System synergy matters BIG TIME as you have just experienced
So outline the plan to swap it all over and then stick to it, with the upgrades as funds permit.
You need to understand how and why they sounded so good when/where you heard them and then assess how they will work in your room with your listening habits. THere will be differences with teh same setup in any two rooms.
Knowledge is key. The more you understand about why something sounds good or not when you hear it, the better. THen you can apply that knowledge in your specific case to expedite good results. It takes time and lots of listening and asking of questions to get to that point though, so don't rush it and drop a bundle too soon.
The other approach is to set a practical initial budget to take your first best shot, but plan to tweak and change from there as needed over time. BUying/selling used will help provide flexibility to change tweak and adjust as needed without taking a huge financial hit. High end audio can be a money pit, worse than a house for what you might get in return, so do not jump into the deep water too fast.
I've done that a couple times, complete with the selloff of parts (and later all) of my esoteric high-end headphone collection (Qualia 010, L3000, etc). The 1st time was a bad call. The 2nd time worked great, because by then I had a better handle of what I liked speaker-wise, and had owned/heard enough of that brand's models (Tannoy DC) to know I should stretch towards the biggest/best one I could afford -- Kensington SE, at the time. The in-shop audition definitely blew me away. Though after purchase, there was a rough patch for a few weeks as my supporting gear was not quite up to par (decimated after raising funds for the speaker, really) and I was figuring out placement issues. However, I do remember it all snapping into place with a particular placement and an old Eico HF-87 (w/ cheap EH EL34 tubes, no less), and it was glorious! Three very satisfying years followed, until I upgraded to a even bigger model in the line (Canterbury SE).
The speakers ARE the most important piece of a system, so I do think it's fine to plan around those first and bring the supporting gear in line a piece at a time as possible. Good speakers will plainly reveal individual changes, and let you know whether it was a good move. Good speakers can also play nicely with the right selection of "budget" gear. To me, a speaker touted as demanding only the very best in recordings and gear is not a speaker I will tolerate (read: usually the wrong kind of bright, analytical, bass shy, or all 3).
In retrospect, I approached this hobby without a sufficient amount of patience for far too long. And the cost of this is significant in time, money, and frustration.
We all know the room plays a big part, but a great system should sound great in any decent room. I think I'm just not getting what I want out of most systems I've heard in the last year other than the systems that Vandy's have been in. I have liked some of the Legacy stuff that I've heard also, but so much of the higher priced systems have left me cold. Usually the amps just aren't getting it done or the speakers aren't musical. In listening at a blues club last week, I realized that the emotion of a live event is what's missing in most systems now days. Unless I want to move or tap my feet, I just don't want to sit and listen. I have been thinking it's listener fatigue and maybe part of it is, but It's the emotion that's been lacking in most systems I've listened to I think .
Ctsooner, I agree with you about the emotion of the event. Well made speakers based on the Seas Excel midrange woofer prove your point. Joseph Audio and Salk come to mind. In a proper system, they deliver excitement of a performance. There are others such as the Vandy 7s that will get you even closer to the performance itself, but the Excels get you there primarily on capturing the excitement of the performance alone.
I have never heard the Salk speakers. Don't think there are any dealers in my area. I've heard good things about them. Are they first order xovers? Don't know much about them. I have liked some of the Joseph audio speakers I've heard in the past, but for the cost I really wanted a full range legit sub 40hz. I don't know if they have that at that price range. I still can't get over the fact that I went to Audio Connections to buy new Proacs as that's all I've ever owned and I can away with Vandy Treo's. It changed my whole paradigm in how I listen to higher end systems. I used to listen for huge soundstage and imaging. I love bass and a full range, but I always ended up liking monitors best. Then I hear the various higher end Vandy's and it opened up a new way to listen. They just sounded like what I heard the night before (live concert). It blew me away. Then I went back to listen to other systems I was looking at and they all left me cold. They just didn't hit that emotion. I'm sure there are some smaller upstart companies who have 'IT', but I haven't heard any so far that have that. I have heard some of the exotics that also lack this emotional magic. Is this what the Magico's have? I did like the new Legacy's, but for the cost, I like the Vandy's better.
