Top monitors 3K - 6K range

Hello all,

I am looking into some flagship monitors and I'd like some help/recommendations. I don't have a single sound I like and my tastes in music are pretty diverse too. Currently I have a few nice speakers including Harbeth SHL-5, B&W 805N, Magnepan 1.6 and PSB Imagine B. These speakers are all pretty different and I do like them all. I have owned Sonus Faber Cremona Auditor M which somehow did not do it for me, amazing imaging but a little thick. Also I have had the Merlin TSM MMI which was great but my amplification is SS which seems to cause some restrictions.

My room is 12x16, speakers on the short wall. I do tend to like a slightly warm sounds but I also love dynamics, pinpoint imaging and sexy looking cabinets.

I am currently looking into:

B&W 805D
Totem Mani 2 Signature
Dynaudio C1
Focal Micro Be
Usher BE-718
Volent VL-2
Evolution MMMicroOne

Any recommendations? Am I missing anything?
I've been reading great things about the Tekton M-Lores, perhaps they should be added to your list, $649/pr....Very efficient speakers, too. And the Tekton Model 81T's look to be very nice for only $650/pr.

Gallo Classico CL-2s are getting great reviews, too..And only $795/pr.! If you simply must spend more, take a good look at the Gallo Stradas ($999 ea.), Audiogon member Dave Pogue swears by 'em, and Dave surely knows great sound...

BTW, all of these speakers are available direct from the mfgrs. and have 30-60 day in-home trials - woo-hoo!!

You really need to hear Lipinski L505 or L 707's. Fantastic sound. The only way I'll ever sell my L707's is to move up to the bigger models @ 10K each. Happy listening.
I recently went from Proac response 2.5 to the Dynaudio C1 and have been quite pleased. Just about broken in, and I feel as if I'm in a live venue.

Quite a significant upgrade.
Hi Michaelkingdom,

In the last year I have been on a kind of marathon reviewing two-way stand mount reference level speakers for the website as a staff reviewer. No, I did not audition the speakers on your list, but have a very good take on six of the seven you mention based on actually heraing them, and would very highly recommend you put on your list the Lawrence Audio Mandolins, that retail for around $3500.00, which includes stands. These have turned out to be my favorite stand mount for the following reasons: 1)Great dynamics and extension on the bottom end for a small speaker. 2) Seamless intergration between the Ribbon tweeter and cone driver. )Beautiful/natural timbres and tonality. 3) The best soundstaging/layering of any two way that I have heard for review.

The build quality is first rate and the Mandolin's physical apperance is quite attractive indeed. If you have never seen what they look like go to the Lawrence Audio website for pictures and other reviews on these speakers that praised them very highly.

Because Mr. Lawrence and his speaker models just got to the states in the last cuople of years, they priced them to be a great bargain because of all of the above mentioned details.
The Odyssey Kismet are a nice speaker in your price range. Vapor Cirrus also falls in that price range. Also, there is currently a pair of Ridge Street Audio Sason for sale here for $3800 and they would be an excellent choice. No connection with the seller. One last suggestion is the Intuitive Design Summit. Really a great speaker. It would be hard to go wrong with any of them.
You mentioned Dynaudio C1's. If you listen loud most of the time they are great. The originals sound much better as you crank them up. On the other hand if you listen at lower to moderate levels the new MKII/Signatures really shine. They sound really good at all levels.

That being said I almost bought the SF Cremora auditor M's. Then I heard the Dyn C1's. I bought the C1's and have since upgraded to the C1 Signature. BTW the MKII and Signature sound the same where the Signatures comes with either the Mocha or Bordeaux high gloss finish and 10 yr warranty.
You have some very good speakers there - what is the rest of your system? Perhaps you're looking in the wrong place for improvement.
Selah Audio Tempestas. Easily better than those models on your list that I've heard (and owned), C1, VL-2, 805, Usher, and Totem. A friend owns Vapor Cirrus and he prefers my Tempestas to those too. I've not heard the MMMicro.
A great speaker by any standard.
Oh the one mentioned I've heard, I think the Evolution MMM, Selah Veritas, and Vapor Cirrus are all excellent. I'd ad Fritz's Carbon 7 to this list, at under 2k. I'd expect of these would play pretty well with SS amplification, and I'm betting with any of them, a bit of grunt would be helpful in your middle-sized room.

Cirrus may be the most impressive on this list, to many ears. It is also the priciest, but it competes with speakers that are a lot pricier.

