speakers for classical music


Would like to hear from classical music listeners as to best floorstanders for that genre. B&W 803's sound good but want to get input with regard to other possibilities.
musicnoise
Verity or Vienna Acoustics, come to mind. Even better, older Quads, stacked -- but you're probably not into audiophile masochism;)
I am now totally off B&W speakers, because I kept destroying them! I had the 803D. However, for classical music they were very, very good. The catch is...you need a bit of volume to get them going, but too much power and the crossovers fail!
Overall, if you know their limitations and respect them, they are great for the price.
They wern't for me, but maybe they will be for you...give them a try!
If you really want to go all out, try the Krell LAT-1000. They are bloody expensive, and bloody good.
Quad ESL 57s or Magnepans. If you live in the Seattle area feel free to listen to my speakers. I have an extensive collection of classical music. A lot will depend on your room, tastes, and other equipment. Good luck. Rob.
if you're talking orchestra(pricing all over the place), shahinian,mbl,ohm,and at the risk of turning this into a bashing thread, bose 901's.
Always loved my Thiels driven with cj electronics.
I assume that by "classical music", you are referring to symphonic music. You need a very good full-range speaker (backed by superb electronics) to have any hope of reproducing the sound of a symphony orchestra, while non-piano chamber music can be handled properly by good monitor speakers.

Speakers that will be used for symphonic music need to have enormous headroom to handle the scale and volume of a large orchestra (few speakers are able), and need to be voiced correctly in the mid's and upper-mid's so as not to mess up the sound of strings (few are).

E-mail me if you want specific suggestions.
Check out the Vandersteen line from the 3A sigs on up to the 5A sigs. Magnificent full range speakers that handle all types of classical music well. I pair my 3A sigs with a Cary SLP-05 preamp and Cary 211 AE monoblocks and the results are fantastic.
For orchestral, Tannoy 215 DMT II is the best I've heard.
I have to say that demos at shows by Richard Shahinian of the Diapasons with classical music were extremely convincing. The sound really captured the majesty and weight of the orchestra. I never really heard anything that equalled what they could do in that way. For ordinary box speakers, I would say Harbeth Monitor 40, or not as good, Spendor SP100.
I love most kinds of music, but listen to tons of classical. (Symphonic, like Mahler's 6th last weekend, chamber, wind ensembles, solo piano, solo cello, etc.) I play trumpet in regional community orchestras and lead trumpet in a big band, as well as rhythm guitar in big band. I attend tons of live concerts and probably listen to 2-channel 10-hours per week.

My favorite speakers are by Vienna Acoustics. They've got speakers in almost all price ranges. The bargain of the bunch, as far as being full-range and floor-standing, is the Beethoven Baby Grands for $3500. (I own these). If you've got a large enough room and budget, then the Mahlers are incredible.

The VAs are very dynamic, tonally balanced and transparent. My little Baby Grands are only down about 4dB at 31Hz and very smooth in the 20 to 200 hz response. There's no ugly high end peak from the wonderful silk dome tweeter, so even old string recordings sound very nice.

BTW, they'll slam when it comes to listeng to jazz, funk, rock and soul as well. Still, one of the biggest wake up calls you can receive is in the 4th movement of Mahler's 6th when the whole double-percussion section hits everything they've got coming out of a ppp section. I almost fell over backward. It was like being on stage.

Dave
Vandersteens (all models), Magnepans (all Models), Quad 57s,63s and 988(9)s.
I listen to classical symphonic and chamber.As fr large symphonic music stick to dynamic speakers,electrostatic like quads do not have the dynamic range.I listen at home to two different speakers both are good but one is outstanding,provides the sense of been there in the orchestra hall.This are the German Physics Lorerely speakers too draw backs ,cost,and require large room.The second speakers,ie bedroom set are pretty good non fatiguing full range and these are the JM Lab Utopias,much cheaper than the German Physics.What ever you do you will need large speakers with well integrated sub section,separate sub woofers are seldom integrated properly.Sufficient audio output and speed/impact at the low end is essential for the sense of realism in combination with non fatiguing midrange.
Good luck.
If the speaker does classical music well it should do rock and jazz just as well, else it has some sort of rather serious flaw. It would only a matter of time before a classical recording would show up that flaw big time (try an original press of side 6 of Das Reingold conducted by Solti on Decca- if a speaker can play that right it will be good on any kind of music made). Trust me on this one- the speaker had better not care too much what flavor of music you listen to! As soon as it does, it is revealing its colorations/deficiencies.

