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post #1 of 1088 Old 10-18-13, 11:00 PM Thread Starter
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The Official $2,500 Speaker Evaluation / Home Audition Event

This is...

The Official $2,500 Speaker Evaluation / Home Audition Event


On November 1st and 2nd we will come together for another speaker evaluation in my home in Luverne, AL. Attending the event and participating in the evaluation and auditions, in addition to myself (Sonnie), is Wayne Myers (AudiocRaver), Joe Alexander (ALMFamily) and Leonard Caillouet (lcaillo), all members of the HTS staff. All of the speakers are here and being broke-in as recommended.

This is not a shootout, but instead it is an evaluation and home audition of six speakers. You might even consider this a combined review of six different speakers, although not by one individual, instead by three or four individuals in a very controlled and organized evaluation. This evaluation is not conducted to determine the best speaker, as there are too many variables from home to home for us to tell you which speakers are the best for you. Therefore, ranking them may encourage you to buy speakers that may not accurately suggest which speakers will be right for you. Your room size, acoustics, speaker location, amplifier type, amplifier power, other electronics, and your very own ears, will all play a significant part in how a speaker will sound to you. What we will do is carefully measure and listen to these speakers, then provide you with the objective and subjective results. This will be influenced by the equipment on hand and the dedicated home theater/listening room... which is fairly well treated acoustically, and is setup to allow flexible placement of the speakers. In this evaluation, we hope to be able to tell you what speaker locations sound best for this room, including close to the front wall and out into the room. Unfortunately, we cannot completely mimic your room, so there is no way we can guarantee you that the speakers will sound the same in your room. As always, we encourage you to evaluate speakers in your own home to be absolutely certain you get what is best suited for you. Hopefully this can be a guide that in some way will aid you in the differences we hear, but ultimately your ears are what is most important in determining what speakers are right for you.

This event will include speakers from two of our sponsors, SVSound and Underwood HiFi (Emerald Physics). There are four other speakers that were voted on in our $2,500 Speaker Evaluation Event - Nominated Speakers Voting Poll. Pricing for these speakers is for the pair. We do realize that these speakers may not necessarily cost exactly $2,500/pair. We get that number from the fact that the average of all 20 speakers that were nominated is right at $2,500. However, all of the speakers in this evaluation can be purchased for $2,500/pair or less (add $350 to the Emerald Physic speakers if you get the DSP). That may not always be the case in future rounds. Actually most of these are closer to the $2,000 range than $2,500. We are basically covering speakers that range from $2,000 to $3,000... capping the max MSRP at $3,000. I suspect in the next round we will be closer to the $3,000 range on most of those.

The Speakers

Associated Equipment
  • OPPO BDP-105 Universal Player - We will again be using the 105 as the source for the evaluation. There have been some questions about recorded CDR's being used because they are a copy of a copy (extracting from original disc to computer and then burning to a disc). Personally I cannot tell a difference one way or another from the original and a burned copy. As a matter of fact, I know of a double blind listening test where a gentleman was unable to tell the difference from an original CD and a burnt copy of a computer copy, although he insisted he could tell a difference beforehand. However, to eliminate any questions, we will use either dBpoweramp or Exact Audio Copy (EAC) to extract the tracks from the original CDs to a USB thumb drive and use it in the 105 for our evaluation music. We will use the XLR balanced outputs on the 105. Be sure to check out our review of the OPPO BDP-105 by Luther Ward. We appreciate OPPO being a sponsor here at HTS.

  • Anthem Integrated 225 Amp (i225) - At 225 WPC (8Ω) and 310 WPC (4Ω), this integrated amp from Anthem should provide plenty of power to drive any of the speakers we are evaluating. It boast a 105dB signal to noise ratio and is built with high quality, close-tolerance parts. The main power supply includes an advanced generation toroidal transformer, which contributes to its low-noise floor. The conservatively rated massive transformer is designed with high rail voltage, fed by two oversized low-ESL, low-ESR Nichicon filter capacitors that employ a total capacitance of 30,000 microfarads. The preamp audio circuits are fed by two precision voltage regulators, thanks to the ±15 V rails in the main power supply. The input and voltage amplifier stages are a differential design, although the output power stage has a fully symmetrical complementary Class AB design with three pairs of high-quality bipolar output devices per channel. The amps design significantly reduces distortion and ensure extreme linearity. This is one solid built amp that is no doubt one of the best in its class and price range. We will be using the XLR balanced inputs on the 225. We sincerely appreciate Anthem lending us this unit for use in the evaluation.

  • Onkyo PR-SC5509 - We will use the heavy duty 5509 as our preamp processor during our home theater speaker system review and our $20,000 speaker system review (see last part of this post for more info on those). It may also serve some duties as a preamp in the two-channel speaker evaluation. Of course the Onkyo does not really need any introduction. It is well known and owned by several members in our forum. It is a beast of a processor and very well regarded as one of the top preamp processors available. You can learn more about it by clicking on the link above or visiting our Onkyo PR-SC5508 - PR-SC5509 SSP / Integra DHC-80.2 - DHC-80.3 SSP thread. Be on the lookout for upcoming reviews on the Onkyo TX-NR929 9.2-Channel Network A/V Receiver and the TX-NR626 7.2-Channel Network A/V Receiver, as well as a couple of their soundbars. We appreciate Onkyo being a sponsor here at HTS.

  • 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 have already ordered several of these since our last event. We appreciate RAM being a sponsor here at HTS.

  • RAM Electronics Custom XLR Cables - RAM "Custom Series" XLR Balanced Cables includes the Mogami 2534 with Neglex Quad Cable and Neutrik Connectors wrapped with the ViaBlue braided sleeve... as well as CBI Ultimate ML with Belden Wire and Neutrik "X" Connectors. RAM 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 see the savings, using the same quality wire and connectors.

The Listening Room

As with the previous event, we will use Cedar Creek Cinema, our dedicated home theater/listening room that is a converted two car garage. The interior dimensions are 19.5' wide x 23.5' deep x 8.5' high. There is a 6" high x 4' deep stage across the front of the room, and a 12" riser in the back that is used partially as a ported enclosure for the rear subs. The room is excellent for our purposes with ample 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.

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. There has also been some additional acoustic treatment from GIK Acoustics that has been added to the side walls and back wall since the last event.

After Hours Fun... with a Few Surprises!

As a bonus to our members and readers, we will also be reviewing a $20,000 two-channel system. This review will be published later in our Reviews forum, but we will introduce you to the company and the products during the event. This system is truly to die for... just plain awesome and worth every penny of its price.

But that's not all... we plan to enjoy a little late night fun at Cedar Creek Cinema, and this event is sure to spark some excitement with a special guest, who will also be providing a truly unique 5.0 home theater speaker system (costing well over $10,000) for us to review. This will be the first review of this product. Our plans will be to watch a movie each night of the evaluation, hopefully Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Then on Sunday evening and Monday, we plan to do more testing and evaluation for a complete review of this speaker system, which will also be posted later in our Reviews forum. I don't think you will want to miss this review. We will announce the manufacturer, the owner and the product a little closer to the event.

We believe you will truly appreciate these extra reviews we have in store for you. Personally, I think they are pretty significant... huge in fact!

I don't know about everyone else, but I am EXCITED!!!

BTW... Remember... it's a secret!


As you can see below, we have reserved several posts for the results, which will be posted as soon as possible after the event. We will post some of the known information about the speakers between now and the event. You will want to subscribe to the thread. After the results are posted, we will post in the thread that the results are complete and the reserved posts have been updated.

The REW measurement .mdat files will be uploaded to each speaker thread and available for download.

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post #2 of 1088 Old 10-18-13, 11:00 PM Thread Starter
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Re: The Official $2,500 Speaker Evaluation / Home Audition Event

Evaluation Music
Artist Album Track Portion Played
Nickel Creek Nickel Creek “Ode to a Butterfly” whole track
B52’s Bouncing Off the Satellites “Ain’t it a Shame” whole track
Nickel Creek Nickel Creek “Reasons Why" whole track
B52’s Good Stuff “Revolution Earth” mixed to mono (center, left, and right) :52 – 1:56
Fourplay Between The Sheets “Chant” Start – 2:00
Flim and the BB’s Tricycle “Tricycle” Start – 1:30
Varied Bluesiana Triangle “Life is a One Way Ticket” 3:45 – 5:15
Varied Bluesiana Triangle “For All We Know” 2:00 – 3:00
Susanna McCorkell No More Blues “Breezin’ Along with the Breeze” 2:00 – 3:00
Rory Block Mama’s Blues “The Spirit Remains” 2:00 – 3:00
Jennifer Warnes / Leonard Cohen...... Famous Blue Raincoat “Joan of Arc” 5:00 – 6:30
Rickie Lee Jones Ricky Lee Jones “The Last Chance Texaco” 1:00 – 2:00
Dire Straits Brothers In Arms “Your Latest Trick” Start – 1:30
Steely Dan Katy Lied “Your Gold Teeth Too” 3:00 – 4:00
Melody Gardot My One and Only Thrill “Baby I’m a Fool” Whole track
Phil Collins Hello I Must Be Going “I Don’t Care Anymore” :30 – 1:00
Jennifer Warnes The Hunter “Way Down Deep” 1:30 – 2:30
Yello Touch “Takla Makan” Start – 2:00
ZZ Ward Til the Casket Drops “Criminal” Start -1:00
Cassandra Wilson Dance to the Drums Again “Dance to the Drummer Again” whole track
Fairfield Four I Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray ...... “These Bones” Start – 1:00
Sonnie's Music (no info) Demo Disc 1 Track 3 Start – 1:00
Nils Lofgren Cry Tough “Keith Don’t Go” (Live) Whole track
Roger Waters Amused to Death “Three Wishes” :30 - :40 and 2:15 – 2:45
Cincinatti Pops Sprach Zarathustra plus Star Trek Main Theme ..... 1:00 – 1:50
  Star Trek- Main Theme (The movie) 0 - 0:35 and 0:45 - 0:55
Todd Rundgren Healing “Healer” 0 - 0:15
Mindy Smith My Holiday “My Holiday” 0:08-0:29
The Shins Port of Morrow “The Rifle's Spiral” 0:20-0:30
The Church Starfish “Under the Milky Way” 0:14-0:28
Beth Nielsen Chapman Sand & Water “Beyond the blue” 0:28-0:48
Wailin’ Jennys Glory Bound “Firecracker” 2:50-3:10
Crash Test Dummies CTD “Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” 0:35-0:50
Radiohead In Rainbows “Nude” 2:44 – 3:10
Gorillaz Plastic Beach “Some Kind of Nature (feat. Lou Reed)” 0:04-0:48
Radiohead In Rainbows “Weird Fishes” start – 0:22
cymbals from HQ samples  

Optimal Speaker Placements
Speakers.. From Front Wall.. From Side Wall.. Speaker To Speaker.. Speaker to Listener Ear.. Toe..
Dynaudio DM 3/7 7'0" 5'2" 9'2" 7'4"
Emerald Physics CS2P.. 6'7" 4'9" 9'10" 8'0" 22°
Magnepan 1.7 5'0" 4'8" 10'0" 8'8" 29°
Paradigm Studio 60 6'10" 5'3" 9' 7'7" 15°
SVS Ultra Tower 5'9" 4'9" 9'10" 8'8" 25°

*All measurements are to the center of the speaker baffle, typically the tweeter or midrange area... about mid-way up the Magnepan.

NOTES: In my HT room, which also serves at my two-channel listening room, the front area (front wall where the screen is located) has a stage that spans from side wall to side wall and is 4' (four feet) deep and 6" (six inches) high, therefore when speaker are placed near the front wall, they are 6" higher than when placed out into the room on the floor. Keep in mind when reading that when you read "on stage" or "on floor" that this refers to either being up on the 6" high stage nearest the front wall, or on the floor out into the room and farther away from the front wall.

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post #3 of 1088 Old 10-18-13, 11:01 PM
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Re: The Official $2,500 Speaker Evaluation / Home Audition Event

Dynaudio DM 3/7

Optimal Placement
From Front Wall.. From Side Wall.. Speaker To Speaker.. Speaker to Listener Ear.. Toe..
7'0" 5'2" 9'2" 7'4"
Best Placement Near Front Wall
From Front Wall.. From Side Wall.. Speaker To Speaker.. Speaker to Listener Ear..
3'10" 4'4" 10'10" 10'7"

Wayne Myers (AudiocRaver)

  • Design: 2-Way rear-ported bass-reflex with two mid/bass drivers and one dome tweeter
  • Frequency Response: 40 Hz – 23 kHz (± 3 dB)
  • IEC Power Handling: > 200 W
  • Sensitivity: 86 dB (2.83 V/1 m)
  • Impedance: 4 Ohms
  • Woofer Size: 6.7”
  • Tweeter Size: 1.1”
  • Crossover: 1800 Hz
  • Dimensions: 37.9” H x 8.1” W x 10.7” D
  • Weight (Each): ~40 lbs. (18.0 kg)
  • MSRP (Pair): $1,995
The Dynaudio DM 3/7 features two 6.7 inch (17 cm) MSP (magnesium silicate polymer) mid/bass drivers equipped with large 3 inch (75 mm) diameter aluminum voice coils and rigid, low-resonance die-cast aluminum driver baskets, one tweeter featuring a specially-coated 1.1 inch (28 mm) diameter textile dome, an ultra-lightweight aluminum voice coil, ferro-fluid damping and a powerful magnet, a 1-inch (25mm) front baffle, and a rear port for bass tuning.

Dynaudio Website

Setup and Placement Flexibility

Getting the DM 3/7's placed for top performance was fairly easy, one of the easiest of the speaker models evaluated. They only took a few minutes, moving very little from the room's favorite placement spots for cone speakers, mainly needing proper toe-in adjustment. Listening position flexibility was quite relaxed, the soundstage shifted only a little with normal head movement.


