The Great Speaker Quest

My initial purpose for this post was to have help in finding speakers that would end the search. That said, I've been reading in these forums long enough to understand I may never get off this ride. I suppose I'm looking for some conversation, some education, and some ideas on what to try next. I've been in this hobby for several years now and I believe that I've covered a lot of ground in my learning in a short period of time. Excuse me if my descriptions are lacking, however.

Particular model recommendations are welcome, of course, but I would prefer brand recommendations or help articulating my preferences. An answer that goes something like "It seems your ear is sensitive to XXXX aspect(s) of the music that you're finding in this speaker. You may want to listen to X brand or X model because..." would be great.

Despite having owned some more expensive speakers, my current budget is around $1k used. I might be willing to stretch that a bit at some point.
I listen to all types of music and love female vocals in particular. A little warmth in the bass is appreciated but the "bloat" that I find in most floor standing speakers is not. Driver integration and coherence -like- I find in monitor speakers seem to be key for me too (
If this link does not work you can access it through my name. I think it helps complete the picture.

I like to actively and passively listen to music: Something that images but doesn't require perfect setup or listening position.

Please note that these are just my observations in often quite imperfect setup conditions. No insult is intended and my opinions/experiences are just mine, and for the most part still ultimately mutable. Feel free to agree/disagree. Both are helpful as I develope my ear more.

Most of the speakers have been paired with lots of different equipment. I realize using words like "dated", "musical" and others, is very limiting. Perhaps you can help me find better ones. Additionally, I apologize for the length. I was hoping to paint as complete a picture as I could. Thanks much.

Owned (a partial list):

Klipsch KG 5.2: Loved the way these effortlessly filled the space with sound. There is something about the presentation of these that I like. Efficiency? Dispersion? More dynamic than I need but a little extra never hurt. When turned up the horn just started to sound "honky" to me. Ouch!

Canton CT-800: Bruisers. Dynamic but sounded dated.

Wharfedale Diamond 9.1: Liked most of what I heard but lacked in dynamics. They seemed accurate but not very mus
Remind me of the Energy RC-10s in many respects.

NHT ST-4: Loved the imaging and speed. Exciting to listen to but the top end was a bit too hot for me and the bass on these was a mess. I played with them a lot to try to fix that. Long story and a common one from what I read.

Mirage Ohm 5(not factory adjusted for small spaces): Waaay too much bass (not their fault). I didn't like the muddy or indistinct soundstage of the dipoles. They just sounded strange to me moving about the room or turning my head. Eerie.

Duntech Marquis: Instruments and soundstage sounded spooky real! They seemed to lack excitement on driving music but that -could- have been my equipment. In the end they were way too revealing for me. I could pick out the flaws in EVERY recording. Seriously. Most of my recordings are not audiophile quality and sounded just plain bad. I was sad to let these go.

Thiel CS 3.5 and 2.2s: The 3.5s just sounded slow and dated. Liked how open the top-end sounded, however. 2.2s: Liked how natural these sounded. Big improvement over the 3.5s. Just couldn't make them get up and move on music with rhythm and pace. The metal tweeter on these just never sounded right... a little too brash.

B&W v202, 602v1, 601v2: Could play all music decently well which I liked. v2.2s: Cabinet resonances. 602: Ouch! Bright! 601: Tweeter much tamed. Liked the warmth of the bass on all of these but not (what felt like) the inaccuracy or bloat.

Energy RC-10: These speakers I don't think do anything wrong, but just didn't sound very musical to me. Kept these for a while until I listened to some Totem Model 1s that just outclassed them in almost every respect (except dynamics).

Totem Dreamcatcher monitors: Loved these speakers. Liked them better than the Arros even. A little too hot on top but imaged amazingly. I think I just like the presentation of monitors over floor standers. Desire something more dynamic. Read about Model 1s below, please.

Totem Arro: Really great speakers too. The 4" driver just doesn't cut it for me in regards to dynamics. Something just sounds more "right" to me about the Dreamcatcher monitors and the Model 1, too. Cabinet resonances of the Arro?

Spendor S3/5se: Perhaps I didn't give these enough of a chance to break in. I only had them for about 50 hours. There was an accuracy and rightness to the sound of instruments and voices but they sounded a bit closed in and unexciting to me. They just didn't sound right for pop music in particular.

