Yesterday turned out to be a Dynaudio kind of day. The first place I went, actually to hear the Thiel's, couldn't carry them because another dealer was too close. Other locations of the same name carried them, but not the one I went to... What I did find was a wide selection of B&W and Dynaudio, and one little surprise in the form of a pair of Quad 22L's...
I used the same CD's and same tracks that I have been using to test most of the speakers I have been listening to, and I gotta tell ya, I am starting to get sick of hearing those songs! With the speakers that I like, I find myself delving further into each CD so I can just enjoy the music. The speakers that I don't feel a connection with, I find myself pushing through all my test tracks, hoping I will find something engaging in the sound.
Here we go (again)...Dynaudio Audience 72-SE
Started with Jazz, and found the Audience 72-SE's to present nice piano sounds, clear cymbals, and a fairly accurate, but dry tone on Grant Green's guitar. I thought that these speakers imaged well with this recording. I moved into Fela Kuti and first noticed that the bass was decent and carried some impact with it. The highs came across tight, with decent sounding brass, though I was starting to feel like the music was veiled with these speakers (recessed mids maybe). <"Veiled" is a term I have read in several user reviews of equipment, but one that I myself have never used until now.> The recording of Fela Kuti is a very dynamic one, that through these speakers seemed much less so, if that makes any sense to you. I played the Beatles "Come Together" and felt that the bass guitar was warm and smooth but lacked any sort of punch to it. The electric guitars were forward but vocals seemed recessed. Erykah Badu was missing something with the 72's, bass was not all that deep, rim shots didn't sound true, I had heard enough of this speaker. On to the next in the Dynaudio line...Dynaudio Audience 82:
Top of the Audience line, and for $300 more than the 72 SE's you get better definition, and more bass impact, and a more enveloping sound. I started with the Hard rock of Fu Manchu, which I did not listen to on the 72's. The electric guitars sounded decent though they did not have as much of an aggressive quality that I have heard on other speakers. The 82's still sounded a bit veiled to me, still laid back. At this point I am wondering if this is just the Dynaudio sound. I put in Fela Kuti and immediately noticed that they sounded more clear, the congestion I was hearing in the 72's was better. Horns came through with more of an edge to them. I put in the Beatles and found a better more enveloping overall sound. There was more bass impact, and vocals were more forward. I felt that this speaker improved significantly on the shortcomings of the 72. Erykah Badu had a deeper bass line, but not as deep as some of the other speakers I have auditioned. Vocals were better, a more balanced sound, and rimshots sounded crisp though more like wood on wood than wood on metal. I put in Red Snapper, a disk I used in earlier rounds; it is electronic based with an upright acoustic bass, some deep synth tones, and a variety of sounds that stretch the upper end. They provide a very nice atmosphere and at times a very wide musical spectrum. With electronic music I found the Auduence 82's to hint at the sub bass, but not to present it fully. overall I would say that they did a pretty good job with it. My lasting impression with the Dynaudio 82's is that they performed far better with Jazz and electronic music (music that is not so dense) than they did with rock, though in this department they did much better than the smaller 72 SE's.Dynaudio Focus 220:
I swear these must have gone up in price in the last month, because the Focus 220's were on my original list of speakers to audition, when my budget was capped at $2000... So, naturally I had to listen to them. Before I comment on their sound, I have to say that these are beautiful looking speakers. The veiner and finish are gorgeous, pictures do not do these babies justice...
I started with the Beatles this time and thought that the Focus 220's had a very nice presentation. Highs, mids and lows all came across very smooth, and well balanced. I thought that this is a speaker that has a neutral sound. (Correct me if I am wrong, but I do not think I have said that about any of the speakers I have listened to so far, except maybe the Vandersteens... but this one I think embodies it.) On "Come Together" guitars and drums sounded meaty, and cymbals clear. The bell in "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" rang true. Drums in "The End" (could be my favorite break beat of all time) did not get lost in the din of the crescendo. Vocals were smooth throughout. I wanted to listen to all of Abbey Road, start to finish on these speakers, but I had several more tests ahead.
Next up was Fela Kuti "Shuffering And Shmiling" (yes, thats the way they spelled it on the album) and the nice recording here came through beautifully. The horns sounded natural, slightly shrill where they would be when played live, not bright, not rolled off, but correct. The mids and highs were exceptional with afro-beat, and that cymbals were tight and accurate and had a nice decay. At this point I began to notice that the Focus 220's were missing a bit of clarity in the bottom end. (I think that it was due to their placement directly in front of the Audience 82's, and the fact that the Focus 220's are a rear ported design. Because of this less than ideal placement I am inclined to believe that they would perform at least equal to their $200 cheaper cousins in terms of bass clarity with better placement. This is my 20/20 hindsight, speaking)
Erykah Badu proved to have a velvety smooth and full bass-line, that also (and a little annoyingly) seemed to lack a bit of definition. Rim shots sounded good though still not quite wood on metal true. Her vocals came across smokey and lush. Despite what I was hearing as a little bit of a loose bottom end, I thought these speakers were very easy to listen to.
Red Snapper went in and nice clarity came out. Acoustic instruments sounded crisp, and electro beats were handled with grace. Tight synth drums were tight, and the upper range was crystal clear. I also began to notice that the Focus 220's were imaging nicely, though off axis listening suffered a bit(as it does with most speakers).
