Bang for your buck, boutique brands vs the big boys - AVS Forum | Home Theater Discussions And Reviews
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post #1 of 134 Old 11-04-2018, 04:18 PM - Thread Starter
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Bang for your buck, boutique brands vs the big boys

We all know that the big brands such as KEF, Focal, B&W produce some very nice speakers, but what about the smaller boutique brands. How do the offerings from the likes of Selah, Salk, Ascend stack up against their conglomerate counterparts? Who has the edge when it comes down to bang for your buck? Is it the boutiques with their low overhead, or is it the big boys with their economies of scale?
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post #2 of 134 Old 11-04-2018, 05:15 PM
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Originally Posted by crn3371 View Post
Who has the edge when it comes down to bang for your buck? Is it the boutiques with their low overhead, or is it the big boys with their economies of scale?
IMO, big boys are competitive only when their models are being clearanced. E.g., KEF Q100 at $250/pair on Amazon for several months.

At normal retail, I'd say you can get the same satisfaction for 1/2 or 1/3 of the price going with ID brands. Unless you're a sucker for pretty cabinets and are out to impress people with designer labels.
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post #3 of 134 Old 11-04-2018, 05:35 PM
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Retail is better than many seem to give them credit for. .... in the end it is all subjective
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post #4 of 134 Old 11-04-2018, 05:53 PM
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This wasn't exactly what you asked, but to take bang-for-your-buck a step further (in case you weren't aware, yet likely are), there's the DIY approach. After having both commercially-built and DIY speakers in my home, I plan on building all of my speakers moving forward...for the money, there just is no comparison, sound wise. Also, your own time and skill level are the primary limiting factors to how pretty (or basic) the cabinets end up being. With my entire setup being either behind an AT screen or acoustic panels, I wasn't concerned with having the prettiest cabinets. However, I'm not complaining about how mine turned out either.


After sitting in (and thoroughly enjoying) >$100K demo rooms at CEDIA, I can honestly say I have zero regrets in building my own, vs paying many times more for a comparable commercially-built variant. It certainly isn't for everyone, but if have even basic carpentry skills, you will not be disappointed.


If I were unable to build myself though, I'd go with a boutique or ID company over the big brand name offerings though. I've never cared what name was on my speakers, just that it was the best sound for what I cared to spend at the time.
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post #5 of 134 Old 11-04-2018, 05:57 PM
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Originally Posted by zieglj01 View Post
Retail is better than many seem to give them credit for. .... in the end it is all subjective
I don't think there's really anything wrong with retail...just that at the end of the day, you can usually get better sounding speakers for the same money through other means.
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post #6 of 134 Old 11-04-2018, 06:39 PM
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I don't think there's really anything wrong with retail...just that at the end of the day, you can usually get better sounding speakers for the same money through other means.
I have owned and demoed from both sides, retail and boutique/ID, and have not been fully convinced yet -- however many will have their preference, and business will continue for both -- plus DIY is a good value option. As the Audio World Turns.

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post #7 of 134 Old 11-04-2018, 07:02 PM
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IMO, you will have a hard time finding a better sounding speaker or one that measures as well as Revel at all price points. They have the best engineering team and facilities to design, test and measure their products. From their entry level speakers to the top of the line, they all meet the same goals, flat on and off axis response.


Most ID brands and for that matter, most major brands do not have the resources that Harman/JBL/Revel has to design, test and manufacture loudspeakers. How many brands produce documentation of a loudspeaker's performance? Very few. Why, because it requires expensive facilities and takes time. Most brands don't want you to see how poorly their speakers measure. Few have the goal of "neutral" with flat on and off axis response. It's why the "Circle of Confusion" still exists. http://seanolive.blogspot.com/2009/1...confusion.html
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post #8 of 134 Old 11-04-2018, 07:11 PM
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Originally Posted by zieglj01 View Post
I have owned and demoed from both sides, retail and boutique/ID, and have not been fully convinced yet -- however many will have their preference, and business will continue for both -- plus DIY is a good value option. As the Audio World Turns.
i tend to agree with this.. to expound , i would say in *general* i find id a better deal *but* stuff like best buy black friday sales buck that trend,,,, a pair of elac b6.2s for around $200 Thanksgiving week might make a guy happy ...

