Versatile, non-fatiguing speakers for a small room under $1500 used or new: advice needed!


Hi, first post here! And not a very original one, my apologies!:)

So after years of listening to music through miscellaneous mid-fi solutions, I am finally thinking about dipping my toes in hi-fi audio and putting together a dedicated stereo setup. Currently I am looking at speakers, and my head is already aching from the abundance of options, so I am looking for suggestions from you guys, primarily from those of you who have had first-hand experience building a stereo in a small room like mine and achieved results they are happy with.

My room is pretty small (approx. 13’ x 10’), and I will be placing my speakers along the long wall. My listening position will be 6 feet away, give or take; plus the speakers will have to sit fairly close to the front wall. 15 inches from the back of the speaker would be nice, but if needed, I definitely I could move them out farther into the room (up to 20 inches from the back of the speaker), for listening sessions and then move them back again. There are several rows of shelves , filled with CDs and stuff, in the middle of the back wall above my head (not wall-to-wall though) - would that work as dispersion? I’m thinking of applying some room treatment behind the speakers, and on the right-hand side wall as well (if needed) - on the left hand side is a window covered with thick curtains.

Budget: under $1500 used or new.
I listen to all kinds of music, primarily rock of all eras and subgenres (blues/folk/prog/hard/art/psych/indie, etc), jazz, blues, classical, acoustic, singer-songwriters, female vocal, 80s new wave/post punk, some heavy metal. So the speakers need to be as versatile as possible. As someone who likes rock music, the bass is important, but I live in an apartment (neighbors!), so I have to find the right balance there as I don’t want to overload the room - the bass has to be there but under control and not boomy. I want as big a sound as possible in my small room without overpowering it. In general, I’m looking for engaging, non-fatiguing, dynamic sound with good midrange and tone, with enough punch to rock out when needed, nuance to play softer, more sparse types of music, and resolution so the details in fast complex passages don’t get lost or smeared. Not a fan of excessive brightness, sibilance, or harshness in the upper midrange.

I’m primarily looking at standmounts, but maybe certain smaller floorstanders would be fine? I’ve seen opinions claiming floorstanders are the way to go, regardless of the size of the room. What do you think would be preferable in my situation - apartment with neighbors, 13’x10’ room, long wall positioning, distance to speakers about 6 feet, maybe less?

Thanks!
mermaid_smiles
I have a similar situation to you in many ways - a small, nearly squarish room, NYC apartment, nearfield listening, very sensitive to brightness, etc.

I currently use Omega Super Alnico monitors, which are full range, single driver loudspeakers.  I find that they work very well in this setup, as there is no driver integration to worry about, they are super efficient so can run on a few watts (meaning you can have gorgeous class A amplification, if you want it, without heating your small room to high heaven), and they sound incredibly fast and rich in the midrange without being bright or forward.   They won’t do the deepest bass in the world, of course, but go pretty low and I’m not sure you’ll get incredibly deep bass from any monitor anyway.  Being closer to the wall will help with some bass reinforcement.

Anyway, your mileage may vary, as always - good luck with your journey!
Your speaker choice will depend in no small part on with what electronics you are going to use to drive them.
Or are you planning on settling on speakers then sorting out compatible equipment?
Or do you already have your gear and just looking for speakers?
If that is the case, what is your gear?
I also have a small (11' x 12') room and have found the Kef LS50, with its coincident/coaxial driver design, to be ideal in a near-field listening space. Stereophile gave it a Class A rating for good reason. 
You should be able to find a used pair of Harbeth P3ESR within your budget.  With their ported design, they will work with near wall placement.  They don't have a lot of bass. 

If you want more bass, then The Vento Reference 9.2 DC might be the ticket:
https://www.accessories4less.com/make-a-store/item/cantventoref92dcblka/canton-vento-reference-9.2-d...

They have a surprising amount of bass for a speaker of their size, but are rear ported so will be more "boomy" than the Harbeths.

The Harbeths will benefit from a small sub like a SVS SB1000 or Rythmik L12.  You won't really need a sub with the Cantons.

I prefer the detailed rich sound of the Harbeths over the Cantons, but the Cantons are also very good and are perhaps a little more neutral but less dynamic than the Harbeths.  They kill the Harbeths in the bass department.

