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The Official $1,000 Speaker Evaluation / Home Audition Event Results

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This is... The Official $1,000 Speaker Evaluation / Home Audition Event Results Thread

Speakers (Left to Right): Magnepan MG12, Tekton Model Lore, Vandersteen 2Ce, Focal Chorus 716v, HTD Level THREE, MartinLogan Motion 12, Klipsch RF-62 ll, Arx A5


We did it! It was a major undertaking, but we really did it. For the full low down, please see The Official $1,000 Speaker Evaluation / Home Audition Event Thread, which explains the event in detail. To summarize, I was looking for a pair of speakers for my two-channel setup within my dedicated home theater room. I selected 8 speakers that I was interested in hearing and that I was able to obtain for $1,000 or less (plus reasonable shipping) and a panel of four of us got together to evaluate and audition the speakers in my home. We allowed members to vote on the speakers I would select, with those voting correctly being entered into a $500 cash giveaway drawing. Here are the speakers chosen for the event and the final voting results:

The winner of the $500 Cash Giveaway will be announced in our HTS Newsletter that will publish in the next couple of days. We want to thank everyone for voting and for all the participation on the event and voting thread.

A special note about the event and the speakers... Please keep in mind that some of these speakers may have performed better in different circumstances, different surroundings, differently treated rooms, and with different amps (specifically more power). The choice I made is based on the environment and equipment that was used during this evaluation and that will continue to be my preferences for use. It is pretty obvious that several of the speakers not chosen have significant ownership and have been the subject of profoundly respectable and favorable reviews by some of the best listeners in the industry. Ownership numbers usually do pretty well at representing the quality of a product and how well it performs. The point being... if you own any of the speakers not chosen, the fact that they were not chosen, in no way insinuates they are inferior to any other speaker. Our comments and choices are not intended to offend anyone. Hopefully you purchased your speakers because they sounded the best in your room with your equipment. Remember too that people have different tastes, and as previously eluded to, vastly different setups where speakers can and will sound differently. There is no reason to get mad or upset because someone prefers another speaker other than the one you own. It is all a matter of what we like best and making a choice with which we will be happy. Having said all that, if you have not had a chance to hear the speakers I have chosen and are looking to purchase a new pair, or upgrade your current speakers, we obviously recommend you give them a trial. You may very well find them to your liking just as I did.

Associated Equipment and Comments on Use
  • OPPO BDP-105 Universal Player - Recently reviewed by Luther Ward (Wardsweb) of HTS: OPPO BDP-105 Universal Player Review. Thanks OPPO for being a sponsor and providing many of our members with superb products that continually garner rave reviews and compliments. I think I have seen this one unit used more at audio shows than any other player. It just flat out sounds good with home theater and two-channel music. We mainly played one CD of .wav files we made with 12 songs mostly made up of songs by artists I listen to frequently and all of which I consider excellent for demo. Wayne (AudiocRaver) included two songs by the B-52's and one song from Nickel Creek that were also excellent choices for demo music. I truly appreciated the Nickel Creek - Ode To A Butterfly song for imaging of several instruments on stage, particularly the deep bass that presented itself behind and between the fiddle and guitar. Another great song was Three Wishes by Roger Waters... with some really neat phasing tricks. For the initial auditioning we all listened to these same songs for every speaker pair. Here is the list of specific songs we used:

    • B-52's - Ain't It A Shame
    • B-52's - Revolution Earth
    • Flim & The BB's - Funhouse
    • Melody Gardot - Baby I'm A Fool
    • Kenny Wayne Shepherd - While We Cry (Live)
    • Lynyrd Skynyrd - Simple Man
    • Nickel Creek - Ode To A Butterfly
    • Phil Collins - I Don't Care Anymore
    • Roger Waters - Three Wishes
    • Pink Floyd - Dogs Of War
    • Spyro Gyra - Breakfast At Igors
    • Yello - La Habanero

  • Rogue Cronus Magnum Integrated Tube Amp - A 100 WPC (8Ω) integrated tube amp with KT-120 tubes. This is a highly regarded and well reviewed integrated tube amp that was used for the entirety of the evaluation and audition. We appreciate Rogue and their willingness to participate in this event. The Rogue sounded great right out of the box, but really shined by the end of the 150+ hours break-in... and all during the event. It looks serious and possesses amazing clarity, imaging and soundstage. We were all very impressed with the unit. If you are looking for a tube amp... this one is highly recommended. I have been enjoying it for several weeks now.

  • RAM Electronics Custom XLR and RCA Cables - "RAM-Flex" Stereo Cable with silver plated RCA connectors using Belden 1505F wire and sleeved with ViaBlue braid. We had RAM custom build these for us in 20', 6' and 18" lengths, including a 6' pair terminated with balanced XLR connectors. It seems a lot of readers are not aware that RAM, a sponsor here at HTS, will custom build just about any cable you can think of... just tell them what you want and they will fix you up. Their service is awesome, as is the quality of their cables. These are good looking, good quality cables that are very reasonably priced. RAM does not play around... you order up what you want and in a few days it is on your doorstep. Compare RAM to places like Blue Jeans Cable and you will be saving money

  • RAM Electronics Custom Speaker Cables - "Ram-Flex Custom Series" 11 AWG Canare 4S11 speaker cable sleeved with ViaBlue braid and terminated with gold plated locking banana plugs. These are also good looking high quality speaker cables that will not break the bank. We all fell in love with these speaker cables... they performed flawlessly and in no way hindered or colored the sound. These locking banana plugs are awesome! I will be ordering more in the next couple of days to use on my home theater mains and center.

  • SVSound SB12-NSD Subwoofer - Intentionally we did not use the SVS sub until after I made my final choice for speakers. After moving this thing around the room fifty-eleven times, holding it up at my waist and placing it on top of everything possible, all while measuring sweeps with REW, we found the best location in the right front of the room, just in front of the stage angling in toward the listening position. It blends seamlessly with the speakers of choice and adds just the right amount of bass to fill out that lowest octave found in some songs. This is an awesome little sub that does not get in the way. It is tight, fast, detailed and just flat out sounds musical... not sure I could ask for any better. If you are looking for a sub to compliment your two-channel system, look no further than the SVSound SB12-NSD... and then come on back to me and say "thanks Sonnie". A BIG THANKS to SVSound for being a sponsor here at HTS since our first year of operation in 2006... and thanks for continually making great subs!

Note on equipment not used: There was some equipment we had scheduled to use, but in view of the time constraints we were not able to use it. We decided to go strictly with the Rogue Integrated Tube Amp because we did not get the Jolida and Emerald Physics amps in until the starting day of the event. The Rogue already had approximately 150+ hours on it. Jolida and EP recommend a minimum of 150-200 hours on their amps prior to use. In addition, Jolida sent their 3502 integrated amp with EL34 tubes, which is not the sound I am looking for with the music I listen to, so using it was a moot point. We assumed 6550 tubes were going to be included, but they were not. Jolida was very understanding of our desires and sent return labels to send the products back, as was Walter at Underwood HiFi (our sponsor). He has agreed to send me an Audio Space Galaxy 88 Integrated Tube Amp and a DSPeaker to try out. We also did not have time to sample any vinyl. My main source is .wav files via the OPPO, and only occasionally the turntable, therefore it was not a priority. We also did not use the Denon 4520, as I do not care what the speakers will sound like on that amp because I do not plan to use it. I want this system to use a tube amp and the Rogue presented itself very nicely.

Setup and Listening Priorities

Prior to the evaluation, new speakers were played for 50-60 hours each, with the exception of the Tekton Model Lores, which were not delivered until the day before the event started, thus they only received about 12-14 hours of break-in time. We do not believe this would have made any difference in our final decision. I have had some people mention to me that some speakers take upwards of 150-200 hours of break-in to sound their best. This may be so, but I believe these changes are subtle and would not play a significant role in influencing my decision of which speakers to choose.

The evaluation/listening process consisted of one of us sitting in the main listening position (center front row of the theater room) where I would normally sit, with only the speakers currently being evaluated in the room, as they would be during my normal two-channel listening. All other speakers were placed in the hallway outside of the room. Those of us not listening were generally either sitting on the back row or not in the room.

We opted for a wide soundstage, as most of the music to be experienced on these speakers will be the kind that is mixed with no soundstage scale realism in mind, like you might want for orchestra or a musical, but rather for effect, such as music where mix and effects and ambiance can be as much a part of the performance as the notes. Frequency response was allowed to fall where it may if placement ended up very far off-axis. This choice can be a matter of personal preference for different listeners. In our case we all agreed this would be the priority.

Imaging and soundstage work together closely. And although a wide soundstage often tends to stretch and widen the apparent individual images in a mix, we had high expectations for delivery of tight, concise imaging at the same time.

