The Most Realistic Speaker Technology?


OK, maybe this is the question that I should have asked originally...

I need some help, because I am now more confused than ever. I am in the market for new speakers, and have about $10,000 to spend, more or less. I am looking for the most "realistic", "true-to-life", "you-are-there", quality speaker there is, at that price. But the sheer number of speaker companies, speaker technologies, and speakers out there is mystifying, stupefying, and bewildering, so my search has been extremely confusing. I am not a constant upgrade kind of guy, and I don't have a lot of money, and so the speakers that I buy are the ones that I have to keep for a long time, and so it is even more imperative that I make the right and wise decision.

I realize that everyone has their own different opinion of things, and that different people like different types of sound from their speakers, and that that may be their favorite whether or not the sound coming from their speakers sounds even remotely realistic at all. And, while I respect the right for everyone to like their own particular pair of speakers that puts out a particular type of sound that suits them that they like and that sounds good to them as their favorite, regardless of whether it sounds realistic or not, my tastes are slightly different. My particular idea of good speakers are speakers that produce sound that sounds "real", or speakers that sound like a live performer is playing right there in front of you. Please forgive my particular taste, I know that a pair of speakers can sound perfectly good to someone whether or not they sound very realistic at all, but that is just what I personally in my own opinion consider good speakers, speakers which produce music which sounds as lifelike and as close to reality as possible.

And so, the first step that I am trying to do in order to nail down my speaker search is to isolate the type of speaker technology that sounds the most realistic. Since I know that most of you have heard literally dozens and dozens more different types of speakers in your lifetime than I have, all from many different types of assorted speaker technologies, can any of you tell me what, in general, is the speaker technology or type of speaker that sounds the most realistic and true to real life, like having a live performer playing right in front of you, that sounds the most similar to that? I know that part of this depends upon the system setup and synergy, room treatments, etc., etc., and I know that people do not always prefer the most realistic sound, but oftentimes just prefer the sound that sounds good to them, but surely, there must be some speaker technologies that sound more realistic, and more true-to-life than others. Please keep in mind that I am only asking for the speaker technology that sounds the most realistic, and not for a speaker company or a speaker itself, as I think that that would be impossible for anyone to say.

Knowing that most of you have heard many other speakers than me, and from all different types of speaker technologies, I thought that maybe some of you guys could tell me, maybe some of you could then give me a good place to start, or at least some of the more stronger options that there are available out there in terms of true-to-life music and sounding the most realistic.

If you could please help me out with a little advice other than, "well it all depends on you, you just have to listen with your own ears, and try to find what sounds right, and decide for yourself", that would be great. Because, unfortunately, that does not help me out much because I do not have "golden ears" as they say, and I do not even know what to listen for. Can you guys please help me out, and at least give me some places to start in terms of which speaker technology I should be looking at more than others, to get the most realistic sound? I would really appreciate it.

Thanks to all of you for your responses, I really appreciate all of your help, and am grateful to you for any help, tips, and advice, that any of you guys can give me. All advice is appreciated.
leroyc33
I think you should look into the Klipsch Jubilee. They are in your price range and will give you the you are there feeling. Take a look at them over at Klipsch.com
Your question is still too broad. What amps will you be using? Good speakers have to be properly matched to the amps driving them. If you have low-powered SET amps, for example, that narrows the field down to fewer speakers to choose from. Are you looking for full range or stand monitor-types? If I had to give you a general answer, it would be to choose a speaker that is properly phase and time-aligned ( for that real sound you refer to), and also keep in mind that no matter how good the speakers and amp, they will only sound as good as your room allows, i.e. proper dimensions and treatment.
The answer is not that simple because speakers are so room depentent. I would before buying, look at the room such as measurments,celling height,and yes what acoutical treatment that you have performed or going to do. You might be very surprised that after all that is taken into consideration, you might not have to pay that much for that speaker system.
These cost a little more.. $15,000 but they are one of best at any price.... Klipsch Palladium
Choice of technology basically boils down to dynamic speakers, horns, or panels, electrostatic or ribbon. Panels may be what you're looking for. They give you an almost 3-D presentation, as if the performer is standing right in front of you. The downside is some don't play very loud well, many don't go very deep, so you might want a subwoofer, and they usually need lots of power. If you're looking to try something, I've heard audiogon member Quadsunlimited modified Quads and they sound amazing and not very pricey. A killer speaker at the price are Magnepan 3.6's -- fantastic lifelike imaging. Of course, there's the top-of-the-line and pricey Sound Lab speakers, too.
Realistic sound that makes you feel you are there = dynamic with correct timbre, low distortion and correct balance across the spectrum and even natural dispersion to load your room evenly at all frequencies - all at extremely high SPL's (remember an unamplified drum set in your room produces 115 decibels).

