Battle of the budget speakers - Boston Acoustics A25, Cambridge Audio S30, Wave Crest HVL-1, Mordaunt Short Aviano 1, HTD Level Two - AVS Forum
Speakers > Battle of the budget speakers - Boston Acoustics A25, Cambridge Audio S30, Wave Crest HVL-1, Mordaunt Short Aviano 1, HTD Level Two
alphaiii's Avatar alphaiii 10:39 AM 07-11-2013
I'm starting this thread to motivate myself to actually post the results of some upcoming comparisons I plan to do.

I now have in my possession:
Cambridge Audio S30
Wave Crest HVL-1 (x3)
Mordaunt Short Aviano 1

And next week, will have a pair of HTD Level Two towers and Level Two center. The Boston A25 I have already returned, but I'll add some brief thoughts about those as well, as I've already compared them to the Aviano 1.

I realize it's a little unfair to compare the Level Two towers to all bookshelf/monitor speakers, but when considering the cost of solid stands (I have some custom built, sand filled stands made by Elemental Designs before they went under) is removed, with HTD's recent 4th of July discount on B-stock/discontinued gear... the price for that front three ends up being similar.

I also realize the Mordaunt Aviano is not really a budget speaker, but the current closeout pricing makes them a very viable option right now in this price range.

Most of the comparison will be done with music. I'll do my best to level match using a neat little trick similar to that described by batpig here:
http://www.avsforum.com/t/1191742/notes-on-comparison-energy-rc-10-tca-waf-1-av123-elt525m#post_17436547
The process is slightly different using the newer Denon AVR-991 I have, but end result is the same - reasonably close level matching with instant switching back and forth.

I will also try to post some comments regarding the use of these speakers as center channels. Given the basic MTM designs of the Cambridge Audio S50, and the Mordaunt Aviano 5, I would not use either as center channels, particularly the Aviano 5 center with its 1st order crossover. Sound and Vision mag reviewed the Aviano speakers and found that off-axis the Aivano 5 had alot of lobing issues. http://www.soundandvisionmag.com/article/mordaunt-short-aviano-speaker-system?page=0,2. So for center channel use, a vertical S30 or Aviano 1 would be my pick, and that's how I've been testing them. Unfortunately, this would mean buying a 2nd pair of speakers, but I suppose one can always have a backup, or sell the extra.

As for the HVL-1, it's a tiny bit too tall to fit upright on my stand and now block the bottom of the TV, so it will be demo'd in the horizontal position, as show in a picture on the Wave Crest website. It's worth noting that the HVL-1 uses a 4th order LR crossover, so while horizontal placement is not ideal, it should suffer much less off-axis than most TM/MTM speakers, thanks to the steep xover and close driver spacing.

Obviously, with the HTD, it will be a horizontal MTM center, but luckily HTD designed it with an offset tweeter, which helps bring the woofers closer together and takes the tweeter out of the plane of the woofers.... measures that help to improve off-axis performance. It does however use a shallower xover slope and higher xover point that I would like to see in a horizontal MTM... but it is only a $120 speaker, so perhaps I should commend HTD for the even bothering to offset the tweeter in a speaker this cheap.

Hopefully, people can take these comparisons for what they are - just my opinions of what I heard in my room - and nothing more. I hope the comparisons can be informative for others... but should never take the place of an individual demo'ing the speakers on his/her own, in his/her own room.

I'll end with saying that this won't happen overnight (or even in the next several days), since I have limited free time for this hobby right now. I'll post as I can, and don't take a few days with no updates to mean I threw in the towel... That's all for now.

