This is... The Official $1,000 Speaker Evaluation / Home Audition Event Results Thread
Speakers (Left to Right): Magnepan MG12, Tekton Model Lore, Vandersteen 2Ce, Focal Chorus 716v, HTD Level THREE, MartinLogan Motion 12, Klipsch RF-62 ll, Arx A5 Introduction
We did it! It was a major undertaking, but we really did it. For the full low down, please see The Official $1,000 Speaker Evaluation / Home Audition Event Thread
, which explains the event in detail. To summarize, I was looking for a pair of speakers for my two-channel setup within my dedicated home theater room. I selected 8 speakers that I was interested in hearing and that I was able to obtain for $1,000 or less (plus reasonable shipping) and a panel of four of us got together to evaluate and audition the speakers in my home. We allowed members to vote on the speakers I would select, with those voting correctly being entered into a $500 cash giveaway drawing. Here are the speakers chosen for the event and the final voting results:
The winner of the $500 Cash Giveaway will be announced in our HTS Newsletter that will publish in the next couple of days. We want to thank everyone for voting and for all the participation on the event and voting thread. A special note about the event and the speakers
... Please keep in mind that some of these speakers may have performed better in different circumstances, different surroundings, differently treated rooms, and with different amps (specifically more power). The choice I made is based on the environment and equipment that was used during this evaluation and that will continue to be my preferences for use. It is pretty obvious that several of the speakers not chosen have significant ownership and have been the subject of profoundly respectable and favorable reviews by some of the best listeners in the industry. Ownership numbers usually do pretty well at representing the quality of a product and how well it performs. The point being... if you own any of the speakers not chosen, the fact that they were not chosen, in no way insinuates they are inferior to any other speaker. Our comments and choices are not intended to offend anyone. Hopefully you purchased your speakers because they sounded the best in your room with your equipment. Remember too that people have different tastes, and as previously eluded to, vastly different setups where speakers can and will sound differently. There is no reason to get mad or upset because someone prefers another speaker other than the one you own. It is all a matter of what we like best and making a choice with which we will be happy. Having said all that, if you have not had a chance to hear the speakers I have chosen and are looking to purchase a new pair, or upgrade your current speakers, we obviously recommend you give them a trial. You may very well find them to your liking just as I did. Associated Equipment and Comments on Use
- OPPO BDP-105 Universal Player - Recently reviewed by Luther Ward (Wardsweb) of HTS: OPPO BDP-105 Universal Player Review. Thanks OPPO for being a sponsor and providing many of our members with superb products that continually garner rave reviews and compliments. I think I have seen this one unit used more at audio shows than any other player. It just flat out sounds good with home theater and two-channel music. We mainly played one CD of .wav files we made with 12 songs mostly made up of songs by artists I listen to frequently and all of which I consider excellent for demo. Wayne (AudiocRaver) included two songs by the B-52's and one song from Nickel Creek that were also excellent choices for demo music. I truly appreciated the Nickel Creek - Ode To A Butterfly song for imaging of several instruments on stage, particularly the deep bass that presented itself behind and between the fiddle and guitar. Another great song was Three Wishes by Roger Waters... with some really neat phasing tricks. For the initial auditioning we all listened to these same songs for every speaker pair. Here is the list of specific songs we used:
- B-52's - Ain't It A Shame
- B-52's - Revolution Earth
- Flim & The BB's - Funhouse
- Melody Gardot - Baby I'm A Fool
- Kenny Wayne Shepherd - While We Cry (Live)
- Lynyrd Skynyrd - Simple Man
- Nickel Creek - Ode To A Butterfly
- Phil Collins - I Don't Care Anymore
- Roger Waters - Three Wishes
- Pink Floyd - Dogs Of War
- Spyro Gyra - Breakfast At Igors
- Yello - La Habanero
- Rogue Cronus Magnum Integrated Tube Amp - A 100 WPC (8Ω) integrated tube amp with KT-120 tubes. This is a highly regarded and well reviewed integrated tube amp that was used for the entirety of the evaluation and audition. We appreciate Rogue and their willingness to participate in this event. The Rogue sounded great right out of the box, but really shined by the end of the 150+ hours break-in... and all during the event. It looks serious and possesses amazing clarity, imaging and soundstage. We were all very impressed with the unit. If you are looking for a tube amp... this one is highly recommended. I have been enjoying it for several weeks now.
