Small Bookshelf Speakers ~300 - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 27 Old 03-12-2013, 08:03 AM - Thread Starter
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Hi, I'm new to the a/v world and need some help. I have been lurking for about a week on avs, audioholics and hometheaterforum. During that time I researched some bookshelf speakers and am having a hard time deciding. My budget is around 300 pr (~700 for 5.0, will go B stock) and I would like to mount them to the ceiling or wall. My preferences are about 95% movies/5% music. My room size is 16x18x12. I already have a klipsch rw-12d and denon avr 1713. Also, my preferred size would be less than 12x9x9.

My researched speakers are:

1) Ascend HTM 200SE's
2) Cambridge S30 (no holes in back for mounting)
3) PSB Image B4
4) Energy CB-10's
5) Klipsch RB-41 II (Interested in the horn)
6) NHT Absolute Zero/Sub zero combo (try to find them for around 300 pr, most expensive)

If there are others, it would be appreciated if mentioned.

PS I have uploaded the same topic on Audioholics, AVS and Home Theater Forums. Just like a doctor's diagnosis, I want to see different opinions. Thanks!
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post #2 of 27 Old 03-12-2013, 11:26 AM - Thread Starter
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Anybody?

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post #3 of 27 Old 03-12-2013, 12:53 PM
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post #4 of 27 Old 03-12-2013, 01:28 PM
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1) Ascend HTM 200SE's
Refined, clean, detailed sound for this price point, and great output for its size.
Can be crossed over at 80 Hz.
Works best as a center when oriented horizontally.
Sealed enclosure is ideal for mounting with its threaded inserts.
Can be mounted flush against the wall, but lacks built-in keyhole mount (you could install one and some rubber feet or run a wire between the bolts).
B-stock is available for 12% off here: http://www.ascendacoustics.com/Merchant2/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Product_Code=9HT20SBM2BS&Category_Code=BSTOCK

2) Cambridge S30 (no holes in back for mounting)
Amazing bass capability for its size--can definitely be crossed over at 80 Hz as long as your room isn't huge.
Great sound for the price--sounds like bigger speaker.
Deep cabinet, and is somewhat difficult to mount for its size--could use a clamping mount, but those are large, so maybe a shelf would be best.
Hard to find right now to buy--it's all the rage around here. wink.gif

3) PSB Image B4
Pretty nice for their size, but limited in their output capabilities.

4) Energy CB-10's
Not up to the sound quality standards of the others at this price point, in my opinion.

5) Klipsch RB-41 II (Interested in the horn)
The horn is a big turn-off for many. Others of course like it.

6) NHT Absolute Zero/Sub zero combo (try to find them for around 300 pr, most expensive)
Very comparable to the HTM-200 SE above in many respects, but more limited in output capability.
Prettier than the others, but more expensive.
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post #5 of 27 Old 03-12-2013, 01:38 PM - Thread Starter
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The distance is around 15 feet. I'm going to a magnolia to try out some Klipsch horns to see if I like them. Another speaker mentioned on another board is the Audioengine P4.
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post #6 of 27 Old 03-12-2013, 01:54 PM
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+1 on Mr. Cook's assessment.

I'll add one more candidate to the mix - the Ascend CBM-170. They are the next step up from the HTM-200, and Ascend has b-stock that is in your price range.

I have a pair of the CA S30's and have been able to compare the them to the NHT AbsoluteZero and AudioEngine P4 (in home audition). I would recommend the S30 over both.

I'd be curious to hear if Mr. Cook (or someone else) has had a chance to compare the S30's to the CBM-170's.
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post #7 of 27 Old 03-12-2013, 02:48 PM - Thread Starter
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The CBM 170's are too big.

I have heard a lot about the Cambridge and am very interested but I wouldn't know how to mount them.
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post #8 of 27 Old 03-12-2013, 03:00 PM
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I would recommend the definitive technology sm450 which can be found for very cheap on newegg right now.
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post #9 of 27 Old 03-12-2013, 03:28 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by charger5674 View Post

The CBM 170's are too big.

I have heard a lot about the Cambridge and am very interested but I wouldn't know how to mount them.


These mounts would work for most of the speakers you're looking at ...