BTW this is the same for all parts of the reproduction chain.
I am now totally off B&W speakers, because I kept destroying them! I had the 803D.

David,

If you like to drive speakers loud and particuarly realistic dynamics/spl then this is generally what happens. Go horns or pro speakers would be my suggestion. Consumer designs generally are never required nor do they claim to reproduce realistic music levels so it is unfair to push them so hard.
stop looking , go to the new quad 2805 period.-
I use Altec Santiago for orchestral music....
i too listen to classical music, as i am right now as i am writing. timbre is number 1. dynamics are at the bottom of the list.

there is one speaker which is least inaccurate in the midrange, namely the quad 57. instruments sound natural and have most of the timbral cues to present a very realistic sound. yes, they have weaknesses and flaws. all speakers do. thus, i would select electrostatic speakers, to minimize timbral inaccuracy. i find most cone designs problematic as to reproducing timbre accurately.
I listen almost exclusively to classical. . . 15% large orchestra. . . lots of small chamber, piano, vocal soloists, occasional modern female vocalists. I second whole heartedly the recommendations for the Vienna Acoustic brand for this application. I own a pair of Mahlers myself. One thing to bear in mind is that Vienna speakers may sound slightly woolly if not driven stoutly by relatively powerful amps with high damping factors. . . but with appropriate amps they sing with a finesse, transparency and a controlled authority second to none, and their micro/macro dynamics is simply superb. I fell in love with them at RMAF 2006 after listening to dozens of regretably disappointing suites, including rooms featuring much more expensive devices.
Mrtennis, I'm surprised to hear someone that loves "classical" music that puts dynamics as the last priority. I too need correct timbre, or I can't listen. Still, classical music is BY FAR the most dynamic music in my wide ranging collection (about 30% classical). I'd hate to not enjoy those dynamics.

OTOH, for a long time, I gave up low bass and dynamics for budget reasons and chose excellent mini-monitors in order to get timbre right for trumpet and soprano, foregoing bass and dynamics while I couldn't afford them at the same quality level as my mids.

Dave
Try one of the Focal speakers in their current line-up. Their new tweeter and midrange are very clean and grain free. No more anguish while listening to massed strings, majority of my cds are listenable now.
Yes MRT, I owned a pair of MG IIA for 20 years, marvellous speakers indeed. Drove them with Aragon 4004 first, then with JRDG 7M later. Then I started to wonder why cello vibrato was barely perceptible. . . and why PPPP was so bleedin' similar to FFFF, and why FFF sounded close while PPP came from afar. . . . and the rest of course, is history. Of course for 20 years I was perfectly convinced that wishing for a deep, tight and tuneful bass was pure frippery and totally beneath me.
Opera from Italy; Almarro from Japan.
David,

If you like to drive speakers loud and particuarly realistic dynamics/spl then this is generally what happens. Go horns or pro speakers would be my suggestion. Consumer designs generally are never required nor do they claim to reproduce realistic music levels so it is unfair to push them so hard.

Hi Shadorn,
Yes, I hear what you are saying. My next pair of speakers will be from the JBL Project line, with thier famous compression drivers and 15" bass units.
Quad, Magneplanar, or Ohm.
Compromise nothing, timbre, dynamics, etc. Nothing! Accept a speaker as ultimate for ANY genre of music if it has less than spectacular results in every parameter? No way!

The best speaker for classical is the best speaker for rock is the best for Jazz, etc.

In other words, I want the best no matter what I play. I don't want a speaker that only performs well with one kind of music or media.

A Better speaker for me better be better across the board. I'll not take exceptions to this rule.

Everything sounds better on a superior speaker - Chamber, orchestral, solo instrument, voice, everything!

