Transparency and the two types of speakers

Over my many years in this hobby, I have bounced back and forth between two broad types of sound from speakers. The first type has a great deal of transparency, by which I mean they are very revealing of what comes before them (equipment, recording quality). This is not everyone's definition of transparency, but it's mine, at least for this topic. I used Quad 57's for many years and have owned Thiels and speakers from Green Mountain, all of which possess this quality. Clarity and focus and detail generally go along with this form of transparency. I'm drawn to these qualiities, and I certainly appreciate them when I evaluate components and cables.

I'm also drawn to a different type of speaker, one that creates beautiful sound but is not as transparent to what comes before it. In the past few years, this would include speakers from ProAc and Harbeth. It would also include the Dynaudio Focus 140's I put in my system yesterday, which was the catalyst for starting this thread. The Dynaudios had been in my video system since I got them, replacing the GMA Europas, which I inserted into the main music system in place of my Harbeths. I was aware that the Dynaudios sounded warmer and less focused in the video system than the Euopas had (and boy, they took forever to break in), but this difference was nonetheless quite striking when I put the Dyn's in the music system yesterday. These Dynaudios do not sound like what I recall of the higher-end Dynaudio speakers of the past few years, which have always impressed me as being exceptionally neutral and possessing a fair bit of the transparency I talked about above. The 140s are instead very warm and everything sounds seductively beautiful (in a convincing, musical way) through them. But they have less of the focus, clarity and transparency. I love listening to them and expect they'll stay in the system for a while until I start craving transparency again, which I surely will.

Before you start telling me which speakers I should try in order to get the best of both worlds, let me say that my primary interest in starting this topic was not to ask for advice but to have a conversation about this tradeoff with like-minded audiophiles: is it just me, or is this a tradeoff that others of you are aware of and struggle with?

It's a bit of a review cliche to say, "If I were an ordinary audiophle and music lover, I would opt for [such and such], but as a reviewer, I need a component that is more revealing of associated equipment and... blah blah." But that is the dilemma. I want the former sometimes and the later other times.

By the way, the speakers I am currently using that I mentioned above are not commensurate with the rest of my system in terms of price level and probably quality, and I know this. Right now, I prefer to play with small, relatively inexpensive over-achievers (with a sub) while I figure out where to go next.
Ag insider logo xs@2xdrubin
Drubin. Ahh, (Camina Burana in the background) the eternal dilemna. Perhaps the answer for you will, in some form take, shape to that similar to my current solution: multiple systems. Right now I have two tube based systems and one larger solid state system, each with different sources, amps and speakers. The one commonality in all this is time and phase coherency of the speakers in the form of Meadowlark, Thiel and Vandersteen. This is one area I just refuse to compromise with. But having said that, each system offers something a bit different. I have also been much mre aware of the impact of the source having converted to the gospel that this is the most important part of any system. A poor source will make great speakers sound terrible but a great source can make even cheap speakers sound as good as they can. Also the fact that they are separate parts of the house and have their own separate acoustic space plays a great deal in the perception and experience.

I do wish one system would do it all. But we are flexible creatures when it comes to mood and preference, and I find that I like the solid state and tube systems equally. So it's either bend yourself around you environment or if you can mold your musical environment around you.
Drubin: I hear ya!-Loud and clear. Almost 40 years into this hobby and my speaker of choice is a 1992 Essence refrence Super gem, with intuitive audio upgrades. A two-way, time-aligned, first-order x-over, 70 lb. box that over the years has stayed. I have owned 'stats, maggies, dunlavy's-all more trannsparent-but-in the long run not as musical as a truy well-designed 2-way. Spooky in their sound staging capabilities, tonality and harmonic correctness-yet sublety warm with a butterscotch sweetness that is addictive. Did I mention that a good dome tweeter takes about 5 years to break-in and become the warm, bloomy, vibrant, tweeter it was meant to be. Maybe more neubophiles would not be in such a rush to dump their equipment "if they gave it time to mature".
it is possible to get transparency from your dyn audio speakers, just as it is possible to get "beauty" from the quad 57. it depends upon the cd player, amp, pre amp and cables. you can have one speaker system and a variety of electronics.

i favor panel speakers because i find cone designs hard to live with after a few weeks. driver and enclosure colorations bother me.

i look to "defocus" a panel speaker to make it more euphonic, as i believe in the "golden mean".
There's a reason why we keep changing equipment. Sometimes it's not that this is 'better' than that but rather this is 'different' from that. Since even a small cable can alter the sound to considerable effect, one can only imagine the endless of choices in pairing of equipment such as amps and speakers etc. I am equally at home with speaker A or speaker B driven by amplifier C.

