Tired of subwoofers - it is time for a bookshelf speaker test - AVS Forum
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post #1 of 483 Old 03-17-2007, 12:17 PM - Thread Starter
 
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As the title suggests, I am tired of the subwoofer shootouts, and am back on my feet, so it is time for a test which I have been thinking about ... bookshelf speakers.

I have a custom built speaker switcher, which allows level matching between up to 4 pairs of speakers, and instant switching from the seats.

For each speaker pair, several listeners were involved, and all listening was done under blind conditions, with level matching employed between each pair of speakers for switching purposes.

The SVS SCS-01 pair ($349 ID) was characterized as follows ...

1. Depth of soundstage is excellent.
2. Microdynamics (subtle clues are more easily discerned. As an example, there some sea-gulls in the Roger Waters SACD "In The Flesh", the SC-01 plays them very clearly).
3. Reproduction of vocals - both male and female was excellent
4. Percussive instruments are very accurate, while brass instruments lacked a bit in the immediacy of the live instrument.
5. Width of soundstage is limited to inside the speakers.
6. Bass was very good, as long as an 80 Hz crossover was used.


The PSB Image B-25 pair ($479 B/M) was characterized as follows ...

1. Depth of soundstage was quite good.
2. The width of the soundstage was wider than the speakers, but not quite in the league of the Ascends.
3. Microdynamics were as good as the SVS, with subtle clues coming through clearly.
4. Vocals were excellent, including male and female. with a bit more "smooth" a presentation.
5. Percussive instruments were very good, as were brass instruments. Live guitar was not quite as well done, but was good... just a little "soft".
6. Bass was quite good, and a 60 Hz crossover can be used.


The NHT Classic 2 pair ($600 B/M) was characterized as follows ...

1. Depth and Width of soundstage was better than any of the other speakers.
2. Microdynamics were outstanding, and again, superior to the other contestants.
3. Macrodynamics were lacking. We were using the Emotiva LPA-1 for all the speakers here, which is substantial power. The NHT's just don't like "going loud".
4. Within their limits, vocals, brass, percussive instruments, and guitar were all presented with excellent results.
5. Bass was pretty good, but with dynamics limited. For Home theater, a 100 Hz crossover is recommended.


The AV123 X-LS pair ($299 ID) was characterized as follows ...

1. Depth and width of soundstage was very close to that of the PSB's ... very good on both, with just a bit more depth.
2. Microdynamics were excellent, not quite matching the NHT's, but on about a par with the SVS SC-01's.
3. Macrodynamics were a bit behind the PSB's, with almost the same amount of ability to "crank".
4. Vocals were outstanding, with a smooth presentation of both male and female vocals.
5. Percussive instrument presentation was the best of the group, while brass instruments and guitar was very good. Guitar was a little soft.
6. Bass was excellent, with a 60 Hz crossover easily handled.

The Elemental Designs A6-5T5 MTM ($200 ID) speakers were characterized as follows ...

1. Depth and width fairly shallow and narrow compared to the more expensive speakers.
2. Microdynamics were very good - almost matching the X-LS.
3. Macrodynamics were excellent - almost matching the PSB's.
4. Vocals were very good - a slight stridency in female vocals compared to the more expensive stuff, but for $200, very slight.
5. Percussive instruments were excellent - lots of snap to a snare drum, and brass instruments were very good. Again, the more expensive speakers were better, but the eD's were better than expected for $200.
6. Bass was quite limited, with a 100 Hz crossover recommended.


As a side note - the eD speakers, with the subwoofer (A2-300) are quite the bargain for someone looking for an inexpensive 5.1 system.

The Dana Audio model 630 speaker pair ($349 ID) were characterized as follows:

1. Depth and width were a match for the best in the test yet. They slightly bested the NHT's in both arenas.
2. Microdynamics were excellent - again a close match for the NHT's.
3. Macrodynamics were about on a par with the PSB's, and was excellent.
4. Vocals were also at the top of all the bookshelf designs ... Tony Bennett's duet with KD Lang on his MTV SACD is outstanding.
5. Percussive instruments were handled with ease, lots of snap to the snare drum, and brass instruments were outstanding in presense.
6. Bass extension was quite limited, with a 100 Hz crossover recommended.

