Speaker Recommendations for Soundstage and Imaging

I'm putting together a new system where a large soundstage and holographic imaging are the top two priorities. I'm willing to give up something in other areas (detail, neutrality, dynamics, low bass, etc) to maximize those two properties. My budget for the speakers in this system is $2,000. My understanding is that, generally speaking, large floorstanders more readily offer large soundstages and small mini-monitors more readily offer that precise, holographic imaging. So I realize I'm after two competing but hopefully not mutually exclusive traits in that price range. Now if that wasn't demanding enough, I'd also prefer the compact floorstanding form factor. I'm willing to go standmount monitor but not willing to add a sub. Large floorstanders are out of the question. I'd love to hear the recommendations of the A'gon community. Thanks.
I'd look at the LS35A type of mini monitor. I have the Stirling's, but the Harbeth is also very nice. Definitely will need Sound Anchor type of stands, about 50-100 watts of clean power and a small room. I have mine in a "near field" type of setup with my listening position at the apex of an equilateral triangle. Point the speakers straight ahead, no toe in, get them away from the side walls and rear walls. I prefer the speakers out about 1/3 into the room and the listening position also about 1/3 out from the rear wall. Bass will be enhanced as your listening position gets closer to the back wall, but you will lose some of the imaging and soundstage. Mine are in a room about 18 by 14 feet. The hype is real, there is something special about the LS35A mini monitor. When set up properly, they really can disappear and image way beyond the speaker edges. Just don't expect room rattling bass, ear shattering SPLs and you will be happy. Jazz and vocalists are really nice (try Holly Cole, Cotrane, Ricki Lee Jones etc), although mine will rock and roll when a subwoofer is added. Hope this helps!
Thiel speakers are exceptional in their ability to reproduce a wide, deep, and high soundstage.
This one is an easy recommendation, Decware Model- ERR 1400.00 pair. Check out the Decware website, and they also have a forum where you can talk to other owners of Decware gear.
You will be hard put to beat the LSA1 Statements. Certainly they are better than the LS35s.
Maybe the baby Audio Physics, or perhaps the Von Swenkert 4jrs, used of course.
Only ProAc 1sc's will do what you are looking for. With proper stands, sweet they are. Mooneycj's set up comments are right on but I would add treatment of first reflection points in the room are essential. Be sure to use the 38% rule in their placement.
>>06-21-09: Buconero117
Only ProAc 1sc's will do what you are looking for<<

Amazing that given the permutation of all manufacturers and models, only will 1 speaker will do it.

The OP is fortunate you were reading this thread.
I would check out both Spendor monitor models the S3e's or the S3/5r's I personally prefer the S3e's because they reproduce a fuller midrange. Not much more but it is audible. As far as imaging is concerned you should do some research into role audio products. Go to there website @www.roleaudio.com. Be forewarned that Role speakers need at lease 100 watts of good/clean power to sound at their best But all of Erol Ricketts designs image like crazy.
In your shoes, I'd try to audition one good example each of

a) minimonitor (e.g. ProAc or Fritz)

b) small dipole panel -if size is ok (e.g. a small M-L or Maggie MMG)

c) Omni (Decware or Ohm)

Three different types of imaging so you can figure which you like best. I currently own all 3 types and would personally choose the Ohms, but the matter will come down to personal taste on this one so you should take recommendations with a grain of salt. Once you settle on the preferred design approach, you can start considering your options.


BTW, the Ohms, Decs, MMGs, and Fritz (I believe) are available for money back in-home demo, so you can try this - provided you're willing to re-pack and ship back the "losers".
Spendor,Harbeth, Reference 3a, Usher 718be,Atc
As you can see, there is a box for everyone. I would suggest you venture outside the box and get the Magnepan 1.6 speakers. Once you live with Maggies there is no going back to box world:O)
I just bought a used pair of JM Reynaud Offrande speakers form a (great) guy here on A'gon. The Offrandes are stand mounted speakers and are very sweet and detailed without being analytical. But more importantly, they image better than any other speaker I have ever heard - very wide and very rearward. They do not provide the absolute best holographic imaging, but I have never heard a better "ive" soundstage presentation in my listenting room.