Both speakers like a lot of power and might not be a good match if your amplification isn't up to the task.


good recommendations so far

i would add:

smaller proacs or focals that may fit your budget - tablettes, 906's, the like, on stands $750-850 (used)
add decent sub - small rel $350-400
smaller naim or arcam or rega int amp ($500 or so)
>> You should be able to find a used pair of Harbeth P3ESR within your budget. With their ported design, they will work with near wall placement. They don't have a lot of bass.  <<
I second the recommendation. However, I think there was a typo, they are UNported.
I meant to say sealed design. Apparently the caffeine hadn't kicked in yet.
That price point is within a broad range where there is an obvious trade off between bass extension and refinement of the midrange and treble when deciding between a two-way versus multi-way floorstanding speakers. I believe that it is enough money, however, to purchase speakers that are not bright or harsh. If they are, the issue will most likely be poor electronics  or cables. 
as mentioned previously, omega loudspeakers and a low wattage zero feedback set amp will give you glorious tunes!
Vandersteen VLR's would be my rec.-Especially if you can put them near the corners of the room.
Don't let the size and simple design fool you, these speakers can rock with the right equipment, like a Belles Aria integrated. Add a Sub 3, and AQ cables and you'll have a system that will give many higher priced systems a run for the money.
Bob
I decided to get rid of my Samsung sound bar and do an audiophile grade 2 channel system in my 12x 16 bedroom. I chose the Martin Logan Motion 20s. (about $800) These recently discontinued speakers sound identical to their replacements the Motion 20i (about $1400). They are unobtrusive 3 way towers; sound amazing for the price and easily light up the room with 100 wpc of clean power. For good measure I added a small center channel and sub for LFE for movie watching.
I’m in a very similar boat with the exact same budget! I’ve been looking closely at the Wharfedale EVO 4.3 but haven’t heard them yet - I’m a full range floor-stander fan. Interested to see what others recommend!
I'll throw out the Golden Ear line of bookshelf/standmount speakers for the OP's consideration. I have a set of Aon 2s that I've been very pleased with. They are quite neutral sounding with surprisingly deep bass, very smooth treble and a lifelike midrange. They list for $900 a pair new. GE also has the slightly larger Aon 3, and they just recently brought out the BRX standmount that is about the same size, but uses the drivers from their Reference line of speakers. These list for $1,600 a pair.

Our local GE dealer offers discounts off of list price. I'm actually thinking of upgrading from the 2s to the BRXs, but haven't made a final decision yet.
I found some Focal Aria 906s here for a great price. I would look at those of you can find them pre-owned. 
OP,

Not sure what equipment you’ll be using but you might want to watch this review.

https://youtu.be/cNu_t1gnKgs

All the best 

JD
Dali Oberon 7 should fit the bill.  And beautiful looking as well.
Lots of good suggestions here, but also look into a used pair of Sonus Faber Venere 2.0s. I think they'll check off most if not all of your boxes. 

Another note, as someone who has had very similar considerations as you over the years: Floorstanders may not be a bad choice if you're judicious with your pick. Forget anything with a port in the back. Forget wide, big boxy designs. BUT (this is where Sonus Faber excels, IMO), the front bass port with the 'tear drop' shape combined makes for a very controlled, and forgiving listening experience for difficult spaces. 
My apartment listening room dimensions and set up are very similar to yours, as are our musical tastes. I just got a pair of the Wharfedale EVO 4.3s - a smaller floor stander (34-1/4" tall). They actually have a smaller footprint than the standmounts they replaced. Beautiful sound, build, and aesthetics (high WAF). The bass port is downward, into a slot between the bottom of the cabinet and the plinth (with pre-installed adjustable spikes), so they are not finicky about placement. Smack dab at your price point. I can’t believe how good they are for the money.
Powering them with a Parasound A21. Oh, and ask me about room treatments.
Good luck!