Acculine A1/A2

1. Depth and width were excellent on both loudspeakers, and among the best in the test.
2. Microdynamics were excellent, one of the best in the test.
3. Macrodynamics were quite good, but not at the top of the list.
4. Female vocals were excellent, while male vocals were slightly "weak".
5. Brass instruments were very good, and percussion quite accurate, but not quite as dynamic as the best.
6. Bass extension was quite limited, with a 100 Hz crossover recommended.
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post #2 of 483 Old 03-17-2007, 12:32 PM
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craig i thoroughly enjoyed your observations on subs. it helped me wth my x-sub purchase in my smallish area. the sub list was great because it sort of spanned a range of subs vs. performance pricewise and gave everyone with different budgets food for thought.

since this looks like it is just starting i would like to suggest maybe trying out some of the mission bookshelf models over at tsto. com. they are affordable and i feel an almost ubeatable value at their current prices which are much lower than their original MSRP's (which IMO they would still be worth paying for).

i also feel that when people are looking for suggestions and mission is mentioned, the name is disregarded because mission is no longer a real force here in the U.S. although there are rumblngs that they are soon to launch here again in a big way.

anyhow if you would consider my humble suggestion/ request i have 3 models i would love to see you test- the first 2 of which i own and the 3rd i would really like to grab in the future. all 3 sets could probably be had for the price of one set of "audiophile" bookshelf set ups.

the mission M70- IMO hands down the winner when it comes to the under $100 bookshelf (original MSRP of $200 per pair) now at an incredible low price of $70 : http://www.tsto.com/cgi-bin/TSTO.sto...duct/View/2191

the mission M31 a step up from he M70 still affordable at $149 per pair and IMO a fantastic performing bookshelf (MSRP of $250): http://www.tsto.com/cgi-bin/TSTO.sto...duct/View/2321

and finally the elegante e80- which i have been drooling over and sadly are out of my range at this moment at $700: http://www.tsto.com/cgi-bin/TSTO.sto...duct/View/2685

anyhow hopefully you can check these out and post impressions. and mostly thanks for your dedication and time to this- from all of us here.
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post #3 of 483 Old 03-17-2007, 12:41 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Pretty cool call on the Missions, adamanteus. I bought my first pair of Mission 70's in 1985, and one of my best friends got a pair (with a Harmon-Kardon receiver) for a wedding present from me in 1986 - and they are still going strong.

I may grab a pair after the first round is done.

There will not be a point system for this as there was with the subwoofers ... What I hope to accomplish is to get some opinions (besides mine) of what the speakers strengths and weaknesses are.

If nothing else, doing blind, level matched tests should be a little more objective than the usual, sighted test.
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post #4 of 483 Old 03-17-2007, 01:07 PM
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Craig,

I think you are going to have a lot of fun with this. There are a TON of interesting speakers to test out in the "budget" <$400/pair space, and a ton more if you expand the budget. Here are some that some local enthusiasts and I have been listening to (in no particular order):
* Ascend CBM-170SE
* SVS SBS-01
* Onix x-ls (base, "EX" pre-production model, and with Ninja crossover)
* Hsu HB-1
* Insignia NS-B2111
* Cerwin Vega CLS6
* B&W DM302 (old model)
* Usher S-520
* HTD Level 3 Bookshelf
* HTD Middies
* Kef iQ3
* nOhr 4.0

Here are some other speakers/brands (some out of budget range) that might be good candidates:
* Axion M22
* Aperion 522 and 632
* Infinity Primus 150
* Infinity Beta 20
* Polk Monitor 30, R50, LSi7
* Acoustic Research ARXP62
* Wharfdale diamond 9.2
* Magnepan ?
* Onix Ref 0.5, Ref 1
* NHT Absolute Zero, Bookshelf Two, Bookshelf Three
* Klipsch ?
* ERA D3, D4 bookshelf
* Epos ELS-3
* Def Tech bookshelf ?
* Mirage Omni ?
* Alegria Emma
* B&W CM1
* Paradigm ?
* PSB ?

...and there are many, many more.

Having the level-matching switcher will be very nice. Using a sub will help even the playing field, since many small speakers are bass-shy on their own. Though it is also interesting to hear which ones have enough bass for satisfying sub-less listening.

It would be very difficult to come up with a single-dimension rating scale, since the various strengths and weaknesses of each don't fit well into such a scale. I have also found that even though a speaker may have some obvious flaws, it may still end up being an enjoyable speaker to listen to, perhaps even more enjoyable than another speaker that has a shorter list of compromises. In addition to quick AB comparisons, you may wish to do some extended listening with each speaker, and perhaps do some sighted switching if/when you think another speaker might sound better. This method isn't as objective as I would prefer, but you might find that you are consistently drawn to a few of the speakers in preference to the others. Source material matters, too, as changing the song could change your relative preferences between speakers.

