The short version of the story that led to this point is that I wanted to purchase a new 3.1 home theater setup for my living room, with the plan being to go 5.1 when I have a place to put the surrounds. My living room is 21' by 15' and opens 50% to the kitchen on one side, carpeted floors, 9' ceiling. System use is 90% movies, 10% music. I wanted to keep total cost around $4,000. I think it is important to note that I have little to no idea what I am talking about when it comes to television, receivers, and speakers.
I picked a Panasonic VIERA TC-P65ST30 for the TV, a Yamaha RX-A710BL receiver, and a Rythmik F12 subwoofer to start the system. Speaker choice was the bigger problem. After doing a great deal of speaker research on this site and several others (and becoming increasingly confused), I realized the process of choosing was going to take much longer than I hoped. I decided the best way to determine what I liked would be to audition them in my home. I did audition several speakers in-store, including the Monitor Audio Silver RX-8's, PSB Imagine T's, PSB Synchrony One's (sweet!), and the B&W CM1's & CM5's (didn't care for B&W's). In order to do the in-house audition I was limited to speaker brands I could order online and return, so that was a determining factor regarding options. I ended up using audioadvisor.com, wwstereo.com and ascendacoutics.com to place all of my orders.
I need to start by stating that all of the speakers I auditioned in-house sounded good. I have nothing truly negative to say about any of them. My comments below are based on my (and my wife's) personal preferences. While I do hope that the time and money I spent auditioning this equipment might be helpful to someone else, I do not want to insult the quality or brand of any of the products. I also want to point out that I know virtually nothing about A/V gear. I am just a normal guy who wanted to buy a decent system for his living room. I am not religious about any make or model, and I am not sharing this information to cause anyone grief. For what it's worth, the whole process took much more time and effort that I anticipated. If you work a lot, and have two young children, like I do, keep in mind that this all sounds easier on paper. Also keep in mind that you have to pay for return shipping.
For reference, I used several different DVDs and CDs to test audio, but I ultimately ended up using How To Train Your Dragon as my go-to, specifically scene 15, which I have probably watched 60 or 70 times now. All of the auditions were performed with the Rythmik F12 in play. I used -6.0 dB for all of the speaker-to-speaker comparisons. I did not use any calibration tools, so take that into consideration. It took a lot of time to tweak and change audio settings with each setup, and it is a time consuming process (especially when you are just guessing). The speaker stands used were 26" Sanus Foundations Steel Series. I organized the reviews into three parts: Ordering/Packaging, Appearance/Build, and Performance. I ordered everything online on February 4th and 5th, 2012.
Here are the makes and models of the four speaker sets I chose (please see attached image):Monitor Audio Silver RX-2 LR, RX Center (Black Oak)
PSB Image B6 LR, C5 Center (Black Ash)
Ascend Sierra-1 LR, Sierra-1 Center (Piano Black)
KEF Q300 LR, Q600 Center (Black Oak)The Auditions:Monitor Audio Silver RX-2 LR, RX Center
(Black Oak) - $1,525.00Ordering/Packaging
Ordered from Audio Advisor. Ordering was simple and the speakers arrived quickly. The packaging was terrible. The speakers were single boxed, came with holes and dents in the boxes, and although nothing was damaged, the packaging just looked bad. I thought maybe they forgot to double box them.Appearance/Build
The RX-2 bookshelves are freakin' huge! The finish is very nice, and the heft and appearance of the speaker and its components exudes quality. I liked the build and appearance of these second next to the Ascends.Performance
I tend to think that the RX-2 bookshelves were too big for my room, or I didn't have enough space between them and the wall. I don't want to indicate that these did not sound great, because they did. I really liked the RX-8's I auditioned in-store, and I liked the RX-2s at my house, but it felt like they didn't have enough space to breathe. The sound was sometimes boomy and jumbled, and not as crisp as I would have liked. This didn't seem to be the case when I pulled the speaker out or placed my head very close to the speaker, so I assume it was a result of my room. I contemplated trying the RX-1s, thinking they might match better with the smaller center and confined space. Speaking of the smaller center, the RX-2's seemed to dominate the RX center channel. This might have been fixable through configuration, but sound-wise and size-wise they didn't seem to go together. These were one the best of the group at playing two-channel music. In a dark room you could easily mistake these for floor standing speakers.
UPS Shipping Return Cost (plus insurance): $87.19PSB Image B6 LR, C5 Center
(Black Ash) - $949.90Ordering/Packaging
Ordered from Audio Advisor. The PSB's arrived quicker than any of the other speakers by several days. Smooth overall process, and good, quality packaging.Appearance/Build
I loved the yellow, but my wife hated it. The felt like good quality speakers. Nothing to get excited about, but they were solid and sturdy.Performance
The PSBs sounded good. Nothing at all wrong with these speakers. If I would have only ordered these, I would not have been dissatisfied and I am sure I would have enjoyed them for many years. However, after the first few days these were no longer in the audition rotation with the other three sets of speakers. It wasn't because they sounded bad, they just sounded…plain? I don't know if that is the best description, but they were less dynamic and revealing as the other three sets of speakers. I loved the Synchrony One speakers I auditioned at Modia in Plano, so it is obvious PSB makes great speakers. The total price for the set was $949, and was the least expensive of the four sets by several hundred dollars. I probably should have gone with the Imagine B's for this comparison, but nevertheless, the Images sounded good.
