I don't consider myself an expert, but to me the overwhelmingly most significant criteria are how they sound and work in my room. Price is always a consideration, but the specs, brands, design, etc., mean little in comparison to their sound.
the big one: how do you choose speakers? By what features, data?
I am curious how the experts choose speakers when upgrading? What are the priorities, what would make you stretch your budget?
Based on e.g....
- brand/company’s reputation
- crossover frequency
- compatibility with existing amp, etc.?
I don’t have buyer’s remorse for my last pair but I sure made some stupid choices until I got there, that I could have avoided if I had known about this forum sooner.
@knotscott @rpeluso so that means you need to demo it at home or at the dealer? Do you narrow down your list based on something(s) for what you would demo?
Sound quality… then price… to determine which in the series I can affford.
After over twenty five years owning planar… electrostatic, ribbon and Heil based speakers I heard Sonus Faber. They possess a very distinct natural sound that distinguished them from all the other speakers I have heard. All the speakers in most lines have a similar sound with greater fidelity and precision as one moves to higher priced versions. I am on my third set… the first two based on how much I can afford, the last based on the appropriate size for my listening area. It has been a tremendous benefit they also happen to be really beautiful after in incredibly ugly speakers I previously owned.
re: appropriate size for my listening area - is there a measurement that helps with that? Size of speaker? Power handling?
:) breath of fresh air, I thought I was alone in the Universe thinking that some speakers are ugly
Of course, it is the sound that matters the most. But, one can only hear a small fraction of what is on the market. I think that the best strategy is to find a way to go to an audio show so that you can hear a wide range of types of speakers and models. One really should hear high efficiency speakers with low-powered amps, open baffle speakers, dipole planar magnetic speakers, satellite/sub woofer systems, omni-directional speakers, etc. to get a big picture of the kind of sound that appeals to you, as well as see specific models.
A very important consideration is where you plan to locate your speakers because some models work well against the wall or in the corners and some require lots of room around the speaker, and some are not as picky as others about exacting location. Any location restrictions should be communicated to the person who is showing you speakers. Don't be defensive about the gear you have. It is critical for someone selling you speakers to know what you have in order to make the right recommendation. A local dealer in my area frequently does demonstrations to show customers planning on buying speakers that they are better off buying a different amplifier rather than speakers.
I have found that there is hardly ANY correlation between speaker specifications and what they sound like. The most important specification are physical dimensions (will they fit comfortably in the room), price (can I afford it), and maybe the efficiency and nominal impedance (will it work with my low-powered amps?). Everything else is virtually meaningless.
As for reviews, they are only a tiny bit useful and only if I have some idea of what the review likes (there are no such thing as dislikes). I find negative inferences more helpful than what the review actually says--if someone who raved about Golden Ear speakers or Zu speakers raves about a brand I am not familiar with, I am less inclined to be interested in that speaker.
Wherever you can find them to get a first listen....dealer, shows, audio clubs, friends, etc. I always try to listen with music I consider well recorded, and that I’m familiar with. Speakers are not only very personal and subjective, but also room dependent, so it’s best if you can try them in your unique room on your system if possible.
I’ve never done it, but there’d have to be something pretty compelling to order speakers without hearing them, and there would definitely have to a be a good return policy.
@knotscott I think during covid ordering with a good return policy picked up a lot. For a lot people in remote areas, it may be the best option.
Hardly speaking as an "expert," but of the above options only sensitivity has some bearing in my considerations. I don’t have the financial means to go "all out," nor would I want to and I don’t believe it’s necessary either. Using one’s ears, an open mind and some common sense there are true bargains to be had in audio equipment, certainly found 2nd hand, and not least looking in segments of gear not typically associated with "hifi."
I place little value in finding that very particular speaker that makes it all come together; to me it’s about the physics of things, horn profiles and their size, a range of known compression drivers, midbass and (sub-)bass horns, their size/principle and fitting drivers. Getting those parameters right can be made across a range of options and is more or less about the pure physics and acoustics of things and, again, size, rather than any brand or über price range.
What really makes it come together is the implementation of these "ingredients" in the specific listening space and with the chosen gear, and going by an active approach here makes this endeavor all the more meaningful and configurable. Having a pair of pre-configured speakers, which all passive (but not necessarily all active) speakers are to my mind defeats the purpose, and this is where "the one and only" speaker is sought for that matches a given acoustic space and its size, not to mention individual taste. Actively and being able to set filter values by yourself this all changes, and even very large horn-loaded speakers can be made to sum and sound excellently at the listening position in small to moderately sized rooms.
