Tone, Tone, Tone !



I was reminded again today, as I often am, about my priorities for any speaker that I will own.

I was reminded by listening to a pair of $20,000 speakers, almost full range. They did imaging. They did dynamics.They did detail.

But I sat there unmoved.

Came home and played a number of the same tracks on a pair of speakers I currently have set up in my main system - a tiny lil’ Chihuahua-sized pair of Spendor S 3/5s.


And I was in heaven.

I just couldn’t tear myself away from listening.

Why?

Tone.

The Spendors satisfy my ears (MY ears!) in reproducing music with a gorgeous, organic tone that sounds so "right.". It’s like a tonal massage directly o my auditory system. Strings are silky and illuminated, saxes so warm and reedy, snares have that papery "pop," cymbals that brassy overtone, acoustic guitars have that just-right sparkle and warmth. Voices sound fleshy and human.

In no way do I mean to say the Spendors are objectively "correct" or that anyone else should, or would, share the opinion I had between those two speakers. I’m just saying it’s often experiences like this that re-enforce how deeply important "the right tone/timbral quality" is for me. It’s job one that any speaker has to pass. I’ll listen to music on any speaker as background. But to get me to sit down and listen...gotta have that seductive tone.


Of course that’s only one characteristic I value. Others near the top of the list is "palpability/density," texture, dynamics.

But I’d take those teeny little Spendors over those big expensive speakers every day of the week, due to my own priorities.

Which brings me to throwing out the question to others: What are YOUR priorities in a speaker, especially if you had to pick the one that makes-or-brakes your desire to own the speaker?

Do you have any modest "giant killers" that at least to your way of thinking satisfy you much more than any number of really expensive speakers?



prof
@prof - I love the sound from my vintage 1980 Infinity RS1.5s. They might not be as accurate as some other speakers I've owned. But! They don't give me a headache and don't give me listener fatigue. They are sealed and have the famous EMIT tweeters and Watkins dual voicecoil woofers. They have smooth highs, good midrange and extended bass for a large bookshelf speaker. No subwoofer necessary and the sealed design allows for easy placement anywhere in my room.

