Tube Friendly High End "Big" speakers


I've been upgrading my system from good to great. I addressed the analog front end first and now have something respectable (Brinkmann Oasis w/ Graham Phantom II Supreme, Lyra Delos, SimAudio Moon 310LP, and Acrolink 8N Reference Phono Cable.

The system is being driven by a PrimaLuna Premium Dialogue Integrated and the speakers are Opera Seconda's in a smallish dedicated listening room. I'm moving into a much larger house, but will no longer have a dedicated listening room.

The room is 21.5' x 14.5' with lots of big windows and a high v-shaped vaulted ceiling which I'll treat with GIK acoustic panels. Not looking on advice on the room. It is what it is. Just giving a bit of info since I suspect it will be on the lively side. Here's a video. The room starts around the 2:10 mark: http://youtu.be/wrDpTsBDD_M

I'm looking to upgrade the Opera's. I really want a "big" speaker, something that will move some air and pressurize a room like this. My preference is for something tube friendly and I'll likely need to use my PrimaLuna for at least a few months. Not really interested in horns though.

I'm looking for a very 3D soundstage that's velvety smooth. Detail is great, but definitely nothing fatiguing as I tend to listen at higher volumes for extended periods. While I do listen to a lot of Classic Rock and Jazz, I also listen to a lot of more modern music. I want something that isn't going to make this stuff sound terrible.

I'm planning to buy used, so anything that retails up to $55-60K might be doable. TAD and Focal are on my radar right now, but it's difficult to read between the lines from reviewers to understand what will work.

Which speakers should I be considering?
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You want something fairly efficient and tube amp friendly.

Audiokinesis is worth a look. Or how about a paiworl of large JBL horns?

Or use separate powered subs and the choices are endless and probably more cost effective.
Tannoy Prestige.
Acoustic Zen Crescendo...and laugh all the way to the bank :-)
"I'm looking for a very 3D soundstage that's velvety smooth. Detail is great, but definitely nothing fatiguing as I tend to listen at higher volumes for extended periods. While I do listen to a lot of Classic Rock and Jazz, I also listen to a lot of more modern music. I want something that isn't going to make this stuff sound terrible."

You may want to rethink your approach on all of this. Generally speaking, as price goes up, detail and resolution usually follow. A "better" speaker for you maybe something less expensive. Also, if you tend to listen to loud music, a SS amp may be a better choice. A big speaker, even if its efficient, still needs a decent amount of power if you want to play them loud.
Vapor Audio Nimbus.
tyler acoustics pd15
Assuming you'll be buying a tube amp suitable to drive whatever speaker you ultimately choose, given your stated preferences I'd consider the Joseph Audio Pearl 3 or one of the larger Verity Audio models. Also like the Crescendo recommendation. If you might consider Class A solid state in lieu of tubes I'd highly recommend Rockport Aviors as well. Best of luck.
Yes, whatever I end up getting, I will get amps big enough to drive them. :)
I like a beefy looking speaker like the TAD R-1 (which is out of my price range) or the Focal Maestro's (which isn't). Both of these (I've read here) are efficient enough to work with the right tube amps. So I'm looking for efficient "big" speakers, but not necessarily the MOST efficient speakers.

The other really efficient speaker I've already auditioned was the DeVore 0/96's. I liked the sound on it a lot on certain material. It sounded fantastic on jazz and even some rock (Jimi Hendrix was amazing). But the sound kinda fell apart when I put on more "complex" music. When I say complex, I guess I mean music with a lot going on. My go to test track for this is the opening track of The Cure's "Disintegration".

I've found that a lot of high end speakers are voiced to handle less "complex" music like Jazz or a vocalist REALLY well, but can't really handle an explosion of sound like this Cure track. I listen to a lot of shoegazey stuff that has a thick sound with a lot going on. I want a speaker that doesn't turn it to mud. I found that the 0/96's (at least with the amplification I've heard it with) wasn't able to handle "thick" sounds as well as my Operas. I'm hoping to identify some big speakers that can, but really like how tube amplification can take the bite off of some of the more modern recordings I spend a lot of time with.