I don’t get hung up on brands, price and segment any longer, and over time have come to loath the notion of a secret/elusive/esoteric "sauce" that some manufacturers love to flaunt to make themselves more desirable as a brand. It’s about physics, acoustics, design and implementation - preferably actively configured - and there are different as well as affordable ways to get there.
By dynamic linearity(my handle) which is NOT playing loud cleanly although that's a small part of it. It's accurate, non-compressed level changes whether they are micro changes or macro changes. It's what makes live music sound live. Think of it you can tell live sound even outside a room so it's not the standard ideas such as flat response which is lost out of the room. And change a seat in a live concert and the response changes in different locations but the dynamic linearity doesn't. I think of wide bandwidth speakers that always sound sweet and smooth as wide bandwidth radios but not as accurate reproduction. And all the other stuff like flat response and low distortion matter but they are secondary.
What amp will you be driving them with? Do you also plan on keeping your current amp. Also, what is your price range. I would audition them. Make sure you receive an agreement to return at no charge because they will sound different in your home. This is a very important decision and I am glad you are approaching this correctly.
Best of luck. Let us know what you decide on.
@larry5729 I have a 100Watt into 8Ohms amp but my room is small, so that won't matter much. My price range will be determined by what offers I get for my current pair, between $1500-2000 used, maybe
OP, …”size of speaker”.
Good question. I don’t know of any rule of thumb. My dealer has been to my house many times and we discussed extensively. But, while I can identify many speakers ridiculously large for the room they are in, and many insufficient… I don’t have a good enough knowledge to make up a rule.
Simply spending money blindly without a plan for your bespoke system synergy is a recipe for big disappointment.
Audio - Rule of fifths
The truth is that for a high end 2 channel audio system we really start to see a jump in sound quality once we get past the $3500 price point. After this price point for an amp, DAC, streamer, speakers or whatever the quality starts to get into the higher end realm. After $3500 the higher you climb the price ladder the less improvements you will see.
We pay much more for only a 3-5% change in sound (notice I didn’t say improvement) when we go up the audio price ladder.
The matrix general philosophy here and going up is that you can enjoy 80% of the audio performance at a 20% of the additional price. The audio improvements vs added $$$ is not linear.
So how did I bridge the $$$$ outlay to my bespoke audio preferences matrix in choosing speakers?
(1) Roll up your sleeves and go audition speaker options at your local dealer(s), and
(2);attend audio expos to source new model options in order to. Validate mag reviews
Either I'm lucky or I just don't care enough anymore to shop for something as crucial as a pair of speakers, but that's mostly because I did my final major component shopping before I left L.A. for my current small-town home, which is a decent plane flight from any high-end store.
Before my big move I spent a good many years as a hifi junkie in L.A. I developed my tastes. I made a nuisance of myself at many high-end stores. I went to many hifi shows. In any event. I made sure I was satisfied with my rig before I sailed off across the high seas. As for my non-speaker components, when something breaks I'll get hold of one of the dealers I frequented when I lived in L.A. Dealers whose ears I trust. And, yes, one of those dealers is Upscale Audio. Another is Gene Rubin.
@grislybutter There are rules and then there are some. Some prefer brand names and some prefer particular designs (ported versus non, first order crossovers versus other, two-way versus three way, floor standing versus monitors, high efficient versus hard-to-drive, etc). Irrespective of what you choose, there are few tests you should try before finalizing your "choice speaker" over the one you currently own. Not in the order of importance, but at least you should try to find out::
1. Are these reproducing your favorite male/female singers as accurately as they can?
2. Are you satisfied with how letters "s" and "t" sounds (provide your front-end give an accurate signal)?
3. Listen at very loud volume levels (> 100dB) and then slowly reduce the volume in steps until barely audible. Pay attention to the imaging and sound stage depth. Do they hold same geometry at high and low volume levels? or do the imaging collapse at low volumes?
4. Do they image from outside of the speakers in addition to in-between? Is sound stage depth reproduced satisfactory?
5. Do these reproduce mass strings, brass instruments (muted horn, trombones, etc.) without causing fatigue?
6. Are you happy with reproduction of solo piano? Do they go low enough to hear the lowest key (27 Hz)?
7. Can you sit and listen to these for longer periods without getting fatigued?
8. Most importantly, do these disappear just leaving you with the music? Close your eyes and listen.
If the new speakers are doing a better job in some of these tests, the it a no-brainer. The come the other important issues including the price, WAF, room size, etc.
Magic is what I listen for. If you don't hear something that moves you, move on!
I am cheap so I buy everything used. Almost. I did buy a streamer new. Got a deal though. Speakers take time to burn in. Some people sell them before they even know what the have. Are you patient? Join an audio club. Members unload good gear cheaper to other members. Tune in to the weekly zoom meeting and learn.
