Speaker advice for listening to Blues music


Hi, new to the forum, and hoping I can get some help finding the right speakers... I'm a Blues guitar player and have a dedicated music room for my guitars/amps. I usually spend time playing my guitars and recently decided to setup a decent system for listening to my Blues music. I first started with a Marantz integrated (PM8005) and some Kef R300, source is a Marantz ND8006 and I mostly play FLAC files from a NAS, but also started streaming from Spotify and now trying Tidal. This setup was great at first, very revealing, but found the R300 were not the right speakers for the kind of music I listen to, but they were great for some Jazz and did well with good recordings, which most of my Blues recordings weren't, specially live albums. I also found them to be a little boomy in that small room (12' X 12'), so I moved them to the living room instead and added a matching center, they're perfect there.

Next came the LS50, read so much about them I had to get a pair to try. Wow! I still can't believe what these small speakers can do, the details I hear, soundstage, imaging, it's all there. But, just like the R300, since they're so revealing they're horrible with my favorite Blues recordings. It's great to listen to excellent recordings and enjoy the music these speakers are making but I want to enjoy MY music, the Blues greats I've been listening to for over 30 years. If it sounds great in the car then I should be able to find the right gear to duplicate at home, right? On some good Blues recordings it sounds excellent, but most of my favorites aren't good recordings.

Since I only play my guitars through old Fender amps I figured I should replace the Marantz integrated with a tube amp, so next came the PrimaLuna integrated. I wanted to get a "warmer" sound and hope it'll fix the issues I was having with most crappy recordings... I want to hear BB's beautiful guitar tone and crank it up, without hurting my ears. Both Kefs were too fatiguing to listen to. And on most live recordings guitars sound way too thin and bright, not what I'm used to hearing. A good example is Albert King's Wednesday Night in San Francisco, that Flying V can be painful to listen to after a couple of minutes! Not so in the car or even just using headphones and my laptop. I understand that it's because the system is more revealing, but is it possible to have both, revealing and musical so that one can enjoy the music they love? The PrimaLuna did help and it's staying, I like what I'm hearing so far, and I get to play with tubes, something I enjoy doing already :)

Right now I'm breaking in some Wharfedale Denton 80th, I wanted to try something with a soft dome tweeter, something less fatiguing than the LS50. I'm at 70+ hours so far and they're sounding much better, not as fatiguing, but something is missing... I prefer the LS50's soundstage and details, but they're both not that great for electric guitar. The Dentons are more forgiving but I don't find them musical and they don't disappear like the LS50s do.

So what are my choices? Do I stick with bookshelf, try some floor standing? What about single driver speakers (Omega, Zu...)? Are those the answer to what I'm looking for? I need something more forgiving, musical, efficient so I can crank it up when I feel like playing along some times... I want the guitar to sound full and not thin and bright. It's a small room and not a lot of space due to my guitar gear. My budget is also limited, would like to keep it under $2k, I already have a hobby and don't want this to get out of control :)

Forgot to mention, I also have a Rel sub, so not too worried about the low end. Sorry for the long post and thanks for any help!
cedarblues
Blues? Tubes? Get all the Johnny Winter music you can get your hands on. Best of luck. 

Back about 40 years or so ago, I used to play my '57 Gibson ES 330 through my Tannoy 12" MG, in DIY cabinets. Played a lot of blues through them. Still do, though they're now HPD 315 (12") Dual Concentric from 1975, in custom built enclosures. Many recording studios used them for many decades, some still do.
 I don't know how well they would do in such a small room. At least try to hear some Tannoys, I can't recommend them highly enough.

Dan
Can you help me understand why your car stereo is a reference, despite your being a Blues Guitarist?  Thanks.
The Tannoys keep coming up in my search, might be worth looking into, not sure if there are any dealers in the area so I can hear them in person.

