Performer-in-Room Quality with Speakers?


I need advice regarding what kind of speakers might help provide what I'm looking for. (For some time now I've been a tube guy for amplication, and that will not change; source components and media vary.)  I want an illusion of the performer (acoustic instrument music, vocals, classical, and combo jazz,) actually being in the room, realism so convincing that it is potentially startling. The only time I've had that sensation is when I use my Stax Ear Speakers. Concerns are sensitivity to room placement, cost, and of course spouse approval factor. Soundstage, imaging, dynamics, deeeeep bass, can take a back seat if necessary. 

Any ideas?  Single-point drivers?  Crossoverless units? Open baffle?  Vertical arrays?  Electrostatrics or planars? 
(For the record I've owned Maggies, Shahinian Obelisks, mid-fi traditional boxes and so on.)

Thanks for your ideas,

OGOgre
ogogre
My Maggies do what you are looking for  (3.6's). The source equipment is critical. I use all tubes. Also speaker placement is critical. I use the LiMage/HK setup. Electrostatics like Martin Logan can be very real but again need the right equipment in front of them. 3 Pieces that sound like live music to me are Shindo preamps, David Berning power amps and Audio-GD Master 7 Dac. Of course what sounds live to you is subjective and may not be the same for me. Also listening in the near field gives a greater sense of realism. Good luck
Alan
OGOgre,

I think you would do yourself a great disservice if you do not take a serious look at the Omega Super Alnico Monitor (SAM) or its floor stander version (http://omegaloudspeakers.com/home.html).  Single driver, ported, very good bass, fantastic imaging, detail and dynamics.  While they continue to amaze me with all types of music, they especially shine with acoustic instruments, combo jazz, and vocals.  Many owners use SET amps with these, and I am using an integrated hybrid with 12au7 preamp section and ss power amp section.  I cannot get over how really good these speakers sound!  They are available in a variety of finishes - mine were done in cherry and they look fantastic.  Both the look and sound have gotten nothing but the highest wife approval factor, and she was especially taken by the sound.  As a point of reference, I went from Spendors (BC-1 and s5e) and was ready to buy the much more expensive Harbeth M30.1, but then heard the Omega SAM.  With the free 30-day home trial, you can't lose.  I went this route and have not looked back.  
OGOgre,
i’ve found what you are looking for with only 1st-order x-over time-coherent speakers no matter what the type of driver. Some examples of such types of speakers are (these I’ve personally heard/owned): Green Mountain Audio (cone drivers), SoundLab (electrostatic), Sanders Sound Systems (ESL again).
From the list of speakers that are 1st-order x-over & time-coherent that I have not listened to: Vandersteen, Eminent Technology, some older Quads & there were a couple of older Martin-Logans.
There are some other brands than either member Nonoise or Onhwy61 shared with the group in the "Is DEQX a game changer?" thread but I cannot recall them right now.
Some A’gon members have found what you’re looking for by investing in a hardware-software package called DEQX (you have to buy their hardware & install their software on your computer, let their software measure your room & let it build a frequency correction profile such that your speaker becomes time-coherent, it does real-time processing to make your speaker time-coherent as you playback the program material). My understanding (from the "Is DEQX a game changer?" thread) is that, when done correctly, the results are superior & all those members who partook in DEQX are shaking their resp. heads as to how much better their sonics have become with DEQX activated.
Thanks to those who've so far responded.  I've had a feeling that the magic formula might involve time-coherence and / or apart-from-the-usual crossovers.  Regarding the former, I've thought about rebuilt Dahlquist DQ-10s.  For the latter I've considered Vandersteens.  I've thought about electrostatic, but WAF, cost, and placement sensitivity make me reluctant.

For amps I have a medium-powered push-pull integrated and a high-power power amp with a homebrew tube pre.  But I am open to SE, triode or pentode.  I will probably have a Revox open-reel in my near future, and I will soon need a new CD system.  I have an old Dual and a Yamaha PX-3 for platter-spinning, but vinyl has increasingly become a WAF issue. (Snap, crackle, and pop + cleaning and wear and tear = disapproving looks.)