The Salks are second order, but they have excellent crossovers. The Salks are mail order, but they have sold so many that there are probably people in your area that would let you listen to theirs. You could call Jim Salk if you were interested in finding somebody in your area.
Sadly, I'd have to say that a great system won't necessarily sound great in any decent room. Far from it - on at least on two different levels, IMO.
First, I believe that the room issues below 100ish hz are, in almost all cases, best addressed with room correction software, (but I also know that many here will disagree). I've heard many excellent systems transformed by DRC software, even in excellent rooms as the inevitable low frequency room induced FR issues are cleaned up. Check that out for yourself to decide where you end up on the issue.
The other issue is simply room volume (cubic feet). Any given Speaker model generally sounds much better in a room of a given volume. The big MBLs (to cite one example) can sound great in a huge room, but I'd never want to listen to that speaker system in a small to medium sized space.
I hope you can recreate the outstanding experience you heard on audition with the same system in your own room. I like stories with happy endings. I just wouldn't be completely confident until I actually heard the results.
Best of luck in the effort.
Marty, you make valid points and I agree for the most part. I have heard the Vandy's that have adjustable bass sound great and they should be able to integrate into nearly any room. When the term decent sounding room was used, it was in regards to bass since that and slap echo seem to be two of the major issues in rooms.
You bring up a great point IRT room size and what size room the speaker is made for. That's usually in regards to wave size isn't it? That would be bass. I think that many people listen way too loud because their speakers or ams can't breath unless they do. I've found that to be a major issue. When auditioning, most good stores will start with a realistic level and most will turn up the levels.
All good points as there are no absolutes when discussing audio.
If literally, I recently picked up storage unit full of sound gear and found 2 huge speakers with 2 15" woofers, horn mid-range and aluminium dome horn-loaded tweeter. They stand 5' tall, handle over 5kW of power each. The model is AA Design that I actually found no information on the internet. I think they're early 80's vintage and weigh about 265lb each. There are separate XLR connections for woofers and midrange with outputs for chaining up crossovers or other speakers. When I connected them to an array of bridged mono Crown XLS 2000 amps (2 bridged ones per side) you can feel the wind's blowing 7' away. Not sure how they do with music, but they can easily reproduce in natural sound levels Boeing jet plane during take-off.
I start from the principal that I will not buy a component that won't fit into my current system, at least adequately. That is in terms of specs, will my current amp drive the speakers for example. Then I would normally get the speakers into my system and ensure there is adequate synergy with the room and my current kit. If there is and I still love the speakers, then I would buy them. Next I would add incremental changes, such as a new power amp as a loaner from the dealer. Is it better or worse and so on, till I am satisfied.
Having said all that, I don't actually do it every time. My last and final speakers, Daedalus Audio DA-RMAs, I heard at Rocky Mountain, then ordered for transport over to the UK. I couldn't be happier though, so sometimes, you take a chance.
I spent several months in my search for a new pair of loudspeakers and one afternoon visited a dealer about an hour's drive from home who had a pair of Focal 1038BE's nicely setup in a good sounding room. I was absolutely smitten and ready to take that credit card out, but thought I need to check with my wife, to see if large, floor standing speakers were OK with her, in our living room.
On the drive home I called one of my audio buddies and shared my experience, he said "stop the presses", that he just heard that Focal was about to announce their Sopra series.
Long-story-short, I was fortunate to "beat the rush", receiving my Sopra No2's mid-September (my dealer tells me there's a six month wait now).
I moved my system from the living room down to the "man cave", a much larger room, which could accommodate much larger speakers, and so began the process of upgrading the subs, the amp, preamp, etc. As my wife put it, by recommending the system move she "unleashed a monster".
I've had the Sopra's now for about four months and am still smitten!