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Discussion Starter #1
This is my first time posting to AVS forum, but I have logged many hours reading and learning here -- even if no one replies to this post, thanks for all the advice and expertise!

I am purchasing my first set of (relatively) high quality speakers for my home theater setup. Since I live in the middle of nowhere and can't audition most speakers in-store, I have another plan: Many "internet direct" speaker companies have generous trial periods and even cover return shipping, so I can pick some of the best ID speakers, order them, and compare at home!

I've done weeks of research, and I think I'm ready to pull the trigger on my experiment. My question for you fine folks is this: What do you think of the speaker list I've compiled? Are any of them clearly inferior? Any awesome speakers in this price category that I'm missing? (Free return shipping would be ideal, or this becomes an expensive audition)

THE FINALISTS
- SVS Prime Series
- NHT C Series (with C3 fronts to stay in budget)
- ELAC Uni-fi Series (through Amazon I will actually have to pay return shipping, but I really want to hear these much-hyped speakers)

Runner-ups (let me know if you think I should bump these up)
- EMP Tek Impression Series
- Aperion Audio Intimus Series
- Chane A-series


THE DETAILS
I'm open to comments based just on the above list, but if you want to know how I got there, read on.

Budget: $2,000 for 5.0 speaker system (already have receiver and subwoofer)

Room: Large 15'x25'x9' living room with 5' wide openings to adjacent rooms, so lots of air to push. Hardwood floors and plaster walls, so lots of reflections too. I know this is far from an ideal space, but it's what I have to work with.

Setup: Onkyo TX-NR838 receiver (130wpc @ 8Ω, 160wpc @ 6Ω) and an HSU VTF-3 MK5 HP subwoofer. My current Pioneer SP-PK52FS speaker system sounds great for the price I paid, but I'm ready to upgrade. My music sources are mostly high bitrate mp3's via Kodi media server or Pandora streaming via Roku 3 (again, not ideal, I know).

Application: 70% movies, 30% music

Priorities:
I am a tech geek, but not an audiophile. I bought most of my music collection on iTunes, and don't intend to start over in lossless formats. Very rarely do I play music to just sit and listen to -- I play music while I do other things. So while my system will see a lot of use, I won't often be sitting in the "sweet spot" basking in the "airiness" of the treble. I know I'm not getting the best possible sound, and that's okay -- life's about trade-offs. Here's what I do care about:
1) Clarity. When Clint Eastwood mutters a bad-ass line through his teeth, I want to hear him like he's right next to me.
2) Dynamics. When a car explodes on screen, I want it to sound like a car exploding in my living room (minus the hearing loss)
3) Flexibility. There's pretty much one spot each speaker can go in, so they can't be too fussy about placement. Also they should sound good off-axis, because as I mentioned, I don't spend much time sitting in the optimal spot.
4) Composure at high volume. Occasionally I like to crank the music up. The Onkyo can push out some wattage, so I need speakers that don't fall apart when I turn it up.

Aaand there you have it. Sorry for the long post - if you made it this far, any and all opinions welcome! Of course I will be sure to update everyone on how they stack up once I do the testing :)

Thanks,
JD
 

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THE FINALISTS
- SVS Prime Series
- NHT C Series (with C3 fronts to stay in budget)
- ELAC Uni-fi Series (through Amazon I will actually have to pay return shipping, but I really want to hear these much-hyped speakers)

Runner-ups (let me know if you think I should bump these up)
- EMP Tek Impression Series
- Aperion Audio Intimus Series
- Chane A-series



JD
First, the room size has little do with the need for a certain size speaker. For that it's all about listening distance, speaker efficiency and desired volume at listening distance.