Since first hearing the Dynaudio models at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest in Denver a few weeks ago, I had looked forward to spending more time with them during this evaluation. The high-end quality first grabbed my attention, not quite as forward as some of the models we were hearing over the weekend, very easy-going. Easy-going might be the best overall description for the way the Dynaudio's performed. Everything they did, they did well and made it seem easy, with the exception of the drivers bottoming out with deep bass - more on this later. I knew in seconds I was going to really like the DM 3/7's.

Bass response was strong, deep, and solid. It seemed much deeper than the 50 Hz limit we measured. The peak at 60 Hz probably contributed to this impression. Bass was reasonably tight, never mushy or loose.

Frequency Response, Bass Extension

The DM 3/7 frequency response profile follows a common pattern for speakers. A slight dip in response at and below 1 kHz relaxes the midrange somewhat. On either side, the bass and treble frequencies rise gradually. Highs peak in the case of the DM 3/7's at 4 kHz, falling off beyond that. The falloff results partly from the amount of off-axis angling required for a deep soundstage. Bass response rises toward the low-frequency peak at 60 Hz, and extends to a steep drop off at 50 Hz. Room modes undoubtedly contribute to that drop off being above the 40 Hz spec, and cause the notches at 80 and 100 Hz, affecting all models similarly. The upper mids are lacking the often-heard peak at 2 kHz, a frequency range commonly emphasized for the amount of detail it tends to reveal. The DM 3/7's have slight peaks above and below that frequency, giving them a distinctive tone while still being generously detailed. I found that tonality refreshing, perhaps a contributor to the Dynaudio signature sound. The 2 kHz peak often found in other speakers is easily overdone and can be a sure fatigue-button if emphasized even slightly too much. The DM 3/7's gave no hint of fatigue and were extremely easy on the ears. The overall treble profile being just laid back enough to produce that easy-going Dynaudio tonality without going dull.

Room EQ Wizard MDAT file for download: Dynaudio DM 3_7 final for download.mdat

The DM 3/7's could pump out some serious deep bass. Perhaps they over-reach a bit for the two small woofers used in the design, thus the bottoming incident already mentioned. Short of that, they seemed in tight control and gave no other indication of being close to losing that control. The amount of bass seemed just right, solid without over-emphasis. The big bass drum on The Spirit Remains felt tight and controlled.

The ringing of acoustical guitar strings through Ode to a Butterfly stood out as an example of accurate tonality. Vocals, as on "Breezin' Along with the Breeze," were warm and detailed, with a hint of sharpness but still very easy, very real and accurate. The brass section performing the Star Trek Main Theme was commanding and clear, tonally accurate.

The deep lead vocal on the marvelous These Bones track was warm and resonant while only slightly peaky. Melody Gardot's voice, singing Baby I'm a Fool, was more tightly controlled than many speakers are able to hold it, still warm and personal, not overly resonant.

Soundstage and Imaging

The soundstage projected by the DM 3/7's was first-rate, completely natural and arresting in its sense of reality, exceptionally sharp and clear. Imaging was tight - roughly baseball size for a recorded point source - and almost completely free from smearing and wandering on odd tones and sibilants. The DM 3/7's projected a deep soundstage - for our tastes the "spark of life" of a soundstage and one of our primary setup goals - and the depth detail and acuity were of a caliber I have heard from only a handful of speakers. Throughout Ode to a Butterfly, the first song on our track list, the impression of precise placement and distance to the mandolin, fiddle, guitar, and standup bass almost distracted me from the music itself. I usually listen to about one-third to one-half of that track and skip ahead. I listened to the entire track with the DM 3/7's.

Chant, with its spacious ambiance, gave us a good chance to hear how open and wide the soundstage really was. The DM 3/7's did not seem to push at the walls for more space, rather were very comfortable with using all the space available for their soundstage. The trumpet on Your Latest Trick was real enough to occupy its own space in the room.

Power Handling

The DM 3/7's performed SO well that it was a disappointment when the drivers bottomed out on the deep booms at the beginning of the Cincinnati Pops' Star Trek theme. It was not pretty. The "boom" was more of a "boom-crunch" as the bass driver - one or both, we could not tell for sure - bottomed out in its magnet/support structure. One could not help but cringe.

It was interesting to note individual reactions to this. With one of the group, a very black-and-white kind of person, you could almost see the mental check marks for good performance in other categories being erased because of the fault. Can't handle the bass? Then no check marks for YOU. Being a shades-of-gray kind of person, I noted it and continued to enjoy the DM3/7's other qualities.

Through that passage, the volume level was set to vary between 90 and 95 dB SPL (c-weighted, slow averaging), occasionally peaking at 100 dB. Yes, we were pushing them a bit, but the DM 3/7's were the only speakers we evaluated that bottomed out on that passage.

The Port of Morrow segment of our medley track accidentally got a 6 dB boost in the compilation process. It ended up being a good, rocking power-handling test, so it was left that way. The DM 3/7's had no trouble with the boosted volume, handled it easily as though to make up for the bass-handling faux pas of a few moments earlier.

Performance Close to the Front Wall:

Up on the Cedar Creek Cinema stage (Sonnie's home theater), the DM 3/7's sounded OK, but not great. The high frequencies seem veiled and the bass was quite boomy. Even with fairly quick placement there and only a little fine tuning, it was apparent that a nice soundstage and good imaging were possible, although depth of soundstage was not apparent at that location. All-in-all they performed fairly well there, although that performance fell far short of what they would do later at their optimal location closer to the listener.

Physical and Visual

They definitely have the Dynaudio look. They are not huge speakers, and will fit nicely in practically any room. The front face leans back slightly and hits the Listening Position just right from the distance we set them at. The finish is adequate. Dynaudio's laminate finishes look a little fakey to me, but fit and finish are always top-grade, so it is only a minor point, and will not matter in the least to many.

Overall Listening Experience

The surest sign that I - along with others in the group - can use as an indication of overall speaker quality in satisfying one's individual preferences comes at the end of the evaluation. It is time to surrender the listening position to the next evaluator, and you just do not want to stop. What you want to do is run grab an armful of CDs or crrrrrrank up your music server and make up an excuse to keep on listening, like nearing the end of a great first date and thinking of more things to talk about so it can be drawn out as long as possible. My first date with the DM 3/7's was something like that.

The DM 3/7's almost completely disappeared in the soundstage on most songs, and on a few, like Joan of Arc, managed it altogether. The tang of each cymbal strike seemed so clear and truthful that it served as a clarity polygraph for the speakers.

The latter part of the session was dampened somewhat by the bottoming-out of the woofers. I found myself riding the volume control with caution to prevent it from happening again. Other than that one incident, the performance of the DM 3/7's reminded me of the title of a favorite Radiohead song: Everything In Its Right Place.

What These Speakers Are Best For

You name it. They even got some Dillinger Escape Plan very-complex-very-heavy metal loudly thrown at them at one point, in defiance of our track list. No apologies from us or from the DM 3/7's, they did not mind it one bit.

The DM 3/7's handle the delicate and the powerful equally well. If lots of deep bass at extreme volumes is a high priority, the bass-handling capacity of the two 6.7-inch woofers might be a limitation. Other than that, they got high marks from me in every category.

Leonard Caillouet (lcaillo)

The DM 3/7 was physically one of the less imposing speakers in the group. Prior to listening, I had little expectation, other than by reputation the company has produced well regarded products for quite some time. The size and design did not suggest a particularly unique nor "big" sound, though the apparent quality of the build is very high. I had not heard any of their speakers in a few years and then only once. I was previously impressed but not wowed.

When we started with the speakers on the stage, the results were much as expected. The bass was a bit exaggerated, but not oppressive. The imaging was actually quite good in the midrange and highs, considering the position and early reflections off of the screen at center front. Almost immediately, however, something caught my attention in the sound. This was going to be a speaker that I wanted more of. I probably spent a bit more of my fair share of time listening in this position, even though we were trying to keep the stage position short.

Once the speakers were moved to a more optimum listening position, they ended up near the spot that most of the other speakers sounded best. They took very little time to place in the optimum location. The bass settled in and became very detailed and precise and the lower mid and down now produced a very solid and stable image. The bass goes solidly down to the specified limit, with surprising clarity and detail. For an inefficient speaker, they produce a surprisingly dynamic sound, effortless right up to their limit. That limit was extreme excursion at very low frequencies where we bottomed the woofer on the opening to the Star Trek track. A disappointment, but we were stretching the speakers intentionally. Obviously this limit is the result of the small drivers and cabinet, as well as the low sensitivity. The compromise, however, was acceptable from my perspective. I rarely listen at the levels that a certain Alabama red neck does, and my soft spot for loudspeakers is detail and a smooth silky sound. There was no shortage of either in these.

One area where I am particularly demanding is lower midrange and mid bass. Even on the stage, the detail in the mids and mid bass was quite pleasing and called for more listening. Once we placed the speakers properly, it was apparent that there was something special here. While the speakers were easy to position, getting just the right toe angle revealed a level of detail and imaging precision in the mid bass that I really loved. Lower strings on an acoustic guitar, higher notes on a string bass, or the tone of a cello were all very precise and musical. There was no thinking or listening effort needed to know just where the instruments were placed in the sound field. Top to bottom the character of the speaker was intact. Dr. John's piano on "One Way Ticket" tends to move around over several octaves, partly due to the recording and partly due to changes in speaker dynamics and tonal character across a large bandwidth (relatively speaking with respect to audio). For the first time in a while, I got a solid location on the piano and slight movement of the image as he moved up or down the keys that was more proportional to what one would hear live sitting right next to the piano.

Vocal harmonies were distinct. Ability to reveal vocal detail is superb. On "Reasons Why" there is a male and female harmony that is very hard to reproduce. On the DM 3/7 the distinct character of each came through, with the voices independently placed in the sound stage. The guitar and percussion on this track were the most detailed, yet delicate, with pinpoint precise imaging.

I have heard "Last Chance Texaco hundreds of times. It was one of my standards for auditioning speakers when I was in the audio business. Rickie Lee has a very complex voice and there is nice image detail on the very best speakers. On lesser products, it can get a little muddy and indistinct. Some speakers don't get muddy at the cost of excessive detail with overshoot or ringing. These performed superbly on this track, among the best I have heard. the subtle trembling in her voice was perfect. The edge on Donald Fagen's voice was so real it brought me back to hearing it live, yet there was none of the annoying resonance on his drone that some speakers add.

Silk and delicacy, glass-like transparency, and musicality describe these speakers. A superb combination of design and execution, in my opinion. These begged for more time listening.

Joe Alexander (ALMFamily)

For appearance, the Dynaudios have a standard box shape and appear to be shorter and thinner than many of the other brands I have seen making them more flexible from a location standpoint. The finish would work well for a home theater use as well.

When these were placed on the stage, the first thing I heard was that being on the stage really kills any depth although at that location the Dynaudios did project a wide soundstage. They did have very nice low end extension – I was getting some vibration in the chair which was pleasantly surprising. Directionality was off by having them on the stage, as sitting up presented a better on axis feel. Female vocals seemed to lack a “live” feel – they sound veiled which I attribute to the lack of depth in the soundstage.

When these were moved out into the room and away from the front wall, the instrument imaging was pinpoint - moving them really deepened the soundstage giving that "live" feel I really enjoy, and they also maintained the width they showed while on the stage near the front wall. On the "Ode to a Butterfly" track, the different instruments imaged perfectly with each coming from a different location in the soundfield. That imaging was consistent through the entire listening session - instrument clarity was excellent for all instruments and instrument imaging separated really well throughout my entire listening session. Vocal and low end imaging was tight to the middle and low end was really clean. Vocal dynamics were handled well with no signs of compression until you really pushed the volume, but the vocals just don’t quite have the open, airy sound I like, although it was so close to that sound that I could own a set of these and be a happy man.

Overall, a great speaker - the Dynaudios have everything I look for in a speaker with the clarity and "live" feel to the sound. The only real issue I had with these was that they are lower sensitivity speakers, and there were points where I turned the volume up a bit and there was some compression and signs of strain, but that was at a level that I would not normally listen to music.

Sonnie Parker (Sonnie)

Okay... I am raising my hand. I am the redneck who listens to loud music, and then when speakers bottom out, I toss them. If you ever passed through Alabama back in the 80's... I was the guy who had three 18's in my vehicle and was rattling your windows... yeah, the one you were shaking your head at in either amazement (cause you know you wanted to bump like I was bumpin') or in disgust (cause you know how silly it was). I think I have mellowed out a bit since then... although I do have eight 18's in my HT room... at least they are not in my truck.

Yes, I was about ready to ditch the Dynaudios because they bottomed out, and NOT while I was in the listening position, thank you. However, they only bottomed on that one song, and I believe it was only the left speaker. These were a demo or review pair, so we cannot discount the possibility that they had been damaged. Nonetheless, on all the other music I listened to, including other songs with low bass, they did very well.

There is no doubt these have a big sound, despite their small size. I did think the bass near the front wall was a bit heavy, but still good, and I could live with these in that location for HT, but would have to pull them out for music, as I would any of the speakers in this event or the previous event. Overall, when placed in their best location for my room, they produced a very nice soundstage and near pinpoint imaging. They are definitely a speaker to like... however, I think I would be trying to figure out a way to move up to the Excite model, even though their price tag is considerably more. Keep in mind too, that these are on the lower side of efficient at 86dB, therefore you will want to have plenty of power on hand. These are not speakers I would try to power from a receiver at anything other than lower volumes.
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Wayne Myers
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Location: Lincoln, NE
Posts: 4,838
Re: The Official $2,500 Speaker Evaluation / Home Audition Event

Emerald Physics CS2P

Optimal Placement
From Front Wall.. From Side Wall.. Speaker To Speaker.. Speaker to Listener Ear.. Toe..
6'7" 4'9" 9'10" 8'0" 22°
Best Placement Near Front Wall
From Front Wall.. From Side Wall.. Speaker To Speaker.. Speaker to Listener Ear..
3'6" 4'0" 11'6" 11'1"
*Tilted plumb due to stage height.

