I know exactly what you are going through, but my gut reaction to your quest for the perfect speaker is that you may be chasing a rainbow. I know, because I have been through quite a few high-quality speaker brands in the last four years trying to do the same thing you are. I've come to the conclusion that eventually, you will find something not to like about just about any speaker. None of them are perfect, and even the ones that measure flat on-axis, are far from it off-axis, so the power response (both direct and reflected energy) of the speaker in your room will dictate the sound you hear. In fact, if you are going to consider measurements and graphs as part of the qualifying criteria, forget looking at just the on-axis FR. It means very little in regards to the in-room response. And then there is the inevitable fact that some recordings are going to sound good on one speaker and crap on another. You may have to be happy with the speaker that is the least offensive while giving you the most of what you want, or just plan on switching speakers every few years at least.
I started this hobby in the early 90's, and at that time I was more interested in movies than music. Over time that changed and I wanted a system that would do both well. I have always loved music as much if not more than movies, but in the early 90's surround sound was new and exciting. Here's a brief account of what I went through in my search for the perfect speakers.
1st good quality speakers meant mainly for movies: 5.1 M&K THX certified system. Nice and compact, dynamic and exciting on movies, but also lean, dry, and analytical sounding on music. They were also a bit bright and emphasized sibilance, which I found quite annoying the longer I had them. Had these for about four years, but it was time to start the search for a better set of speakers . . .
2nd system: Aerial Acoustics 7B's, CC3, and SR3's (kept the MK sub). These measure ruler flat on-axis and received the most hyped-up, glowing review Ultimate AV Mag has ever given a surround sound speaker package. I don't think Ultimate AV made a single criticism of the speakers. (Yes, I know virtually all speaker reviews are positive, but there are at least a couple of minor negatives stated.) No one but an HT installer carried them in my area, so I bought them sight unseen (unheard?). A major no-no, I know, but what can I say, I was new at this. I had to drive two hours to get them, and I couldn't imagine being more excited. Got them home, hooked them up, and while they weren't offensively bad in any way, they did very little to impress me. The center speaker sounded boxy and chesty, and the 7B's had no life or sparkle to them. OK, so maybe I like a sound that is a little lifted up top, at least on axis. Definitely not the last word in transparency or dynamics. Yes, they could play loudly without strain, but they had very little jump or snap to their sound. Now I know that the 7B's have been recommended by another poster in this thread, and it is not my intent to discredit him. I am just stating my experience with them and it just goes to show you that we all value different things when it comes to sound reproduction. We all say that we want the same thingaccuracy, but obviously, our perspective on what is accurate differs from one person to the next.
3rd system: Vienna Acoustics Mozart, Maestro Center, Waltz surrounds (kept the MK sub again). These are still amongst my favorite speakers for music, but they simply didn't cut it for movies. Do they have flat on-axis FR? No way. They have a significant and intentional dip in the 2-4kHz region and a little lift at the top of the treble. They very easy to listen to, with never a chance of fatigue. However they never cam across as dull or overly polite. They sparkled up top, had a nice warm and reasonably tight bass and somewhat laidback, but never dull midrange. Very nice for music, and not noticeably colored in any way, despite the lack of accuracy in their FR. Unfortunately they didn't make the cut because that dip in the 2-4kHz region made it very difficult to understand spoken dialog in movies. So much so that my wife and I were constantly asking each other what was being said while watching TV and movies. The bass drivers would also bottom out during dynamic passages in movies or when rocking out. Lastly, not that is has anything to do with the sound quality, but their build quality was a little disappointing as well. I was able to catch these things soon enough that I was able to return the entire package to the store within their 30 day return period. Whew!
4th system: Martin Logan Aeon i, Cinema i center, Script I surrounds, MK subwoofer. After having been through a few speakers at this point, I asked to take the Aeon's home for a day to listen before I made a commitment to buy them. I also listened to them at the store prior to that. But I think at the time, I was so enamored by the slick looking electrostatic panels, that I pushed down some concerns I had with them. They were also just so damn transparent sounding, like there was no speaker their at all. Their transparency was very seductive. As you can see above, I ended up buying a 5 speaker set based on this limited in-home audition. After livening with them for a few months, and the honeymoon was over, I started to notice several things I really didn't like about them. First, they were too directional for HT. Sitting even slightly off center made the speaker closest to you dominate the sound. Second, because the Aeons are relatively small for an ESL speaker, they had very limited dynamics at moderately loud volumes. They became compressed and congested when pushed. And they really sucked for rock music, which is meant to be played loud and is often already highly compressed. Last but not least, I found them very fatiguing to listen to, even at medium to low volume. There was something strange about how their sound coupled to my ear. I know that this may sound strange but it felt like there was pressure on my eardrums when I listened to them.
