Speaker upgrade for classical music


Hi, I need recommendations for a speaker upgrade. I’m a classical violinist and listen almost exclusively to classical, opera and jazz. No movies, Atmos, etc.  I have a 17x14 listening room (doubles as practice room) with acoustical treatments (phase coherent diffusers at main reflection points and regular ones elsewhere).
Half my listening is in stereo and half in multi-channel (4.0 and 5.1).   All my recordings are either CDs or high-res—DSD and FLAC—audio files. I don’t have a turntable. 

My current system: Marantz SR 8012 amp, Yamaha S1000 CD transport, Exasound e38 DAC and Sigma streamer (connected to the Marantz with analog 5.0 inputs). Speakers: Polk Rti A7 stereo, CSi A6 center, Rti A3 surround, and dual REL T/7i subs. 
What I want: speakers with improved musical detail and clarity that really reproduces the expansiveness of the symphony hall or church. I like a warmer sound than a drier one.  What’s most important to me is to hear what the recording engineer heard. Budget: say 8k or less.

Recommendations?  One other thing: Can I try them out?  And how?  I’m in Santa Fe, not a huge metropolis with lots of audiophile shops. 
Thanks very much. 
Ag insider logo xs@2xssmaudio
What is your budget?  If you don't provide that then you are going to get a hundred different suggestions all across the board.  
big spendors (d9)
new/current spatials
upper proacs
big harbeths
upper vandys

have fun, good luck

there are certainly others out there that can fill the bill too, but i can personally vouch for these
Who put together your system?  That looks like $7k worth of front end gear (and avr / surround sound??) pushing $300 speakers, ouch.


+1 on Harbeth's. I hear skin of drums which are absent on megabuck speakers!
Budget of $8K was mentioned. Not sure I’d spend that much on speakers without upgrading from your Marantz receiver. If the Marantz must stay then I’d suggest Magnepans since your Marantz is probably on the warmer side and you already have the subs. The 1.7’s are probably plenty big for your room and you’ll save a lot of money, or spend some of the cash to upgrade to warmer cables along with. If you play real loud the Maggie’s might not be your best choice although I think they play plenty loud for my ears.
Fritz bespoke speakers is right in your strike zone.
Regarding the Marantz. I just happened to have it left over from the living room, and since it has analog in, thought I’d use it.  No one put my system together, just used spare parts. 
I‘m willing to move from the Marantz, maybe suggestions for amp + speakers <= $10k?
The original Quad ESL “57” was exquisite listening to Menuhin playing the Beethoven concerto but didn’t do loud and the tone changed when I moved my head. A more modern electrostatic may be worth an audition.
Used Thiel CS series, highly detailed and coherent but not made any more, they need current, see Thiel owners thread. 
BBC monitors now made by Graham (Chartwell) Audio, designed by the BBC engineers to monitor their broadcasts before Rock music existed and still very good at their job.
A pair of whichever ATCs fit your budget seems like a good solution.
Hi ssm,

I’d like to comment about one of the characteristics you mentioned:

"What I want: speakers... that really reproduce the expansiveness of the symphony hall or church."

In home audio there is a competition between the acoustic signature of the venue (which is on the recording) and the acoustic signature of the playback room. In most home audio systems, the "small room signature" of the playback room dominates.

Imo we can look to what works well in the concert hall for inspiration. Quoting acoustician David Griesinger:

"Envelopment is the holy grail of concert hall design. When reproducing sound in small spaces [home listening rooms], envelopment is often absent."

"Envelopment is perceived when the ear and brain can detect TWO separate streams: A foreground stream of direct sound, and a background stream of reverberation. Both streams must be present if sound is perceived as enveloping."

Implied by the TWO STREAMS paradigm is a time gap in between the direct sound and the strong onset of reflections. This is desirable in the concert hall AND in home audio, though the timescales are less in home audio because the reflection path lengths are shorter. How long of a time gap is adequate? Griesinger again:

"Transients are not corrupted by reflections if the room is large enough - and 10ms of reflections free time is enough."

We can get the 10 milliseconds of reflections-free time (in the horizontal plane at least) in a room the size of yours by using speakers which are directional enough to avoid putting much energy into the same-side-wall early reflections. But we also need to have a significant amount of energy in the subsequent background stream of reverberation. There are several possible ways of accomplishing this, one of which is to use a multichannel system.

Recall that there is a "competition" between the venue cues on the recording and the small-room signature of the playback room. It is the EARLIEST reflections which are the most responsible for small-room signature (though decay time can also play a role). By minimizing the energy in the early reflections, and having plenty of spectrally-correct energy in late-arriving reflections, and using diffusion instead of absorption (kudos for your use of diffusion!), we can use these later-arriving reflections to effectively present the venue cues on the recording. And when the venue cues on the recording dominate over the playback room’s inherent small-room signature, if it’s a good recording, we have envelopment.