Jay1's Avatar Jay1 01:26 PM 07-11-2013
Looking forward to your comparison
l0nestar8's Avatar l0nestar8 07:14 PM 07-11-2013
In on this. Subbed.
sdg4vfx's Avatar sdg4vfx 07:22 PM 07-11-2013
Quote:
Originally Posted by Jay1 View Post

Looking forward to your comparison

+1
cel4145's Avatar cel4145 10:55 AM 07-12-2013
+1

Cool smile.gif
cschang's Avatar cschang 11:10 AM 07-12-2013
Quote:
Originally Posted by sdg4vfx View Post

+1
sdg4vfx, I don't remember where you are in SoCal, but I would be more than happy to loan you a pair of HVL-1's to evaluate, especially if we are close.
acrobatbat's Avatar acrobatbat 03:23 PM 07-12-2013
Sub'd
sdg4vfx's Avatar sdg4vfx 12:13 PM 07-13-2013
Quote:
Originally Posted by cschang View Post

sdg4vfx, I don't remember where you are in SoCal, but I would be more than happy to loan you a pair of HVL-1's to evaluate, especially if we are close.

That would be great. I'm in Pasadena. Will send a PM.
alphaiii's Avatar alphaiii 11:30 AM 08-01-2013
Guys, sorry for the delays. I'm working on finishing a PhD, so time has been limited.

I have done a number of comparisons, taken notes, and will post more detailed impressions when I can. For now, a summary. Keep in mind, your ears are different than mine, and so is your room and how you place your speakers.... so your results might be entirely different.

*** It's also important to note that much of the movie/TV show demo'ing was with Audyssey Dynamic Volume engaged (yes, run different times for different speaker setups) in evening or midnight mode. I live in a connected townhome, and when watching/listening at night, which is when I've had time to do most of the movie/TV demos, I can't get around turning Audyssey Dynamic Volume on (and it's how I generally use the speakers for movies, so important to test them that way anyway). From my experience, Dynamic Volume can do some unpleasant things that make deep voices sound a little boomy. So bear this in mind when I make comments about these speakers with dialogue. Still, the general trend remains - if the speaker was a little too full in the bass to begin with, Dynamic Volume just makes it worse. For all A/B music comparisons, I had Audyssey entirely turned OFF.

HTD Level Two - The light cherry Towers (well one of them) were the nicest looking speakers of the bunch, and cabinets seems the most solid. Problem was, the pair was very mismatched, both in color and grain, so there were going back regardless. Luckily, they were also my least favorite sounding speaker overall. They had the best bass extension and punch (quality was pretty good too), but there was some sort of midrange hollowness I couldn't quite put my finger on, and I wasn't a big fan of the tweeter - I wouldn't say it was harsh, but not smooth either. I still think they're a good value for someone looking for towers on a budget. I found the soundstage and imaging were a bit fussy with position - put the speakers too close and soundstage collapsed in the center, but too far apart and the imaging suffered and the L and R were a bit too easy to localize as individual sources. I couldn't seem to get these just right to find a balance between the two.

The Center was reasonably clear, and generally voices sounded pretty natural. Only occasionally did I notice deep voices sound a tiny bit congested, and sometimes that strange midrange hollowness was there. It didn't "disappear" completely, but did an ok job. Since I didn't demo the Level Two as much as the others, this could have been source material related. Even the NHT TwoC, which I think did the best disappearing act of any center channel I've owned, could draw attention to itself with certain movies/shows.

Mordaunt Short Aviano-1 - At the closeout price, I feel there were the best overall value of the bunch. Solid build and quality sound. They're not entirely neutral, but they are a fun and relaxed listed. The tweeter is smooth, and a little relaxed in presentation compared to the mids and bass, which I tend to like in speakers. Bass is strong - good punch, but a bit too full. They remind me alot of the Energy RC-10, but with a more forward midrange. They share the same drawback I found with the RC-10 - the upper bass/low mid warmth is a bit much in comparison to the rest of the spectrum. However, and I'm only going from memory here, I think the Aviano was cleaner than the RC-10, at least in the lower mids. I think these have the best resolution of the bunch, except for the thickness on the low end. I also think they just sound more refined for lack of a better word.

