The best "imaging" speakers?

Which speakers gave you the most "you are there" experience?
YG Acoustic speakers are imaging and transparency champs but lack the ability to play low and loud in the lower frequencies, at least for the Kipod that I heard
I'm not sure "best imaging" equals "the most you are there experience", but the best imaging speakers I've ever heard were the Dynaudio Special 25's.
The Avalon Isis speaker system presented by Keith Johnson of Spectral stands out as the best imaging speakers I've ever heard. I must add though that the system included the state-of-the-art Spectral SDR-4000 pro CD player and top-of-the-line MIT Oracle MA cables. Truly breathtaking!
I think that you would have to look at what is the best imaging speaker/amp combination. I have a pair of dynaudio special 25's and Verity Audio Parsifals and they both image very well. Hook them up with VTL tube amps and triode and it is amazing. Very deep, holographic and wide, really makes feel like I am in the sound stage. Change to a belles SA-100 and we have detail, "slam", and tighter bass but the "imaging" becomes more two dementional. Just as wide but a lack of depth. I am listening to a Classe ca-2200 right now with the parsifals and it has some of the holographic imaging of the triode vtl but not nearly to the same degree, just as much air, some of the middle of the stage "you are there" but the slam of the belles as well. So the speaker and amp will give you this imaging factor and should be taken together. Per Kthomas, I do agree with the special 25, matched with the vtl st-150 is magic.
A pair of Apogee Scintilla's.
I've found that imaging is mostly a factor of proper setup, proper room treatment and overall room acoustics. Most speakers will image if the above are addressed correctly. Yes, the speaker plays a part after that, but until you have those other 3 set right you can't really compare one speaker vs another to say which is "best".

Having said that, speakers that use concentric drivers or simulate point sources (like MTM's) tend to do a better job IMO.

I'm sure that speakers alone are not the answer. In the systems that gave me the best illusion of real life presence were MBL 101's, and a close second Hansen King. I think a key element of achieving this is rendering a lifelike scale (not too small and not too large). So many other things go into certainly couldn't take either of these speakers, throw them into any system in any sized room and expect similar results. "Imaging", which you used in the title of the post, is only a part of what speakers must do well to create a convincing illusion, but imaging alone does not do it. Some of the best imaging speakers I've heard are smaller monitors, but they just cannot convey the scale or impact that really makes the "lifelike" illusion complete.
The best imaging speakers I ever heard were KEF 105.2s - spooky good. But the sweet spot was about 1 foot wide, move your head and the soundstage shifetd or collapsed.

The best you are there experience I have had was in the 90s with the 2C3D systems which contained Avalon/Spectral/MIT/ASC products, many of which you already own :-)
I have heard the same setup with Thiel CS6 speakers to similar effect.
I am getting very close with the Thiel CS2.4s, Bel Canto DAC3, Ref1000s and all MIT cables in my reference room.

note: I am a Thiel and MIT dealer, as the original poster knows.
Asuming that great imaging is indeed what will satisfy (and that's NOT a given), you still have to make choices:

Minimonitors, whether alone (ProAc's Tablette is the best iamging mini I've heard) or coupled with a woofer cabinet (I own Parsifal's - also outstanding) can provide a particularly dramatic "object hanging in space" effect. Narrow baffle floorstanders with extreme cabinetry can also mimic this effect.

OTOH, Omnis like the MBLs (or, to a slightly lesser extent Ohms) can create "weightier" localized sources and a wall to wall soundfield that feels real in a different way.

Planars can create something in between, with more "continuous ambience" than minimmonitors and more specificity than most omnis.

I currently own examples of all 4 types (Maggie planars, Merlin VSM narrow floorstanders, Parsifal mnimonitors with separate bass cabinets, and Ohm omnis) and the imaging from each can -at any given time- seem more convincing than the others. At the moment, I'm sticking with the Ohms, but check back in a year....


PS I'd agree that, overall, MBLs are the most convincing imagers I've heard, but they have tonal issues that make them a difficult proposition for me (especially at their price).
Since sound from the speaker radiates around the edges of the speaker then you inevitably get edge diffraction which interferes with imaging.

