smaller speakers for critical listening?


I'm curious whether folks out here think that standmount speakers can reward "critical listening." 

I know that may be a ridiculous question; of course one can sit down with Radio Shack speakers and engage in serious listening, and of course the experience is subjective for all of us. I'm actually asking for subjective responses here. If your goal is a system for critical listening, do you think smaller speakers can do the trick or do you need the bigger soundstage and depth that can come with floor-standing, planar, or electrostatic speakers? 

I'm not asking which is *better* in a given speaker line, the small ones or the big ones, and I'm not thinking about $50k Wilson-Benesch Endeavours or the like. Before the pandemic I auditioned some highly enjoyable standmount speakers in the $5k-$10k range. However, listening for an hour in a store, I couldn't tell whether they crossed the threshold from "terrific sound for a small speaker" to pull-up-a-chair-and-tune-out-the-world bliss.

As you can probably tell, I'm struggling with my room; it's very hard to place big speakers in it. Otherwise I'd buy Maggies or Vandersteens or JA Perspectives, etc, and be happy. And, to repeat, I know that the threshold for critical-listening speakers is subjective. I'm asking for opinions and experiences!
northman
All l can tell you is l have lived with full range speakers for years(Infinity/Mcintosh combo) l wouldn't give them up for anything. I recently purchased a used set of Revel Gems and it opened up a whole new world for me.Dont ever think a small speaker can't be high performance. 90% of what you hear is midrange according to Paul McGowan and he's right. Find your favorite sounding monitor speakers and sneak a small subwoofer in if necessary.l believe some bass heavy recordings of full range drowns the midrange out.Moniitors shine with vocals and acoustic guitar. Hope that helps.
Sorry,l meant to say, bass heavy recordings played on full range speakers sometimes drowns the midrange out.
I'm from the same school of thinking,,  OR Close anyways.  I like the monitors separate from the Mid bass, I think some of the best sound setups so far are, Monitors, M/B columns, and a servo sub system..

I've heard some larger "bookshelf" speakers that were in the top 5, when it comes to value for the buck...and SQ....

My Bookshelf plans are on the table as I type.. Before Christmas for sure.
I've already picked out the drivers... and have them here..

The older I get, the lighter the box for sure... :-) I love big speakers though,,, 3-500 pounds.. good size...

Regards
My single driver omega alnico speakers are definitely designed for critical listening. They really opened up though when I added matching subs. Ive had bigger speakers in my space but they dominated. I'll be sticking with smaller speakers indefinitely - just got to find your sound. 
I recently purchased a set of Golden Ear BRX bookshelf/standmount speakers. They are very good with a very neutral sound and excellent bass for their size.  I listen to a lot of unamplified acoustic music (classical, folk, jazz, etc.) and find they have a very natural sound with no unwanted emphasis to "help thing along." Quite the buy for $1,600 a pair.
If you want critical listening in a nearfield setting nothing beats active pro monitors. Genelec, Adam, Focal, Neumann. In a midfield setting larger model of active pro monitors. To augment the bass there are pro subs to match the monitor you choose. 
The Harbeth P3ESR is still my go to speaker no matter what the price!
This guy gives a great evaluation on this little gem!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mqFIaiPT_kY
This guy too!
https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=harbeth+p3esr+review&docid=608045662952820441&mid=5D7EB...
Thanks everyone. Great and encouraging thoughts.

djones51, I haven’t really thought much about active pro monitors. You’ve given me something new to think about!

@yogiboy, Harbeth is one of the speaker lines I'm thinking about. I've heard the 30.1s but I need to hear the P3ESRs. It's so hard to tell, sitting in a store ...
Around $11-12K you can get Dutch and Dutch 8c. They work in about any room look up the reviews. They are large monitors. 
@northman
I have owned the 30.1 and the C7. They are both gone but the P3 remains. It’s all a matter of taste. After many speakers I’m finally off the speaker carousel!!
I really enjoy moderate to low volume listening for late night wind down listening and was at my current favorite dealer listening  to all his 2 way standmounts. First the selection was limited with Dali, Focal kanta 1 and persona b. I came home with the persona 7f. Buyer beware tis a dangerous path you travel.
@yogiboy, congratulations! Part of me wants to settle into some new speakers (and all of me wants life to return to normal so I can audition more), but I also admit that I enjoy the research. What will I do with all my time once I pick a pair of speakers? Oh, right--listen!

@djones51, I've read about the Dutch&Dutch 8c. I have to admit that I don't really understand active pro monitors. I understand the concept behind active monitors (and I've looked into Adam monitors for my son's digital keyboard), but not how they differ in terms of the experience of listening. It's also different that the places in the northeast that sell them are not traditional hifi stores. As I said, I'm going to have to look into them!
I've had some rather large speakers in my main system - Legacy Audio Focus 20/20, Klipsch (modified) KLF-30, Harbeth Super HL5 Plus (not that big and worth looking at) to name a few. 