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000X9O8SI/ref=oh_details_o01_s00_i00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

http://www.amazon.com/Pinpoint-AM-40B-Clamping-Bookshelf-Speaker/dp/B002UV03MW/ref=sr_1_1?s=electronics&ie=UTF8&qid=1363120946&sr=1-1&keywords=pinpoint+speaker+mount
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post #10 of 27 Old 03-12-2013, 03:44 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Robert Cook View Post

1) Ascend HTM 200SE's
Refined, clean, detailed sound for this price point, and great output for its size.
Can be crossed over at 80 Hz.
Works best as a center when oriented horizontally.
Sealed enclosure is ideal for mounting with its threaded inserts.
Can be mounted flush against the wall, but lacks built-in keyhole mount (you could install one and some rubber feet or run a wire between the bolts).
B-stock is available for 12% off here: http://www.ascendacoustics.com/Merchant2/merchant.mvc?Screen=PROD&Product_Code=9HT20SBM2BS&Category_Code=BSTOCK

2) Cambridge S30 (no holes in back for mounting)
Amazing bass capability for its size--can definitely be crossed over at 80 Hz as long as your room isn't huge.
Great sound for the price--sounds like bigger speaker.
Deep cabinet, and is somewhat difficult to mount for its size--could use a clamping mount, but those are large, so maybe a shelf would be best.
Hard to find right now to buy--it's all the rage around here. wink.gif

3) PSB Image B4
Pretty nice for their size, but limited in their output capabilities.

4) Energy CB-10's
Not up to the sound quality standards of the others at this price point, in my opinion.

5) Klipsch RB-41 II (Interested in the horn)
The horn is a big turn-off for many. Others of course like it.

6) NHT Absolute Zero/Sub zero combo (try to find them for around 300 pr, most expensive)
Very comparable to the HTM-200 SE above in many respects, but more limited in output capability.
Prettier than the others, but more expensive.

I've actually owned (at some point) every speaker on this list, except I had the CB-5 instead of the CB-10... and I've done level matched A/B comparisons for some: Absolute Zero vs S30, Absolute Zero vs Image B4, Image B4 vs HTM-200SE, and Image B4 vs CB-5. Generally speaking, I agree with Robert's comments, with some minor differences.

The CB-5 was clearly inferior to the others, IMO... not sure how the CB-10 would fair though.

The Absolute Zero was my overall favorite of those listed. Yes, it is a little inefficient and limited in output in comparison to the S30, but this was a non-issue for me as a pair of AZ's got plenty loud in my room. I could push them to the point that they sounded a little too "clinical", but at that volume, I found the S30 sounded edgy in the upper mids anyway, despite the woofer not running out of steam yet. The S30 has very impressive bass and soundstage for its size, but I found the upper-mids/treble a little too forward for my tastes. I felt the AZ had a more neutral/balanced sound.

The Image B4 was nice. The sound was a bit more laid back than the AZ, but the midrange still sounded good and sensitivity was a little better even though specs suggest they're about the same. No surprise, but the B4's bass was less extended that the AZ.

The HTM-200SE also sounded good for a small speaker, but I thought it was a little bright sounding, especially when compared to the Image B4. I didn't own the Ascend and NHT at the same time to compare them, so I wonder how that would have gone. Overall, I didn't care for the look of the HTM-200SE either.
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post #11 of 27 Old 03-12-2013, 04:25 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by alphaiii View Post

The Absolute Zero was my overall favorite of those listed. Yes, it is a little inefficient and limited in output in comparison to the S30, but this was a non-issue for me as a pair of AZ's got plenty loud in my room. I could push them to the point that they sounded a little too "clinical", but at that volume, I found the S30 sounded edgy in the upper mids anyway, despite the woofer not running out of steam yet. The S30 has very impressive bass and soundstage for its size, but I found the upper-mids/treble a little too forward for my tastes. I felt the AZ had a more neutral/balanced sound.

I had close to the same experience comparing the two - but it might come down to the preferred listening volume for OP.

For me, the Absolute Zero played better at very loud volumes than the S30 did, the Absolute Zero lost quite a bit (esp in the mids) at lower listening volumes but really hit it's "sweet spot" at medium-loud and up listening volumes. At low to medium-low listening volumes (most of my personal listening) the S30 played much better, but when pushed to very loud volume the S30 did begin to lose it balance/sweetness. At a medium volume both speakers played well.