- RAM Electronics Custom XLR and RCA Cables - "RAM-Flex" Stereo Cable with silver plated RCA connectors using Belden 1505F wire and sleeved with ViaBlue braid. We had RAM custom build these for us in 20', 6' and 18" lengths, including a 6' pair terminated with balanced XLR connectors. It seems a lot of readers are not aware that RAM, a sponsor here at HTS, will custom build just about any cable you can think of... just tell them what you want and they will fix you up. Their service is awesome, as is the quality of their cables. These are good looking, good quality cables that are very reasonably priced. RAM does not play around... you order up what you want and in a few days it is on your doorstep. Compare RAM to places like Blue Jeans Cable and you will be saving money
- RAM Electronics Custom Speaker Cables - "Ram-Flex Custom Series" 11 AWG Canare 4S11 speaker cable sleeved with ViaBlue braid and terminated with gold plated locking banana plugs. These are also good looking high quality speaker cables that will not break the bank. We all fell in love with these speaker cables... they performed flawlessly and in no way hindered or colored the sound. These locking banana plugs are awesome! I will be ordering more in the next couple of days to use on my home theater mains and center.
- SVSound SB12-NSD Subwoofer - Intentionally we did not use the SVS sub until after I made my final choice for speakers. After moving this thing around the room fifty-eleven times, holding it up at my waist and placing it on top of everything possible, all while measuring sweeps with REW, we found the best location in the right front of the room, just in front of the stage angling in toward the listening position. It blends seamlessly with the speakers of choice and adds just the right amount of bass to fill out that lowest octave found in some songs. This is an awesome little sub that does not get in the way. It is tight, fast, detailed and just flat out sounds musical... not sure I could ask for any better. If you are looking for a sub to compliment your two-channel system, look no further than the SVSound SB12-NSD... and then come on back to me and say "thanks Sonnie". A BIG THANKS to SVSound for being a sponsor here at HTS since our first year of operation in 2006... and thanks for continually making great subs!
Note on equipment not used:
There was some equipment we had scheduled to use, but in view of the time constraints we were not able to use it. We decided to go strictly with the Rogue Integrated Tube Amp because we did not get the Jolida and Emerald Physics amps in until the starting day of the event. The Rogue already had approximately 150+ hours on it. Jolida and EP recommend a minimum of 150-200 hours on their amps prior to use. In addition, Jolida sent their 3502 integrated amp with EL34 tubes, which is not the sound I am looking for with the music I listen to, so using it was a moot point. We assumed 6550 tubes were going to be included, but they were not. Jolida was very understanding of our desires and sent return labels to send the products back, as was Walter at Underwood HiFi
(our sponsor). He has agreed to send me an Audio Space Galaxy 88 Integrated Tube Amp
and a DSPeaker
to try out. We also did not have time to sample any vinyl. My main source is .wav files via the OPPO, and only occasionally the turntable, therefore it was not a priority. We also did not use the Denon 4520, as I do not care what the speakers will sound like on that amp because I do not plan to use it. I want this system to use a tube amp and the Rogue presented itself very nicely. Setup and Listening Priorities
Prior to the evaluation, new speakers were played for 50-60 hours each, with the exception of the Tekton Model Lores, which were not delivered until the day before the event started, thus they only received about 12-14 hours of break-in time. We do not believe this would have made any difference in our final decision. I have had some people mention to me that some speakers take upwards of 150-200 hours of break-in to sound their best. This may be so, but I believe these changes are subtle and would not play a significant role in influencing my decision of which speakers to choose.
The evaluation/listening process consisted of one of us sitting in the main listening position (center front row of the theater room) where I would normally sit, with only the speakers currently being evaluated in the room, as they would be during my normal two-channel listening. All other speakers were placed in the hallway outside of the room. Those of us not listening were generally either sitting on the back row or not in the room.
We opted for a wide soundstage,
as most of the music to be experienced on these speakers will be the kind that is mixed with no soundstage scale realism in mind, like you might want for orchestra or a musical, but rather for effect, such as music where mix and effects and ambiance can be as much a part of the performance as the notes. Frequency response was allowed to fall where it may if placement ended up very far off-axis. This choice can be a matter of personal preference for different listeners. In our case we all agreed this would be the priority. Imaging
and soundstage work together closely. And although a wide soundstage often tends to stretch and widen the apparent individual images in a mix, we had high expectations for delivery of tight, concise imaging at the same time.
Speaker angling, or toe-in, is often a variable in getting the best soundstage and imaging. Speakers with wide dispersion will allow this with little affect on frequency response,
as the listener might be well off-axis. Not all speakers are very forgiving in this respect. Even with frequency response a lower priority than the above qualities, we still expected it to be very good, with no obvious sacrifice being apparent in normal listening.
