your comments regarding hearing components in the next price range up! I heard a couple of speakers that I would love to own, but all were above 50K. 

Lots of great advice so far!  One thing...If I were to start over again I would opt for a high quality integrated to mate with my chosen speakers unless I selected speakers of such low efficiency that such a route became impractical.

Enjoy the journey as the road travelled is often as/more satisfying than the final destination.  Hopefully you'll end up where your listening sessions leave you smilin'
JM Labs Focal/Allnic or VAC is another well-known match. Vienna, I think, needs poweful solid state, I didn't hear that particular model only a few lower models. What else?..Pass/ Dynaudio, Gryphon/just about anything, Atma-Sphere/Classic Audio, Lamm/Kharma or horns and many more.
@ricred1 

To quote you - "I don't think anything is the "best" so no matter what I have, I'll always know there's something out there that I may prefer more." I deleted part of that sentence you refer to to expand it. What I initially wrote included the words "best I could afford" and what I meant what was best for me, nothing more. I totally agree that there is no "best". Only what we like the best and all of us have different criteria for what sounds the best to us. And I agree with you, "there's something out there that I may prefer more". That has been the influence of many shows and get togethers at local hi-end dealers. And why I'm dreaming of building a new system. Hopefully my other comments concerning my experience have helped. You are totally right when you said "I submit shows can be a good place to get a general feel for the "potential" of a speaker".
Mobius, I am in Tampa and have the Tekton Ulfberhts, if you are interested in a listen.
One very frustrating aspect of speaker shopping is the fact that most are rarely set up to sound their best! I haven't visited a high end store in a long time but, back 20 years ago when I had the time and energy, listening in most audio salons was difficult at best. Dealers acted like high end art dealers who wanted your allegiance and money before helping you out. Audio shows are great fun but must be taken for what they are; compromised rooms with terrible acoustics. The best you can do is enjoy the ride. If something grabs you then that's a start. Joe 
I'm surprised that some of our senior...I use the term with respect to wisdom & experience and not age...members are guiding towards self-replicating pairing validations. Certainly a dis-service to the pedigree and performance of both the speakers and electronics that are mentioned. Binary, I think not. All the kit mentioned are well recognized brands that are surely not restrictive in what chains they can exist and excel within.

Wouldn't parings that don't work so well be a better guide and more informative?
My son and I went to RMAF in 2010 to do what others have recommended.  It was a great experience and one that caused me to stick with panels vs cones and domes.  While show conditions are generally less than optimal, one does have the opportunity to audition varying speaker types.  In my experience, a speaker type should be at the top of any speaker priority list.  Do you prefer boxes, horns, open baffles, electrostats, full-range ribbons, etc.?  While there are obviously many sonic overlaps between speaker types, ones preference to a type is oftentimes a stable one.  At the very least, it should be one that all audiophiles make an attempt to experience.  A show like RMAF gave us the ability to hear most all of the speaker types that were available.  Not something that is possible to easily do outside of a show like RMAF or AXPONA in Chicago etc....


mobius...My standard (and obvious) comment on attending any show:

-Take a CD of music you like and are familiar with.  If they won't play, Walk.

-Take a pair of sound muffs.  Save your ears and sanity for what strikes your interest and/or your budget.  If people look at you 'funny', just grin and shrug...

After a couple of hours, they'll stop. ;)
@asvjerry unfortunately the majority of exhibitors don't bring CD players these days -you'd be better off with a USB stick, or an LP 😉
*L* Then bring all 3...that immediately marks you as 'serious' as opposed to being just another 'lookie Lou'....if the sound muffs didn't make them pause in the first place....

They charge admission to these things.  Well, why not 'charge' them back for your time and attention?  It's your money that they're after.  Why discount yourself from the get-go?

Besides, you can carry a snack in your parcel.  None of these venues seem to have such that isn't priced like 'ball park grub'.  Unless you enjoy paying major $ for a  f'n hot dog...