Wayne Myers (AudiocRaver)

  • 2.5-Way open-baffle dipole with two mid/bass drivers and one compression waveguide tweeter
  • Frequency Response: 40 Hz – 20 kHz (± 3 dB from target curve)
  • Recommended Power: not specified
  • Sensitivity: 93 dB (2.83 V/1 m), 97 dB when biamped
  • Impedance: 4 Ohms
  • Woofer/Midrange Size: 15”
  • Tweeter Size: 1” compression driver with 12" Treble waveguide
  • Crossover: 1000 Hz
  • Dimensions: 50.5” H x 22” W x 16” D
  • Weight (Each): ~80 lbs. (36.0 kg)
  • MSRP (Pair): $2,990 ($2,490 New on Audiogon via Underwood HiFi - high grade finishes are extra)
The Emerald Physics CS2P features dual 15 inch pulp fiber cone mid/bass drivers, one open and one quasi-tuned, a custom Emerald Physics ultra-low-distortion 1 inch compression tweeter with 12 inch waveguide, an external passive network crossover, optionally upgradable to active DSP2.4 crossover for biamping with EQ for 24 Hz bass extension, and a 3 inch baffle, all contributing to a controlled-directivity dipole design with an 80° radiation angle.

Emerald Physics Website

Setup and Placement Flexibility

Setting up the CS2P's took a bit of care and attention. They were not the touchiest speakers to position correctly, but not the easiest, either. Part of the difficulty came in trying to get the soundstage stabilized, which never quite happened. More on this below.

Lest the reader be alarmed, this is not to say that the soundstage was not good - it was. But as we tried different positions and angles it did not reach the point where the sweet spot settled nicely into place and with a "welcome home" firmness. It always seemed to be slightly in flux, our efforts just one step away from finding that ideal setup combination, and after awhile we decided the CS2P's ideal location was more like a peak than a plateau, and the narrow sweet spot would be something for the listener to deal with.

The height of the Listening Position never seemed quite right, either. Unless the listener stepped up to the elevated second row of seats or boosted himself up several inches, there was a sensation of missing out on the main sound stream as it passed by just out of reach. The tight dispersion pattern is of course largely responsible for these setup quirks.

I had to sit up straight to stay on the edge of the sweet spot. At 6' 3", I am second tallest of the evaluation squad, and none of us are "shorties." A smaller listener might have been frustrated, or needed a thick extra seat cushion as a booster.

Putting it all in perspective, a longer room might have worked better for the CS2P's, allowing longer reflection paths behind them to help develop the deeper soundstage we were looking for, and the LP - the Listening Position - to be farther away from them where the cone of directivity is broader and allows more LP flexibility. As stated in the introductory post, all these assessments are for the speakers in this room. Given the room constraints and the listening preference goal of achieving the deep soundstage, the CS2P/room combination never quite let us get the kind of developed soundstage stability we were looking for.


There was a lot to like about the CS2P's, a dynamic liveliness that could be quite engaging. They have a raw, organic nature about them that I can see being addictive with he right program material.

Frequency Response, Bass Extension

The CS2P's are quite even above 400 Hz, with presence peaks just above 2 kHz and at 4 kHz, a dip at 1.2 kHz, and a gradual rolloff above 5 kHz due to our off-axis setup. The overall profile is fairly bright, with good detail provided by those two peaks. The 1.2 kHz dip helps keep the brightness under control. Bass response is strong and even below a 230 Hz peak with a broad 100 Hz dip - caused by room modes - and falls off steeply below 45 Hz. Not bad for open-baffle bass. The optional DSP unit was not in use.

Room EQ Wizard MDAT file for download: Emerald Physics CS2P final for download.mdat

The high frequencies from the CS2P's sat right on a the edge of being too bright, too forward. A lot of nice detail and liveliness was contained in those two presence peaks, and much of the time they worked just right. But about the time I was deciding I liked it, the highs for a track would be too bright or a vocalist's sibilance would sizzle too hot, and I would want them to be pulled back a couple dB. Joan of Arc was a track that had me reaching for the "less detail" knob, and Some Kind of Nature was another, while it was just right on Them Bones.

We were impressed by the strength and clarity of the bass, especially when we saw the big notches around 100 Hz. The CS2P's were more broadly affected by those room modes than the other speakers at this event, but still felt like they provided solid bass, having almost a full octave of strong bass available below the notch and the same above it. The CS2P's tonality held together very well as a whole, with the strength of the highs being the one factor causing me to have some reservations. On Reasons Why and again on Way Down Deep and The Spirit Remains there was a boxy tone from that 230 Hz peak, and some of the standup bass notes on Tricycle rang out a bit strongly from lower resonances. But the saxophone on Tricycle sounded exemplary.

The specifications for the CS2P's state frequency response within ± 3 dB from target curve. Not knowing that target curve, one cannot say for sure how much of the 100 Hz region dip might be corrected with the DSP unit we did not have time to try out. The dipole design with it's "quasi 2.5-way configuration" could have some response quirks going on in that region independent of the room, but that is only a guess. If I was serious about owning a pair of CS2P's, finding out more detail about that bass region would be a must.

The DSP upgrade would have been fun to play with. Never having been afraid to touch up a speaker's tonal characteristics with a spot of EQ, I would normally be one to jump at this option, which Emerald Physics says will extend the low end - we felt it quite strong, but what could be the harm in some added depth? - and allow tailoring of the overall frequency response - that I would not be able to resist. "Tailoring" might mean choosing among existing presets or having filter parameters to adjust at will, or both. More flexibility means more ways to trash the already-very-good sound of the CS2P's so handle such power with care. I would take the bass extension, relax the range from 1.5 kHz to 5 kHz by one or two dB, resist the temptation to flatten the highs above 5 kHz (SO sensitive to LP angle and head movement), and call it good. Our time constraints and "basic configuration" assumption did not allow for any such tweaking, however, or with the biamp option, even though the DSP hardware was in the next room ready to play. But then similar opportunities exist for any speaker, so the possible variables quickly approach the infinite. Thus our self-imposed limitations. Plus there is an element of adventure in accepting and working with a speaker in its most basic form, organic personality quirks and all.

Soundstage and Imaging

The soundstage we got with the CS2P's was wide and deep. We had them angled outward slightly from pointing straight at the LP, necessary to deepen the soundstage. That might be why our setup position was always on the edge of achieving the desired stability. We noted that a number of individual instrument performances were in different soundstage positions than we had heard them with every other speaker we had worked with before. With other instruments the image would shift for different parts of the song. Other than that, the soundstage was spacious and lifelike, and the imaging fairly tight, about grapefruit size for a recorded point source. The mono version of Revolution Earth was a handy quick imaging tightness check, indicating a fairly tight vertical image line, again roughly a grapefruit's width.

On Ain't it a Shame and Reasons Why, the high gloss and the vocal 'S' sounds stayed tightly centered. I found during Life is a One Way Ticket that leaning far forward in the LP seat made the soundstage deeper, but tonality suffered and highs rolled off, so it ended up being another confirmation that our compromises were balance about right with the current positioning.

On Joan of Arc and again on Your Latest Trick, the imaging was particularly crisp. Dire Straits' percussion and vocal imaging were clean and precise in their placement. Sprach Zarathustra plus Star Trek Main Theme imaged and filled the soundstage so nicely they almost begged for more "live track" play time.

Power Handling

The CS2P's gave us all the volume we wanted, even with bass-heavy tracks, and did not show signs of running out of dynamic range or of being on the verge of bottoming out.

Performance Close to the Front Wall:

Up on the Cedar Creek Cinema stage near the front wall, the CS2P's were definitely too high and did not sound natural to me. We had to prop up the backs of the base plates to get a better angle on the LP. Then the sound was acceptable with decent soundstage and imaging, but no depth of soundstage. To me, their performance close to the wall was seriously compromised.

A note on propping them forward like we did: The baffle angle with respect to the floor and the distance to the LP are both critical. We did not spend as much time playing with setup variables close to the wall as we did in finding their ideal location. These angles and position measurement are absolutely critical.

Physical and Visual

The Emerald Physics look is unique - lots of exposed cone on thick, massive baffle plates with attention-getter finishes. Their tonality and responsiveness are supported by the raw, organic nature of their looks. They are hard to confuse with any other brand of speaker that I have run across. Toddler-finger and pet-claw friendly they are not. Conversation pieces they most certainly are.

Overall Listening Experience

The overall impression I was left with of the CS2P's was a raw, organic nature that was mostly easy to enjoy but could get a little out of hand at times, too. They were occasionally rough and unrefined where I wanted more smoothness and control, especially on more complex tracks.

What These Speakers Are Best For

In the right room, ideally a longer room than our evaluation space, and especially one short on acoustical treatment, the CS2P's might be exactly what is called for. I see the prominent occupation of a large dedicated listening room, where they can sit wherever they sound their best, being their calling. They definitely have a character of their own, so they are a speaker you would want to audition in your space with your music - for me the focus would probably be on more simply recorded material mixed with a live feel, and on live recordings. One should audition them without time pressure, as placement experimentation can take awhile. Given the right room with the right material and some patience setting up, the CS2P's could make for lots of lively listening fun.

Leonard Caillouet (lcaillo)

The CS2P certainly was the speaker that we were most curious about in the group. A unique design and look were certainly consistent with the sound. The open baffle design has an airy, natural feel to it much like many dipoles and planar speakers. I would characterize the sound as stoney, or rocky, with a potential edge that can be either pleasing or disconcerting, depending on one's preferences and program material. I found myself vacillating between the things that I really liked and those that I did not. Detail is abundant in the mid and high end. They are certainly revealing and are unforgiving of poor recordings. I found a bit of sibilance on both leading and trailing transients that I did not care for on some recordings, like the Melody Gardot track.

The soundstage was wide but not as deep as expected, with image precision limited to midrange. The upper mids and lower bass seemed to move around with changes in level and frequency. The mid bass image seemed to hang with the speakers a bit. I think these speakers demand a large room and flexibility in placement and listening position that Sonnie's room does not have. I also think that the open baffle and planar speakers suffer in the lower midrange to deep bass in this room because of the placement limitations and the massive amount of subwoofer area and the room modes interacting. This could be a great speaker in a large room with some distance to the listener and the ability to adjust distance to the walls and listening position. I just felt like it was constrained by the situation.

My preference for detail made me want to really like this speaker, but it seemed lacking in my critical mid bass area in this respect. I could certainly parse harmonies to individual voices tonally but image precision was somewhat lacking.

I would characterize these as a curiosity and a niche product for those who like the combination of high detail and airy sound. Marble as opposed to glass. Cotton as opposed to silk. Not wrinkle free cotton, however. Plan on a challenge placing these properly and the need for a large room and a very small listening window. In that window, however, expect to be intrigued and want for a wide range of music. These are dynamic and present, with much to experience that is unique.

Joe Alexander (ALMFamily)

I like the design of the cabinet – some of the other open baffle designs I have seen tend to be designed with more rigid lines where these have some contouring that gives the speaker some character. The finish would work well in a HT setup and it has enough beauty to be used in 2 channel as well.

As for how these performed on stage near the front wall, it seemed the best position was to spread them out as wide as possible with toe-in outside the MLP – it created a wide soundstage, but having it that close to the wall really killed the depth and live feeling that I feel you would normally get from the open baffle design. Due to the stage, I thought the second row of seating on the riser was a better place to sit as they sounded much fuller from that distance. We did prop up the face a bit as well before we started listening as it really seemed to "overshoot" the first row.

The first track in our lineup was Nickel Creek's "Ode to a Butterfly", and it is a great track to get a feel for how a speaker handles instrument imaging as there are several instruments that image from all across the stage as well as at varying depths. The CS2Ps did well here - the mandolin imaged perfectly - with the only instrument that felt a bit fuzzy being the violin at around the 1:30 mark as it was hard to pinpoint its depth in the soundstage. Vocals imaged really well - the Roger Water "Three Wishes" track had the female vocal part image directly left and the genie part panned across the soundstage as expected.

Instruments dynamics - the Flim and the BB's "Tricycle" track is an excellent track to test a speaker's ability to handle large dynamic swings - were handled easily with no signs of compression as were vocal dynamics. Instrument clarity was excellent - I especially liked the how horns sounded on the CS2Ps. The Bluesiana Triangle "For All We Know" and Dire Straits "Your Latest Trick" tracks both had horn sequences that were so clear with no sense of "shoulder cringing" - I could even hear the buzz of the horn player blowing into the mouthpiece in the Dire Straits track which really impressed me.

The "Chant" track showed really good low end impact, but the image was not as tight to the middle as I was expecting, and I noticed this on the "Way Down Deep" track as well. The other thing I noticed was that female vocals and certain piano sequences - such as in Bluesiana Triangle's "Life is a One Way Ticket" - did not have the open, airy sound that I have heard on other open baffle designs which is not a bad thing, just a personal preference.

Overall, I thought this was a really good speaker. I really liked the instrument detail and the imaging was very good. We did not use the DSP functionality so I cannot speak to how that integrates.