Can you help me understand why your car stereo is a reference, despite your being a Blues Guitarist? Thanks.
I'm not sure I understand your question? It's not really a reference, listening to Blues guitar in the car is just easier on the ears, compared to what I was hearing from the Kefs. I want to enjoy listening to music without it being fatiguing and would prefer not hearing a bright/thin sounding guitar tone.
Blues? Tubes? Get all the Johnny Winter music you can get your hands on. Best of luck.
I've seen Johnny live many times... he was one of the greats! 
There are a lot of good options out there.  I would consider a pair of Klipsch Heresy IIIs.  Warm, wet and fat is the best way to describe the sound.  In a small room they will probably produce enough bass and if not you can always augment with a sub or two.  Primaluna is not my preferred cup of tea but it will work.  Better yet, look for a good restored McIntosh MC240 or a good tube integrated that uses 6L6 or EL84 tubes.  Fins a mac Heritage dealer and have a listen.  For Blues music I think it's hard to find better speaker for $2K new.

@cedarblues What part of the country do you live in? I'm not sure if there is a dealer close to you, but Vandersteen 1ci's may do the trick for you. They are easy to listen to, not fatiguing, and very musical. Should do nice in a small room too....

-Joe

zu or tektons will sound a lot like hearing it direct from amps and pa speakers like when you play. Jbls too. It will have a very forward, raw sound with blues. I like a bit of honey and would vote for the Harbeth or 
Tannoys. 

Btw if you are a guitarist and like the blues I highly recommend anson funderberg and the rockets. Fantastic Texas Roadhouse style guitar. He is a master but under appreciated. The song “tell me what I have done wrong” is a great track to test speakers. 

Enjoy. 
Thanks for all the suggestions! Keep them coming. The Heresy are also on my list, based on what I've read so far, just worried about how they'd sound in a small room.

I'm in central FL. I've seen the Vandersteen recommended for Blues as well, but their size might be an issue, I would need to move some things around to make room for them...

I'm familiar with Anson of course, Ronnie Earl is another great Blues guitarist, love that clean Strat into a Super Reverb tone! Too many favorites to list! I'm also a huge Chris Cain fan, check him out if you haven't heard of him, he's more of a BB/Albert style, not the Texas Blues style.
I will jump in for a moment. I am a Klipsch Heritage fanatic, going back to my youth ( mid 60s ). I agree that the Heresy will do well for you. But I am wanting to make a point. I own 3 sets of Heritage, currently ( 2 pr Heresy, 1 pr Lascala). Admittedly, I have tweaked them all ( horn damping, better crossover components, etc ). I am finding that all music sounds wonderful through all 3 pair. In fact, It is my belief that a great speaker ( and this is personal by all of us as to a house sound ), should be able to play any and all music very well. Yes, not all speakers do. My reference track for any system,  component, or room set up, has always been, since it's release,  Stevie Ray Vaughan, and his studio version of Tin Pan Alley. Enjoy ! MrD.
Cedar, where in CF are you located ? I might not be far from you.
The studio version of Tin Pan Alley on Couldn't Stand the Weather sounds awesome on my system, no doubt! It's an excellent recording, clean, one of the best Blues recording I've heard. Stevie's guitar tone is extra clean on this song, I can crank it up and every instrument is just right. I wish I can say the same about other recordings... on the Legacy Edition of that same album, the second CD has live performances, try comparing that guitar tone to Tin Pan Alley, it's horrible! And with revealing speakers like the Kef I can't enjoy listening to the Live CD.
I'm in the Tampa Bay area, is that close to you?
cedarblues,

Its natural to focus on the speakers but I doubt the problem you're hearing will ever be fixed with speakers alone. You may not even need to change your speakers. In fact you could probably use some really crappy speakers and yet still achieve the sound you want. Because, like you said, the same music sounds good in the car. So is it the car speakers? I don't think so.

Notice it got better with the Prima Luna? Because the Prima Luna is in the chain, and everything in the chain matters. All of it, every single bit of it, is contributing to the problem. Which also means every single bit of it will have to contribute to the solution.

You want full, not thin and bright. You want tubes. You already know that. You have some great speakers. You have a great amp. Feed them a great signal and they will reward you with great music. All kinds. Whatever kind you want. 

You already know the amp took you in the right direction. Now all you need is to take everything else in that same direction.

Speaker cables, interconnects, and power cords are the place to start. The problems you want to address are thin and bright and a fatiguing hardness at volume. I never heard anything like that with any of the wire from Synergistic, but the same cannot be said of much of the rest of what's out there. So you definitely want to be looking into that. But there are things you can do to help that are dirt cheap too. Even seemingly insignificant details like where the cables go are contributing, each in their own small way, to what you're hearing.