There are two ways to deal with this:

1) Small narrow baffle so that the edge diffraction occurs very early in time and does not interfere with our ability to determine the precise source of the sound. A small box like a Bose Acoustimass achieves this and so do triangular and narrow baffle speakers to a lesser degree. Generally most speakers do not image well at certain frequencies due to the interference of the baffle dimensions.

2) Infinite baffle. This requires building the speakers into a wall or technically a "half space solution". In this case there is no longer an edge diffraction problem and the imaging should be unimpeded or as good as theoretically possible. (Of course an infinte wall is impossible so ultimately the imaging may be impeded by the side walls, ceiling and floor - in practice if you can keep about 4 feet away from the walls then imaging will be about as good as it gets)
A few years ago everyone was pumping line source speakers as imaging champs, like the Pipedreams and such. They imaged very good side to side and front to back and had dynamics like a Klipshorn, but the size and scale of the image was way too big (as Jax2 said). Picture a 3 foot wide nose on the singer "standing" in front of you. Not realistic at all, after all. I know there have been strides made to reduce this scale problem by tapering the response of the drivers at top and bottom, but it is still a bit spooky to my ears and not really natural.

About the best I've ever had was my Gallo Reference 2s. You could be just about anywhere in the room and see/hear the performance from that vantage point. The performers didn't move, your perspective of the performance changed, it blew me away. I'm getting my new Reference 3.1s dialed in, and they are starting to get there, just not yet.

Narrow baffle floorstanders with extreme cabinetry can also mimic this effect.

Perfect description of the Totem Arros, I think.
Almost any single-driver crossoverless speaker will image in spades.
ProAc! Any model.
Triangles are the best imaging speaks I've heard in a conventional box design. I've heard them totally disappear in systems where no other speakers did.

Magicos were impressive also in this regard when I heard them but they are PRICEY.

Omnis like OHMs or MBL can be very good also, but their imaging is totally different from conventional box designs IMHO. Some will take to it and be hooked and never go back....some just won't get it.
Dunlavy speakers WERE the hands-down favorite, but unfortuately they are no longer being made. Dunlavy speakers are true point source, phase correct, sealed enclosure speakers, huge in size. Correctly placed, amplified, spiked and in a large enough room; the SC-4 through 6's still compete for top honors no matter what the cost. As used speakers (if properly set up), I believe they represent one of the greatest (used) bargains of all time. To set a benchmark is to listen to these speakers at least once along the way.
My friends Evolution Acoustics MM2's are the finest speakers I've ever experienced. Breathtaking transparency that make speakers disappear, total coherency, reach out and touch midrange, real bass, pristine highs and wide open soundstage with great stage width and layers of depth.
Vandersteens blow away the Dunlavy, get that huge baffle out of the way and you will see what I mean.
I agree with Jax2, the best imaging or better said "holografic" sound I have ever heard came from the MBL 101 ...

years ago from the big Genesis
Avalon! Buy the one that fits your room best. I like them with tubes.

MBL, Hansen King, Avalon Isis and few others options, close seconds are YG, Evolution acoustics, Pioneer TAD,Polymer logic, Lansche..
maybe duntech(to name just one)....if you were really 'there'though('there' being a live event')it will most likely be a whole different experience than listening to prerecorded music.. least until you light one up.
'Imaging' is something that should be far down the list on essential qualities in a speaker... music is about getting the *tonality*, flow, and dynamic (micro & macro) transitions correct!
Paulfolbrecht, You make an excellent point.
Hello Paul,

Not to be argumentative, because for one, I agree with your list of important priorities. But, the sonic attribute(s) that is most important and captivates the listener and makes them think .. "maybe this could be real" ... is subjective and will be different from person to person. For some it will be dynamic linearity above all else, someone else will say correct natural timbre/texture of tone, and yes there are those who will say it is the palpable images within the sound-stage that is most important to them. IMO there is no right or wrong.


