Speakerquest (Round 9)aka: the budget buster
The other day I went to listen to some speakers that were in the $5000 + range, and all I can say is WOW. If I were to spend that much money on a pair of fronts I could get almost everything I want out of a pair of speakers. Actually, they sounded like I thought a pair of $3000 speakers would sound like, when I started listening. Take all this with a huge shaker of salt because up to this point I had never heard a speaker that costs so freakin' much money! Forgive me if I gush... Aerial 7B
After the hi-fi guy finished fritzing around with the 7B's getting them in exactly the right spot, micro adjusting one speaker, then listening and micro adjusting the other one... for about ten minutes after I had arrived. I had phoned ahead (the day before, and again about an hour before our appointment) I managed to get a little preview of the off axis sound as I wandered around looking at all the really expensive stuff that littered the room. I wasn't familiar with whatever he had playing, and didn't particularly care for it, but I will say that the sound remained relatively consistent as I walked around. He finally was satisfied and said they were ready... He had them set up with a 150 or 200wpc (can't remember for sure) solid state amp to come close to what I would most likely be driving them with:
First up I put on The Beatles Come Together. Within seconds, I was about 8 or 9 years old, sitting on the orange corduroy couch my family had back in the 70's; listening to the Abbey Road album that my Uncle had just given me for my birthday, on my Dads old tube amp through his classic Advent speakers ! It was an amazing experience... total time warp. While the 7B's had all the warmth of the Advent/tube combo they sounded better. First note I wrote down was now, that's what I am talkin' about. Bass is full, rich, smooth and detailed. Vocals are clear and smooth. I could feel the drum beats thudding off my chest. Highs were detailed and sharp but without a cutting edge. Okay, it was cranked up much louder than my normal listening level but I was enjoying it immensely. We turned it down a little and proceeded with The End. The drums were thick and meaty, I felt like I was stoned and I haven't smoked weed in years! I was literally speechless. During the crescendo in this song I did notice that the upper mid section was coming off a bit forward. As I sat there listening, I kept thinking that these things image like a mother****er.
I changed gears with Fela Kuti, and again noticed the impact of bass and kick drums along with the clarity in the low end. Double kicks were separate and distinct. The brass came in and I thought that it had a slight edge to it. I thought that this was a full range speaker; dynamic but not in your face about it.
Erykah Badu was lush, warm and smooth on these Aerial's. Bass went deep and stayed tight (and that is no small task with the first track on her Baduizm CD). Rim shot's sounded like wood on metal. I also noted a nice separation of sound here.
Grant Green had piano sounding natural, cymbals decaying nicely, and dead on guitar tone. In the beginning of Idle Moments (from the CD of the same name; same track I have been using when I refer to Grant Green) there is a very low and easy saxophone and very light vibraphone that I had never noticed before, and I've listened to this track at least 24 times since I started this search. Acoustic bass sounded woody and full. Easy hits on the snare drum sounded nearly perfect. The slight distortion on the guitar is present, and appropriate.
With Fu Manchu the 7B's hold together nicely. Music here is full and detailed. Guitars, bass and drums are separate and distinct. There is a nice growl to the electric guitars, though not overly aggressive. I am starting to feel like this is a somewhat laid-back speaker.
I thought that this was a very nice looking speaker, conservative and classic in appearance. IMO this is a warm and musical speaker; I love the bass; it does nearly everything quite well, the time warp trick included
. * I should add that, for me, the Aerial 7B had what I would call a nostalgic sound to it; it brought back warm and fuzzy memories and I would be tempted to use that same phrase to describe its sound though fuzzy would have to be interpreted in the best possible sense (not indistinct, just not hard edged)
As I was listening to the Aerials the shop owner kept asking me questions in-between songs and listening to what I was playing. About half way into Fela Kuti and a lot of chin scratching he tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I would like to hear something else after this one, of course I said, sure. Turns out this guy sees his customers as a challenge... to match up speakers and equipment to the listener. I think this is a very cool approach, and I think he does a good job of it, judging by what he unboxed for me to listen to...T+A Criterion TS 300
This is a German speaker company that designs and builds drivers, cabinets, and crossovers all in-house (if I remember correctly). The cabinets were molded MDF jobs with a sexy little curve in the side pannels, and a dark walnut veneer. Nice looking cabinet, though I didn't care for the radiator grill covering the front port.
The sound? in a word... awesome. Keep in mind that these were literally right out of the box. So if you believe in break-in (I do, to a certain extent, because there are moving parts involved) I imagine the sound would improve with a bit of time on them. The dealer said that they get drastically better, but I tend to doubt the drastic part of that statement. The Beatles started of this audition and I found the sound to be tight, impactful, and very fast in the bass. Detail was apparent throughout the musical spectrum. Cymbals sounded excellent, and crisp. The imaging on the TS 300's was simply amazing. The speakers just disappeared, even when I opened my eyes it was very hard to think of the sound that was filling the room was coming from these two fairly thin towers.
Grant Green's sound was right on. excellent tone on his guitar. Acoustic bass extended very low and had that woody resonant quality that you hear and feel when you hear one live in a small jazz club. Piano sounded very natural and conveyed a percussive quality when keys were struck. The tone on the saxophone was outstanding. Again the imaging and soundstage were opened up in front of me so that I could literally locate the positioning of the instruments; Piano toward the back and left of center, sax mid stage just right of center... The snare sound was nearly perfect.
Erykah Badu sounded incredible on these T+A speakers. Crisp; detailed; tight; deep; impact; dynamic; Wow. Her vocal was sexy, lush and full. Rim shots were wood on metal accurate though they came across slightly forward than on the Aerials. Bass was very full and controlled.
This is a different animal than the Aerial's. More dynamic, more detailed, and not as warm. The TS-300 takes what I liked best about the Hawk and adds it to the best of the Studio 100, while I would liken the 7B's to more of a Focus 220ish sound, but much better. Both speakers had truly amazing imaging capabilities.
If this is what you get for $5g or more, consider me officially impressed. Is it worth the price? ...hard to say. You decide for yourself. The differences between these two candidates and the < $3g speakers I have heard, lies mostly in imaging and attention to the depth and control of low bass frequencies; improved impact; more fullness of the midrange; and detail with out sounding harsh or bright. I would love to own either of these expensive (to me) speakers. Neither one is perfect, but they both have nearly everything that I want out of my fronts, even though they each have a different sound. The only significant compromise, from my perspective, would be price (and that IS significant).Edit: I have been searching the web for any information about these excellent sounding speakers (TS-300) and have not been able to find much, most of what I found has been in German or Russian. Based on the size and weight of these speakers, something didn't quite jive with their price tag to me. I was tipped off, by another forum member, about potential for them being overpriced in the states because of the weak dollar and strong euro and i am certain that this has increased their price. Another concern that I had, besides currency conversion, is the limited distribution and availability state side. This thought popped into my head as soon as the dealer said that he was one of only 4 dealers in the country. Because almost nobody else has them, their price can skyrocket unchecked (basic law of supply and demand), especially since they are such a fantastic sounding speaker. The third factor that is affecting their price is shipping costs, everything is made in Germany and shipped on an individual basis as far (as I can tell) so this is also a significant contribution to their cost. So, after a considerable amount of digging and translating languages I found a site that also had pricing information for some of the Dynaudio speakers, including the Focus 220's which cary a msrp of $3000 USD. Based on that number, and compared with what the same place was charging for the TS 300's they should actually cost $3200 USD !!!!!!! At that price these speakers would be a bargain.Jump to Round 10