UPS Shipping Return Cost (plus insurance): $66.10Ascend Sierra-1 LR, Sierra-1 Center
(Piano Black) - $1,444.00Ordering/Packaging
Ordered from the Ascend website. Ordering was simple, although it did take much longer to receive these than any of the other orders. Packaging was very high quality, and by far the nicest of the bunch. Doubled boxed, with nice cloth bags covering the speakers. The white gloves are a nice touch.Appearance/Build
These were by far the best looking speakers of the group. Beautiful finish, extremely solid, and aesthetically very pleasing. I loved the all black components, and the smooth, clean look of these demands you don't put on the grills.Performance
I was confounded by the sound of these speakers. These are the units for which I had the highest hopes, and the ones that I truly wanted to keep at the onset of the auditions. I don't know if it was the sleek appearance and perfect physical size, or the spectacular clarity that would shine in certain soundtrack and music situations, but I wanted them to be the best of the lot. I read a ton of reviews about the Sierra-1's and I was expecting greatness (I did hear it), but I was just not able to get the sound right in my room. I so much wanted to choose these speakers that I purchased another, more powerful receiver in addition to the Yamaha RX-A710. I thought that maybe I wasn't getting enough power to the Sierras, so I ordered a Yamaha RX-A1010 (went from 90W to 110W).
Sadly, I still could not get the setup to sing consistently. The highs sounded too sharp at times, and something seemed to be missing in the lower end. They just didn't sound "open" enough. I fiddled with settings on these more than any of the other units. Mostly, the issue was around movie dialogue. It seems that no matter what I did dialogue always sounded slightly muffled. I am guessing my lack of knowledge contributed to my inability to get the sound configured correctly, or maybe they just don't pair well with the Yamaha receivers I was using. However, I have to say that I definitely heard glimpses of impressive audio performance that I did not hear with any of the other speakers. There was a clarity and crispness with certain audio that sounded like much higher quality speakers I have heard. Alas, I was unable to find this sound consistently. I tried to get as close to the 50 hour break-in period as possible, but was not able to get there. I am guessing my ineptness, room configuration and lack of break-in time conspired against the Ascends.
UPS Shipping Return Cost (plus insurance): $103.58KEF Q300 LR, Q600 Center
(Black Oak) - $1,299.98Ordering/Packaging
Ordered from World Wide Stereo. Process was less than stellar. I did not receive any sort of email informing me of my order status at any point. I had to call to get that information. Packaging was not good either. The speakers were single boxed, and all of the formed styrofoam padding was in pieces, and crumbled. Not a good start.Appearance/Build
These were my least favorite in terms of physical appearance and visual build quality. They are blocky and very pedestrian looking, and to make matters worse there is a rather large logo on the front of the grills that cannot be removed. This same logo is on the inside face as well. I don't know whose idea this was, but I don't like it. I would much prefer to have plain black grills or at most a very subtle logo. The wood grain does not look as good as the others, they are rather large (especially the center channel!), and overall not very visually appealing.Performance
Thankfully, speakers are not judged simply on appearance. The KEFs sounded great in my living room from day one. The sound they produced was clean, spacious, and full. I don't know if this makes any sense, but everything sounded like it was "easier" than with the other speakers. At very high volumes they did suffer from some ever so slight harshness, but not any different than the other speakers did. They matched exceedingly well with both Yamaha receivers. Movie dialogue was very good, although I am still wondering if the center channel was too big for my room. I found myself looking at the Q200 (the smaller version) a few times and even ordered and immediately cancelled it once. However, the longer I listened, the better the Q600 sounded. The wife actually picked the Kefs as the winners very early on, and even my 64 year old mother blindly picked them over the Sierra-1's (the KEFs and Ascends were the final contenders) from the other room during an audition. She thought the Ascends were "shrill" to use her word.
UPS Shipping Return Cost (plus insurance) Estimated: $93.00Rythmik F12 Subwoofer
(Black Oak) - $874Ordering/Packaging
I originally ordered the FV12, but after a couple of comments I received from AVS Forum members I switched it to the F12 before my order ever shipped, and I am thankful I did. I called Brian at Rythmik, and he simply switched out my order and sent me a link that allowed me to make up the price difference. Packaging was great - doubled boxed and well padded, with no damage.Appearance/Build
This thing is as solid as a rock. I was not expecting it to weigh as much as it did. It looks and feels a serious piece of equipment, but it is still subtle and simple when it sits in the corner.Performance
I purchased this subwoofer based strictly on what I had read about it. I was concerned at first that I did not order the Velodyne that I was going to audition along side the Rythmik, but that concern faded quickly once I fired-up the F12. This thing makes you smile. It shakes the walls, the couch, and your toes. I unknowingly had the volume turned up all of the way (I still don't know what all of the knobs on the back of this thing do) when I was watching the climax scene of How To Train Your Dragon, and it actually knocked a framed photo off the wall when the giant dragon hit the ground during the scene. My wife absolutely loves it, and I am very satisfied with the performance. It sounds very clean, and complements the rest of the system very nicely. It is in a completely different performance league than the Polk PSW-10 I have in my office, which now seems like a toy in comparison.The Results:
1. KEF Q300 LR, Q600 Center
2. Ascend Sierra-1 LR, Sierra-1 Center
3. Monitor Audio Silver RX-2 LR, RX Center
4. PSB Image B6 LR, C5 Center
We ultimately, and unanimously, chose the KEFs. All of the other speakers are in the process of being returned. We will need to get a new AV stand for our equipment, because the KEF center channel is so large it does not fit our current stand. The look of the Kefs has not grown on me yet, and I am not fond of the size, but I do like the sound. I am surprised that my wife is not more opposed to their appearance, as they are definitely not subtle. However, when the lights are off in the evening and the movie starts to play it is easy to forget their appearance, and even easier to enjoy the beautiful sound they produce. So, there you have it. We are happy with our setup, and had some fun doing the auditions. I have to agree completely with everyone on AVS who tells you to listen for yourself, and that everyone has their own preference in the end. I am sure your experience will vary.