If I were buying a pair for 2-channel listening, I would take the Aviano over the others. But with HT the main goal here, I found the low end warmth could make voices sound a bit overly full (particularly with Dynamic Volume on), and as a center, the speaker didn't "disappear" well enough, making dialogue seem a bit disconnected from the screen. I did notice when listening in stereo, this speaker did not project a tall soundstage, which might explain why as a center, it didn't do a good job of making it seem as though sound was coming from above the speaker. I think the bumped up lows and bit of midrange push are probably the reason the soundstage seems to sit a bit lower in space.

Cambridge S30 - Revisiting these, I find my opinions from before have not changed much. The bass is really nice for such a small speaker. Clean, but punchy - not as prominent or full sounding as the Aviano. For music, I think one can get away without a sub, but I do prefer a sub in the mix. Again, not entirely neutral - I still notice that upper mid/low treble push, which can make certain vocals seem emphasized, and things like acoustic guitar strings have a bit of extra bite. It can also make the sound a little edgy at times. It's an interesting tonal balance - seems a bit laid back in the treble, but at the same time the low treble/upper mid is forward. Overall though, a nice but lively listen, with good imaging and a wider soundstage than expected for speakers this small, probably on par with the Aviano. The tweeter is not as smooth and clean as the Aviano - sibilance a bit more noticeable... better than the HTD though IMO. I suspect Dennis Murphy's mod that uses a steeper xover slope and suppresses the woofer breakup might actually help with this. Still, a very good bargain for $220 retail, but I think the Aviano is a better deal right now.

HVL-1 - These won't win on appearance for many (including me), but I think they stand alongside the S30 as some of the best values for this retail price range. I think Dave F. and Curtis did a nice job on these and have a winning product here. The cabinets seem a bit more hollow and less solid than the Aviano and HTD, but they are still fairly solidly built - 3/4" MDF or additional bracing would be nice, but not expected for this price. The S30 have much smaller panels, so despite the lower weight, they seem a bit less hollow. The matte vinyl is nicely applied - seams are clean. The dual flares on the ports is a nice addition for this price point (not often seen), as are gold plated binding posted instead of the plastic cap binding posts on the S30.

As for the sound, they seem to follow the Ascend house sound from what I remember from the HTM-200SE. They are pretty balanced, but to my ears a little lean and little bright in the treble... just not as lean/bright as the HTM-200SE. The mids are nice and clean, and while not the best resolution I've heard (think NHT Three, Boston VS260, Ascend Sierra), it's good for the price point. I think the Aviano is a bit better in terms of resolution, but the HVL has a less colored sound - flatter balance to my ears. Still, I wish the tweeter was a little smoother, or perhaps padded down a dB or so.... or maybe both. The low end is very clean, but not much bass weight or punch - a bit leaner than I'd like. These need a sub, even for music.

Not as wide a soundstage as the S30 and Aviano, but taller for sure. I was surprised how well the sound was projected above the speakers. When doing the first comparison with these against the HTD Two Towers, I switched to the HVL and actually wrote down, "Wow, did the soundstage just get bigger?" The soundstage didn't seem to have the same depth as the Aviano and S30, but I wonder if that is due to the not having the obvious push in certain parts of the midrange like they do. Imaging was good too, and the only time I noticed it suffer was with sibilance in vocals - it seemed to momentarily draw attention to the tweeters, which temporarily hurt the imaging. I didn't notice this with the Aviano or S30. It's not that the HVL is a sibilant speaker...but I am very sensitive to sibilance and extremely annoyed by it. With the HVL, if it was there in the source I heard it. The smoother tweeter and relaxed treble of the Aviano make sibilance less sharp to me. I've been trying to determine if the S30 is any better than the HVL in that regard, since I feel it's a bit less bright in the treble, but really don't find much difference.