Happy listening,
-Max
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post #5 of 483 Old 03-17-2007, 01:35 PM
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I'd really be interested to hear your thoughts on the HSU, and X-series bookshelfs again the SVS and Ascend 170.
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post #6 of 483 Old 03-17-2007, 02:10 PM
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I'd like to see how the new Paradigm Titan v.5 sounds. They moved it up from one step below the mini-mons to one step above. Also add some Mackies in there.

-Eric
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post #7 of 483 Old 03-17-2007, 02:17 PM
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yes i'd be really interested in the x-series too. curious to see your impressions on differences between them and the mission. if you chose to demo a mid tiered mission like the m31.

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.

and as a PS- i only list tsto as a purchase point because frankly, they are the only place i can seem to find to fuel my mission obsession.

thanks again.
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post #8 of 483 Old 03-17-2007, 02:30 PM
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Craig...you're a masochist, lol!

How about a adding set of Emerald XL's from our friends at ACI for Phase 2?

MARGARITAS,
they're not just for breakfast anymore.
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post #9 of 483 Old 03-17-2007, 02:55 PM
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Also like to hear some Energy RC-Mini's, and the new Paradigm Monitor line.
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post #10 of 483 Old 03-17-2007, 03:26 PM
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Craig,

Are you going to open them up and report on build quality also?
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post #11 of 483 Old 03-17-2007, 04:15 PM
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Craig, if you have time you might consider also ordering one more pair of the center SCS-01's from SVS. After their all SCS-01 setup was well received at CES they are offering the SCS-01s modified for vertical use 10% off the center price. Gotta ask for it, the order options still aren't up.
Except for folks on a very tight budget, I can't see anyone not using SCS-01s at least across the front.
Of course, on the Ascends, I can't see anyone not using three 340's across the front
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post #12 of 483 Old 03-17-2007, 04:15 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by craigsub View Post

Guys ... It seems this was missed, so I will post it again. This is not going to be a shootout with winners named. It is going to be blind testing with impressions of each speaker's overall sonic qualities given. For example, a little forward or a little recessed in the mids - things like that.

Now ... if a particular speaker sounds TERRIBLE, or is VASTLY superior to the others ... that may come through in the posts about it.

And, for starters, it will be just the Ascends and SVS ... and hopefully my kit (looking at a nice 5.25 inch driver and a pretty cool dome tweeter) ...

The XL-S will have to wait until AV123 gets it sorted out ... and the Hsu is a possibility, too... in April.

Craig, you actually do what many of use dream. Have a great time.
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post #13 of 483 Old 03-17-2007, 07:06 PM
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ok then i will hope to see results as you post and take it from there. thanks
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post #14 of 483 Old 03-17-2007, 07:34 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by adamanteus View Post

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.

-Max
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post #15 of 483 Old 03-17-2007, 07:50 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by EJRothman View Post

I'd like to see how the new Paradigm Titan v.5 sounds. They moved it up from one step below the mini-mons to one step above. Also add some Mackies in there.

-Eric

I'll be able to post some observations towards the end of next week in regards to the new Titan monitors. I have a pair in rosenut on order, which should arrive next week. Also, I have the X-LS from AV123, with a crossover under modification (new resistors, less restrictive of the tweeter). The sound on the X-LS has really opened up. In fact, it did so much so, that I just sold my Ascend 170SEs on Audiogon a few nights back.

The new Titans weigh in a approximately 21 Lbs. It seems like one heck of speaker for under $500.
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post #16 of 483 Old 03-17-2007, 08:08 PM
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Maxcopper,

Thanks for taking the time to give your reviews. Excellent post.
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post #17 of 483 Old 03-17-2007, 08:34 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Maxcooper - that was a great post. The best part of the speaker switcher is I can actually have 4 pairs hooked up at the same time. I can then ask my son to place any 2 matched speakers against another pair in an ABAB set up - ensuring I won't know which of 4 pairs I (and anyone else involved) is hearing. That makes for some real listening tests, because you have to trust only in your ears, and all bias is removed.

We are also in agreement in the longer term listening sessions ...
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post #18 of 483 Old 03-17-2007, 09:32 PM
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Psst! theres that real nice Usher Kit speaker on partsexpress Craig....
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post #19 of 483 Old 03-17-2007, 09:41 PM
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Good Luck Craig, always like reading your stuff...a few more for the list, if your taking suggestions::
Revel M12's
Era Design 4's and 5's

Seeking a speaker recomendation? Compare for yourself or be swayed by others who hear differantly, or by marketing, or just save time and get the cheapest , nicest looking, or smallest.
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post #20 of 483 Old 03-17-2007, 09:43 PM
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If you could somehow include the Boston Acoustics CR67 Bookshelves in your comparison that would be most excellent.