BTW, I paid $264 for them a few years ago. Been loving them ever since and haven't really been searching for replacements. I can afford $10K plus speakers, but prefer to spend my expendable funds on stuff like family vacations, etc. The inexpensive Infinity's keep me happy and not feeling like I need to look for new speakers.
Post removed 
I love the Spendor tone too and cherish my old SP2/2 in my media rig.  Some day, I'll pick up a pair of SP100/R2. I also love my Quad ESL57s. Not expensive, not full range but just so perfect for voice and acoustic, and jazz, and techno, actually anything you throw at them!
Having listened to different speakers in different rooms and systems, my personal conclusion is that a speaker needs to sound "right" when I hear it as a single speaker with a mono recording. The rest of the (audiophile) attributes such as imaging, soundstage, etc., generally fall into place when the pair is set up properly. 
I need big full range sound that only a 3-way tower can provide. I'm done with trying to find a bliss in a bookshelf.
Same as yours--tone first, everything else second. 
Agreed. Tone and dynamics before detail.
Tone first, resolution next. I don't know how you define modest, but mine are modest in size if not price. Not a stand monitor though.
I am willing to sacrifice nothing in terms of excellence. If the system doesn't have enough of what I want, I make it happen. :)
The LS 3/5a is a magic little loudspeaker. We listened to them in awe back in the late 70's and they were part of our ultimate apartment system. Sub woofers were just coming around then and I never got a chance to match them up with subs but I can not help to think that the results would be fantastic....in a smaller room where levels over 90 db were not required. 
A funny thing happens when there is a mismatch between image size and volume. Distortion levels may be fine but as volume exceeds image size the illusion of reality collapses and there is no denying that you are listening to an electronic recreation. The best way to minimize this is to get the speakers up on stands at ear level. This is why tower systems have become the norm as they sound "larger." But what they are trying to mimic is an LS 3/5a on stands! It was the speaker that started it all. 
Now back to everybody's favorite subject psychoacoustics. We get very use to what we have been listening to and deviations from our norm will sound wrong. Speakers can sound quite different with just small shifts in frequency response. As an example a speaker with a small dip in and around 3000 Hz will sound smoother than a speaker with a flat response in this region. This takes the sting out of sibilance. When you have the ability to alter the frequency response of a system you can discover all kinds of tricks like dropping 100 Hz 3 db takes the fatness out of some speakers giving you a seemingly tighter more detailed bass. Speakers that are flat out to 20K sound fine a low levels but as the volume increases become progressively shriller. The squint factor. So the way a speaker performs depend very much on the volume you like to listen at. Here lies the importance of tone controls. As the volume increases you lower the treble from flat. As the volume decreases you increase the bass from flat. Tonality is thus a moving target.
CDs are the poster child for not getting anything right - tone, dynamics or resolution! 🤗
tone, soundstage, dynamics are my 3 criteria
Often I find that people define tone as pleasant coloration. When you examine how a speaker is made and all of the specifics of this design, you can usually predict very accurately how this speaker will sound. A perfect example for me would be Harbeth. If this is what you like then more power to you, but please dont mistake these type of designs as accurate. For me a speaker should as much as possible reproduce what they are handed and this is not what speakers like Harbeths or Spendors for that matter actually accomplish. Having said this, I far prefer these designs to examples representing the "West Coast" sound. 
Tone(timbre),detail,dynamics,soundstage in that order are most important to me.If it's not 100% correct in someone else's opinion no matter.
but please dont mistake these type of designs as accurate. For me a speaker should as much as possible reproduce what they are handed and this is not what speakers like Harbeths or Spendors for that matter actually accomplish.
I agree that personal preference is important, but I'm puzzled by your assertions here.  Harbeths measure quite well.  Subjectively, I'd say I've never heard string instruments and voice (sounds for which I have frequent live reference) as accurately reproduced as on a Harbeth.  What, specifically, is inaccurate, and to which model do you refer?

A perfect example for me would be Harbeth. If this is what you like then more power to you, but please dont mistake these type of designs as accurate.

Bad example, I think.  At least for certain models.  The SuperHL5plus I owned was beautifully neutral-sounding.  JA from Stereophile in measuring said it measured "superbly even" aside from a lively cabinet it measured "beyond reproach."  


Stereonet sent it for extensive measurements and the result was what they deemed a combination of frequency extension and linearity that was to their memory "unprecedented."

Perhaps you are thinking of other Harbeth models?  (Though I still find Harbeth to get tone "right" in a way that escapes many other speakers).


Anyway, not gonna say more on that as that's not the reason for this thread.  Anyone can prefer what he prefers of course.

What are YOUR priorities in a speaker ...?
Hi Prof,

In my case I agree wholeheartedly that tonality and timbre are priority number one when it comes to selecting a speaker. What can be confounding, though, is that perceived tonality and timbre are dependent on a composite of many factors. And consequently I put it a little differently in the following thread, which addressed a similar question some years ago:

https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/which-attributes-do-you-value-most

The OP in that thread, member Bryoncunningham, raised the following question:

Here is a list of attributes commonly valued by audiophiles, in no particular order:

1. Resolution
2. Soundstaging
3. PRaT
4. Dynamics
5. Tonal balance
6. Harmonic content
7. Accuracy
8. Coherence
9. Frequency extension
10. Scale

The list could go on and on, but you get the idea. I’m interested to hear which attributes people prioritize above others....

My answer in that thread:

1)Harmonic accuracy.

Which in turn encompasses or is affected by many of the factors that have been mentioned (tonal balance, harmonic content, accuracy, clarity, resolution, coherence, lifting of veils, freedom from distortion, etc.). To me "harmonic accuracy" is the most significant determinant of how "real" the instruments sound. I realize that by lumping its contributing factors together I am begging the question :-)

2)Clean transient response.

3)Dynamic range.