YAMAHA TSR 5790.. front l/r emotiva b1's and /or kef q100's ..BIC v1220.....Emotiva basx10.... ascend cbm 170 center.. polk t15 rears..samsung 55" j620d
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post #9 of 134 Old 11-04-2018, 07:37 PM
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I think you can get pretty close to the sound quality of the big names with ID brands but not the finish quality. My budget pick for $300 is always the Wharfedale Diamond 220, I don't think they can really be beat for the money. The Polk Signature S15 is also a very good speaker for the money and the Def Tech SM45 were too but I don't know if you can get them anymore.
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post #10 of 134 Old 11-04-2018, 08:42 PM
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most speakers no matter the price can sound good to the avg listener. just look at how many dont upgrade their cars crappy system.


the small % that are picky listeners cant even agree on a brand....so just get whatever looks and sounds good to you.

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post #11 of 134 Old 11-04-2018, 11:00 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by crn3371 View Post
We all know that the big brands such as KEF, Focal, B&W produce some very nice speakers, but what about the smaller boutique brands. How do the offerings from the likes of Selah, Salk, Ascend stack up against their conglomerate counterparts? Who has the edge when it comes down to bang for your buck? Is it the boutiques with their low overhead, or is it the big boys with their economies of scale?
ID or boutique brands such as Chane, Ascend, Emotiva among others do offer great value/performance, however there's not such a bargain if you live outside of the US. For example, a pair of Emotiva B1's are $391 (CDN) before shipping and taxes. Return shipping would be quite expensive and any repairs under warranty could be complicated. I don't know about Europe and other countries, but in Canada most places offer free shipping and pricing has become more reasonable in the last few years. Subwoofers are a different story though. Aside from the SVS PB/SB-1000 it's very difficult to find a sub that can compete with HSU, Rhytmik or Monoprice for under $1000.
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post #12 of 134 Old 11-05-2018, 09:47 AM
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Originally Posted by Zorba922 View Post
IMO, big boys are competitive only when their models are being clearanced. E.g., KEF Q100 at $250/pair on Amazon for several months.

At normal retail, I'd say you can get the same satisfaction for 1/2 or 1/3 of the price going with ID brands. Unless you're a sucker for pretty cabinets and are out to impress people with designer labels.
Some of the ID brands do have some good looking cabinets as well. Salk Sound is one of them that comes to mind, and if you order from Philharmonic Audio, you can get them to have you cabinet made by Salk Sound as well. They also offer a bit of customization too. Of course, this assumes that you also like how they sound.

I agree that not everyone might enjoy that aesthetic and it would be hard to find something from ID brands that might as good looking (IMO) as the maybe something like The Reference series by KEF.
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post #13 of 134 Old 11-05-2018, 10:36 AM
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Originally Posted by crn3371 View Post
We all know that the big brands such as KEF, Focal, B&W produce some very nice speakers, but what about the smaller boutique brands. How do the offerings from the likes of Selah, Salk, Ascend stack up against their conglomerate counterparts? Who has the edge when it comes down to bang for your buck? Is it the boutiques with their low overhead, or is it the big boys with their economies of scale?
Not a clear winner in either camp when it comes to speakers.

But on the sub front there is little questions that the "boutique" manufacturers offer greater bang for buck than the big brands.
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post #14 of 134 Old 11-05-2018, 06:18 PM
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Not a clear winner in either camp when it comes to speakers.

But on the sub front there is little questions that the "boutique" manufacturers offer greater bang for buck than the big brands.
that's the 1st time i thought about that variable , but there is no question..every bang for buck sub on here is ID.. the only possible exception is the ultra budget yamaha's, and for a few bucks more you can get the basx8 and other similar quality stuff...

YAMAHA TSR 5790.. front l/r emotiva b1's and /or kef q100's ..BIC v1220.....Emotiva basx10.... ascend cbm 170 center.. polk t15 rears..samsung 55" j620d
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post #15 of 134 Old 11-05-2018, 08:36 PM
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How many brands produce documentation of a loudspeaker's performance?
Dave (Ascend Acoustics) and Dennis (Philharmonic Audio) both provide detailed specs and measurements for even their cheapest speakers. My Sierra-2s, in fact, came with a set of measurements of my specific speakers.

http://www.ascendacoustics.com/pages...T/srtmeas.html

http://www.philharmonicaudio.com/BMR...armonitor.html

This is no swipe and Harman, as Harman no doubt does have state-of-the-art testing facilities and the resources to pay a solid design staff. But Harman's not the only game in town when it comes to making measurably accurate, quality speakers.

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Harmon's not the only game in town when it comes to making measurably accurate, quality speakers.
Nope, not by a long shot. But one might be tempted to think otherwise from reading some of the postings around here.
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post #17 of 134 Old 11-05-2018, 10:01 PM
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Originally Posted by Rex Anderson View Post
IMO, you will have a hard time finding a better sounding speaker or one that measures as well as Revel at all price points. They have the best engineering team and facilities to design, test and measure their products. From their entry level speakers to the top of the line, they all meet the same goals, flat on and off axis response.