Speaker angling, or toe-in, is often a variable in getting the best soundstage and imaging. Speakers with wide dispersion will allow this with little affect on frequency response, as the listener might be well off-axis. Not all speakers are very forgiving in this respect. Even with frequency response a lower priority than the above qualities, we still expected it to be very good, with no obvious sacrifice being apparent in normal listening.

Listening volume level varied from whisper quiet (occasionally) to a strong 85 dB SPL much of the time, and got pushed well into the 90 to 95 dB range at times, where power handling could become an issue. Expectations were that no obvious breakup or clipping or bottoming out would occur even when being pushed hard.

Definitions for good imaging and good soundstage vary widely. Here is the way we discussed what we were hearing:
  • Imaging: The clear, precise location of a single voice, instrument, or sound source in the mix. At its best, the position and size of that sound is bedrock stable, not moving or shifting on different notes, never smearing or shifting or wandering, but owning its spacial location with authority, as though carving a spot in space. There is no doubt where it is located... it is right there, you can measure it down to the inch, including distance from the listener - partly a soundstage quality, as the two are always intertwined.

  • Soundstage: The three-dimensional spacial arrangement of those individual sounds in the listening area in front of the listener, although sounds can come from surprising directions at times. At its best, a soundstage is completely natural, seamless, cohesive, convincing in the illusion that you are in a new room and a new setting altogether. A soundstage is primarily two-dimensional, with width and depth as controlled by the mix, but vertical effects are possible as well, resulting from speaker driver arrangement, room acoustics, and at times from mixing techniques.
The two work hand-in-hand. In our experimentation, the best speaker placement and angle for one was always best for the other, too.

The Listening Room

The room was excellent for our purposes, a dedicated home theater room, symmetrical and rectangular, fully carpeted with acoustical treatment on side walls and ceiling, large corner bass traps in front from floor to ceiling, a centered Primary Listening Position (PLP), lots of space to work with, and well-controlled early reflections and ambiance. One slight drawback was the almost exact centering of the PLP in the room, a choice driven by practicalities and not a variable, a position known to be susceptible to standing waves and problematic for smooth bass frequency response.

As shown below, the RT60 reverb time for the room is very well-controlled, 0.2 seconds overall, and below 0.3 seconds clear down almost to 100 Hz. This is a nice level of control with enough ambient liveliness to aid soundstage and image development.

Inspection of the final choice speaker location early reflections revealed opportunities for further reduction of early reflections off the side and back (behind the listener) walls, a matter that will continue to be pursued. The side walls already had absorptive panels properly placed for the cinema mains and center speaker reflection points, but the placement for 2-channel listening made for new reflection angles to be considered.

Only the speakers being evaluated were in the room, while the others were placed outside the room in the entrance hallway.

Sonic Results By Wayne Myers (AudiocRaver)

Soundstage and Imaging: Results were almost always very good - none of the speakers tested fell flat altogether - and were sometimes sensational. The best examples extended from wall to wall in width, six feet and more beyond the width of the speakers on each side, and from listener to front wall of the theater room, a good eight feet, and floor to ceiling, with every sound source located with laser precision and sharpness. The effect was completely seamless, speakers simply disappeared allowing no clues that they were the true source of what we were hearing. The voices, instruments, and sounds had reach-out-and-touch reality.

Hunting Techniques for Ideal Soundstage and Imaging: It was nothing short of fascinating to see how soundstage and imaging changed with speaker position (except for the Klipsch model). They did not steadily ramp toward the ideal as the speakers moved in the direction of the sweet position, coaxing "Warmer, warmer, almost there..." For most of the speakers we worked with, most positions gave fair-to-good results which varied with position - distance from the listener, width apart, and toe-in angle relative to the listener, always with room and listener symmetry - in ways that were hard to describe. Depth of soundstage and tightness of imaging were the most noticeable variables.

A listener would sit in the LP seat while two others moved the speakers from location to location. The listener might lean forward or move several feet on hands and knees. We probably looked quite comical at times, if not obsessive-compulsive.

Then as the sweet position was finally located, IF it was, the qualities we were listening for always went from fairly good to near-perfect in one move, like there was an invisible circle two feet in diameter, and we were either in it or out of it. We either had A-to-A-plus-grade sonics or C-grade sonics, never terrible and never just pretty good. For the speakers that imaged well, there were no B-grade areas and no areas of total failure. We ventured a guess, and continue to suspect, that most nice speakers like the ones we auditioned are heard by most listeners in C-quality positioning, simply because of the patience required in finding the "A" circle and the willingness to leave the speakers there regardless of inconvenience, or to mark the spot and move them there for listening.

For one case where we were never satisfied that we had found the A-grade speaker location, we will never know if it did not exist or if we just missed it.

Once we had A-quality soundstage and imaging, a few minor adjustments were tried for optimization. Toe-in played a huge role in depth and width of soundstage once "in the circle." With a few final moves, the hunt was complete.

We used Nickel Creek's Ode To A Butterfly as our soundstage/imaging hunting song. The simplicity of the recording made it easy to visualize image clarity and a seamless and deep soundstage as they appeared. When we thought we had it nailed, we checked with a few more songs to be sure. Only with the Tekton Lore's did we flub a little. We had settled for C-level sonic quality, but later the listener leaned way forward in the LP chair and found that the "A" position circles were about two feet closer to the LP. Then their positioning got corrected and they gave us their best show.

Frequency Response, Bass Extension: With optimum position for soundstage and imaging, we chose not to experiment with speaker setup if there was a portion of the frequency response range the seemed "off" in some way. The opportunity was there, but we had our priorities set and stuck to them. At no time in the setup experimentation phase did anyone notice an obvious sacrifice being made in frequency response as we played with off-axis angles.

After listening, we took a set of six frequency measurements using Room EQ Wizard, as follows:
  1. left speaker, mic at left ear position
  2. left speaker, mic at center ear position
  3. left speaker, mic at right ear position
  4. right speaker, mic at right ear position
  5. right speaker, mic at center ear position
  6. right speaker, mic at left ear position
Averages of the three left and three right curves were generated and are shown with each speaker's evaluation. The REW .mdat file with those two averages is included for download if desired.

In case you are not aware... Room EQ Wizard is a free software program available for download ONLY at Home Theater Shack.

Note: There is a standing wave null in the room that caused a notch at 90 Hz in our measured curves for every speaker type, so make no assumptions about that particular area of a speaker's bass performance based on our data.

Bass extension and authority were priorities in the making of the final choice, so we paid particular attention to bass strength and depth. This ended up being where Power Handling capabilities were stretched to the limit as well...

Oh and BTW... since we are on sonics and bass extension, we all watched Oblivion on Friday night from midnight on and actually kept our eyes open (for the majority of it anyway). Seriously though, how could you close your eyes with all that infrasonic bass coming from eight eighteens? :hsd: Great movie indeed!

Bass Frequency Comparison Chart

The chart below is an attempt to show the relative bass response for our evaluation models as we heard them in the listening room. A single plot represents the average of all six measurements for each model from the LP. The data for each was averaged above 150 Hz and normalized to 75 dB. The data below 150 Hz is shown with 1/6 octave averaging so we can have a readable chart.

There is a standing-wave null in the room that causes a notch at 90 Hz, clearly visible with less smoothing applied. It occurs with all of the speaker models to some degree. So the dip in the region of 90 Hz might or might not exist for a given model in another room.

The comparison chart seems to reflect what we heard fairly well. The HTD Level THREE Towers and the Tekton Model Lore's are shown with bass that is strong, quite even, and that goes deeper than most other models we auditioned. Both peak with a 6 dB boost at 65 Hz and hold strong with 4 dB of boost down to 45 Hz before their falloff points. I think we all appreciate the bass from both the THREE's and the Lore's, especially on Revolution Earth, a song that covers the entire frequency spectrum evenly and has a firm bass guitar part with a very steady level throughout. That bass part was given a emphasis without getting boomy or flabby by both the THREE's and the Lore's.

The depth is especially noted coming from the Lore's on the Phil Collins kick drum, the lowest note of which is seen centered at 45 Hz with spectrum analysis. Our comparison chart has The Model THREE's playing stronger through the upper-bass and into the low-midrange frequencies. This difference - with the Lore's not as strong in the upper bass region - might have helped them give the impression that they were digging down deeper on just the right notes and sounds.

Phil Collins Kick Drum on I Don't Care Any More. Note the strong bass peak at 45 Hz.

Voice of the Genie on Three Wishes. Note the bass energy between 40 and 50 Hz. The track was attenuated 6 dB so the peak would not go off-chart.

Bass perception for the Magnepan MG 12/QRs was that they could sound strong in the bass with the right material, but not often because of weak upper bass. They had the most laid back bass in general of the speakers we tried, but on certain notes - BOOM! - they gave a surprising amount of kick. They stood out on Phil's kick drum, although not like the Lore's or Model THREE's, and the comparison chart shows the band from 60 to 70 Hz is weak by up to 5 dB. This made tracks like Ain't It A Shame and Ode To A Butterfly feel slightly anemic. Both songs have steady bass lines with the lowest frequencies right at 60 Hz. Down at 45 Hz, however, the Magnepans are almost as strong as any speaker we tested and can show it -- wait for it -- -- -- -- on certain notes, -- -- -- -- when they show up.