And you know you have a winner when virtually nothing sounds bad, even music that sounded poor on other speakers with the same source, cables, etc has a lesser degree of "poorness"!
:)

Atmasphere's comment in this regard is dead on.
for the person recommending vienna acoustics - what electronics work well for those speakers (mahlers and something smaller)- both amp and preamp? And in general what are people who listen to classical music using to drive their speakers? Tastes run from symphony (mahler beethoven) through instrumental and chamber.
Its true that really good speakers, when matched properly to the rest of the system, will sound good with all genres of music and types of recordings.

Classical, particularly large orchestral arrangements, and some would say piano, is generally one of the harder genres for a speaker to deliver fully. I've found Big Band music to be perhaps the hardest genre of all for speakers to really deliver fully.
No one mentioned Sonus Faber. I found that they were very holographic compared to the VA Haydns and seemed to do better with less power. IMHO
IMHO, Sonus Fiber and VA are from the same school. At your price point you should listen to both, IMHO. I, obviously, prefer VA, but I can see what others see in SF.

Dave
06-06-08: Musicnoise said:
"for the person recommending vienna acoustics - what electronics work well for those speakers (mahlers and something smaller)- both amp and preamp? And in general what are people who listen to classical music using to drive their speakers? Tastes run from symphony (mahler beethoven) through instrumental and chamber."

The VAs like relatively high power (at least 100 wpc). I've heard them sound very good with Primare, Bryston, Conrad Johnson and Rowland. My best experience has been with the Rowlands, but that's kind of "the ultimate".

Dave
If SF uses a simple crossover and VA uses a complex one, you might conclude that the SF puts more into their drivers, for the same price range. I keep reading about SF driver quality.
I use MBL 116, which is fantastic on classical (which is what I listen to mainly). Highly recommended. Another speaker I have massive respect for is the Acapella Violon. Pair that with some dynamic tube amps (CAT or Jadis for example) and you have a system for life. Stunning on classical, the imaging and dynamics is in a class of its own.

Make sure you factor in a vinyl playback system if you haven't got one already. Classical and vinyl is a no-brainer. :)
My favorites for classical are the Maggie 20.1, followed by the Thiel CS7.2
ACT, nothing does it better.
Most planars. Quad, magnepan, Apogee, martin logan cls.
hi,

Harbeth compact 7s
Full orchestra and solo piano are the benchmark source materials for challenging speakers. Most can't hold up under the pressure, they weren't designed for it. If the speaker can stand up to those sources without stressing, without distorting, without sounding stuffy or wooly, and deliver the full dynamics, transients and bandwidth, it'll be a very special speaker. The best ones I've heard for this have always been active. I've heard some passives come close, but to really deliver, actives have a decisive edge. There are other important variables that come into play, but active is a good place to start looking.
I contributed the above post about the need for a full-range speaker with a lot of headroom and proper timbre to gets strings right. I was going to stay out, but I've seen the posts and follow-up question about Vienna Acoustics Mahlers and have something to add.

I ran Mahlers in first and second systems for over six years. They are a very good orchestral music speaker as they have a lot of headroom, having the same large (too large) midrange drivers as the Maxx II's, supplemented with a pair of ten-inch woofers. The above comment regarding bass wooliness, which was noted by Anthony Cordesman in his review of the speaker, is correct -- the bass drivers on the speaker are quite difficult to control, Cordesman not getting satisfaction even with Krell monoblocks. Rich Maez worked at Rowland for many years, and he once told me that one of Rowland's Colorado dealers achieved really good bass control using Rowland's Model 501 ICe amps (Rich liked the combination and was thinking of buying Mahlers). That makes sense, as ICe amps are fantastic with subwoofers and have bizarrely high damping factors (what they do with highs rule them out for anything other than home theater and subwoofers, however, in my opinion).

I ran Mahlers with a Bryston 4B-ST very briefly, with VAC Renaissance 70/70 and 140/140 zero-feedback triode monoblocks (using VAC 300-B's) and with Rowland Model 6 monoblocks. Bass control-wise, they were pretty much the same with the VAC amps and the Bryston, which was a bit surprising, especially because they should have been terrible with the VAC 70/70 run with no feedback. I lived with them with the 70/70 for about a year, however, in a medium-sized room -- it was acceptable sound. The best bass control was achieved with the Rowland Model 6's, which was not surprising given those amps have a fair amount of current and are otherwise very high quality. The best overall sound was achieved with the VAC 140/140's, which just sounded so good with strings that the bass looseness was an acceptable tradeoff (others may not find the tradeoff acceptable, however, and the VAC amps are very expensive).