All of the JMR speakers I have heard share this characteristic, but none so well as the (original) Offrande IMHO.
What amps are you going to use and how big is the room?
I would second Martykl and suggest you give the Ohm line a serious look. The pseudo-omni design of the CLS driver throws a huge, enveloping soundstage unique to omnis. And for $1700 plus shipping, you can pick up a pair of new Ohm Walsh 100 series 3's, factory direct with a 120-day in home audition. If you don't like them, you're only out the cost of shipping. I love mine!
Gma europas or current model if u like a wall of sound with great instrument separation
On the used market, the Gallo Reference 3.1 are available in your price range, and the 3.0 are even less. IMHO I think they fit all your criteria.
Thanks for all the suggestions so far. I've started researching some of them. As for the Maggies, I've long been interested in them, but they fail the WAF test in my household.

The listening room for this rig is about 19 x 15. HOWEVER, the speakers will be up pretty close against the wall on the 15 foot side and about 8 feet apart. Listening chair will be about 8-9 feet from the speakers, about halfway into the room. My amp will be an Ayre AX7e.
I cannot understand how anyone could claim planar or long ribbon driver speaker images, but hey to each his own.
Tbg said: I cannot understand how anyone could claim planar or long ribbon driver speaker images, but hey to each his own.

Ever heard a properly setup Apogee planar or hybrid ribbon system? Sounds pretty damned fine, if you ask me.

Insomniac - in my opinion you are never going to realize the best imaging from any speaker placed close to the back wall. Speaker dependant, of course, but as a rule of thumb I would plan for at least 3' in from the wall if you want the best sound resolution from most speakers.
If space is tight suggest front ported design sonus faber have huge waf and they sound amazing concertinos i believe wood n leather italian construction thats amore!
Coincident eclipse, Silverline 1st generation Sonatina's, Cain&Cain Abbeys or other matches for SET tube amplification.. soundstaging and 3d holographic (as opposed to 2d "cookie cutter") imaging are what SET tube amplification will get you. Considering your priorities, I think you'll find that SET friendly (higher sensitivity) speakers matched with a good 300b or other SET amp will make you very happy. Vinyl will close the deal.
I have to agree with br3098 with being at least 3 ft from the back wall;but I don't understand Tbg comments on planars or ribbons as they don't image;I have to disagree on that point.
Maybe a pair of merlin monitors might work for you;there was a pair for 1400.00 a few days ago but I think they may have been sold as I don't see them any more;there are a lot of good suggestions already thou;good luck in your quest.
Listening position: Can you try a different layout - bring the speakers 1/3 of the way (about 6') out into the room, and move your chair back to about about 4' from rear wall?. This way the speakers will have more room for soundstaging, revealing greater depth perception, and any potential floorstanders won't get overly boomy from too much wall/corner interaction.
There's a speaker that exactly meets your requirements--the Thiel 1.6. Thiels are known for spooky-good imaging and soundstages that extend beyond the speakers. The 1.6 is a petite floorstander, a yard tall and a footprint the size of a piece of notebook paper. The port is a slot facing front so there shouldn't be much problem putting it closer to the wall behind, though you WILL lose much of that magic imaging unless you place damping panels on the walls. The price is exactly right too. If the new list price is a little much you should have no trouble scoring a used set under $2K.

For the best imaging, you need a phase-coherent speaker, and the Thiel 1.6 is one of the best in that regard. The acid test for this is the step response, shown on this page of the Stereophile review. It's nearly textbook perfect, and indicates that the sounds from all drivers hit your ears at the same time.

The only caveat with these (and most Thiel) speakers is that the load requires a good high-current amp capable of driving low impedances. The impedance measurements show that it presents a 3-ohm load over much of its operating range.
I like Johnnyb53's suggestion. The Thiel will soundstage like few speakers I know in this price range. You owe it to yourself to listen to them even if you don't buy a pair. (I'm an Epos guy myself). Good luck --- please update us.
and here is a third nod for the thiels johnnyb suggested...
Hey Insomniac99,

Just read your post for the first time and we are having very similar situations. Read my post "replacing Totem One's". Totem Ones have the most amazing soundstage and Imaging that very few others can beat and I have auditioned and owned many others. That is why I bought them.