Then there was the matter of splattery breakup during Three Wishes, an unpardonable transgression by our standards for the weekend. As a spectrum analysis of the 5-second phrase starting at 2:30 on the track shows, there is a huge amount of energy between 40 and 50 Hz to be handled - the track had to be attenuated 6 dB for the peak to even stay within the bounds of the analysis screen. It might have been a deadly combination, the big energy peak falling right into the resonance of the MG 12/QRs' one big bass show-off peak, and it leaves one wondering about the wisdom of that kind of bass profile in design terms.

The Klipsch RF-62 II design also had a one-peak bass profile, higher in the spectrum at 65 Hz. We never thought to try to stress it in particular. Could it be as much a weakness as a strength? Notice in the 1/12th octave smoothed frequency response diagrams elsewhere that those peaks are very pronounced for both the RF-62's (close to 10 dB above the average) and the MG 12's (only 3 dB above the overall average, but 6 dB above the average for the bass range below 200 Hz). Those are big peaks, and peaks mean resonances, sometimes well-damped and sometimes not. This is only a question, not a declaration of a design weakness. Future evaluations might give us opportunity to delve into the question deeper.

More on the RF-62's. That 65 Hz peak providing their bass emphasis was slightly too identifiable - slightly, not so much as to be a turn-off. As an example of that kind of emphasis, though, it helped us see that we much preferred a broader-shaped emphasis profile, like the HTD, MartinLogan, Arx, and Tekton designs offered.

The Focal Chorus 716V's also have a broader LF emphasis profile, but were simply a bit heavy bass-wise. This difference is captured on the comparison chart. At their highest - 65 Hz - their emphasis goes a good 3 to 6 dB beyond the others with boost at that frequency.

The MartinLogan Motion 12's and the Arx A5's had almost identical bass profiles - almost. Here the comparison chart misses something we clearly heard, which was that the Motion 12's had noticeably stronger bass than the A5's. It was a difference that took side-by-side comparison to be sure of, but it was there.

So the chart does a pretty good job of capturing what we heard. It is not perfect, but comes very close. It is difficult to determine the best frequency for calling the beginning of bass frequencies - 120 Hz seems right musically, but upon seeing the 150 Hz chart results, including some of the lower-mid range above that, seems to help one see how the bass ties in with the rest of the frequency range.

Power Handling: Our standard became the Genie's deep voice in Three Wishes by Roger Waters. If that could not be handled, the speakers were out.

Listener Position Flexibility: Two-channel listening like this is a one-at-a-time experience. In order to share it, you give up the captain's chair, "You take a turn." With some of these speakers, the listener's head could move very little without losing the effect. In all cases, the soundstage shifts somewhat with head movement. This is the nature of the two-channel beast. Some listeners will sacrifice top-notch imaging and soundstage for listener position (LP) flexibility. We chose to sacrifice personal comfort (almost) for the sake of the listening experience. Don't want the sound to move around? Then SIT STILL! And enjoy it. No problem, we did.

LP flexibility varied widely. Some speakers allowed broad head movement with little sonic change. In a few cases, the soundstage remained distinctive, while not optimum, from almost anywhere in the room behind the PLP.

Speaker Placement Flexibility: Some of our specimens gave good results almost anywhere but really shone at their placement sweet spot, which could be fairly broad. Others had to be placed perfectly, as any other position a few inches or degrees off was sorely lacking. One pair could be placed almost anywhere - with room symmetry - with barely a shift in soundstage and imaging.

Speaker Evaluation Post Outline

The next eight posts are for each individual speaker we evaluated. Each post will include common information for each speaker as follows:

  • Speaker Brand / Model
  • Configuration / Specifications
  • Setup / Placement Flexibility
  • Frequency Response / Bass Extension
  • Power Handling
  • Evaluation Panel – Individual Thoughts and Comments
Wayne’s (AudiocRaver) Observations will include a more detailed analysis of each of the speakers, while the remaining panelist will simply give a summary of our observations.

As a side note: Quenten (Tonto) did not arrive until after the event had started and had to leave just before the evaluation of the finalist, therefore his observations are limited accordingly.

The final post of the Results portion of the thread, will be the Summary and Conclusion, which will announce the chosen speaker for my two-channel system.
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1 - 20 of 160 Posts
Magnepan MG12/QR Speakers - Review and Observations

Magnepan MG12/QR

  • Design: 2-Way Quasi-Ribbon Planar-Magnetic Flat-Panel Dipole
  • Frequency Response: 45Hz – 22kHz (+/- 3db)
  • Recommended Power: 100-250W
  • Sensitivity (2.83v / 1 Meter): 86 dB
  • Impedance: 4 Ohms
  • Woofer Size: 8.5” x 43.5”
  • Tweeter Size: 2” x 38”
  • Crossover: 600Hz Acoustical
  • Dimensions: 52.5” H x 17” W x 1.5” D
  • Weight (Each): ~30 lbs.
The MG 12/QR is a 2-way flat-panel dipole system with 369 square inches of thin-film planar bass and a 38-inch long, line source quasi-ribbon tweeter.

Setup and Placement Flexibility

Getting the MG 12/QRs set up right took some doing. Placement is absolutely critical. We were splitting inches to get them positioned with symmetry to the room and to the Listening Position (LP). They ended up angled straight on axis with the listener's ears. More than once we had them "close" and decided to take measurements again, and a seemingly insignificant symmetry adjustment would significantly change the soundstage.

There was no reason to be concerned about off-axis frequency response sacrifice. They were dead-on-axis or nothing sounded right. Think digitally when setting up Magnepans, the setup is right or it is wrong, there is no in-between.

Our final positioning had the Magnepans spaced very wide in the room. We tried out a more typical narrower positioning and ended up with a soundstage that had little width or depth, and that did not satisfy our predetermined goal.

Final placement measurement from front center baffle of speaker: To Back Wall = 7'8" | To Side Wall = 5'2" | Spkr To Spkr = 9'2" | To Listening Position = 7' | Toe-in = 30°

Frequency Response, Bass Extension

The MG 12/QRs are fairly flat above 250 Hz. There is a broad peak at 2 KHz that emphasizes detail, then a gradual downward trend above that, but the overall treble profile is fairly bright. Below 200 Hz there is a step down giving overall bass levels that are slightly lower than flat, with peaks at 75 and 45 Hz that lend strength to certain bass tones. Bass response extends to 40 Hz.

Room EQ Wizard MDAT file for download: View attachment 1MagnepanMG12QR-LRA-final.mdat

Power Handling

The genie's deep voice in Three Wishes caused a bit of breakup at one point, just a short splatter, but enough to be a distraction. A fair test? Set up with a solid subwoofer and crossed over at 60 to 80 Hz, it never would have been an issue, but we had our priorities set, made our notes, and forged ahead.

Evaluation Panel - Thoughts and Comments

Wayne's Observations:


When first hearing this pair of "Maggies," different descriptive words came to mind than usually do when I am evaluating speakers, like:
  • Snap
  • Slap
  • Glassy
There was a very real sensation of speed, responsiveness, dexterity. It was almost as though the initiation of air movement somehow involved the cracking of a whip. Other speakers in our lineup had some of this quality also, but none with as snappy a delivery as the MG 12/QRs.

At 85 to 90 dB listening levels in our room, the MG 12/QRs stayed super-clean and ultra-transparent, like the window you walk into by accident because you could not see it was there. When pushed beyond that, there was a slight sense of strain, but that might have been our Rogue power amp's tubes running into soft clipping, too. The MG 12/QRs are power hungry panels, as is magnetic-planar technology in general, so they benefit from power amps with lots of headroom. I give them high marks for clarity at the volumes levels we were using the most.

The splatter from the genie's voice had me wondering if such inefficient speakers could handle a larger room deadened by acoustical treatments the way ours was. But the dipole flat panel design needs some space to be at their best, so this is the application they were meant for.

Soundstage and Imaging:

The soundstage delivered by the Magnepans was wide and deep, not the best we heard, but NICE, very clear and cohesive and extending beyond the speakers in width.

Some speakers can create a large soundstage that feels pieced-together, a mosaic of little soundstages that do not quite fit, failing to create the illusion of another space being delivered for you to explore. The MG 12/QRs presented a seamless soundstage with ease.

While slightly soft, imaging was very well behaved. The tweeters are vertical strips in the planar design positioned on the outsides of the panels, and I thought this might lead to the treble sounds on female voices sounding wider than the rest, but that never occurred to an obvious degree. One of my favorite imaging test tracks is Ain't It A Shame, by the B-52's. Cindy Wilson's voice was recorded with an enhanced sheen that extends to well above 10 KHz. Any frequency or phase mismatching of mid- or high-frequency drivers will have her concisely-recorded voice, alone in the center of the mix for much of the song, smearing to one side or the other, especially on sibilant sounds. The Magnepans kept Cindy's sibilants right where they belonged.