Personally I think you might be barking up the wrong tree. Yes, tube amps overdriven distort pleasantly. But the real issue may be room and reflections. I use a Lyngdorf with Room Correction and it really helps. Or simply trying diffusers/absorption panels and traps correctly. 
Thanks for the suggestions! I'm open to trying different cables in the chain if it helps, but don't want to end up spending too much just on cables, so what dirt cheap things can I try? I understand cables are important, but speakers make the biggest difference IMO, in audio and in my guitar amps. From my experience I know what good guitar cables do, but at the end everything has to come out of that speaker in the amp. Magnet type, cone, voicecoil, it all affects guitar tone, and after all these years I know how to get rid of harshness in guitar tone, but I'm clueless when it comes to audio... and that's why I'm focusing on speakers.
Can you help me understand why your car stereo is a reference, despite your being a Blues Guitarist? Thanks.
I'm not sure I understand your question? It's not really a reference, listening to Blues guitar in the car is just easier on the ears, compared to what I was hearing from the Kefs. I want to enjoy listening to music without it being fatiguing and would prefer not hearing a bright/thin sounding guitar tone.

Given you play guitar live (amplified) I would have expected references and comparisons to live playback, tonality, timbre, realism, etc.

If it sounds great in the car then I should be able to find the right gear to duplicate at home, right?

did well with good recordings, which most of my Blues recordings weren't, specially live albums

@millercarbon has proffered good advice in his post (above).

I doubt the problem you're hearing will ever be fixed with speakers alone. You may not even need to change your speakers.

There is so much that can be addressed. One example: FLAC off of a NAS for the recordings (at issue) that you love. 

I'd err on the side of establishing a system that presents GOOD recordings naturally and 'live with' the poorly recorded material.
I agree, it could be the room, but I'm limited with what I can do, it's already too crowded in there! But I've been looking into what I can do to cut down on the reflections.
If you want to approximate what you've heard as a blues player when you used a Fender amp, try a speaker with a base driver around the same size as the one in your amp, for starters.

You really can't go wrong with JBL speakers. I'm thinking the 4307:
https://www.musicdirect.com/speakers/JBL-4307-Bookshelf-Speakers

or, if can stretch your budget, the 4312G:
https://www.musicdirect.com/speakers/JBL-4312G-Bookshelf-Speakers

Try to get a listen to them before you decide.

All the best,
Nonoise
Given you play guitar live (amplified) I would have expected references and comparisons to live playback, tonality, timbre, realism, etc.

