Wow, in this price range you have literally hundreds of choices. Personally I would take Theil 2.3's over the B&W's and Aerial's. Tough call though.......so many to choose from.
16 responses Add your response
Hi, I've interpreted your question as a "system building" question and assume that your friend does not have any of the associated equipment that he will be needing (since the speakers are only $2K - $3K of the $10K total).
I'd suggest first that you work with him to identify his sonic preferences through brief experimentation/listening sessions with your system, with the systems of audiophile friends, and/or by spending some browsing time in high-end audio shops (but be very clear and honest with the sales reps that you are "just browsing" - this is how everyone starts out, and most decent high-end shops will understand your need to listen and learn so long as you don't consume TOO TOO much of their time with questions).
There are millions of ways to invest $10K, some of which will lead to immense listening pleasure, and others (many others) of which will not. Consider the following:
1. Your friend's listening preferences in terms of music (which you're begun to identify) and tonal signature (a different thing - "neutral" or "warm" or "detailed" etc). Have him listen to several different kinds of speaker designs (dynamic, ribbon/electrostat, horns if you can find them) and also consider the differences between solid state versus tube amps.
2. Will he consider an analog setup, or is he strictly a CD guy with his 70s and 80s classic rock? (BTW, these were generally the WORST recorded CDs because it was early in the digital days - back when it was cool to "sound digital" - but Steely Dan is a noted exception and bravo to your friend's preference in this regard). If analog is in the picture, this will obviously lead to all kinds of other questions/issues.
3. What will his listening environment be like? Even the most wisely invested $10K in equipment will not "knock him out" until the room acoustics are properly dealth with and some of your budget should be allocated to this important factor (perhaps as much as 10% or $1K of your budget, but there are a lot of excellent DIY projects that could save money here).
4. In the "listening environment" category, I'd also consider the possibility of running dedicated 20 amp lines which is another cost consideration, but will save money by eliminating the need for expensive line conditioners (which would only be needed for surge protection once you've run dedicated lines and used audio-grade outlets).
5. The next issue is how to allocate his budget (assuming he wants only 2-channel and not HT). Source(s); amp, preamp (or intgreated); speakers; wires and interconnects; line conditioning (or dedicated lines); room treatments; audio rack; headphones*; and MUSIC**!!!
* Yes, headphones! I'd suggest investing in a good pair such as Sennheiser HD600 or a top-end pair of Grados, or even a pair of Etymotic ER4S earbuds with an appropriate headphone amp. A complete setup can be had for $500 to $1,000 depending on which way you want to go, and to my way of thinking, this should be considered somewhere in your $10K budget FOR SURE!!!
** The part about MUSIC!!! was a bit tongue in cheek because I assume the $10K is his equipment budget. Yet, many Audiogon members would suggest investing in a $5K system and spending the other $5K on music so that he can listen and learn and then begin to upgrade over time as he better defines what he's looking for. Although you say that he's not an audiophile, this is not a foregone conclusion!!! A great $10K system that is designed specifically for his musical preferences will quickly change his way of thinking.
Finally, my speaker suggestions! Ooops, does he want full range floor standers (assume so based on your B&W 802 and Aerial 10T thoughts) or will he consider monitors? Does he want a sub (assume not)? For floorstanders, I believe that a true hidden gem are the Newform Research R645s (ribbon/hybrid design) which can be had for $2,265 new and deivered. For monitors, a used pair of Talon Peregrines complete with Sound Anchor stands would be well within your budget. Both of these speakers do nearly everything well without leaving a distinct sonic signature or adding significant coloration to the musical presentation - which is what I like and why I've bought them - but we're all different. Another one to consider would be the Intersound Isis electrostats which I believe represent a tremendous value.
If all you really wanted was speaker recomendations, you can find tons of advice on "value for the dollar" speaker shopping be seaching the archives here on Audiogon. Good luck and have fun.
Nice essay, Wayne. I sometimes wonder if this kind of project is practically feasible or even advisable. I can't imagine my own system being handed to me by a third party I'd given carte blanche to. It almost seems like an oxymoron for a self-described non-audiophile to have an audiophile system. Does such a thing really work out well? To me, the process is as much a part of the experience as is listening to the end product. Anyone with the resources to do so can drop 10K on a system, and anyone who likes music can enjoy good sound, but does that automatically mean all such people will benefit commensurately from buying an audiophile system? Can one who has not, through their own desire, eductated themselves over a period of time about all the aspects of sound and gear that go into becoming an audiophile really appreciate and feel comfortable with a system that goes so far beyond, and costs so much more than, the normal utilitarian sort?
