You poor bugger! That is a pretty restrictive picture you are painting in-so-far as getting decent performance out of some speakers goes. It strikes me that a wide dispersion speaker design like the aforementioned ProAcs and Avalons would be a very bad idea. All speakers of that nature project full-range sound almost omni-directionally and need lots of unrestricted breathing space around them to work well.
What you should be looking at are speakers that have a limited dispersion characteristic and an over-damped bass that won't get boomy with near wall placement. Of conventional speakers, the only ones that come to mind are Dunlavys and Duntechs. The original designer of both and current designer/principle of Dunlavy insets his tweeter and mids into the cabinet with a surround of dense foam to both time-align and control the directivity of these drivers. He also favors the overdamped bass you will need, designing sealed cabinet woofer alignments in big boxes. I would look at the Dunlavy 3 and 4. My experience with the 4s in a near-rear wall set-up was very positive. However, it would be good if the sidewalls were at least 3-4 feet away.
A more radical approach to controled dispersion would be to consider horn speakers. The throat of the horn serves to focus the speakers output over a very defined area and thus avoid reflections off of nearby objects that would otherwise color the sound. Good Luck!
I agree with what Vince is saying. You are getting yourself into a situation where you have to ask yourself what you can live with and what you can live without. You will be able to get by without a good soundstage and imaging if the sound is smooth from top to bottom. To get smooth bass from a floor standing speaker next to the wall nearly requires that you have adjustable bass output. I think you would be happier along the upgrade path with getting a good LCR setup and using a subwoofer to dial-in the bass. I think the Thiel MCS1 would do the trick. I use it as my center channel and am impressed with it. SGHT also really liked them. They are musical, work well with different placements, have good directionality, and won't give you bass problems. Just a thought.
The Piega's make some speakers that are specifically designed for placement close to the back wall. They are beautiful sounding and a true value speaker.
What is your budget?
I have a similar problem, 1 speaker in a corner next to AV rack , speakers 1.5 feet from back wall. My Bohlender Graebener 501's have a good soundstage and wide sweet spot, They do need about 200 hours break in, a large amp and a subwoofer. After the break in, bi-amped to a madrigal 7.1 amp, they do sing.
Dunlavy's need wide spacing and the listener to be seated some distance back from them to work best. This is true of ANY speaker with a large space between multiple drivers as they need time / distance to blend together and "focus". I do agree that a sealed box is the way to go.
You might want to check into some of NHT's designs, as they incorporate some of the technology learned while Acoustic Research was studying speaker / room interaction. I have NO idea as to if you'll like them or not, it is strictly a suggestion. Sean
If you have a chance, it would be worth your time to include
the Vandersteen 1C or 2Ce/signature in your group.
The Vandersteens do better than most under less than ideal
placement situations....and are quite amplifier friendly.
Vandies always seem to get your feet tappin'....
Here's a further thought for you--the Egglestonworks Andras. I bought them, aside from the fact that I loved them, because they are designed to go close to a back wall without any boom (I've had them as close as 10" to the back wall with no ill effects, in a setup where my old B & W's had to be at least 2.5' from the wall, with a tube trap immediately behind them as well), and they project as wide a sound front as you'd ever want (at 9 feet apart to clear my equipment cabinet, with a foot on each side), and using an LP with a solo violin that is particularly hard to keep from stretching out into 2 distinct sound sources, the speakers are still aimed to cross their direct radiation output about 2 feet behind my head (if the room were in fact that wide). Only caveat: you need lots of power. I use Classe CAM-350s (350 watts per side), and they're great, but 250 watts per side is a minimum.
Aeriel Model 6 is a beautiful floorstanding speaker that will thrive within you limitations. It was purposely built with being close to rear walls in mind. Should complement your gear nicely.
While I agree with Whatjd that Vandy speakers are good, I find they are quite placement sensitive and would not want them 1-2 feet from the back wall--they'd lose much of their magic.
The only speakers I'm aware of that I'd care to mention or that are made to sit near or against the back wall are from Spendor, Audio Note, and possibly Osbourne? I've only heard them at shows but they sounded pretty good considering their placement. Although I'm not a fan of their speakers, I've seen some Linn speakers used to good effect from that distance to the back wall as well. Best of luck.
