Wilson Benesch Discovery
The Wilson-Benesch "Discovery" speaker is an unusual design that essentially takes the performance of a small floorstanding speaker and compacts it into a standmount design. WB affectionately refers to the Discovery as a "micro-floorstander". They actually managed to fit three 7” drivers into the space of a larger standmount speaker.
In 2008 I spent a year searching for a set of speakers to replace the Paradigm Signatures I owned at the time. I finally settled on speakers from a little known maker out of the UK by the name of Wilson-Benesch. Their specialty is the use of carbon fiber cabinets combined with custom in-house drivers and various bits of extruded / CNC machined aluminum. I chose the "Discovery" standmount speakers for the L/R, the "Centre" speaker for you guessed it the center speaker, a pair of "ARC" speakers for the surround channels, and a single JL F112 subwoofer. The first thing that really sucked me into the WB sound, was the massive soundstage they throw. In my room, it extends out beyond the left and right speaker by a couple of feet and while listening to some of my favorite tracks, I could literally “see” instruments playing two feet to the left of the left speaker. Good stuff.
The Revelator tweeter has always been one of my favorite soft domes (that and the Dynaudio Esostar2) because of its “delicacy” and ability to convey the trailing edges and finer details of things like cymbals, chimes, and strings, without ever sounding etched, grainy or dry. I owned the Discoverys from November 2008 to February 2010.Audio Physic Virgo 25
The Virgo's, which I owned just after the Dynaudio's, exhibited some of the quickest and tightest bass I've had in my room. They were more lively, more dynamic and more expansive than the Dyns, but in the end, the side firing woofers did not want to play nice with my admittedly cramped placement options. I knew this was a risk going in, but I though I would just have a peak to pull down with EQ. What I discovered was that despite the right-wall acoustic treatment, there was a good amount of destructive interference from the near-wall speaker placement on the right side, much more so than with the monitor speakers I've had in this same location. The most evident problem is a deep and wide suck-out in the lower midrange. I even moved the right speaker into the left speaker position and measured just to make sure that the right speaker was functioning properly, and once in that position the lower mid dip goes away and it measures identically to the left speaker. While I've had good success in using EQ to address speaker / room interaction problems, the starting point was just too far off the mark. It's no fault of the speaker, but it explains the lean midrange character and it is a good reminder of just how important proper placement is, especially with a multi-driver tower speaker. Luckily, the person that bought them from me was local and we set them up in his open floor plan to audition before purchase. They sounded phenomenal. The presentation was relaxed, good top to bottom coherence and excellent detail. There was a slight lack of mid-bass, but this is something that can often be corrected with a fine tuning of the speaker positions.Dynaudio C1
Until I owned the Dynaudio C1's, I thought speaker break-in was mostly in the mind, and most of the time I still think it is, but I went through a real rough spell with these guys. In the beginning the tweeter sounded a bit coarse / edgy, coupled with a midrange that sounded "shouty" and lean. Let's just say that the resulting sound was not always pleasant. However, after about 300 hours they completely shed their somewhat offensive character. And if you want to hear a monitor with a 7" that can do very close to full range, you need to listen to a set of these. I had 5 AVS members in my home to listen to the C1's, and they were very complimentary of how good my JL F112 subwoofer sounded. The only problem was, the subwoofer was not even plugged in. No exaggeration. Unfortunately, and I still can't put my finger on it, but after break in, while they left with me nothing to complain about, I found myself indifferent about their sound. Not great, not horrible, just sort of "there". Looking back at it though, I think I had reached my saturation point and was burnt out on all of the analyzing, which affected my ability to enjoy any form of listening. I wish I could hear these again, but alas I can only afford to go through all of this gear by selling off what doesn't appear to be working.B&W 805Di
The the bass is tight, punchy, well-timed, tuneful and just much better than a speaker this size has any right to have. The diamond tweeter has simply amazing resolution and transient response. Clearly better than the Be tweets in the Focals and the Revels that I've owned. Both of those lacked the sparkle I was after when I bought them. The strike and the decay of things like cymbals, chimes, and bells are more clearly delineated than I've heard before, even when there are other sounds or instruments layered on top. From the midrange on up, every element of sound is cleanly separate from the others. The Monitor Audio Platinums had similar resolving power, but their soundstage was compressed and I didn't like the tonal quality of that speaker in the midrange.
I've never placed a lot of value on pinpoint imaging. I guess because I've never really had it that good in my room, and I'm more concerned with tonality and the size of the soundstage. While listening to one of my reference tracks thrugh the 805Di's, a Dianna Krall song that I listen to for vocal quality, I realized for the first time that she was sitting at the piano to sing, slightly off center to the left and facing to the right. I swear that I could hear her shift from singing directly into the mic in front of her to shifting to face the audience. In other words I could hear her sing diagonally out into the room. That was a first. Up til now, her vocals were just a phantom center image.