You could start with a second hand ATC SCM 100 Active - a little above your budget but you will not need an expensive power amp, as it comes with three amps built in each speaker. You will need a reasonably sized room and understanding neighbors...these speakers are used by Telarc and other labels/studios as well as rock artists (Pink Floyd, Mark Knopfler) and hollywood movie studios as well as some mastering outfits.

But be careful what you wish for...you may not actually like honest raw clear sound....many don't really want this. and prefer something a little laid back, especially in the midrange. I am not saying ATC is the most realistic - this is always a matter of opinion - there are many other options but it is certainly worth checking out - just do a little googling.
The reason that it's confusing is that if the speaker technology you're looking for existed, it would dominate the market and the choice would be staring at you in the face. All speaker technologies are a trade off with each one being more "realistic" in certain areas than others - but not one that's tops in all categories. There really is no way to answer your question.

If I had a fixed budget, I would hook up with a local brick and mortar dealer who allows you to take home speakers to try out. He'll have suggestions based on your tastes, room and equipment. That, IMO, is the best way to make a choice. I know, it's seems like a try-it-for-yourself cop-out but you have to settle for the best compromise at a price point. Who knows, you may find out that you don't have to spend that whole ten grand.
i am also looking to spend around $9500 for a speaker and i am looking for realistic timbre. having been at many ces shows over the years and having been at other "shows" , i have auditioned thousands of stereo systems.

while it becomes a subjective judgment, i would not own a cone, or horn type loudspeaker. the colorations typical of these designs are unacceptable. i hear timbral errors to a greater degree than when listening to elctrostatic speakers.

i am convinced that the nature of driver technology gives the electrostatic design an edge in creating very natural sounding timbre that even the so-called "best" of the cone and horn designs attain the realism associated with a well designed electrostatic full range speaker.
I think you have answered your own question. Surely it must be the "Realistic" brand sold locally by Radio Shack. If it wasn't truly realistic, couldn't they be sued for false advertising?

Ok seriously. As other have alluded to, I think you have to look at the system as a whole expendature and plan. You didn't mention what the rest of your gear consists of.

Since you can't afford to make costly mistakes and swap out gear as many of us do, I think you need to really take a good long time and educate yourself as to what is out there, and what type of sound you like, are looking for, and is appropriate for the space you have and your musical tastes.

Sure planars can be rewarding, but they should be far out into the room. Can you accept large room dividers?

Maybe your looking for a truly full range speaker, so bass performance will be a key factor in your choice. Maybe you listen to chamber music or small acoustic ensambles, so you value midrange purity at the expense of extension. You should also become familair with tube vs. solid state sound and convenience, as this might alter your choice. Maybe you are an imaging fan, or want something very liquid and organic sounding, forgoing ultimate detail.

Bottom line is listen to as many speakers as you possibly can. Determine what your tastes are (surely there is no perfect wine - people have diffferent palates) and educate your ear at the same time.

After a few months you'll know yourself what kind of sound and what type of speaker you are looking for. You'll have a favorite 2 or 3, then you can research what people have written about them, and perhaps read about other brands that people have commented about in the same post. Then you'll try and listen to those. If you take the time to research all of this, you may very well find your dream speaker/system that you will be confident was the right choice for you, and one you can be happy with for a very long time.
You should listen to McIntosh XRT series speakers. They are line source speakers, very realistic... you are there. Another good realistic speakers are Dali Megaline.
Depends on how realistic your ears are. ;)
What kind of music do you listen to? How big is your room? Amplification?

We all want "real" sounding music-like a musician is in the room. However, we all have different ideas on what that means.
The new Gallo Reference line array (5LS) is getting pretty good press, probably worth a listen:

http://www.roundsound.com/reference-5-ls-speakers.html

-RW-
there is no "most realistic speaker", only most realistic systems. and imho there are two basic types of "realism"-
1. up front and in your face (exciting sounding) and
2. laid back "sense of ease" effortless sounding.
one may be fatiguing after awhile while the other may be so relaxing you might doze off half-way into the cd/record.
my preference after hearing a pretty fair number of stereo's is #2, although a great #2 should wake you up pretty quickly when the composition gathers force and fury. #1 will have you dissecting the music for things that are supposed to be there but they're not audible enough, or things that ARE there that you are convinced are artifacts, although 95% of what you hear is unquestionably "so close" to an actual performance you are continually amazed and impressed.
NOW, if you were to take a decent tape recorder to an orchestra or band rehearsal hall, set up two (just two) very good microphones on boom stands, and make a 15ips or 30ips recording, take it home, and play it on an average or high end stereo, doesn't really matter which, you would hear a very raw sound, even unpleasantly so. but with a little patience, after awhile you might get used to the "flawed" sound and start enjoying the lack of studio (professional) treatments. you would hear the musicians in the room with fresh ears- in other words your ears would become the microphones instead of the complex series of electronics you would find visiting sony or telarc.
i've heard these raw tapes, and with all of their limitations it is a remarkable experience to hear what you just played, no audio cosmetics deftly applied. so that is a third reality that one should keep in the back of their mind just so you never forget how drums, and brass, bassoons and piccolos keep you wide awake and attentive, excited about the piece they're playing- and not the way it's being played back.
You do need to first of all decide.

1. Do you want to have to be glued to the sweet spot for the speakers to sound good? This is my number one concern. I don't want to always have to be glued to the sweet spot, so that there eliminates a bunch of possibilities

2. What placement options do you have and how big is your room? If for example you cannot pull the speakers very far into the room that will also eliminate many speakers from the running. If you have a small room that will also.

3. What kind of music do you mostly listen to? You are not going to find a speaker that does it all for 10K, all speakers are tradeoffs so if classical is your main concern for example then there are speakers that will be more suited to that kind of a sound than one that is great with rock or jazz.

4. What is the rest of your system? This is really important. If you like small low powered tube amps then about 75% of the speakers out there are now out of the running.

WE NEED MORE INFORMATION!
If you're shelling out $10k for new speakers, definitely make a local dealer earn their cut. Any decent shop selling at this level will let you sit and listen as long as necessary until you know what you want, then bring it home for audition. That's the whole benefit to buying new - you take the time to get it right the first time, uswing their equipment so you don't have to keep trading here. Just make sure you are willing to pay retail when you find what you like, rather than use the showrooms, then buy used here.
gentlemen:

i am considering $9500 for a speaker. the type of music that i listen to is not entering into the equation.
you are making the task too complicated.

since i listen to music, i am concerned about timbre and harmonics. i would like to minimize timbral inaccuracy.

based upon my vast experience, i would say that a cone system will not suffice. i know, i have said this before.

a ribbon or electrostatic driver is most like to minimize errors in reproducing timbre ,relative to other driver technologies. whether one listens to jazz , classical, rock, pop, new age, blues, or other genres, one listens to an instrument or instruments.

so, its very simple, what speaker or driver technology will give the listener the impression that an instrument sounds real, natural and live ? i have detrmined that a fast and light weight driver is the way to go, as indicated above, namely electrostat, or ribbon. regardless of the problems associated with maximizing performance from such speaker systems, these driver technologies should be considered.
Consider Merlin VSM. The most accurate I have heard.
A suggestion: when auditioning, use a recording you are familiar with in all the auditions. Hopefully it is something of audiophile quality and has detail, imaging and soundstaging that can be discovered.
When it sounds incredibly life-like and you start to hear things you never heard before give those speakers an oppurtunity by listenting some more and listen to other genres. If you discover that you find other genres intersting you got yourself a winner.
Bottom line is you want to enjoy yourself, and that means discovering the beauty in other styles/ genres.
leroyc33,
Make certain the audition includes using the finest equipment especially the source.
since i listen to music, i am concerned about timbre and harmonics. i would like to minimize timbral inaccuracy.

In real world speakers - ones that play as loud and as dynamically as real music then ATC might be a good place to start auditioning...although you have no doubt heard them before....perhaps you need to give it time... an extended listening perhaps? I agree with you that Quad EL's have an amazing midrange....it is just they are plagued by so many other issues/limitations.
cones are inherently oinaccurate for many reasons. i will not own a cone or horn design. the problems that plague the quad esl and other panel speakers are not inaccuracy of timbre. they are as good as it gets , with the exception of the real thing.

my listening levels vary from 72 to 82 db.
my listening levels vary from 72 to 82 db.