Does all of that make sense?

p.s. Try not to get caught up in the "complex" description. It's sometimes hard to describe sound as I'm sure most here know.
Here is another vote for the Audiokinesis. Get the big one- the Dreammaker- sounds like you can afford it. This is an excellent speaker and is 16 ohms- it is very tube friendly and one of the better bargains in high end loudspeakers.

Also, Classic Audio Loudspeakers would do nicely as well. I have a set of T-3s with the field coil drivers. They are everything you described in your want list. They work quite well pushed right up against the wall too. Mine go down to 20Hz, and are 98 db 1 watt/1 meter. They are 16 ohms and thus a very easy load for a tube amp. In your room I recommend at least 60 watts- its nice to be able to shake things up. The retail is likely over $30,000 to get a set like mine, so used they might be in your range.

My taste is classical, modern electro-ambient, ethnic folk music, some jazz, rock from the 1960s-21st century, and more. So I am not satisfied unless I get good bass, excellent detail and stage definition, etc. I can live out my days with complete satisfaction with either loudspeaker above.
You may want to look at Verity speakers. They are very efficient and are voiced with tube equipment.

There are a few here on audiogon for sale.

To be self serving, I will be selling my SarastroII's here shortly.
@Atmasphere - The Classic Audio T 1.4 Reference looks like a good possibility. I go back and forth between wanting an old school SET system and something much more modern like TAD or Focal.

Not sure if Classic Audio has a dealer in the Bay Area or not. Don't see a dealer locator on their site. Never heard their speakers before, so not sure about their sound. I'll dig around. Thanks for the suggestion.
I have heard the Acoustic Zen Crescendo on three separate occasions driven by 50 watt PSET amplifiers and the sound in a fairly large room was excellent. The Audiokinesis Dream Maker is very interesting given its design. A 16 ohm speaker load is a gift for amplifiers(cruise along nice and easy). I would imagine that this speaker sounds exceptional with a good quality tube amplifier.
Charles,
@Atmasphere - Just watched a video review of the Classic Audio's. Holy cow those are big. They might be too big for my room. I think they'd totally dominate it and they appear tall enough that they'd severely limit the view, which is kinda the best part of the house.

My big concern, based solely on my experience with the DeVore O/96's mind you, is that they sound great on less complex music, but not very good on more modern stuff as I noted above.

It seems that the guys who are really into SET speakers tend to also be really into jazz and vocalists, so it makes their reviews harder for me to know if this speaker will be good for my other tastes. Hmmm...

10-01-14: Branislav
Acoustic Zen Crescendo...and laugh all the way to the bank :-)
Here's Dick Olsher's review of the Crescendo in Absolute Sound.

Not only could he drive it with tubes, he got particularly good results with Triode Corporation M845SE SET monoblocks. According to his measurements and component matching, the Crescendos present a benign impedance curve for tube amps.
I have Zu Def 4s in a space larger than yours, and they definitely pressurize the room. They are positioned on the long wall of the 22 x 15 x 16 (high) living room, but that living room is one end of a 45 x 22 x 16 (high) volume. That said, with your budget you could consider the Zu Dominance.
Hi Bgupton,
Agree, acoustic jazz and vocals are superb with good quality SET. However
with an appropriate speaker match, all music genres are thoroughly
enjoyed. Just ask 213 cobra, Jwm,Brownsfan, Jetrexpro, Ilandmandan,
Gsm18349, Snowpro, Germanboxers and many others on this site. The
problem with the Devore could have been the chosen amplifier rather than
the speaker. A good efficient speaker and quality tube amplifier (SET, OTL
push pull) aren't limted to a particular genre, it's all about getting the
specific match right.
"It seems that the guys who are really into SET speakers tend to also be really into jazz and vocalists, so it makes their reviews harder for me to know if this speaker will be good for my other tastes. HmmmÂ…"
Bgupton. I couldn't agree more. It made my amp/speaker search more difficult because my system had to sound good for all types of music. Speakers can be especially frustrating in this regard. Don't settle until you love the speakers your are listening to. Happy searching!