Sonnie Parker (Sonnie)

After hearing the Emerald Physics speakers at RMAF, I was anxious for us to get these in the room and setup. They were actually our first speakers in the room for evaluation. I was curious as to what they would sound like here versus what we had heard at RMAF, and if we could improve on that sound, albeit our model a step down from those at RMAF. In the smaller room there, the back row did more for me than the front row... and the vocal image was slightly left of center. In the larger room (still a relatively small room) where the Wyred4Sound amps were running, again the second row seemed like the better seating position. I know that at least a couple of us that visited those rooms agreed, thus confirming our thoughts here at my house that it might help to be farther back from the speakers than what we could accommodate.

Having got them setup in their best location, as best we could get them, I personally thought these sounded better here than the two higher end models at RMAF. I can only assume this is because of the constraints the rooms put on the speakers at RMAF, as we would all be of the opinion the higher end models would also deliver even better results in my room than at RMAF. Yet, as we found, ultimately they may all be much better in an even larger room than what I have.

There is no question about it, these are not going to be favorable for home theater use, as they just did not work close to the front wall. While they were not terrible or even bad, they were not what I would expect. However, they are not really meant to be home theater speakers to begin with... at least from what I can gather. These are two-channel speakers, and they sound a whole lot better out from the wall. I did think they had somewhat of a unique sound that I favored, although I might would have liked a little more precise imaging. The soundstage was nice, as was the bass extension. I never felt like we needed the DSP module, but it might be needed in a larger room. Despite what seems like a lot of issues we might have had with these, I still liked them... and I really like the look. The finish is impressive with that metallic automotive paint. They are solid, thick and just plain look manly. If I am going to be honest, and you know I am, I am not sure I can justify these being worth their MSRP. Thankfully you can get them for considerably less through Underwood HiFi on Audiogon... and maybe even less than that if you call up Walter and do some dickering.

Overall... I was not disappointed with the CS2P's, but was more so disappointed that we might not have had the best setup to evaluate them. Naturally this might not be what those with smaller listening rooms will want to hear, but we did spend some additional time working with their placement in order to try to give them the benefit of the doubt, particularly out into the room and away from the wall.
It is hard to blame the speaker when you don't know if your room is the best setup for it, but at least I know it is better than what was at RMAF, which would lead me to believe their higher end models would also prove much better here.
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post #5 of 1088 Old 10-18-13, 11:02 PM
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Wayne Myers
Join Date: Jun 2012
Location: Lincoln, NE
Posts: 4,838
Re: The Official $2,500 Speaker Evaluation / Home Audition Event

Magnepan 1.7

Optimal Placement
From Front Wall.. From Side Wall.. Speaker To Speaker.. Speaker to Listener Ear.. Toe..
5'0" 4'8" 10'0" 8'8" 29°
Best Placement Near Front Wall
From Front Wall.. From Side Wall.. Speaker To Speaker.. Speaker to Listener Ear..
3'0" 4'8" 10'0" 10'8"

Wayne Myers (AudiocRaver)

  • Design: 3-Way quasi-ribbon magnetic planar dipole panel
  • Frequency Response: 40 Hz – 22 kHz (± 3 dB)
  • Recommended Power: 100 - 250 W @ 8 Ohms
  • Sensitivity: 86 dB at 500 Hz (2.83 V/1 m)
  • Impedance: 4 Ohms
  • Woofer Size: not given
  • Tweeter Size: not given
  • Super-Tweeter Size: not given
  • Crossover: not given
  • Dimensions: 64.5” H x 19.25” W x 2” D
  • Weight (Each): ~42 lbs. (19 kg)
  • MSRP (Pair): $1,995
The Magnepan 1.7 is a quasi-ribbon magnetic planar dipole panel featuring separate tweeter and super-tweeter driver areas.

Magnepan Website

Setup and Placement Flexibility

Setting up the dipole 1.7's did not take terribly long because we were already well-attuned to the absolutely critical nature of setup symmetry for panels and dipoles in general. Especially critical are the toe-in angles and distances to the LP (Listening Position), although we have become exacting about all setup measurements for all speaker types. Still, getting the best sound from the panels took a number of successively smaller repositionings. We ended up with the 1.7's widely spaced and almost directly pointing at the listener's ears. Their center-to-center spacing was the widest of all the speakers in this evaluation group.

It is worth noting that with panels the setup angle relative to the listener becomes a matter of splitting degrees, or to be more accurate, or careful definition. Which part of the panel is pointed straight at what part of the LP? The center of the panel at the center of the seat back? The tweeter portion of the panel at the ear? The term "pointed at" ends up needing qualifiers, and eyeballing those angles never gets them close enough. Our laser distance meter doubled as a laser pointer and more than once an evaluator during setup was told to close his eyes while the laser beam aided the fine trimming of those angles relative to his head or ears. It sounds like obsessive behavior until you have heard for yourself the difference that such attention to detail can make. Comments by long-time Magnepan owners tend to confirm these findings.

One refinement to our LP captain's chair for critical listening and evaluating was the inclusion of a folded-up plush blanket draped over the back of the chair. It extended down to shoulder height and helped soften reflections off the chair back surface, reducing sensitivity of the sonics to head movement and closeness to the chair back. Without the blanket in place we were finding it difficult to get most speakers to sound "quite right" unless we leaned forward in an unnatural and uncomfortable position. (These effects are exaggerated with high-directivity speaker designs - dipoles, panels, etc.) I had absent-mindedly failed to notice that the blanket had slipped out of place when first sitting down to listen in detail with the 1.7's, and was leaning forward on Reasons Why wondering about the reasons why the soundstage would not settle down. Realizing the oversight and replacing the blanket relaxed that effect dramatically, making for a much more enjoyable session. The need for that blanket, or something to deal with those reflections, was reconfirmed.


At our $1,000 speaker evaluation event in August, I was bitten by the planar speaker bug while listening to the smaller Magnepan MG 12/QR's. Perhaps my expectation level had gotten over-inflated for the 1.7's, but they did not grab me the way I thought they would. The separation and detail and clarity were all there, and I loved them for it, jotting "only Truth allowed here" in my notes. Cymbal clarity on Life is a One Way Ticket was absolutely wonderful. But the frequency response was just uneven enough to be distracting, and the SNAP of the MG 12/QR's was missing.

Frequency Response, Bass Extension

The 1.7's are very flat from 2 kHz to 10 kHz, and fairly flat from 350 Hz to 42 Hz with a strong peak at 48 Hz. The high-frequency range is joined to the low-frequency range by a 1-octave-wide peak at 1.2 kHz. The overall profile shows the highs recessed by 3 to 4 dB relative to the lows.

Room EQ Wizard MDAT file for download: Magnepan 1_7 final for download.mdat

The tonality of the 1.7's seemed dark to me, which was surprising. The highs are flat, clear, clean, instruments and sounds are all well separated and detailed, but above that presence peak the response is held back enough to feel muted.

The tightly-packed "hill and valley" response seen between 150 and 500 Hz is characteristic of Magnepan's - with the MG 12/QR's this occurred through the low- and high-frequency ranges and they sounded very even - and is not a big concern, but with the 1.7's there was enough peakiness that they sounded uneven, almost coarse. This was first noticeable on the quieter Reasons Why track.

The standup bass was handled evenly and tightly through Life is a One Way Ticket. The saxophone and cymbals were tactile, seemed live in the room. Next time you are in a music store, sneak a couple of medium-hard cymbal strikes with a proper drum stick and absorb the wonderful clarity and complexity of the tones produced. The 1.7's sounded just like that. And the piano tones on Breezin' Along with the Breeze had a "tinkle" that many speakers would have left out. Melody's voice through Baby I'm a Fool was super detailed and clean, as were the accompanying strings, and the standup bass was solid and tight.

Soundstage and Imaging

The soundstage was very good: wide, open, deep, and well-developed - the instrument separation was particularly strong, lots of air between the phantom sources - and imaging was quite good, very stable. Ain't it a Shame contains widely-spaced background synthesizers that reached the walls of the room. Dance to the Drummer Again also reached out to the walls. The matching between our panels was dead-on above 1 kHz, and enviable below it. Imaging from panel speakers in general is not as tight as with speakers using smaller radiating surfaces, but can still be very good and completely stable. We got roughly grapefruit-sized images for point-source recordings with the 1.7's and heard no signs of smearing or wandering.

Your Gold Teeth Too was a good track to illustrate the distinct separation between instruments. And almost in defiance of our understanding of psychoacoustics and low frequencies, the deep drum on Way Down Deep, even its lowest reaches, had a separate and distinct location in both the width and depth dimensions of the soundstage. Joan of Arc also contained percussion and cymbals that stood out in their clarity and distinctness.

Power Handling

I heard it first at the beginning of the Cincinnati Pops' Star Trek theme. The opening deep thumps were accompanied by a quick fuzz of distortion in the upper-mids of the horns and strings. It happened on each of the thumps. Sonnie heard the same thing during Way Down Deep. For the Star Trek passage, the volume level was set with the SPL varying mainly between 90 and 95 dB SPL (c-weighted, slow-averaged), occasionally peaking at 100 dB. This is about as loud as any of the evaluators likes to push the volume, and it does not get this loud very often, but we do want to be able to get there without fear of distortion.

Once you are aware of this "fuzzy-upper-mids-with-strong-bass" problem, you end up focused on it all the time. "It shouldn't be a problem on this track." "How loud can I play this one?" Our listening tastes require being able to crank the volume into the lower 90's (dB SPL) at will without having to fret about distortion on certain notes or ride the volume to avoid it.

In terms of power-handling capability, this was the only blemish in the 1.7's performance. They are low in efficiency, calling for plenty of high-current-capable power for higher volumes. We had plenty of clean power available, though, and even when pushed hard with complex music - minus the deepest bass - the 1.7's had no trouble keeping all the parts of the music clear and separate.

Performance Close to the Front Wall:

Close to the front wall, the 1.7's were easy to place. Their first location was where they stayed. At that distance from the LP, the aim was not as critical. The soundstage was very wide and imaging was solid, but - you guessed it - there was no depth of soundstage at all.

The 1.7's were definitely too high on the six-inch stage. They sounded much better for listeners on the elevated second row of seats.

For a brief experiment, we moved the 1.7's as close to the wall as their feet would allow. The imaging went completely soft and diffused.

Physical and Visual

Magnepan speakers do not look like loudspeakers at all to the inexperienced eye, but - when properly set up - more like a pair of decorative or acoustical treatment panels at really odd locations in a room. When one realizes they are speakers, they become attention-getters of a different kind. I like the way they look - simple, understated, big, and important all at the same time. At around 40 lbs. apiece, the 1.7's are manageable by a single person needing to move them around. They are quite impervious to curious little fingers and pet claws, functionally anyway. Gracie (Cedar Creek's feline mascot) would have no trouble fraying the attractive fabric outer covering with a few good claw sharpenings, and was banished from all speaker storage areas.

Overall Listening Experience

As we were finishing up our round of evaluation turns with the 1.7's, I turned to another evaluator and commented, "I really wanted to like them more than I did." Even with all that clarity and detail, the two factors that held back my listening joy with the 1.7's were the uneven tonality with its recessed highs and that occasional upper-mid fuzziness when a strong bass event came along. Another tweak or two on the angle might have fixed the recessed highs - but we surely did plenty of tweaking during our setup, so maybe not. (The measured response was the same from the less-exacting position near the front wall.) And a subwoofer to relieve the panels of having to deal with the lowest octaves of bass would no doubt fix the distortion problem - but our assumptions were firm, and we were evaluating all speakers in their right-out-of-the-box state, no mods, no subs, no special processing allowed.

In other hands, rooms, or conditions, the essence of the magnetic planar sound might very well be coaxed to its full glory with the Magnepan 1.7's. For me, their performance was a lackluster "Pretty Good."

What These Speakers Are Best For

It takes a lot of patience to get the best out of a pair of planar speakers. If you want to set 'em and forget 'em, look elsewhere. As we experienced the Magnepan 1.7's, their ability to deliver clarity and detail will serve any kind of music well, as long as loud, deep bass is not a high priority.

Leonard Caillouet (lcaillo)

The Magnepans performed well on the stage in terms of frequency response, maintaining bass definition that most of the others lacked here. The very deepest bass lacks detail, but this behavior was similar out into the room at the final position. Imaging suffered on the stage as one would expect. Once moved to the floor and considerable experimenting, the soundstage was wide and tall, but outside of the sweet spot collapses rapidly. Detail is exceptional from mid-bass up to lower treble. Balance is good, other than a small peak in lower treble that emphasizes sibilance on rise at high levels. The lower midrange seems somewhat relaxed and gets lost a bit at high levels. The bass seems to go deep but lacks the power and authority of the other speakers in the group.

With well-defined mid-bass, my sensitivity to lower strings on acoustic guitar and the subtleties of a string bass is satisfied. While these areas are very present, notes are not fat and bloated. Vocals are rich and delicate when appropriate, even where they are lacking a bit of presence or a bit forward. Suzanna McCorkle’s quirky jazz sound is the richest of all the speakers yet. The trembling edginess of Rickie Lee Jones is among the best I have heard, but just a bit low in level in the lower ranges. Drums and bass in “Gold Teeth II” by Steely Dan are crisp and tight. The harmonies of Jennifer Warnes and Leonard Cohen are distinct, but as levels rise and music becomes complex the detail seems to smear, as in “Joan of Arc”, where I hear sibilance and edginess in the upper midrange and lower treble that overwhelm lower mid tones.