'Libations' is a whole other issue...you're kinda stuck there...;)
The OP has a budget.  I can relate.  Here's how to winnow the chaff from the wheat, which ultimately is His Call.  If you show up looking like a 'mark', you'll get treated as such.  If you appear Serious, it'll at least put them on their toes.  If it doesn't and they feed you 'tude, they're a waste of your time and $, because IMHO that's how they view you.

Be as serious as a heart attack.  It puts a whole different spin on the experience.  

Just trying to help the man out...don't intend to ruffle feathers here.  Just been there, did that, burnt the t-shirt, and moved on....;)
I'm having the same problem. Sorta fortunately, the system I'm almost settled on, NAD M32 and Focal Aria 936 speakers, are both sold and demo'd by a dealer (Upscale Audio - great people) in the LA area (I live in Las Vegas), so I've been able to go down there (270 miles one way, but I love to drive and crank up the music) to listen. Unfortunately, they didn't have the 926s, which I also considering, when I was there, so I'm going back now that they have both speakers. As the Wicked Witch of the West said, "What a world." :-)
Post removed 
One thing I would strongly recommend is for you to get involved in a local audio club / group. I know there are a couple of options in the central FL area. Great way to experience other members' systems. Members tend to be very knowledgable with lots of experience. There is a very large and active club on the west coast in Tampa and a more informal group on the east central FL coast that has a number of members from the Orlando area.
In Washington DC we are lucky to have several very good shops - DejaVu Audio (especially), CommandAV, and others. Plus Capitol Audiofest (CAF) is the first weekend in November, attracts a decent number of exhibitors, and is often not too crowded. The other option is to order direct from manufacturers that allow a liberal return policy.

As for integrating subwoofers, I suggest you read up on the Vandersteen 2Wq subwoofer at the Vandersteen site.  IMHO, this is the easiest sub to integrate with any mains that extend down to 40Hz. 


As for the demo issue, it's a tough one.  For me, personally, it is no contest.  I find SF speakers much better sounding than B&W speakers, and I have heard the newest 803 several times.  But, speakers are like food, there is no one "best" for everyone.  Like you said, though, I can't imagine you being dissappointed with the SFs.  Buyer's remorse is a difficult thing.  There are many examples of a person buying what they thought was the best speaker, DAC, amp or whatever that they could afford, only to discover something better, and maybe even cheaper, shortly after.  The key is getting the best performance out of the gear you choose, and just enjoying listening to music.

I feel your pain, it took me about a year, driving all over the place, to find a pair of speakers that hit "the sweet spot".

One thing about the postings here, and the reviews you'll read is that they are all "opinions", and each and every one of us hears differently, has different tastes and so I'd say, the only opinion that matters is yours!

I would recommend you listen to the speakers for a reasonable amount of time.  In my opinion, spending some "quality time" with an individual speaker makes a lot of sense, as in my search, a speaker that "knocked my socks off" at my first listening turned out to have a slight "edginess" which made me unable to enjoy them for very long at a sitting.

Good luck!
@mobius,
I would take 333jeffrey up on his offer. There is nothing like auditioning in someone's home. You'll get to see his setup and get some ideas on what you like sound and equipment-wise.
I was lucky to have been in NYC in the '80s and got to visit many dealers.
I got to see those that shared my interest, those who only wanted a quick sale, and those who thought their recommendations were the final answer.
If you do get to visit, give them an advanced warning that you are coming and would like to audition. The good ones will accommodate you and let you listen to your hearts' desire. 
So, what did I eventually decide upon?
Well, it took 30+ years, but I finally got my Vandersteen Treo's with subs and a pair of Atma-Sphere amps and MP-3 preamp. I use the Bluesound Node with an Ayre Codex to stream music from Spotify. I haven't used my extensive CD collection since I went digital-there is so much out there, that I don't need to listen to them anymore.
Practically all my equipment is used, most bought here on Audiogon.
I have to say this is a great place to meet fellow audionuts.
Feel free to PM me.
Bob
@gdnrbob

Hey bob,

Great post.