I've considered horns, but every horn system I've ever listened to quickly gave me ear fatigue.

I also have considered doing a DIY with a single "full range" driver with no crossover at all, and / or a small-scale baffle-less arrangement.  I've heard from a friend that going with very small high compliance drivers in an extremely narrow baffle tower might produce much of what I'm looking for.

The Maggies I had (MG-IIBs), were great.  Actually, I have still  have them in storage, but we moved to a house that was bigger but has smaller rooms, plus, while the soundstage was huge and the sound ethereal, they did not sound like the musicians were actually in the room, unless that room were a concert hall.

My Shahinians do a similar thing but in a smaller space and with very deep bass, but again, I do not actually feel like Chet Baker is seven feet from me in the room.

My DCMs are quite rare, with only a few ever made, the two-piece Time Window Cubed (or Time Window with a third power superscript).  Those were time aligned and also went down to an F3 of about 15hz when I drove them with two Thresholds.  They really shined with 30 - 50 amperes. 

But those days of volume and bass and a big listening room are gone.  Now I'm looking for a smaller, simpler arrangement that could make a singer sound like there is no recording, not even a microphone and P.A. involved, just Tracy Chapman on a stool singing in the living room.

OGOgre
Ohm and mbl but not for most tube amps.    Decware radials might be better suited.   
Your priorities are the same as mine---above all else, the voice(s) right there in the room, standing ten feet away (if that’s what’s on the recording, of course). In addition to lifelike tonality and freedom from (to quote Gordon Holt) vowel colorations (which rules out horns for me), for me that requires life-size scale and image height (I don't like looking down on the stage, or voices three feet off the floor), and I’ve been satisfied in those regards only by big planars---ESLs (Quads on stands, Sanders, Sound Lab, Martin-Logan, etc.) and Magnetics (Maggie and Eminent Technology). Planars excel in all those regards, as well as transparency (which you know all about, having as do I Stax ESL phones). But planars as you know require considerable space, the availability of which you don’t specifically mention. Some of the big 6’ floor-standing box speakers come close, but point source radiators don’t do it for me. There are a lot of great speakers out there, if you’ve got the cash and floor space! Try to hear the Sanders if you can---they’re really, really good.
We used to live in a small house that was mostly one big room with a high ceiling. Now we live in a bigger house overall for kids visiting, etc., but the rooms are smaller, especially where we sit and read, listen to music, etc. Too small for big flat speakers.

ESLs are the one thing I've never tried, except for my Stax 'phones.  New ESLs all seem to be huge, and small ESLs means vintage, apparently.  I just worry that I'll get some ESL57s that are older than I am, and they'll be too high-maintenance for me at this stage.

Magnaplanars seem more popular now than when I bought mine new over 30 years ago.  My 6 foot Maggies are in storage in my basement (cool, dry, doing OK I hope) with my other bigger speakers and my big old amps. 

If only Magnepan made a small model to be matched with a modest sub, something 36 by 18 inches and at a slight tilt.  But even then, I'm not looking for a big soundstage, just near field speakers that offer something very close to the actual sound of unamplified acoustic instruments and voices.  Not a concert hall sound but more like a small coffee house sound, if even that.  A performer or three with no mics, just as if they were in my house.  that direct, intimate realism.

A guy I work with read this thread and suggested I try to remove the room from the equation.  He suggested a very small listening room made totally dead acoustically to eliminate all reflected sound.  Then aim for very simple, accurate, near field speakers with small quick drivers, narrow baffles, perhaps without full-fledged crossovers, and maybe even sealed cabinets. 

I chuckled and said I should pick up a pair of EPIs or Genesis bookshelves and put 'em on stands.  He reminded me that I do have an unused powered sub that could be made to work with something like that.  (I need to trade off some of my equipment.  Hah!)  He also suggested that perhaps I try hybrid speakers with large ribbon tweeters.