Of course, whether this helpful might be in question ; ) If anything qualifies as relative it's volume!
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post #12 of 27 Old 03-12-2013, 05:23 PM
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I also reccomend the Cambridge S30 - my favorite budget speaker

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post #13 of 27 Old 03-12-2013, 06:26 PM - Thread Starter
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They will probably be mounted from the ceiling. Can those clamp mounts be mounted from the ceiling?

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post #14 of 27 Old 03-12-2013, 07:52 PM - Thread Starter
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If I were to upgrade the htm center to the cmt 340 will those be timbre matched and worth the money?

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post #15 of 27 Old 03-12-2013, 09:12 PM
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Originally Posted by sdg4vfx View Post

I'll add one more candidate to the mix - the Ascend CBM-170. They are the next step up from the HTM-200, and Ascend has b-stock that is in your price range.

As the OP noted, the CBM-170 SE is too large. The HTM-200 SE sounds very similar in the mids and highs, but doesn't sound as full and warm in the mid-bass and bass. In addition, it's really meant to be used with a subwoofer, although it can be crossed over at 80 Hz.
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I have a pair of the CA S30's and have been able to compare the them to the NHT AbsoluteZero and AudioEngine P4 (in home audition). I would recommend the S30 over both.

I'd be curious to hear if Mr. Cook (or someone else) has had a chance to compare the S30's to the CBM-170's.

The CBM-170 SE is my main speaker, which I use throughout my home theater system. I finally did get a chance to audition the S30 recently (recommended it some time ago for an acquaintance's computer speakers--my sister's friend's fiance smile.gif), and although I haven't compared it directly to the CBM, it does live up to its hype, with "thumpy" bass and a "big" sound--definitely high quality for the price, and therefore high value. I'm pretty sure that the pair was broken in by the time I got to listen to it, and of course I listened as much as I could. It's not as detailed as the CBM (as far as I can tell), not quite as "analytically" accurate (though well balanced overall), and although I didn't push it hard, I'm sure that it couldn't keep up with the CBM at loud volumes (of course, it's a smaller speaker--not a fair comparison here), but in every other way I was impressed, and have been "pushing" it on here ever since. wink.gif Some folks have even chosen it over the CBM, straight up, because they found the S30 more pleasing overall. I still think that the CBM and HTM (in most respects, for the latter) are a step up, though--more "refined" in the sense of transparency and attention to detail in their designs (including quite sophisticated crossovers--even those who don't particularly like them rarely find anything to actually criticize, aside from looks), but they are also of high value and more expensive so they ought to be.
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The Absolute Zero was my overall favorite of those listed. Yes, it is a little inefficient and limited in output in comparison to the S30, but this was a non-issue for me as a pair of AZ's got plenty loud in my room. I could push them to the point that they sounded a little too "clinical", but at that volume, I found the S30 sounded edgy in the upper mids anyway, despite the woofer not running out of steam yet. The S30 has very impressive bass and soundstage for its size, but I found the upper-mids/treble a little too forward for my tastes. I felt the AZ had a more neutral/balanced sound.

Admittedly I'm a fan of "analytical" sounding speakers, and NHTs are right up there. I do prefer their sound and that of the Ascends over the S30's, personally, but for its size the S30 stands on its own (without a subwoofer) really well, and it sounds pretty sweet to me. As for the edginess you heard, that may be the result of an untamed midwoofer cone breakup mode and/or distortion from the tweeter around its resonance frequency. As I understand it, the S30 uses a very basic crossover with shallow slopes (1st order electrical), and that's what can happen as a result--it sounds very good considering this, but it could benefit from a more complex, fully-tailored crossover (which would increase its cost, of course).
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The HTM-200SE also sounded good for a small speaker, but I thought it was a little bright sounding, especially when compared to the Image B4.

The B4 is relatively warm-sounding by design while the HTM is designed to have a flat response with close boundary reinforcement. The HTM's bass output holds up a lot better at loud volumes, but it is a little on the bright side overall, especially when it's not right up against a wall.
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They will probably be mounted from the ceiling. Can those clamp mounts be mounted from the ceiling?

They're definitely not designed to be used in that manner.
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post #16 of 27 Old 03-12-2013, 09:32 PM
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Originally Posted by charger5674 View Post

If I were to upgrade the htm center to the cmt 340 will those be timbre matched and worth the money?