Listening volume level varied from whisper quiet (occasionally) to a strong 85 dB SPL much of the time, and got pushed well into the 90 to 95 dB range at times, where power handling
could become an issue. Expectations were that no obvious breakup or clipping or bottoming out would occur even when being pushed hard.
Definitions for good imaging and good soundstage vary widely. Here is the way we discussed what we were hearing:
- Imaging: The clear, precise location of a single voice, instrument, or sound source in the mix. At its best, the position and size of that sound is bedrock stable, not moving or shifting on different notes, never smearing or shifting or wandering, but owning its spacial location with authority, as though carving a spot in space. There is no doubt where it is located... it is right there, you can measure it down to the inch, including distance from the listener - partly a soundstage quality, as the two are always intertwined.
- Soundstage: The three-dimensional spacial arrangement of those individual sounds in the listening area in front of the listener, although sounds can come from surprising directions at times. At its best, a soundstage is completely natural, seamless, cohesive, convincing in the illusion that you are in a new room and a new setting altogether. A soundstage is primarily two-dimensional, with width and depth as controlled by the mix, but vertical effects are possible as well, resulting from speaker driver arrangement, room acoustics, and at times from mixing techniques.
The two work hand-in-hand. In our experimentation, the best speaker placement and angle for one was always best for the other, too. The Listening Room
The room was excellent for our purposes, a dedicated home theater room, symmetrical and rectangular, fully carpeted with acoustical treatment on side walls and ceiling, large corner bass traps in front from floor to ceiling, a centered Primary Listening Position (PLP), lots of space to work with, and well-controlled early reflections and ambiance. One slight drawback was the almost exact centering of the PLP in the room, a choice driven by practicalities and not a variable, a position known to be susceptible to standing waves and problematic for smooth bass frequency response.
As shown below, the RT60 reverb time for the room is very well-controlled, 0.2 seconds overall, and below 0.3 seconds clear down almost to 100 Hz. This is a nice level of control with enough ambient liveliness to aid soundstage and image development.
Inspection of the final choice speaker location early reflections revealed opportunities for further reduction of early reflections off the side and back (behind the listener) walls, a matter that will continue to be pursued. The side walls already had absorptive panels properly placed for the cinema mains and center speaker reflection points, but the placement for 2-channel listening made for new reflection angles to be considered.
Only the speakers being evaluated were in the room, while the others were placed outside the room in the entrance hallway. Sonic Results
By Wayne Myers (AudiocRaver) Soundstage and Imaging:
Results were almost always very good - none of the speakers tested fell flat altogether - and were sometimes sensational. The best examples extended from wall to wall in width, six feet and more beyond the width of the speakers on each side, and from listener to front wall of the theater room, a good eight feet, and floor to ceiling, with every sound source located with laser precision and sharpness. The effect was completely seamless, speakers simply disappeared allowing no clues that they were the true source of what we were hearing. The voices, instruments, and sounds had reach-out-and-touch reality. Hunting Techniques for Ideal Soundstage and Imaging:
It was nothing short of fascinating to see how soundstage and imaging changed with speaker position (except for the Klipsch model). They did not steadily ramp toward the ideal as the speakers moved in the direction of the sweet position, coaxing "Warmer, warmer, almost there..." For most of the speakers we worked with, most positions gave fair-to-good results which varied with position - distance from the listener, width apart, and toe-in angle relative to the listener, always with room and listener symmetry - in ways that were hard to describe. Depth of soundstage and tightness of imaging were the most noticeable variables.
A listener would sit in the LP seat while two others moved the speakers from location to location. The listener might lean forward or move several feet on hands and knees. We probably looked quite comical at times, if not obsessive-compulsive.
Then as the sweet position was finally located, IF it was, the qualities we were listening for always went from fairly good to near-perfect in one move, like there was an invisible circle two feet in diameter, and we were either in it or out of it. We either had A-to-A-plus-grade sonics or C-grade sonics, never terrible and never just pretty good. For the speakers that imaged well, there were no B-grade areas and no areas of total failure. We ventured a guess, and continue to suspect, that most nice speakers like the ones we auditioned are heard by most listeners in C-quality positioning, simply because of the patience required in finding the "A" circle and the willingness to leave the speakers there regardless of inconvenience, or to mark the spot and move them there for listening.