Most ID brands and for that matter, most major brands do not have the resources that Harman/JBL/Revel has to design, test and manufacture loudspeakers. How many brands produce documentation of a loudspeaker's performance? Very few. Why, because it requires expensive facilities and takes time. Most brands don't want you to see how poorly their speakers measure. Few have the goal of "neutral" with flat on and off axis response. It's why the "Circle of Confusion" still exists. http://seanolive.blogspot.com/2009/1...confusion.html

What do you mean by “Documentation”? Ascend Acoustics for example have plenty of graphs and charts to show off their testing results and design features. I don’t believe that you need a huge factory or extensive design team to make a great speaker. Dave, a single person, is able to put out great speakers that achieve flat on and off axis response whether it’s his $1000 Horizon center or his $160 HTM-200 center. But don’t listen to me, I’m just another forum member

Leave it at 8 ohms and call it a day :)
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post #18 of 134 Old 11-06-2018, 04:57 AM
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That's a good question. On one hand the end price on retail brands has to get marked up much more due to the middle men. But do they have greater purchasing power and lower manufacturing costs? On the other hand do boutique or ID speakers have to make more profit per speaker because they don't sell as many?

Let's look at some models. Ascend CBM-170 is $348/pair. HSU HB1 is $380. Do they sound, not arguably, but definitively better than Wharfedale 220 for $350? Or Polk S15/S20 for $230/$300? Or Elac B5/B6 S1 or 2 for $300? And let's be honest the aesthetics of the CBM-170 is well...eek! It looks more like a sub I'd want stuck in the corner out of sight than something on my speaker stands.

How about the Sierra 2? I haven't heard it but I'm sure it sounds fantastic. But at $1500 is it definitively better than the Revel Performa M105 for $1500? Or the Kef LS50 for $1300? Or Focal Aria 906 for $1500? Or Dynaudio Excite X18? What else? Axiom Audio M3 for $550? I've owned the previous incarnation and they were good but nothing stood out against any other $500 speaker I've had from Paradigm, PSB, etc.

It's an interesting discussion. Has anyone owned an ID brand speaker that was without a doubt better than a similar priced retail brand they had on hand? Maybe the Sierra 2 is better than those I listed but I bet it would be arguable. Perhaps the RAAL tweeter is more expensive so it alone drives up the costs, so maybe that's not the best comparison. Here's another - SVS ultra bookshelf vs Dynaudio Emit 20. Both $1000.
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post #19 of 134 Old 11-06-2018, 05:10 AM
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I think it depends...but in general, I think ID can offer greater value than bigger speakers. For any individual speaker, well you would need to see some numbers that aren't going to be easy to come by. I know one thing, my Phil-BMRs are a great value. Dennis post the type of drivers in the speaker (the RAAL is OEM, but shows up on Ebay)- When I figure out what it would have cost me to buy the cabinet, woofer, BMR midrange and RAAL, even without figuring out what it cost Dennis to make crossover/other electronics, buy and add bracing and labor, etc...I knew I was getting a great value. For what I paid for the speaker, the parts alone would have cost me 60%!

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post #20 of 134 Old 11-06-2018, 05:27 AM
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It's great there are companies other than Harman (please note the correct spelling, it's not Harmon) who measure and publish data for their speakers and I applaud all who do. But when you consider how many do, it's a relatively small number compared to those who don't.


Please don't take offense to my comments or think I'm biased because I work for a dealer who happens to sell Revel and JBL speakers. We offer many other brands too. I chose to own Revel F208's long before I started working for my current employer and was never involved in sales, I was a professional recording engineer for 34 years. I believe all loudspeakers should be measured using the spinorama format and that data should be made available so folks can see it to make informed decisions about their purchases.

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post #21 of 134 Old 11-06-2018, 07:52 AM
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Originally Posted by djp2k7 View Post
That's a good question. On one hand the end price on retail brands has to get marked up much more due to the middle men. But do they have greater purchasing power and lower manufacturing costs? On the other hand do boutique or ID speakers have to make more profit per speaker because they don't sell as many?

Let's look at some models. Ascend CBM-170 is $348/pair. HSU HB1 is $380. Do they sound, not arguably, but definitively better than Wharfedale 220 for $350? Or Polk S15/S20 for $230/$300? Or Elac B5/B6 S1 or 2 for $300? And let's be honest the aesthetics of the CBM-170 is well...eek! It looks more like a sub I'd want stuck in the corner out of sight than something on my speaker stands.

