Speaker Preferences?

Sorry to start yet another of these "Which speaker is best" threads but I'm curious how astute AudioGon members rate the following speakers. My room is mid-sized (14 x 20 x 9) and my system is all very high-quality stuff. I listen mostly to rock music at not-quite-obnoxious levels.

Here's what I'm looking at in the under $7000 range:

- Martin Logan Vantage
- Acoustic Zen Adagio
- Revel Salon Studio (used)
- Wilson Sophia (used)

Please comment only if you've actually spent serious listening time with at least two of these speakers.


For roomfilling ambient sound go for the Martin Logans - they have the amazing ablility to dissapear but they might sound a bit "dull" compared to conventional speakers...

The Acoustic Zen Adagio produces a solid wall of sound. They are not bad but they lack a certain 'x-factor'.

Revel Salon Studio. A true pedigree loudspeaker. Will knock your socks off but needs very good amplification will lots of control. Midrange/Treble is neutral and presented in a organic way. Bass goes low and tight but then again only with good amplification. These speakers deliver what comes of the recording - the good, the bad and the ugly...

Wilson Sophia - a very "noble" loudspeaker with the ability to satisfy. Wide soundstage, accurate presentation.

Have a look also at the Zingali Overture 4 speakers - horn-based mid/high driver and the most amazing bass from a rather slim cabinet.


Thanks for your very articulate descriptions. Sounds like you've spent a lot of time listening and evaluating.
My pleasure,

Recently I have spent some 'quality' time with the Zingali's. What an amazing speaker. When comparing a Martin Logan to the Overture it is like night to day. The Zingali's are so much more vivid and inviting - you sit there 'feeding' on the lush & detailled sound produced form the Overtures. The ML's are good but they really sound "dull"...


i am amazed that the word "dull" would be used to describe the sound of martin logan speakers. i have never heard that term applied to a cls, which, has been charcterized as one of the most transparent speakers ever manufactured. what do you mean by dull ? can a speaker be bright and dull at the same time ?

I dont know what was wrong with that setup but the ML's sounded 'dull' compared to the Zingali's - and the Zingali's werent overbright. They sounded frightningly 'real'.

The ML system used Audio Research equipment with a Clearaudio Master Reference Table and some Clearaudio MC cartridge. Everybody who auditioned the system agreed that it sounded "dull" - but the speakers definitly dissapeared in the soundstage.

logans are great, getting them in the right position isnt easy or fun, sometimes seams impossible. I moved from ascent to ascent i's, to legacy focus 20/20's and overall, I like the focus 20/20's the best. They sound better with all types of music(and bad recordings), and are still right there close with the logans on the best vocal/acoustic recordings(loose a little air,etc).With the logans a subwoofer was critical or it sounded lifeless. Maybe this is what the reviewer above meant by dull. It just didnt have the dynamic feel because there was absolutely no bottom end in my room(s). Had them in 3 different houses by the way,bass was always the same.
i beilieve that a new martin logan full range electrostatic speaker, the clx, is to be introduced at ces 2008.

hopefully, they will be better balanced than the cls 2z.

i would be surprised if the clx would be described as "dull"
I cant wait to hear it(clx). Maybe it will be a fiture purchase :)
Yeah, I tell you what I'd like to see from at least Wilson and Revel, is some "ACTIVE" speaker offerings! Dynamics for such clear, detailed, and uncolored sounding speakers would/should be off the charts for ANY source material.
I still feel this is where most fall short. I think we have, even mentioned above, entirely too many similar sounding, clear, refined, detailed, and otherwise well balanced sounding high end speakers to chose from, with even a little initiative and some cash. Higher end active, more efficient audiophile choices would be more pleasing to someone into "heavier(?) sound", personally

I would go listen to all of them. People can tell you what they prefer, but no one but you knows what you will end up prefering. Save yourself from possibly making a big mistake and go demo them personally.

Out of the three I've listened to, I would go with the Sophias, but that's my personal preference. I know a lot of people that would go with the Revels, but I also know a lot of people that would go with the Sophias too...

Funny enough, I was in that higher-end section of Best Buy (Magnolias?) the day before yesterday and I got to hear those Vantage speakers... I didn't like them much, but that is just my preference.
The Sophias are among my favorite speakers, but the Vantage would be a close second for most things. I would say that they need to be positioned right and run with the proper upstreams to get them to sound good (the ML moreso).

Dull would not be the word I would describe them. Unlike other speakers I have heard (Cremona, BW 802D, Wilsons), I feel that the current ML Xstat ESL series speakers (Summits mostly) are less "showy" the first time you hear them. They do not have a truly audible signature to the sound, no "wow" factor aside from the disappearing act. This may be the reason some all it dull.

However, position it right... by that I mean toe them in and get your ears at the right seated height, get some tubes in the system and a good source - wallah... supremely coherent and very musical.