I prefer all of the above to the Dyn C1, and also to the Totem monitor I've heard (can't remember name, but top of their range).

There are lots of good choices here, and no substitute for hearing them *in your room, with your kit*. I believe Selah and Fritz in particular will be very helpful on this.

The rest of my system is pretty diverse. For amplification I have:

Bryston B60R
Exposure 2010S2
Outlaw RR2150
Behringer EP4000

I listen to digital audio, vinyl and radio. Jazz, female vocals, electronic, Caribbean.
I haven't heard any of the speakers on your list but as far as mini monitors go I haven't heard anything to best the Lenehan ML1 Reference:

One thing I can tell you though is that the parts quality used in this speaker is well above that of any of the speakers you mention - each Duelund VSF Copper capacitor for example costs $500.00 each. No other manufacturer uses them - they are that pricey.

If you can wait a little bit Steromojo will be doing a review on them soon so you can see what they think.

I live close to the maker, often go there to listen to their stuff and own a lot of their equipment so I am probably biased.

I agree with Polk432 to add Lipinski L707 to your list. I would also add a pair of Celestion SL700s (esp the SE version) if you can find them.
This extends past your budget a bit but the Silverline Reference 17 Supreme is nice. Swap out the capacitor for a Duelund VSF and the resistor for a Duelund or Mundorf and you would have a very nice speaker. The speaker is great even with no crossover changes but does respond well to crossover upgrades.
I would add the audience clairaudient 2+2 and also the fritz Rev 7 or illuminator be to your list. I own the audience and they have a very coherent and electrostatic transparency to them. I've heard many of the fritz speakers in my home (thanks fritz for coming by!) and I thought the carbon 7 were very good, but thought the rev 7 and illuminator exhibited a higher level of clarity and refinement. Given your high budget, I would try one of those
Salk HT1's. They are a little large, but they can look pretty sexy on Sound Anchor stands with an exotic veneer.

Joseph Audio Pulsars would be worth a listen. I'd think you could find a lightly used pair at the top of your price range. Best of luck.
Wcheng, no more Vapor?
dc10audio Berlin Studio Monitor if you like high efficiency along with the solid wood constructions not cheep but very unusual
Wcheng upgraded to the Cirrus.
For me dynaudio c1 works better on long wall,they power hungry,loves quality source.Sounds big,dynamic ,nice 3d sound and imaging.I have SHL-5 too
Shelby + Kroll Nano Monitors with a matching Woofer Monitor!
Very "sexy" and I have been listening to them for about 1.5 years and love what they do. Great detail with a huge side to side and front to back soundstage. I'm using SS amplification and a Dspeaker Dual Core 2.0 as preamp,dac and room correction device. All of this will fit perfectly in your budget and you will have a considerable amount left over for music!
Go with Vapor Audio and you can have something that looks like this.;area=browse;album=8587
Lipinski 505s and 707s +1.
I recently purchased the Evolution Acoustics MMMicroOne monitors. I haven't done any critical listening yet, but what I hear so far I like. I
probably have about 50 - 60 hours on them. They are very well built and look absolutely gorgeous as well. They could have gone through a nuclear explosion and I don't
think they could have been damaged in shipping. Packed extremely well!!! An extra added bonus, my wife likes them! Kudos to evolution acoustics. Jonathon Tinn was a joy to work with, and extremely helpful and courteous. More on the sound when they are fully broken in. So far, so good!
I'll second the Shelby + Kroll Nano monitors. I don't even have the woofer monitor yet and still love them. Tim does state he thinks they sound their best with class A SS but I'm sure liking what I'm hearing with tubes, It's a shame more people haven't heard these. The fact that you can get a pair of Nano Monitors and the woofer monitor for approx $3000.00 is an absolute bargain.
Good luck, lots of choices out there
""Go with Vapor Audio and you can have something that looks like this.;area=browse;album=8587""

Well, that doesn't lool like a good build quality.
Another Vote for the Lenehan ML1's.

You just wont believe all that sound is commimg from that little box!
Thank you for all the great responses. This thread has opened up my possibilities greatly. What I find odd is that the Dynaudio C1 seems to be looked upon as the unspoken forerunner. I have not heard it so I can't comment but there is quite a bit of respect given to it. However, I am not really about dynamics/power - I like imaging, delicate treble and listenability but with a forward leaning sound.
Sprks and Jdec: The thread you reference -- concerning a dispute where there are two sides of the story -- has been quarantined on Audio Circle. Perhaps we should follow the example there. Before doing so, perhaps fairness dictates that we also note the many excellent reports on Vapor speakers (such as the 2012 RMAF coverage).