I was going to recommend the new Totem One's until I heard placement.
Soundstage and Imaging don't really go hand n' hand with close placement to rear walls. However doing some homework and suggestions for my myself (same situation). The three speakers for you to look at are the Guru's, Merlins, B&W 805 and Reynaud Offrande.

I've also changed sound preference to a sweeter tube like sound which very hard to find & costly while at the same time be powerful enough to run the Totems.

Guru's are specifically made to be near a rear wall and have received much praise in the recent reviews, the others are front firing which will help and all have excellent reviews.

The type of speaker you like depends a lot on your choice of sound and gear combo. The proper amp will be an issue, these type of speakers generally like lot's of juice.

Take this with a grain of salt and go audition yourself
I have similar tastes as you and also have an Ayre AX-7e. I'm an imaging freak. I'd recommend looking at speakers with first-order crossovers - Vandersteen, Thiel, and Green Mountain Audio. I really like my GMA Callistos, but I also like the Vandersteen 2 Ce Sig IIs. I have not heard the Thiels. Go with speakers with first order crossovers as this design preserves the time domain integrity of the audio signal, as does the Ayre with a zero-feedback design.
I have a pair of Offrandes, and as I have said befoe they present a wide and very deep soundstage like no other speaker I have ever listened to. But they do need some distance from the rear and side walls to allow them to perform their magic.

My experience with Thiels in general (not the 1.6) is that they need to be waaay out from the wall in order to sound best. Maybe the 1.6 is different.

Rebbi has written extensively about his experiences with Ohm Walsh speakers. My brief experience with the Ohm speakers are that they are a very different sound - but in a good way.

You could also go a compeletely different direction and look at Snell-tyoe speakers like the Audio Note AN-E or the like. They are desiged to be placed right against the rear wall and fairly wide apart. Maybe not a bad choice if you are planning to use an 8W SET amp.

But most speakers, regardless of whether they are front ported or non-ported are going to need some room behind tham in order to sound best.
I second nrenter's suggestion. I also use Green Mountain speakers (Europas) with the Ayre AX7e. Similar room size and sit about 8 ft away. I have found the Green Mountains to be more forgiving with wall placement. Not only are they front or downported but the cabinet design minimizes reflections which seems to help them be a bit more forgiving about placement.
The new Spendor SA1's will give you what you are looking for in both areas -- and in spades! Terrific little speakers that throw a huge soundstage, image precisely, and essentially disappear. Very easy to live with.

I don't post here often, but read quite a bit of this Forum and others, so here is my suggestion, for all of your requirements AND pricing.
The best imaging speakers I got back in 1979 were the Hegeman Model 2's by Hegeman Labs. These were built by Stewart Hegeman of Harmon Kardon fame et al. I still have them, and liked them so much I wanted a new version, current technology etc. That led me to purchase the Morrison Audio Model 11's. Outstanding.
Same basic principles of the 2's but with 30 years of advancement. They won't blow the windows out of your house, but you'll be so blown away with what they do,do, you won't need to.
And yes I have several other pairs of speakers when I feel I need to buy new windows.
But for all the things you're looking for you owe it to yourself to check them out.
Br3098, I have been out-of-town and have failed to respond. Yes, I have heard both Apogee planar or hybrid ribbon systems. I had the first model of the Apogee and have had several models of the Magnepans. I have had arrays of multiple drivers also. I think what bothers me is the interference of long arrays with themselves at various frequencies. They cancel themselves out showing a comb filter effect.

There is no question that a small single driver would yield the best imaging.

I am not saying you don't get imaging with arrays, only not the best imaging. Little two ways will handially beat them.
Also, in the mini-monitor category, Triangle Titus 202s on good stands can meet the bill with little in the way of compromise except perhaps low end bass extension, but a decent sub will remedy that.

Of course I also like the OHMs.

