We auditioned the KEF Q900s and some Mirage speakers that happened to be there too. I gotta say not really that impressive. From the reviews I expected a lot more. First off the room was horrible (really horrible) and they were set up too far apart imo (about 10ish feet or so) and pushed about 8" from a wall. So that being said I'm sure at home in his room they would produce much better sound.
However, they were very aggresive on the top end and laid back down low. When I applied a THX music setting (x-curve in play) the speakers sounded night and day better. The sales associate told me that the in room correction would take care of the shortcomings of the speaker and that it wasn't a big deal. But for 1500$ a pair I expect great sound with pure direct mode or "vanilla" processing only.
We learned that to get an honest audition you have to go to the pros. We went to a custom AV and retail home theater shop and what a difference. Lets just say when you get people who weed out all of the short straws for you, your job at an audition becomes much easier. Products were set up as we would have them at home. Rooms were treated acoustically and isolated from one another with doors. He understood we were there for an audition, and suprisingly, was more helpful once he knew he could expose us to much more than we had ever experienced.
Have to ever listened to a pair of $100 000 McIntosh line aray speakers? I have
!!! Exciting. They were taller than me!
We were told when I asked "why isn't this brand here?" questions that either A: They weren't a good seller because they are priced similarly to this brand that sounds better or B: We deemed their performance unfit for our customer base upon sampling from the manufacturer. WOW! What a big help.
We were also told any mainstream brand nowadays is manufactured in china or at least overseas, and that the difference in a brand's price and quality depends on whether the brand company owns and manages the manufacturing facility or just outsources all or part of the process out. Typically, speakers companies that are vertically integrated will have better product, QA, and cost control. This enables some brands to produce a better final product to us picky customers for a better deal.
The example he used was B&W and Paradigm. Both quality speakers with outstanding reputations and pedigree. They dropped Paradigm because for a B&W setup for a similar price there was no comparisson. The customers voted them out by not buying them once listened to side by side.
The final outcome and best advice I can give anyone learning, looking or just tire kicking is: go to a store that cares about quality, has qualtiy audition spaces and has staff that don't wear nametags. Go to a custom AV retailer. Or better yet go to several. You will be floored when you hear speakers for the first time that don't sound like speakers at all. Don't understand? You will.
I was floored when I learned magnificent performance was affordable-- entry level high end destroys top tier big box store brands.
Still to audition is a PSB setup and others we happen upon. Will update.