Speakers: What's MOST important to you?...

When you demo a pair of speakers, what criteria do you use to judge the quality of sound? What must the speaker have or do that will bring out the check book or credit card?
Non-flabby bass, along with non-bright treble. I have heard many many speakers with a great high end and midrange, but fuzzy, flabby bass that I don't want to spend years trying to correct with room treatments, different amps, cables, power cords, etc. The best combination of bass and treble I heard was the Genesis 500's, which I bought several years ago. I have never had to treat my room in any way.
I like good extension at the extremes, but the midrange (where most of the music is found) has to be clear and engaging. The liquid midrange people talk about is real and the sound is fantastic, when you get a speaker that will provide that midrange.
tight bass, full midrange, and smooth highs. that is why i look at speakers with smaller (but could have multiple of them) woofers (10" or less in size) because they tend to have a tighter lower octave and still produce enough bass for me. smooth highs produce a sound that you can listen to for hours.
Image, Pleasure, Presence(or presentation), Accuracy, Ability to create listening room.
Must be Full range, lifelike vocals, efficient, and be able to reproduce piano with good accuracy. If a speaker can do all that, i'd like it.

I gotta be able to listen to Alicia Keys on it and have it convince me that girl is in the room with me.
All aspects are important,however;I feel that a pleasing tonality is the key ingrediant.I can't consider the "soundstage" or "air" if I cannot get past a harsh treble or lifeless midrange.Remember that this "tonality" can change drastically with different ancillary equipment(amps,preamps,DACs,and cables)and room placement.Speakers must be auditioned in the context of a specific system (where a synergy is achieved) and in a specific room placement.
It's difficult to not use the "buzz phrases" associated with this area but here's a try.

I audition the speakers with the closest thing to my setup as possible (ideally in home but let's be real). I also use several pieces of music that I am very familiar with (CDs I take with me) and these pieces of music are known to me both as they come off of CD as well as off of vinyl.

Listening to the music the issue is one of several parts:

1. How close does what I hear come to what it should sound like off of vinyl.
2. Am I hearing anything new from the recording that perhaps I haven't heard before.
3. Does the music sound like music being played or recorded music being played back.
4. Where is everyone in the ensemble -- are there defined points of presentation from individual instruments and vocalists how "close" are they to each other.
5. What do the things look like.

The evaluation is made up of equal parts of the five items above. There are some likely weightings given (particularly to points 1 through 4. I will make allowances for butt-ugly speaks if they really do the job.

That's what I go through and it's always an interesting ride.


Besides what has already been said about, first/second is will they mate with my power amp and then work in my room, cannot have huge speakers in a small space. Then I look for a full range speaker that has most of the above. BTW if you find the perfect speaker let us all know. I hae heard over 30 speakers in the last 6 motnhs and none of them sound the same at all.

Happy Listening.
An absence of colorations, accurate tonality, detail, dynamics, soundstage and imaging, etc. Each of these qualities is essential, but most of all the speakers must evoke a positive emotional reaction. My speakers should make me look forward to spending time listening to my system. Of course each individual component contributes its share to the enjoyment.
All the characteristics mentioned above plus COHERENCY. Must be seamless from top to bottom and bass must be tight and musical with the ability to resolve inner detail, not just thump, thump, thump. Must present music naturally making you forget your equipment, must engage the inner hedonist as much and more than the inner analyst. Must not
"congest" as volume is raised. Must have upper extension without bumping the higy end, detail that sounds natural, not etched.
Marakanetz, you said it the best. Just add to that good dinamics and you've described my speakers.
Other than the attributes listed above, I think overall balance is critical. Nothing glaring or exaggerated. I want the presentation to float unrestricted, like the opening of a window and the removal of walls in the room.
1) you forget about the stereo and listen to the music

2) the midrange quality because 90% of the music is there

3) it fits the music you like and the room

these are in no particular order

BTW you may want a speaker that is easy to drive as you will save lots of money on amplifier
Non-fatiguing sound=True time/phase design,low difraction enclosure=transparency...I can give up top-end "sparkle" and deep bass for a very cohesive,musical,and involving midrange...where 90% of music is produced....
The ultimate critieria for me is that the sound draws me into the music and makes me forget that I are listening to a pair of boxes with speakers and wires in them. When this happens, I know I've found speakers worth owning. Just my $.02 worth. ;)
For me, it's dynamics, "that old midrange magic", dynamics, smooth treble, dynamics, a bass that breathes (rather than "tight" bass), dynamics, coherence and dynamics. A speaker without proper dynamics just can't get my blood flowing, no matter how well it does everything else.
Boy, if you take all these answers and put them all together you would have one hell of a speaker. However, in the real world there is always a trade-off.