They will be very closely timbre-matched in most respects, although the 340SE will sound a bit warmer or fuller. If you could accommodate such a large center but still require small left & right fronts and surrounds, then in my opinion such a system would be worth the money. The 340SE should help pump up the dynamics of any otherwise small system, to the extent that the center channel is utilized, which is generally believed to be significant with most movies.
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post #17 of 27 Old 03-12-2013, 10:01 PM
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Originally Posted by Robert Cook View Post

Admittedly I'm a fan of "analytical" sounding speakers, and NHTs are right up there. I do prefer their sound and that of the Ascends over the S30's, personally, but for its size the S30 stands on its own (without a subwoofer) really well, and it sounds pretty sweet to me. As for the edginess you heard, that may be the result of an untamed midwoofer cone breakup mode and/or distortion from the tweeter around its resonance frequency. As I understand it, the S30 uses a very basic crossover with shallow slopes (1st order electrical), and that's what can happen as a result--it sounds very good considering this, but it could benefit from a more complex, fully-tailored crossover (which would increase its cost, of course).

That, and according to Dennis Murphy's measurements, the S30 also didn't have any baffle step, so the tweeter was shelved up in output a bit over the woofer...

Still, all things considered, it's a really nice sounding speaker for the price... I just prefer the tonal balance of the Absolute Zero, despite the SPL limitations it has.
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post #18 of 27 Old 03-13-2013, 11:51 AM
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Originally Posted by charger5674 View Post

The distance is around 15 feet.
In my cozy living room, at 12 feet, the S30s are within their performance envelope for as loud as I want them to get with movies and music. 15 feet in a bigger room might be a stretch for them, but I'd still recommend an audition if you can hunt some down.
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post #19 of 27 Old 03-13-2013, 12:00 PM
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Originally Posted by Robert Cook View Post

Admittedly I'm a fan of "analytical" sounding speakers
[In case you've heard them] would you describe the Pioneer FS52s as 'analytical' sounding? btw I'd been looking for 170SE vs. S30 impressions, so thanks for yours Robert.
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I'd be curious to hear if Mr. Cook (or someone else) has had a chance to compare the S30's to the CBM-170's.
Ster3ohead's 170/s30 comparison, in case ya hadn't seen it, is here.
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That, and according to Dennis Murphy's measurements, the S30 also didn't have any baffle step, so the tweeter was shelved up in output a bit over the woofer...
Near the end of last year, Dennis mentioned that the design may have undergone a revision in that regard:
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Originally Posted by Dennis Murphy View Post

The last pair I got in for a mod measured much better than the original--the midrange was more in line with the bass and didn't require as much baffle step correction. As I recall, I altered my mod accordingly. The stock crossover hasn't changed, so I can only conclude that there has been a change in woofer parameters, or that the early ones I got were just indiosyncratic. The current ones are a little hot in the highs above 10k, but that's not as audible as you might think. So I wouldn't look these gift horses in the mouth too closely. They're an excellent little speaker on their own, and probably not worth the hassle of trying to make small improvements.
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post #20 of 27 Old 03-13-2013, 02:53 PM
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Near the end of last year, Dennis mentioned that the design may have undergone a revision in that regard:

Yes, I remember seeing that post...

He does state the xover is the same, so there is no change in baffle step (actually IIRC, there is no baffle step in the stock xover)... but that the woofer parameters may be different (whether due to a minor design change, or perhaps manufacturing change) that result in less BSC needed. Either way, if it makes the over response flatter, then great. Dennis' original xover mod also improved some other things compared to the stock xover - adjusted the xover frequency and steepened the slopes (to better fit the tweeters capability), as well as improved the drivers' phase relationship.

In any case, I've owned the S30 on 2 occasions, and both times I liked the speakers, but still felt the upper end was a bit emphasized. Without having them side by side, I can't say if the more recent pair sounded any different than the first...
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post #21 of 27 Old 03-14-2013, 11:33 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Resonate View Post

Quote:
Originally Posted by Robert Cook View Post

Admittedly I'm a fan of "analytical" sounding speakers
[In case you've heard them] would you describe the Pioneer FS52s as 'analytical' sounding?

I've only heard this series in the store, so I can't say that much, only that they get a lot more right, in my opinion, than their predecessors, and I suppose that they do sound more "analytical" in comparison, with less "coloration" in their sound. There are more than a few people who prefer the previous Andrew Jones Pioneer series just for that reason, but I prefer the current series. I think they're a clear step down from the S30 in sound quality, but maybe just as good a value at their price points (or a greater value depending on where diminishing returns really sets in for each individual). I haven't heard enough of them yet under more controlled conditions to be more specific than that.
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Ster3ohead's 170/s30 comparison, in case ya hadn't seen it, is here.