Fu Manchu proved to be the first recording to reveal a more laidback nature to the 220's. They were not as aggressive in the mids as other speakers have been with this recording. Again I noticed the lack of definition in the bass, but nothing too severe. They sounded more closed in with this recording, not as open as they did with other music. Here they may be revealing the recording itself, which is admittedly less that ideal.
Grant Green sounded great. All the Dynaudios seemed to like Jazz better than rock. The acoustic bass sounded a bit sloppy though. (I really do not mean to dwell on that, because I think that better placement would go a long way to resolve it and I am really just transcribing my notes here to organize my thoughts in my own head.)
Upper bass, mids and highs are very nice on the Dynaudio Focus 220's, though they do not have that tight, quickness in the very bottom that I am looking for. But due to placement issues I think they deserve a second listen, in a more ideal location (like my home?
I get the impression the high price tag is a common trait for all Dynaudio speakers and think that they are about $1000 too high across the board. Okay maybe $500, but only because they are so pretty...
As I was wandering around the listening room I noticed a pair of small black towers hiding next some cardboard speaker boxes, set off to the side, not very noticeable. When I looked a little closer I realized that they were on my list! I asked the manager about them and he said he took them in on a trade and told me the price which was incredible considering their condition and the msrp. He said he would gladly hook them up so I could have a listen. Unfortunately he put them in the same spot as he had put the Focus 220's, and being another rear ported design I think the bass suffered because of it...Quad 22L
First thing I noted about the Quads was that they were more focused than the Dynaudios I had been listening to (read: didn't sound as good off axis, pretty tight sweet-spot... while this is may be good in other parts of life
, maybe not the best thing with speakers
) They did however have a very nice open presentation, cymbals sounded good, and the mids were perhaps slightly forward with Grant Green. I noticed the same sloppy acoustic bass that I noticed with the Focus 220's, which is why I made my conclusions about placement. I figured what are the chances that two speakers from two different companies would create identical weirdness? I slipped in Re Snapper to test out the sub bass, and found it was there, well, at least hinted at. I thought they would be perfect candidates to run with a sub. (funny, because when I got home last night I searched for comments about this speaker from other people to see how they compared to my observations and most of them commented on how low this speaker went, again reinforcing my placement theory and the importance of listening to these speakers yourself) The Beatles vocals sounded good, as did the upper frequencies. Fu Manchu was suitably chunky but seemed to be missing the lowest octave. I came away with the impression that the Quad 22L's were a "bookshelf" speaker in a tall box.
On the way out of the shop I stopped to give a very brief (refresher)listen to theB&W CM-7
I was not as impressed as I was the first time I heard them (more things to compare them to now) but I still felt that they were quite good. The bass went pretty low, though not as low as some and was a little loose. I still have an appreciation for their open sound and they impressed me enough on first listen to give them a second sit down in the future.
Okay I set out to hear the Thiels yesterday and, darn it I was going to do it. I did. At another shop about 2-3 miles from the first.Thiel CS 1.6:
I listened to the Thiel's through a Creek integrated amp that put out 50wpc (I think) in an attempt to equate the Onkyo I have at home, and I feel that with more power that they very well may be capable of more in the bass department. (For the record, I think the salesman had some off-base preconceived notions about what he called "some crappy home theater receiver")
I started out with Grant Green and immediately the highs came off very crisp. There was nice tone to the guitar. The acoustic bass was somewhere in the deep background, and the cymbals were way up front. Kind of made for a distorted soundstage. Saxophone sounded good. There was a definite edge to the sound of the Thiels. Fela Kuti sounded bright overall and I felt the bottom end was lacking. However, the trumpets and saxophones did not sound as harsh as I expected them to, they actually sounded quite good. The Beatles bass punch was there but failed to envelop. Vocals sounded pretty good, as did the guitar. At this point I was definitely feeling that these were not the speakers for me, and my ears were tired. I really thought that the Thiel CS 1.6 would benefit greatly by a tube amp. I pressed on with Erykah Badu and heard the bass there but not full enough, rim shots were crisp, cymbal hits were downright brittle. Kick drum came strangely forward and sound more electro than acoustic. Just for a, "why not?" I put on Fu Manchu and found a lack of lower mids. This speaker definitely favors the high end. The bass was recessed again; there but not full. That is what makes me feel increased amplification would bring the bass out of the Thiels. Not a favorable audition for me, not the sound I am looking for, though they looked pretty cool with the grills off.
The only other thing of interest to me in this shop (i.e. in my price range) was a pair of bookshelves:PSB Synchrony 2B
We decided to increase the power to see what these things were actually capable of, and set them up in the same room. After a couple of false starts which included me telling the salesman that only one speaker was working, and another one when I noticed there was no bass coming from one speaker. Once we got that all figured out these little guys sounded great. With Erykah Badu the PSB's produced an impressive amount of bass, rim shots were crisp and sounded authentic. Vocals were rich and smooth. Fela Kuti had a nice full range of sound going on, with good detail. Horns had a slight edge to them without sounding bright, and cymbals sounded great. With Red Snapper the acoustic bass sounded pretty good but failed to fully envelop. Electro beats were handled nicely. I get the impression that these are really good "all around" speakers. The Beatles gave a pretty even sound, nothing stood out, could be I am hearing another nearly neutral speaker. On "Come Together" the guitars were slightly forward, but I think that it was the way it was intended. In "The End" the drums sounded excellent, and easily panned across the soundstage with the recording. Fu Manchu sounded pretty good but lacked a bit of growl on these speakers.
I liked the PSB Synchrony 2B, and I am interested in finding out more about them and the other speakers in the Synchrony family.Jump to Round 7