Consistent imaging spoils a listener quickly, making one very sensitive to an individual acoustical guitar or mandolin note that seems wider or slightly offset from the rest. And that effect, if a problem for a pair of speakers, is only accentuated by a widened soundstage. But here there were no wandering images with the MG 12/QRs, every sound knew its place and stayed there.

Just for fun, when it was time to switch out the Magnepans, I moved them in close to the LP for a near-field listening test, totally unfair for that kind of speaker. The result? Not bad! Imaging was certainly more dispersed, the soundstage very contained. A very closed-in delivery in contrast to what we had just heard from them. All in all, probably better than you would expect from flat-panel dipole speakers up close. But they were not at their best and I am certain this would not be recommended by Magnepan. The experiment underscored the MG 12/QR's need for space to develop their sound.

The listening position sweet spot for these speakers was pretty tight. We could adjust a little for comfort and not lose the soundstage, but it would change a bit, and it moved around when we did. Narrower spacing and a shallower soundstage might be preferred by those who want more sitting position flexibility.

Frequency Response:

The mids and highs were a bit forward, but with a smoothness that was not fatiguing in the least. In fact I found it a bit exciting, as though I had been given the ability to drill deep into musical detail.

Low frequency strength was adequate for me, perhaps slightly on the weak side. I generally prefer a flat EQ, so I am not looking to be shaken by kick drums or bass notes. The MG 12/QRs are known to perform best with a little help from a subwoofer, which I could see the benefit of at times, but I did not find the bass disappointing.

The kick drum on I Don't Care Any More by Phil Collins became one of our low bass measurement standards, as did the deep voice of the genie in Roger Waters's Three Wishes. In those cases, the Magnepans were a bit lacking in depth, but for the most part did just fine to my ear.

Our averaged frequency response plot at the listening position shows what almost looks like a step down just below 200 Hz, then a peaked response below that. The lowest peak is at 47 Hz - not bad for a panel this size - and when a note got hold of that frequency it thumped us pretty good, but there were those dips at 60 and 90 Hz where other notes got lost. I still stick with adequate in describing the bass, for those who are not bass-hungry. A bigger bass appetite will certainly want a subwoofer, if that is an option.

Physical and Visual:

Magnetic planar speaker technology involves a large, lightweight membrane that does not have to move much to create sound at listening volume. It is the nature of the design that leads to that sense of quickness and responsiveness. The large flat panels are equally open front and back, a dipole design that keeps the sound in front somewhat beamed at the listener and reduces room interaction, except for the need for lots of space behind them.

Magnepans do not look like typical speakers. Their panel design is simple, elegant, modern, and very minimalist. I enjoy a good techie look in speakers, even the outlandish, but I was drawn to the elegance of form and function of the Maggies.

They are very light and easy to move, which could be an advantage to some listeners. Sonnie's intention for his home theater was to choose speakers that could be set aside for cinema and could be easily placed in position for music listening. The Magnepans got high marks both for being unobtrusive and easy to get out of the way and for being easy to move into place when needed. The need for critical positioning is another matter.

Overall Listening Experience:

Listening to the Magnepans was a treat for me. More than with any of the other speakers, I found myself wanting the chance to sneak off for a good long private listening session to really find out what they were made of. I especially enjoyed our acoustical test tracks. Nickel Creek's Ode To A Butterfly, with guitar, mandolin, and fiddle, had lots of detail to explore. The standup bass notes were treated somewhat unevenly, a slight distraction.

More complex, heavier tracks received good treatment, too. The B-52's Revolution Earth sounded wonderful, as did tracks by Pink Floyd and Roger Waters, minus the incident with the genie's voice. Other evaluators were listening for more and deeper bass, as their comments will reflect. If your tastes are for flatter bass, the Magnepans might suit you perfectly.

What These Speakers Are Best For:

Wonderfully transparent, the MG 12/QRs will handle all the complex material you can throw at them. They will perform best with proper support: lots of clean headroom and a subwoofer if you want heavy, deep bass. They are the kind of speakers that like to point out flaws in one's favorite recordings. While this can frustrate some listeners, I love hearing that level of detail.

Leonard's Observations:

Once positioned, the MG12 has a superb soundstage and open sound. The positioning took quite some time but once the ideal spot was found the image was well defined and stable. Moving the listening position forward and back, left and right by about a foot did not significantly change the perception of a soundstage and instrument location. The planar design certainly has an appeal, very open and “out of the box.” The downside to this speaker are the power demands and the lack of bass. I felt no listening fatigue on any of the music we used, but the speaker did not excite me nor beg listening like the preferred speakers in the comparison. Not in the top tier of the products we auditioned, but likely the top of the next in my opinion. The dynamics were strained, probably needing more power, and for full range listening I would love these with a sub. I have always been partial to Magnepans (sold them back in the early days of the product) and planar speakers in general, but the reality is that you have to have the right conditions to get the best out of them, more so than some of the other speakers we heard.

Sonnie's Observations:

The MG12’s were the first up for evaluation and it took quite a bit of moving around to get these placed in that perfect sweet spot. I wondered if all of the speakers were going to be this difficult to position... and if so, we were going to be in for a long evaluation process. They look very nice, no doubt unconventional, which suits me just fine. They are also easy to move around... and would be the easiest to move out of the way during home theater use. I kept thinking to myself that I would really like the MG12's since they are a planar speaker, and the fact that I really like the MartinLogan line of electrostatics for my home theater. As I sat down in front of them and began to listen, I was impressed right off the bat. My first thought was that we have set the bar extremely high, especially for overall imaging and clarity. The MG12's also produced a pretty good soundstage that I thought was extended and deep, however there was no doubt they suffered from a lack of the lower octave of bass from 40Hz down.

On Melody Gardot’s Baby I’m A Fool, imaging was good enough to place the orchestra lower down in front of me and in front of the stage, although her voice seemed larger than life. She was just ever so slightly left of center, while the acoustic guitarist was a little right of center sitting next to her and seemed like it was coming more from behind the orchestra than her voice.

With Nickel Creek’s Ode To A Butterfly the imaging was spectacular to say the least and the soundstage was big. The mandolin was clearly left of center stage, the fiddle was middle of the stage, with the guitar right of center, all on the front edge of the stage (the MG12’s really disappeared with this song)… but what was perhaps most defining about this song was the deep bass being behind and between the fiddle and guitar. The depth was incredible on this song.

Pink Floyd’s Dogs Of War is where I could really tell the lack of bass, it just was not there, and this song does not sound right without it.

While listening to Roger Water’s Three Wishes, one of my favorite demo songs, at 2:25, where the genie's voice kicks in, I noticed a grunting sound. I backed it up a few seconds and sure enough, the MG12's were straining on that part of the song. Of course at a lower volume it was not as noticeable, but at the listening levels I like, the MG12's could not handle it.

Again on Yello La Habanera, the bass was missing, as was the midbass impact that I am use to hearing in this song.

There were definitely some great characteristics I liked about the MG12’s, while they suffered in some other areas. I suppose I should mention that the sales manager at Magnepan even went so far as to suggest that he did not think the Magnepans would fair so well in this event due to their lack of bass. However, I have to contribute their most significant shortcomings (grunting) to a lack of power. As sensitive as these speakers are, they really need more power than we were offering them. I think if I were to keep these, I would want to pick up an Emotiva XPA-2... and of course a sub would also be required. I certainly do not believe these speakers are suited well for lower powered tube amps with the type of music I listen to.
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Focal Chorus 716V Speakers - Review and Observations

Focal Chorus 716V

  • 2-1/2 way bass-reflex floorstanding speaker
  • Frequency Response: 50Hz – 28kHz (+/- 3db)
  • Recommended Power: 40-200W
  • Sensitivity (2.83v / 1 Meter): 91.5 dB
  • Impedance: 8 Ohms
  • Woofer Size: 6.5”
  • Midrange Size: 6.5"
  • Tweeter Size: 1"
  • Crossover: 300Hz / 3000Hz
  • Dimensions: 37.375" H x 8.6875" W x 12.125" D
  • Weight (Each): ~45 lbs.
The Focal Chorus 716V towers feature a Poron suspended TNV2 tweeter and dual 6.5" woofers - the upper of the two also covering the midrange - loaded by a front-mounted tuned port.

Setup and Placement Flexibility

The Focal Chorus 716Vs took us awhile to get set up. We could tell right off that they had the potential to give us some great bass, a priority we were discussing as we started working with them. And we were hearing the potential for a nice soundstage. But there seemed to be a see-saw effect. When the bass sounded good, the soundstage seemed thin, and when the soundstage was satisfying, the bass seemed thin.