I recently purchased KEF Reference 1 speakers and they hold their own and sound better than any of the others.  They are more detailed and can create an amazing soundstage if it's there in the recording and imaging is excellent.  I have 4 subwoofers in my system, which you probably won't be able to do if you have space issues, but they sound amazing in my rather large space even without the subs.  They do not sound "small" in any way.  

I also have Harbeth P3ESR.  I use mine in a nearfield setup for my computer system.  I have heard them in a larger listening space and they sounded wonderful, but I think you'd definitely need a sub (or more) with them.
IMHO: What small speakers do best is not mess up the bass. Anytime we try to get deep into the bottom 2 octaves of response the room interactions can be so detrimental as to make critical listening impossible. That and the small baffle width which reduces diffraction are the only 2 advantages to critical listening. I wrote two posts which may help you consider your choices:


https://speakermakersjourney.blogspot.com/2020/04/how-to-not-buy-subwoofer.html


https://speakermakersjourney.blogspot.com/2020/01/the-snr-1-room-response-and-roon.html
I haven't heard them yet but l wouldn't definitely audition a pair of Kef LS 50 meta powered monitors...  or the non powered...the last generation was hard to beat sound per dollar per size....
For small rooms and tight budgets mini's on stands are they way to go. Just add subwoofers down the line and things get very serious.
Roger's LS3 5A's are the classic. I like the Harbeth's. Have not heard the LS 50's. I'm not sure what "near field" means. You have the corners of an equilateral triangle. I like the base (distance between the speakers) a tad smaller. There are large triangles and there are small ones. The perspective should be the same. Instead of "near field" I think we should use the term "small triangle." I think it is obvious that a small triangle system does not require as much power and real estate as a big triangle system but at the listening position it should be as loud and sound like the big triangle system. The perspective is the same. Thus you can have the very same sound quality of a big dynamic system for much less money. What you won't get is the power and volume 30 feet away. Does that matter when you are in the listening position?
Consider these: https://altaspeakers.com/celesta/
Alta doesn't get a lot of love on this site, but just read the reviews.
@erik_squires wrote: "Anytime we try to get deep into the bottom 2 octaves of response the room interactions can be so detrimental as to make critical listening impossible."

I agree with you that room interactions are the biggest issue in the bottom two octaves.

Imo there are much better options that throwing in the towel on critical listening. No, I’m not talking about the technique whose users you object to in your blog - our preferred approach is not practical for northman’s situation. I’m talking about adjustability in the bottom two octaves.

Without knowing specifics about the room and the constraints it’s hard to say what northman’s options are, but the Dutch & Dutch 8c suggested by djones51 will work well in a very wide variety of room and situations. Among other features, it has adjustability in the bottom two octaves.

Duke



don’t forget to also audition small floor standers...currently very happy with Salk SongTowers in a smallish room (with Belles Aria Integrated)...also in past enjoyed some Totem floor models...
" don’t forget to also audition small floor standers.. "

Yes, this. Small stand mount loudspeakers take up the same amount of floor space and you usually get better low frequencies with a full tower. I have had my LS-50s in many systems and so far I don't see what all the excitement is about. The small towers like Triangle Antal do the job without the need for stands and less need for a subwoofer. .
I chose stand mounts after listening to many towers -- just better and more flexible for my room. My Salk SS 6M's are 20 inches high and blend with my sub. I also found Fritz speakers to work well. Carrera and Carbon Rev. 7 Mk. II. The sound field is big, wide, detailed, and I find myself lost in the the music and never thinking about the speakers' size. I did a video review of the Carrera.
smaller proacs (tablette 2000 is my favorite, but other tablette or response 1sc are fine) and a rel sub or two via high level connection, crossed over at 75-90 hz on the rel dial

less than 2 grand all done, with cables - certainly not the only game in town, but few will outperform at even double the money

8-10-12 ft equilateral triangle, toed in

thank me later... :)
I hate to be the 'stuck record', but a pair of Vandy VLR's with a Sub3 or two, and some AQ William Tell's will deliver you some of the most engaging music you've heard, at a very reasonable price point.
I suggest you give them a demo.
Bob
KEF ls50s. Problem solved. 
Thanks so much, all. I'm interested in everything you guys are saying. I know that my original question was elusive and hard to answer. I'm not so much wondering about excellent small speakers; I've heard some great ones. And I certainly agree about small floor-standing speakers; for example, the Joseph Audio Perspectives really have about the same footprint as the Pulsars.