It seems like this should be possible on a purely sonic basis, but my own experience selling hi-fi in the past tells me it is not always so. I can remember some customers, genuine music lovers with ample means and tastes to match, who wanted something above the ordinary and who I did my best to accommodate with sensitivity. But even in cases with a budget half that being discussed here (this was almost 10 years ago), difficulties immediately and inevitably arose. Such a person is almost totally at a loss to feel qualified contributing their input to the selection process, and will basically beg you to make all their decisions for them - yet feel visibly bad about doing so. They don't, on a fundamental level, understand why they are doing what they are doing, or what is being done for them. You of course will try to educate them and demonstrate for them, but they are not ready for it all. Not being intimately and authoritatively involved in decision-making, doubt begins to set in almost from the beginning, no matter how determined and ready to hand over control (and their wallets) they were coming in the door. This leads to anxiety, and ultimately at times, to anger and despair.
When the system is installed, there are always conflicts that come up between the way it should be set up and lifestyle issues. There are always problems just simply using the system, no matter how non-tweaky. There is always disappointment with the cost/benefit ratio of the resultant sound, since they aren't able to truly judge the improvement over what they had, but also aren't willing to let you optimize the setup of the new system. They worry that they spent too much, but then worry that they didn't spend enough to get 'the best'. They do things like want the most impressive-looking speakers instead of the best-sounding for the money, so that what you recommend instead becomes a compromise to them right off the bat; then they turn around and argue not to waste their money on silly things like non-cheap cables. Whether or not you prevail, they still suspect some kind of rip-off, which is understandable if they either can't hear the differences or form a confident opinion of them if they can.
I never blamed these customers for anything they felt. Whether they had a friend helping them out or not, in the final analysis, I almost without exception found them to be at root dissatisfied with what they had done at the end of the day. It was like helping your grandmother to buy a Porsche instead of a Buick. The customer didn't consider themselves to be a 'Buick person', but couldn't get the most out of the Porsche. I tend to think an audiophile system is a destination that is best arrived at through step-by-step learning and growing over time, with the impetus and responsibility coming from within. By definition, anyone who hands control to a third party doesn't want to acquire the knowledge or expend the effort themselves. But as in most aspects of life, it is just these things which determine ultimate value to an individual.
In my life, I have known people like my father, as knowledgable a guy about music as any non-musician I have known, and who always owned quality gear like McIntosh, but who wasn't an audiophile and just couldn't follow or hear when I would eagerly try to demonstrate some new improvement in my system, or a change I might make in his. I have known people with lots of money who went down to the local high end shop and dropped a bundle for status reasons, without being an audiophile, and their acquisition quickly devolved into an expensive white elephant just taking up space.
It is not my intent to be a downer and suggest that Peter's friend will never be happy - only to advise caution, as I'm sure your friendship is more important to you than the sound of his system. But IMO, if he is really not intent on becoming an audiophile, then he should save a lot of money and not try to own the system of one, a fraction of the proposed budget sufficing for him to enjoy his music. Why not see if you can help to start with a system the total cost of which equals roughly the amount you are thinking allocating to speakers alone? He could well be more pleased in the long run, and if he decides he wants to go down the audiophile path, he can build from there.
I agree with Zaikesman... More than half the fun in this hobby is in the travel to sonic greatness. Get him started and then he can move up by himself. He will enjoy the system much more that way. I would get him looking at the Audiogon Forums and the Virtual systems to get him learning about how components interact.
Thanks so far for all the posts. To answer some questions, I have known my friend Bill for 40 years, we are very close. When he heard my system which is still on the move daily, he asked me for some assistance. So I posted to get some ideas. Bill is using a Panasonic Techniques receiver, the same one since we were in 7th grade. He will never spend time on this stuff or play around with cables, etc., other things in his life are mcuh more important. He just wants a better system with better sound. Some persons who posted missed some of my basic information about the need to play loud. I know Bill, he knows me, we have similiar tastes in music, mine is more extended into Jazz (Miles) and female vocals and classical since my wife also has my musical taste. Bill already has a dedicated room for music just no system. I want to get him started with some good sound companies and equipment, and not get into to much in the way of tweaks. Good cables, power cords, etc. will also be included.
Hope this is more of a help. And all comments are very much appreciated.
Sounds like you're in an interesting possition.