How about the Sierra 2? I haven't heard it but I'm sure it sounds fantastic. But at $1500 is it definitively better than the Revel Performa M105 for $1500? Or the Kef LS50 for $1300? Or Focal Aria 906 for $1500? Or Dynaudio Excite X18? What else? Axiom Audio M3 for $550? I've owned the previous incarnation and they were good but nothing stood out against any other $500 speaker I've had from Paradigm, PSB, etc.

It's an interesting discussion. Has anyone owned an ID brand speaker that was without a doubt better than a similar priced retail brand they had on hand? Maybe the Sierra 2 is better than those I listed but I bet it would be arguable. Perhaps the RAAL tweeter is more expensive so it alone drives up the costs, so maybe that's not the best comparison. Here's another - SVS ultra bookshelf vs Dynaudio Emit 20. Both $1000.
you make some great points ,imo, it's all about the listeners ears in most cases.. there would probably be a few exceptions, the phil bmr comes to mind (as an above price point value , pretty much universally accepted as such)
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post #22 of 134 Old 11-06-2018, 09:41 AM
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For $290 ($330 total capped shipping) the Phil AA+ cannot be rivaled, IMHO. Likewise, as was already mentioned, The Phil BMRs at $1350 ($1450 total capped shipping) is untouched as well. Strictly my own biased opinion.

For reference, My Dynaudio X18 2-ways were about the same price (roughly) as the BMRs.

What we really need is a Revel M105 vs Phil BMR shootout!! Someone get on that, LOL.

EDIT: And to really shake things up, and make it even more interesting, we should add some active studio monitors to the list from the likes of Neumann, Genelec, Adam, Dynaudio, JBL, etc. at the same price points.
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post #23 of 134 Old 11-06-2018, 10:23 AM
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For $290 ($330 total capped shipping) the Phil AA+ cannot be rivaled, IMHO. Likewise, as was already mentioned, The Phil BMRs at $1350 ($1450 total capped shipping) is untouched as well. Strictly my own biased opinion.

For reference, My Dynaudio X18 2-ways were about the same price (roughly) as the BMRs.

What we really need is a Revel M105 vs Phil BMR shootout!! Someone get on that, LOL.

EDIT: And to really shake things up, and make it even more interesting, we should add some active studio monitors to the list from the likes of Neumann, Genelec, Adam, Dynaudio, JBL, etc. at the same price points.
i am starting to think i will be settling for the aa+'s (poor me))

YAMAHA TSR 5790.. front l/r emotiva b1's and /or kef q100's ..BIC v1220.....Emotiva basx10.... ascend cbm 170 center.. polk t15 rears..samsung 55" j620d
bedroom .. YAMAHA r-xv 383... front l/r.. wharfedale 10.1s... ascend cbm 170 center ... Emotiva basx8... samsung ku6300 50 in
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post #24 of 134 Old 11-06-2018, 10:36 AM
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What we really need is a Revel M105 vs Phil BMR shootout!! Someone get on that, LOL.
That would be a brawl, like the return of the Thrilla in Manilla.
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post #25 of 134 Old 11-06-2018, 10:52 AM
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Originally Posted by l0nestar8 View Post
For $290 ($330 total capped shipping) the Phil AA+ cannot be rivaled, IMHO. Likewise, as was already mentioned, The Phil BMRs at $1350 ($1450 total capped shipping) is untouched as well. Strictly my own biased opinion.



For reference, My Dynaudio X18 2-ways were about the same price (roughly) as the BMRs.



What we really need is a Revel M105 vs Phil BMR shootout!! Someone get on that, LOL.



EDIT: And to really shake things up, and make it even more interesting, we should add some active studio monitors to the list from the likes of Neumann, Genelec, Adam, Dynaudio, JBL, etc. at the same price points.

What about an Ascend CBM170 vs Phil AA+? I think that would be pretty nice for us on the lower end of the spectrum

Leave it at 8 ohms and call it a day :)
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post #26 of 134 Old 11-06-2018, 12:00 PM
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What about an Ascend CBM170 vs Phil AA+? I think that would be pretty nice for us on the lower end of the spectrum
I've had both (well, not the + version). I preferred the AA's. There is a recent thread comparing the Ascend 170s and the Phil AA+'s. I'll try to dig up a link. Both are great speakers, no doubt.

EDIT: Here it is: https://www.avsforum.com/forum/89-sp...se-review.html

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post #27 of 134 Old 11-06-2018, 12:29 PM
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If we are purely looking for Bang-for-the-Buck, then Internet Direct sellers give you the most for the least.