My recommendation would be the Model 6's or, budget permitting, perhaps the darTZeel. Both are high-current, but are low enough in power that they stay away from the unnatural, mucked up sound that high-powered amps featuring a lot of output transistors give. I own the darTZeel, but never tried it with the Mahlers. A good friend of mine ran the darTZeel with Salons in a good-sized room (a speaker I used in my main system for three years that is also excellent with orchestral music, by the way) and listens almost exclusively to big orchestral (Gustav Mahler, the Russian 5), and despite the Salons being a good 4 db. less efficient than the Mahlers, he never lacked for power. Another suggestion would be the CAT amps, which would likely be magnificent with Mahlers, as they can control the woofers of virtually any speaker and are otherwise tremendous amps. Be very careful with tube amps and Mahlers, however, as most well-known high-powered tube amps would be awful with the Mahler's bass issues and don't sound particularly good in any event. With this speaker, go with the best solid-state amp you can afford (Rowland 6, 8 or 9 are all safe bets).

The above post about active speakers is of course correct, but my experience is that most active speakers or powered studio monitors lack the finesse of audiophile speakers (very good ones would likely be better than Mahlers, which are, at the end of the day, a good but not great speaker).
06-07-08: Neilmc said:
"If SF uses a simple crossover and VA uses a complex one, you might conclude that the SF puts more into their drivers, for the same price range. I keep reading about SF driver quality."

That's a rather simplistic set of assumptions and I doubt that it's factually correct. Even if the fact set were correct, it wouldn't lead to a conclusion that SF's drivers are superior to VA's.

My VAs have drivers that are available from no other makers. VA just developed a proprietary cone materal for its new flat, ribbed midrange driver for its new "statement" speaker.

Still, I'm not saying that one is "better" than the other. The prospects needs to listen for themselves to these two fine speaker lines. There's a basic difference in character that'll lead you to one or the other, but you must chose for yourself.

Dave
If the speaker can stand up to those sources without stressing, without distorting, without sounding stuffy or wooly, and deliver the full dynamics, transients and bandwidth, it'll be a very special speaker. The best ones I've heard for this have always been active. I've heard some passives come close, but to really deliver, actives have a decisive edge.

The above post about active speakers is of course correct, but my experience is that most active speakers or powered studio monitors lack the finesse of audiophile speakers

Agree fully. You want piano (a percussive instrument) then I have not heard better than with actives. You want full orchestra - same answer. You want big band - same answer. You want full justice to percussion - same answer. However if you listen to acoustic, modern pop or rock (generally not much dynamic range left when it leaves the mastering studio) then there are many good choices often with more warmth and finesse - and which won't show up every wart on a recording.
Nice description Raquel.

Let me chime in with my opinion about the best current Rowland amps for the Mahlers. For those using separates, the 501 monoblocks plus PC1 Power Factor Correction is the "budget choice", for stereo the 312 is amazing and includes PFC and for those of us that like integrateds the Continuum 500 will do the job and includes PFC.

Anyone considering VA and sufficient budget to consider a "statement" product should wait just a few weeks to hear the new The Music reference speaker. I haven't heard it, but it looks like a high potential product from a great maker. Hopefully we'll be auditioning them soon.

Dave
If you are needing high SPLs and have a large enough room then Avantgarde Trios with bass horns will be all you will ever need.

All these large amplifier problems mentioned above will evaporate as the high sensitivity will leave you being able to use pretty much anything you like from low power to quite high powered amps.

The dynamic range will kill all the above speakers leaving them sounding muted and flat. By the time you have found an amp to run low sensitivity speakers at the SPLs needed for full orchestral works in a big room
your bank balance and you floor will be very tired.
What are good models and manufacturer's for actives? Will active's also sound good at low volumes. It would be nice to have the same set of speakers for Mahler's 2nd symphony at 100 db and a shubert trio in the early morning at 70 db? I have heard good things about Mackie's but have never listened to a pair. Also is the horn technology a problem? Actives actually look like a good idea - built in amps, right amount of power per driver, etc. What are the downside to actives and why do are there so few active's as opposed to passives?
Mackies??!!