Talon Audio speakers are designed for real world listening spaces and they are OUTSTANDING performers (at least in my experience with the Peregrines) ... defintely worth a look if they are in your budget. I never thought I could have my system successfully integrate with my living room until I tried the Peregrines.
I'm not quite sure I understand all of the limitations of your setup, so this recommendation may be qualified. The Wisdom Audio M 50's like the above Bohlender's are a true line source speaker. The dispersion patterns are radically different than dynamic drivers. Although your setup will compromise imaging somewhat I think the dispersion characteristics of a line source would serve you better. I own Avalon Radian HC's and Wisdom Audio M 75s. With the Avalons I needed a full complement of ASC tube traps and wall treatments. With the Wisdoms I only need two tube traps in the rear. The electronic crossover gives you almost unlimited flexibility to fine tune the speaker to the room. The M 50 is a one piece design which uses a 50" magnetic planar driver sitting atop a 12" underhung woofer. I like this speaker line so much I became a dealer. If you've got the bucks this is a phenomenal speaker. The other good thing about this speaker is that it is so revealing and transparent that every improvement in the rest of your system will be apparent. The down side of the speaker is that it is expensive and it must be biamped. Fortunately though you don't need a ridiculously expensive amp on the bottom, just one with high current capability. Happy hunting.
Tim/Soix makes a good point about the Vandersteen's. I have
been a dipole person, Martin Logan & Magnepan..and have,
mostly used Thiel's for dynamic speakers...and all of these
are very placement critical...so the Vandersteen's seemed
simple by comparison..so, guess it is like the great Jazz
standard says..."Compared to What?"
I want to thank everyone for their helpful and insightful feedback. I was thinking of a starting budget of around $5,000 so I have some options to check out. Any thought on on Energy Veritas 2.8 in a limited placement setup? How about Martin Logan or Sonus Faber? Thanks again!
One of the problems encountered when you have to position the speakers close to the "front" wall and/or side walls is that you tend to put a lot of bass energy into the room's natural resonant modes. This makes it very difficult to get accurate bass because energy is stored and slowly released by these room resonant modes. Often you end up with a chesty, overemphazised midbass and a fairly deep but somewhat lumpy bass. The result can be impressive, but is seldom natural-sounding.
There is a bass loading technique that minimizes the amount of low frequency energy put into the room's resonant modes. That technique is dipole loading, which is usually reserved for planars. A dipole has a figure-8 radiation pattern in the bass, instead of an omnidirectional pattern. The result is 5 dB less bass in the reverberant field for a given on-axis bass sound pressure level because there is very little energy put out into the room's side-to-side and up-and-down resonant modes - only the front-to-back resonant mode is strongly excited. An added benefit of a dipole is the lack of internal cabinet pressures and cabinet colorations. So the bass has much better pitch definition and is much more natural sounding.
Now a dipole is not going to work well in the midrange in your room because the wall behind the speakers is too close - the soundstaging will be poor and you won't get the openness dipoles are famous for. So a planar speaker isn't going to work well for you. Alas, I sell some nice planars.
Now, what if there was a speaker that had dipole bass but monopole midrange and highs? What if this speaker also had very well controlled radiation patterns (an important hidden factor in long-term listening enjoyment - details if you'd like)? What if this speaker soundstages very well and sounds very natural from virtually any position in the room because the midbass and bass aren't at the mercy of the room boundaries?
This speaker is called the Gradient Revolution. The active version (which is the upgrade path) was among the most natural-sounding systems at CES 2001, and was the most natural sounding in the bass of any system in a small room. Check it out at http://www.gradient.fi/En/index.htm . For the record I'm on the verge of becoming a Gradient dealer, but I'd recommend this speaker for your application even if I wasn't (which I have many times, over at the Asylum).
Since you have both rear and side boundary issues, I agree with Gregg (and other others) who have suggested you consider monitors and a separate sub. Since you mention ProAc, you could get a pair of Response 1SC, the matching center, and a musical sub such as Rel or Vandy. It'll bust your budget new, but all are pretty readily available used.