These are real underdogs and in my opinion ranked top of the pack for the dozens of bookshelves I listened to. Other ones that impressed me were the Dalquist Qx4A, and the energy C1's
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post #21 of 483 Old 03-17-2007, 09:59 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by craigsub View Post

Maxcooper - that was a great post. The best part of the speaker switcher is I can actually have 4 pairs hooked up at the same time. I can then ask my son to place any 2 matched speakers against another pair in an ABAB set up - ensuring I won't know which of 4 pairs I (and anyone else involved) is hearing. That makes for some real listening tests, because you have to trust only in your ears, and all bias is removed.

We are also in agreement in the longer term listening sessions ...

Maxcooper...great post. Thanks for your comments.

Craig...I've run a number of AB switcheroos, and I've never figured out a way to do it blindly...unless I am truly not allowed to look at a speaker setup, or to know which speakers have been placed where. If you're facing the speaker pairs....you know which are playing. Not facing them engages auditory problems. How have you in the past avoided this fore-knowledge during your comparos? (It's a simple task, but one feels kind of foolish 'actually' being blindfolded. ) Close your eyes and no peeking?

MARGARITAS,
they're not just for breakfast anymore.
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post #22 of 483 Old 03-17-2007, 10:26 PM
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It helps if you have a friend.

Seeking a speaker recomendation? Compare for yourself or be swayed by others who hear differantly, or by marketing, or just save time and get the cheapest , nicest looking, or smallest.
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post #23 of 483 Old 03-18-2007, 07:14 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jake Sm View Post

It helps if you have a friend.

There is the big problem. He has no friends. LOL J/K
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post #24 of 483 Old 03-18-2007, 07:32 AM
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Better be careful--unless you conduct the tests with a double-blind set-up and a contingent from the Secret Service to provide security and confirmation of the testing conditions, we'll see a record number of threads closed.

Craigsub, I feel your pain in advance. And look forward to reading some comparisons.

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post #25 of 483 Old 03-18-2007, 10:10 AM
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maxcooper, post 4:

Nice job accounting for bookshelf speakers which are often discussed/mentioned here at AVS. Something along those lines is in the back of many a mind among the regular forum readers. It seems to deserve it's own thread but just keeping it current could be a challenge.

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post #26 of 483 Old 03-18-2007, 10:41 AM
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Quote:


Better be careful--unless you conduct the tests with a double-blind set-up and a contingent from the Secret Service to provide security and confirmation of the testing conditions

We should expect nothing less.

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Maybe someday in the future we will be able to quantify perceived Sound Quality .
(But not today....)

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post #27 of 483 Old 03-18-2007, 10:49 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mudslide View Post

Maxcooper...great post. Thanks for your comments.

Craig...I've run a number of AB switcheroos, and I've never figured out a way to do it blindly...unless I am truly not allowed to look at a speaker setup, or to know which speakers have been placed where. If you're facing the speaker pairs....you know which are playing. Not facing them engages auditory problems. How have you in the past avoided this fore-knowledge during your comparos? (It's a simple task, but one feels kind of foolish 'actually' being blindfolded. ) Close your eyes and no peeking?

http://www.partsexpress.com/pe/showd...number=260-335

Of course some unhappy camper will complain you have altered the sound.
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post #28 of 483 Old 03-18-2007, 10:58 AM
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Originally Posted by mazersteven View Post

Maxcopper,

Thanks for taking the time to give your reviews. Excellent post.

Well now, you're quite the suck-up, aren't you?

~ Danny
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post #29 of 483 Old 03-18-2007, 11:13 AM
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I'm curious...is this a comparison of only budget bookshelf speakers? If not, I would certainly add Totem Accoustics to the list of manufacturers'. It would be interesting to hear if they deserve their substantial price tag. IMHO, I think the model 1's sound incredible, although I haven't actually heard the "Mite's". They are pricey, that's for sure, but are they that superior?
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post #30 of 483 Old 03-18-2007, 11:17 AM
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Originally Posted by Twin-Twelves View Post

Well now, you're quite the suck-up, aren't you?

Hmmmmmmmmmmm

First post calling me a "Suck-Up" I wonder who from NorthWest PA is calling me this?
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