Planers (Maggie's & Logans) tend to have great transparency in the mids, but are damn hard to set up in a real world room and don't have an extended bottom end or great dynamics.

Horns have that engaging lifelike energy, but there's a huge difference between good and bad horns, and they need excellent tubes to sound natural. They also don't image terribly well and tend to be somewhat forward in presentation.

Cones come in all different sizes and shapes and styles. None do it all, so you have to pick your poison. And please remember it's not all in the speaker. The rest of the system matters a lot if you're going to get the most out of what a speaker can do.

For me, I need full frequency response (but a tight sub is acceptable), with realistic and magic mids, and extended and airy and smooth top end without ringing. I need to hear the soundstage and imaging with more music behind the speakers than in my face. They also have to disappear and present that "in the room with you" feeling, and that's as much the room as the speaker.

Low distortion at any playback level. And of course it must be full range and musical.
Ptmconsulting, from what I've heard so far I agree with your analysis of the generic sound of different speaker technologies. For me, cones 'n domes win out every time as providing the best balance of sonic tradeoffs, room integration and driveability. The big Coincidents I now have come the closest I've yet heard to my "perfect speaker".
I tend to agree with the posters above who stated that musicality, or drawing them into the music, or forgetting that there are any speakers playing. Those are the most important things, IMO. Those are what listeners are wanting.

The other attributes could be considered "parts" of the whole, and are mainly aspects that the designer and manufacturer should be concerned with. Of course they are important, but mainly to the designers.

I think the reasons that many people pick out parts of the presentation and look for those attributes is that no speakers are perfect, and since compromises are certainly going to be made, they don't want to make them in those key areas of concern.

Ultimately, in my opinion, a speaker(or system in general) must present a somewhat believable and engaging quality that conveys the emotional content of the music in ways that the composers and players intended to convey via the musical performance.

Since the emotional content of music is largely conveyed by dynamic contrasts, and believability is conveyed largely by coherent presentation, with correct tone, and fine detail, I think that a speaker with speed, excellent micro and macro dynamic ability, and a phase-coherent character with good tone is most important to me. Of course, a reasonable amount of frequency range must be covered. Other aspects may be very important, but would rank below these things that I mention first. In other words, I wouldn't sacrifice any of these aspects in order to gain deeper bass extension, or higher max SPL, or whatever. By no means do I intend to say that any part of a speaker's job is not important.

Another thing that must be considered is that speakers do not operate alone, and need to be matched to amplifiers and rooms that can work best with them to exploit the best characteristics.

And of course, they can do nothing that is not originated at the front end of the system. Whatever musical information doesn't get into the system, can never make it out of the speakers. So a quality front end is critical to get the best from your speakers.

The final frontier seems to be resonance control in the system. Speakers, as the actual sound generating transducers in the system, cannot be isolated from themselves. They must be held perfectly rigid to eliminate doppler effects, especially on the tweeter. This eliminates any rubbery substance as a possibility. Any improvement in resonance control in speakers must consist of removing unwanted vibrations from the speaker system. The best way of doing this is via a sophisticated high-speed resonance evacuation route that is designed with resonance transfer as a goal. Not just a hodge-podge thing that LOOKS like one of those engineered systems. Reducing Coulomb's Friction in the resonance transfer path is the way to speed up this evacuation of unwanted resonance and remove it from the speaker so that sound improves without damping out part of the live dynamics, and keeping additional doppler effects out of the equation.
Dawgbyte, how you audition the speakers is very important. You need to remember that what you hear at the store may sound very different when you bring them home. Room acoustics, equipment matching and your mood also vary. If the salesman doesn't know what he's doing and mismatched a great speaker with a badly matched preamp/amp combo then it is your lost to find out the true sound of that speaker. It is always easier to find a pair of speakers that will sound nice in most of the system matchup but it doesn't mean that it is the best speakers out there. It is a more complicated process than you think. Giving all the speakers I audition are all above average, I think size ( to match your listening room ) is more important to me and then the efficiency ( to match your amp.)
For me, it's detail. I want to hear what is on the record or CD. The down side to being able to hear fine detail, is that I now know that only about 15% of my music collection has a combination of good playing, recording, mixing, etc. And only 3 or 4% is truely excellent, with most of the top 5% being a single cut from an otherwise unremarkable effort. The rest is good for background music only.

Last weekend I was transferring six CD's to tape, as a favor to a young engineer I work with. Thank god for the mute function on my preamp! One was listenable (Moby) with decent playing and recording, the others were poorly played (the drummer for Bad Religion needs to find another line of work) and had no soundstage, separation around the instruments, etc.

Sorry, I got off on a tangent (sounded like my father 30 years ago).