We finally found a happy medium where both were pretty good, although not quite at their tip-top best. That is often the way it goes with speaker setup - balancing priorities and settling on compromises. We were dealing with matters of the real world.

Overall, placement flexibility was easier than some speakers we worked with and harder than others. About average. Our high expectations probably had us pushing them pretty hard for perfection. In hindsight, their placement flexibility was fair-to-good once we recognized and accepted those limitations. They ended up spaced wide apart and facing almost straight forward relative to the room.

Final placement measurement from front center baffle of speaker: To Back Wall = 7'2" | To Side Wall = 6'4" | Spkr To Spkr = 6'10" | To Listening Position = 6'10"' | Toe-in = 7°

Frequency Response, Bass Extension

The Focal Chorus 716Vs have strong bass response, rising gradually from 700 Hz to the LF peak at 65 Hz and extending to 45 Hz with rapid falloff below that. Upper mids peak slightly just below 2 KHz and the highs are flat above that, drooping slightly above 10 KHz but remaining strong to 20 KHz.

Room EQ Wizard MDAT file for download: View attachment 2FocalChorus716V-LRA-final.mdat

Power Handling

We zoomed right in on the genie's deep voice in Three Wishes, and it was handled solidly and with no strain or breakup.

Evaluation Panel - Thoughts and Comments

Wayne's Observations:


I have to say it; the Focal Chorus 716V speakers have some faults, but they have solid bass response and they like to be played LOUD.

When cranked up, really playing loud, the 716Vs were at their best, more even-sounding and more stable overall than at lower volumes, as if volume was what they were meant for and they just needed to be PUSHED to settle into their stride. Workhorses needing a good task with some exertion to be at their happiest.

Clarity was also better at higher volumes. At medium and lower volumes I enjoyed the Focal 716V's with simpler material, the Nickel Creek, or a clean vocal mix. But when cranked up and working hard, they managed to sound clean with the more complex tracks, also, the Pink Floyd and Roger Waters especially.

I wondered if the genie's deepest tones might be too much for the bassy nature of the 716V's, but they seemed to welcome the challenge. I never felt they were straining to keep up.

Soundstage and Imaging:

The soundstage could sound pretty good at times, but had a subtle shifting quality. It could sound quite good, with nice cohesiveness and stability, through one passage of a track, and then morph to a slightly different soundstage texture with a key change or different tonal emphasis in the music. The effect was just noticeable, but enough so I could not fully settle into the soundstage's illusion of reality.

Imaging was also quite good, but with a slight tendency to drift with those soundstage shifts.

Both fell into the fair-to-good category for me, pretty good but not exciting.

Frequency Response:

We liked their bass response. It was strong, solid, and fairly even. There were a few times I thought it was a little too much and not as even as it might be, but all in all it was bass that a bass lover could be very happy with.

Response in general was respectable through the mids and highs, not immune to the mysterious shifting effect noted earlier, but all in all quite smooth. Mids and highs seemed just about right. In some ways, the 716V's were among the better speakers we auditioned in terms of overall frequency response profile for the range of music we listened to. They sounded equally good with rock, bluegrass, and vocal mixes. The broad peak below 2 KHz brought out the throaty qualities of female vocalists very nicely.

Physical and Visual:

The Focal Chorus 716V's look nice without grilles - we did all our listening with grilles removed, where it was an option. I liked the drivers grouped high, accenting the unique tweeter design - a Focal specialty. The rounded left and right front edges are another nice touch.

Overall Listening Experience:

Let us say that the 716Vs have their qualities, but are not the speaker for me. I was looking for more refined handling of subtleties at all volume levels than the 716V's could deliver. But I had to note their strengths, and readily admit they might be very satisfying speakers in the right hands.

What These Speakers Are Best For:

The 716Vs are like workhorses. You don't buy a workhorse and then have it stand around in a barn all day. They NEED to work. The same applies to the Focal Choruses. If you like to listen at volume and are after strong, engaging bass, the 716Vs might be just right for you. Have younger listeners in your household who like their music loud, and you would like to see if you can get them appreciating qualities like soundstage and imaging? The Chorus 716Vs might be a good bridge speaker for them. Who knows, maybe that young rocker can become a refined audiophile yet, with the help of some smart workhorse speakers like the Focal Chorus 716Vs.

Leonard's Observations:

The Focal 716V was initially an impressive speaker for some here, but it was less appealing to me. It was one of the speakers that took the most time to position properly, not so much for soundstage, which was robust enough, but for the bass response and imaging. It seemed to be fussy about getting fat and the image moving around. As I listened for the best image it seemed that it occurred at the point where the bass and mid bass were most defined. Once positioned well, it had a very impressive image that was quite stable from several listening positions in the mids and highs, but there was still something imprecise about the bottom end to me. Personally, I also tired of the sibilance I noted early. Others liked it better, though at least one other listener reported similar fatigue after extensive listening. The speaker does a lot right, and other than the rough edge on the upper mid and highs I thought it was impressive. I can see the appeal, as there was a presence that was rather dramatic on many instruments.

Sonnie's Observations:

Here is a tidbit I never told anyone and have kept it a secret until right before posting the results. The Focal speakers were the first speakers I set up and connected to the Rogue tube amp on the evening of the day I received it. I placed the 716V's in the Cardas recommended locations and listened to the entirety of Pink Floyd's Momentary Lapse Of Reason remastered CD. I thought to myself, if this is anything like we have in store for us, it is going to be awesome. At that time, I actually thought these were going to be very hard to top. Ironically, to sound their best they ultimately ended up being the speakers positioned the farthest away from the Cardas recommended locations. I thought they sounded that good in the initial location I had them, and then once we got them dialed in at a considerably different location they were even better. Seriously... how could it get any better than this... and crazy enough, it does!

I mentioned in our poll thread that I had not heard too much about Focal home speakers. When I think of Focal, I think more on the lines of car stereo. I believe I remember my first realization of their "home" existence was reading where a member here at HTS was recommending a pair listed over at Accessories4Less... and that was only in the last couple of years. I was shocked that they were voted number one in the poll, simply because I had no idea they were that well known. I came very close to not including them in the listening test, but judging by the poll votes, they would seem to have earned a spot.

Needless to say, I was anxious to see what they sounded like. The first thing I noticed coming from the MG12's was the bass was back, which clearly gave the music more impact and dynamic range... definitely more fullness to the sound. These were not quite as laid back as the MG12's, but were in no way fatiguing to me. The soundstage actually seemed to be slightly wider, but not quite as deep as what I was hearing on the MG12's.

While listening to B-52's Ain't It A Shame, the initial synthesizer effect was airy and wide, covering a very broad area, yet the female voice had a slight edge on it, which I only noticed on the two B-52 songs. It was not something that was annoying, but I noticed it.

Again on Flim & the BB’s Funhouse, the synthesizer had what seemed like a more airy presence over the MG12’s.

On Melody Gardot’s Baby I’m A Fool, the imaging was on par, but the bass actually seemed just a little bloated.

With Nickel Creek’s Ode To A Butterfly, the deep bass did not seem as deep in the soundstage as with the MG12’s.

Pink Floyd's Dogs Of War sounded much better with well defined bass, yet the sax might have been a bit edgy at times.

On Roger Water's Three Wishes, the genie voices moved more to the side and rear than with the MG12’s. It was also noted by all of us that there was absolutely no strain at 2:25 of the song.

Spyro Gyra’s Breakfast At Igors and Yello La Habanero had much greater impact, were more dynamic and fuller… and more enjoyable to listen to.

Certainly there were less flaws in the sound of the 716V’s versus the MG12’s, given the circumstances. For whatever reasons, even though they sounded better in our sweet spot, I was not as "wowed" as I was the first night I connected them to the Rogue and listened to the Pink Floyd CD. Yet, overall I have to say that I was still impressed with the sound of these speakers. The 716V's have several good points and I could probably live with them, but on some music I listen to I think I would perhaps be left wanting something better.
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Kilpsch RF-62 II Speakers - Review and Observations

Klipsch RF-62 ll

  • 2-Way, with titanium horn-loaded tweeter
  • Frequency Response: 35Hz – 24kHz (+/- 3db)
  • Recommended Power: 125W
  • Sensitivity (2.83v / 1 Meter): 97 dB
  • Impedance: 8 Ohms
  • Woofer Size: Dual 6.5"
  • Tweeter Size: 1"
  • Crossover: 1500Hz
  • Dimensions: 40.2” H x 8.5” W x 15.4” D
  • Weight (Each): ~25 lbs.
The Klipsch RF-62 II towers feature an enhanced 1" titanium horn-loaded tweeter with proprietary Tractrix horn technology, dual Cerametallic 6.5" high-output cone woofers loaded by dual rear-firing ports.