Michael
Hello Michael, 
There are many ways to skin a cat. However I believe that Bombaywalla  is on to something by suggesting speakers with first order crossovers. 
The builder of my Coincident speakers is a devotee of this type of crossover design. I drive these speakers with their SET amplifier and the result is a very tactile, believable strong in the room presence. True reach out and touch experience. 

I do feel that it is also recording dependant to a certain degree. There are recordings I play that definitely seem to take me to the venue space. I understand your desire to have Chet Baker 7 feet away playing his beautiful trumpet /Fugelhorn. 
Charles, 
I have had a pair of Focal Sopra No2's for the last 6+ months, once "dialed in" to the room, they did exactly what you are after.

With the beryllium tweeters, I suspect a tube amp will match up well with them.

One thing I found in my auditions is that these speakers don't seem to do well in cramped spaces.  I auditioned them on the short wall of a room that was about 12x16 and they seemed "confined", but in my 24x26 "man cave", they really open up.

I have a 450 wpc solid state amp, when I'm really cranking it, the needles dance around 4.5 watts.
Have you tried Nearfield listening?
Put your listening seat at a point equidistant to the width your speakers are separated (preferably, a chair with a low-rise back i.e., rising no higher than your shoulders).
If your speakers are ten feet apart, measure 10 feet from a speaker to your chair.
Dipoles are even better for this as they cancel reflections from side walls.
This is kind of like using your speakers as giant headphones.
As I sit here with Merrill Zigmahornets, I feel your needs.  Tiny super efficient speakers that hit most of the frequency range beautifully.  You won't believe what a 4" driver can do in a 1/4 wave transmission line cabinet!  All they are missing is the lows but nothing a little sub can't handle (an REL won't even require a crossover).  10 watts of pure pleasure.  
Yes, they don't have much above 15khz and even less below 60hz but I rarely notice this due to such amazing clarity and imaging.
Lowthers can be bright or edgy, Fostex are the opposite and can fall flat.  Maybe look at someone using Jordan Drivers like the 47 Labs.  You really need to demo a bunch.  There's so many different variations out there from $200 to $20,000.
I have a pair  of rebuilt Quad esl57.  They were rebuilt by Wayne Piquet, and sound so realistic, that I can almost see the vocalist in front of me.  Require absolutely no maintenance, and have never failed to please.

I have much more "modern" designs sitting in my closet.  My Proacs, and Spendors just don't give me the same realistic presence that I feel with the Quads.

What's your budget?
Without a doubt the Spatial Audio M3 Open baffle speakers with turbo reference 
Upgrade,and top M25 compression driver. Not only sound real but super efficient 94 dB @1w. For under $3;000  a very simple 2nd order Xover and much more 
Modern design thrn Emerald physics.
Source, speakers, and the room are what matter the most for this "illusion". Stay away from power conditioners also. They typically trade in room presence for soundstage accuracy. This is my experience in my room.
Devore O96 and Vivid Oval series B1 speakers are two that give great sound stage and are tube friendly. Sound stage improvements also benefit from treating the room acoustically.
Well, my wife rejected the idea of deadening the room, although we do have drapes and carpet already.  The Eminent Technology smaller models and the Omega Audio speakers look intriguing.

As for budget, I don't have an endless budget, but I would of course prefer less expensive good sound to expensive good sound, and I am also one of theose guys who just loves it when something incredibly inexpensive turn out to provide high end performance.

Yesterday I brought up two old (surrounds still good, though) Boston BA-60s with the original SEAS tweets.  I put 'em on some old stands that are probably too short (12 "), but I can experiment this way before buying taller ones.

Then I hauled my old 2x12 M&K powered sub from the basement, which was not fun, let me tell you.  I have it at a low volume setting and I played with the crossover with "Sultans of Swing" playing, ending up with 70hz.