By the way, I agree with Twl regarding getting rid of resonance. In my system I have tried cones, footers, bricks, marble bases, etc., etc. By far, the most noticable improvement (better resolution of fine detail) has come by adding audiopoints under my monitors and selected components.

Best regards, Dave
Realism, then soundstage depth (width is easy). Also, accuracy of the midrange. I'm with Philjolet and Phasecorrect on this important point the. After working the live voices and instruments for 10 years I can't handle most speakers when listening to acoustic music. Don't get me wrong, I listen to a lot of pop and rock, but those recordings are EQ'd like mad (even if it isn't through the listening board/computer).
Let me share with you something I read in a magazine back when it was Stereo Review when Julian Hersch was still there. This is a paraphrase.
--Ask to hear the three best speakers in your price range connected to a front end similar to yours. Use a cd you've heard a hundred times.
--Compare them two at a time,with the volumes the same,with the demonstator not telling you the name brands.
--Keep a chart of these four things checking the better performer in each of the catagories:
#1.Timbre,does a violin sound like a violin,etc.
#2.Imaging,can you follow two or more horizontal lines at the same time without the speakers getting in the way? Don't worry about instrument location;that comes with proper placement in your room. If you can follow counterpoint,that's a lot in a speaker demo room.
#3.Dynamic Range,does the distance between very loud(ff) and very soft(pp) sound life like or shorter than real life?
#4.Frequency extremes,do violin double stops sound pleasing or strident? Is the bass booming and bloated or tight and compact?
--once you have the better system,compare that against the third pair.
--If you like the pair you've selected,start neogiating.If you don't keep looking.

Let me answer your question. I'm an imaging nut with a hard core Magnepan habit.
Have the speakers disappear and forget about critiqueing the sound and just connect with the music.
I agree with Jayarr. When I forget about the music and get into the performance then its time to bring out the check book. I am personally an imaging fanatic. If the speaker can't throw a reasonbly full size image in height and width at me I'm not interested. I know some would argue dynamics is the thing. Well for me its not dynamics because I don't listen very loud. And in truth in most concerts amplified and unamplified I rarely hear truly dramatic changes in volume. Except for large scale orchestral most concerts are amplified to some degree. I don't go to that many large scale classical concerts. What I do hear are dramatic changes in attack. Stats and planars seem to master speed of attack while they certainly don't have the dramatic changes in volume. Ultimately I have found speakers of almost every category of operation perform well on something; but for my preferred listening its image and speed first.
Great answers all! Here is what I was thinking when I asked the question.

I realize everyone is different and tastes vary greatly, but if we could boil this frog down to a single word that encompasses the essence of audiophile nirvana I'd have to select REALISM. If the speaker conveys realism the system should disappear allowing the performance to take place in our ears and mind. If we are presented with realism the music should engulf (engulf = sound stage, presentation, dynamics, extension, SPL levels, accuracy, air etc.) us and allow for nuances previously unrealized. Realism allows the vocals to be presented exactly as the singer intended. Realism gives a seat at the concert where we can hear the plastic pick brush the guitar strings and we feel the air from the kick drum. Realism should never be fatiguing because everything is in balance. As we sit in the demo chair we are presented with a technical gateway between the recording studio/concert hall and our ears, but this conduit should never color. It transports sound, but never gets in the way - REALISM.

Lastly, a good speaker should play all music adroitly. A speaker that plays classical music with aplomb, but can't handle rock or jazz won't get my attention.
Musical engagement (i.e. does the music engage me or not, is my toe a tappin' or not, does it give me goosebumps or not). That type of thing. Not necessarily accuracy to the source until such time as all recordings are "musically" engaging and satisfying. Not until all recordings become accurate to the live event (which, IMO will never happen) will I want a perfectly "accurate" system.
BTW I have often found I realize more when I am engaged in conversation with a friend when 'listening' within reason. I think it is a good thing to engage the subconscious mind, ala Tim Galloway's INNER GAME OF GOLF book etc...
1) Transparent tweeter - Feels like a breath of fresh air after being inside a conjested room to hear transparency.

2) The right amount of tension in the woofer - the spring. If you get it just right, the sound becomes round and 3 dimensional - sounds like a ball bouncing. Hard to explain, but every piano student heard that remark before - make the notes round and focused. Sonus faber, and Tannoy got it right for me.

3) Decay - gives a luxurius feel.

4) Harmonically rich and detailed - love to catch all the subtle nuances of a beautiful voice.

5) 3 inch mid ! The best size for a clear mid. Very few of the modern speakers have this.

I like small settelites and a sub sound - like klipsch quintets. They capture the pretty female vocal sounds that pierces your heart in the most satisfying way.

Since we like different music, different characteristics are important for others. I listen to many genre, but classical is my main.