So envelopment is elusive in home audio, but can be accomplished by applying the principles that work well in the concert hall, which usually calls for some creativity (unless the playback room is very large). Envelopment isn’t the ONLY thing that matters of course, but it can be borderline transcendental when it happens.

I can go into some specifics if you’d like. Doing so would involve describing things that I’m commercially involved with.

Best of luck with your quest!

Duke
Get Harbeth. I listen exclusively to classical.  The sound of strings, woodwinds, and human voices sound perfect on the 40.2. It’s so good that I’m not worried about upgrading my speakers anymore. The 30.2 are also excellent, especially in a small room setting.

Four recommendations.
If you can swing it, Harbeth 40.2.  The regular 40.2 model is now superseded by the Anniversary edition and the 40.3 XD, but the real difference in performance is minimal.  Which means that the 40.2 becomes more affordable, if you can find a NOS, NIB, demo, or gently used example.

Otherwise:
A Spendor from the Classic series, starting with the Classic 100.  I cannot recommend the D series.
Vienna Acoustics Liszt.  This would work very well for you.
One of the models from Fritz, combined with those two REL subs.

Auditioning.  This was difficult before the pandemic.  Do you travel for work?  The options are limited.  I can't think of anywhere that does home auditions on the brands/models I recommend.  So you're reduced to audio shows (none currently being held) and audio tourism, visiting shops (if open) in big cities when you pass through.
MAGICO,ROCKPORT OR VIMBERG ASAP!!
If you don’t mind getting used, give Alta-Audio Celesta FRM-2 (or the newer FRM-2M) a listen. Most amazing speakers I’d heard with string instruments & classical music. Truly a heaven matched. Also seem to be great fit for your room size. And use remaining budget to upgrade your amp. The speakers deserve/need quality power.

https://www.audiophilia.com/reviews/2018/7/25/my-new-reference-loudspeakeralta-audio-celesta-frm-2
I play trumpet in an orchestra (although I sometimes slum in Big Bands 😎🎺).

The speakers that I have are Martin Logan Spires. They deliver what you are looking for.

I power them with either solid state or tube monoblocks.

My s/s monoblocks are Soundcraftsmen PM860’s from the early 80’s. They put out 900 W at 4 ohms. They can be found for under $600.

My tube monoblocks are Golden Tube Audio SE-40’s from the early 90’s. They put out 75 W. I completely rebuilt these so I wouldn’t recommend them unless you can find ones that have been.

Both amps sound musical but different. The s/s amps have a lot more punch.

Your Marantz is perfectly capable of driving MLs.


I thought of a fifth recommendation.  The Graham Audio LS 5/9f.

Read this (for once) accurate review of the speaker, and see if it doesn't hit your desiderata.
https://www.theabsolutesound.com/articles/graham-audio-ls5-9f-loudspeaker
Maggies!! for the money AMAZING. I can't believe I don't own a pair.
Thanks for all the recommendations! This is fabulous. As you can tell, I’m new at this.
I did read the LS/9f review. (Can my Marantz power It?) It sounds very interesting. I’ll read about the other recommendations next.

Question: One reason I have the Marantz is so that I can listen to multi channel. If I wanted to replace it, what should I do for multi channel recordings? (The Marantz does have pre-outs.)


Ssmaudio have you come across with Tekton speakers, with your budget you can buy the Tekton Encore but it’s a long wait.
General, not specific recommendation.

1, Make high efficiency, sensitivity 90 db or above a strong factor, will keep the power needs/cost down for any future amp.

2. Efficient speakers then keep you in the more affordable power range of 25-30-35 wpc tube amps, less money, less heat, less weight, less location restrictions.

3. Consider two systems, tube amp for 2 channel listening; 5.1 amp for surround listening.

I used to compare/demo 3 systems for myself and friends: mono tubes; tube receiver; SS.

I put a permanent 4 foot run from my speakers to female banana that I can lift and reach standing up, then drop down behind the speakers. Select from 3 color coded speaker wires.

Nice WBT connectors.

http://www.wbtusa.com/pages/products.html

Of course purists don’t like extra anything in a signal path, but I don’t believe in being limited by imperatives when I cannot hear differences.