The thing I like the most about the HVL is that taller soundstage. IMO, this really helps the speaker disappear as a center channel when oriented vertically (which was only temporary for me since it was blocking the bottom bit of my screen). Oriented horizontally, it didn't disappear quite as well, but I'd say was still close to the S30. I didn't notice any obvious off-axis problems using this as a horizontal center, but I didn't spend much time trying to listen far off-axis. With Dynamic Volume on, I notice minimal low end congestion or boom (probably the thing I hate second most to sibilance) with voices, and feel deeper voices sounded cleanest on these speakers - likely due to the lean bass of these to begin with. While they wouldn't be my pick for a music only system, I think they work very well for movies. Don't get me wrong, they sound nice with music too, but not my preferred sonic character for music - I like a more relaxed sound and the Aviano is more to my tastes.
alphaiii's Avatar alphaiii 11:58 AM 08-01-2013
The differences described above are me nitpicking, and should not be taken as absolutes. For example, the HVL does not have no bass, the Aviano is not a boomy mess, and the S30 is not sibilant in absolute terms. I specifically looked for differences and describe them in relation to the other speakers tested. In many cases, the differences are not all that obvious, and really need to listen for them. I know I would have a hard time picking up on some without being able to directly switch back and forth. With the S30 and HVL for instance, I actually found it very difficult to pick up on the differences at first. Yes they sound different, but it took a good bit of listening to figure out in what ways, other than the bass differences which were easier to pick up on.

As far as which to pick between the S30 vs HVL, it's a tough call. With music both speakers can sound a little fatiguing to me at higher volumes or longer listens, depending on the material - sometimes the S30 sounds edgier, but at other times the HVL treble sounds brighter. Still, the S30 has better bass, and even with a sub gives a fuller more rounded sound, IMO. So I'd take those for music unless I needed near wall placement, in which case the HVL might do better with the bass reinforcement. For movies, I think the HVL works a bit better as a center provided you have room to sit it upright. Even on it's side, I feel it's comparable to the S30 in terms of "disappearing". When using Dynamic Volume, I think voices were cleaner on the HVL, whereas with the S30, sometimes Audyssey did bad things with that "better bass" the S30 normally has. Both are very good values, and while neither is perfect, they offer alot of sound or the money.

In the end though, I'm not entirely sure either choice is really the right one for me. I've been spoiled by higher end speakers, and I still find myself wanting what they can provide - namely more refinement, especially that a better tweeter can offer. There is also DIY, which I've been exploring a bit - and have already found that designs using really nice tweeters do not have to be astronomically priced - so perhaps that's the road I'm destined to followed at this point. This audio hobby is a sickness...wink.gif

OK, so this was more detailed than planned, and I've already spent too much time here... I'll post more details later, with some specifics from my notes.
Transmaniacon's Avatar Transmaniacon 12:11 PM 08-01-2013
Thanks for the review! These are definitely some of the best speakers in the ~$200 price range, I would be curious to see how some others compare, like the Primus P163 and EMP E5Bi.
cschang's Avatar cschang 07:32 PM 08-01-2013
alphaiii...thanks for your impressions and write up. It takes a lot of work, and you did a great job.
Nethawk's Avatar Nethawk 03:09 AM 08-02-2013
Great read. Of those I've heard we agree.

The Aviano description in particular was of interest. Their characteristics, from your writing, seem to be a more refined version of the Carnival 2, which I loved. My own comparison between these and the RC-10 is spot on with your observation against the Aviano.

I'd really like to see the EMP E41 compared sometime within this category. It's my current favorite sub $300 bookshelf.
l0nestar8's Avatar l0nestar8 03:24 AM 08-02-2013
Great review. Thanks for the detailed impressions. I do want to make one suggestion, however. A well engineered speaker will always sound a little bright and sibilant with TV and movies unless they are in a an theater due to the x-curve. Flat frequency response sounds bad on most movies and tv in an untreated room. Typical home theater speakers will dip the midrange to compensate. Some classical and jazz music would be very helpful for the comparison.