For one case where we were never satisfied that we had found the A-grade speaker location, we will never know if it did not exist or if we just missed it.
Once we had A-quality soundstage and imaging, a few minor adjustments were tried for optimization. Toe-in played a huge role in depth and width of soundstage once "in the circle." With a few final moves, the hunt was complete.
We used Nickel Creek's Ode To A Butterfly
as our soundstage/imaging hunting song. The simplicity of the recording made it easy to visualize image clarity and a seamless and deep soundstage as they appeared. When we thought we had it nailed, we checked with a few more songs to be sure. Only with the Tekton Lore's did we flub a little. We had settled for C-level sonic quality, but later the listener leaned way forward in the LP chair and found that the "A" position circles were about two feet closer to the LP. Then their positioning got corrected and they gave us their best show. Frequency Response, Bass Extension:
With optimum position for soundstage and imaging, we chose not to experiment with speaker setup if there was a portion of the frequency response range the seemed "off" in some way. The opportunity was there, but we had our priorities set and stuck to them. At no time in the setup experimentation phase did anyone notice an obvious sacrifice being made in frequency response as we played with off-axis angles.
After listening, we took a set of six frequency measurements using Room EQ Wizard, as follows:
- left speaker, mic at left ear position
- left speaker, mic at center ear position
- left speaker, mic at right ear position
- right speaker, mic at right ear position
- right speaker, mic at center ear position
- right speaker, mic at left ear position
Averages of the three left and three right curves were generated and are shown with each speaker's evaluation. The REW .mdat file with those two averages is included for download if desired.
In case you are not aware... Room EQ Wizard is a free software program available for download ONLY at Home Theater Shack. Note: There is a standing wave null in the room that caused a notch at 90 Hz in our measured curves for every speaker type, so make no assumptions about that particular area of a speaker's bass performance based on our data.
Bass extension and authority were priorities in the making of the final choice, so we paid particular attention to bass strength and depth. This ended up being where Power Handling capabilities were stretched to the limit as well...
Oh and BTW... since we are on sonics and bass extension, we all watched Oblivion
on Friday night from midnight on and actually kept our eyes open (for the majority of it anyway). Seriously though, how could you close your eyes with all that infrasonic bass coming from eight eighteens?
Great movie indeed! Bass Frequency Comparison Chart
The chart below is an attempt to show the relative bass response for our evaluation models as we heard them in the listening room. A single plot represents the average of all six measurements for each model from the LP. The data for each was averaged above 150 Hz and normalized to 75 dB. The data below 150 Hz is shown with 1/6 octave averaging so we can have a readable chart.
There is a standing-wave null in the room that causes a notch at 90 Hz, clearly visible with less smoothing applied. It occurs with all of the speaker models to some degree. So the dip in the region of 90 Hz might or might not exist for a given model in another room.
The comparison chart seems to reflect what we heard fairly well. The HTD Level THREE Towers and the Tekton Model Lore's are shown with bass that is strong, quite even, and that goes deeper than most other models we auditioned. Both peak with a 6 dB boost at 65 Hz and hold strong with 4 dB of boost down to 45 Hz before their falloff points. I think we all appreciate the bass from both the THREE's and the Lore's, especially on Revolution Earth,
a song that covers the entire frequency spectrum evenly and has a firm bass guitar part with a very steady level throughout. That bass part was given a emphasis without getting boomy or flabby by both the THREE's and the Lore's.
The depth is especially noted coming from the Lore's on the Phil Collins kick drum, the lowest note of which is seen centered at 45 Hz with spectrum analysis. Our comparison chart has The Model THREE's playing stronger through the upper-bass and into the low-midrange frequencies. This difference - with the Lore's not as strong in the upper bass region - might have helped them give the impression that they were digging down deeper on just the right notes and sounds.
Phil Collins Kick Drum on I Don't Care Any More.
Note the strong bass peak at 45 Hz.
Voice of the Genie on Three Wishes.
Note the bass energy between 40 and 50 Hz. The track was attenuated 6 dB so the peak would not go off-chart.
Bass perception for the Magnepan MG 12/QRs was that they could sound strong in the bass with the right material, but not often because of weak upper bass. They had the most laid back bass in general of the speakers we tried, but on certain notes - BOOM! - they gave a surprising amount of kick. They stood out on Phil's kick drum, although not like the Lore's or Model THREE's, and the comparison chart shows the band from 60 to 70 Hz is weak by up to 5 dB. This made tracks like Ain't It A Shame
and Ode To A Butterfly
feel slightly anemic. Both songs have steady bass lines with the lowest frequencies right at 60 Hz. Down at 45 Hz, however, the Magnepans are almost as strong as any speaker we tested and can show it -- wait for it -- -- -- -- on certain notes, -- -- -- -- when they show up.