4)Frequency extension.

5)Image scale.


Best regards,

-- Al

@prof Right on!!  Too many people these days are being lured, one way or another, to opting for speakers that may be super accurate (debatable) but which aren't pleasant to listen to.

Timbral accuracy is all about getting that unique mix of overtones right, and so ensuring that a viola doesn't sound like a violin.

Tone may be a synonym, or it may be more a question of the overall tonal balance/voicing of the speaker, tilted this way or that.

Yo Prof, it's Tony! Toni! Toné!.  Try to get it right next time.

Music is basically a bunch of structured tones so there you go. Might explain why many people are happy listening to portable devices with speakers. They all can do structured tones in one form or another.
1. Transparency/Tonal balance
2. Soundstaging - wide and deep
3. Dynamics
4. Accuracy
5. Coherence
Out of control..."tone" it down!

Feeling that in Popular music (non-classical), the melody and vocalist are my number one priority (I am hesitant to say that, as it may seem to minimize my love of harmony and counterpoint, as well as the chord structure of songs), the lifelike reproduction of singers and their vocals has to be my personal number one in the reproduction of recorded music.

J. Gordon Holt was a stickler for the reproduction of vocals without what he called "vowel colorations" (he single-handedly created much of the audiophile vocabulary, though Harry Pearson loved to take credit for that accomplishment) . When I read a review of a loudspeaker by JGH in the very first copy of Stereophile I received in 1972, I immediately knew what he was talking about when he used that phrase. We hear voices everyday, and if a loudspeaker (or recording) produces an un-natural tonal-timbral sound, we instantly recognize it as such. How anyone can listen to music through a "colored" loudspeaker is a mystery to me.

I own the spendor s3/5r2’s and I must say I agree. They just sound right. As stereophile reviewer said...these are all I need.....problem is I also own harbeth p3esr's and wharfedale 225's lol. Hard to decide which to listen to at times, but I like having the choices!😁👍
You can’t always get what you want. But sometimes you just might find you get what you need.
For me it's Dynamics, Dynamics, and Tone
bdp24, any loudspeaker is going to change tonality (frequency response characteristics) with different environments. A speaker that sounds right in one room may not in another. Smaller speakers with limited low frequency response are easier to integrate into a room reliably just like the LS 3/5a. It is under 100 Hz where all hell breaks loose in most normally sized domestic rooms. Coloration below 100 Hz most definitely effects the lower midrange (voices). I find coloration like this most annoying. No bass is better than bad bass. (unless you are only into theater) But, put on a record that has someone just talking for a bit. Have someone stand between your speakers reading Shakespeare. There is no mistaking the real voice. It is larger with more resonance. It is not easy making a system reproduce voice at the level where you could be fooled into thinking it was a real voice. So most of us have to compromise in some way depending mostly on what type of music we like to listen to at what volume. The biggest challenge in system set up is choosing the right speaker for the job based on the client's preferences and pocketbook. For someone who was not a bass freak in a smaller room the LS 3/5a was an easy choice. In larger rooms the Dalquist DQ-10 was another easy choice.  if you want a modern speaker that sounds like an LS 3/5a on steroids listen to the Sonus Faber Venere S. 
I tout these speakers often, and for good reason, the wharfedale diamond 225's imo just do a lot of things right for a measly (on sale) price of 349! Regularly 449...they have bass, they have warmth, they have excellent midrange, and no listener fatigue. I dont care about price honestly, and do not allow it to persuade my judgement. If my ears like it then good. The 225's have to be the biggest bargain in hifi loudspeakers since the original diamonds in the early 80's. I'd recommend a listen to those who may not of thought of these. 

Why give up anything, just have it all?  I have a DHT DAC that delivers all of these attributes in spades and a phono stage that is even better.  I don't need to settle anymore.

Happy Listening.