What I'm really wondering is whether--in people's personal experiences--a smaller speaker can cross the threshold and offer an engaging critical listening experience. And the answer based on the responses is an emphatic YES!

My current stand speakers (PSB Imagine B) are temporary replacements for my defunct Maggies; they're easy on the ears but don't reward deep listening sessions, at least to my ear. I don't want to merely get "better" speakers; I want to get speakers that I can sit and listen to. The warmth of cellos and pianos making the hairs on my arms stand up. You know what I mean. And what I'm trying to figure out is whether a small speaker can do that. (Yes, again, I know this is all subjective.)

My budget changes by the day but isn't the driving factor here. The room is tricky. Lots of glass and angles, and no way to move the speakers too far off the glass wall. I'll have to deal with that with treatments, etc. Duke wrote: "Without knowing specifics about the room and the constraints it’s hard to say what northman’s options are..." I completely get what you're saying. When it comes to finding the right speakers, I will certainly focus on the relationship between the speakers and the room. For now, I'm more interested in this: "Imo there are much better options that throwing in the towel on critical listening." THAT is what I'm curious about--whether, to get at critical listening, people feel I'm limited to planar or floorstanding speakers. Again, I hear that the answer is NO--and that's reassuring.

@gdnrbnb, two speakers at the top of my list to audition (once it's safe) are the Treo and Quatro. I'm going to assume that they're "better" speakers (how else to put that?), but would you say that you can do long listening sessions with the VLRs? Do they cross the threshold for you?

I don't want to belabor this but I'm interested in the Dutch and Dutch 8c. I remember looking them up a few months ago and they seemed too ... esoteric, too obscure. I didn't really "get" them. Putting the room aside, do they produce a beautiful sound that compares to the other speakers in this thread (Salk, Harbeth, Vandersteen, KEF, etc)?

Thanks everyone. I really can't do much more than research at the moment, so it's pleasurable to talk this out. 


ATC’s!!!

Or Ocean Ways 

What the Pros use!!!

Forget the rest of the BS!!!
They have no friggin clue!
+1 Russ

 I still don’t understand why anyone would choose stand mounted mini’s, when a small tower takes up the same amount of floor space and has better, deeper, more realistic bass response.  The cost of good stands usually evens out the value proposition.  I’m happy with my PMC F1b signatures.  Same space requirement as stand mounts, narrow baffle, fit my relatively small apartment, but real bass down to 28 hz. Why give that up? Music doesn’t sound right to me with truncated bass response.  
   
  
+1 jl35 and +1 Russ 

I struggled with this some time ago...as I had some tekton lore reference that I loved, but simply over-energized my space.

I was considering some monitors on stands, but found a great deal on some Totem Arros. Not nearly on the same order as the PMC’s Lloyd mentioned, But still..wow. Refinement, imaging, detail, TONE, low mid body, textured bass, beautiful mids and plenty of air...even when only 15 inches from the back wall. Listening bliss to me, and I’m pretty neurotic on a good day. Small floorstanders. Just make sure they’re on good plinths and outriggers, or they topple!
Music culture rl-21. Some of the best stand mounts I’ve ever heard. From Germany. Davis low/ mid drivers from France and usher silk dome tweeters. Just spectacular. Very hard speaker to locate in USA. I’ve got some diapason adamantes. They are awesome as well. All scan speak drivers with beautiful walnut cabinets. 
The monitor audio platinum 100 generation 2 are beautiful sounding very warm and natural
My listening room is a smallish bedroom and I cannot place floor standing speakers properly distanced from room boundaries. I wanted full range, or close to it, so utilize a small sub that is very solid down to the low 30s. I use standmounts on the record/equipment cabinet. I tried several small speakers from Elac, BA Monitor Audio, etc.  I am sensitive to cabinet resonance and needed something with as little resonance as possible.  I finally settled on a pristine pair of ADS L200 Cs.  Sealed cabinet and solid as rocks. By a good margin the most articulate, and best soundstage I experienced.  I know this set up won't play as loud as bigger speakers, but it is more than adequate.  I never exceed 50% volume even when blasting Rock or EDM.
Loving my tannoys, very large standmounts, great bass, great everything actually. 
After a couple of weeks listening and dialling in with subs (ATC C1) I can confirm that Revel Gem 2’s are terrific speakers. The ATC 150 are standing silent...that also goes for the Dutch & Dutch. Pretty easy to integrate with subs while they don’t produce much noice below 70 hz. You need a good source and nice powerful amp.
Parker 601 from Schmidtlambrixaudio. Optional stereo subs reach VERY low. Transparent mids and high put the artist right in front of you.
I had B&W 650's with a sub for years and loved to acute listening sessions.
When i upgraded to Peachtree Nova 300 integrated amp I was ready to move up with speakers too but didn't want to give the detail and finese of a stand mount but wanted more SPL without sacrificing detail. The answer for me was the Tekton Double Impact monitors. I left in the same sub but hardly needs it and the depth and detail is amazing at any level.
I recently listened to the KEF Reference 1 stand mount speakers at my local dealer.  They were quit impressive.  
I have a pair of P3ESRs and a pair of active Focal Core monitors, the smallest one in the range.  I keep going back to the Focals.  Spend the money you would spend on a proper amp on superlative interconnects, and give them time to break in...they are both critical and euphonic.  I run them straight from my TT2.  Pair them with quality mains, decent power treatment, and you’ll be very happy I think.
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I.have a pair of Rogers LS3/5A's that I bought from an eBay seller in Lithuania for $960 + shipping. At that price how could I resist! A 45+ years old design that still sounds better than most small stand-mounts! Sure, it lacks a bottom octave of bass and has limited power-handling but it sounds quite addictive! Congratulations to Dudley Harwood and the BBC team whose goal was to design a small monitor speaker for recording vans that could reproduce voice accurately!
@hilde45
Nice review. Do you have a review on your Salks ?
This is a great question.  I personally prefer monitors to floor standing speakers.  I owned Infinity Kappa 8.1s for many years and was quite satisfied and then I got married.  Not surprisingly my (now ex) wife was not a huge fan of 4' high, 15" wide speakers.  One of the few things my ex-wife and new wife have in common is their animosity toward large speakers.  