5th system: KEF Reference 203's, 202 center, and matching dipolar surrounds, MK subwoofer. You would think that I would have learned my lesson in buying speakers without listening to them first, but I was desperate to find a speaker I could be happy with and I was confident that I could make a well informed decision off of measurements, reviews and past experience with the KEF brand. Again there were no dealers that stocked these speakers, so I ordered them through an HT installer. They measured almost ruler flat from the bass to the treble, so I was confident that what ever I fed them should be true to the recording. Boy was I wrong. They were very forward and even aggressive sounding through the lower to mid-treble. Other than this, they did sound quite balanced, but man were they fatiguing. I'm an idiot for buying these, but like I said, I thought it was a calculated risk based on the measurements. It didn't take long for me to know that these were not the speaker for me, but I remember hoping that they would mellow out and even-out with break-in. Never happened. Sold them after about three months. There was absolutely nothing in the FR graphs that showed a peak in the mid-treble, so the reason for their sound quality is still a mystery to me.
At this point, I swore that I would never again buy a set of speakers without first listening to them, so I asked to borrow some speakers from the local hi-fi shop.
1st audition: Borrowed a pair of Dynaudio Contour S3.4's to bring home. Pretty good overall, and again they have very flat response on-axis, but I noticed in my room a bit of lower-treble glare that I knew would be a problem in the long run. In looking at the off-axis measurements for these speakers (after I listened to them), sure enough they have broader response in the low-treble than in the upper-mids and upper-treble, thus reflecting more energy in this region and skewing the power response.
2nd audition: Paradigm Signatures. These just so happen to be the speakers I have happily owned for the past two years and i thought they were speakers that I could be happy with for a long time. They are generally well balanced, though a bit bright and a bit forward (just a little). Excellent soundstage, great detail, can be played at high volumes without strain, efficient, and dynamic. They seemed to offer most of what I wanted, with no faults that I couldn't live with. I typically don't mind a little extra energy up top on a speaker (to accentuate detail), but don't much care for a mid-forward sound. These were a little more forward than I wanted, but not so much that it bothered me. In fact that direct sort of sound kinda grew on me. But you know what? Even though they had a good run, they are being replaced. Over the last few months, I started to dial in on a shouty and somewhat resonant quality to vocals in music. I first heard it during moderately loud listening, but then it started hearing it all the time even at lower volumes.
About two months ago, I started the search again. I really only had to potential choices this time though, as I had either already listened to everything available in my area, or the brands that I would like to hear are no longer available locally (like Revel).
I listened to the Paradigm Signature V2 (with new aluminum midrange drivers and Beryllium tweeters), and the Monitor Audio Gold Signature series. I ultimately chose the Monitor Audio's. Tonally they sound neutral trough the bass, mids and lower-treble and slightly lifted in the upper treble. But what really drew me to them is that they have close to the transparency of an electrostatic, but the dynamics of well a dynamic driver. Are they the right speaker for you? I dunno. Are they worth a listen? Sure. But the point to all of this is that you really shouldn't rule out any speakers in your price range, even if the measurements don't look so hot or if one person likes them or another doesn't. You might just find that the technically less accurate speaker is more pleasing to listen to with your music in your room. Sure a thread like this may help you get a general idea as to which speakers to consider, but then again just look at the recommendation for the Aerials. One poster loves them, I don't. Who's right? Should you listen to them or shouldn't you? If I were the only one to post my feelings on them would you have ruled them out?
I'm not saying that you shouldn't keep looking, as that is part of the fun in this hobby, but again I think you are either going to have to learn to be happy with the shortcomings of the speakers you have, or plan on a long journey of speaker replacements until you finally whittle it down, if that is even possible. I think I would be fooling myself if I said that the Monitor Audio's are going to be the last speaker I ever own, but hopefully they will last me a few years . . . .
Best of luck on the hunt, and just be sure to enjoy the ride!