Salk Wow1, Dynaudio evoke 10, totems. 
I have the Canton 9k a revealing attractive stand-mounted speaker neutral, resolving, good bass for what it is and as mentioned needs juice but in a small room it is a fine choice. I'm listening in with 70 watts a channel and it is good form most music. 
Those Wharfedale Evo’s are super sweet.  Heard a pair at RMAF and love them.  I’d buy a pair so I can recommend them.

There are many good used speakers for $1500 and under though.  

Ok, heres a few I just found for sale under $1500...

Triangle Gaia
Reference 3aDe Capo BE
KEF R300
Merlin TSM MMe
PBN Montana Model 2
Reference 3a Dulcet BE
Paradigm Signature S1 V3 (BE)
Ascend Acoustics Sierra 2EX
Usher BE718
Vandersteen2ce Sigs with sound anchor stands
Thiel CS3.6

In my own experience, the partnering equipment is so crucial to 1) the final sound achieved and 2) match properly with the speakers. For instance, I've had a KEF LS50 pair matched with a low power budget amp, and I hated them. But it was the cheap cables/DAC/amp that did them in. I think it would be more useful to think about it as a whole system, and it would be helpful for us to know what you have / plan to have for source/pre/amp/cables. Or are you looking for active speakers?
https://youtu.be/_s0zrFeglIQ
Found this video......Not extremely common N.E.A.R. 15Ms fit your description well....near full range in a large bookshelf....not bright at all.....great for jazz, rock etc. Again, great bass! Well defined and reaches to 40Hz. Drivers blend together even at close listening.
I saw a pair on Ebay with a matching center around $500
https://www.ebay.com/itm/392512585797

Others...

ProAc Studio 100
ProAc Response 2
Totem Mani 2
Kef LS-50 (had not heard, but would be on an audition list)
It would also be helpful to know your overall budget for the whole system.
Also, IMO, the replies with long lists of random speakers isn't much more helpful than the op doing a blind google search. I think the op is looking for personal experience / intelligent recommendations.
I also have a small room and listened to my stereo from a similar distance. 
I had both the LS50 and the LS50 wireless on home demo. They do work well in a small room, they are not too bright (apparently the new ones are brighter), the bass quantity is satisfactory. But they sound cheap, particularly the metal tweeter. 
I tried cheap and I tried expensive speakers. Passive and active. I tried room correction. 
The only speaker that really worked for me was the WA TuneTot. Way out of your range and, many would say, stupid money for what you get but those people have not had to listen to a HiFi in a broom cupboard.  And in a broom cupboard only the Tots delivered the goods to my satisfaction. 
Room treatments first. I have the same sized room, though I took out a closet door to add a bit more volume. GIK Acoustics did my room treatments for $700.

My KEF LS50’s needed the room treatments before they sounded great. It was a massive difference in sound quality. The album I used to measure this improvement was the Smashing Pumpkins Siamese Dream. Prior to the GIK treatments the bass was all over the place and I had tons of fatigue. I could only play this album at low volume and even then it gave me some irritation. After the GIK treatments I cranked up volume on the album and played it to the end. Glorious sound, so good I played the album again. The LS50's work great in a small space though the bass is lacking. If you can swing a $5K price for speakers there are some impressive used and new stand mounts out there.

I will be replacing the LS50s soon (move them to a bedroom) with a much bigger speaker. I will use the GIK Acoustic treatments and Digital Room Correction via ROON convolution file support to make this big speaker work in the small space.

I am outsourcing the DRC to professionals. It will be software based DRC running on a computer with ROON (or JRver). 
Room treatments do little to address modal problems in a small room. I tried. Minimal benefits. And do you really want to fill a small room with 10inch ugly looking panels?

LS50 has two big problems for me: box resonance which is very obvious coming from something better and the metal tweeter. 
Which brings me to the don’t:

- steer clear of metal tweeters if you can, including Be. Had the Magico A10 (still have it actually, until a part exchange deal with materialise). You would think, with their closed box design and small footprint, that they should work. They don’t. Too bright. - I would also advise against ribbon in near field scenarios. They tend to overwhelm as well. Someone mentioned Dali. Dali are VERY bright and generally paired with Hegel etc to counteract that. Stay with the soft dome tweeters. - avoid big boxes and definitely don’t even think about stand-floors unless you are planning to listen at 40dB. They will quickly overload the room. -avoid three way, complex designs with extra tweeters, radiators etc. Most of these designs need ample distance to merge the output from their different drivers into a coherent whole. Keep it simple. A two way design should be more than enough at six feet. If you need extra bass, as someone suggested above, use a couple of dinky subwoofers, like the REL Zero. A couple is key to address the room modes which are going to be a big problem. 
One last thing; have you thought about on wall or in wall? Such speakers would not dominate a small room and are designed to use the wall reinforcement. They would also give you a bit of extra distance from your listening position, which would potentially allow you to use something a little bigger and maybe a bit more powerful. 