Well I'm very familiar with all the speakers recomended here. And I can mostly say that the majority of these speakers are not all that strongly dynamically overall! Yeah they're ok, but play rock through em at good levels, and you'll find they can't kick out the emotion and dynamic transparancy you'll find even in the Pro audio cicuit!
There's a few schools of thought here(even comming from an audiophiles perspective, of which I'm one)....First, if your buddy isn't really a died-in-the-wool audiophile tweek, then you might be trying to get him into what YOU CONSIDER a very high end sounding and refined sound, that he may or may not ultimatley care about as much as you!!! yeah a lot of us are into finding sonic VALHALLA for our own tastes in sonic purity, but is he that same way? You might want to find that out. Infact, I find that MOST ALL of the audiophiles I run into, have systems that ultimatley are not strong enough to do rock so well, and do better with less demanding material. If he likes the clear and refined sound you're getting from your system(?), then he may be in for some more upscale stuff. However, a balance may be in order.
A lot of the high end speakers out there, I've found time and time again, just really aren't all that well suited for rock and roll or heavy dynamic stuff, yes. They ALL SOUND A BIT POLITE AND WEAK SOUDING ultimately! If you doubt this, just take your buddy to this up coming CES show in Las Vegas in Jan, go to any high end audio room, and ask em to put on some heavy Rock and Roll at a good level through their speakers!!!!...see what happens!! First, everyone will run for the door in embarasement, as most audiophiles have ROCK FOBIA who are into the high end. They mostly crave Dianna Krall, Ella, and Pawn shop!!!...yes it's true.
Infact,Legend has it that one rather "TROUBLED" ex-Stereophile reviewer, named Corey Greenberg, was well known to have been the talk of much "UNEASINESS" at "shows". It seems Corey had the propensity for going to different demo rooms to demo speakers, with AC/DC or "talica" in hand, and used to have them CRANK UP THE VOLUME to see what their speakers could do!!!!...you can immagine how well he was received by the manufacturers! (I love it!!!).
Anyway, rock is not always what comes to mind in high end speakers. Infact, a lot of Pro audio stuff is better suited to do what you want from a rock music and such sadely. And basically, you'll find the line of speakers that proceeds from the aduiophile breed is rather delicate an polite...NOT ROCKS FINEST HOUR FOR DEMO PURPOSES I SUGGEST!
But fear not. If he really likes loud rock and such, and he's interested in the more refined sound to go with it, he'll at least need to BIAMP some of the speakers mentioned in the above posts! He'll need all the help he can get dynamically in a speaker. So biamping the likes of B&W 800 series(Matrix or nautilus), NHT 3.3's, Hales Transcendence 5's or above, Dunlavy SCIV's or higher, Martin Logan SL3's or better(if you'r into "stats"), etc.
Biamping any and all of these speakers I just named will give him plenty of kick, dynamics, and pace, as well as audiphile high end refinement, clarity, and adequate detail for his needs I suspect! If you go with some Thiel 2.3's, Ariel 10 T-s, "Vandies", "Maggies", whatever, you'll be rather dissapointed with your Rock and heavy pop! The sound will be a bit ANEMIC!...if just clear and pretty!
Another approach for you to consider would be to find him some more high end and refined POWERED speakers! Using something like NHT VT3's or Infinity Prelud MTS towers, at like $3-4K used respectively, will yield PLENTY OF AUDIOPHILE REFINEMENT for his purposes, and will have VERY VERY GOOD DYNAMICS AND SLAM FOR ROCK AND SUCH!
both of those speaekrs have built in 500-800 watt powered subwoofers, which will sound infinitly more powerful than what's coming out of a standard passive speaker!(although biamping helps those somewhat). These speakers are both borderline class A rated, and will DEMOLISH most everything else in Class A dyanamically!
Other considerations might be totally ACTIVE POWERED speakers, such as are made by ATC or PMC and such, if you want do for go your amp chioces that is.
Again, besides something like a used pair of Avantegarde horn loaded speakrs with powered woofers, you'll not be gettin better dynamics for rock and roll speakers!...save perhaps for active pro monitors, which are close.
If he sticks with what I mentioned, and biamps the standard passive chioces(NHT, B&W, Hales,Dunlavy,Logans, etc), he'll do fine. He can do a bit better perhaps, with the powered NHT VT3's or Infinity MTS towers however. Powered pro monitors are kind of a "MAYBE" for most audiophiles, but should be looked at for the rock enthusiest.
Or unless he's into sitting between two horn speakrs, you might consider the high end AVANTGARDE line of speakers! You'll not find any more dynamic speakers probably ever, and they're very high end sounding class A line of monitors.