The term "tone" gets close to the point for me but I use the word, "coherence." Some speakers give me the feeling of presenting the music as a whole and others seem to break the music down to its component parts. I've listened to several pairs of megabuck Wilsons and they are extremely detailed but they don't sound like music to me. Same with the top model Martin Logan. On the other hand my vintage Mirage M3si's don't provide the extreme level of micro detail but I can close my eyes and imagine I have a band or orchestra in front of me. They don't call attention to themselves or certain components of the music. They fill the room with a gorgeous image of what I think the recording/mixing engineer was shooting for.
I have learned through many years any speaker that sounds good 
will sound at least 10-20% better just by upgrading the wiring and rebuild the Xover with Good quality parts 90% of speakers even at 12kor more  rarely put top quality capacitors,resistors inductors ,and yes you get what you pay for . Duelund cast capacitors way too expensive and too big unless you have a Big speaker or external Xoverand the $$. On average $1-2k in parts can get you a Exceptional Xover 
that will transform your speakers.for the majority use Solen or lower grade Clarity or Mundorf ,not their top stuff.I have been doing this for almost 20 years even with your electronics ,it pays big dividends sonicly.
I rewired my whole system including electronics with VH Audio
solid Core -OCC Teflon copper wire,and only Copper connections throughout, most companies use gold over Brass which is 4x less conductive and bright compared. it made a Huge difference 
in system synergy ,to complement the Xover upgrade. These are 
things that cost say $3k in total but better then if I spent 3-4 x that 
for cable markup alone in name brand  cables is 4-5x  at least.
knowing the quality of the wire and geometry  is the main thing 
then just taking the time to do it and save $1,000s in the process.
I refer to the entire Harbeth line although I have never heard these speakers in my home. I did, I think, get a very good idea of how they sounded at shows and at a few dealers. I am sure they can sound better but the fundamental "house" is pretty hard to forget.

All Harbeths I have heard all have a tendency to homogenize material. I hate the cabinets and take issue with the designers belief in this being an effective energy dissipation method. Essentially you have a big vibrating box with a large surface area. I dont like large front baffles and I shouldnt have to explain why these are not a good thing. Feel that first order crossovers are best and am guessing a 2nd or 3rd order is used by Harbeth. I certainly dont see any attention paid to time alignment. In addition dont like ported speakers and also feel no science exists that supports this type of design other than a pleasant hump, increased efficiency and a reduction in cabinet size.

So what I see is a bunch of speaker design "no-nos" all of which coincidentally reduce the production cost that are then presented as a viable design methodology that doesnt make sense to me and also runs counter to the design philosophies from speakers that I think sound best.

I am not knocking anyone that likes this type of sound. But it is safe to say that those of you that like Harbeths hear things in a very different way than I. Who is to say which of us is correct?






I'm pretty fond of my Omega Super 3i Monitors. These are Omega's entry-level loudspeaker ($695). They are a tube-friendly single-driver design efficient enough to sound great with 2 WPC. Tone, vocals, and coherence is wonderful (no crossover to muck up the sound). I think they're a true bargain. Add a sub for the lower registers. SET/single-driver loudspeaker systems certainly aren't for everyone but I can honestly say I never been happier.

jsautter

So what I see is a bunch of speaker design "no-nos"

Which somehow add up to very good measured performance - very often more neutral than the vast majority of measurements found for other speakers.  Take a look even at JA's measurements for the Harbeth Monitor 30.2 40th An. edition.  Beautifully even tonal balance, even the bass "maximally damped" design, cabinet resonances there but "low in level" by JA's comment.  (A bit of a bass bump there, but typical for measurements of most speakers, including my beloved Thiel 3.7s, and even my sealed-box Spendor 3/5s).

Totally disagree that the Harbeths homogenize instruments - I find the opposite (relative to loudspeakers in general - every loudspeaker to my ear homogenizes to some degree, but I find the Harbeths among the most convincing, tonally).  

Anyway, as you say, horses for courses.  No reason you have to like them.  But I do think that once we start making claims about speakers being "colored" or "not neutral enough" etc we are in to objective-claims territory. 

