I was able to audition Dynaudio x12s, KEF Q300s, KEF R300s, and Paradigm Studio 20s all in the same room.
Dynaudio x12: I thought this sounded absolutely underwhelming, don't ask me why. They were "okay" at best IMO. Maybe they were too laid back, or lacking detail, or something. I don't know.
KEF Q300s: Very good, but didn't thrill me. Treble wasn't quite as detailed as I'd like, and bass seemed a bit thin too. Overall I did like the general timbre though.
KEF R300s: Loved these. Sounded really great all-around, from the low end all the way up. IMO these sounded perfectly balanced to my ears, detailed, yet smooth, etc. Very happy with the sound.
Paradigm Studio 20s: Also loved these. Honestly I couldn't really decide which I liked better, these or the KEF R300s. I think the Studio 20s have a tiny bit too much treble presence, but I really liked the quality all-around. No sibilance at all like I heard in another audio shop, so it must have been the recording, or the room. So the treble isn't at all a deal-breaker, although I don't know how they'd sound in my smaller room without treatment.
If the Ascend Sierra-1s NRT sound close to as good as the Paradigm Studio 20s, or KEF R300s, I'll be quite happy. I'd be happy with any of those two I just mentioned, except they're a bit above my target budget for now. I'll shop around used though and see what I can learn.
On another note, I've sold some more of my old headphone equipment, so I can fairly comfortably raise my speaker-only budget to $1300 ish (I already have the Harmon Kardon receiver on its way in the mail!) This means the Ascend Sierra-1 NRT is exactly what my sights are on, versus the Studio 20s or KEF R300 I heard and liked so far.
Edited by ac500 - 10/9/12 at 6:14pm