My 2 cents.

BTW, most of the MLs I've heard at dealers sound nothing like their potential... in fact, I wont hide the fact that I find dealers' ML setups sound like crap. Meaning - don't judge them based on hearing them at a dealer.... especially Magnolia/Best Buy. Imagine if you heard the Wilsons at a BestBuy running on an $800 receiver.
BTW, most of the MLs I've heard at dealers sound nothing like their potential... in fact, I wont hide the fact that I find dealers' ML setups sound like crap. Meaning - don't judge them based on hearing them at a dealer.... especially Magnolia/Best Buy. Imagine if you heard the Wilsons at a BestBuy running on an $800 receiver.

So basically you are saying, we shouldn't ever trust hearing them set up by any dealer if we don't like how they sound? So what do we have to do to hear them correctly, buy a pair and have a ML representative come to our homes and set them up for us (we can't have the dealer do it, since you are telling us that most of them don't know how to set them up either and if they can't do it correctly as people that do it for a living, where does that leave us customers...)? Aren't dealers ML trained representatives? Those seem like even greater reasons to stay away from that speaker line to me...

BTW, Magnolia doesn't use the same gear as BestBuy proper, and my Wilsons wouldn't sound bad on a low value receiver (unless it was malfunctioning or too underpowered), I just wouldn't get that extra 3-5% that an all high quality product system would give (assuming the products are high quality and not just overpriced junk)..
dealer's demonstrations are problematical. the best suggestion is to visit several dealers and listen to a spekaer on your short list. if you observe some consistent sonic patterns, maybe you can trust the demonstrations.

if the "sound" varies significantly, you may need to get a home trial. if this is not feasible, you are facing the risk of not liking the speaker when you buy it.

You're meaning to tell me that Tweeter knows how to setup the Summit better than a Summit owner who has spent the last year tweaking the system?

You're telling me that Magnolia is better at setting up MLs when all they do is pile them against the wall along with 5 other speaker pairs?

Come on now, MLs arent sold like your Wilsons where the dealer gets a huge amount of setup training. ML dealers do not go to the buyer's house to set up the speakers, unlike Wilson speakers so that's out of the question.

Bottomline, you can't reliably measure the performance of ML speakers from a dealer's demonstration... they are very finicky, right down to the last component. They can sound utterly dull.. or amazingly superb.
"Those seem like even greater reasons to stay away from that speaker line to me..."

Why? Because of the setup? Set it up right and they sound fantastic, to me atleast. Set them up wrong and they sound lackluster. You of all people should know that by now, imagine how much you spent in your room and the effort that goes into "voicing" your WP8s in your room by the dealer and by you. You didn't just plop them there did you?

Much like the Wilsons or any other hi-end brand. If you set it up wrong, there goes the stage, there goes the timbre, there goes the imaging....

If a speaker's finicky positioning scares you, then don't get it. There's a lot of other brands out there.
at the risk of being labelled an elitist, why is speaker selection so critical if recordings feature mainly amplified instruments ?

i can understand why someone would be concerned about speaker selection if most recordings contained acoustic instruments.

although i own recordings which feature electric keyboards, ppercussion and string instruments, i bass my evaluation of speakers using recordings in which i can evaluate timbre.

what is the reference for an electric guitar, unless you happen to own the electric guitar played on a recording ?
what is the reference for an electric guitar, unless you happen to own the electric guitar played on a recording
Weeell, just because you mentioned the guitar (presumably, as an example), there is some sonic signature re, different brands of guitar & players... In the same vein, what's the sonic signature of a drum sequence and synthi bass???
Hey. I just replaced ML Requests with Aerial 9's.

The MLs can have a really spectacular sound when they are firing on all cylinders. However, I spent 9 years fiddling with the placement and could never nail it, especially when I played a variety of styles of music (a placement that worked w/jazz did not work for Rock, etc) . My room is about the size of yours (15x 22) and I just think they need a much bigger room. I also don't think they are a good rock speaker and don't sound particularly good at high volumes (incredible, however, at low voloumes).

I was nervous about replacing the MLs, but I am glad I did. After listening to newer MLs, Dynaudio, Revel, B&W, Wilson, I got the Aerials. I could not be happier. They work perfectly in my medium size room. Huge soundstage, great imaging, very neutral. Most importantly for me, they sound good with all kinds of music and sound good at both low and high volumes.

The 9s are a little out of your stated price range, but can presently be had on Gon for $5800. Highly recommended and worth a listen along with the others you mentioned.
at the risk of being labelled an elitist, why is speaker selection so critical if recordings feature mainly amplified instruments ?

Hang on...acoustic instruments all sound different too!

How can you judge what is real timbre anymore than with amplified music?

Sabian, for example, hand make cymbals...each one probably sounds different.