Your desire for imaging, delicate treble and listenability perfectly describe the Dynaudio c1. As mentioned previously, I have been so happy with my upgrade from Proac 2.5.

I tend to listen for long periods and I never experience any fatigue. Just lush beautiful music, like the musicians are in the room with me. Mine by the way are the newer c1. I believe MKII.
The Evolution Acoustics Micro Ones are insanely good. I own a pair of EA MM3s in my main system and recently picked up a pair of Micro Ones for a 2nd system. The Micros share their big brother's fabulous tonal balance and have bass output which needs to be heard to be believed. Truly a breakthrough monitor at an unbelievable price. Fit and finish equal the MM3s!
Focal Diablo Utopia. Maybe out of your price range a bit. I've only heard of their bigger model Scala but Diablo is direct competition to some of the speakers you mentioned and most likely to come out ahead. It's the smallest brother of Grande Utopia, $180k cost no object reference speakers.
I ended up getting a set of Focal Utopia Micro BE. They are very nice. They are different anything I have heard. Soundstage beyond the speakers in all directions, cartoony image. I've had them for about a week so it is still very early.
Congrats on the purchase! Make sure to report back your impression after some time. :)
Micheal, any further comments on the sound of the Micro BEs would be welcome. Thanks.
I recently added the C1s to the mix, going head to head with the Focal Micro BE and the SHL5. Some impressions will follow soon when things have settled.
Micro Utopia Be and SHL5's, those were my last 2 speakers. The Vapor Cirrus replaced both, now is the first time I can remember where I'm not thinking at all about upgrades. No dealers to give you a demo, but write Vapor and there might be an owner in your area.
Joseph Audio Pulsar gets my vote.
Michaelkingdom - Are the C1 originals or MKII/Signature? Like I had mentioned earlier the originals are great but sound their best at higher listening levels. MKII/Sig sound a world better at low to mid listening levels.
I have had the chance to spend time with all three speakers - the Focal Utopia Micro BE, Dynaudio C1 Signature (MKII) and the Harbeth SHL-5 Anneversary edition. Simply put, all three speakers are of fantastic quality and they all do what they set out to do very well. My taste in music tends to be somewhat varied covering jazz, folk, new age, rap, punk rock, dance hall and electronic music. Also I listen to a lot of NPR (for the sound quality - politics aside) and watch a decent amount of home theater (tv shows and wordy movies). My source is mostly a Sonos streamed through a Behringer DEQ2496 (DAC & EQ). The Focal's were playing off of an Arcam AVR600, C1's off of a Cary SLI-80 Signature and the Harbeth's off of an Exposure 2010S2. My room is 11x13, fairly well treated. For the sake of these observations I will only be comparing the Dyanaudio's to the Focals. The Harbeth's are just too enigmatic. I'll add my thoughts where I can about the Harbeths. However they are just such a different experience, I think it will only cause confusion. That being said, I will not be parting with the Harbeths anytime soon.

I understand that my room is small. I am sure there are a lot of people who immediately dismiss the possibility of listening to high-end audio in a room as small as mine. I have always been able to achieve great imaging and sound staging. Bass can be a little strong depending on the speakers but I have the ability to digitally and gently reduce those frequencies before they get to the DAC so that any bass bloat is removed. I am talking about a gentle 1-3 dB redustion between 20hZ and 100hZ - so it is a gentle correction and nothing to be alarmed about - in my experience.

Generally, most of my observations are based off of listening to instrumental jazz on FLAC because I find that it has the best atmosphere, sound staging and the instruments are like characters in a conversation. Jazz can be a good vehicle for showing a speaker's personality. Diani Krall is a mainstay (Live in Paris - FLAC) along with various other jazz groups.

So, here are my observations along with my own made-up categories - I am sorry if this does not adhere to audiophile terminology - for me this is a hobby and I am having fun so I made up my own categories somewhat:

Position of listener - by this I mean if you were sitting in a concert venue, position of listener refers to how close or far you are sitting from the stage. The C1s give a front row feeling - as if you are right in front of the musicians, possibly only 5 to 10 feet away. It is a very intimate experience. I found the soundstage very focused on the center with a relatively muted periphery. The Focals are different. They make you feel like you are sitting about four rows back - still good seats. The stage and presentation is wider. There is more information and more to take in. Contrasted to the C1, the Focals have a more robust periphery to the soundstage whereas the center image is not the obvious focus. Simply put, The C1s feel more intimate and the Focals more grand. The SHL-5s listener position feels like it is from the second row. The soundstage is centrally focused and the venue feels more medium-sized.