Dynaudio Audience 50: Decided to buy these after being captivated by the Focus 110's (below). Amazingly dynamic and exciting. Finally "enough" volume from a bookshelf for me. Missing in resolution and refinement compared to the Totems and Dynaudio Focus'.

Listened to but didn't own:

Totem Model 1: The first speaker that really made me say: "Now this is the kinda thing I'm looking for!" Musical... resolving... beautiful highs... Just not dynamic enough for Pop/rock. These started me looking through the Totem line.

Dynaudio Focus 110: The first speaker I heard that I think topped the Totem Model 1 for me. Exciting, fast/pace, detailed, coherent, rich/dense tones. I could listen to a single speaker, playing a single organ tone, and be enchanted. The paired equipment was not even very good. I could close my eyes and face directly toward the speaker. It's was as if a complete painting or photo was presented in front of me (from even a single speaker). I listened to several Paradigm monitors(even the reference series) next to these and I had the sense that the picture they were painting was diffuse and kept moving, filling in holes that were missing and un-filling ones previously filled in constant rotation. Does anyone have a word for this?

Doesn't mean I'm sold on Dynaudios or Totems, just that I liked the balance I heard of resolution, excitement, pace/speed... and would like recommendation within these lines or of other lines to consider.

Thanks again!
Totem and Dyn, two of my favs also!

What is the rest of the system and how big is the room?
i just bought a full set of totem dreamcatchers for my ht/2channel system. i couldn't be more pleased with them. i drive them with a jaton operetta which is 140 watts @ 4ohms. i have all the volume i could possibly need. though i should say the room is mid-size to small. for me, they do everything i like and don't give up too much in the speaker design "trade-offs in performance". image spot on, crisp treble, super quick pace, toe tap rythum, all that jazzy stuff. their middle may be seen as a touch thin, but in my room i had an enormous hump @ 80hz which killed my midrange, deep bass snap, and soundstage with other speakers but pairing these with a sunfire truesub eq solved this issue completely. they are crossed over at 60hz and the sub takes the rest. low level thump and midbass snap is almost perfect. i've never had tubes but the jaton is supposedly similar in character with all the power/drive of ss. it is a perfect mtach for these little speakers, which i could see coming off as is a tad bright, but noit with this amp. anyway, depending on what your running them with and your room, these, are super quality and value, my faces so far. my references of other speakers are the following:
klipsch horns: great dynamics, highs, but clinical(i do like that though)
sound dynamics rts-3: good for the money, but a bit sloppy
totem mites: great soundstage, imaging. a bit closed in. i perfer the dreamcatchers.
quad 12l's: very full, lush sound. good imaging. nice tone. sold 'em cuz i'm dumb. however, the dreamcathcers are faster and image better, but the quads were definately "fuller". maybe 1 for you to look in to.
mirage m5si: lovely warm speaker. my room couldn't handl;e them. can't give real review, but the potential was endless i could forsee.
anyway, enjoy the ramble...
The Totem Forest is's about the easiest one to drive and has a very full, warmish tone compared to the others.
You haven't enumerated dipoles in planar, ribbon, or cone driver form.

This is a very different thing from omni (there's actually less reverberant field generated than with conventional speakers at lower midrange frequencies, where you're trading much less output to the sides for increased rearward energy. Given a traditional short wall placement that's a great idea).

You haven't listened to modern wave guides which don't honk.
05-21-09: Dave_b
The Totem Forest is's about the easiest one to drive and has a very full, warmish tone compared to the others.
The Forest may be a great recommendation, but they sell for $2000 used.

The OP's stated budget is $1000 used.
I got the message you want dynamic (like horns) but do not sound honky like
horns and you want small with tight accurate bass (no bloat). You want to be
able to move around and the sound should stay the same (no change in
presentation or tonality). Totem One was great but did not cut the mustard with
dynamics (small speaker). Focus 110 might also be great but I doubt they will
hold together an play cleanly at the dynamic level you seem to crave.

My suggestion is to try and get your hands on an old used model ATC SCM20
provided you have at least 100 watts to drive them. It might be too bass light
and a bit hot in mids for you but it will play pop rock unflinchingly loud and in
an entirely musical but still resolving way.