...then forget about trying to get something to sound realistic...this is only a little above conversation levels. Most instruments are designed to be heard by audiences and have dynamics (peaks) that easily exceed these levels - even if these are transients.

cones are inherently inaccurate for many reasons

Gordon Holt used SoundLabs for many years - I am sure he would agree with you about the issues of most cone speakers and the gloriously clean midrange sound of good (expensive) panel designs.....however, Gordon uses ATC SCM 50's at home now so I would not be so prejudiced as to dismiss ALL cone speakers. Contrary to your belief that you need a light weight cone....ATC's use heavy damped cones with huge drive motors ...but the sound is anything but plodding...light, fast and delicate.
Please do some reading on speaker/amp matching and view these components as one integral unit. Also, as others have said, factor in your musical tastes and preferred listening volume. Oh, and also the room (placement constraints, treatments...). Ten large is a lot to spend, so take all the time you need.
I have an old pair of sound lab dynastats (hybrids), i have yet to hear anything like them, very open natural and realistic in the best way, i am waiting on a demo of the sound lab majestic 545 the reviews say they are the end of the road loudspeakers.
i have owned ATC 50a,100a, 150a and 300a they are not close to the sound labs, if you have the budget contact Royal hifi uk for a home demo or in the usa i would phone sound labs themselves.
on my journey i tried apogee duette sig original were best to the updated ones, Quad did not do it for me not after hearing the sound labs, if i had 10k to spend and wanted my last pair of speakers i would go sound labs 545 no hesitation, they do the lot and are very natural realistic and musical go for them you definitely will not regret it, they have been around years and are now much smaller due to design improvements, if your looking for big realistic sound then you need a big speaker if you are content with smaller scale then go for a smaller boxy type, they wont sound like big panels tho and soundlabs have dynamics a plenty i am an audiophile of 35 years with no links to any manufacturer just enthusiasm and passion
Stats.  Only stats.
I hope leroyc33 has decided by this time . . .
ncarv:
I hope leroyc33 has decided by this time . . .
Well, there have been several more realistic-sounding loudspeakers that have come along in the nine years since his original post.

For me, it’s Magnepan’s *.7i series, which is both a boxless panel speaker *and* a line source (win-win), but there are many others, such as:

o Monitor Audio Silver and Gold series with their CCAM drivers
o Bob Carver Corp.'s Amazing Line Source
o MartinLogan’s Masterpiece Series with more refined electrostatic/dynamic hybrids
o KEF LS50 and other speakers based on their Uni-Q concentric driver-- Muon, Blades 1 and 2, Reference    Series, R Series.
o Newer, more refined and ambitious products from WIlson, Magico, YG, and others ...
o Better, faster, and more affordable powered subwoofers that are easier to integrate with a pair of monitors,    panels, or floorstanders, and can elevate a $2K pair of speakers to a full-range system that can compete with    some much more expensive standalone passive speakers.

All these and many more have brought us closer to having the musicians in our listening room, or conversely, transporting us to the recording or concert venue.

There are a lot of speakers that will sound great in one area or another, but in my experience, it has been very difficult for a dynamic speaker
to duplicate the illusion of instruments in an acoustic space versus a true dipole.  I have owned limited baffles such as Vandersteen, I have had Revel Studio 2s, and various electrostatics over the years.  I have for the past four years owned a pair of Magnepan 3.7s and I wouldn't trade them for anything I've had in the past.
The challenge with Magnepan is the appearance typically......and of course they need an enormous amount of current to really sing.....but if you feed them with the biggest Bryston amps you can muster like Magnepan does, you will be rewarded with the most dramatic illusion of "you are there" that has ever been conjured......
You can try to match that with other technologies, but you will not be successful overall unless you move far up the food chain to the likes of Magico and YG and maybe not even then......
Get a great pair of 3.7s for 3K or so, or 5.5K new and never look back.....
I think Shadorne has it-low distortion and wide dispersion (ie.consistent off axis) are top priorities, which eliminates horns, dipoles, electrostatic and good number of other technologies.  

Listening in a small room you are hearing more room than speaker.  For most of us, the only way to really hear the speaker is to eliminate the room- take your speaker outside or to a very large space.  While even these environments can have an effect on the speaker, you are finally hearing more speaker than room.  After you've selected what sounds best outside/in a very large room, now you have to return to your small room to listen.  Everything you thought you knew about your speaker will now change as this small room takes over.  Depending on your speaker's flaws or shortcomings, some of these flaws don't play well in small rooms.  

