Well I bought my speakers today. I decided to take the day off and do all my testing in one day so I could remember what I'd listened to. I also didn't want to do it on a Saturday as it would be too busy. I decided not to test Dynaudio as I didn't like the particular store that sold them, not very logical I know, but that's the way it is.
So I tucked my Oppo BDP-83se under my arm and put a collection of around 15 CDs in a bag and set off!
I won't go into a lot of detail of the travels I made today but I guess I tested 12 different speakers plus I listened very briefly to another 6 to 10 before dismissing them quickly. This exercise took me nearly 7 hours non stop and I made sure that I positioned all of them close to the wall and approx 2.5 metres apart from each other, as I would have them at home (in fact I placed them all closer to the wall than I would have them at home).
I was looking at a budget of 2500 euro and under for the fronts and my aim was to find that bargain in the pack somewhere.
These are the main highlights, the speakers I spent the longest to audition after an initial listen got my interest. I also spent some time with PSB Images, Dali Ikons and Amphions but they didn't make the cut, plus I'd already had the 683s at home for the weekend:Audio Vector S3
Very detailed, and of all the speakers I auditioned they seemed to have the least "noise" of all, the sound was extremely clean. It handled all types of music very well but it was so restrained. It felt like it was hanging back and only giving what it had to. I am not saying it was warm - just a little boring. Considering that this was the base model in the S3 range it did a real fine job and I am sure the higher level speakers are very good. I see an updated S series is only a week or two away from stores and could well be worth checking out.Monitor Audio Silver RX6
After reading a number of excellent reviews, I expected that these would be my choice at the end of the day, especially given their price point. I didnt realize how compact these were, but a very good looking speaker (apart from the ugly plinths) with performance to match. They were lively and in your face without being too bright, but also a decent all-rounder. For the price these really are great speakers......except a distinct lack of bass when it was needed and I think that I would be playing at least half of my music using the sub if I took them home.Monitor Audio Silver RX8
A clone of the RX6 except bigger and a 3-way setup. These were piano white and absolutely gorgeous. They would look great in piano black and I liked the fact that there was no yellow cone (sorry B&W diehards). I played around 6 or 8 tracks and was gob-smacked by the performance, clear and punchy just like the RX6 but now with that low end oomph that the RX6 lacked. The soundstage was forward but nice and wide, they were not too bright and not too warm. Of all the auditioning I did today, these put more of a smile on my face than anything else. I love Edgar Winter's Frankenstein on a good setup and I had never heard it this good.
Then Dianna Krall spoiled it all - boomy bass! I couldn't believe it, I reached for a Rickie Lee Jones CD, same thing again. They didn't handle the real low end bass material too well and both these discs are wonderfully produced SACDs. Some people think that heavy rock and metal will show a speaker's bass ability, but I think that jazz is a good indicator, even though I am not a huge jazz fan, I think I have 4 discs in my whole collection. The RX8s were very, very close, but no cigar.Dali Mentor 6
I left the two speakers at the top of my price range until last and they were at the same store. The Mentors were basically the same price as the B&W CM9's, so it was good to audition them together. These were wonderful, lots of detail and a really wide deep soundstage. Nice tight bass on all the music I played and female voices were exquisite. Certainly not as dynamic and able to be rough around the edges as the RX8s but not far off. The Dalis were refined but could raise the pace if they needed too. The speakers disappeared from my view as I just absorbed what they had to offer. Low volume clarity was superb, the only down-fall I could find was that the detail and clarity sometimes came at the expense of being a little bright at the high end. Other than that, a superb speaker that didn't get my heart racing but was an extremely well rounded performer and I wouldn't hestate to put them in my setup.B&W CM9
Last of the day! (well not really because they were auditioned together with the Mentors) The CM9s terrified me, I went into that audition room expecting to be let down. I had read a lot of stuff about issues with placement and especially the distance from the back of the speaker to the wall. I was telling this to the guy in the store as I was setting up, he looked at me like I was speaking Chinese, this made me feel better
Well, what can I say? The CM9s are wonderful. Instead of me re-typing everything again, just read the comments on the Dali Mentor 6 as they were very similar in clarity and refinement. Not even the slightist hint of boomy or wooly bass as I feared. In fact the bass was cleaner and tighter than the Dalis, this really shocked me as I wasn't expecting it and the Dalis bass reproduction was excellent. The icing on the cake is their looks, these are speakers that wear a tuxedo for all occasions and really are a good looking piece of furniture.
So, my conclusion:
The Dali Mentor 6 speakers are an excellent speaker and maybe
just edge the CM9s in mid range and high end clarity but I am just not sure whether or not I could handle that detected brightness for long periods.
The Monitor Audio silver range seems to be excellent value for money and so close to being really good! I suppose if they were though, they would cost more. Too bad I couldn't audition the gold or platinum series, the dealer didn't have them in stock.
At the end of the day the CM9s good looks, nice tight bass and slightly warmer sound over the Dalis tipped it their way. Needless to say that I ordered the CM9s with a nice hefty discount in a package with the sub and the CMC2 centre.
Thanks to all that offered me advice. I hope my first ever testing experience is a worthwhile read.