Stay away from floorstanders at your price'll get better sound by
sticking to monitors...
The Totem Acoustic Sttaf would be a good bet. It's relatively easy to work with, has quite a bit more heft than the Arro, and does the 'monitor' thing very well. They go for around $1000 used (or less).

I once owned the Dynaudio Focus 110, and while its a lovely speaker, I found it to be very dynamically limited compared to many other competing monitors. One unconventional option you may want to investigate is the Mark and Daniel "Maximus-Mini". This thing can jam out, is fairly easy to place, has great range for a monitor its size and has a treble presentation that's well beyond where a monitor in its price range should be. The only caveat is that it requires at least 60 solid watts of solid state juice to sing. They like power.

Other great options would include a used set of ACI Sapphire XL's, They don't have quite as much 'bite' up high, and they can be difficult to find used, but I don't know of anyone that doesn't like these speakers. They are among the most enjoyable affordable monitors that I've personally come across. Great bass and dynamics as well..

Lastly, I'd suggest looking at a set of Ascend Acoustics Sierra 1. While their tonality never won these ears over, they are nonetheless great monitors that can be had brand spankin new for under your budget. Ascend makes great gear, and these monitors may have the efficiency, dynamic prowess, frequency range, and ease-of-use that you're looking for. Best of all, if you buy them new, you can always return them if they're not your bag. If they turn out to 'do it' for you, then you can kick back with a little extra coin in the pocket.

Good luck!

Agree with Mapman - knowing what you will be driving the speakers with upstream in terms of power and source would help with suggestions.

In addition to my suggestions in your other thread, I suggest these options used:

Agree that Totem Sttaf (tower) would be a great
B&W CM7 (tower), 705 or 805s (the last only if you have mucho power)
Dynaudio Audience 52SE - belts it out, but with detail, or Dynaudio Focus 140

I also still like the Quad 21L2 (tower) or 12L2 as suggested above, the new Paradigm Monitor series towers and the Monitor Audio RS6 (also a tower).

Good luck
Sounds like you are sold on another Totem model at this point, but another consideration or two could well be the Phase Tech PC series, or one of the Silverline monitors... eg., SR 15. Either will be well under the $1K budget, and neither has anything like a bright top end. both have weight great imaging, and speed. Bass for either depends on setup... but both will suprise you.

I've driven many of the Phase Tech units, and several of the Silverline units on various equipment, ranging from HT receivers, to pretty good tube gear inclusive of my current setup, with fine results. I've also owned numerous BW speakers, from the 600 series up to the NT, & 805Ns. The latter are pretty good all on their own but might have some special needs addressing the top end, especially if you found the 600 series top end bright, which BTW, I can not fathom how that was, apart from the cabling or gear supplying the signal to them. I thought the top ends were almost dull in the 600series, and i CAN'T HANDLE ANYTHING THAT RESEMBLES BRIGHT OR AGRESSIVE, UPSTAIRS in a speaker.

If you don't mind buying an orphan, you might find a pair of Meadowlark Shearwaters at about your price limit. The Hot Rod version (like mine) is better but would go a few bucks over the top.
You might also consider Kef online...great deals on great speakers!
BTW, in case you are not aware, don't let the small size of Totem Arros fool you. Those baby's seem thrive on lots of good SS juice! If you were not providing that when you had or heard them, they might not have put on their best face.

Same with the Dyns in my system.
Based on your tastes and deducing clues as to your room size (Mirage OM-5 too big; Totem Arro too small), it looks like a used pair of Totem Sttafs would be just right--that Totem magic you like so much plus a larger mid/woofer for increased dynamic range and bass extension over the Arro. After that it's going to be up to you for room placement and treatment, and pairing the speakers with the right amp.
Mapman: The room right now is 20'x 30' approximately.
I'll be moving soon and I'm likely to have a smaller listening room.

Tvad: I've used lots of different equipment to power these. The list is even longer than the speaker list! :) A few notable:
NAD 2400THX *
Cayin A-100T
Proceed BPA-2
McCormack DNA 0.5
Onix Melody SP-3
HH Scott LK-72-B
Denon POA-4400 monos *
ADCOM xxxx w/ GFA-750 pre **
Trendz Tripath chipamp
B&K*, East sound, Rotel, Carver, Mcintosh, Marantz...
The ones marked with asterisks I found bright.
The Onix, McCormack and Trendz I have found to be my favorites. The HH Scott was great until I had it recapped (cry).