These Magnepans are a conundrum for me. There are aspects of them that I really like, such as the smoothness of the width of the image and the sweetness of Melody Gardot’s voice. That is until the levels rise and the sweet peachy sound becomes brass. Not steel and technical, just hard where it was not at lower levels. The openness and detail on less busy music at moderate levels leaves one wanting more on a track like Dire Straits “Your Latest Trick” but the large sound with depth of sound field that is expected on big orchestral pieces just is not there. I think this change of character is one of the reasons that Sonnie is not a fan. These are not Tektons, Klipsch, or EPs in terms of dynamics. If it were just that, I would be more of a fan, but the speaker loses its primary advantages as levels and complexity grow. Orchestration feels thin on “Baby I’m a Fool” yet vocals can be seductive. Definitely a speaker that I can appreciate, but no way I could live with them and enjoy them all around.

Joe Alexander (ALMFamily)

The Magnepans are a different breed for me – they look like a standard box from the front, but of course have no depth. After trying to pinpoint what I was seeing, it finally dawned on me that they really look like you have a GIK acoustic panel that plays music. With that being the case, they would obviously blend well for HT.

We started off on the stage, and I noticed right off that they seemed to have a subdued sound which I honestly was not expecting from a panel. Female vocals had a very "processed" feeling to me - there just seemed to be no "life" in the vocals. The bongos in the Cassandra Wilson "Dance to the Drummer Again" image on the left panel rather than to the left of that panel. Low end and midrange were really fuzzy from an imaging standpoint - instead of being able to pinpoint location, it was very indistinct and bloated from a middle image.

Once we got them to the floor, imaging did tighten up a bit. The mandolin in the "Ode to a Butterfly" track imaged inside the right speaker as expected where it was not as clear on the stage. However, bass imaging never tightened up - it just felt really bloated. Also, there were a couple tracks - "Life is a One Way Ticket" in particular - where once the low end kicked in, the male vocals fluttered which was very distracting. Instrument clarity was good - the piano in the "Life is a One Way Ticket" stood out most for me. As I continued to listen, I noticed that the soundstage was not very deep - everything seemed to be located right over Sonnie's rack.

Overall, I just did not connect with these speakers at all. I came to the conclusion that I felt these would be good for vocals and high end instruments, but once you add in the low midrange and low end, they lose their luster for me.

Sonnie Parker (Sonnie)

I am suppose to really like panel speakers... so why am I having such a difficult time liking the these quasi-ribbon planars. I keep asking myself what it is about these speakers that so many others love? Did we still not have enough power for them? Did we just not work at setting them up for long enough? Is my room just not the right room for them? I do not know what the answer is, but I do know that they simply do not do much for me. I suppose maybe I am expecting too much, especially when I pick up my copy of The Absolute Sound 2014 High-End Audio Buyers Guide, which includes "The Best Audio Products In Every Category At Every Price" (that I snagged for free at RMAF), and see that Magnepan is listed not just once, but THREE times under their speaker section. Huh? What? Seriously? Of course I understand that most of those guys at TAS have equipment, rooms and possibly ears that I could only dream about, so maybe it is a combination of all of those that make the Magnepans sound so good to them. As I continued to read TAS, flipping back and forth in no logical order... I caught some of the album listings for the various TAS writers. In curiosity I followed it back to the beginning and the section is titled, "Our Writers Pick Ten Little-Known But Great-Sounding Recordings". I start scrolling through them and it all starts to make sense. All these writers listen to is elevator music... it's all classical. THAT is where the Magnepans are going to shine and that is why they are not really doing much for me, because I fall asleep in elevators? No... because I have absolutely ZERO love for classical music... and I won't be apologizing if I offend anyone that does like it... you may not like what I listen to either.

In all seriousness... the 1.7's are not by any means terrible speakers and I like them okay. I could actually listen to them for quite a while at lower levels, as they have respectable imaging, a really wide soundstage and pretty good depth of soundstage. I did notice that the big bass on Ode To A Butterfly sounded more like it was coming from the right speaker instead of just to the inside left of it. I had in my notes that they did not seem to disappear as well as the MG12's did in the $1,000 event. However, the part that really struck me bad is that if you plan to ever play them very loud, you MUST cross them over to a sub... there is no other option. Otherwise you get a fuzzy rippling distortion in the panel that ruins the sound. We are certainly not the first to note this. And... low and behold, AFTER we had noted this in our listening sessions (something that we could not help but to share), I had a chance during a break to pick up my copy of TAS, and realized a few comments they had written about the 1.7's and the 3.7's... "And be aware that above a certain very loud level, the quasi-ribbon drivers will begin to show audible signs of strain, though the 1.7s will fare better at low listening levels than previous Maggies." Flip on over a couple of pages, "Note that the 3.7 does not produce deep bass below about 45Hz and, like all planars, it runs into membrane excursion limits. slightly limiting dynamic range (particularly in the bass) at extremely high SPLs." Hmmm. Actually these statements are somewhat inaccurate because "all planars" do not run into membrane excursion limits... some of them will play "extremely high SPLs" without so much as thinking of reaching their excursion limits. Perhaps they meant to say "all Magnepans". Also... it does not "slightly" limit the dynamic range... it greatly destroys it. Nonetheless, this did help reaffirm what we were hearing.

Please do not discount the Magnepans because we seem to not favor them that much. There is a reason that there are numerous Magnepan owners out there loving every minute of their music. Unfortunately they did not work out well for us, but that does not mean they will not work out for you. One good thing about the 1.7's is that you can now try them out in your home, direct from Magnepan. I encourage you to do so if you have been considering them... and even if you haven't.
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post #6 of 1088 Old 10-18-13, 11:04 PM
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Wayne Myers
Join Date: Jun 2012
Location: Lincoln, NE
Posts: 4,838
Re: The Official $2,500 Speaker Evaluation / Home Audition Event

Paradigm Studio 60 v5

Optimal Placement
From Front Wall.. From Side Wall.. Speaker To Speaker.. Speaker to Listener Ear.. Toe..
6'10" 5'3" 9' 7'7" 15°
Best Placement Near Front Wall
From Front Wall.. From Side Wall.. Speaker To Speaker.. Speaker to Listener Ear..
3'7" 4'6" 10'6" 11'0"

Wayne Myers (AudiocRaver)

  • Design: 2-1/2-Way front- and rear-ported bass-reflex with two woofers, one mid/bass driver, and one dome tweeter
  • Frequency Response on-axis: 45 Hz - 22 kHz (± 2 dB)
  • Frequency Response 30 deg off-axis: 45 Hz - 20 kHz (± 2 dB)
  • Recommended Power: 15 - 220 W
  • Maximum Input Power: 170 W
  • Sensitivity: 92 dB room, 89 dB anechoic (2.83 V/1 m)
  • Impedance: Compatible with 8 Ohms
  • Woofer Size: 5.5”
  • Mid-Bass Size: 5.5"
  • Tweeter Size: 1”
  • Crossover: 2nd-order electro-acoustic at 2.0 kHz; 2nd-order electro-acoustic at 500 Hz
  • Dimensions: 40.125" H × 7.875" W × 11.875" D
  • Weight (Each): 50 lbs. (22.7 kg)
  • MSRP (Pair): $2,498
The Paradigm Studio 60 ver. 5 features a 1 inch G-PAL™ dome, ferro-fluid damped/cooled, die-cast heatsink chassis, IMS/SHOCK-MOUNT™ Tweeter, a 5.5 inch S-PAL™ cone, 1.5 inch voice-coil, AVS™ die-cast heatsink chassis, IMS/SHOCK-MOUNT™ Mid/Bass Frequency Driver, two 5.5 inch mineral-filled polypropylene cone, 1.5 inch voice-coil, AVS™ die-cast heatsink chassis, IMS/SHOCK-MOUNT™ Low Frequency Drivers, and front and rear ports for bass tuning.

Paradigm's Website

Setup and Placement Flexibility

One of the things I have long admired about Paradigm is that for most of their models they specify frequency response at 30 degrees off-axis and it is just as flat as their on-axis response. That puts them squarely in the family of controlled-directivity loudspeakers which promise the kind of soundstage and imaging we look for at these events with a minimum of fuss.

They almost set themselves up. Both up on the stage for a brief listen and in their ideal location on the floor, they were set in place, squared up with the laser, brought to life with our first track, and the reaction from the listening position was, "Well, that sounds pretty good right there." And it was not that anyone was getting lazy and did not feel like making fine adjustments, which we always did in such cases to be sure they sounded their absolute best - they really did sound that good right where we first placed them. Thank you, Paradigm. I was truly grateful.


The Paradigm Studio 60's were the last of our sets of $2500 speakers to be evaluated for the weekend. I had almost forgotten about them altogether, and when I saw their gleaming gold domes and white midrange cone and show-off appearance, my brain got an interest boost. "Oh, yeah, the Paradigms." It was like a refreshing little wake-up slap.

After two long days of critical listening, one has to be on one's toes to give the last set of speakers as much careful attention as the first. The Studio 60's have a commanding presence in both appearance and audio presentation that says they will not be put to disadvantage by a little thing like being last in line. The first sounds out of them said Wow, flat response. That was from up on the stage close to the wall. The same happened when they were moved to the floor.

Back when polling was determining which models would be included in this evaluation event, the Studio 60's almost sounded like a boring choice. That was when we were thinking about possibly being able to hear exciting new designs and outlandish tweeters and the like. Of course Paradigm was a solid choice and was included in this group with good reason. Even "boring" can be good in its own way. The Studio 60's are no-nonsense, all-business, let's-get-it-done speakers.

Frequency Response, Bass Extension

The Studio 60's have very flat response above 600 Hz, with highs rolling off slightly above 8 kHz and a small notch at 700 Hz. Lower-mids and bass are slightly accentuated.

Room EQ Wizard MDAT file for download: Paradigm Studio 60 final for download.mdat

The Studio 60's were flat-sounding speakers. The 700 Hz notch was due to a floor reflection, the highs rolloff from our off-axis setup and the lowest peaks from room modes. About all that was left other than the slightly forward lower-mids and bass was wonderful flatness. Tonality was true and even. The mid-bass did stand out on some tracks but did not seem tubby or resonant, only a little on the strong side. On Reasons Why, it made the fiddle and guitar sound like they were recorded using larger-sized instruments. The highs bordered on being overly bright on a few tracks, like Breezin' Along with the Breeze, but for the most part were vibrant and lively. Cymbals were perfect on For All We Know and Life is a One Way Ticket, The sax on For All We Know was missing something, but the 700 Hz notch surely explains that anomaly.

Drums jumped through he Studio 60's, cried DYNAMICS! I enjoyed the dynamic punch about the guitar sting plucks on Your Gold Teeth Too.

Then there was that annoying little 7 kHz peak. The other evaluators did not complain about it, but it definitely got on my nerves after awhile. Sibilants especially tended to land on that peak and it ultimately became a bit distracting. Now I will make it clear that this is probably a non-issue for 99% of listening situations. The peak itself was within spec and is one of those little things that will show up when you get to a certain off-axis angle, even with off-axis specs as noteworthy as those of the Studio 60's. But there it was and it became fatiguing after awhile. Listener fatigue, after two days of critical listening? Of course that was a factor, I was aware of it then and it has been carefully considered in making these comments now. Little things can make a big difference when they stand out in just the right way and that little peak would matter to me even with fresh ears.

The solution? Probably as simple as turning the speakers a few degrees more or less off-axis. A slightly different setup distance might clear it up. That frequency is down slightly in the plots taken closer to the wall, evidence that dispersion variations are at work, so it would probably only take a minor positioning tweak to clear it up. The main point here is not that those wonderful speakers had an annoying little problem at that particular setup, it is that a lot of speakers have potentially annoying little characteristics that can show up under just the right conditions. While we did not have time to work on solving this particular one, they can often be fixed with minimal effort. But do not overlook them. Little annoyances become big ones if not tended to.

Soundstage and Imaging

The soundstage from the Studio 60's had great depth and width and was natural and cohesive. Soundstage depth had acuity and precision that was quite good, but not great. That is not a slam but a high compliment. Few speakers that give a deep soundstage are able to do so with much of the kind of depth precision that approaches the horizontal imaging precision we demand and take for granted. The Studio 60's stand out as big winners in this regard, just not as stellar as a few other speakers we have heard.

Imaging was particularly sharp, with golf-ball sized images from point-source-recorded sounds. The image clarity had me looking for instruments in the room, even from the second row while other evaluators occupied the listening position, particularly with the percussion on Dance to the Drummer Again.

Power Handling

The Studio 60's liked to play loud. They are a medium-efficient design that can handle lots of power. I noticed no sense of strain at all with the volume turned high on any of our tracks.

Performance Close to the Front Wall:

Up on the Cedar Creek Cinema stage near the wall, it only took a minute to tell they would perform almost as well there as they would closer to the LP. There was even a small depth of soundstage, something most speakers could not produce at all close to the front wall. Soundstage width, tonality (almost flatter here than close to the listener), imaging, tight bass - if placement flexibility is a must, the Studio 60's will provide it.

Physical and Visual

The tall Studio 60's look sharp and techie without grilles and look sharp with them. The tweeters hint at wanting to bust out of the top of the cabinet and really shine. The wood veneer finish looked like a lot of time went into it, very dressy, and refused to be ignored. One would want to compliment them daily - a small price to pay for the way they perform.

Overall Listening Experience

The first impression is the one I go back to. With the few seconds of music, the Studio 60's said, "I am your next reference speaker." It is easy to understand why there are so many Paradigm Studio series fans out there. They are boring speakers - boring in giving you just what you are looking for, no more, no less, the kind of boring you get attached to quickly and will not easily let go of.

What These Speakers Are Best For

The Studio 60's will handle any kind of music you can throw at them, allow the listener full driving privileges with no limitations.