I use both in my systems to very good effect.
06-30-09: Tbg
I am not saying you don't get imaging with arrays, only not the best imaging. Little two ways will handially beat them.
The Thiel 1.6 goes that one better by having a concentric, phase-aligned midrange and tweeter assembly, supplemented by a small woofer nearby, for a true point source for most of the range and a pretty close approximation for the lower frequencies.
Thank you everyone for the recommendations. I've been doing research on many of the suggested models. I think I've narrowed it down to two - the Gallo 3.1 and the Thiel 1.6 - based on my priorities and room characteristics (or limitations). Although one of the Totem column speakers may also enter the mix.
I would have to agree with Dave b above. I've had box speakers for 40+ years. 8 months ago, bought the Magnepan 1.6 speakers and never looked back. They're simply fantastic.
If you want sounstage & imaging you CANT beat a Magnepan 1.6 for under 2k. Nothing's close in that ball park. The 1.6's will make you think the center & rears are on, and I am NOT exaggerating one bit. You would however have to accept its large, yet extremely thin size, and not to use a sub is a HUGE mistake with any speaker, including the 1.6's. If you can do this, you will have exactly what your looking for in a speaker times 10 fold. 3 ft from the front wall isnt hard considering the speakers are under 2 inches thick. I find 34-40 inches to be perfect, not 10ft like some people. They also excell in small rooms, and sound great at nearfield listening. James Tanner (Bryston president) also stated this himself. Dont be affraid to use the high tonal controll on your prepro, and bump it down a db or 2. It does wonders. You can also use a resistor, but in the end I chose to roll them off -2db.
Thanks for all the suggestions so far. I've started researching some of them. As for the Maggies, I've long been interested in them, but they fail the WAF test in my household.The listening room for this rig is about 19 x 15. HOWEVER, the speakers will be up pretty close against the wall on the 15 foot side and about 8 feet apart. Listening chair will be about 8-9 feet from the speakers, about halfway into the room. My amp will be an Ayre AX7e.

PERFECT room for the 1.6's! 3ft from the front wall(same as most speakers & these are only 2 inches thick making it easy). Sitting 8-9ft is ideal. And leaves you a few feet behind you if you wish to pull your chair out for critical listening, so you can avoid rear wall reflections/bass spikes. It also leaves the side walls far away from the speakers(assuming there along the long wall), so they wont cause blur effects to the detail & imaging. Magnepan use the front wall for its required delayed reflections.

After owning top end speakers for years, I had to move to under a 2k speaker myself a few months back. The 1.6's were the only thing I could live with. Everything else sounded small,compact,etc. I still recommend a sub, they can be hid directly behind the speakers, as its just dead space up to 19" or so anyway(where the panel starts).
"and not to use a sub is a HUGE mistake with any speaker, including the 1.6's".

Aw, cmon. Maybe using Maggies without a sub is a mistake, but not using subs with "any speaker"? I don't know why I bother to comment about this. I am sure it is obvious to 99% of us that your statement is simply incorrect.
and not to use a sub is a HUGE mistake with any speaker, including the 1.6's".Aw, cmon. Maybe using Maggies without a sub is a mistake, but not using subs with "any speaker"? I don't know why I bother to comment about this. I am sure it is obvious to 99% of us that your statement is simply incorrect. Fsonicsmith  (Answers

Id love to know what speakers wouldnt benifit from a great sub. Id also love to hear what amp you would buy to power them. The cheapest TRUE full range speaker I know of is the Legacy Focus at $6k. I owned these speakers, and guess what? Adding a sub greatly improved them.
Have to agree with Fsonicsmith, in many cases adding a sub doesn't improve the performance of the system - though it may give you more bottom end sound.

It is very difficult to successfully combine/integrate a sub with many speakers, there is a lot more to it than just adding a completely seperated octave or 3.

There are a lot of bad subs on the market for true high performance two channel listening, though there are a ton for HT performance (that suck in 2-channel).

Integrating a sub to a pair of speakers is extremely difficult and the comment that just putting a sub in a pre-determined "dead" space conveys the lack of understanding of what it takes to properly implement subs.