You listened to devore O/96, but have you listened to the Silverbacks? Serious speaker.
Jet
I would go with Tannoy Prestige or alternatively JBL Synthesis.
Tannoy: Canterburys or bigger.

JBL Synthesis: Everest DD67000 or DD66000
@Gsm18439 - The Dominance looks interesting. I found a review on 6moons, but these speakers aren't listed on Zu's site.

That said, at $40K they're gonna be out of my budget new. I'm not sure if this is a popular enough speaker that I'd find one for sale used even if I'm patient for 3 or 4 months.

I do dig Zu's approach though.
seriously, JBL everest would be my take.
Hi Bgupton,
Big windows like that can be a challenge with a lot of speakers, but I totally get that you don't want to lose the glorious views. The room is probably too small for the Classic Audio T-1.4s, but the T-3s with field coil drivers could do nicely. The AudioKinesis Dream Maker LCS might well be amazing in your room with little or no treatment, so check them out (I have the new Zephrin 46s here in a slightly smaller room with an 8 ft. ceiling).

Both of these speaker manufacturers will be demonstrating at RMAF in Denver next week and are easy going nice folks to speak with.
Hi Jet,
The Devore Silverback is a very good suggestion when you consider what Bgupton seems to be searching for. Excellent tube amplifier compatibility, easy speaker load, full range and reportedly handles all music genres well. There have been many good recommendations on this thread.
Charles,
Get the big JBL6600. It is exactly what you want.
Another good possibility for your room size and stated criteria is the Horning Eufrodite speaker. It's very efficient, easy to drive and highly regarded sonically.
Bgupton: I thought that your original post said that "anything that retails up to $55-60K might be doable." Dominance used? Doubtful. However, the guys at Zu often know if anyone wants to sell a pair of their speakers; they often help to broker a sale. (Not sure why the Dominance disappeared from the Zu website.) One advantage of any Zu speakers is the in-home trial period; 60 days to determine whether you do or do not like their speakers.

Another alternative is AudioNote - especially the more expensive ANE versions. I think that the designers have similar taste in music to yours.
The JBLs are also discounted heavily. Just do some digging around and see.
New, Acoustic Zen Crescendo. Used, ESP Concert Grands.

The Zens are transmission line and the ESP's are sealed which results in bass definition that is different and superior to the typical bass reflex design.

BTW I do like the Devore 0/96's but you can still hear the result of the ported design. The Leben CS300x integrated sounds great on the Devores.
Those look good, Rhljazz, but do they have enough bass. It's hard to beat the 15s in the Tannoys and JBLs.
With tube amps more so than otherwise, for a large room especially, to get it all, you need large speakers with either large drivers or several smaller ones. I'd tend to go with as few large drivers as necessary myself. Using a larger good quality powered sub or two or four solves the problem once set up properly, which is always a requirement for best results.
I have the smaller ESP's which are Bodhran SE models. I supplement them with a pair of Gallo TR1D subs. I want "kick" in my kick drums.
I would expect the isobaric loaded 8 inch drivers in the Concert Grands would be sufficient without subs.

10-03-14: Dave_72
Those look good, Rhljazz, but do they have enough bass. It's hard to beat the 15s in the Tannoys and JBLs.
Really, read Olsher's review of the Crescendo. The transmission line proveds clean, linear bass down to around 40 Hz. An important distinction of the Crescendo is its transmission line bass loading. Olsher makes a very strong point about how these speakers dramtically showed how he got used to the lagging bass of bass reflex designs, whereas the TL-loaded designs are quicker, more articulate, and especially rhythmic, i.e., more real sounding.