The SVS prime is the odd duck out, the others are more comparable to the SVS Ultra, especially the NHT as the previous version of that speaker won a shootout that included the Ascend Sierra. Speaking of which, are within the budget at $748 shipped. The C3 are what, currently $800 shipped? If so, the Ascend should probably bump the SVS out.
http://www.ascendacoustics.com/pages/products/speakers/SRM1/srm1.html

For Aperion the Versus line is more comparable (bookshelf).
https://www.aperionaudio.com/speakers/verus/verus-grand-bookshelf-speaker-584

Based on the overwhelming positive reviews when these came out, they should be on the short list
https://rslspeakers.com/products/rsl-cg24-monitor-center-channel/

They all seem to have at least 30 day trial period with shipping both ways included. Oops, Ascend lists $36 shipping. Not sure if they've changed that or have a special if not maybe cross them off the list.

Also Crutchfield has Sonus Faber, Monitor Audio, PSB and Focal. 60 day trial period, free shipping to you and a modest to no fee return. They also have the Elacs.

Good luck, have fun, take your time, don't bother with speaker break in. Chances are if you don't like the sound within the first day or so you'll never like it. And if it were me I would listen first just the speakers to get a truer picture of their sound characteristic then add the sub(s).

I would also listen to them all first without any room correction run. Just set distance and level. Maybe once you have things narrowed down to a pair of finalists then if you want run Audyssey if that's how you're going to listen once the final choice is made.
 

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Also add PSA and HSU to your list. They're also very well regarded speakers. Uni-Fi are amazing for music and quite good for movies but they're not super efficient speakers so you may want to tack on an amp like an Outlaw 5000 to get them louder. Kef Q series are on sale these days so have a look at them too.

If I were you, I'd pick up the Chanes or the HSU and use the rest of the money for another sub.

Sent from my Pixel XL using Tapatalk
 

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I've just replaced my Acoustic Research AR-91s with NHT C4s. You might be able to get them for 10 to 20 percent off from their normal $2k price. But I also have the Classic 3s for surrounds and the C3s look very similar. These are really fine speakers.
I like the acoustic suspension speakers for music. For movies, your subs may be the most important component.
A shoot-out sounds interesting and I hope you will be posting regularly on your impressions and finally the results.:)
 
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I think your choices are very good and I would stick with them. One thing I look for is a center with a vertically arranged midrange and tweeter that matches the book shelf speaker. A midrange-tweeter-midrange simply will not have good dispersion and is done to keep cost own but not sound quality. No matter how good a speaker company tries to match different drivers to give the same sound it will never be the same. In an untreated room having speakers with good dispersion is recommended. It looks like you did your homework. The NHT and Elac do that in your list.

Some other comments. Loud and good dispersion often do not go hand and hand. As you need more output you start looking at horn type speakers. Horns will always have dispersion dictated by the shape of their horn. So depending on how loud you want to crank it you might trade off good dispersion for a more horn based design. Centers usually take a big hit in dispersion in a midrange-horn-midrange deign. Its dispersion will be less than the deign of the horn.

Lastly, number 1 an 2 can be speaker qualities but are also very source dependent and that is the two very things compressed material gives up in the compression process. I know you understand the offs but I am just pointing out it might not be the speaker's fault with some material. Good luck in your search.
 

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I think your choices are very good and I would stick with them. One thing I look for is a center with a vertically arranged midrange and tweeter that matches the book shelf speaker. A midrange-tweeter-midrange simply will not have good dispersion and is done to keep cost own but not sound quality. No matter how good a speaker company tries to match different drivers to give the same sound it will never be the same. In an untreated room having speakers with good dispersion is recommended. It looks like you did your homework. The NHT and Elac do that in your list.

Some other comments. Loud and good dispersion often do not go hand and hand. As you need more output you start looking at horn type speakers. Horns will always have dispersion dictated by the shape of their horn. So depending on how loud you want to crank it you might trade off good dispersion for a more horn based design. Centers usually take a big hit in dispersion in a midrange-horn-midrange deign. Its dispersion will be less than the deign of the horn.