Just going from memory, as opposed to a direct A/B comparison, I think I agree with much of what Ster3ohead said. But I wonder why people keep having issues with the 170SE's imaging--all five of mine image fantastically (I can barely tell whether the center speaker is even being used when sitting in the sweet spot). I also wonder about the notion that the 170SE only reproduces the recording (I've come across such statements in several comparative reviews over the years). I mean, all we have is the recording to play--even a hypothetical perfect speaker could only reproduce the recording, right? Nobody has to like this speaker, but it's just a strange criticism, in my view. I guess that for some, a speaker that forgives is divine. wink.gif
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Originally Posted by alphaiii View Post

That, and according to Dennis Murphy's measurements, the S30 also didn't have any baffle step, so the tweeter was shelved up in output a bit over the woofer...
Near the end of last year, Dennis mentioned that the design may have undergone a revision in that regard:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dennis Murphy View Post

The last pair I got in for a mod measured much better than the original--the midrange was more in line with the bass and didn't require as much baffle step correction. As I recall, I altered my mod accordingly. The stock crossover hasn't changed, so I can only conclude that there has been a change in woofer parameters, or that the early ones I got were just indiosyncratic. The current ones are a little hot in the highs above 10k, but that's not as audible as you might think. So I wouldn't look these gift horses in the mouth too closely. They're an excellent little speaker on their own, and probably not worth the hassle of trying to make small improvements.

I haven't been following these developments, but I found this in another forum (two consecutive posts):
http://forums.audioholics.com/forums/loudspeakers/74410-modified-cambridge-s30.html#post812910

While we can't tell everything just from looking at graphs, I think it is obvious enough that the modded crossover addresses some real issues. How audible they are is a valid question and whether it is worthwhile, given the additional cost, to address them is another, but these are examples of what higher-end (and higher cost) speakers would definitely address. In listening to the S30, I didn't hear any obvious harshness in the region of that nasty-looking cone breakup, but apparently some people might, and there may well be other negative effects of allowing the midwoofer and tweeter to run higher and lower in frequency, respectively, than they ought to, such as increased distortion and perhaps a smearing of detail. That said, given the stock S30's observed performance, it may be a better value at its regular price point.
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post #22 of 27 Old 03-14-2013, 11:58 AM
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The modded S30 is worth it - and I even prefer them over the NHT Classic Two speaker.

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post #23 of 27 Old 03-25-2013, 12:52 PM - Thread Starter
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I know the c6 are a little tall at 16" but what about these for LCR and C1's for surrounds?

Kef C6LCR http://www.kef.com/html/us/showroom/hi-fi_series/c_series/fact_sheet/centre/c6lcr/index.html169 each A4L
Kef C1200 http://www.kef.com/html/us/showroom/hi-fi_series/c_series/fact_sheet/bookshelf/c1/index.html200 pair amazon

Or just all C1's with a C6 for center?

This is comparing to the Ascends. Scared about bass in my room that's all.
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post #24 of 27 Old 03-25-2013, 12:55 PM - Thread Starter
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I came across these

KEF C6LCR
KEF C1

How would these compare to the Ascends with bass response. I know the C6 is tall but I may be able to swing it. WAF pending.

I'm really just concerned with bass. I heard some Klipsch B 20's the other day and we liked the sound. It was only a 3.0 setup but was still impressed. They were in a HH Gregg store with carpet though. We have wood and I'm concerned the hardwood will bounce too much.
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post #25 of 27 Old 03-25-2013, 04:45 PM
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I'm a KEF fan but I wouldn't recommend the C series. Accessories4less has the KEF Q100 for $400 a pair. They fit your height and width requirements but are about 1.5" deeper.

Re the Ascends - I believe the 170's (and the Sierra 1's) have optional port bungs which offers a little extra control of the bass.

If you can handle a little extra height past 12" (as indicated in the above post) then the Arx A1b would be a very good option ... along with the S30 of course.
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post #26 of 27 Old 03-25-2013, 07:16 PM - Thread Starter
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Those are rear ported though

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post #27 of 27 Old 03-25-2013, 07:18 PM - Thread Starter
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I didn't know about port bungs, but wouldn't that be worse than designed sealed?

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