Setup and Placement Flexibility

The Klipsch RF-62 IIs were a surprise to set up. We could put them almost anywhere in the room in front of the listener, as long as we paid attention to room and listener symmetries.

Almost. They allowed us to shift into super-picky mode looking for ideal soundstage and imaging, and we did find an area where we thought they sounded best, but the difference was subtle. There were no bad placement positions, only good and excellent ones.

This is all by design, of course. Klipsch, long (and I do mean long, they were producing horn-loaded speakers in the 1940s) a leader in the research and development of high-quality horn-based speakers, utilizes the controlled-directivity characteristics of horns in most of their speakers, which goes a long way toward making them immune to room interactions. That is what we found. You can plop them down in a symmetrical fashion and enjoy a respectable soundstage and imaging.

The well-treated room helps a lot. I have heard nice Klipsch models in untreated rooms, and they did not accomplish this nearly as well.

In our case the sweet position for the RF-62s was widely spaced and pointed at the listening position.

Final placement measurement from front center baffle of speaker: To Back Wall = 7'8" | To Side Wall = 5'2" | Spkr To Spkr = 9'2" | To Listening Position = 7' | Toe-in = 30°

Frequency Response, Bass Extension

Upper mids are peaked just below 2 KHz and high frequencies are smooth and almost flat beyond, tilted down slightly. Lower mids and lows are flat with a slight depression between 150 and 400 Hz and a dip between 70 and 120 Hz. The bass peaks at 65 Hz. LF extension goes down to 45 Hz.

Room EQ Wizard MDAT file for download: View attachment 3KlipschRF62II-LRA-final.mdat

Power Handling

The Klipsch's are efficient speakers that can handle lots of power - they can play LOUD - and had no trouble going as loud as we wanted to push them, all with no sense of strain. The genie voice was clean at its deepest and strongest.

Evaluation Panel - Thoughts and Comments

Wayne's Observations:


Wow! A sound that was well-controlled and even and could handle any kind of music. It all seemed easy for the RF-62s.

Clarity is a strength for the Klipsch. Amplifiers never have to work hard with efficient speakers like the RF-62s. Where our Rogue tube amp might have contributed a slight sense of strain with some speakers, it never came close to it with these.

Soundstage and Imaging:

Soundstage and imaging were both very good, deep and wide, stable and sharp. The soundstage was cohesive and convincing. Imaging was very tight, and I never heard it wander or smear.

As the evaluator in the Primary Listening Position (PLP) "hot seat" focused on the test tracks, the others in the room explored the listening area and shook our heads in amusement at how stable the soundstage and imaging remained, and with little shift relative to the listener. I imagined you could walk right up to Melody Gardot singing Baby I'm A Fool, place a mic stand in front of her phantom location, and walk to any spot in the listening area and hear her image right in front of that mic stand. Cool.

Frequency Response:

Frequency response was quite good. The wide peak around 2 KHz was great for detail but almost too much at times, almost shrill, and got to being a little fatiguing. There was a speedy snappiness that only a few of the specimens in the lineup were able to keep up with.

The bass was solid and controlled, but predominated by the mid-60 Hz peak, so not as full and even as we were looking for and not as deep as the Phil Collins kick drum or the genie voice were calling for. Still, it all seemed musical to me, and I could see why there are so many devotees to Klipsch speakers in the world.

Physical and Visual:

These towers are sharp and distinctive. The black horn and the copper woofers are one-of-a-kind Klipsch-looking through and through. These are speakers you want to show off just as they are.

Overall Listening Experience:

I could easily get attached to the Klipsch RF-62 IIs. The bass just suited me and the occasional shrillness was still within the bounds of musicality while emphasizing detail and vocal richness. I could see myself joining the ranks of the Klipsch owners of the world some day, maybe not as my primary speaker set, but easily as an alternate for variety.

What These Speakers Are Best For:

I can think of no limitations for speakers like the Klipsch RF-62 IIs. They are popular in home theaters and stereo music rooms. For deeper bass, most listeners will add a subwoofer. Live rooms with no acoustical treatment will benefit from their design, although don't expect them to work miracles. But then again, they just might transform certain difficult rooms that can not be tamed otherwise.

Leonard's Observations:

OK, I have to admit some bias against the Klipsch from the start. I have not been familiar with their speakers for many years. I sold many of the classic products back in the day, K-horns, LaScala, etc, and for what they did they were great, but not an audiophile product by my taste. That bias was erased almost immediately. This is an impressive product. It would have been one of my second tier choices, perhaps the top of that group. They were perhaps the easiest to place for great imaging and response and had a very stable soundstage with very little effort. They are smooth, detailed, and open. They do a lot very well, just not quite at the level of the finalists. Hearing these made me curious to hear the rest of the Klipsch line. I could easily live with these speakers and find very little to criticize. What was it that fell short of the aforementioned "top tier"? Well, it is hard to say, but I would say that the Klipsch were not as musical, not as detailed, but I hate to put it that way because it belies my true feeling about them, which is very favorable.

Quenten's Observations:

This was the first set of speakers I listened to, although I missed out on the placement for the sweet spot. My first impressions included a nice wide soundstage with good localization/imaging. The horns did not sound harsh, but this was music that I was not familiar with. I ended by listening to a Supertramp album "Crime of the Century." This is full of synthesizer, piano and orchestral music, and is good for exposing harshness in a speaker. I am a Klipsch fan and these speakers did not disappoint, even at louder volumes. They are very nice speakers, however, they did not make my final cut due to their bass performance. I listen to my Klipsch speakers with a sub, and to me these will need a sub as well.

Sonnie's Observations:

I watched the poll thread as the voting went back and forth between the Focal and the Klipsch speakers, and it was no surprise that the Klipsch were one of the top vote getters. There are a LOT of happy Klipsch owners out there and for good reason. These speakers sound really good and they look good, despite the fact one was damaged in shipping... and the black finish on the side looked like it was lacking a coat of black paint. I was left believing these may have been B-stock, but certainly not in sound.

The RF-62's were easy to place and moving them around had very little change in the soundstage and imaging. I think I was expecting these to be a bit harsh in the highs for two-channel listening, but to my surprise they were not. They did seem to be a smidgen on the bright side, but not overly bright to a point I could not listen to them for hours on end.

Cindy Wilson's (B-52’s) voice did not have the same edginess to it as with the 716V's.

Funhouse by Flim & The BB's seemed to have an even greater soundstage and breadth than the previous two speakers.

Melody Gardot was again bigger than life on her Baby I'm A Fool song, by now I am realizing this is an obvious intent of the recording. The bass sounded good and it was not bloated like it was on the 716V's.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd performing While We Cry live gave me the sense we were in a jazz club with people surrounding him and him playing in the round.

It seemed like Simple Man by Lynyrd Skynyrd might have had too much going on in the center imaging.

With Nickel Creek's Ode To A Butterfly the imaging was even more remarkable than with the MG12’s… the deep bass was way back and may have been a little bit fuller, but not extreme… just right for me.

I thought they had the same saxophone edginess on Pink Floyd's Dogs Of War as the 716V's. Although I did not remember this on the MG12’s, it may just be the recording.

The genie on Roger Water's Three Wishes was again wide, on the side and to the back with no stress at 2:25.

Of the first three we have listened to, the RF-62’s seemed to have the most snap and were the most dynamic yet, even if they may have seemed to be just a tad bass shy, the bass was still noticeably better than the MG12’s. I can certainly see how these could be seriously popular for home theater. It was early on in the evaluation, but at this point I was really liking the Klipsch, even after being fairly impressed with the Focal 716V's.
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HTD Level THREE Tower Speakers - Review and Observations

HTD Level THREE Tower

  • 3-Way, with horn-loaded ribbon tweeter
  • Frequency Response: 30Hz – 40kHz (+/- 3db)
  • Recommended Power: 200W
  • Sensitivity (2.83v / 1 Meter): 89 dB
  • Impedance: 8 Ohms
  • Woofer Size: Dual 7"
  • Tweeter Size: Kapton Ribbon
  • Crossover: 725hz / 2500Hz
  • Dimensions: 42.5” H x 8.625” W x 11.5” D
  • Weight (Each): ~50 lbs.
The HTD Level THREE Towers feature a horn-loaded Kapton ribbon tweeter, a 2" midrange dome, and dual 7" mid/low FCD woofers loaded by a front-mounted tuned port with internal transmission line.

Setup and Placement Flexibility

Getting the Level THREE's placed properly did not take us too long - we were getting pretty good at it by the time we were working with them. The horn-loaded tweeter helped out with its controlled directivity. There was a definite sweet spot for them, but only a little care and patience was needed in finding it. Surprisingly, the Level THREE's sounded best angled-outward relative to the LP, as the horn-loaded tweeters had us expecting an on-axis setup.