Lastly, number 1 an 2 can be speaker qualities but are also very source dependent and that is the two very things compressed material gives up in the compression process. I know you understand the offs but I am just pointing out it might not be the speaker's fault with some material. Good luck in your search.
Agree with Ellebob, About 75-80% of the sound emitted from a surround system comes from the center. Keep the SVS's on the list based on the design and performance of their center. You are auditioning "internet direct" surround "systems" primarily for HT, not piecing a system together based solely on previous reviews/acclaim of "stereo" speakers that can be used for L/R in a HT.

We see this "these with those" and "this center with those fronts" all the time on this board. The best deals/ pay as you go combinations that may sound acceptable to many, all too often completely overlook or even negate the fact that single manufacturer HT systems were designed and built to work together...ie...constructed of the same material (drivers, crossovers, enclosures), and more importantly they will have the same "voice" or tonal characteristics, tuned as a system and lessening annoying dispersion and volume variances at different frequencies commonly encountered with "mixed " L/C/R systems.

I like where you're going with this.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Thanks all for the input! A few comments:

Kini62, thanks for the good suggestions. You're right that the NHT C Series seems to be a cut above SVS Prime, but in this case I think the NHC is the standout of the group. I originally was looking only at floorstanding fronts because I wanted something with enough headroom at 80hz to match the powerful HSU sub. I made an exception for the NHT C3 because it's a true 3-way with a 6.5" woofer, so even though it's a bookshelf I expect it to have some good oomph in the low mid/upper bass (this is also why I shied away from the smaller Ascend Sierras and RSL's you mentioned). Maybe I was wrong and should be looking at more 2-way bookshelves?

But dswierenga says the NHT C line is on sale, so if I can get the C4 floorstanders and stay close to budget that would be awesome :)

Khurramtm, I love the idea of saving on speakers and getting another sub (as my AVS handle would attest), but I think I've tested my girlfriend as far as prudence allows with the first 90lb subwoofer :rolleyes: Maybe someday...
 

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Thanks all for the input! A few comments:

Kini62, thanks for the good suggestions. You're right that the NHT C Series seems to be a cut above SVS Prime, but in this case I think the NHC is the standout of the group. I originally was looking only at floorstanding fronts because I wanted something with enough headroom at 80hz to match the powerful HSU sub. I made an exception for the NHT C3 because it's a true 3-way with a 6.5" woofer, so even though it's a bookshelf I expect it to have some good oomph in the low mid/upper bass (this is also why I shied away from the smaller Ascend Sierras and RSL's you mentioned). Maybe I was wrong and should be looking at more 2-way bookshelves?

But dswierenga says the NHT C line is on sale, so if I can get the C4 floorstanders and stay close to budget that would be awesome :)

Khurramtm, I love the idea of saving on speakers and getting another sub (as my AVS handle would attest), but I think I've tested my girlfriend as far as prudence allows with the first 90lb subwoofer :rolleyes: Maybe someday...
None of the speakers you're going to demo will come anywhere close to matching the output of your sub at 80hz.

This is why I run ALL my speakers crossed at 120hz. My subs (primarily the SVS PC12+) have much more output under 120hz than my speakers do. Since changing the crossover to 120hz the benefits in clarity and mid-bass punch has been very noticeable.

Don't automatically go with the industry standard 80hz "just because". You have a very powerful sub, make the most of it and use it to as high a crossover you can that doesn't cause localization or other possible issues.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
Plan update:

After making some phone calls I've discovered that SVS is the only company on my list that actually covers return shipping. (The audioholics list of ID company policies is apparently outdated)

And what I've read in other places matches the advice Ellebob and JonfromCB gave: that the center speaker is arguably the most important, at least for movies. It also happens to be smaller and easier to ship than the front towers, but usually very similar - maybe with one less woofer. So to avoid blowing half my budget on return shipping, I think I'll just be ordering the center speakers from each line and comparing those. Any reason that's a terrible idea?