I loved the six-foot Mackie towers that we used when I played trumpet with The Pit Pops in Dallas. We set them on top of the Mackie subs and had about 5000+ watts of power, all-in. It was great for a funk/rock/soul party band, BUT you didn't want to listen closely. The hiss was through the roof, even at low, pre-show levels.

Unless Mackie has come out with an audiophile line that I haven't heard of, don't even think about it. With digital sources they'll be hard-edged and tiring. Even with a live mic feed they're hard edged. Sound reinforcement is where Mackie really shines and those requirements are very different from audiophile needs.

Dave
Musicnoise, I have driven Vienna Mahlers initially with Rowland Model 7M monoblocks. . . loads of power, but at only approx 170, damping factor appeared insufficient to control bass drivers completely. . . there was some woolly bloat on double bass. I am currently driving them with a JRDG 312 with excellent results. Treble is filigreed, mid have a complex harmonic texture, bass is deep tuneful and controlled at all times. Large orchestra is a pleasure, but my favorite are small string ensambles and vocals where the subtlety and musical involvement are sheer delight. 312+Mahlers is the pairing I heard at RMAF. I also used a set of Nuforce V9Se monos with Mahlers. . . also very good. . . even more control in bass, but to the point of becoming slightly dry in that region. . . as good stagers with Mahlers as JRDG 312 if not more. . . but perhaps not as complex harmonically and filegreed in treble. Both of these yield loads of authority to Mahlers. I suspect that Spectron Musician 3 SE may also be a very good choice, although I have not had the opportunity of listening it in my own system.
What are good models and manufacturer's for actives?

Genelec 8050A - you may find these at your local music or guitar shop - they will probably be close to the best of the active near fields mini-monitors you can audition at a pro music store (where they sell musical instruments an studio gear)- try to listen and see if you like them - I think they are better than Mackie's - if you do then there are a few others I would add which are difficult to find for an audition and even more expensive and will essentially play louder for far-field listening - so it is probably best if you check these Genelec's out first and see if it up your street. (You may not like the neutral sound -many don't)

What are the downside to actives and why do are there so few active's as opposed to passives?

This has been discussed on other threads but basically you are limited for "tweaking" through choice of your own amp - especially important to tube lovers - as you won't find a tube in an active speaker (due to microphonics of tubes)
Most any maggie, assuming you have the room to let them breathe, but that is true for any speaker. You need a good size room and room around the speakers to develop a proper sound stage. Add to them powered sub. Better still biamp and add a Behringer CX3410 crossover. Now you will hear classical as it should
My ultimate reference for what a system should sound like is live performances.

When I owned Maggies ($900/pair new in 1986) and was able to have them set up properly, they never disapointed with classical music. What I heard was a most accurate reproduction of what I heard when attending a live symphony.

The only other speakers I've owned that I can say that about are my current Ohms.
My ultimate reference for what speakers should sound like is what live performances should sound like. . . in theory. Unfortunately live performances I have attended never sound like what they should. But then, my experience is limited by the Teatro Alla Scala, the Sala Giuseppe Verdi at the Conservatorio DI Milano, The Royal Albert Hall, The Basilica Di San marco in Venice, Notre Dames in Paris, and the Tomsom Hall in Toronto. . . although I do admit that the 16th century portcature in Groznjan (Istra) near Trieste comes very close to sounding right.
So in the end. . . I just follow my ears and hope for the best.
I disagree with those who have said Quads ESL 57 are the perfect choice for classical music. I own a pair of them, I just love them, but I think their limit is that they can't play symphonic music right (meaning, reproducing as closely as possible live performance). I am not talking about chamber music...they are just sublime there. I am talking about symphonic pieces that require a fair amount of air to be moved. That's what you feel in real life concerts, at least in my experience, and this is Quads' main limitation, again, in my experience. Too bad: apart from this, they are just perfect speakers. My two cents.