Drama - by this I mean he ability for the speaker to grab you and tell you "something important is happening here!" This is an area which is probably the result of personal taste. Perhaps I should leave it out of the review but in my observations I found the Focals to be more dramatically communicative. The C1s seem to be a little more neutral - hifi like. They are here on business, it's not a social call. The SHL-5s are a dramatic speaker to listen to but still carry the British politeness. They seemed to say, "excuse me, isn't this amazing?" And it is amazing.

Authenticity - The C1s remind me the most of reality. Listening to them feels the most accurate and authentic of the three speakers. All instruments and sounds were immediately recognizable for what they are. The C1s do this with chilling accuracy. The Focals on the other hand take a break from reality - the sound has a cartoony / caricature-like personality. However, I found myself preferring the Focals because the sound was easier to process. Where the C1s are extremely real to the point of bewilderment like an HD image, the Focals are more like a beautiful painting / cartoon. The SHL-5s are hard to describe here. They are enigmatic. They are voiced with mad genius that is always interesting and fascinating but also slightly hazy which adds to their mystery and beauty. I love them but the C1s take the cake on authenticity.

Bass - the C1s are the obvious heavyweight here. I found they are proud of their bass and well integrated into their overall presentation as an essential component. However, I did find the quality of the bass to be slightly dry. The C1s emit bass that has presence like a floor stander but I do get the feeling that, "there is bass and then there is BASS." The c1s are the lowercase bass. The Focals and the other hand focus on the upper regions. The bass is very respectable but it is a second tier element in their sound. It has a genuine richness to it but it is only a compliment to the upper regions - not a major element. The SHL-5s have the meatiest, most realistic and best integrated bass. The bass has flesh on it - it is healthy. The cabinet size seems to have some advantages here because unlike the small monitors, the SHL-5s bass has depth AND authority - whereas the Focal has richness and the C1s have span.

Coherance - The C1s are by far the most seamless across the sound spectrum. From the bass all the way up onto the highs of the Esotar, I never felt that there was one area that was exaggerated. The Focals on the other hand are tweeter oriented. Depending on taste, this can be a good thing or a bad thing. I am a huge fan of the beryllium tweeter, which has never fatigued me in the least. The beryllium tweeter is a brilliant driver which enables the Focals to shine. However, the mids take a backseat. This is not a flaw as it is implemented by design to show off the amazing tweeter. However, it definitely provides a top emphasized experience.

Imaging/soundstage - The Focals provided good imaging after a lot of adjustment. The center image is a little bit further back and is rich with soft edges. I found that over time it was the easiest to listen to. I can go back to the painting analogy here - the Focals have an artistic quality that has the simplicity of a painting when compared to the HDTV experience of the Dynaudios. The C1s have a holographic central image whose distance from you is not immediately clear because of its depth. Female vocals can sound scarily real. Instruments emit with near pinpoint accuracy out of space. The C1s definitely do a better job of giving you a location for every instrument and voice. However, the Focals have a wider soundstage. The periphery/atmosphere that they provide is massive and infinite. Where the Dyns win with central imaging, the Focals win with width / bredth of soundstage. The SHL-5s center image is the most solid of the three. Where the C1 provides an solid, rich center image, the SHL-5s go two stages more. It is creepy, unsettling and borderline emotionally destabilized how real and solid the center image can be. A trumpet does not sound "like a real trumpet," - it IS a trumpet. This is the area where the SHL-5 transcends the hobby for me. The SHL-5s do not do everything other hifi speakers do but in their holographic imaging there is a shimmering brilliance.

NPR/HT Dialogue - I preferred the Focals here. They have a softer and more supple tone. I have always been a fan of muted, polite British tonality and this is where the Focal/Arcam combo shines. The C1 voices are a little bottom heavy, just a little bit too much bass to sound clean. For home theater that is dialogue heavy (comedies, Woody Allen films), the Focals are relaxing and non-fatiguing to listen to. The C1s are better suited towards dynamic films. If I was more of an action / thriller watcher, I think I would prefer the C1s because they are more dynamic and focused.