Btw, I'm also a fan of time/phase coherent speakers as I own Thiel 2.7 speakers as well. I just find different speaker designs do one or another thing like like better - no perfect speaker.




Thanks for all the great responses!
@almarg 

(and others)

Yes the whole tone/timbre thing is fairly vexed.  Like a lot of us, when I hear, or play, unamplified instruments I am struck by the richness and harmonic beauty (and, often, "warmth").   I think "that's what I want, wow that would be great if my system could reproduce that."

Unfortunately I find that every system homogenizes instruments, and instrumental timbre to one degree or another.  (I want to lay blame on speakers, which typically introduce the most distortion in the chain).

Even the most "neutral" or "best" measuring speakers I've heard homogenize, in that once I hear drums, cymbals, sax, trumpet etc the sense of "surprise" is gone; I know how those will sound through the speaker forever more, unlike the sense of almost "limitless" timbral pallet in the real world.


So when I hear so many instruments and voices sounding essentially timbrally "right" through a speaker, as I do through my Spendors it's hard to decide whether such speakers more accurately reproduce the actual timbral qualities of the real thing, or whether the speakers have a "voice" or "coloration" that happens to be consonant with the real thing. 
My feeling is that it's more of the latter than the former, as I can hear a consistent voice from the Spendors, like any speaker.   There isn't the level of timbral variety and surprise of the real thing, but most instruments/voices have a *quality* that *feels like* the real thing.

Hand claps through the speaker sound timbrally like my own hand claps in the room.  I have an acoustic guitar I play, that I've recorded and when I play it back on some speakers it sounds vivid, but timbrally gray, plastic, electronic.  "Made of the wrong stuff" and not evoking the same tonal colors in my mind's eye as does the real thing.

When I play the recording of my acoustic guitar on the Spendors - I'll be damned but my brain says "yes, THAT is what my guitar sounds like FOR REAL."  The same "sparkly, warm, golden" overtones that I "see" when I play the guitar.  The same "slightly papery/fleshy quality" of the fingers on the strings.   I can play that recording on the Spendors, then play my guitar and...yup...that's essentially, timbrally, what it sounds like.

This is something I really value - for the same reason I can sit and play my guitar and be transfixed by the beauty of it's tone, if a speaker can do some of the same thing - even by subterfuge of some sort - it's much more pleasurable than speaker producing a hyper-detailed, holographic "guitar thing" in front of me, but which never gives me the sparkle and inherent richness/timbral warmth I enjoy in the real thing.   So every speaker homogenizes, but I prefer one that homogenizes in a voice that reminds me of the qualities I value most in the real thing.






Speakers need to make me notice how pleasant they sound from the other room, doors may be open. Maybe because I will rarely sit in front of them.
@prof 


I agree with your last post and that the spendors have great tone... but put them in the wrong room or with the wrong equipment and they may not shine so well..... and my brain may hear and process what an acoustic guitar sounds like a little differently than yours and as a result, I may prefer speaker x to the Spendors 


This is the great audio journey... finding the source, preamp, amp and speaker that in your room allow your brain to say “this sounds right and it sounds good”.



prof,
I assume that when you suggest a speaker measures well you are referring to frequency response?

I have seen JA ignore, explain away or excuse very bad measurements on speakers which frequent the pages of Stereophile while scratching his head over why a speaker with bad frequency response sounds good. I would suggest that JA appears to know how to measure but is at a total loss as to why certain measurements are or are not important. 

I would suggest, and this applies to all enthusiasts, that you are only as enlightened it terms of quality, as the best systems you have ever heard.
The best systems you will ever hear are rarely at dealers and never at shows. 


Interesting jsautter.

JA has been measuring speakers, and mapping the results to audible characteristics, for as long as I can remember.  I have no idea what type of experience you have to compare - hence no idea how much weight to grant your claims.  (?)


Can you give me any examples of the best systems you are referring to?

In terms of my experience, over the decades I've heard most of the "big guns" in high end audio.  I've been working in the pro sound world (film/television) since the late 80s, my work having been mixed at various millions-of-dollars pro systems.