Sir Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music had period instruments copied/rebuilt so they could replicate the timbre of the day.

Pavorotti caried throat lozenges in his pocket handkerchief that he used to wipe his brow..surely that affected the sound outcome too

Perhaps the quickest/easiest test for timbre are male and female vocals so may be you have a point about unamplified... but even this is not perfect (I'll grant you that at least we are all skilled at recognizing voices)

So how to decide, for me it is easy. I tend to trust others who have ample opportunity for direct comparisons to "real" sounds.

My rsuggestion would be to audition a pro main monitor that studios use to impress clients with. If clients can be impressed by listening to themselves in a studio (just after a recording session) then the speaker/system must be doing something right in terms of accuracy. There are many speakers to choose from in this category and most are very good over a wide range of music. Although even in this case, microphone selection and placement can do a lot to influence the sound. One Nashville studio claims to have $1 Million invested in microphones alone...go figure!

Or like J. Gordon Holt...he selected a speaker that made his own recordings sound the most like the live event itself.

At the end of the day, I'd suggest that all sounds (amplified or not) must be all weighed and accounted for in the speaker selection. However, something like Sheffield Drum Track is a good starting point; great eliminator disc, as most systems fail that one altogether, and if a speaker can't do transients convincingly then how can any system connected to it begin to even hope to get timbre right...

So my quick check would be Sheffield Drum track followed by all kinds of vocals, and then loads of different instruments.

I will look into the Aerial 9s... if you were impressed with them and you had ML background, it may be something I'd like to audition. Just for kicks. And if they are truly better, well... que sera sera... this is life.

Joey. Don't get me wrong, I love MLs. If I had a bigger room, I would probably still have them.

I am pretty happy with the Aerials though. Definitely worth a listen.
If a speaker's finicky positioning scares you, then don't get it. There's a lot of other brands out there.

You bet it does, and that is why I said "Those seem like even greater reasons to stay away from that speaker line to me...."

Why do I want to waste years hoping I've finally got it right, yet never knowing if I did? That kind of situation just bothers me, and I WILL obsess over it. For me it is very simple... Rives Audio designed my room and gave a central location that would work best for the speakers, then my Wilson dealer came out and found the voicing did actually fall within those areas suggested by Rives Audio. I've even measured the speakers in and around those positions and I'm happy to say that the dealer and Rives Audio nailed it!

I have no idea who sets them up better. The point is, if it takes that much work to set them up, and no one is qualified until they've spent a year with it (like you have), why would I care to torture myself?!?

The Wilsons are not hard to set up, I learned the voicing technique partially before the dealer arrived, and the rest after he got there. I needed help with learning to hear the "swimming voice" sound once you get too far from the closer wall boundary and start getting feedback from the opposite wall. My friend and I found the same relative area as the dealer on our own using the WASP technique. The dealer was actually pretty surprised that we managed to locate the general area on our own. There are actually acoustical correspondances between the areas where the ceiling soffits end and the tray ceiling begins (basically where the greater room volume begins and the smaller part of the room opens up) that correspond with the zone of neutrality. It was a cool experience, because it taught me something about how acoustical space anomalies can correspond to "localization" and "focus."

If I had the money to get a Rives room, it would be much easier to set these up.

It's all about how you approach it, if you find tweaking is a negative, then don't tweak it. You wont get the best sound out of an ML because there is SO MUCH potential there. If you're the type of guy who just leaves well enough alone, not only is ML not ideal for you, but perhaps hi-end audio in general.

Most change components, move things around, add a few room treatments here and there.... I don't know of any audiophile who just leaves it as is from the getgo.

All I'm saying is that there is more than meets the eye with these MLs, and most dealers (not all) are not setting these up right because of lack of dealer training and lack of care. Whether or not you care to "torture" yourself with it is your prerogative, that's not the moral of the story. Now that I've lived with mine for a year, it takes me not any longer than setting up any other speaker... I know what I like and I know how to make my Summits sound good in terms of positioning. Much akin to you and your WP8, I bet you have more insight into how to set up your speakers in a new room if you had to move... moreso than when you first got them.

So please, dont start with the ?!?... I've been on your side on a lot of things, J.

If you're the type of guy who just leaves well enough alone, not only is ML not ideal for you, but perhaps hi-end audio in general.

I'm not the kind of guy who leaves well enough alone, that is exactly the problem... The last thing I need is a speaker that creates even more problems with the setup process. This is the same reason I bought an SME TT. I'm not looking to spend all of my time tweaking, because given the opportunity I will spend ALL of my time tweaking.