Though it depends on how many BUCKS you have to create the BANG.

I think at a certain level, high priced speaker stand in a class on their own, and there are few competitors. The more Boutique Brands, as you call them, can produce some stunning speakers, but expect to pay dearly for them.

The Big Boys, common international brands, still produce very good speakers, and are widely available. They have huge engineering and manufacturing staff, and they have the advantage of economics of scale, though how much of the economics of scale they pass on to you is unclear. Plus you can likely audition them in any major city in the world.

I think this is hard to generalize on because it greatly hinges on the available budget, and your risk aversion level. Internet Direct Companies are huge bargains, and may offer liberal return policies, but it is going to cost you time and money if you get the speakers and don't like them. And, you are not likely to be able to hear them in advance, so you are at the mercy of the opinions of others. Bearing in mind that professional reviews are just the opinions of others.

So ... how much money are we talking about. If you got a big pile of cash, Boutique can return stunning speakers, but you risk the boutique company going out of business on you. At a more modest budget, Internet Direct are huge bargains, and can produce stunning speakers for the money. Common International Name Brands come with an element of trust and security that you don't necessarily get with less common brands.

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post #28 of 134 Old 11-06-2018, 01:18 PM
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For $290 ($330 total capped shipping) the Phil AA+ cannot be rivaled, IMHO. Likewise, as was already mentioned, The Phil BMRs at $1350 ($1450 total capped shipping) is untouched as well. Strictly my own biased opinion.

For reference, My Dynaudio X18 2-ways were about the same price (roughly) as the BMRs.

What we really need is a Revel M105 vs Phil BMR shootout!! Someone get on that, LOL.

EDIT: And to really shake things up, and make it even more interesting, we should add some active studio monitors to the list from the likes of Neumann, Genelec, Adam, Dynaudio, JBL, etc. at the same price points.
i am starting to think i will be settling for the aa+'s[IMG class=inlineimg]/forum/images/smilies/smile.gif[/IMG] (poor me[IMG class=inlineimg]/forum/images/smilies/rolleyes.gif[/IMG]))
Poor significant other you mean 😉 The AA+s are fantastic.
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Video: JVC RS35 or Optoma HD8600 on 120". - 60" Panasonic plasma. - Darby Darblet video processor. - Panasonic BD85 Blu-ray playback.
Audio: Denon X1100W. - Speakers: Philharmonic AA+ LRC, Mirage Omnipolar Spherex surrounds. Subwoofers: - MFW-15 Turbo(amp only), Dual 12".
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post #29 of 134 Old 11-06-2018, 01:21 PM
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Originally Posted by Russdawg1 View Post
What about an Ascend CBM170 vs Phil AA+? I think that would be pretty nice for us on the lower end of the spectrum [IMG class=inlineimg]/forum/images/smilies/smile.gif[/IMG]
I've had both (well, not the + version). I preferred the AA's. There is a recent thread comparing the Ascend 170s and the Phil AA+'s. I'll try to dig up a link. Both are great speakers, no doubt.

EDIT: Here it is: https://www.avsforum.com/forum/89-sp...se-review.html

@IrishHT
Agree completely. Both are great speakers but for my ears, the AA+ comes out on top as the "budget" king. One friend has a 2.1 Bose and another had a complete Andrew Jones 5.1 with the Dayton Audio 15. I'd take the AA+s easily.

Video: JVC RS35 or Optoma HD8600 on 120". - 60" Panasonic plasma. - Darby Darblet video processor. - Panasonic BD85 Blu-ray playback.
Audio: Denon X1100W. - Speakers: Philharmonic AA+ LRC, Mirage Omnipolar Spherex surrounds. Subwoofers: - MFW-15 Turbo(amp only), Dual 12".
Misc: Sennheiser HD558 powered by Recon3d USB. HCFR with i1 Pro. PSVR for 3D Blu-ray.
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post #30 of 134 Old 11-06-2018, 02:14 PM
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I think ID brands can provide more value for money as compared to big speaker manufacturer but only to a certain extent/level. If you are looking a product that is above a certain level than you wont find it from the ID brands. They are limited by budget and manpower when it comes to R&D, design and testing facilities. They mostly use off the shelf parts but there is no innovation when it comes to the parts itself. eg. FOcal makes it own drivers and they innovate when it comes to their drivers, KEF is currently using 12th gen of their UniQ design but you wont see that sort of thing when it comes to a ID brand and tbh they are not pretending to do that either.

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