All wasn't perfect though. My last system, the Wilson Benesch / Classe rig, had a smoothness / naturalness that sounded closer to "real" than anything else I've owned. The B&W 805Di / Denon combo is a more vivid and but also more synthetic sounding presentation. The vivid part I liked, the synthetic part, not so much. It's not offensive, but there is that somewhat etched, sharp quality to the sound. And as I spent more time with the B&W's, I found that the highs and the mids tended to sound too different in character from one another. The character of the treble being a bit sharper / more detailed than the mids. In the end, I found the etched quality and the slight lack of cohesiveness between the drivers enough of a distraction that I decided to keep trying other options.Revel Studio2s
A great speaker in all respects, but frankly, this was the end of my big-ass speaker kick. I thought I needed big speakers to get a big sound, but as I later found out, I got the expansive sound I was after in the stand-mount Wilson Benesch speakers. My wife also thanks me for finding smaller speakers.
The Wilson's not only sound big for their size, but they project a bigger sound than any of the large floorstanders that preceded them. The moral of this story is: bigger is not always better. I've found that a good sub / bookshelf system can actually outperform larger speaker in many cases. I also found that the Revels, while dead accurate, sounded too clinical for me. They reproduced everything on the recording, but there was no "suspension of disbelief", no "performer in the room".Dynaudio Sapphires
Another great speaker, and surprisingly, I preferred the soft dome tweet in this speaker to the high-tech Beryllium tweeter in the Revels. The one thing that I find common about the Dyn sound is that are all pleasingly neutral for the most part, but the sound stage is a bit more confined to the space between the speakers. It will project out more on really spacious recordings, but not as much as the best speakers in this area (like the Wilson Benesch). I probably would have chosen these over the Revel Studio2's, but the Dyns didn't pass WAF and there is no matching center or surrounds, so they were a no go.Monitor Audio Platinum 300's
I'm tech-head, and I was sucked into all of the tech in these speakers. The C-CAM ribbon tweeter, and those hi-tech honeycomb ceramic/aluminum sandwich cone woofers, the platinum coated WBT speaker posts, and other assorted aerospace materials. Man they just seemed so damn cool. I listened to them for several hours at the local hi-fi shop before taking the plunge and was really impressed. The ribbon tweeter on these speaks is amazing. You could hear the finest details, but they didn't sound hot in the treble in the slightest. Unfortunately, once I lived with them for a while I found them a bit aggressive in the mids; they were a bit too stout in appearance; and the imaging seemed to make all of the instruments smaller than most speakers I've owned. Since they sounded fine in this regard at the dealer, I can only conclude that they need a fairly good spread between them to open up.Focal Electra 1037 Be
I heard some Focal Utopia Be speakers a few years back and loved them, so when I had the funds the Focal Electra's were the first on my list. I had to travel two hours to the only shop in my state that had them on display to listen to them. I didn't pay much attention to this at the time, but they had them connected to a tube amp during the audition, which is why I believe they sounded more to my liking than when I got them home. Unfortunately, in my system there was an etched, overly hot quality to the low treble. Voices, horns and strings sounded strident. I waited months for these speakers to "break-in", but ultimately their character didn't change much if at all. In the end, I was quite deflated when I realized that I should probably go with something that was a better personality fit. Still the one of the best looking speakers out there, IMO.Monitor Audio GS
I actually liked these speakers a lot. I probably would have stuck with these for a while, but I a got a big bonus from work shortly after I bought them, and wanted to find my "dream speakers". They had transparency close to an electrostatic speaker, with the dynamics of a dome and cone speaker. They could be a little sibilant, but I wouldn't kick them out of bed for eating crackers. Paradigm Signature
Great all around speakers with no glaring faults, but I had owned them for a few years and I wanted to see if I could get something better. Little did I know how much of a challenge that would turn out to be. I liked the change in perspective that in the Monitor Audio GS's offered, though that came a slight cost in neutrality. The Paradigms were the end of my first journey down the speaker upgrade path. I would recommend these to anyone looking for a great dual purpose HT / music speaker.KEF Reference (V1)
I bought these based on stellar reviews and impressive FR graphs, and because of their cutting-edge tech at the time. The Uni-Q driver arrangement is a great idea, especially for HT, and it does deliver on the promise of excellent dispersion. You can sit well off to the side of the speaker and the character of the sound doesn't change at all. They also featured a super tweeter, and since this was right around the time that DVDA and SACD were being introduced, I wanted to get all that these formats had to offer. After living with them for a few weeks, I found that voices sounded nasal and thin. This was the start of my realization that perfect measurements do not necessarily equal perfect sound.Martin Logan Aeon-i
You won't find a more transparent speaker than an ESL. This particular model was about in the middle of the size range available at the time. I later found out that you really need to get into the bigger panels to get decent dynamic capability. Feed these a minimalist vocal or small jazz trio recording and it sounds like they are in the room with you. But feed a smaller ESL panel like these some rock, and things get a little messy. The very thin ESL membrane used for the mids and highs just doesn't have the excursion needed for rocking out. And while they are great for 2CH "in the sweet spot" listening, they are really too directional for multiple listeners in an HT setting. If you are looking for a great jazz / vocalist speaker, and you are setting up a 2Ch system, you can't do much better.
I actually had a few other speakers prior to the Paradigms, but I don't have any pics. A couple that come to mind are Vienna Acoustics and Aerial Acoustics. I loved the Viennas, but the center speaker that went with them at the time was not up to snuff. My wife was constantly complaining that she could make out what people were saying while watching TV and movies. I think the current Vienna's are much better though. The Aerials sounded more reserved and even "dark" than I expected. Just not what I was after.