I'm moving treatments around the room at this very time funny enough. I took Rives' recommendation to replace the absorption panels with BAD ARCs and I'm moving the extra panels around the room to see if I like the extra absorption. I spent a week locating all of the impulse response reflection spikes with ETF 5 and pieces of fiber board (I found all of them except one, that I believe is on the bookshelf in the back of my room - I'll be working on that as soon as I take care of the others permanently). I'm waiting on regular BAD panels for the ceiling 1st order reflection points.

Worst of all, my obsessiveness with all of this has lead me into studying acoustics and electrical engineering full time, because I end up wanting to tweak my own understanding of all the concepts involved in things I enjoy. I don't do anything half-arsed... I General Contracted my room construction and drove everyone crazy trying to do things perfectly.

So please, dont start with the ?!?... I've been on your side on a lot of things, J.

"Take nothing personally."

That is a good motto to remember when posting online. Perhaps you are misinterpriting the "?!?." All it means to me is emphatic confusion. It doesn't equate with a personal attack on you, it is meant to equate my question with strong confusion (as those speakers would be more work than they would be worth to me).

By and by, they wouldn't work in my room anyway. My room is not designed for electrostatics because their placement is so unconventional compared to many other types of speakers.

I do want to say (or type) though, I hope you are never on my side if you don't think what I am saying/typing is true. That wouldn't be good for anyone.
Understood J.

But I don't think that MLs are alone in the fact that you have to take the time to position them well. Sonus Faber needs them, Quads need them, Magnepans need them, etc.

The last time I was at a dealer for a Sonus Faber demo, he took a laser guide and adjusted the Sonus Faber speakers with it - pointing the laser guide towards a unified point behind our heads at listening position. Then he began to adjust the rake and everything along with it.

This was a dealer who knew how to set up a speaker.

I asked him how he learned. He told me Sumiko makes sure he sets them up right everytime. He also told me he goes to each house and sets them up.

Reminds me of Wilson dealers really.

Then I go to Tweeter... where all they do is line up the Logans along the wall next to other speakers, usually uneven and one corner is usually the door (i.e. open area). Then people wonder why they sound bad.

It doesn't take long to set up MLs right really. I've played with different positions for about a year now and I have figured out what I find best.

Major toe-in, ear level at mid-panel (possible minor rake forward if seat is too short or far), pull away from wall.

That's pretty much my requirement. So you can see, it takes me 3 minutes to set up a newer ML right... and if you see me at a Tweeter or Magnolia. Usually I end up fixing their placement... probably my neurotic side kicking in.

It really doesn't take long to set these up, not any longer than setting up a pair of good speakers. Every good speaker needs time to be set up.

a badly set up electrostatic speaker is usually better than most cone designs, properly set up.

i heard a mg 20, poorly set up at the golden nugget in a small room. as bad as the acoustical environment was, what i heard was superior to any cone design i auditioned before and after hearing the magnepans.

most cone designs give an unsatisfying presentation of instrumental timbre. the best you can do with them is select classic tube gear to cover up the faults of these speakers.

panels rule, don't be a cone fool !
panels rule, don't be a cone fool !

Well I can't fault you on your preference for the famous Quad EL sound but I know of the odd speaker that can comes close to matching the quad in the mid range (not better) and have great bass and dynamics too...
panels rule, don't be a cone fool !

You mean a "cone head?"
I don't think cone head rhymes with "rule".... :).
The meter/rhythm is too off to make that rhyme work. Take it from someone who studied poetry and poetic form.

"Because Panels Rule, and Cones are for fools," works better.

Or, "Panels Rule, Cones drool..."
There was a Tennis player who said
Cone speakers just fill me with dread
Instrumental timbre
In Panels is grander
Now I'm barking from arcing instead
>>panels rule, don't be a cone fool<<

Congrats Mrt.

Not many people can get both feet in their mouth simultaneously with such ease.

Removing them, however, is a challenge.
Apparently Mr T, compression doesn't concern you. As opposed to more realistic dynamic range that is. Bugged the hell out of me. Thats the main reason my Quads are in a closet. Oh, yeh, I forgot Quads don't play loud either. But we all have our own personal set of priorities. None of it sounds real anyway so why not be a 'cone fool'? You can be what ever kind of 'fool' you like.
No Volume? I was wondering why last at years hi-fi the room with those Quad ELS? had a classical piano cd and It was being played being played at a seriously low volume ie almost 'Is It on'?, which surprised me as the seats (except mine, and I felt guilty about sitting down when others seemed a little less able to stand than me) were nearly all older folks, who I am sure needed to have a little more volume to assess the quality of the speakers, I know I would've liked It just a little louder personally, not to blow one out of the room level either. This Is not meant as a dig at the older gentlefolks.
I can't believe we're correcting rhymes now.

Sticks and stones, nothing sounds like horns!!!
Nice attempt at a slant rhyme using assonance Jsadurni! The meter is off though, add a syllable to the first part, or take one out of the second part in order to really bring that slant rhyme to life... ;P