Then there was the matter of splattery breakup during Three Wishes
, an unpardonable transgression by our standards for the weekend. As a spectrum analysis of the 5-second phrase starting at 2:30 on the track shows, there is a huge amount of energy between 40 and 50 Hz to be handled - the track had to be attenuated 6 dB for the peak to even stay within the bounds of the analysis screen. It might have been a deadly combination, the big energy peak falling right into the resonance of the MG 12/QRs' one big bass show-off peak, and it leaves one wondering about the wisdom of that kind of bass profile in design terms.
The Klipsch RF-62 II design also had a one-peak bass profile, higher in the spectrum at 65 Hz. We never thought to try to stress it in particular. Could it be as much a weakness as a strength? Notice in the 1/12th octave smoothed frequency response diagrams elsewhere that those peaks are very pronounced for both the RF-62's (close to 10 dB above the average) and the MG 12's (only 3 dB above the overall average, but 6 dB above the average for the bass range below 200 Hz). Those are big peaks, and peaks mean resonances, sometimes well-damped and sometimes not. This is only a question, not a declaration of a design weakness. Future evaluations might give us opportunity to delve into the question deeper.
More on the RF-62's. That 65 Hz peak providing their bass emphasis was slightly too identifiable - slightly, not so much as to be a turn-off. As an example of that kind of emphasis, though, it helped us see that we much preferred a broader-shaped emphasis profile, like the HTD, MartinLogan, Arx, and Tekton designs offered.
The Focal Chorus 716V's also have a broader LF emphasis profile, but were simply a bit heavy bass-wise. This difference is captured on the comparison chart. At their highest - 65 Hz - their emphasis goes a good 3 to 6 dB beyond the others with boost at that frequency.
The MartinLogan Motion 12's and the Arx A5's had almost identical bass profiles - almost. Here the comparison chart misses something we clearly heard, which was that the Motion 12's had noticeably stronger bass than the A5's. It was a difference that took side-by-side comparison to be sure of, but it was there.
So the chart does a pretty good job of capturing what we heard. It is not perfect, but comes very close. It is difficult to determine the best frequency for calling the beginning of bass frequencies - 120 Hz seems right musically, but upon seeing the 150 Hz chart results, including some of the lower-mid range above that, seems to help one see how the bass ties in with the rest of the frequency range. Power Handling:
Our standard became the Genie's deep voice in Three Wishes
by Roger Waters. If that could not be handled, the speakers were out. Listener Position Flexibility:
Two-channel listening like this is a one-at-a-time experience. In order to share it, you give up the captain's chair, "You take a turn." With some of these speakers, the listener's head could move very little without losing the effect. In all cases, the soundstage shifts somewhat with head movement. This is the nature of the two-channel beast. Some listeners will sacrifice top-notch imaging and soundstage for listener position (LP) flexibility. We chose to sacrifice personal comfort (almost) for the sake of the listening experience. Don't want the sound to move around? Then SIT STILL! And enjoy it. No problem, we did.
LP flexibility varied widely. Some speakers allowed broad head movement with little sonic change. In a few cases, the soundstage remained distinctive, while not optimum, from almost anywhere in the room behind the PLP. Speaker Placement Flexibility:
Some of our specimens gave good results almost anywhere but really shone at their placement sweet spot, which could be fairly broad. Others had to be placed perfectly, as any other position a few inches or degrees off was sorely lacking. One pair could be placed almost anywhere - with room symmetry - with barely a shift in soundstage and imaging. Speaker Evaluation Post Outline
The next eight posts are for each individual speaker we evaluated. Each post will include common information for each speaker as follows:
Wayne’s (AudiocRaver) Observations
- Speaker Brand / Model
- Configuration / Specifications
- Setup / Placement Flexibility
- Frequency Response / Bass Extension
- Power Handling
- Evaluation Panel – Individual Thoughts and Comments
will include a more detailed analysis of each of the speakers, while the remaining panelist will simply give a summary of our observations.
As a side note: Quenten (Tonto) did not arrive until after the event had started and had to leave just before the evaluation of the finalist, therefore his observations are limited accordingly.
The final post of the Results portion of the thread, will be the Summary and Conclusion, which will announce the chosen speaker for my two-channel system.