@mobiusmu

If shows and dealers are not doable, accepting others offers to come and listen is a great idea. And you just may make a great new friend in the process.
Hi Mobius,

If you are ever in South Mississippi you are welcome to stop by and listen to my setups.  I have a pair of B&W 805D3's.  For your comparison I have a pair of custom built Accuton/Raal speakers, which I consider to be the best sounding speakers I've heard by a good margin.  Both can be auditioned in a treated room on a Classe amplifier.  

I understand your predicament.  You are welcome to contact me if interested. 

All the best, 

Seth
Nice sized room. Would recommend the Marten Django. Another worthy contender is the Prana fidelity Vayu/fs

Mathew
jjaudiosolutions.com
daytona beach and orlando had high end shops with gear on display...even websites :)
Clearly we need a Tupperware/Mary Kay-like audio business. Drive around in a van and provide an in-home audition party for the audio geek community…"So Clem, these Spendors look GREAT with your stuffed owl collection…let's turn these babies UP. Now…who's ordering the D'Agostinos? Free carpet spikes everybody!" 
I bought my pair of Gamut RS7i's from Kyomi Audio in Chicago after a visit to George's in home demo site. This was a 500 mile drive out and back for me but the only way to go IMO. George understands quality sound (as a World renowned Concert Pianist) and recently had an in home demo day for Gamut and another for potential Vivid speaker buyers. The Absolute Sound was at the demos so it was a win for the dealer and potential buyer.  Wished there were more quality dealers out there of the same interest but there is not.
Use the shows potential TO SEE/HEAR if available but I would always plan on some dollars spent going on some trips to seek out the finalist on your list. I would certainly build that into your budget and take all into account if your investment is going to be long term.
If it's not important enough to drive across state lines or go to an audio show, buy what's nearby. Or, build your own criteria to filter results on unheard speakers and buy one. 

If it's important enough to you, you will spend some money and time on it. If not, so be it. 

gwalt, a 500 mile drive; impressive. You know how to get it done. But, then again, that's a case where the cost of the speaker justifies more investigative costs. 

It's though for guys on a budget (I know, I was a lower cost audiophile for many years) with perhaps a couple thousand to spend. Does it merit spending the better part of a grand to shop at a show? That's tough to justify when it could hit the quality of the speaker price point. In such a case - and I did many, many times - I became a detective and scoured for info on the product, then bought unheard. It worked out well 90%+ of the time. 

Hear a different technology, i..e horn or panel. Sometimes the positive reaction is so strong to a newly heard technology that it's like the buyer was hooked on crack; it almost doesn't matter the absolute quality, the experience is riveting to them. I have to laugh when proponents of certain speaker technologies make declarations of absolute sound superiority. We're talking some very deluded people there... But, that is often a key to finding the best fit for a speaker.

Anyway, listen carefully; learn your ABC's of speakers first. i.e. what the impact of Impedance and Sensitivity mean to speakers, and what different driver sizes will do. Read my article Audiophile Law: Thou Shalt Not Accept Worthless Specs at Dagogo.com to help you avoid some pitfalls. Less experienced speaker buyers seem to ignore or not interpret correctly such things, and they are determinative of the outcome. 

It helps to forget the idea that you are after the "best" or "state of the art" sound. No one sells speakers based on the premise that they will give you average sound; they all claim their speakers will give you miraculous sound. Most won't. Just work to make it pleasing to you. 

After the hurricane passes - the Lord willing not taking any more lives! - you may or may not be aware that Bruce Thigpen's Eminent Technology speaker company is in Florida. He puts out one of the most value oriented, truly good sounding hybrid panel speakers this side of Mars. I owned and reviewed them, so read up on them, too. In that situation do not let the lower cost fool you, as they are quite good performers. There is a case where technology could have an edge in your ears' opinion. I have a vintage set of LFT VI in my office with a pair of HSU Subs. Not pushing the boundaries, but sufficient. 
I agree.....but here's a little different angle to auditioning speakers. 

What if you're selling a set and a potential out of town buyer that you don't even know wants to come to your house to audition/inspect the speakers.  I'm not just talking about the inspection but as the seller, the safety of having a stranger in your home.  I know this is a little off topic, but important, IMO.