Leonard Caillouet (lcaillo)

Paradigms are a speaker for which my distant experience was considerable. When their products came to the US a few decades ago, we were a fairly large dealer. The design factors that were important then seem to have been maintained and improved upon over the years. Detail, low distortion, good balance, and overall high listenability remain characteristics today. These were certainly no disappointment. Not having heard their recent products I was a little skeptical if they would be up to par with other elite speakers in this range. I was pleasantly greeted with a similar experience that I had with the ML and Arx in the last sessions. We typically rely on Wayne to tweak the position as his ear for image location and accuracy is very reliable. I usually help with the moves and make suggestions on direction and angle based upon his description of what he hears. After getting them in the right place I usually retire to the second row to let him do more serious evaluation. From that vantage point a lot can be learned. When detail pops out at me from outside the prime listening window it tells me two things. First, the speaker is going to be forgiving of position. Second, there has to be very high resolution and low distortion. The Paradigm and the Dyn both caught my attention in this way.

These were, in fact, easy to position. They were the easiest to get good basic sound from and even performed reasonable well on the stage, probably the best of the lot up there, and definitely one of my two favorites overall. Unlike the others, I heard more changes in the mids and highs from the stage to the floor. On the stage the midrange seemed a bit hollow and the highs smeared a little that I heard none of on the floor out into the room. My guess is that the excellent off axis dispersion that they appear to have (we did not measure this, so this is a purely subjective impression, FWIW) resulted in more reflective issues off the front wall (mostly screen) and equipment. Out onto the floor these really became speakers that were pleading for more listening. Considering that these are what I consider moderately inefficient, they have great dynamics and sound bigger than they appear physically and bigger than expected. These are precise in the sense of the best of the Magnepans, without the dynamic strain. Rather than brass, I would describe this sound as warm, wet, becoming icy at worst, which is rare. I heard a very slight tendency to post transient sibilance, but not a hint on the rise of notes. Even that was only on the highest vocals and very high levels.

Like most speakers, as they get to the limits of the bottom of their bass response they get thick and less detailed, but they go as deep as most music needs and are in no way offensive. My Achilles heel for speaker and my personal quirky sensitivity in mid-bass detail was never triggered by these. Everything seemed very pleasant to listen to and tracks that I have heard many times kept showing me more, which is the mark of a great speaker with detailed reproduction.

Imaging was very tight and precise. Width and depth were among the best of the group. The Magnepans had a taller soundstage, but not by much. I never got the sense that the image collapsed back to the speakers in dynamic passages or in difficult image detail like harmonies or the bass/acoustic guitar just inside of the right speaker in “Ode to Butterfly”. As you move out of the sweet spot for listening some speakers pop out as the source of sound. These tended to do this less than others, except perhaps the Dynaudio. This would be a very nice speaker to live with. Overall it does much exceptionally, with very few places to critique.

Joe Alexander (ALMFamily)

I really like the look of the Studio 60s even though they have a standard box shape. The front baffle breaks it up and the different colored drivers give it some character. Plus, the base has a very unique design. The cabinet has a good finish for HT, but leaving the grilles off may be distracting with the different colored drivers.

When we put them on the stage, I noticed right away that these had a very wide soundstage as well as probably having the deepest soundstage of the speakers we listened to from the stage. Low end was also very impressive - imaging was very tight and had really good impact as I could feel it in my seat! The rainstick sequence at the beginning of the "Chant" track imaged perfectly as it panned from left to right across the soundstage. Vocal imaging was also locked dead center and the female part of the "Three Wishes" track imaged directly left as expected.

Then, we moved them to the floor. The "Ode to a Butterfly" track really opened up here - instrument imaging separated really well and showed really good depth. The low end imaged really tightly and was very clean – there was not one track that felt boomy, but the 60s still had that really good impact. And, the genie sequence in the "Three Wishes" track was probably the most "menacing" I heard from all the different speakers. Vocal imaging was locked dead center and instruments separated extremely well on every track. As far as vocals and instruments, there were just a few instances where I felt the sound came across as slightly "veiled" - such as the piano in the "Life is a One Way Ticket track and the horn in the "Your Latest Trick" track.

Overall, there is a lot to like here as this is a really good speaker. The low end was very impressive, midrange showed excellent punch, and they imaged beautifully, but the Studio 60s are not what I would personally be looking for as I just felt that high end instruments and some vocals felt held back.

Sonnie Parker (Sonnie)

Crank it up! Man I like these speakers. From the minute I sat down to the minute I DID NOT want to get up, I felt energized. I felt like I wanted to go for a jog when I was finished listening (and probably needed to with all we ate over these few days). These speakers really have a big sound from such a small speaker... and they are fairly heavy too, considering their size. I was no doubt surprised, because I had it in my mind that they were not going to be able to live up to all the hype I have read about them over the years. I think I may have felt that way because they have been so heavily advertised... which always seems to make me think advertising is the reason they have so many owners. Like Wayne, when I saw they were leading the polls, I was disappointed... with a "blah" thought about them. Think about the definition of "paradigm"... a typical example of something. These speakers are anything but typical, yet maybe the example of a rarely found fine speaker. They have great imaging, soundstage width and depth... and have some of the best dynamics I have heard in a speaker. I am seriously going to have to give a complete Paradigm system a go in my room at some point in time. I would love to try out the top end of their Signature line in a 5 channel setup, although I imagine I would be quite impressed with a full compliment of their Reference line. Despite my "blah" thoughts, I have to admit that I have always thought their C5 center and C8 towers looked super impressive and muscular... and that center would look impressive sitting up on my cabinet below my screen. I am still not crazy about the woodgrain finish, but I could easily get past that with great sound.

Clean, crisp and clear (clarity) with extreme dynamics is how I describe these speakers. I was totally wrong to think the way I thought about these speakers in the early nominations and polling process. It just proves that biases can be misleading in the biggest of ways. The 60's sounded good up near the wall... the best I have heard from nearly any speaker in my room as far as music is concerned, with regards to them being placed near the screen wall. I have a heavy suspicion they would be an excellent home theater speaker. Without question they make an excellent two-channel speaker and I highly recommend anyone looking for speakers in this price range to give these an audition.
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post #7 of 1088 Old 10-18-13, 11:05 PM
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Wayne Myers
Join Date: Jun 2012
Location: Lincoln, NE
Posts: 4,838
Re: The Official $2,500 Speaker Evaluation / Home Audition Event

SVS Ultra Towers

Optimal Placement
From Front Wall.. From Side Wall.. Speaker To Speaker.. Speaker to Listener Ear.. Toe..
5'9" 4'8" 9'10" 8'8" 25°
Best Placement Near Front Wall
From Front Wall.. From Side Wall.. Speaker To Speaker.. Speaker to Listener Ear..
3'10" 4'9" 10'0" 10'0"
Wayne Myers (AudiocRaver)

  • Design: 3.5-Way rear-ported bass-reflex with two woofers, two midrange drivers, and one dome tweeter
  • Frequency Response: 28 Hz - 32 kHz (± 3 dB)
  • Recommended Power: 20 - 300 W
  • Sensitivity: 88 dB (2.83 V @ 1 meter full-space, 300-3kHz)
  • Impedance: 8 Ohms
  • Woofer Size: 8"
  • Midrange Size: 6.5"
  • Tweeter Size: 1"
  • Top midrange-to-tweeter crossover: 2 kHz
  • Bottom midrange taper frequency: 700 Hz
  • Dual midrange-to-woofer crossover: 160 Hz
  • Dimensions: 45" H X 13.8" W X 16.25" D
  • Weight (Each): ~75 lbs. (18.0 kg)
  • MSRP (Pair): $1,998
The SVS Ultra Tower features a 1 inch tweeter with FEA-optimized diffuser; two 6.5 inch midrange drivers with composite glass-fiber cone and an aluminum shorting ring to reduce gap inductance, lower distortion, and enhance high frequency response, a cast aluminum basket to ensure precise alignment of critical components and additional heat-sinking capacity, and a Vented voice coil former to minimize air compression artifacts at high drive levels; two 8 inch woofers with aluminum shorting rings to reduce gap inductance and lower distortion, a long stroke motor and suspension for high output, and vented voice coil formers to minimize air compression artifacts at high drive levels. The ForceFactor Woofer Array consists of dual 8" side-firing horizontally opposed SVS woofers resulting in mechanical force cancellation, enhanced modal density and reduced distortion for a smooth, accurate bass at all listening locations. The SoundMatch Crossover Network consists of a 3.5-way crossover with premium-grade capacitors, air-core inductors and heavy-trace printed circuit boards.

SVS's Website

Setup and Placement Flexibility

Getting the SVS Ultra Tower to behave the way we wanted it to was an ordeal. They really taxed our patience. Admittedly, not every speaker out there is made to do what we what them to do, even some really nice ones. As we have emphasized, we are looking for a deep soundstage and that requires off-axis orientation relative to the Listening Position (LP). Some speakers handle that well, some do not. The Ultra Tower did not like the idea. Although we ultimately got satisfactory results, we were not blown away by them, and it took degree-splitting toe-in matching and precise measurements double- and triple- and quadruple-checked to get there.

Those final minute adjustments, though, as ridiculous as they seemed even as we were making them, made a huge difference in settling the sound down from rough and undeveloped to very natural and satisfying. And we got a pretty nice soundstage, the main reward for our struggles.

Before we moved them out of the room, their spots on the floor got thoroughly marked with tape and their laser-alignment reference points on the back wall were carefully documented. No way we were going to go through that exercise again.

We are a speaker-designer-stressing bunch, and we are first to admit it. Our listening requirements and goals are NOT TYPICAL. But we also believe we have come across a quality of listening experience that few have an appreciation for, and so there we were, lasers in hand, splitting hairs and complaining about things that have speaker designers wondering what planet we hail from, all for the purpose of spreading the word about that mesmerizing soundstage and what it takes to achieve it.


A lot of people like the SVS Ultra Tower, and there are things about the way it sounds that I really like, too. It is capable of DEEP bass for a speaker its size. It is an innovative design - very cool, forward thinking, with the opposing woofers, non-parallel cabinet walls, the tweeter sandwiched between mid drivers for tight integration of imaging information, innovative driver design. Most innovative speakers do one or two things differently, SVS did almost everything differently, at least a little.

They play loud, handle bass well, have a high end that goes on forever.....

As reviewers and reporters in the audio realm, we have to learn to trust our ears and hearing and impressions. I have learned to do that more and more in recent years, but have also become very aware of how impressionable they can be, susceptible to bias and expectation. They even get overconfident and get fooled sometimes, other times confused. That is when we have to exercise some tough love on them, be willing to test them, question their results. Am I really hearing that? Does it make sense? Why would I hear it, what does it mean? There is nothing wrong with letting our hearing impressions roam free and have a good time with whatever they come up with in private, but when we hope to be able to share them with others meaningfully, even make purchasing recommendations, those impressions need boundaries. We end up walking a line that bounces between devotee and skeptic, advocate and cynic, in relation to our own abilities.

After spending much of the last 24 hours digging through notes and comparing REW plots and reviewing psycho-acoustical principles, I am ready to say this about the SVS Ultra Towers:

They sounded a little over-bright to me.

Overly dramatic? Downright obsessive? Going crazy? Sonnie - bless his heart - will say yes to all three. There are reasons why I struggled with making this statement, and had to be sure it made sense.

My introduction to the SVS Ultra Tower came in October at the Rocky Mountain Audio Fest. One big impression I came away with was that the highs had an iron fist quality about them like they were machined out of steel with the edges left rough and covered with little burrs and snags. I listened at different heights and angles and distances to different kinds of material and could not get past that impression.

I was so relieved to hear the Ultra Tower pair in Sonnie's room. The highs, while quite strong, had an even, honest smoothness that was very listenable, the edges smoothed and rounded, still with the strong shininess of steel, but not harsh or dangerous.

Only later did Sonnie reveal how bright he had found that same Ultra Tower pair when he first heard them (he thought they sounded great at RMAF), and that he found them sounding so much better at our evaluation weekend.

Add to this the difficulty we had in setting them up. These experiences and comments by the other evaluators add up to questions about stability and repeatability. Will they sound the same next time I set them up? Will they be as hard to place? Harder? Part of the character of a speaker is what you grow to expect from it over time. To me, touchy and finicky are not as inviting qualities as dependable and easy.

And over-bright. Which does not make sense when you look at the data, which says they are pretty flat. I have heard flat speakers plenty of times in plenty of rooms and did not think of them as over-bright. But I believe there is an explanation. It will be published in the general observations post, as it applies to the entire weekend of listening and to our listening goals and methods for achieving them. For now, let us say the Ultra Tower high end had a lot of nice qualities, but sometimes was just too hard, too much, too bright.

Frequency Response, Bass Extension

The SVS Ultra Towers have exceptionally flat response above 2 kHz, extending well beyond 20 kHz with no sign of drooping. There is a slight presence peak between 1 and 2 kHz, then steadily increasing bass response down to 60 Hz.

Room EQ Wizard MDAT file for download: SVS Ultra Tower final for download.mdat

The SVS Ultra Towers were simply a bit bright in Sonnie's well-treated room. The bass was very strong, on some tracks pushed way too much. But I prefer flat bass, and the majority of HTS readers lean toward at least some bass emphasis, some a LOT of it (you know who you are!), so the Ultra Tower's bass might be just right for the average reader. Note that the Cedar Creek Cinema room has an audio black hole that gobbles up most vibrations below 50 Hz, except those produced by the eight 18-inch subs themselves - hmmm, the subs acting out on some bass-envy issues, absorbing it all? Intriguing idea. Worth ripping them out to see the difference it makes? Sonnie might object, have to do it when he is not looking. Not a word!

The bass seemed mushy, not as tightly defined as I expected. I remember it being very articulate at RMAF, not stellar, but good for the amount of deep bass coming from a cabinet that size. There is a sense of unevenness to the Ultra Tower sound, through the mids mainly, that made the tonality and definition clarity murky on busier instrumentals.