Bass reflex designs tend to have wild swings in impedance, something most tube amps don't like, complicated by the bass reflex's need for an amp with high damping factor, something a tube amp can't generally deliver. The Crescendo presents a benign load and presents no out-of-phase time lag. Win-win.

If you want that last octave of extension, it's far more economical to get a clean, articulate speaker down to 40Hz and then add in the last octave with a powered sub or two. True full-range speakers that don't let the bass extension smear the upper octaves rquire Herculean damping and cabinetry, making them crazy expensive--Wilson Maxx & Alexandria, Focal's top line Utopias, the big Magicos. These are $80K-200K.

Brand new and full retail Crescendos are $18K. A pair of JL Fathom F12s adds $7K. For $25K you have a true full-range system with sub-20Hz extension. Even a pair of their E110s would do the job for about $3K/pair, coming in at $21K and still tube-friendly.
Ok, granted. However, you could biamp with a solid state amp on the woofers and a tube amp on the mids and tweeters. And not necessarily regarding full range, the big Tannoys, ATCs, and JBLs are full range at much less, so I dunno what you're getting at there.

Imo, subs are cheating, and it takes forever to get them dialed in properly, and then you still have problems integrating them. You can set up your rig any way you'd like of course, but just by hooking up a pair of subs and thinking that all is well is doing one a disservice.
Just went through the same process and yes, high efficiency speakers solve a lot of problems, including amplifier choices. The differences in sound pressure level with the same power is remarkable and makes the amp selection less restrictive.

You have had, on this thread, some pretty knowledgable posters. I followed these helpful posters and ended up with Zu Definition 4s powered by vintage McIntosh MC 60 tube mono blocks. After selecting the right tubes I'm very satisfied. However I'd like to share something I've learned from a very knowledgeable audio expert, Jim Smith.
You can enter his name in the forum and get an idea of his take on things. His book, Get Better Sound, is a must read for someone in your position.

First of all the Zu Def 4 is by itself very dynamic. With the 60 watts Macs on the full range drivers and the 400 watt/12" down firing subs, to say they rock would be accurate. There is a thread on this site, "Do I really need a subwoofer" that I found informative.

Now back to Jim Smith. He explained that for overall room balance and control of room nodes, having independent subs, even with these speakers, carries a vast benefit. Along these lines, you might want to consider some high quality subs regardless of the speaker brand. This whole integration problem just isn't the problem some make it out to be. Zu makes great subs to augment their speakers. You can make the room much more musical with subs, it just takes good placement and fiddling with the crossover point to get it right.

Now if you really want to get it right, whatever you purchase, call Jim to set up a Room Play session. He's got the sub thing down. He's got everything down all the way to the phase in the electricity coming into your system. I know this sounds like an ad for Jim, rest assured it's just a recommendation to help get you to where you want to go.

10-04-14: Dave_72
Ok, granted. However, you could biamp with a solid state amp on the woofers and a tube amp on the mids and tweeters. And not necessarily regarding full range, the big Tannoys, ATCs, and JBLs are full range at much less, so I dunno what you're getting at there.
What I'm getting at is that if you settle for 40-20Khz flat response in your main speakers, and choose wisely, you can get the same kind of sound quality in a $10K-20K speaker that would cost $70K-200K if you go for that 20-40Hz bottom octave incorporated into an all-passive speaker. The $30K KEF Blade is a world-class speaker ... down to 40Hz, as is the Sonus Faber Olympica at even less, as is the Magneplanar 20.7 at about $14K, and several others including the updated version of the Acoustic Zen Crescendo.

Imo, subs are cheating, and it takes forever to get them dialed in properly, and then you still have problems integrating them.
Cheating? By whose standard or law? I call it a cost-effective solution to an otherwise expensive and difficult problem. Integrating the newest round of subs is not that hard. My subs have continuous controls for crossover, 0-360 deg. phase, and volume. Newer ones add crossover slopes and room correction. I'd rather spend 1-4 hours integrating my subs than try to move 100-300 lb. true full-range speakers around to attain a balance between imaging AND linear bass response. In many cases, the room modes simply won't let you.