Oh, and I forgot to address this earlier -- khurramtm mention the KEF Q series, which was at the top of my list for a long time. I ended up dropping them because 1)kefdirect.com would make me pay return shipping AND a 15% restocking fee, and 2)while the Uni-Q drivers are universally adored, a few reviews said the low midrange coming out of the towers is sloppy. The Q300's look promising, but...still too expensive to return.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Kini62, good to know on the crossover -- to be honest, I never really considered going higher than 80hz because that seems to be the usual setting for "small" speakers. I will try going to 100 or 120 and see what happens!
 

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Two other companies you may wish to audition is Aperion Audio and HTD (Home Theater Direct - their Level THREE designs).
 
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FYI....a quick search would likely yield you several comparisons with the majority of the aforementioned speakers on your list...easily to deduce from there if your looking for new speakers.....though its a lot of work but rewarding if you plan on doing it correctly...good luck in any event....:)

Cheers

Bill....
 

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NHT C4 towers plus C LCR on sale thru December for $2k. That's about 20% off for the three.
Just testing the ctr speakers will give you some idea of the capabilities of the fronts but the fronts usually have a lower bottom freq. so may not be the whole story.
You're up against the principal problem with direct sales. They are very difficult to demo. You wind up relying on reviews and comments on websites like AVSforum.
I think if you get the C4s + C LCR and pick up two B-stock SuperOnes or SuperZeros you will be slightly over budget but have a great set of speakers all designed to work with one another.
 

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Plan update:

After making some phone calls I've discovered that SVS is the only company on my list that actually covers return shipping. (The audioholics list of ID company policies is apparently outdated)

And what I've read in other places matches the advice Ellebob and JonfromCB gave: that the center speaker is arguably the most important, at least for movies. It also happens to be smaller and easier to ship than the front towers, but usually very similar - maybe with one less woofer. So to avoid blowing half my budget on return shipping, I think I'll just be ordering the center speakers from each line and comparing those. Any reason that's a terrible idea?


Oh, and I forgot to address this earlier -- khurramtm mention the KEF Q series, which was at the top of my list for a long time. I ended up dropping them because 1)kefdirect.com would make me pay return shipping AND a 15% restocking fee, and 2)while the Uni-Q drivers are universally adored, a few reviews said the low midrange coming out of the towers is sloppy. The Q300's look promising, but...still too expensive to return.
I would both agree and disagree...yes, the center channel is important. However, your L/R will play most of the dynamic content. A bad center is bad, no doubt. However, HT is most enhanced by having a great L/R speaker AND a very good center- I have run HT systems with a phatom center (no center) and they can sound great. IMHO, the most important spakers in HT are your front L/R with a very good matching center. Don't buy a speaker set becuase it has a great center, but a great speaker set that has a great center!
 

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Discussion Starter #16
NHT C4 towers plus C LCR on sale thru December for $2k. That's about 20% off for the three.
Just testing the ctr speakers will give you some idea of the capabilities of the fronts but the fronts usually have a lower bottom freq. so may not be the whole story.
You're up against the principal problem with direct sales. They are very difficult to demo. You wind up relying on reviews and comments on websites like AVSforum.
I think if you get the C4s + C LCR and pick up two B-stock SuperOnes or SuperZeros you will be slightly over budget but have a great set of speakers all designed to work with one another.
The NHT sales guy told me about that deal when I called to ask about return shipping...honestly, I'm tempted just to take them on that and buy the whole system unheard. Great deal. But now I'm really looking forward to comparing them all...you know, for science ;)


I would add the Power Sound Audio 110's to your list, especially if you are mostly movies.

They are very high efficiency and extremely detailed speakers.

Or get this package of used PSA speakers. Incredible deal that you can not beat for the price.

With the PSA speakers suddenly your sub becomes the weak link.
The PSA's look awesome, but the price for a new system blows my budget out of the water. Thanks for the tip, though -- if I were anywhere near WI those used PSA's would have been a hell of a deal!