I'm not going to say "to each their own" is a silly concept.

However, I will definitely say that once an audiophile becomes more experienced, and/or morphs into more of a 'music lover', the qualities I touched upon will be *far* more important than the "oh wow" special-effects stuff.

'Imaging' simply is not high on the list of what makes a speaker faithfully reproduce music.

I'm sorry for derailing the thread - I'll stop now.
Paulfolbrecht - Imaging allows us to enter the invisible and participate in musical event - without it we could just play mono (much cheaper - one monoblock, one speaker etc).
Audiophiles want it all and we want it now!
For both imaging and "you are there," I haven't heard anything to beat Wilson Maxx 3's or Alexandrias powered by massive tube amps. In one case it was a VTL signal chain including Siefried Reference monoblocks and the other (I heard just the night before last) was powered by Audio Research. Cabling in both cases was Transparent Audio's best or near-best.

The level of resolution on these rigs is such that--even with multi-thousand-dollar digital sources, you can easily hear the improvement when upgrading to 24-bit/88.4 or 96Khz, and from there to an analog source.

Another one that sounded very good was an all-Ayre chain powering a pair of Magnepan 20.1s augmented by a pair of JL 2x12 powered subs. It wasn't quite as fast and dynamic as the Wilsons, but it was very linear, very musical, threw a great soundstage, and Ayre's own in-development turntable provided great-sounding source material. It definitely elevated the experience over both redbook and 24/88.2 digital.

Two+ years ago I heard a SME 30 turntable going through an all-VTL rig powering a pair of Alexandrias and the experience *still* haunts me.
Depends on the room! I aggree with Chadnliz Vandersteen are some of the best also Magnapans. Here is my theory, using Vandersteen as a example, there are others. Vandersteens have pots and crossovers to tune each speaker to the pre amp and room acustics. Once each speaker sound the same and matches the room the sound blends together and the speakers disappear also they use a design where the speakers are usally almost supended in the enclosures to avoid directional sound. Now there are some good processors out, that sounds like a big no no. I use to think that way till I got feedback from people that used them they adjust each speakers to the room and does what vandersteen does with the little pots on the back of the speakers electronically with a microphone. This could hurt something else in the sound path or coudl really help if the speaker/rooms needs a little help intergrating.
There appears to be a paradox. Speakers that produce a more holographic image and soundstage are perceived to create a more "you are there" experience. Yet sitting in the audience at a live musical event is not associated with this phenomenon. To the contrary, at a live event, the soundstage is rarely deep, and the image is rarely holographic; and speakers that produce a soundstage similar to live music are often not equated with a "you are there" experience.
among the 30+ pairs of speakers I have owned, the best imaging speaker that threw out the most realistic holographic soundstage was a small speaker with tiny dimension, Acoustic Energy AE1 Signature. not a surprise given it's a simple two-way with small face, but it's so limited in dynamic it can't recreate the size of instrument realistically.

runner up was Sonus Faber Guarneri Memento, it does imaging almost as well and everything else a lot better.
Scientific Fidelity Tesla's With VAC amplification! holigraphically spooky, but I'd have to agree with Paulfolbrecht, on the rest of the qualities!!!
I appreciate every contribution-thank you all.
I'd like to clarify my situation.
I feel macro & micro(detail 'vital'for microdynamics) dynamics are 'the' most important factors in creating a sense of music from speakers-note the use of horns (macro dynamics) in public venues(I appreciate there are other tech reasons for horns)..
However I very much enjoy fairly quiet chamber & solo instrument pieces as well as concertos & all out symphonies and find (assuming dynamics are acceptable) clarity & "refinement" of the sound immensely enhance my listening enjoyment. Greater detail allows me to
1.more deeply appreciate the nuances and artistry in quieter pieces
2.enjoy the contribution of individual instruments and interplay between instruments within the larger orchestral
IMHO the higher the resolution of a given system the more details are provided and the "soundstaging" and "presence" are a direct result of the finest detail.
I normally find dynamics acceptable(while realizing realistic dynamics are beyond current techology)--
therefore my quest for the best, may I now say "detail & imaging" speakers.
One speaker that is rarely mentioned in this type of discussion is the Lipinski 707.
realistic dynamics are beyond current techology)

It would be fairer to say that realistic dynamics is extremely rare in most small elegant tall home speakers but you do find realistic dynamics with some significantly large speakers and often horns with several 12" or more woofers are excellent in the dynamics department.
"One speaker that is rarely mentioned in this type of discussion is the Lipinski 707."