Final placement measurement from front center baffle of speaker: To Back Wall = 8'2" | To Side Wall = 5'10" | Spkr To Spkr = 7'10" | To Listening Position = 6'2" | Toe-in = 10°

Frequency Response, Bass Extension

Lower mids and lows are emphasized, gradually peaking between 140 and 240 Hz, with a small notch at 90 Hz. Bass is strong to 45 Hz, with extension to 40 Hz. There is an emphasis peak that stands out between 1 and 2 KHz, probably intended for dialog in cinema applications. High frequencies rise gradually to 5 KHz and extend smoothly beyond.

Room EQ Wizard MDAT file for download: View attachment 4HTDLevelTHREE-LRA-final.mdat

Power Handling

The genie sounded great on these speakers. They let that voice go really deep, and handled it cleanly.

Evaluation Panel - Thoughts and Comments

Wayne's Observations:


The Level THREEs had a sound that I noted as "RICH." Sometimes the details of a speaker's sound are hard to define clearly, and all you can do is rely upon impressions. That used to frustrate me as a reader of reviews. "Rich, what does that mean?" Sorry, that is the word that came to mind.

There was an overall refined and clean quality to the sound, no sense of edginess or harshness.

Soundstage and Imaging:

The soundstage from the HTD Level THREEs was deep and spacious, very natural. And rich. There you go, it had a rich quality that was unique among the speakers we heard. Perhaps not as tightly defined as it might be, it was nonetheless very pleasing, believable, and cohesive. Rich.

The imaging left us wanting, was not very clearly defined, smearing far to one side on certain sounds, and we found out why later on. The left and right frequency response plots revealed a significant mismatch between the two tweeters. Giving HTD the benefit of the doubt, we assumed that an assembly had somehow suffered partial damage due to a shipping knock or vibration, and was not performing at its best. Obviously this is a matter that HTD would be jumping at the chance to fix, and under different circumstances we would have wanted to hear them with a replacement tweeter, or perhaps a matched replacement set as HTD might allow. But our timetable did not give us that luxury. I will say from other observations about the quality and sound of the higher end of these speakers that they have the potential for delivering respectably tight, concise imaging with properly-matched tweeters. The soundstage's conciseness would most likely improve as well.

Frequency Response:

The frequency response was interestingly voiced. We noted a slightly emphasized midrange which would have pulled dialogue forward in cinema mixes, and which gave a sense of detail to the music tracks we heard, all without being annoying, a nice balancing job. The mids and highs were refined and clean. There was a sense of easy, controlled delivery.

The low end was solid. Response was strong down to 45 Hz with extension to 40 Hz. We felt it in the depth of the genie's voice and in that Phil Collins kick drum, which had a heretofore untapped way-down-deep quality. Bass response bordered on being a little too strong at times for me, but never got badly out of hand.

The mid-bass was a little forward for my taste, but not so much as to be a distraction. It was most apparent on the lower reaches of lower-range vocals - an edge of boominess, but only occasionally.

Sometimes seeming tight and controlled, there were times when it bordered on feeling a little loose. Again, bordered on, but never got distracting. At its best, it was bass we wished could be cut-and-pasted to some other speakers we had heard.

Physical and Visual:

The first thing we noticed about the Level THREEs was that they were heavy speakers. Weighing 51 pounds each, they took some extra muscle to move around. That is good in speakers, meaning thicker panels, better bracing, and ultimately less cabinet vibration, an important goal in speaker design.

I liked the look of the HTDs, the simple all-black theme with white woofer cones, an occasional gleam of gold from the tweeters when the lighting was right, and the equal spacing of drivers with the port at the front bottom. It all worked to give them a reserved yet authoritative look, blending into a room's decor and showing off at the same time.

Overall Listening Experience:

My overall impression was that a number of sonic choices have been carefully balanced in the making of the Level THREEs, and admirably so. That voiced quality, though, was not quite to my taste, purely a matter of individual preference. I can see many discriminating listeners feeling the opposite, and see the HTD Level THREEs being a model deserving strong consideration. And there was that sense of richness about the soundstage, do not forget about that.

What These Speakers Are Best For:

Their tailored voicing makes the Level THREEs a great choice for a system that will get both home theater and stereophile use. They performed equally well with simple and complex material.

Leonard's Observations:

Like the Klipsch, these were easy to get to a strong image and large soundstage. Once placed optimally, they produced a nice image, with depth, width, and height. Where I felt it fall short was precision in the soundstage, particularly in the bass and mid-bass. I had no impression of the box producing sound, but at times the image was indistinct. On the Nickel Creek track I got the sense that the bass and guitar were coming from the same overly large area, but also that the guitar was moving around on the various strings. Overall, I found it a pleasing speaker, though it did not hold up as well in terms of smooth musicality throughout the listening band. I found the bass and mid-bass to lack detail, while being a bit heavy, and the upper mid-range to be tiring on complex sounds. The extreme highs were quite nice, however. There is a lot to like here, and without the comparison to the other speakers, one could really love these. Surprisingly, there was a large difference between the two speakers in the frequency response tests. It is possible we got a pair with a bad or damaged tweeter. I reserve judgment to some degree on these, suspecting a defect or damage.

Quenten's Observations:

I was also really looking forward to hearing the HTD's. These ribbon tweeters are in my opinion very nice for speakers at this price point. Setting up the speakers for the sweet spot was relatively easy. My first impression was very good. Mind you I have listened to a lot of speakers in retail stores, but have never been able to evaluate them like this. It really allows for real time comparisons. The only issue was perhaps the problem with the odd response curves. Even so, I think these speakers fared better than the Klipsch speakers. They reproduced a nice, wide soundstage with good imaging. The music was fuller and the bass was definitely better.

Sonnie's Observations:

HTD is a speaker company that has intrigued me for a long time and I am glad we have them as a sponsor here at HTS. I believe they offer a very nice product for our members at a very affordable price. Naturally I was excited to have these Level THREE speakers in the round-up. I especially liked the finish on these speakers... very smooth (not woodgrain or textured) and clean looking... best of the group in my opinion. I was not however, particularly crazy about the white colored drivers, but in the end they would not be seen with the grills in place. At first listen I thought these might be the smoothest speakers I had heard, as well as really good bass extension. It was unfortunate that one of the speakers had an issue with either the crossover or the tweeter, as this could certainly effect what we were hearing. Even with an ailment they still sounded very nice. On another note... HTD was one of only two speaker manufacturers that included cloth material covering the speakers while packed... a very nice touch.

On both of the B-52's songs, Cindy Wilson's voice was spot on, the bass was good… it was all really good. My thoughts were that we have found the Klipsch with more bass.

I felt I heard Flim & The BB's Funhouse with the most detail yet.

When Melody Gardot's Baby I'm A Fool played, her voice seemed too forward and over-powering, more so than I had heard from the first three speakers. The bass was also slightly bloated similar to how it was on the MG12’s.

With Nickel Creek's Ode To A Butterfly the soundstage was not quite as deep, and the deep bass was too forward. I heard some imaging, but it was not as consistent as what I had been hearing.

Then Pink Floyd came along walking the Dogs Of War and it sounded great. The bass was awesome, and the sax sounded really good... and you all should know how much I like Pink Floyd. It is important that PF sound good on whatever speakers I choose.

Roger Water's Three Wishes also sounded as good as I have heard all day, maybe better. The genie voice was excellent and the guitar riff at 2:47 was spectacular.

The midbass on Spyro Gyra's Breakfast At Igors and Yello's La Habanero really shined on the THREE's.

I thought it was really strange how some songs can sound so alike from one speaker to the next, yet some will sound completely different, some for the better, some for the worse. Overall, I would have to give the bass nod to the THREE’s, but only on certain songs. I think if the bass was dialed back a notch, they would be perfect. The mid-bass was also more apparent in these speakers and I liked it. While I was somewhat disappointed that the THREE's were the least consistent in imaging, they seem to have brought out the best of some songs thus far. I have to believe they may have proven even better had they been response matched with no issues as previously mentioned. We have already worked it out with HTD to get a fresh pair to Wayne for a full blown review, so they will no doubt get a chance to redeem themselves.
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MartinLogan Motion 12 Speakers - Review and Observations

MartinLogan Motion 12

  • 3-Way, with Folded Motion tweeter and dipole midrange
  • Frequency Response: 40Hz – 25kHz (+/- 3db)
  • Recommended Power: 20-300W
  • Sensitivity (2.83v / 1 Meter): 92 dB
  • Impedance: 4 Ohms
  • Woofer Size: Dual 6.5"
  • Midrange Size: Dual 5.5"
  • Tweeter Size: 1" x 1.4"
  • Crossover: 300hz / 3000Hz
  • Dimensions: 42.8” H x 7” W x 14.1” D
  • Weight (Each): ~36 lbs.
The MartinLogan Motion 12 towers feature a Folded Motion tweeter, a 5.25" dipole midrange driver, and dual 6.5" ported woofers.