You are not alone in this buddy.
I guess I respectfully disagree with Mrtennis on this. Yes, of course you can warm up a system, but that's not what IO'm talking about. If a speaker is not transparent in the way I have defined the term, I've yet to figure out how to make it so. Since you seem to have lived mainly with panel speakers, which usually fall in the transparency camp, you probably have not had to deal with this.

I think your observations are valid. Many speakers obviously sound good, but without transparency, in they sound like "speakers".

I would be so bold enough to suggest however that a speaker must have a good "transparency factor" in order to achieve the ideal of simulating what a live performance sounds like when nicely produced in a live venue. This is not so much a factor in perhaps rock or pop music which might sound very much closer to what you might hear live through speakers that are not "transparent".

With my Dynaudio Contour 1.3mkII monitors, specifically, I can vouch that a recent change to a Musical Fidelity A3CR amp produced a much more "transparent" sound than the Carver amp that preceded it. With the Carver, at least in the smaller room I use these in, I used to rely on processing tricks like Carver's sonic holography to achieve the transparency I was looking for...but this is no longer needed with the MF.

from the intro do my website, for your amusement:

The Road Taken

AMHERST AUDIO is about one music lover-audiophile's earnest search for the "whole" sound of music. Like most such searches, mine (a great deal of which is tracked through reviews on and and notes on has taken the classic anxious zig-zag back and forth between what are often characterized by their respective adherents as "accuracy to source" and "accuracy to performance" – what outsiders call realism and romanticism. It has followed this path because I did not understand that this polarity is an artificial one that has arisen in the world of audio because the sound of ‘live’ music is both romantic and real: two qualities that have, at least thus far, proved impossible to capture equally well in audio. Live music has natural, beguiling warmth but it is also wonderfully clear. I can hear that every time my twelve-year-old practices his clarinet!

The eternal trek back and forth between audio systems that bet all of their marbles on one or the other of these qualities is the real road to audio hell. Because we continually discover that we’re only getting half of the show truly right, the chase induces us try to tame one or unleash the other, balancing opposing forces. Pursuing ‘realism’ tends to bring us the sound of correctness, which we admire…and then try to enliven with expressive cables or warm speakers. Aiming for ‘romanticism’ generally leads to exciting, or at least appealing, colorations, which we must then set about toning or cooling. Both of these as ideals are easy to defend in theory – I’ve done it myself. But when it comes to setting aside ideals and theories and sitting down to listen, it is immediately clear to most of us that this is nuts.

What we must learn to accept is that getting audio ‘Absolutely’ right involves a degree of choice, taking one road or the other – followed by the Brilliant Compromise, which is the clue to it all. If you refuse to choose and continue to pursue the whole sound of music with one batch of components, you will either go crazy or end up with something bland, the famous B student, who’s pretty good at everything and excellent at nothing. We’ve all heard snoozer systems like that, which reviewers can only damn with faint praise. If you want to be transported by reproduced music, if you want to hear high-end audio at its Absolute best, first you must choose what matters to you most, clarity or warmth. And then you must find your way to a designer who not only fulfills this side of the equation Absolutely, but is also able to get a convincing portion of the other side as well.

There are very few of them who do this well enough. So far I have found four, though there are another half-dozen that sometimes sound competitive. [A - name omitted] systems do the best job I’ve ever heard of getting the seemingly transcendental clarity of 'live' music while also producing a slightly rounded and beguilingly ever so soft quality that gets a considerable degree of a performance's natural warmth. It is Aerial-like. [B - name omitted] loudspeakers in conjunction with [name omitted] or [name omitted] electronics, do the best job I’ve heard at getting the warm, emotional immediacy and expressiveness of a live musical performance with the least loss of clarity. It is almost Pan-like. Paired with [C -- name omitted] , [B name omitted] move closer to the clarity side of the equation; paired with [D - name omitted], they move toward warmth and romanticism. As a dealer I have the luxury of being able to move back and forth between these two ‘roads’ in my home, which are a far cry from the radically different extremes I used to chase after. I can tell this because neither sends me running to the other. I love them both, Aerial and Pan, depending on the weather and the arrangement of my internal stars. [A - name omitted] and [B - name omitted] are uniquely successful at achieving the Brilliant Compromise. I know from long experience that despite my contentedness with either, neither really gets the whole sound of music, but sometimes it’s very damn close. And then, when I have to have it all, I go to Buckley Recital Hall here in Amherst or to Jordan Hall in Boston. Which is as it should be.
Thanks Bob. I have read your Website and also spent a fair bit of time in your room at the last RMAF. Your system and the Audio Note system were the show standouts for me for musical enjoyment, not that I've done anything about it.
For me, I find having a little variety in my everyday audio experiences helps keep my ears unbiased and able to appreciate better.

Listening to the same thing all the time can get boring, no matter how good it is.

I appreciate different systems that sound good in different ways, however one might describe them.

Variety is the spice of life!