"Music Style Specific" speakers should be avoided, or at least the idea of such should be ignored as ANY good speaker will reproduce whatever you put into it regardless of music genre. Great for classical will be great for Death Metal, Jazz, or Mumblecore (although I'm not sure what that is). The key things are range, coherency, and efficiency. I've heard some amazingly dynamic sound come out of a pair of LS3/5a little speakers, and some delicate stuff from gigantic horns...
I'll get heat for this, I know, but this fellow fiddler gets a kick out of the tone gotten from his Nola Boxers.  They certainly don't deliver true under-the-ear intensity, but that's actually a blessing.  It's more of a three-to ten feet away sensibility.
I have thousands of records and CD ’s of Classical Music and have
been to over 2,000 live concerts mostly of the great German Orchestras in Berlin and Leipzig, home of Bach . The rest mostly the Minnesota Or.and the St Paul CO . both world class or very close to it .
It is not true that a good speaker will play anything . MANY are voiced for rock as that is by far the greatest market.
A pro Classical string artist needs above all TONE . Followed by dynamics .

The most reliable brands for that I have owned and heard are Totem out of Montreal , and Spendor out of England , which makes it cost more.I would call Totem , they will talk to and tell you what they have is best for
you with you room etc and they are honest with good service . The two Totems I  own are far better that the2 Polk’s I have owned and ditto for maggies. If you get what they sell at over 20K .........


P.S . Effiicenty and Tone seldom go together .

My ps12 tekton which is half the MOAB can play any music I throw at them.i like the tone of this speakers though not as good as my Andra and my Technic SB700 monitors.The ps 12 are very capable speakers.
I read the other posts better.
I agree with the Alta Audio speakers , they are very good BUT not made
in US and rare , if you have a priblem......Fritz speakers are excellent but last time I looked only small monitors.
I would have to hear the soundstage Classical needs and you want .
The Totem Forest Signature is the must musical Speaker  I have heard with spatiality and the attact/delay
a real orchestra has.  Not a large speaker but your sub can handle lowest octave . It's a hot-rod version of the plain
version Forest which are 3 K . Forgot what The Sig version costs but not a huge amount .
I would have bought one but in your 80's and no one to give it to would be foolish.My  Signature One Totem Monitor can handle Bach perfectly  in a 15x13 room .





.Sounders Amps are powerful and dynamic .IF the Marantz you have is a receiver , you need to lose it .
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No contest. Magnepan 3.7i's. You already have the two subs to put under them. These speakers will give you a much more realistic sound stage. Instruments will appear their normal size and not a micro version of themselves. Violins in particular will sound much more realistic. As you improve your electronics the differences and improvements will stand out. The only speakers better are ESLs and some horns but for way more money. The 3.7i's are an amazing value. There are 6 figure speakers that can not compete. You will never look at another sardine can again. 
Happy to recommend Vienna Acoustics.   I understand they have different price points.   As a classical music lover myself, we couldn’t be happier.  We managed to find their top of the line speakers available as a demo, and so we upgraded from our initial Vienna’s.

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Yes, Alta Audio is far too rare to spot in the used market. Thou I believe they are US made, has I mistaken?
I heard them twice in audio shows and always amazed me... as well as everyone else in the room as well.
+1 for the maggie's as well

I recently purchased a lovely pair of Spendor SP2/3E https://photos.app.goo.gl/GvQNGBZki9nouPgCAhttp:// 
 2nd movement, Beethoven Symphony No 7. Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra / Carlos Kleiber sounds stunning!

Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat major, Op. 73 'Emperor', Glenn Gould, American Symphony Orchestra, Leopold Stokowski has lovely sound stage and reberb.

Spendors are not a well know in North America as Harbeth, so used tend to go for less. 

I put my old brain in gear and found a review on the Totem Forest
that is SPOT on ! I have no idea who the guy is
but he does but he does have a Canadian accent .

Nothing personal on anyone .But a classical player hears different from you or a listener that has been to a thousand concerts .
This guy does not play them , digital on You Tube to start with .

https://youtu.be/xNSQInRlTck?t=1
What I have heard off any maggy does not seem like a concert  hall .But we all do not hear the same.
As much as I have enjoyed Magnepans in the past, they have several limitations for the OP.

For one, they are very demanding of amplification. This has been documented ad nauseum so I won’t get into that.

More critically, they inflate the image and are not what I hear in a concert hall. In my dedicated audio room, even set up ideally with room treatments, they were limited in this regard.

My Tekton DI’s recreate a much more precise and realistic recreation of a concert hall. Instrument location, depth, instrument size are all much more accurate. One can debate what accounts for this--wave launch, back wave interference, among others.

Right now I am listening to an old CD, An English Christmas, performed in Westminster Cathedral. Choir, brass, thundering organ. Magnificent! (My DI’s are augmented by a pair of subs)

I have had the pleasure on hearing music in that cathedral, among others. My current system transports me back to that place and brings a smile to my face.

Best wishes on your search.

P.S.--virtuoso violin performances have sounded great on the DI’s.
Harbeth 40.2
Harbeth 30.1 or 30.2
Maggies with REL subs
Spatial Audio M3
A playing review from the Totem one step below the
forest from a classical music freak!
https://youtu.be/GyC6OcG5DC4?t=4
The young man speaks the truth and nothing but the truth !