These sound very, very good.  The last time I listened to them it had to have been SS, but they LOVE tubes!  The sound is neutral yet silky.  And it has some of the realism that I want.  Nevertheless, the quest never ends, does it?

OGOgre/Michael
On a relatively small budget I've managed to obtain a very realistic presence that I'm very happy with. I'm using Tekton Enzo speakers driven by a Raven Audio Blackhawk LE integrated amp with RCA black plate 6L6 power tubes along with the NOS RCA small signal tubes it came with and using Western Electric 14 ga speaker wire with Belden 8402 microphone cable for interconnects. This reasonably priced system delivers realism and presence that puts the performers in the room with you. Vintage tubes and speaker with the Enzo's and Blackhawk are providing the dynamics, tonality and realism I've been searching years for......just one of the numerous audio possibilities in achieving real sound, it's what makes this hobby so fun and frustrating at the same time!
You should listen to Vandersteens....  if you are near or can get to New Jersey....Audioconnection is the place....even talk to John on the phone.  He's very accessible and anxious to help.
Everyone hears things differently, and I can't imagine any speaker manufacturer (for home audio) isn't trying to replicate "live" sound somehow. For my tastes, a tube amp seems more realistic (harmonic content delivery seems to be why this is), and my speaker preference is for something that seems sort of "flat" if in fact anybody uses that term anymore…in my case meaning no low mid humps or tweeter screech. 
FWIW, I did not mean to suggest that I am on a very small budget, just that I would prefer cheaper over pricier.  While Decware and MBL are out of the question, a pair of Vandersteens are a possibility, and they get mentioned a lot.  There is a Vandersteen dealer just under two hours from me, and from the V. site, the latest 2ce and the 1Ci look interesting.

Nevertheless, if I could score a refurbished pair of ESL-57s, I'd snap them up.  Unfortunately, they are typically listed as pick up only from either of the coasts, but I live in fly-over country.

OGOgre
Vandersteen 1s and 2s are among the great values in audio, and having owned 1Bs some years ago I can say they may have been the best speakers I've owned (had the grills redone by Vandy and sold them before my now departed cats could ruin them again). The only issue I had with them was the fact that you can't take the grills off to mess around with the drivers…or look at the drivers…or something…an admittedly lame complaint but I've never heard much negative about either of these speakers and it's really rare that any model speaker could be around (with updates to design of course) that long. Used 2Ce pairs are around for relatively low cost.
Ogogre if you are really interested in rebuilt quads, contact Wayne Picquard at quadsunlimited.us

That's where my esl57's came from, and they are absolutely wonderful.  Vocals are superb, and they are trouble free.  He will ship as well.

OGO, a few years too late - I sold mine, bought 2905's. These have more high end, more low end, more clarity, but no more musicality, even after modification.

Another great thing about ESL57's - they stack brilliantly. Walker also oriented them at right angles - which is also a good choice. If you like Quads, do it, do it ...
I'll vote w/Mapman on his 3/30 post....omnis will give you 'presence' with ease and without 'sweet spotting' you.

I've got 4 Walsh's and can put the vocalist in your lap, if that appeals....;)
price?

Hi Michael,
The Charney Audio Maestro will fit your needs perfectly. They are a single driver full range rear loaded horn based on the tractrix theory. I know you mentioned earlier in the thread that you aren't interested in this type of speaker, but the Maestro sounds nothing like other horns you may have listened to. With a decent SET amp the Maestros are very engaging with detail that isn't ear splitting but full and with bass that is deep and articulate.
There are minimal room treatments needed since the rear loaded design couples with the room and there are 0 room nodes!
 Build quality is off the charts since they are made from a C&C machine that Charney owns. Everything is made in house!
 It would be worth your while to make an appointment with Charney for a listen. They are located in Somerset NJ about an hour from NY an 1.5 hours from Philadelphia off exit 9 of the NJ Turnpike.