Poor off axis is a top problem made worse by nearly all rooms.  Uneven bass response is another one.  We are drawn to speakers with more bass in a demo- every time- yet bass is the one thing that is always different between one room and another.  The bass at the store will not be your bass.  The bass with the speakers along this wall will not be the bass when the speakers are put along that wall.  Sometimes 3 inches different can make or break bass in a room.  The bass sitting here will not be the bass sitting there.   All rooms will emphasize some set of low frequencies and will take away others, depending where you sit and where the speakers are.  

So focusing on off axis response and low distortion as values in the speaker inherently makes at least that part a non issue once you get the speaker in a room.  Now the next task to work hard at speaker placement once you get them home.  This is generally to get the best bass and the best imaging.  It amazing to read threads of speaker owners ready to jump ship yet have never moved them around in the room.  You should be moving them all the time, learning your room, learning how this is different from that.  Its usually a bigger difference than speaker cables!  After you find the best placement sonically, then you can attack the last of your problems with acoustic treatment and maybe just maybe, some very subtle room EQ.  

The idea you must avoid is thinking that placing the speakers at home where they look nice and never moving them is a good idea and that any problems or weaknesses discovered from the "look nice" position can be solved elsewhere.  The industry has not done itself any favors pitching a magic little built in software program and $10 microphone that came in the box fixes it all- and if it doesn't, you need new "better" speakers.  

Brad

 
I think many recording engineers will agree that the Quad electrostatics are about as clean and neutral as it gets. I have owned Quad stats for over fourty years now, and have still not heard anything that vanishes more effectively. Apart from size their dowsides are relatively limited bass extension for such an expensive speaker (but what there is is out of the ordinary, and a subwoofer can add the rest), and somewhat limited dynamics, although the modern models are far better at this.
The only dynamic speakers that come close are Harbeth, with their special RADIAL come material and very careful design. The smaller models, like the P3ESRs in my study are superb if size matters, and the biggest ones are great if you are after a big sound in a big room.

Transaudio wrote:  "low distortion and wide dispersion (ie.consistent off axis) are top priorities, which eliminates horns, dipoles, electrostatic and good number of other technologies."

I agree with you that low distortion and consistent off-axis response are top priorities, but some of the very best examples of speakers that do these things well come from the ranks of horns, dipoles, and electrostats!

The best, most consistent measured off-axis responses I have ever seen come from the JBL M2 and the GedLee Summa, both of which use a very high quality 15" woofer crossed over to a very high quality 1" throat constant-directivity waveguide-style horn.  Both of these speakers are extremely uniform across a 90 degree arc in the horizontal plane over most of the spectrum.

Probably even more uniform are SoundLab's faceted-curved panel fullrange electrostats:  Either 45 degrees front-and-back, or 90 degrees front-and-back (depending on the specifics) over the portion of the spectrum where the panel's directional characteristics dominate, transitioning to a dipole figure-8 pattern at low frequencies.  And negligible floor and ceiling bounces. 

Radiation pattern control is probably my top priority as a designer, and in my experience direct radiators are the inferior technology in this area.  If the dispersion is too wide, there is too much energy in early reflections.  Early reflections degrade clarity.  Wide dispersion speakers sound good because the benefit of the late-arrival reflections outweighs the detriment of the early-arrival ones, but ideally we want the beneficial late reflections without the detrimental early ones.  This calls for better radiation pattern control than we can normally get from conventional direct radiators. 

Duke

dealer/manufacturer



HI Duke
Nice company BTW.  Interesting designs! 
  
You are right, there are examples that defy the norm and prove almost any (and especially my) generalization wrong: certain classes of speakers are outside the target of low distortion and wide dispersion.   I still stick by the point that for most home listeners, who need near field and off axis capability, its much more difficult to get good results from common, readily available examples of horns, dipoles and electro stats.   It certainly can be done, but you need to know a lot more to get good results.  

Willemj
In all the years I have worked in pro audio recording, I have never seen a pair of Quads in any recording or mastering studio (and I've been in a lot).   So I don't think you'd get many recording engineers who even know what they are.   While neutral and very revealing, the limited dynamics makes them not practical for commercial recording.  I know Billy from ATC (which IS very common in recording studios) was quite good friends with the Quad guys.  

Brad

  

  


Funny how these zombie threads rise from the dead and come to life after ten years.

From another thread that Leroy started two weeks after this thread in 2008 he asks " Hello everyone. I just bought a pair of Emerald Physics CS2 speakers, I know that these speakers need to be bi-amped, and I am now looking for the amps with which to drive them. "

And of course then asks "so which two amps would be best?" Any of you interested can jump over to that thread and post your advice if you like.

Henry