And if they selling the Forest in Italy you can be Sure they are top.
https://youtu.be/MpoIyL5hV_E?t=4


And a fantastic salute to the Canadian speaker industry in general .



https://youtu.be/2vCJ-pO3BlI
I hear you literally, as a former classical musician myself I looked long and hard before settling on Bowers & Wilkins speakers up to my current Nautilus 805s.  I just listened to the new Anniversary series stand mount 607s and was AWESTRUCK.  And they're under $1000 a pair plus about 200 for the stands I think. If you've got budget you could look at the 700 or 800 series and/or towers, but honestly I'm not sure they're vastly superior unless you also intend to upgrade your sources at some point.  Good luck

NUJonathan
I can't believe no one has mentioned Tannoy speakers, but after a large amount of time on this planet (73 years), most of it has been spent listening to Tannoys. I can't recommend them highly enough. They sound (and look), extremely well with just about any music.

I got my first pair in 1971, and I still use them happily today. They work very well in my multi-channel system, where KEFs are used for center and surrounds, they work well, as they are also Dual-Concentric in design.

Try to hear a few Tannoys. I think you will be glad you made the effort.

Best regards, and good luck,
Dan
Harbeth for sure. Avoid any suggestions for ribbon or unusual tweeters (like Tekton). You’ll want super smooth treble. The M40.2 are the best I’ve heard in this price range, and I play in an orchestra.
OMG !!! https://youtu.be/fAONAurSySg?t=2


They are selling Hawks in VIETNAM , never saw any in my two years there.
Speakers are not set up right .

Dan ,being 85 years on this planet I second you on Tannoy .I thought on saying something about it but he is a long way from a dealer and the last time I looked the better ones were a lot of money.Some of the people who left Tannoy when they went Chinese are building them in Scotland under a name that starts with F and getting
great reviews .I was a KEF man fior twenty years , the problem I hear with their drivers cut off without any delay which is not cool with Classical .Could be just me of course , but I hear it with Totem Forests .


Regarding the Tannoys and KEF for center/surround combination: how did you decide that KEF would be a good complement?  Curious, since I’m trying to figure out what to look for to pair main speakers with the surrounds. Thanks!
Magnepans 1.7i or the 3.7i if your room is big enough for 3.7i’s with a Parasound A21+ will be hard to beat for the money. For a preamp look at the Schitt Freya+. With the 1.7i’s you can probably do it all with some Canare speaker cable in your original budget and be a killer system with your subs.
Call Truewill Mashburn at Lucky Dog HiFi. He is local, really knows
his stuff, and is committed to good outcomes. 
Hard truth is that your amps, DACs, power supply chain matters if you want that realism in your room. For instance, you want a natural sounding “analog-ish” DAC like the holo audio may ($4k+). Focusing on speakers alone is a recipe for disappointment.  Everything matters for the sound.
I would recommend a pair of used Vienna Acoustic Liszt speakers.  I have them, listened to probably 15 different speakers before I bought them.  I listen to rock, classical, jazz and roots music.  Mostly classical and jazz.  Some really like the Harbeth speakers but I find them too creamy and recessed in the upper ranges.  Other speakers just saw my ears off in the upper frequencies especially violin.  They will reward you with good electronics.  Subs probably not needed.  I really didn't care for the lower level Vienna speakers, just my two cents on what I hear.

Probably obvious, but I live in the Midwest and have always found Gestalt HiFi in Santa Fe more than helpful.  I have even purchased a few items from them.  Great customer service and knowledgable.  And in your state at least
At your budget I'd go with KEFs. If you don't need deep bass (looks like you don't need it for classic music) - try to hear KEF reference 1 (standmounts, 3way),  if you want something still detailed and more bassy (for jazz)- KEF R7, R11

Magnepans or Harbeth. I am a classical cellist and an audio enthusiast since the late '50's. I've owned many speaker systems. The finest loudspeaker ever conceived was the Goodman's AXIOM 80. Unfortunately, they are a memory from the past. I imagine a handful of people around the world still own them. I seriously doubt that any real audio electronics professional has ever designed a system great around these fine drivers. I heard a demo at the Hi-Fi show in Chicago in 1958. The AMPEX suite was demoing their 3 track professional recorder, using 3 speaker system channels built around a quad of Axiom 80's per channel. To this day I remember that demo. The sound was more realistic than any system man has conceived to this day. 

All that being said I feel the closest you will ever come with modern electronics, are the two speakers I mentioned above. They are speakers you can built a system upon and never want for different speakers. Better electronics will bring you closer to audio nirvana. The only thing you might is an REL sub.