Yes, all in about two years. Obsessive? YES!
(Tvad) Will I be 100% satisfied with anything? I'm just aiming for 90% at the moment. ;) Also decided I should find some speakers I liked first.
The questions about amps and pre's are for my next novel-length post. (Hope I'm not the only one laughing here :| )

Drew-Eckhardt: Haven't explored much in the bi, di, etc territory. Heard some old magneplanars and liked what I heard in a very small range of the music. They were quite old. The Mirages were cone bipols I think. I am open to more education.

Rumadian: Did hear the ACI Sapphires at the RMAF this last year and very much liked them.

Mapman: I just went and hooked the Totem Arros up to my McCormack (100wpc into 8ohms) just to make sure I wasn't missing something. No, they definitely don't carry the weight I'm seeking. Shame 'cause they really are great speakers.

Johnnyb53: I've spend more and less time with every speaker I've owned and often in less than ideal circumstances, as I mentioned at the beginning of my post. The Om-5s in particular I had stuffed into a 15' by 30' room(on the narrow end!). Definitely the furthest from ideal of all the setups. Mirage recommends sending them back to the factory for modifications to the bass for the size of room I had, and for good reason. The speaker "fit" the minimum requirements and in -that- space it was not the right one for me. I tried them briefly in a very large room, too, and I don't remember feeling like they could be a fit for me there either. Those are my memories of over a year ago. My ear has grown a lot since then. Not sure what part of my short review of these felt particularly dismissive to you compared to any of my other very short reviews.
Most speakers I would play with the placement of but only to a degree at first. So far, I've found that if I'm going to like a speaker at all, I'm going to like -something- about it at the very beginning, before messing with it much. I'll like it close up, and I'll like something about it when I'm listening from the next room over, even. I'll play with placement and room acoustics from there. Not sure what the "right" amount of time/effort/energy is but I'm open to suggestions. There are many speakers I didn't mention at all because I couldn't stand to listen to them for even a few moments. Anyone else on here own some cheap Sony, Onkyo or Yamaha floorstanders? ;)

All: Looking into almost all of the speakers mentioned so far. Thank you, thank you.
IMO, you need to consider the amp you're going to use when you're choosing

As a general guide, if you select speakers that have a nominal impedance of
8 ohms or less, that have a wildly varying impedance curve (impedance dips
below 4 ohms), then you'll be best served by using a solid state amp that
doubles power output as the speaker impedance is halved. The tonal balance
from the highs to the mids to the bass will be better because the volume
produced throughout the frequency spectrum will be equal. If you use a tube
amp, or a solid state amp that doesn't double power as impedance is halved,
these speakers will tend to sound "bright".

If you select speakers with a minimum nominal impedance of 8 ohms (or
higher), and with a flat impedance curve (minimum impedance doesn't dip
below 6 ohms), then you can more easily use a tube amp because the volume
differences throughout the frequency range will not be pronounced enough
to sound imbalanced.

You've gone through 16 speakers and just as many amplifiers, but you don't
mention what combination you've used, so we can't ascertain if you've
matched amp to speaker correctly in any of the combinations you've tried.

What amplifier do you presently own and intend to use with whatever
speakers you buy?
Adding a good sub to the Arros might be just what the doctor ordered.
05-22-09: Eyediver
...The Om-5s in particular I had stuffed into a 15' by 30' room ... Not sure what part of my short review of these felt particularly dismissive to you compared to any of my other very short reviews.
Getting the model name (Ohm 5 vs. OM-5) and the dispersion pattern (dipole vs. omnipolar) wrong indicated to me that you hadn't fully considered what the speaker was and what it could do. The dispersion pattern has everything to do with how a loudspeaker will energize the room and where you should place it. The OM-5 is a bipolar verging on omnidirectional. Although a dipole also radiates to the front and the back, the back wave is out of phase with the front and cancels radiation to the sides as well as a significant amount of bass. I mention the Mirages because I've owned Mirages for over 12 years and am quite familiar with them.

But what I know about Mirages is true of any good large floorstanding full range speaker: they are capable of very exciting and engaging music reproduction, but they also require more time to get to know, to break in, to optimize with cabling, and can be very picky about placement. Some reviews of large floorstanders in Stereophile indicate that they are sensitive to location within an inch. In a 20'x30' room, I can't imagine anything but a large floorstander with lots of amp power behind it energizing that space properly.

