Originally Posted by adamanteus
will you be doing any type of final shootout type rounds. for instance in the $200 per range x brand vs. x brand with a final test of results winners- based on your impressions? and so on? and then maybe at the end of it all a final shootuout with the top winners in all price brackets going head to head? would be interesting to see where different models vs. price tag fall in a final shootout free for all. bang for the buck comparison i suppose. i will definitely be glued to this as as it develops.
From Craig's posts it sounds like he isn't going to rank them, with the exception of maybe pointing out the gems and duds, if he finds any, relative to the field.
Sorry for the long post, but since I've been comparing budget bookshelf speakers a lot recently, and learning about both my preferences and "how to listen" in general, I thought it might be useful to share some of my experiences and opinions on the matter...
From my own comparisons and the sessions I have had with others, it is very hard to "rank" the speakers. Part of the difficulty is that different people have different tastes and sensitivities to various aspects of speaker performance, so my ranks (if I took the time to actually rank them) may not apply to your ears. And thus, I don't feel compelled to strictly rank them since it may not be that useful to anyone else (or may even be misleading). Many of the speakers sound good enough to give a very enjoyable listening experience, but they may falter when directly compared in fast-switch AB comparisons. They may falter because they really aren't as good as the comparison speaker overall, but it may also be an issue of the song used for comparison emphasizing a weakness in one speaker and the strengths of the comparison speaker. Also, some differences that stand out in the quick switch may turn out to be less important than other aspects of performance that may come to prominence in a longer session. And it's hard to do the switches fairly unless you have a nice level-matching switcher like Craig plans to use (I don't have one). I've personally found my most valuable comparisons to be in longer listening sessions, where I swap speakers when I feel like it (i.e. hear a passage that I think another speaker might play better) and end up listening to whichever gives the most enjoyable sound for the music I am listening to.
Ultimately you probably want to pick one speaker for your system rather than spend the rest of your days swapping during every session, but these longer switch-when-you-feel-like-it sessions might be better than fast-switching in terms of identifying the speaker(s) you truly prefer. Fast-switching is better for coming up with basic comparative impressions, but it's the longer sessions that help you figure out which speakers really please your ears more. At least for me. I regret that I'm not setup to do this "blind", but the speakers sound different enough that I bet you could identify them on the transitions anyway, if you have done any "sighted" switches in the past. (Craig, you might want to "go blind" right from the start for this reason.)
I have posted about the sessions that I've hosted in other threads, and other attendees have also posted their impressions as well. But as a reader, please remember that the opinions we have posted are just our opinions, based on listening to the material we heard, with the setup we had, and relative to our own tastes in speakers. I do like some better than others, but I can imagine that others could have different opinions, even if they heard the exact same thing I heard. It's very clear from reading the posts on this forum that two different people can have virtually opposite opinions of the same speaker, and I don't think it is always a matter of one hearing the speaker in a "good" room versus another listener getting a bad demo. I also find that I can be more specifically critical in writing about speakers that I really like, in an attempt to point out any weaknesses in their "seas of goodness", and that I might write a less specific review of a speaker that I didn't find as compelling. If I was a professional reviewer, I would be more careful in balancing the way my reviews read from speaker to speaker.
I very much encourage you (everyone) to find or create the opportunity to demo the speakers for yourself, if at all possible. It's time consuming, but you can get speakers to demo from various sources (other local enthusiasts, ID speakers with good return policies, local shops willing to loan), and it is really a lot of fun. A really cool side-effect of having sessions with local enthusiasts is that you'll get to hear some new music as well.
It's not my intent to discredit the whole idea of posting or reading speaker reviews (since I like reading them as much as anyone
), but I just want to caution against reading one review from an amateur enthusiast (like me) with limited time to compare and summarize their experiences (in a balanced way) and assuming the outcome to be universally true.
Having said all that, here's my quick summary of the sound quality (only) for the four speakers that were asked about, in my sub-less comparisons:
* Ascend CBM-170SE -- great detail and air, very clean in the mids and bass, quick and accurate. Not fatiguing, but does seem to emphasize the top half of the frequency spectrum (relative to the field), and perhaps a bit analytical in their presentation. Okay, here's one where I am pointing out specific weaknesses in a speaker that I really enjoyed.
* Onix x-ls -- (disclosure: I own a pair of base-model x-ls) pleasant and natural sounding warmth, excellent bass output and extension, non-fatiguing for long listening sessions. They could be improved with more air and detail.
NOTE about some modded and forthcoming models of the x-ls: great detail and air is just what the forthcoming "x-ls EX" model provides, without spoiling the pleasant warmth of the base x-ls. The EX has really awesome sounstage depth, too. I like the x-ls, but I really love the x-ls EX model. I also got a chance to hear some x-ls with the Ninja crossover and cabinet damping upgrades, and they provided more detail than the base model, but not as much air as the EX. The Ninja mods tightened up the mids and bass a bit, too.
* Hsu HB-1 -- (disclosure: I own these, too) better bass output and extension than expected (since they are explicitly recommended to be paired with a sub), nice detail and imaging in the sweet spot, and they can play very loud if you like to rock out or crank them up for HT. And they're efficient, too, so you don't need a lot of power to do it. However, having listened to a the HB-1, CV CLS6, and a bunch of speakers with dome tweeters, I am finding that horn tweeters may not be a good match for my own personal listening tastes. But I know a lot of people like horns, so you should consider your own preferences relative to my review here.
* SVS SBS-01 -- (disclosure: I own these, too, er three
) these really need a sub, so these may have suffered in my sub-less comparisons. Ignoring the bass, these have the basic FR balance that I like from mid to top. And though I haven't tried it personally, they are supposed to be able to play loud, which should be good for HT. But you might need a lot of power, since these aren't very efficient. On the negative side, they don't seem to have the big soundstage or focused imaging that some of the others do. I have been able to enjoy them in solo listening sessions, but I think there are others that sound better for music.