Listening Style - In general, I found the Focals to be more relaxing to listen to. I found myself passively sitting there enjoying the music without feeling pushed or prodded. The C1s are more of an "experience." I found that regardless of volume, they always hold your attention. This can be a good thing because they are captivating but also was a little too intense for me in the long run. I found the Focals to be accessible but more of a passive experience.

Character - if I had to come up with a single phrase to describe each speaker I would say "accuracy" for the C1s, "grandeur" for the Focals and "enigma" for the SHL-5s. The C1s sound real, accurate, neutral, perfect, singular, balanced. - The Focals do not sound real, they sound better than real. They produce a representation of sound which comes across as technology implemented to create art. The appreciation of art is a subjective thing so the Focals might not be everyone's taste. The C1s however are closer to what I think of as true sound. The SHL-5s character is amazing. I always get the feeling that they are like a diamond draped in silk. The sound is amazingly rich and beautiful with a little bit of a rounded off nature to keep it from being overbearing.

The Tweeters - They are both excellent tweeters. However, I do love the beryllium. I have not heard RAAL or diamond but for my taste is the best that I've heard in that it produces the most information, reveals every nuance and is completely non-fatiguing to my ears. The Esotar is also amazing in its accuracy but is slightly relaxed in the micro information it transmits. Dynaudio is playing with black space and has a slightly moody characteristic - the Focal is more of a daytime / light experience. I love them both and I could live with them both because they are some of the clearest I've heard - I am just bowled over by Focal here.

Midrange - The C1 midrange is spookily realistic and accurate. The Focals cannot keep up here. The midrange is a gem. Female voices (Adele, Amy Winehouse...) are beautiful and lush. The Focals by comparison can be difficult to listen to after such a glorious performance by the C1s. There is a rightness about the C1s midrange that the Focals can't touch. Add to the this stunning holographic imaging of the C1s and you have a performance that can give you goosebumps. - The SHL-5s however have a mid range that is even more dynamic, brilliant and gleaming than even the C1s. I can't imagine a more amazing female vocal speaker than the SHL-5. Harbeth is the clear leader here, in my opinion. T

So, there are my rablmings. Nobody wins. Everyone goes home with a trophy. Thank you if you read this far or even if you skipped to the last paragraph.

Tannoy Definition DC8
Great post Michael. Especially enjoyed your feelings on the C1, and I do agree.

Have had mine MKII, for a few months replacing Proac response 2.5. I was amazed how a monitor could sound this impressive especially replacing a floor stander. Proac was also a wonderful sound, but I think I am enjoying these quite a bit.

Must admit did have to get accustomed to the change after so many years living with the "British sound".

Sounds to me like the Dynaudio C1 is the one to get--the easiest to live with, as it has the most seamless top-to-bottom coherency, realistic midrange, and no single frequency range that calls attention to itself as you get with the Usher beryllium tweeter. Over time these features that "stick out" distract you from the music. I suspect that with the Ushers it would be all about the tweeter. With the Dynaudios it would be about the music.
I purposely left out which speakers I kept because I didn't want it to affect the way that I was describing the sounds. In the end, I did end up keeping the Focals simply for the fact that I like the way they sounded more. All analysis aside, they just fit better the type of listening that I do. The C1 is perhaps the statistical winner in my comparison but that was derived from listening habits that were outside of my normal path. On a regular day, with my normal habits the Focals are a much better fit. I find it amazing that the BE tweeter is not considered legendary because to me it is the single most dynamic driver I've ever heard - yet...

I am thinking of trying out some 805Ds to see how they match up.
Thanks for the unbiased, insightful and intimate review, Michael. I enjoy reading it. It deserves a new thread.
Many thanks to Michaelkingdom for taking the time to provide such a well thought out analysis. I'm sure your post will be very helpful to those looking for a good monitor.
Those attending the upcoming Axpona show in Chicago are invited to visit our room, 902, to listen to the Transmission Audio M1i Reference Monitors. $4500/pair.
After receiving them last week, the Vapor Audio Cirrus definitely belongs somewhere near the top of this list
Thank you. I did post the response in it's own thread so that it can be accessed by people seeking comparisons of those speakers.
Have you listened to the Totem Mani-2? I have heard them on multiple occasions and I always thouhgt they sounded great. IMHO a little less analytical when compared to the C1 but they do sound more musical. From what I have heard. I would love to have a shootout between some monitor speakers like the diablo, C1 and Mani-2. To see how my dynamic solution master one speakers compare to these.