I had a feeling that's what you meant... there's no way I could use live performance as a reference, there's nothing that's going to come close, not with my budget :) being on stage at a bar playing the Blues is one of the greatest thing I get to experience, but I'm not trying to duplicate that in my room, I just want to enjoy the music and if it moves me I'll plug my guitar and play along.
If you want to approximate what you've heard as a blues player when you used a Fender amp, try a speaker with a base driver around the same size as the one in your amp, for starters.
Thanks, but that's not what I'm trying to accomplish... I just want to enjoy listening to Blues records, specially live records, without them sounding too bright or thin, but that might be a difficult task, if the recordings are horrible to begin with, that's what I'm finding out. So I just need to find a speaker that's not too revealing and more musical.
First of all I also live for the next great blues album I can find. So here's one. Alvin Lee, I Hear You Rockin. Just damn!
I use Zu Definition 4s, not cheap but do they play the blues!
Have you thought about some killer horns? From Great Plains to the Klipsh Fortes. 
So here is a stone cold classic speaker I think could do the job. It's used and a bit over your budget but its a classic for a reason.
https://www.usaudiomart.com/details/649486279-spendor-s100-with-sound-anchor-stands/
No affiliation with the seller just a huge fan of classic Spendors. Good luck with your search and have fun with it!
I recommend vinyl, tube equipment and speakers made prior to 1990.  Vintage is the best way to listen to the blues. 
Orange City, Florida, south a bit from Daytona Beach, off of I-4. Speaking of Alvin Lee. His " The Bluest Blues " is awesome. My systems are very revealing, and if I am listening to a bad recording ( poorly mic’d, over compressed, ridiculous use of eq, etc, ) I hear it. However, I have trained my ears to still listen to them, if I am liking the musicianship. I will turn these recordings down a tad, in volume. Fortunately, I do not have many recordings that are unlistenable. When I went passive 2 years ago ( permanently, since I have dabbled with passive for more years than I can remember ), I can say, I am hearing what was intended, by the musicians, producers, recording, and mixing engineers, etc., and would not have it any other way. BTW, if anyone here is familiar with Keb' Mo', he is a bit bluesy, and his recordings are stellar.  Enjoy ! MrD.
I think for great Blues you need a speaker that is very good at reproducing strings. Acoustic strings are an important part of much Blues...if the speaker can reproduce acoustic strings exceedingly well..then the rest will follow, IME. Your budget may preclude a lot of great speakers that can do this, but IF you can find a decent pair of Sonus Faber stand mount speakers in your budget, then I would consider them.
I'm a drummer but i play, I've got an old Fender champ that sounds great though a PA. It's sometimes hard to get a true dirty/clean blues sound with hifi gear. I grew up on live blues and jazz born in New Orleans.Maybe you should look at and listen to high efficient single driver speaker, with a simple crossover, you can always mod the crossover to your liking. An el84 amp would work nice, some of them can have a magical sound certainly with point to point wiring. You can only get maybe 25 watts out of a el84. Or a lush el34 amp could work. Omega makes nice budget single driver think it's called the super 3 and retails for $700 but used much cheaper. If you can find a used Exemplar Audio single driver speaker, I've seen them go for around $1200 they retail for $4000. There's  not a lot of bass but single driver have a special sound to me for blues and simple music. If you could find some altec 604's build a crossover andbox.I started a post a couple days ago on removing spike from my speakers. I found blues sounds much better now. If it doesnt  have sustain or tone and can't get dirty it ain't right for blues.

I grew up in Chicago Blues clubs, and agree my car is a great sound room. But I don’t expect my sound system to sound like a classic blues club. I know when I play a good Delmark Blues Record, i.e. Hoodoo Man Blues, it sounds excellent on my system. I know the early Muddy Aristocrat sides need the warmth we are used to, but it could also be the version of the track we are listen to. Different releases have different sounds. When I play Robert Johnson’s Dead Shrimp Blues (my favorite RJ tune), my system provides the clarity that opens the door to being there in the room - wood floor and all. I run through McIntosh Tubes and into a pair of Sonos Fabers.
I also believe, that with you being on stage, playing through "equipment ", has a bit of a livelier, punchier, more dynamic sound, than many hifi systems, and, hifi speakers. The JBLs mentioned by nonoise, or some Klipsch models, can be used as a karaoke type speaker, meaning, they will handle instruments through a mixer / amplifier with greater finesse, with little to no breakup / compression. P.S. The ears /  brain gets used to certain musical attributes after years of exposure.
However, I have trained my ears to still listen to them, if I am liking the musicianship. I will turn these recordings down a tad, in volume.
That's exactly what seems to be happening with me, I'm learning to accept the way some of these recordings sound and end up turning it down a little so it doesn't hurt my ears.  This is a new world for me, my focus was always on guitar tone, and most of my listening was done in the car or on headphones, and seeing live Blues.

I think for great Blues you need a speaker that is very good at reproducing strings. Acoustic strings are an important part of much Blues...if the speaker can reproduce acoustic strings exceedingly well..then the rest will follow, IME.
Acoustic guitar sound wonderful through my system, can't complain, it's the overdriven electric guitar that's not working for me, but only on some recordings.

It's sometimes hard to get a true dirty/clean blues sound with hifi gear. I grew up on live blues and jazz born in New Orleans.Maybe you should look at and listen to high efficient single driver speaker, with a simple crossover, you can always mod the crossover to your liking.
That's exactly the problem I'm having! The way a hifi system reproduces those overdriven guitar tones can sound horrible to someone like me. For all these years any cheap system or even headphones make everything sound "smooth", sure details are lacking but man at least I can enjoy the music! Growing up in New Orleans with all that beautiful music must've been something! I went to the Jazz Fest in the early 90s and got to see my hero Albert King there before he passed away, and many others of course.

Or a lush el34 amp could work. Omega makes nice budget single driver think it's called the super 3 and retails for $700 but used much cheaper.
Already have the EL34 amp, Omegas are on the top of my list right now. I did talk to Louis this week and recommended his CAM speakers based on what I told him.