Not sure what type of "higher bar" you are talking about.

(And, if my experience still isn't enough to recognize good sound, I'm wondering about whatever relevance the systems you have in mind have for the real world choices for most audiophiles). 

No doubt measurements have a value and a place....maybe they may get you to the right arena in the right city...but they probably won't get you to the right seat.  Why?  Because we all have individual preferences...we have different gear...we have different rooms.

If you want to explore the whole measurements discussion and correlation, then this is a fun read.

https://www.avsforum.com/forum/89-speakers/3038828-how-choose-loudspeaker-what-science-shows-98.html
Prof, if you ever get the opportunity you must listen to a set of full range electrostatic loudspeakers. Quads or Soundlabs. I think your opinion on what a loudspeaker can do will evolve a bit.

Audioguy85, it is not that the Whardales are cheap it is just that many speakers are comically overpriced as would be indicated by resale values. Just pick out the most expensive drivers you can find and add up the prices. Double the sum for labor and crossover parts. Is there any box worth $200,000?  
snapsc,

I"m familiar with that thread.

I fully respect the work done by Toole et al on correlating speaker design with general listener preferences.   Problem for me is the personal applicability.   I've auditioned the speakers designed via that research - e.g. Revel - and found them to be extremely competent, and to "sound" like the measure as much as the measurements can predict.  But it hasn't predicted this "sounds right to me" specific timbral quality I'm talking about.   In other words, the Revel speakers just never had the "it" factor in their voice that made me immediately feel 'yes, that's like the real thing.'

(It would be fascinating to undertake the Harman Kardon blind tests.  Statistically I'd have to expect that I would actually choose a Revel speaker over ones I *think* I like more in sighted tests.  Which is an interesting conundrum for a buyer - buy what sounded better under blind conditions, or what pleased you more under sighted conditions in which you'll actually listen?).

mijostyn
I started off smitten by electrostatics.  I owned Quad ESL 63s, and later also added the Gradient dipole subwoofers made especially for the Quads - still I think the most seamless dynamic woofer/stat blend I've heard, even including the ML hybrids.   (I've heard tons of different ML speakers).

I have of course encountered most of the largest electrostatics exhibited at audio shows.  Aside from that I also have more personal, extended experience with various designs.   As for "full range," depending on your definition, I use to listen to the ML CLS,  I also had a fair amount of time, on and off over a few weeks, listening to my music on the giant full-range A1 Sound Labs, and I also used to listen to a huge double-stacked Quad ESL57s set up at another acquaintance's house. 


I still love electrostatics for their particular strengths - I don't even have to mention them as I think most of us know that electrostatic sound.But for me I can't ultimately be satisfied with electrostatics.  They just move air in a different way that to me sounds detached and somewhat weightless and skeletal, like I'm viewing the performers through a window in to another room, whereas good dynamic speakers have an air-moving dynamic palpability that feels "more real" and/or that connects me more with the music.  Dynamic speakers recreate the performers flesh-and-blood, rather than conjuring up ghosts. 



I get why there are fervent fans of electrostats though.  They do other aspects of accuracy, believability and realism that...if those are your focus...make them really compelling.





@prof, knowing how well the OB/dipole Gradient sub integrated with the QUAD 63, you may be interested to know that there is now a contemporary OB/dipole that does everything the Gradient did, and more. It was developed as a team effort between Danny Richie of GR Research and Brian Ding of Rythmik Audio, and it is really special. It is comprised of a pair of 12" servo-feedback controlled (Rythmik’s reason d’etre) woofers installed in an OB H-frame. It is THE sub for dipole loudspeakers.

Danny Richie showed at RMAF for a few years, using a pair of the OB/Dipole subs at the front of the room and a pair of sealed subs (Rythmik F12G’s) at the rear. His room was voted "Best Bass At The Show" three years running.


wow bdp24, that sounds very cool.  Wish I could have heard that!
Beauty is on ears of beholder. 
The Rega RS1 speakers on my desk give me tone, clarity, and speed so I totally understand your relationship with your Spendors. 