I started hunting for new speakers and listened to probably 30 different products and ended up with stand mounts/book shelf speakers as they created a lot of flexibility in terms of placement.  But couldn't get over the fact that the sound was a little thin in my room which was 13 x 20 and I was sitting 15' from the speakers.  I got a better/different amp and it helped.  Then in a larger room, 15' x 30' with vaulted ceiling those same speakers just sounded tiny.  

For a long time I would make the argument that stand-mounts are better because the optimal placement for mid and treble reproduction is often different than for bass.  And this is true but at a root level, some stand mount speakers sound small and can't overwhelm the size of the room you find them in.  

Not all small speakers sound small.  I talked to Andrew Quint who writes for TAS.  He reviewed speakers under $20K from AXPONA and said the thing he was really focused was the juxtaposition of little speakers delivering big sounds or big speakers delivering little sounds.  

It is possible to get close to a full range experience in terms of soundstage, especially with a properly integrated subwoofer but it does require care in selecting the right speaker.  I am 100% certain it can be had in the price range you have outlined. 

The real questions become, what do you want in terms of sound profile?  If you are replacing maggies, ribbons or AMTs will offer interesting options if that is the sound profile you like. 

What is the challenge you are facing in terms of placement?  Is it distance from the wall?  Width?  Both?   Many stand-mounts need room from the back wall due to porting and even if they are front ported doesn't mean near wall placement works.  Distance from the back wall absolutely impacts how the soundstage comes together.  Also, are you open to adding a subwoofer?  

Other things I am not seeing.  What amplification are you using?  That will very much impact the sound and what speakers you can drive.  Will that change with with a new speaker selection if need be?  

There are a million brands and the key is getting one that will deliver the sound you want in the space you have.  The best way to evaluate that is in home.  I can think of a variety of products that make sense in terms of sound but need to understand other variables before a wise recommendation can be made.  
@yogiboy  Not yet. Hope to. My sense is that he does not need the support that Fritz does. 
+1 on Kef LS50s. A well-deserved Class A rating by Stereophile with many happy owners.
I'm curious whether folks out here think that standmount speakers can reward "critical listening."
Absolutely!

If you have such a speaker, you can get excellent bass in most rooms by using a set of Swarm subs, which are compact and meant to be directly against the wall. There are 4 subs in a set, and they are used to break up standing waves in the room, resulting in evenly distributed bass- no boominess, no lack. If any sub is kept below 80Hz, it will not attract attention to itself so they can blend nicely and no need for alignment with the main speakers.
You certainly are not going to get much bass from small speakers.  Only way to live with them would be to add a pair of REL S2 SHO subwoofers.  However, add the REL's to a nice pair of towers and you will enjoy music a lot better.  I certainly wouldn't even consider small speakers if you want to hear bass.
@larry5729 My 20" tall Salk SS 6M's are listed as 35hz and I gotta tell you, they really get down there. Front ported, larger than average monitor -- when I add the sub, well, it helps, but not nearly so much that I feel I really really need a sub.
The new Sonus Faber Electa Amator 3's should be on your short list.
@ verdant audio, fantastic post and you have the great ability to take the reader to a place of understanding.