There are a lot of good speakers. Some will mate better than others with your amp.
Join the SFAF Club. $35/year. Best audio money you can spend. Friday 5pm Pacific is the weekly Happy Hour Zoom.
The problem is I need to narrow down my list before I choose what I listen to.
SF is a bit far, I should look for a local club :)
The old real estate saw "Location,location location" applies to speakers but modify it to "Listen listen listen"
Ad copy and enthusiastic dealers can make you believe that brand X is the best thing since Rod Stewart sang standards at your dinner table.
For me going out and doing the hard work of auditioning at the store and then at home with my gear in my room with my source makes some surprising conclusions. When you get to the "affordable" 10K speaker range they are all really good furniture, but they don't sound anything alike at your home.
Anecdotal story: I had a pair of Vienna Acoustics towers that were at my home for a year. Really nice furniture indeed! And super cool see through cones (woohoo). I delivered them to a gearhead buddy and hooked up a pair of bookshelf KLH turds before my new Brystons arrived. What a hoot ! The Best Buy KLHs sounded "almost" as good as the Vienna towers at lower levels (muddy as dirt at a bit higher volume- no surprise there) Point being that price and sound are not directly corollary.
Anyhoo...go on a listening tour with your most demanding source material then get your 2 favorites home and audition them there with you most demanding source material. No regrets afterward. Just wonderful music!
Go listen at a dealer if you can. I was able to do that but a big part of my decision to buy was the universal praise from people on this forum and WBF. If so many think the brand you are looking at are great then some of them must have a room similar to yours and you can be confident the should work in your room. Good luck!!
You have received a lot of helpful advice above. In particular, go listen at different shops and shows. This is a learning experience, and the more you hear, the better you will become at discerning differences and the more confident you will be in your own judgment. You will develop your own personal set of priorities. I know my own priorities include speakers that sound lively and full at lower volume levels, not just when playing loudly. That has steered me toward high efficiency models that tend to be more dynamic sounding such that they don't have to be cranked up.
Most of your auditioning should involve trying to replicate your home situation--speakers located similarly, you seated the same distance you would be at home, your own amp used for the audition, etc. But, when you become experienced, you might also want to audition the speaker up close because "nearfield" listening reduces the influence of the room and you get to hear the particular characteristics of the speaker better and this is added knowledge--is the speaker well balanced?; are there annoying peaks and sibilance?; etc.
There are many high end speakers out there that deliver good imaging, reasonably good tonal balance, freedom from cabinet coloration, smooth sound, etc. To me, the shortcoming of many, even very pricey, speakers is a lack of dynamics--it is not a case of not being able to play loudly, but a lack of realistic contrast between soft and loud such that one becomes disengaged from the music after a relatively short time. Most of the truly dynamic speakers are high in efficiency because they don't require much current pushing through the voice coil to deliver a particular volume level. The lower the current, the lower the heating of the wire and the less the signal is being compressed from increasing resistance in the wire as it heats up (thermal compression). I have seen quite a few audiophiles have a "come-to-Jesus" moment when they first hear a very dynamic speaker system. Many find the sound so compelling they jump on such speakers immediately. I would suggest longer term listening because many such speaker have their own shortcomings--rough and peaking response, excessively hard-edge attack to notes, etc. In other words, there are some possible tradeoffs that take some time to recognize.
I agree that listening is truly the only way to accurately judge speakers. If not able to do so in your home then the dealers showroom might have to do. I have had/ have multiple speakers that I rotate in and out every few weeks, all that I personally think make music to my ears. You will know it when you find something that just gives you goosebumps when you listen, that makes your favorite music sound better than you have ever heard. Martin Logan CLS, Quad 63 and Wilson Watt Puppiesl are three that I love. The CLS’s I first heard at a shop when I was 18 and just couldn’t believe mysic could sound so good. Ditto for Wilson’s, excellent sound, accurate natural timbre and outstanding dynamics. Seek and you will find them eventually.
YOU have to decide what YOU like IN YOUR ROOM. When I had my shop, I spent some time with a customer finding out what they listen to, where, etc. I then asked them what hardware they had and worked with them on that. THEN, I let them listen to various speakers in the shop to see what they liked. Listening in a shop has NO bearing on how they will sound IN YOUR ROOM, so we then would pick a pair and set them up in your room at home and see what was what.
This is not an easy process as there are many speakers out there today. Also, what you like the first few tunes may not be what you like long term. SO, evaluate your hardware--high end tube gear is one thing; mid-fi solid state gear is something else. Listening to loud rock (mostly) vs listening to classical or opera may require a different set-up to make YOU happy IN YOUR ROOM.