I want to hear it. Somebody described its imaging as "jaw dropping"
A 3-D, holographic soundstage may create an out-of-body experience to help me to suspend belief and to imagine that I am listening to a live performance. But it is not what I hear when I actually attend that live performance.
At some concerts acoustic is really bad and in the places where acoustics is great I cannot get and often afford good seat. Listening at home I have the best seat in the house.
I second the Apogee Scintilla. It's carioid delivery ( ) floats the image in the air much like a holograph does the same for images. Driven well, it can perform enormous dynamic swings. It's real full range capabilities can produce a grand piano in the room that is nearly impossible to distinguish from a real grand.
The Gallo Reference speaker is probably a candidate because they are baffleless, diffraction free.
A friend of mine and I went to hear a live big band performance in a pretty good venue. No serious acoustic problems.
We stopped back at my house on the way home and I put on a couple of big band cuts, (Harry James Sheffield) and my friend, a music lover AND an audiophile said, "I'll take your system."
I thought that was interesting. With the sound still rolling around in our heads, he preferred the sound of the CD over the live music.
I can't say I disagreed with him in terms of enjoyment. The balance of the live group, unamplfied of course, was not as well balanced in terms of 'hearing' all the horns, drums etc. Of course Harry's inimitable style is for some, 'love it or hate it', I suppose, with me loving it; but the point was very telling. We've reached a point at which the fidelity, I suppose is good enough to give us a nice 'illusion' at home. All in all a confusing, but fascinating evening.

Harry Kames Sheffield has realitistic dynamics - I am not surpised it compared well to the real thing. MOst o fteh problem with playback is the way the studios compress the music for distribution to the public (especially true of drums which sound like a mere shadow of the real instrument but everything percussive such as a piano will suffer too).
Original Quads, ESL 57
Shadorne, you're exactly right, the dynamic compression is the most notable difference. Of course that Harry James disc is strange, perhaps cut this way on purpose, it's so low in terms of volume overall, that it seems to have greater really nailed that one.
Plus, and this is just me, there was something about Harry's playing, that exaggerated vibratto, I really loved it. Traces, GOD what a song, and what a great job he did on it.
that exaggerated vibratto, I really loved it

A trumpet player calls this "sizzle" - it is a complex form of non-harmonically related overtones that metal horned instruments can generate...and I agree with you Harry James has awesome "sizzle".

The drumming is also very enjoyable on this disc...lots of transients/dynamics allow you to hear detail but with everything still sounding "light" even at high SPL's
LRSKY, Your comments are so "right on".
I too have come home from many a performance, usually jazz, thrown a CD in my system(much less an album)and said 'wow' this is better sound than at the event.
I find the systems used in most public venues "harsh" and sloppy to my ears-to say the least. Dynamics were the main thing I found good about live but with the improvements in my Spectral based system over the years I find it's no longer dynamics - it's just loudness. And with my 89db efficient speakers and the 200 watt Spectral I've got all the loudness I need.
I think we are a very lucky group with quality systems.
Ggavetti, the first "store bought" speakers I had were the venerable Quads, with the old 33/303 setup(a favorite of orchestra members of Symphony players in Montreal back in the 70's-which is why I bought them).
I understand your comments on the Quads dynamics and agree to a point regarding their 'micro' dynamics. Within their operating capabilities they were very good; however their overall dynamics were very limited imho and ultimately the reason I moved to JBL 250Ti's and the Krell KSA 100 amp driven by conrad johnson pre amp. The combo literally smoked my Quad system overall.