I say this from experience owning several different subs and brands (REL, B&W, Velo, Wilson, Totem, etc. . .) and many different speakers (Wilson 3 models, VonS, Totem 3 models, Thiel, MLogan 2 models, B&W 3 models . . .).

While I am not saying subs are a bad idea, I am saying that they are not and should not be an automatic. When they are used, expect to pay easily the price the OP has listed for his pair of speakers and plan to spend many hard listening days, lots of moving the sub, lots of adjustment to gets things to be as good as possible/right.
mbl done right may be the best. OHM can challenge perhaps for much lower cost.
Mapman is right on...mbl has the absolute best imaging and soundstage I've ever heard. I run the Mirage OMD-28, which has amazing soundstage, but does not have the lazer focus you desire.

For your needs, check out the Gallo Reference Stradas. They are in your range, offer tremendous soundstage and imaging, no crossover so phase coherent, and sound best when within a foot of the wall. Might be a good fit, and 6moons has a good review of them. I'm listening to my Adivas in the office at the moment, and they are amazing speakers. I'm going with the Stradas for my winter system.

They definitely need a sub. :-)
MBL and other omnidirectional speakers can present huge sound stages. I have spent a fair amount of time with the mbl and would agree completely with mapman's comments as to the overall stage size.

It should be noted though that this is definately a different type of sound stage than most are accustomed to. With this huge and encompassing stage, my experience is that the focus is handled in a much different sense.

So it is an issue of do you want a huge encompassing stage (very appealing) at the expense of focus (ie. seeing/hearing a hard physical location of a specific performer clearly delineated in space). This of course is a personal preference. I love the sound of mbls, but miss the focus of other "good imaging" speakers that present a possibly less enveloping stage but give better (more precise) focus of the individual elements. I am not familiar with the Ohms!

Some would say and I partially agree that when properly set up, the Logans give you a good combination of stage and focus (I have owned logans and agree to some point with this).

I find Wilsons give you a pretty good total overall stage envelopment and very good focus. I know a lot of people claim to not like Wilsons and this is not a straight out plug for them, just a general comment on soundstaging, imaging, focus, etc. . .
The focus of the mbl 111s I heard was exceptional I thought within a wide and deep soundstage. The deep soundstage was at least partly due to the room these were set up in which had a good 12-15 feet of space behind them. With the large ensemble classical pieces I heard (especially sourced from RTR master tape), the individual players were for the most part clearly located within the 3D soundstage much as if they were compressed into that space in front of me.

I've also heard the same mbl 111s set up at a show in a good sized room but with only 5 feet or so of space behind them. The results were still good but more back with the pack in comparison to other very good imaging speakers I have heard.

So, if you have the right room at least, the mbls are absolute top notch imagers in my opinion. Then again, other speakers may also do very well when set up in a manner where they have similarly plentiful room to breathe.
Have to agree, as usual, with Mapman. It's tough to hear the MBL's set up correctly, but done so, they're invisible and wonderful--the best speaker I've ever heard.
The omni thing involves the room (as do all, but usually, less so) so the envronment, usually at show's when I've heard them, is suspect. Not great in Munich a couple of years ago-but remarkable at other venues.
Go MBL for staging AND tonal excellence.
Have not heard the mbl's but i am sure mapman is correct. i agree with ckoffend's post. i owned Mirage M5s and set up properly they threw a great stage. Lots of depth. And great placement of instruments.

Now i've got a pair of Audio Physic Steps with a REL and they throw an excellent stage also. Depth and width outside of the speakers and focus.

The sound stage is different though with the APs than the Mirage. The stage seems a bit more immediate with the APs. Less so with the Mirage. Not a better or worse difference, just a different presentation.
Corazon, Maybe your last paragraph explains the differences in sense of staging/imaging/focus better than I could, and much more economically (wordwise).

Mapman, I have not had many chances to audition or hear speakers with 12-15 feet behind them (a few times with big horn systems). That must have been and certainly sounds like it was a great experience and peformance.

Maybe if I put my kids up for adoption and knocked down some walls that would be a feasible approach!