R
 
The suggestions that mention speakers that are dipole or omni-pole in dispersion prompted me to purchase a pair of the smaller Ohm Walsh type speakers.  They didn't cost much, and if they sound as good as a lot of folks report, they will find some place in my home, whether they produce an illusion of live, unrecorded performance or not.

After they arrive and I set them up, I'll report back here.

OGOgre

As with many things in audiophilia and the attempt to create a high end system, it's not a simple matter of the realism being there or not, it's a matter of degrees. Literally hundreds of systems and combinations of thousands of components are capable of varying degrees of the characteristics sought to convince the mind that one is hearing "real" performance.

Obviously, it's very difficult to attain an extremely high degree of that realism, and the vast majority of systems fall short of it, which should be expected.

Having had a vocalist in my lap I can vouch for the efficacy of that as a reasonable goal.
I have it with my Sanders Stats.  
I heard the Sanders at last year’s T.H.E. Show in Irvine cerrot, and loved ’em. One of the two best speakers at the show I thought, the other being the Marten Coltranes in the EAR-USA room.
Truthfully, I'd prefer a studio sound than a live concert sound. Especially after the last few gigs I've been at.
Wilsons have that sound.  Krell also made speakers with that alive sound...used would be a steal!!

Well, my new speakers arrived.  They are new in the box 30 year old Ohm Acoustics Sound Cylinder SCT (T for tall) Plus, Series 2, in solid black, 42 inches tall. 

They each look like Kubrick's Great Black Monolith, only cylindrical.  And yes, like a 2001 man-ape, I practically worshipped them at first sight, touching them, backing away, grunting, touching them again, and ultimately weeping in response to the revelation.

Seriously, however, as it is early in the morning, the most I've been able to do before I take off for work is remove them from their crates, take off the 30 year old plastic wap, and set them up.

I will check the Walsh driver surrounds to see if they have deteriorated from all of those years in a warehouse, but if they're good, maybe I'll run some low volume bass-heavy music while I'm away to break them in.

Hah!  Putting 30 year old speakers through their very first breaking-in!

I'll report back as I know more.

OGOgre
I believe you have the pro series...they were black!  The SCT+'s were oak
dave_b, I have read that was the case, that the Pro Series were black.  Thing is, they were sealed in the original crate/box, with all of the original styro packing stuff, and the box has "SCT+" all over it both in graphics and in a couple places in red Sharpie.

I was unable to check the surrounds as I've learned online and now in my personal experience they cannot be opened up in any way short of using a heat gun and thin prying device to patiently and carefully remove either the grill up top or the base down below.  They are glued together with what appears (I can spy just a glimpse of it with a magnifier/LED light) to be a caulk-like adhesive.

I peeked up through the port on the bottom, but damping material (stapled in place) prevents the driver from being visible. 

So I fired them up with smooth jazz at low volume for a few hours, then orchestral classical at medium volume for a few hours, then jazz fusion with electric bass and kick drum at medium-high volumes for a half hour.  At first the low bass was nonexistent in the process, but at some point in the middle of the orchestral classical I could begin to hear the double bass, tuba, tympani, and such.  By the time I was modestly turning up the electric bass and kick drum laden jazz, the deep bass (well, not crazy deep) had finally arrived.  I carefully listened for and heard no sign of a deteriorating surround.

They sound excellent, especially now with a bit of breaking in.  I will listen to acoustic music tomorrow or perhaps the next day and report back.  I've got a lot on my plate right now.

Before that tomorrow, however, I will play the acid test, but at low volume only, the legendary disc with Jean Guillou playing "Pictures at an Exhibition" on The Great Organ of Tonhalle, Zurich (Dorian).  Track 2, "Gnomus" has what must be a low A or even G starting at 0:50.  It sounds to me like the fundamental is at or below 20hz.  It is easily the lowest note I have ever heard on any recording, audible on a great system, but the amazing part is that one can feel the shudder of the note from the floor around your feet.

In truth, it is really a note for high current amps and transmission line speakers.

OGOgre
SUCCESS!  (Well, close enough for what I want in that room for my claiming success.)