Lets just remember that movies and tv are never mixed flat.
aarons915's Avatar aarons915 05:12 AM 08-02-2013
This is a nice write up, I'm not sure what the budget limit is for your comparison but I'd be curious to see how the ARX A1b does in comparison, they're an amazing speaker for the price so they'd be a nice addition to your test I think.
alphaiii's Avatar alphaiii 12:51 PM 08-16-2013
I know I promised I'd be back to type up some more comments about these speakers, and I still have the notes lying around. For now, things are busy so just a quick update:

I've decided to return the HVL-1 to Wave Crest. They're really nice speakers for the money, and I am very impressed with their ability to disappear - they image well for a budget speaker and the sound is pretty balanced, if a little lean for me. That said, I don't see myself hanging on to them for the long term. That's not a knock on the speakers. It has more to do with how picky I am and that fact that I'm willing to spend more to get closer to that elusive "perfect speaker for me."

Likewise, I'm going to sell the two pairs of S30's I currently have. They're also alot of speaker for the money, but I don't consider them better than the HVL, just different, with their own set of strengths and weaknesses...
65 Electra Glide's Avatar 65 Electra Glide 02:02 PM 08-16-2013
Quote:
Originally Posted by alphaiii View Post

I know I promised I'd be back to type up some more comments about these speakers, and I still have the notes lying around. For now, things are busy so just a quick update:

I've decided to return the HVL-1 to Wave Crest. They're really nice speakers for the money, and I am very impressed with their ability to disappear - they image well for a budget speaker and the sound is pretty balanced, if a little lean for me. That said, I don't see myself hanging on to them for the long term. That's not a knock on the speakers. It has more to do with how picky I am and that fact that I'm willing to spend more to get closer to that elusive "perfect speaker for me."

Likewise, I'm going to sell the two pairs of S30's I currently have. They're also alot of speaker for the money, but I don't consider them better than the HVL, just different, with their own set of strengths and weaknesses...

Honestly, for the prices you got the Boston Acoustics VS-260s and NHT Classic Threes for, IMO, you simply aren't going to do any better than that for the $$$ in terms of both sound quality and bang for the buck. About the only other viable option I can think of off hand in the same ballpark for both price and performance as you got those 2 models for would be a pair of Swans D2.1SE+ for $550.
alphaiii's Avatar alphaiii 02:54 PM 08-16-2013
Quote:
Originally Posted by 65 Electra Glide View Post

Honestly, for the prices you got the Boston Acoustics VS-260s and NHT Classic Threes for, IMO, you simply aren't going to do any better than that for the $$$ in terms of both sound quality and bang for the buck. About the only other viable option I can think of off hand in the same ballpark for both price and performance as you got those 2 models for would be a pair of Swans D2.1SE+ for $550.

You may be correct - although I did just get sick deal on a demo pair of Wharfedale Jade 1's from Sound Import USA (the company that handles the Wharfedale brand in the US)... We'll see how those work for me... The big problem would be getting the matching center - I certainly can't afford it at anywhere near retail price.

I still have my eye on the Swan D series... haven't entirely ruled those out yet.
65 Electra Glide's Avatar 65 Electra Glide 03:37 PM 08-16-2013
Quote:
Originally Posted by alphaiii View Post

You may be correct - although I did just get sick deal on a demo pair of Wharfedale Jade 1's from Sound Import USA (the company that handles the Wharfedale brand in the US)... We'll see how those work for me... The big problem would be getting the matching center - I certainly can't afford it at anywhere near retail price.

I still have my eye on the Swan D series... haven't entirely ruled those out yet.

I don't know if it's still going on or not, but Atlantic Technology recently had a sale on their AT-2 speakers. Even at the great sales price, they are still in a higher price category than what you got the speakers I mentioned in my previous post for, but they are also a clear step up overall from said speakers (IMO of course).

Looking forward to your impressions of the Jades. The way they look kinda reminds me of the TADs in a way.
Tags: Cambridge Audio S30 Speakers Dark Oak Pair , Cambridge Audio Bookshelf Speakers S30
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