Or are you planning on settling on speakers then sorting out compatible equipment?

Hi, @thecarpathian, yes, I'm starting from scratch, no other gear yet. Btw, as for the source, I'm considering the digital route, at least for the time being (network streamer + DAC; plus a CD player).




Thanks for the responses, everybody! Will be going through them soon and weighing up my options.
You should be able to find a used pair of Harbeth P3ESR within your budget. With their ported design, they will work with near wall placement. They don’t have a lot of bass.

Hearing lots of good things about Harbeth, thanks. But I wonder how good they are with different genres - I’ve read they’re excellent at jazz and vocal but with rock, not so much. But hey maybe in a small room like mine the amount of bass they produce would be enough for me - we’ll see (and, as you say, adding a sub is always an option).

What about the HL-Compact 7ES-3 - would that be overkill in my situation?
I’m in a very similar boat with the exact same budget! I’ve been looking closely at the Wharfedale EVO 4.3 but haven’t heard them yet - I’m a full range floor-stander fan. Interested  to see what others recommend!

I've been somewhat intrigued by the latest EVO line as well, primarily by the EVO 4.2. It's described as a "full-range speaker for smaller rooms." Anyone heard these?
Totem Arro (small floorstanders).  Eventually add a small sub such as the Rel T5i or Tzero.

The Arros have a reputation for excellent imaging and (for their size) surprisingly good (if not very deep) bass. Even after mass loading with 10 lbs or so of kitty litter (rice, or whatever) they are small and light enough to move around easily. High Wife Acceptance Factor (should that ever be an issue). 

I don't know whether they'd be better than, say, the Kef LS50. But they may at least deserve a look and listen.
https://www.cnet.com/pictures/photos-the-top-ten-greatest-audiophile-speakers/6/
(assessment may be a little dated)
daveman2,

Yes, I'm looking for recommendations based on personal experience in a similar situation so I can narrow down my options just a little bit. As for the budget for the whole system, I really don't know, we'll see. For now I'm focusing on speakers, once done with this, i'll move on to the amp and source. Since it's my first setup, I'm not really expecting to get where I want immediately, but I do hope to at least get to a very good level of quality that will allow me to enjoy my music for years to come without getting the itch to upgrade every two seconds. That would be perfect. If I can find something affordable that punches above its price, fine - that's partly why I'm looking at the used market as well.

Amp-speaker synergy? Good point, I'll keep that in mind.
@reven6e, thanks for the advice, much appreciated.  "On wall or in wall"? Interesting, never thought about that.
I suggest a home audition of Ohm MicroWalsh Tall speakers.
yyzsantabarbaraL: Siamese Dream is a fantastic album, I also use that album to fine tune my system. Great album from start to finish! 

To the OP, I lost count, but I think I was up to about 20 different speaker recommendations in the thread. Instead of me adding to that confusion by making another recommendation, I'll suggest to focus on speaker manufacturers that provide free in home trial, there are quite a few that do. 

About a year ago after reading review after review, I narrowed down my list of speakers by choosing my favorite one that also provided free / small-money in home trials, and I was fortunate enough to have fallen in love with them.  Good luck to you.
I really enjoy my ATC SCM7’s in my bedroom system. Very neutral and easy to drive 
Hearing lots of good things about Harbeth, thanks. But I wonder how good they are with different genres - I’ve read they’re excellent at jazz and vocal but with rock, not so much. But hey maybe in a small room like mine the amount of bass they produce would be enough for me - we’ll see (and, as you say, adding a sub is always an option).