I have tried to replace them so many times with other hyped speakers, but each time I end up not keeping the replacements. 

The RS1s do lose their magic in a larger room. 
bdp24 

 That's an intriguing matchup as Danny Richie was getting a lot of buzz about 10 years ago. Also, I own a pair of 15" Rythmik Audio subs for my home theatre set-up and think they're fantastic! 
To answer the OP question, "non-fatiguing" was a huge priority for me. Read on.

But first, to respond to the inner thread on Harbeths-

So what I see is a bunch of speaker design "no-nos" all of which coincidentally reduce the
production cost that are then presented as a viable design methodology that doesnt make sense to me and also runs counter to the design philosophies from speakers that I think sound best.


Well, I completely disagree about "homogenizing", but YMMV.   I think it's a stretch to say the whole line of speakers is representative of "inaccurate" designs when most of the recent model line at least measures more accurately than most speakers.

The "no-nos" were one of the things that intrigued me in the first place.  It's counterintuitive that optimizing an older, resonance-managed, design is not only appealing to a ton of experienced listeners but also *measures* flat.  And Harbeths just refuse to sound the way their looks prejudice me.  But it's worth noting that Shaw prolifically defends and explains his methods and design choices on the forum.  And he's made significant and expensive changes to the original design in terms of driver materials and crossover design, so they haven't been sitting still.  I hadn't heard Harbeths before recently, but clearly many people think the last few years have brought huge improvements, particularly with the proprietary driver/material.

As for phase coherence, I moved over from Thiels, much like @prof ,  Thiels famously optimize around phase/time coherence.  Honestly, the Harbeths were the only speaker I heard in my last round of auditioning that (and forgive the imprecise analogy) offered as clean a "window" onto the sound as my old Thiels, while providing an even more lively and natural-sounding presentation of instruments I know well from live performance.  That's where I get the "tone is just right" feeling others are referring to here.  Their marketing catch-phrase is well chosen.

I listen to music for hours every day*, and there can be no doubt that a major search criterion for me is "non-fatiguing".  I was happy with my Thiel CS3.6 for 25 years (!), and I'm becoming similarly wedded to the new SHL5+ (Anniv).

Now, Harbeth's ridiculous additive model naming, that's seriously fatiguing.  I suppose some model down the road will be the "Super HL5 Plus Ultra Enhanced Anniversary of Anniversary Edition"

*as I write this, I'm listening to the Sony Classical/Sol Gabetta-Schumann recording on Tidal - lovely open-sounding recording, close-up image, and lovely tone in my living room.
Prof, The reason ESLs sound "skeletal" to you, and I hate sounding like a stuck record is that the ones you have been listening to switch radiation characteristics in the mid bass. They are acting like linear arrays above 250 Hz but like point source radiators below, square of the distance versus cube of the distance. A linear array has to be taller than the lowest wavelength you need to reproduce. Their ability to radiate power drops off dramatically below 250 Hz as you move away from the speaker. Add dipole effects to this and you wind up with wimpy bass. This is what glued everyone to the Acoustat 2+2s. They were the first planar loudspeaker that did not do this. The Soundlabs you want to listen too if you get the opportunity are the Majestic 845s in an 8 foot room or the 945s in a 9 foot room. A linear array that terminates at boundaries above and below acts as a linear array into infinity. At the beginning of Roger Water's Amused to Death is a segment with a barking dog. A friend's medium poodle went ballistic when the dog started barking. Never play Amused to Death with someone's dog in the house.
This notion that dipole subwoofers fit dipole speakers better is faulty. There is just no getting away from the cancelation and front wall effects. The result is very lumpy frequency response and no bass at all below 40 Hz. They will make the satellites sound better as long as you are crossing out of them but that is about it. The mistake people make is trying to match a point source subwoofer to a linear array loudspeaker. Linear array subwoofers either have to be as tall as the room or as wide as the room. That is a lot of woofers.