Appreciate everyone's suggestions so far. Here's the list of recommended speakers:

  • Harbeth P3ESR: I think these might be too small and not efficient enough
  • Tannoy: Would something like the XT 6 bookshelf work or am I better off with the XT 6F?
  • Klipsch Heresy
  • JBL 4307
  • Vandersteen (might be too big)
  • Omega
  • Zu
  • Tekton
Really like the idea of a single driver, so I will keep an eye out in case something used pops up.
Sorry didn't read all your post now seeing your looking at single driver. I'm putting together a second system for blues and jazz now. I'm voicing it a little dark and slow. It's very enjoyable and plays blues well. Soft dome would work nice. If tubes are electro hamonix maybe change to JJ's if on a budget. If you can find some NOS or used for cheaper price Winged C's or better Mullards pBlackburn plant. Some smooth Preamp tubes. Power cords can give you tone. There can be over priced but make a difference. It may be a hassle but build some using some 6 gauge wire for $50, if you want to add vibration control, use tubing and sandblasting material and palm sanderand to pack it closing it with hot glue and clamps. You can make decent interconnects with magnet wire and packing tape. Change some caps in your amp.Everything adds up and helps to play music. Now this one will send you down a rabbit hole get a turntable.

If your room has a bunch of windows and/or hardwood floors, you are going to need a miracle to get the room right. I listen to Keb Mo, SRV Tin Pan Alley, Robbin Ford, many other blues artists as well as a lot of jazz and rock. You don’t need a specific set of speakers for blues. If you have a Rel sub, maybe look at the Totem Model 1’s signatures. A floor standing speaker that sounds way over its price point are the Usher Compass series, the cp-6381 or cp-6311. I had the 6381’s andyou wont need a sub. They have a soft dome  tweeter and I used a Rogue Cronus Magnum tube integrated with them with excellent results 
Well, I've been down this path many, many times. I own 900+ cd's of mostly blues. I've tried many, many combinations of speakers and amps (still experimenting). The best combination I've had, bar none, was Klipsch Heritage (Heresy III and Forte III) and a tube amp or McIntosh solid state. I've had some nice speakers including those KEF's but many "sanded the music too smooth." Most blues is raw and immediate and Klipsch do that. Zu are also excellent. I had a Rogue Sphinx/Heresy III combo that was plain awesome. The Forte III's were my fave but a bit overkill for my studio style apartment. I listen to SRV, Johnny Winter, Otis Rush, Roomful of Blues, Anson, Little Charlie, Albert King, Roy Buchanan (human guitar lesson), Ronnie Earl etc. New Klipsch Heritage were the ticket....Heresy's are easy to place, better bass than expected (quality, not quantity) and cool looking to boot. Find a nice McIntosh integrated, say an older MA 6200 and you'll be in blues heaven. 

I think this is a really interesting problem and one which I have also experienced in the past.

What you have are some highly revealing speakers and a sub which are highlighting problems in the audio signal, upstream. 

You don’t need to spend very much to fix this and i don’t believe buying a less revealing speaker is the way to go.

A power conditioner or regenerator will transform the sound you have and give you what you looking for. It will remove the etched over detailed top end and bring forward the mid and lower bass. The sound will be relaxed and natural.

You really don’t know what the The Prima Luna and digital source are capable of until you give them clean power and isolate them from each other.

A big difference between mid priced and high end components is often the quality of the power supply so mid priced components benefit more from this type of upgrade, than high end systems.

Not all power conditioners are equally effective and some can be detrimental. Having tried several I have found that Shunyata conditioners work very well and you could pick up a second hand Hydra 2 or 4 for a just a few hundred $

it will also transform your guitar amp! 

good luck.