But with separate subs, you position the mains exactly where you want for soundstage and imaging, and position the subs at the best locations for linear bass response. Then you use the crossover and phase controls to integrate them. With some subs (e.g., the Velodyne DD+ series) you can further integrate with automated room correction. Use the Stereophile Test CD and a dB meter from Radio Shack and it gets even easier.

You can set up your rig any way you'd like of course, but just by hooking up a pair of subs and thinking that all is well is doing one a disservice.
I never implied it was that easy; that's your construct. I've posted in other threads that I take up to 3-4 hours to fully integrate my subs with the mains, but it's time well spent. Furthermore, with all the integration features that come with the best subs today, integration isn't a black art anymore.
Ok, I see what you're getting at regarding speakers, but again certain models of the makes I noted do go lower than 40Hz. And the price is mostly within what you stated.

Well, I used the word cheating as a figure of speech really. Anyway, I see your point regarding subs. However, you are definitely an expert at this, and someone with less technical knowledge is gonna be overwhelmed by properly setting up a sub or subs.

So for me, careful placement of the main speakers, and my speakers weigh 120 lbs each, is more rewarding. I dunno what the consensus is, but I'll venture a guess that most audiophiles would rather set it and forget it. That would give more time to listen to music.
Dentdog,
I believe you regarding Jim's ability to extract the best sound from the system/room interactions. The problem is where someone is located, isn't Jim in Baltimore? So getting him to distant locations is the limiting factor. I don't question his expertise, just practical assesability.
Charles,
Charles,
BTW your posts on this forum are very well thought out and informative.
Jim is in N Atlanta. But boy does he travel and he really gives it his all when setting up a room. He's a little OCD which in his line of work is a pretty good thing.
He asks for photos to see if the room is doable-some aren't. He's very pleasant company as well.
Tom,
Agree with the Tannoy recommendations, various models old and new will fit just right the tube amp/big speaker rock/jazz bill. Johnnyb53 also makes excellent points about the possibilities using subs.
Dentdog,
Thanks for your comments. If Jim were closer to me I'd give serious consideration to using his expertise to maximize my room's potential(what ever that may be).
Charles,
The reason I like the Audiokinesis option, despite having never had a chance to hear these, is the designer's (Duke's) mindset and approach. He does a lot of pro audio I believe and looks to leverage what works there for home audio. Pro audio is all about getting performance efficiencies on a large scale. Duke takes his learning there and applies these towards his "high end" home audio products. Home audio is smaller scale in general and getting good sound not nearly as hard, though the expectations of high end audiophiles tend to set a high bar.

Duke seems to focus a lot on teh speaker/room interaction and how that works, taking some very unique approaches to address this again applying his full body of knowledge to good effect.

Duke's approach is fairly unique in these parts I think and makes his products can't miss IMHO. That despite having never had a chance to hear them..
Another interesting possibility at a lower price point would be the Golden Ear Triton 1. They received a very positive review from Anthony Cordesman in the last issue of TAS.
Not that big a room. Save a lot of $ with
these.

On the Gon now.
http://app.audiogon.com/listings/ful
l-range-acoustic-zen-
technologies-crescendo-blemish-free-
ebony-finish-2014-09-
26-speakers-22624-clear-brook-va

Review
http://www.theabsolutesound.com/articles/
acoustic-zen-
crescendo-loudspeaker/
Best utilization of time and money in this situation. Hire Jim Smith to discuss situation and possible amp- speaker combination. Goe to RMAF and listen to some of Jim Smiths suggestions and the suggestions here. Buy speakers at RMAF at show discount. With money saved have Jim Smith fly to house for installation. Anything else is a crap shoot involving a lot of time and wasted money.