My co-worker who had specific advice (see above) came over and hooked up some DIY speakers he finished last weekend.  First, this is with my M&K subwoofer with the crossover at about 60hz and the volume set quite low.

His speakers are slim, comparatively deep and tall (16 x 5 x 9, maybe?), on 22" stands, conventional front port, no crossover or caps, one full range 4 inch speaker (don't know the brand, but he said the pair cost under $300).  From low to medium volumes, with the speaks toed in slightly, in the sweet spot (surprisingly wide), male and female vocals in small acoustic combos or with one acoustic guitar sounded like they were right there in the room with us.

Chamber music with five or fewer instruments sounded genuinely live, in-room, too.  The soundstage was not spacious, but it was precise and focused.  Solo piano did not sound great, only O.K.

Depending on the music, we sometimes had to lower the subs' volume even a tad more, such as with trio combo smooth jazz, in order to make the upright bass sound not amplified as in a club, but actually just acoustic, in the listening room.

The stands are mine.  He said that for sitting he preferred his stands, which I think he said are 18".  He also said that if he were to it again he would maybe go with the same basic cabinet design, but with 3 inch full range speakers.  His opinion was that that would sound even more "real."

Now I know what I need to do, although it will be some time before I can put it into motion.  I need to build or buy some single-point/single driver, crossover-less speakers.

OGOgre/Michael
If you are going the single driver route, I'd strongly recommend checking out the Omegas.  I've got a houseful of single driver designs and the Omega drivers seem to always sound the best to my ears.
You’ve had the Ohm Acoustic SCT’s for a short while. What things about them do and do not work for you? For pinpoint imaging in smaller rooms, I’ve always been impressed by the older models of the Audio Physic line.
Steakster,

I have somewhat mixed feelings about the OHMs for one reason (coming below). 

First the good, however.  They really do provide a huge soundstage, wide and deep. Pinpoint imaging?  Not like a high-end small stand mounted monitor or quality (to me that means not home theater geared) slim tower.  They sound very good anywhere in the room and are not especially placement-sensitive.  Everything sounds very natural and even, and I cannot imagine having listening fatigue with them.  I hear no extreme peaks in their reproduction.  They can play loud with enough power. 

And they go low, but here's the misgiving I have about them.  (They still are not fully broken in probably, so keep that in mind.)  They do deep bass but only if they are turned up to medium or higher volume. At quite low volume almost all bass disappears.  In some recordings there is low bass content I hear with my Shahinians or DCMs even at lower volumes that the OHMs do not start to reproduce until they are turned up.  When they ARE turned up, the deep bass is definitely there and does seem to be in balance with the overall music, plenty loud.  I think because of this they would probably be good in a much larger room than I have them in.  In a decent sized room, orchestral music, opera, big band, pop, and classic rock would probably sound VERY good with enough amp to get them there.  Hip-hop, techno, any electronic dance, no.

Regarding the sonotube cabinets, they are quite rigid.  A rap of my knuckles on the side produces a very high acoustic tone, right up there with the most heavily braced speakers I have ever had.  They are solid for sure.

I will probably hold onto them for a while (I hold onto gear for much too long, a habit I should lose.), but I do not know how long I'll keep them in the line-up if an extended break in does not bring out low volume bass from them. 

Michael
Thx for the observations.    It might take awhile to break-in NIB 30 year old speakers.   I'm always intrigued when I hear omni-style speakers at shows.  I also have had a tube pre and tube amp for many years.  I recently got a solid state Class A amp.   It improved the bass response significantly.  
There is a pair of Zu Druid Vs just listed on this site. You might want to look at them. Single full range driver with a first order crossover to the tweeter. Haven't heard the Vs but Have a pair of the Def4s from Zu and they are astounding. 
The Druid Vs are known to be uncanny for presence, having better balance down low that the previous itineration. You are on to something with the time aligned prerequisite, it matters in spades.
Good luck with whatever you may choose.