i should have added that you also need some aftermarket power cables to get the best from the power conditioner. Nothing expensive, just shielded and with lower awg than the the stock cords and plugged straight into the wall.
You have been using the LS50 and the Denton in your 12x12 room. Why do you state that the Harbeth is too small? With the REL subwoofer any small stand mount speaker is the best option in a small room like yours!
With Wharfedale Denton 80th, you kinda get the best speakers to listen that kind of music you love, yes sometimes Denton can be a bit dark I tried quite some speakers, some with really good resolution, it’s give and take, at the same time you got your resolution you got noise higher db too, I have an advice though you could try some brutal power amp like NAD M22 V2 power amp, not cheap though, it give a more near neutral sense, is very very little bright detailed to the sound, which a give a little bit more HD sense but less little musical, not so much, though usually I use Class D Audio SDS-470C, not a warm amp, not a neutral amp too, it give proper bright and warm to different audio spectrum, dunno how it works, it just works better with the Denton, sound sweeter. Between Marantz is strongly not recommended to pair with Denton 80th, at least from me and others’ experiences, also soft dome tweeters also can be bright sometimes for certain speakers.
I have several hundred blues CDs and records and some of them just aren’t recorded very well. If your system sounds good on your best recorded source material I would not recommend choosing speakers to take the harshness out of your poor recordings. Have you considered (the horror, the horror....) an equalizer? This is a low cost way to tame some of your thin recordings. You can experiment with your favorite bad sounding CDs and come up with a curve that fattens them up and rounds them off. Then you can selectively use the equalizer when you need it. I have one in my system and I use it fairly often - usually on older recordings that I cherish. One of the reasons your car sounds so nice is that car stereos often have fat round bass because it sounds good in the showroom and it compensates for road noise which is in the mid bass region. Used ten or twelve band equalizers are cheap and readily available on eBay and they provide a huge insight into the effect of subtle frequency manipulations on your recorded music. One positive side effect is that it will help train your ears as a musician. Once you’ve played with EQ for a while you will become a better listener and better at identifying shortcomings in your own live and recorded sound.
@beernut I've seen some of your posts discussing the same thing here... so if you say the Heresy will get the job done then that's probably what I'll go with, but I'd like to listen to them in person first, if I can find any.

Not all power conditioners are equally effective and some can be detrimental. Having tried several I have found that Shunyata conditioners work very well and you could pick up a second hand Hydra 2 or 4 for a just a few hundred $
I will also look into power conditioners and better power cables, since this keeps coming up, thanks!

You have been using the LS50 and the Denton in your 12x12 room. Why do you state that the Harbeth is too small? With the REL subwoofer any small stand mount speaker is the best option in a small room like yours!

With the two sets I already have, on some recordings I find myself having to turn it up way too much and find that the amp might be struggling, being a 35 wpc amp, so something more efficient will help.

With Wharfedale Denton 80th, you kinda get the best speakers to listen that kind of music you love, yes sometimes Denton can be a bit dark
I don't find the Dentons dark at all, they're nice, but they don't excite me, they sound kinda "boring" sometimes.

Have you considered (the horror, the horror....) an equalizer?
Lol, yes I have actually. On the previous integrated I was using, the Marantz PM8005, that's exactly what I did. I left the source direct enabled and when I played some of these live blues albums I disabled it and I had the tone controls set to cut down on the highs and add more mids. Since the PrimaLuna doesn't have any tone controls I was thinking of adding something like the Schiit Loki. But if I can find a better speaker, more efficient, that will get job done and I don't have to mess with anything then I'll be set.

Zu Druid + Leben CS-300.
Cedar, you are welcome to take a drive to me, and listen to a pair of Heresy 2s, and my other, main system, with my Lascalas. You can pm me for the details. Enjoy ! MrD.
Hi CEDARBLUES, I am going to throw one more speaker into the mix-Go to Caintuck Audio Loudspeakers and look at their offerings. They are open baffles and start at $400.00 a pair up to $800.00 for their top of the line alnico double driver speaker.
Good Luck with your search, Tish
I’m a blues guitarist also...

get a a pair of L -100 by JBL
game over!
Tough one at 2K. Small room.

You probably need dynamics. You also want a soft dome tweeter.

Dynaudio may work - generally a darker sound.


Open baffle suggestion is interesting you don't hear the box. Power conditioner was a good suggestion. If you can find a Tara Lab AD 2 or 6 grab it. It's passive and better than the Shuyata hydra 8 but not as good as the Running Springs Hayley I've owned. There cheap, I see them sell for $250, I paid $250 shipped for the AD 6. You would have to spend almost $2000 new today to match it. I think there are great speakers out there for way under $2000 used and maybe spread you budget around.