I would both agree and disagree...yes, the center channel is important. However, your L/R will play most of the dynamic content. A bad center is bad, no doubt. However, HT is most enhanced by having a great L/R speaker AND a very good center- I have run HT systems with a phatom center (no center) and they can sound great. IMHO, the most important spakers in HT are your front L/R with a very good matching center. Don't buy a speaker set becuase it has a great center, but a great speaker set that has a great center!
Totally agreed -- I wish I could audition all three front speakers without spending $500 on return shipping, but after asking for shipping estimates it doesn't look like that's possible. So I'm taking a gamble on the centers being representative of the sound of the LR's as well - based on specs alone, this seems like a decent bet:
SVS - Same number of drivers and same crossovers. Towers have 4.5" and 6.5" woofers vs the center's 3.5" and 5.25", so towers should dig a little deeper (not a huge concern anyway, as I'll always be using a sub).
ELAC - Identical drivers and crossovers -- only difference is an extra woofer on the towers, so they might have a little more volume on the low end.
NHT - C3 bookshelf and center have identical drivers and frequency range (crossover not published), except that the center has 2 woofers. Interestingly, the tower has the same size drivers but is a 4-way, so at least one of the 3 woofers is tuned lower.

Honestly, I've read so many great reviews that I'm sure these are all outstanding speakers and I'd be happy with any of them. I think this test will really come down to which tonal signature I like best, and hopefully that should be very close across all 3 fronts.
 

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... So I'm taking a gamble on the centers being representative of the sound of the LR's as well - based on specs alone, this seems like a decent bet:
SVS - ...
ELAC - ...
NHT - ...

....I think this test will really come down to which tonal signature I like best, and hopefully that should be very close across all 3 fronts.
All three examples you show, show that the center and main speakers are physically different. So these descriptions do not show that they will sound similar.

Personally, I would test the main speakers, not the center speakers. Then you can search opinions on how well the matching center speaker matches the mains. I would venture to say that most well regarded main speakers are going to have well regarded matching center speakers (the Pioneer's are one that I can think of that rubs against the grain).
 

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Discussion Starter #18
All three examples you show, show that the center and main speakers are physically different. So these descriptions do not show that they will sound similar.

Personally, I would test the main speakers, not the center speakers. Then you can search opinions on how well the matching center speaker matches the mains. I would venture to say that most well regarded main speakers are going to have well regarded matching center speakers (the Pioneer's are one that I can think of that rubs against the grain).
True that they are physically different, but they don't need to be identical, just representative of each series' sound. The ELAC's and NHT's use identical drivers for both, with just one less woofer in the center than in the tower. Of course the number of woofers/box size/etc. makes a difference, but I'm betting that a center-to-center comparison will give largely the same results as a tower-to-tower comparison.

Granted, the SVS Primes are different enough from each other that this may not be a valid comparison. Since they DO cover return shipping maybe I can order all 3 fronts and find out.

Home auditioning the towers from ELAC and NHT would unfortunately be too expensive...shipping towers could cost 3X as much as centers, because they are larger and there are two of them.
 

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Have them ship you the PSA speakers. He still has the shipping boxes. Would probably be $25-50 for each speaker. Still an incredible deal.
 

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...but I'm betting that a center-to-center comparison will give largely the same results as a tower-to-tower comparison.
Home auditioning the towers from ELAC and NHT would unfortunately be too expensive...shipping towers could cost 3X as much as centers, because they are larger and there are two of them.
I understand and support your reasoning for testing the centers.
But the sonic signature of the speaker is a very small aspect compared to quite a few other aspects that make a speaker model more desirable over another model.
Sound stage, imaging, depth, room filling ability, ect. are very big noticeable differences between speaker models and I don't believe a mono speaker will give a true representation compared to listening to a stereo pair of speakers.
 
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