What about the HL-Compact 7ES-3 - would that be overkill in my situation?
A good speaker doesn't care what type of music gets played through it.  I listen mainly to classic rock.

In regards to the 7ES-3, this is from Harbeth's website:

"Space needs - Overall response optimised for use away from walls."

I'd stick with a sealed design.
Monitor Audio Silvers are what I would go with. You might need to put in the port bungs.  
Given your small room and you live in an apartment I believe you should look for sealed box or front ported stand mounts. They better serve to isolate sound within your room. Get solid stands (check out Audio Advisor for these). Many have accurate bass though lacking the bottom octave. Smaller rooms augment the bass, adding a little depth. 

I would also consider those that have at least moderate sensitivity (86dB or higher) and reasonably high impedance (6 ohm or higher). That way you can focus your amplification search to quality and not quantity wattage. There are simply too many speakers that will fit this description that would work well in your environment to list. I am not one who likes to recommend speakers due to the highly subjective nature of speaker choice. I have always been a fan of 2-way stand mounts.  Been using a pair myself for several years in a room 12x14' (front ported). I am not apposed to buying used.

Are you located in an area providing opportunity for dealer demos? If so go audition some, maybe get back to us regarding your thoughts. 
Post removed 
Agree with recommendations for ProAc, Harbeth, and Wharfedale given sound you’re looking for. If you can find them, I’d add used Nola Boxers that should be within your budget.

That said, in your situation I’d go with some monitors and a small sub. You like bass when called for, and small monitors alone will likely leave you wanting in that department. Floorstanders could help, but given the size of your room you could be facing some bass overload/angry neighbors. The small sub would get you better and deeper bass than cheaper floorstanders can provide, and you can alter placement/volume/phase so you get good bass in your room without pissing off the neighbors — or at least not as much.

One specific recommendation would be Silverline Minuet Supreme+ monitors for $700/pr and an SVS SB1000 sub (will get you down to 24Hz) for $500 both new.  I’d also spring for the $50 SVS SoundPath footers that will help further with both isolation and bass quality. For an amp I’d consider a NuPrime IDA-8 that has great sound/technology, plenty of power for the Minuets, a good internal DAC, and a subwoofer output. It’s around $1000 new I think but can be found used around $600. IMHO that’d be one fine-sounding, near-full-range system given your tastes, constraints, and budget. Add a streamer like a Bluesound Node 2i and you’re done (except for cables and speaker stands of course).  Hope this helps, and best of luck in your search.
Jump on ELAC asap!!
Room treatments do little to address modal problems in a small room. I tried. Minimal benefits. And do you really want to fill a small room with 10inch ugly looking panels?
In my experience this statement is 100% wrong for my system and room. I tried and it was fantastic improvement. I did this in my office and listen about 8 hours a day. 

In my office I could care less what they look like so I went with the cheapest set from GIK. However, if aesthetics is important GIK and others have some artistic looking panels for a higher price.

Audiophile Style web site has some excellent articles by Acoustic Sounds from Canada about using DRC. These are the guys I will outsource my DRC too. Not too expensive either.
If you have a bright sounding room dispersion / absorption helps. But why would you spend 700$ to address a speaker problem (metal tweeter) when you could put the difference towards a better speaker with a soft dome tweeter?

As for bass, I am not a believer in absorption treatment / bass traps unless you are talking big, massive panels. You can achieve at least as good results with several small subwoofers. 
@op I have pretty much the exact same setup in my 2nd room. 10 x 14 with speakers on the long wall. I have gone through many pairs of speakers there and my favorites in that kind of space so far are ATC SCM11 v2’s or the smaller SCM 7’s. They are sealed and work very very well up against the front wall. They can be had used for just under your $1500 budget. You could then add a subwoofer in one of the corners to fill out the bass at some point if you want to (moreso with the SCM 7's).
Here is an interesting option, assemble the speakers yourself to keep the cost down. Priced at £1500 which is over your limit (becuase the USD is falling) but might be worth considering. I have not heard them but is thinking that they might suit me in a few years if I move to an appartment.

https://www.falconacoustics.co.uk/imf-completeathome-loudspeaker-systems-falcon/imf-100-completeatho...