Those flat tweeters handled cymbals beautifully on Breezin' Along with the Breeze. Cymbals and complex synthesizer harmonics on most tracks really stood out with strength and clarity. The vocal duet on Joan of Arc had a wonderful quality of blending and contrasting at the same time. The delicate drum stick clicks starting Weird Fishes seemed ultra real.

I liked the way sharp vocals sounded, like Lou Reed on Some Kind of Nature, although it was an almost surreal tonality that might wear thin with time.

Soundstage and Imaging

The soundstage was fair-to-good, although the depth definition was rather vague. This is the case with most speakers we have evaluated, so it is not a crippling complaint. The Ultra Tower is a quite listenable speaker.

Imaging was good, a bit soft - grapefruit-sized images from pinpoint-recorded sources - and fairly stable. Driver matching has to be very tight for the best imaging, and the REW plots showed that mid and tweeter matching between cabinets was good but not as good as with many other speakers we have looked at.

The tilted-back front baffle was working against the Ultra Tower now. They were located well away from the LP. That is where we got the best soundstage, but imaging seemed to never settle down to its very best. Experimenting, I raised up about six inches, and there it was - a really solid image and much better clarity in the soundstage. A thick, firm pillow gave the amount of lift needed to reach that high sweet spot nicely. But it broke our LP assumptions and added another variable and had to go. We made do with the lower "normal people" LP.

Power Handling

The SVS Ultra Tower can handle lots of power and play loud comfortably. They are on the low-efficiency side, but we had plenty of clean power to drive them with and I noticed no tendency toward sounding compressed or strained.

Performance Close to the Front Wall:

Up on the Cedar Creek Cinema stage, they were far from their best. Their front face has a backward tilt that wants to sit closer to the listener. There was always a must... sit... higher... sensation with them that far away. Home theater users might want to consider this carefully, as typical setups will locate theater mains well away from listeners. It is not a stage-friendly design, for those with stages in their rooms.

Physical and Visual

I really enjoy working with speakers that look different and that break the rules for how speakers should look. The Ultra Tower boasts a form-follows-function design theme with a futuristic yet simple appearance. They are heavy. The oak veneer finish is easy to like and place in a room.

Overall Listening Experience

As I finished my turn in the LP, I had no trouble turning it over to the next evaluator. I had enjoyed many aspects of the SVS Ultra Tower listening experience, but was ready to move on, felt no compulsion to fight for more listening time.

I AM intrigued by all of the design work that went into those speakers, though. Something tells me we are going to hear great things from SVS in the coming years, and maybe that is the best way to look at the Ultra Tower:
  • Many good qualities.
  • Far from perfect.
  • Jam-packed with innovation and well-thought-out design features -- those guys really did work overtime on these speakers.
  • A little over-bright in our room.
In summary, a speaker that many will like, some will love, and some will find a bit finicky to work with. If you are nuts for the deep soundstage and want to be able to play them off-axis to achieve it, they are not the best choice to work with. But that is not going to be their typical use. If you want to use them on-axis and have a room that is fairly dead at high frequencies, you are going to love the tweeters - if my assumptions are correct about their high end in our room.

What These Speakers Are Best For

The SVS Ultra Tower in a home theater setting almost does not even need a subwoofer in a smaller room that will not be run at bone-crushing volumes. I know, I know, the bass-lovers are already posting about the need for proper sub support, 5-Hz extension, heavy lifting, etc., and they are absolutely right if those are your priorities. For a two-channel guy, remembering how they sounded at RMAF, away from any low-frequency-vibration black holes, their bass would sound pretty awesome to me.

They might be a little unrefined for the most serious two-channel listener. But watch those SVS guys, I have a feeling some really great speakers are going to come through their doors.

Leonard Caillouet (lcaillo)

SVS Ultra Towers on the stage were the most predictable. Closer to the wall the bass emphasis was too much for me and the reflections in the mids and highs smeared detail and left the image flat. Overall it is a good sound, with nice transients, wide soundfield, even on the stage. It was clear that this would be a fine speaker when placed more optimally.

These were a significantly harder to place for a really detailed and precise depth of image and image stability. Even at their best location, image detail seemed to change with frequency. I attribute this to a slight balance difference between the left and right speakers. The toe angle seemed particularly critical. Detail was good, with nice balanced character top to bottom. Overall I found the speakers to lean toward a slight brightness with a little sibilance. The brightness was not extreme, nor offensive, on most tracks, but more a slight emphasis that assists in providing ambiance and clarity. In some cases, however, the edge is too hard, such as trumpet or electric guitars. There is sometimes a fine line between enough detail and brightness. Most speakers that cross that line seem to do so because of either poor balance between the drivers or poor ability to handle transients. I did not hear either here, other than a very slight tendency to sibilance on rising notes. The overall balance is good. Maybe a bit like having a slight loudness contour if you had the speakers near walls or just a little extra treble when placed optimally.

I would like to hear a pair of these with better matching between speakers. Some of the issues may be due to a slight problem with one of the tweeters. If we have learned anything in these listening sessions with many speakers is that there is much more variance within models that we ever expected. Some of that may be shipping related, but some is obviously parts variability. That said, these would perhaps move into the upper tier with a better matched pair. The midrange was clear and musical, the mid-bass that I am very critical of was no issue at all, and bass was both powerful and detailed as deep as just about any of the speakers. They won’t knock you down, but you don’t feel lacking at any point.

Joe Alexander (ALMFamily)

The SVS Ultra's cabinet design starts out with a standard box design, but the front baffle has some contouring and the rear of the cabinet slants back giving the Ultras some character. The finish is the black oak which blends really well in the HT – if I was doing 2 channel I would go with the high gloss.

We started on the stage as usual and had the ports sealed, and these still felt a bit too bass-heavy – they sound a bit boomy to where it seems to overpower the vocals and other instruments in the Jennifer Warnes "Way Down Deep" track. Soundstage was not very deep which we have noticed on pretty much all the speakers - check out our general thoughts and reflections for more on that. Vocals – especially female – do feel a bit bright in comparison to the midrange.

When we moved them to the floor, these seemed to be a bit tricky to locate as we were moving a matter of parts of an inch to try to get the image to tighten up. In the end, we located them closer to the stage and toed them in a bit. After lots of maneuvering, we swapped speakers and discovered a difference in the tonal balancing of the speakers of about 3 db through the midrange. Once we had figured that out, we pressed on realizing this difference existed.

The first thing that I noticed during my listening time in the PLP was there was nowhere near as much boom in the low end - there were several tracks where you could tell a noticeable difference in the tightening of the low end image as well as a tempering of the boom such as the Jennifer Warnes "Way Down Deep" and the Rory Block "The Spirit Remains" tracks. Instrument detail was very good - piano and high hats stood out especially for me on the Ultras. I did note that the female sibilance was a tad harsh on a couple tracks - notably the Nickel Creek "Reasons Why" track. As far as imaging, they did image a bit forward for me which gave me the feeling they were a bit on the bright side. However, they did disappear for me entirely - I could not really point to a specific speaker and say 'the sound is emanating from there'.

Overall, I thought this was a really good speaker - the instrument detail and low end (once they were moved off the stage) both stood out for me. For me personally, I would probably go a different way for two channel speakers as I prefer a bit less low end and more of an open, airy tonality for vocals and high end instruments, but could definitely see myself with these in a HT setup.

Sonnie Parker (Sonnie)

In chatting with Dan Marks at SVS, we had it set for them to ship the Ultra Towers to me right before RMAF, so that they would be waiting on me when I got back. However, to my surprise they got here the first part of October, about two weeks early. Naturally I could not resist taking them on to the house and setting them up for a listen. At that time I did not have the Anthem 225 in yet, so I connected them to my Rogue Cronus Magnum integrated tube amp... which we used during our $1,000 evaluation. After a few placements I was able to get a pretty good soundstage and fairly good imaging, so I continued to listen. The more I listened, the faster my heart beat. I was having a nervous flash because I was hearing a very bright speaker, and was dreading the fact I would have to say so publicly. I even connected them to my Denon 4520 just to make sure it wasn't the amp... yep, same brightness. I had heard these at the Capital AudioFest and never remembered them being anywhere close to this bright. I enjoyed them very much at CAF and was excited about how well they sounded there. I ultimately decided I just needed to wait until they had more time on them and until I had more time to focus on placement, as it could simply be the combination of those two things that were causing the issue.

Fast-forward a couple of weeks to Rocky Mountain Audio Fest and the SVS room. Once again, I did not get a sense of brightness in the Ultra Towers... although I have to admit they did not sound as good in that small room as they did in the much larger room at CAF. I was somewhat relieved and just kept things to myself, not mentioning the brightness to anyone.

Fast-forward to the event. For whatever reasons I had not really thought much more about the brightness I had previously heard... until about the time we were getting ready to bring them into the room. My mind started to working... what would they sound like and would the other guys think they were too bright like I was thinking? I could not tell whether they were bright or not when I was not in the PLP, so I continued to keep quiet. When I first sat down, up near the wall I did not notice them being bright at all... although the bass did seem a bit heavy (and a lot of people will like this bass, especially for movies). For the record, we plugged the ports to help tame some of that bass. However, we knew this would not be their best location for two-channel listening. At CAF and at RMAF, SVS had the Ultra Towers pulled out from the walls, and for good reason, as it improves the sound all around. When it came my time to listen to them out from the wall... I was totally surprised by the difference in what I was hearing. This is when I finally said something to the other guys. Seriously, it was like night and day difference. Was it the break-in time? I have never been one to think much about break-in, but being one that doesn't think I would hear that kind of difference between a tube amp and receiver versus an integrated amp, what else can it be attributed to? Can our ears change what we hear from one day to the next? After giving this even more thought over the last few days... I am now convinced it may have very well been placement. My memory is escaping me for absolute sureness, but I think I had them a good bit closer to the listener, maybe just behind the Arx A5 tape that seems to be a permanent marker on my floor. Moving them farther back could very well tame some of the brightness I was hearing. Whatever the reasons, I was totally relieved, to say the least. I see now that Wayne mentions them being "over-bright", but I think he might be
overly dramatic, possibly downright obsessive, maybe even going crazy. After all... he did just get a little older between the event and this write-up. (You know I love you Wayne!)

I liked the SVS Ultra Towers, especially the bass when they were out into the room a little, although the move was not a lot. We moved them about two feet closer, but it did tame the bass a little and got them down on the floor level, improving a lot of things. So... we can partially blame the stage once again for being in the way. I did note on a few songs they might have still been a bit on the bass heavy side (not excessive by any means)... but on most songs they were just right. As for imaging... I was happy with what I was hearing. Soundstage was good and so was depth of soundstage, although maybe not quite as deep as I have heard, likely because we had them farther back from the listener than most of the other speakers. I think in a home theater setup where these are likely going closer to the front wall and crossed over at 60-80Hz... or serving dual use as mains and subs with Audyssey equalization, they will be excellent. We did not get a chance to hear them this way, but I suggest what I do because of what I heard at CAF and RMAF (I believe the only home theater setup at those shows). The Tron movie sounded spectacular... as was the Sting concert... and even the little bit of opera music we heard (and I am NOT a fan of opera). I wish we had a chance to hear them in my room with the full home theater compliment of Ultra's, but it wasn't to be. To be fair... there were several of these speakers I would like to hear in a full HT setup. Overall, the SVS Ultra Towers are a very good speaker and with a free in-home trial, you will not go wrong giving them a round in your room to see if they fit your wants and desires.
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post #8 of 1088 Old 10-18-13, 11:07 PM
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Wayne Myers
Join Date: Jun 2012
Location: Lincoln, NE
Posts: 4,838
Re: The Official $2,500 Speaker Evaluation / Home Audition Event

General Observations & Summing Up

Room Modes and Common Themes

This is the curve we get by averaging together all of the final measurement data (six per model, 30 total - Leonard's excellent idea) from final speaker locations with various amounts of smoothing. It shows the typical trends we heard, although there were exceptions to some of these trends with certain models.

All that is worth noting in the overly-detailed 48th-octave smoothed plot is the sharp peaks and dips due to room modes, right where Room EQ Wizard's Room Analysis function says they should be. This was expected, since our speaker placement made no effort to reduce these effects. At the $1k event in August, we started out trying to use the Cardas placement guidelines, which focus on reducing room mode effects, but quickly realized that we had to prioritize the soundstage or we would never be satisfied with the end result. We should look at this again and see if there is a way to accomplish both and the same time (great soundstage and more even bass by paying attention to room modes).

The one-octave and third-octave smoothed plots show an overall emphasis trend below 500 Hz. This says that all of the models tested probably had some bass emphasis built in by design.

All the plots show that none of the models could produce bass below the 48 Hz room mode peak, and some should have been able to. Bass traps working overtime? Perhaps. Another area to investigate.

The little emphasis areas at 1.4 and 2.2 kHz on the third- and twelfth-octave smoothed plots show the common elements of designed-in peaks from the various models. This is where designers like to add some emphasis for detail and presence.

The rolloff above 5 kHz in the one-octave smoothed plot resulted from our off-axis aiming to get soundstage depth.

