While your search for the perfect speaker continues, my search has finally ended. After four years of listening to dozens of speakers; owning some for as little as a few months and my previous set for almost two years, I can honestly say that I have never been more content than I am at this moment. But the new speakers I chose are only part of what made my dream of a great sound system a reality.
Replacing my Paradigm Signatures with Monitor Audio GS's got me significantly closer to my goal with improved transparency, detail and clarity, but much to my surprise it was a new Lexicon front-end (processor, amp, and universal disc player) that really pushed the sound quality over the edge from good to outstanding.
If you know me at all, I have posted numerous times in the past that I could hear little to no difference between a Denon 5800 and 4306 AVR that I've been using for the past 6 years and the separates I've tried. My first attempt at a new front-end was with the NAD Master Series and then more recently, Anthem Statement. The NAD may have sounded slightly more relaxed than the Denon, but only slightly so. The differences were so minor that I returned the two NAD pieces (NADs?
) just two weeks after purchase. The Anthem Statement gear sounded virtually identical to the Denon, so those didn't stay in my system long either. Surprisingly, even though both the NAD and Anthem amps were considerably more powerful than the Denon, I didn't even gain the ability to play my music at higher volumes. Sure, these amps could drive my speakers to silly levels, but the sound became uncomfortable to listen to at those volumes.
My experiences with the NAD and the Anthem gear didn't keep me from trying though, and two days ago I took ownership of a Lexicon MC-12HD prepro, the matching Lexicon LX-7 amp, and a Lexicon RT-20 CD/DVD/SACD/DVDA player. I have a friend that has been using a Lexicon prepro in his system for years, and his system sounds amazing. Ever since he demoed his system for me I wanted to give the Lexicon stuff a try, but frankly it was just too damn expensive. Well, thanks to Audiogon that has changed and I was able to pick up my dream gear for a much more reasonable price.
All I can say is holy crap! I am in total amazement of the sound that fills my room now. I had no idea that front-end gear could make such a difference. I don't know if there is some sort of synergy between the Lexicon and the Monitor Audio GS's, but the sound is effortless at much higher levels than I have ever been able to achieve before; the sound is smooth yet highly detailed, and balanced from top to bottom. No longer does the sound become hard and aggressive at high levels. Now of course the sound quality of a system isn't judged solely on the ability to play at rock concert levels (though it sure is fun), the goal is also to get closer to realitywhere it sounds less like a good sound system and more like the performers are either in your room or you have been transported to the venue of the recording. I know that this may be hard to believe, but even with my untreated living room, with the front speakers unequal distance from the side walls, I now have sound that is just as good if not better than the systems I have listened to at the local high-end AV store.
One of the things that the Lexicon MC-12 does better than any other processor I have listened to is surround processing, especially with converting two-channel music into multi-channel surround. (With four 32-bit processors on board just for surround sound, it's no wonder it does this so well.) You'll often read about a pair of speakers having a soundstage with good depth and width around the speaker plane, but the Lexicon takes that soundstage and wraps it around and even into the room, and it does it in a completely believable way. You are no longer listening at the music, the sound is now fully three dimensional, with all of the spatial information being extracted and sent to the surround channels. And it does this without sacrificing imaging in the front soundstage. It may not be the purist audiophile approach, but I don't think I will be listening to straight two-channel anytime soon.
For example, on The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove from the Dead Can Dance album, Into the Labyrinth, there is a fair amount of reverb on the vocals. In standard two-channel, the sound of the male singer's voice is centered, but the reverb extends out and around the speaker plane. With the Lex, the sound of his voice stays up front and center where it should be, but the reverb fills the room. In this case instead of it sounding like the performer is in room, it sounds like you have been transported the venue of the recording. It's a totally amazing and entrancing experience.
Up to this point, I had always placed most of the importance on speakers, but the Lexicon gear has nearly turned my priorities upside-down. It almost seems ridiculous to have more than twice the money in my front-end than my speakers, and I still wouldn't recommend this approach to others, but this is what it took for me and I'm happy I did it. I still believe that speakers will make the largest and most easily distinguishable difference in sound quality, but if you are diligent, you may also be able to find a front-end that takes your system to the next level. However, if your experience is anything like mine, be prepared to go through a few different pieces before you find the right combination.
Nuance, and all others out there in search of great sound, I know it can seem like you're chasing a rainbow sometimes, but I wish you luck. And . . I never thought I would be saying this, but make sure to put some thought into your front end.
My system before:http://i80.photobucket.com/albums/j1...r/PDR_0520.jpghttp://i80.photobucket.com/albums/j1...r/PDR_0613.jpg
My system now:http://i80.photobucket.com/albums/j1...r/IMG_0276.jpghttp://i80.photobucket.com/albums/j1...r/IMG_0279.jpghttp://i80.photobucket.com/albums/j1...r/IMG_0240.jpghttp://i80.photobucket.com/albums/j1...r/IMG_0232.jpghttp://i80.photobucket.com/albums/j1...r/IMG_0236.jpg