Take your time. Demo a couple of pair and then decide since speakers are fairly expensive and you have to live with them after you buy.
PERSONALLY speaking, if you have high-end tube gear, I would suggest demoing Magneplaners in your room. They may not work for you, but they are about the most accurate speakers around. Whatever you decide upon, best of luck!
So the common theme here seems to be go listen!
That is one thing we lost in the transition from dealer networks to direct sales - teh ability go simply go listen. When I could first afford to actually go buy a system, I listened at several dealers and it became clear that one brand in my price range gave me the best combination of tone and dynamics that I was looking for. I purchased a pair of ADS L810s. Many years and systems later, after I had moved on from the L810s, I was frustrated with speakers I had purchased based on reading reviews, so I looked up one of the designers of those L810s and discovered Michael Kelly at Aerial Acoustics. The Aerial line offered similar qualities that I liked about the ADS speakers, but better, and I am still using their speakers.
So, don't read too many reviews but instead go listen at shows or at B&M dealers, if you have one in your area. Get the speakers that provide the sound you like on the music you listen to. After you zero in on the speakers, then work on getting the amplification that makes the speakers sound their best.
Speakers, amplification, and then you can play with whatever front end you want.
thank you all, I am learning a lot. I was looking for key quantifiable data that would give me a decision tree - aside from price.
I think for a novice like me it has to be a trade off between accuracy and warmth and brightness and listening fatigue. Which I thought is in how the speaker performs at various frequencies.
@larryi can you list a few examples for dynamic speakers? What makes a speaker dynamic?
I think besides the questions above, I determined that I need
It's not that difficult.
1) First, you need to decide on which speakers will work in your room. For any given room, some speakers just won't be able to perform up to their capability if they cannot be properly located. For example, a pair of panel (dipole) speakers need to be placed well off the wall behind them. If your room is too small to accommodate this need, you will never get your moneys worth from them.
2) Once you have eliminated those speakers that won't work in your listening room, decide which are best suited to the type of music you like to listen to. A little research will give you a general idea of speaker suitability for your music preferences.
3) Once you have narrowed down the list from steps 1 & 2, determine the amplification needed for the speakers to perform as designed. Some speakers require lots of current, others can be driven by only a few watts of power. Speaker impedance curves and sensitivity will dictate this.
4) Now that you have identified the speakers that will work in your room and what is required to properly drive them, determine what you can afford.
5) Most important, try to get a demo in your listening environment. How they sound to you is the most important thing but how speakers sound in an audio showroom or your buddy's room does not necessarily tell you how they will work in your room.
6) Finally, consider cosmetics, WAF, place of manufacturer (if that is important to you) and support.
I think the two biggest things are your room and your actual listening habits.
Your room, and what you are willing or not willing to do to improve it matter a great deal.
Next, how exactly do you listen? Be honest! If you listen at low volume while working or doing other things, you should optimize and buy for that. Don’t go out looking for speakers that play the loudest and have the most rumble inducing bass if that’s not how you are going to use it. It’s like buying a car for shopping that you test on the race track.
Next, listen for a long time. Lots of speakers are made to excite you in the first 5 minutes. Few stand the test of just vanishing and letting you feel music for hours.
I think @jchiappinelli pretty much nailed it. I could digress on #2, but overall it's a sound (pardon the pun) approach.
I am puzzled about #2. I always read here: speaker x is good for Jazz or Classical. Then someone else says: a good speaker plays ALL types of music well
@erik_squires exactly! I don't need a Ferrari (not that I can afford it) but I also only listen to short times so I want the punch...
Yes, a good speaker will be reasonably competent with all types of music. But, depending on a speakers strengths and weaknesses, some kinds of music may be a bit favored or disfavored by a particular speaker. For example, the Zu Audio speakers are extremely dynamic sounding with the ability to deliver extremely sharp-edged attack to the notes. They sound very fast and lively with demanding electronic/dance music. But, that comes with a rough, peaky sound (prominent upper midrange and high end) that might not be so objectionable for that kind of music, but it may be less loved playing acoustic music.
Every speaker has its strengths and sometimes that strength is anathema to some other quality. The only way to get around this is to have multiple systems (isn't that a dream?).
In home trial is important, but it's hard to compare with other speakers. The sound in an acoustically treated store room will not be the sound in your room. I am a firm believer in controlled HF dispersion to prevent early reflections. I also believe there is no substitute for room treatments. The LEDE theory has always worked for me, Live End behind Dead End to the front. Don't go by specifications, nobody has an anechoic chamber for a room. Most important trust your ears in your room. An audio chain is only as strong as it's weakest link. Matching components is important and there are a lot of factory direct places that allow 30 day in home trials.