Why The Speakers with the Flat High End Sounded Too Bright

My comments in the SVS Ultra Tower comments inferred some extra thoughts about how we are hearing things in Sonnie's Cedar Creek Cinema. Should a speaker with a super flat high end sound overly bright in a well-treated room? Of course there are many factors that can contribute to this. But it was really bugging me and I had to do some digging. Here is what I think might be going on.
  • In looking at various RT60 plots from measurements taken at the event, there are indications that the room might be more live above 5 kHz than at mid and lower-mid frequencies.
  • Some will argue that this is immaterial, quoting the Precedence Effect, that we tune into the direct wave and it provides the perception of frequency response. To that argument my response is:
    • The Precedence Effect does not state an absolute, it defines a tendency, a propensity. Reflected sound contributes to that perception, and the amount of that contribution depends on a host of factors.
    • In creating the immersive soundstage we are looking for, we are creating a psycho-acoustical illusion in which the reflected and direct sound waves become a unified entity not directly addressed by the Precedence Effect. The fiddle in Ode to a Butterfly does not appear to be coming from either loudspeaker at all, but from a spot just right of center in between and about five feet behind the speaker plane. This way we perceive this unified soundfield entity gives higher priority to the reflected waves in their contribution to perceived frequency response. This is probably the case any time we perceive a deep soundstage that seems completely independent of the speakers.
  • Add these factors together - flat speakers, a room more live at high frequencies, a soundstage that gives reflected sound higher priority than usual - and maybe we have an explanation for that over-bright perception.

  • Three of four listeners thought the SVS Ultra Tower, very flat above 1 kHz, was a bit over-bright, if I remember correctly.
  • The Paradigm Studio 60's slightly cooler at 10 kHz, were bordering on bright.
  • The Dynaudio DM 3/7's, 4 dB cooler than the SVS at 10 kHz, seemed "just right" to everyone.

Three Critical Tools
  1. Our dependence upon a laser for alignment has become so critical that it is hard to call it an accessory any more. It is a critical setup tool. You are wasting precious time if you do not have one for speaker setup. We thought we were being accurate by eyeballing setup angles. When we realized we were not getting good results, we checked with the laser - we were way off, and that was when we thought we were being super careful. It was embarrassing how far off we were. Never again.
  2. The same applies to having a calibrated mic with REW for basic speaker measurements. At both of our evaluation events we had speakers with driver issues. If you are buying, borrowing, setting up, or listening to speakers, get one. Buying speakers without a way to verify you got a good matching pair is downright silly.
  3. And you need a folded-up plush blanket behind your head. Why? Well, it feels good. It also breaks up, or at least softens, reflections off a high chair back that disturb tonality, soundstage, and image clarity and stability. We have found it to be a must-have LP accessory. Plus if you really want to relax with a track that takes you way back, curl up, and suck your thumb, well, you have a nice, soothing, soft blanket handy.

Abolish Home Theater Stages

If you are planning a home theater where 2-channel is at all likely to be a priority, leave out the stage. It might be great for cinema, but for 2-channel listening it puts the speakers too high if you want them close to the wall, and creates a zone around the edge of the stage where you can do nothing at all. The six-inch stage in Cedar Creek Cinema has gotten in the way enough that Sonnie is starting to talk about tearing it out, a major undertaking since all the support lumber is glued to the base slab.

If you are planning a home theater at all, please, please, please do yourself a favor and plan an odd number of seats for the front row so you will have a centered LP.

Speaker Setup Methods

There have been many questions about our speaker setup methods. Ever-evolving, there is an attempt to document the approach, recently posted in the 2-channel forum, you can follow the link to it here.

Too Many Test Tracks?

For this round of evaluations, we cut many of our tracks down to the portions we listen to the most in order to simplify the listening process. We thought it would be nice not to have to jump around so much. Then we added a bunch more track segments. Hey, we love music, and they are some of our all-time favorite tracks. Can you blame us?

There is ongoing debate about whether we need to cut back again. I go back and forth, you can be surprised with an important impression or catch something that you ad not notices before at any point on any track. But some times it is just too much. Most of the critical listening is done with a total of about seven or eight minutes of music total. We might be better off with a reduced set to simplify.

Answer to be determined.

In Praise of Five Loudspeaker Designers

Knowing just a little about what it takes to design and produce products like these really helps give you an appreciation for the fine work they do. Speaker designers are a unique breed. As you work with and listen to these speakers, you start to feel like you are getting a unique view into their minds and passions through their brainchildren brought to life and presented to you for listening pleasure.

Think about it. They take wire and wood and strange matter and metals and they carve and mold and solder and forge and paint and -- plop, there is a speaker that plays music for you. I conversed in detail with two individuals in the last year who took big rusks and started companies designing and building speakers. They both started out pretty much solo as designer, builder, office manager, shipper, and accountant, and built successful companies making speakers for people who love to hear music and movies at home. Kinda cool and kinda scary at the same time. Lesser men might have been driven to crime or mental illness by the pressure they must have put up with. I did circuit and system design for a couple of companies way back, and I can tell you the amount of stuff that ends up buzzing through your brain sometimes seems like it could just as easily power a Deathstar or turn your gray matter in jelly, and sometimes you're not sure which is happening at a given moment. Hats off to Dynaudio, Emerald Physics, Magnepan, Paradigm, and SVS Sound, especially to the nutty-obsessive-visionary-audioloving brains who think of the DM 3/7, CS2P, 1.7, Studio 60, and Ultra Tower as their little wooden boys brought to life. You guys do good work.

If you have read our assessments, you know there were favorites and models that did not fare so well. It was a mixed weekend. In our listening order:

I think of the CS2P as a unique kind of speaker for a certain kind of listener, completely out of the box - heh, heh, they left the box right out of the design - and raw and primal, like a speaker that started out as a single cell and crawled out of the slime and and grew up from there. It did not quite mold to our wishes, but it showed us it knew how to put on a concert. The CS2P takes me back to early rock concerts with stacks of speakers and exposed cones and horns looking like leftovers from from a hundred audio garage sales all piled up on the stage and searing your ear drums with wicked, loud, clean rock and roll magic. Kinda like that. A fun speaker, the CS2P. (Probably lost a few hearing sensors just thinking about it.)

In the Ultra Tower, I see great possibility, real innovative stretches. Again, we made it jump through hoops it had little or no training for. Ever go to a junior-high track meet and get told to run the high hurdles in a race for the first time in your life? Was that me that did that? Not sure, kinda blocked it out. Let's just say it wasn't pretty, gut banged up a bit. But survived to run another day. The Ultra Tower will run in a lot of races, and win some, might even have a relative show up at one of our future meets and extract a little friendly revenge, and I would love it. A lot of cool things going on with that speaker.

The DM 3/7 cast a bit of a spell on me, a box made in the northern-European forests by elves and wizards, full of fine gears and clockwork and when you plug it in a scene is reenacted before your ears and pure audio somehow ends up in your brain. I kinda liked 'em, yeah, and they got the soundstage thing like they had practiced it for decades, "Oh, sure, the deep soundstage trick, you mean like this? Easy, want to hear anything else?" What I did not like about them was..... well, I got nothing. It was a nice speaker.

The Maggie 1.7 is like from another dimension with different physics and carrying a virus from which there is no recovery - my initial infection was by the MG 12/QR. The 1.7 showed up and performed some marvelous feats of clarity and transparency, and while it did not do quite what we asked, it managed to remind me what panels are capable of. I still see a strong possibility of being a panel speaker owner some day.

The Studio 60 had me at "Hello." Not perfect, but so versatile and so wonderfully boring that you could forget you owned it - except for the looks - and just hear a lot of great music with no fuss or bother. "Speakers? Oh, yeah, Studio 60. Over there somewhere, must be, because the tunes sound so right. That's Paradigm for you." Probably do dishes and yard work, too.

Another great round of speakers. Hats off to their makers.

Should We Be Reported As Loudspeaker Abusers?

At the risk of being overly repetitive, At the risk of being overly repetitive, At the risk of being overly repetitive...

Sorry, getting a little post crazy here.

Seriously, we have said it before but it bears repeating...

In some ways, our evaluations turn into a kind of speaker stress test. In order to get the kind of deep soundstage we are looking for, we often end up breaking normal recommended setup rules and forcing these poor speakers to do things they were not intended for by their designers.

I can hear them cringing as they read about our methods, "Are you crazy, do you not know what an equilateral triangle is?" "What, you are almost thirty degrees off the tweeter axis, are you insane?" "You idiots, my speaker design was never meant to do that! What are you thinking? Who do you think you are, treating my speaker like that and writing a review about it?"

Here is who we think we are:
  • We love good music like you would never believe! More than once I have seen some of these guys wipe a tear or take a moment to compose himself after hearing a favorite track over a new favorite set of speakers set up just right.
  • We love great sound. The deep, precise soundstage that we describe is not the only way to listen to music. But it is terribly addictive, and the only way any of us would dream of listening to our music. Give one of us a $20,000 setup - even cut the price in half, let us have it for a mere $10,000 - perfect in every way, but not able to deliver that kind of soundstage, and we will yawn and pack it up and send it back for a refund. I have seen it done. Recently.
  • We love trying out new speakers. Man is it fun! It is work, too, the way we do it, long days and nights, heavy lifting, late flights, days away from family - but it is more fun in a weekend than most people have in a year.
  • We love (meaning obsess over) paying attention to detail and using the most rigorous and objective methods imaginable.
  • We love sharing what we have discovered. Hearing it is fun. Figuring out how to share the experience with all the fine HTS readers is a whole new dimension of fun.
  • We love reading someone's post that they have just had a neat new kind of listening experience that we have helped in some small way to lead them toward.
THAT is who we think we are. A few audio nuts spreading the word about a certain kind of listening experience with all kinds of neat, fine speakers.

Are we unfair in how we go about it? Some might think so. We hope not. We do not feel we are being unfair. We are being honest about our approach and giving every benefit of the doubt and pointing out all the positives we can think of, even with speakers that do not meet our objectives.

Be sure that we never set up a speaker to fail. You might say that we are loudspeaker liberals (or you might not) in that we wish every speaker we work with to succeed and give it every possible chance to do so. (Please, no objections to my use of a normally politically charged term, just using it to make a point in a lighthearted way! Pretty please!) Truly, we treat every speaker with care and appreciation for its efforts, and every willing sponsor or supplier with appreciation for supporting our events. Where we run into a problem, we work with suppliers constructively - in August we ran into a driver issue which led a supplier to improve quality processes and will ultimately improve their product and satisfy more customers. Win-win!

We believe we are doing something that benefits the home theater/two-channel audio community. The fact that we break a few conventions and bend a few rules of thumb along the way says only that we will not settle for reporting on a second-rate kind of listening experience. We think you deserve the best information of this kind and hope you are thinking of Home Theater Shack as the surest place to find it.

Speaker abusers? Nay, we are PIONEERS! OK, ok, that is pushing it a little. I can feel Sonnie revving up one of his death stares down in Alabama. Just joking, easy Sonnie!

Final thought on the topic: No speakers were harmed or abused in the completion of these evaluations.

Final final thought on the topic..... Zowie! My music server just broke into song spontaneously! Must be a sign, time to wrap it up!

Until our next evaluation event - HAPPY LISTENING!

Wayne Myers


Thanks, Leonard and Joe. These are great guys, truly professional, and a treat to work with. I learn something from them every time I turn around.

Thanks, Mark Seaton, special guest, and another great guy. My next task is writing a detailed review of his speakers and his absolute wizardry with Sonnie's subwoofers. Coming right up.

Thanks, Angie and Gracie, wonderful hostess and funny furry feline mascot. Thanks for putting up with us again.

Thanks, sponsors, for trusting us with your products.

Thanks, HTS members and readers. Serving and communicating with you is a pleasure.

Thanks, Sonnie. You throw one mean audio party! You Rat! And the BBQ absolutely rocked! Thanks for everything.
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post #9 of 1088 Old 10-18-13, 11:08 PM Thread Starter
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Posts: 22,577
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Re: The Official $2,500 Speaker Evaluation / Home Audition Event

Closing Thanks and Appreciation!

This completes our first round of $2,500 speaker evaluations... although we will probably bump the second round to $3,000 (2,500 - 3,500). More on this later.

We appreciate all the manufacturers who participated and apologize for anything that may have possibly hindered any of the speakers from sounding their best, namely the 6 inch high stage I have up near my front screen wall. We also know that you take a hit on these speakers, especially when you send us new speakers, and again, we appreciate your willingness to do so, and the willingness to hear us out with our thoughts, despite them not always being what you may want to hear. We hope you respect our integrity and honesty in reporting our thoughts.

I want to also give a huge thanks to Wayne, Leonard and Joe for leaving their families behind for a few days and joining their other families (the Parker family and the audio enthusiast family) for a few days. Then going back home and doing more by taking time to write-up their impressions.

Thanks to Mark Seaton for driving down with a Jeep load of his speakers and letting us review them... and especially thanks for helping me get better results from my subs... a remarkable improvement just when I thought they could not get any better.

And once again to Wayne... for doing all the extra leg work for us... for having fabulous ears and for having near OC behavior about all you do, desiring it to meet a high standard of excellence. I am not sure what more we or our readers could desire. We truly appreciate your efforts.

Last but certainly not least... we appreciate our readers and members, along with your comments. We truly hope you have enjoyed it and that it has been and will be a great reference tool for you in your search for the perfect speakers in your room. Please always keep in mind that NOTHING can replace the need for you to hear these speakers for yourself to make a final decision. Your ears are ultimately the most important ones to help you select the right speakers for you.
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post #10 of 1088 Old 10-19-13, 02:30 AM
West Hubbard
Join Date: Oct 2007
Location: New York
Posts: 32
Re: The Official $2,500 Speaker Evaluation / Home Audition Event

This is a really fantastic idea and I'm looking forward to the results. I feel the $2,500 price range, while "high" is a fantastic area where price meets quality. With a test like this, the results, while subjective, should give future buyers a good understanding of the products in that range.

One thing that may be nice to do would be have the listeners post their own home setups so we get a feel for their own personal tastes.
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$2 , 500 , audition , evaluation , event , home , official , speaker

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