I have a pair of 1996 Mirage M5si bipolars that I've had at three different houses. In the most previous house, they definitely sounded best facing straight forward, but in my current listening room, they *definitely* sound best toed in 2", and in both cases are about the same distance from the wall behind them. In the previous house the side walls were much further away, however.

Speaker placement takes time and patience in general, but is particularly true for full range floor standing speakers. I suspect you are not spending enough time with each speaker model, at least with the big ones.
Tvad: Thank you much for the helpful education. That is very useful information in my quest. While I've mated most of the speakers with various amplifiers to try and train my ear, I look forward to doing some listening tests with these specifics in mind. Right now I have the Cayin, the Onix, the McCormack, the NAD320BEE, and the Trendz. I love the Onix and the Trendz in particular. Would love to find an integrated that would combine the things I like about these, and drive any speaker that crosses my path. This sounds like a whole new thread however.

Johnnyb53: You got me fired up with this one, Johnny.
"Getting the model name (Ohm 5 vs. OM-5).... wrong indicated to me that you hadn't fully considered what the speaker was and what it could do."

What could getting the name wrong possible have to do with full consideration? I had a traumatic head injury a few years ago and I have had trouble with my memory since... particularly names of people and things. Truth be told, my memory for such things was not good to begin with. I forget friend's names, whom I've known for ten years, while standing right in front of them... X-girlfriends even! This doesn't mean that I don't have consideration for them. I'm as sensitive about my handicap as you are about your speakers it seems. ;)
I appreciate your willingness to disagree with me and educate me in the process. I will keep an open mind about them if you feel they might fit my bill. I certainly didn't know that speakers could be so sensitive to placement("within an inch")!
If you're going to use the Trends amp, then you need high sensitivity (90+
db), 8 ohm minimum, flat impedance speakers. The same applies to the Onyx

Honestly, at your $1000 budget, I don't know what to suggest other than
perhaps used Klipsch Forte II. Stretch the budget to $2k, and you could try Zu
Audio Druids.

The McCormack DNA-0.5 should successfully match with just about all the
speakers on your list. Vandersteen loudspeakers are known to match well
with McCormack amplifiers. Double your budget and look for used Ref 3A
Signatures (or for less money Vandersteen 2Ce Signatures), and you might be
very happy. I've heard the 3A Signatures at Steve McCormack's house, and
they sounded exceptional.
Hey Eyediver, ain't we a pair!

I've had two heart attacks and live with congestive heart failure. Where your
injury affects your memory, my heart failure leaves me with lower physical
reserves and I get impatient and grumpy more easily. It's also affected my
short term memory, though my long term memory is still strong. Please
accept my apologies for my impatience and crankiness; I'll be more vigilant
in future exchanges.

Anyway, I've been thinking more about your tastes and frustrations with your
speaker quest. It sounds like your room may be difficult for setup. I see
you're surprised that speaker location can be sensitive, but the room is
actually the most influential component in the signal chain. That's why you
can't just try a new speaker and expect it to fix things without experimenting
a bit. I'm being truthful that my Mirage M5si's needed to be adjusted for two
inches toe-in at my present house and had to be facing straight ahead in the
last one.

It takes more time and patience to get a floor standing speaker to work at its
best in any room. The bigger bass output has a more profound room
interaction. Perhaps your room has lots of reflective surfaces or two
dimensions that are nearly the same, making for a stronger room resonance
at a single frequency. That may explain why you're trying to get the sound of
a minimonitor with its precision of imaging and placement, but with more
bass extension.

If your room is indeed problematic, it may help to get stand-mounted
speakers and small powered subwoofers. Then you can experiment with the
placement and output level of the sub(s) to get the best blend in your room.
FYI, since this seems to be a speaker you like and fits your budget:

disclaimer: I have no relation to the seller or other interest in the item.
I have not seen the description of "Dated" before as you applied it to the Canton CT800s and wondered if you could describe that sound in a different way. I am thinking about buying a pair of CT800s.

I would recommend you listen to some newer Cantons in the ERGO series, I love those and they are at least 10 years newer than the CT800s, hopefully would not sound "dated" to you.