Setup and Placement Flexibility

The MartinLogan Motion 12s were not hard to set up but took some extra time because of their dipole midrange design. That had us thinking about what was behind them, how far, how reflective or diffused the surface might be, and even had us setting up portable absorptive panels in front of those surfaces to see how the soundstage might be affected. The panels invariably shrunk the soundstage depth from huge to a boring couple of feet, so ultimately they were set aside and not used.

The Motion 12s were fairly flexible in giving a noteworthy soundstage and imaging through much of the speaker setup area, but ended up having a sweet position that was worth taking the time to find. Within a half-foot or so of that position they were at their best. The spacing and angle were wide and had the speakers facing the seats either side of the LP. The wide dispersion pattern of the Folded Motion tweeters allowed this with a barely noticeable change in high-frequency response, not a sacrifice in the slightest.

Final placement measurement from front center baffle of speaker: To Back Wall = 8'4" | To Side Wall = 6' | Spkr To Spkr = 7'6" | To Listening Position = 6'2" | Toe-in = 18°

Frequency Response, Bass Extension

High frequencies are quite smooth and flat above a small dip at 1 KHz. There was a lower-mid and low-frequency emphasis arc extending gradually from 1 KHz down to 50 Hz, peaking at 140 Hz, and with a minor dip at 90 Hz. Bass response extends to 45 Hz.

Room EQ Wizard MDAT file for download: View attachment 5MartinLoganMotion12-2-final_listen_location-LRA-final.mdat

Power Handling

The Three Wishes genie was deep and authoritative. Never was there any hint of breakup, and we pushed the track LOUD.

Evaluation Panel - Thoughts and Comments

Wayne's Observations:


Smoooooth. The sound was very open and transparent. We were listening through these speakers, not to them.

Clarity was very good on all our test tracks with the MartinLogans. They delivered clean, clear sound from bass to highs at all levels.

Occasionally there was that slight sense of overall strain at high volumes. The Motion 12s are medium efficient and can handle lots of power, so it was probably soft clipping in the Rogue amp tube power stage we were noticing.

Soundstage and Imaging:

The soundstage simply filled the front of the room. It extended almost to the side walls, and clear to the back (of the soundstage, at the cinema screen) wall, and floor to ceiling. As mentioned elsewhere, the vertical axis of a soundstage is not as accessible to a mixing engineer as are the left-right, via the pan control, and the front-back, via level and ambient effects, so the elevations of phantom sources mostly end up occurring as a result of speaker design, room acoustics, and unintended psycho-acoustical EQ cues, but there was no doubt they were occurring in this immense soundstage. The freshest part of the experience for me was the precise illusion of distance. The precise left-right placement of instruments and voices in the soundstage was a phenomenon we had grown to expect by default with optimized speaker placement, but the illusion of down-to-the-quarter-inch depth resolution between the LP seat and Sonnie's cinema screen was starkly apparent in a way that brought big grins of excitement. You thought it was already as good as it could get, and suddenly it got a whole bunch better - that kind of excitement.

The resolution of bass sounds and instruments seems to be another of the higher levels of achievement in the development of a fine soundstage. On When We Cry the location of the bass amp speaker cabinet was as clear as could be, one foot in front of the listening room's front wall.

Imaging was excellent, although slightly soft - with a soundstage stretched out as wide as this one, the imaging is going to stretch a bit, too. Think of a sound recorded to be a point source in the mix, a pinpoint. Those pinpoints were stretched to the size of golf balls or maybe baseballs in this sound field, still excellent imaging by any standard. And it was rock stable, never a hint of smear or wander or indecision. Imaging and soundstage as a whole were cohesive and seamless, absolutely convincing.

Frequency Response:

I LOVE those Folded Motion tweeters, love the technology and the sound and the dispersion and the smoothness of it all. If I had to pick out a speaker to live with using specs and technology info alone, it would definitely have an air-motion-transformer- (the generic name) type tweeter.

Response overall for the Motion 12s was very good. The bass was strong and tight, not fat enough to punch you in the stomach, but firm enough for a powerfully deep and strong genie on Three Wishes and for the intended depths of Phil's immense kick drum sound on I Don't Care Any More. There were only a few moments when the bass felt it could be a little better controlled, and at one point there was a minor boxy tone so quickly forgotten it almost did not make it into my notes - neither of these impressions was lasting enough to count significantly against the Motion 12s. Melody's voice on Baby I'm A Fool had just the right depth and warmth without crossing the line into sounding boomy. Phil Collins's upper drums popped with a snappy quickness. The synth tones and harmonics from Funhouse had zip! And it all worked together easily and naturally.

Physical and Visual:

I saw the Motion 12s as very attractive speakers. Their unique "mountain peak" shape seemed simple and unobtrusive, but a pleasure once they caught your eye.

Overall Listening Experience:

The amount of bass emphasis with the MartinLogan Motion 12s was enough to satisfy the bass lovers among us but not so much as to seem boomy to the flat-EQ lovers. The mids and highs were completely transparent. With eyes closed, you could not point the speakers out in the sound field.

I loved hearing these speakers. They made you want the next listener in line to get an urgent call so you could extend your turn. I really did not want to stop. They sounded that good.

What These Speakers Are Best For:

These are speakers that can handle anything. They sound way bigger than they look and can fit easily in a small room or fill a large one with heart-melting sound.

Leonard's Observations:

This turned out to be a surprise for me, as I did not expect what I heard. Again, let me admit to a little bias. I expected that this would be a "me too" product, designed to hit a price point and not among the priority products from ML. I find their products to be very impressive, but had not really given anything in this price range a thorough listen before, feeling that overall, their products were a bit overpriced. First, they immediately created a very open, wide, and robust soundstage. They were among the easiest to place, very forgiving of location. They were a little more sensitive to toe angle, but even in that regard, less so than most of the others. This was one of the speakers that caught my attention from the second row seating in Sonnie’s theater where we sat when someone else was in the cat bird seat doing serious listening. The image held up from much of the room, and the clarity, detail, and smoothness were notable. This ended up as one of the two unanimous choices for our final listening tests. I found nothing fatiguing about these speakers and they called me to listen more. It was hard to not listen to the whole song for the 12 selections that we used for evaluation. We obviously did not have time to do so and had to focus on certain snippets of each song, but I just did not want to stop listening.

Beautiful detail and openness were apparent right away. In the final listening, I looked to a familiar and complex female voice, Natalie Merchant. She has some interesting inflections and slight roughness on the edge of some notes. I heard aspects of her voice that I had not heard on speakers this inexpensive before. I have resorted to the term "musicality" more than once in these reviews, with some reluctance. I think it is a poorly defined term and probably overused. It is probably the best way that I can describe what appealed to me about the Motion 12. The detail of the image and the voicing left me visualizing the gestures, body language, and movements of some of my more eccentric favorites like Stipe, Fagen, and Merchant. I know that sounds romantic and subjective coming from me, but that was the experience. This is a level of experience I got from only two of the speakers in the entire evaluation event, and ML was one of those. In many years of listening to speakers, I only got it from much more expensive speakers.

Quenten's Observations:

Well, when I got to these speakers I began to wonder if Sonnie had arranged them to just get better and better... because these speakers were just plain singing. Again, placement was relatively easy. The room just came alive with them, again much better than the previous speakers I had heard. The highs were clean and crisp with noticeable clarity. Vocals were clear and the lows came through very nicely. Imaging and soundstage were all I could ask for. They are a testament to ML's good engineering... and these are entry level! I do think people get used to a certain sound, and possibly why Sonnie immediately fell in love with these (since he has ML's in his theater). These are truly musical speakers, and in the end worthy of the final session.

Sonnie's Observations:

When the new ML Motion line was first released, I read several comments about how ML had gone cheap and had entered into the mass market arena. I am pretty sure I remember reading where some ML owners were highly upset at ML, actually claiming these speakers were more or less junk and not representative of ML products. I did not think much about it until later on when I read some really positive reviews, which may have left some of the early doubters scratching their heads. I know I would be plumb embarrassed had I even had a thought that these were junk (knowing what I know now), much more so if I had publicly stated it (might we say, insert foot in mouth). There is no doubt in my mind that these speakers are worthy of the ML name.

These are the speakers that I thought everyone would vote for, simply because I already own MartinLogan's and love them for my home theater setup. They did come in on the poll at a solid fifth, but I expected more votes. I know some will think I am biased, but these are not electrostatics, and I certainly owe no favors to ML (business to business), not that I would show any favoritism one way or another. Giving them high marks is not going to bring them to the forum as a sponsor, or they would have already been here based on all my positive ravings about their stats. Regardless, I am a firm believer in telling it like it is... showing no partiality.

The Motion 12's were really easy to setup, very forgiving of their location, although we kept at it until we felt we had the last inch of the best location. My first thoughts of the Motion 12's left me with my jaw dropped. I could not believe what I was hearing... unbelievable to say the least. The soundstage was extremely wide and deep… the imaging was seriously incredible. The bass was perfect, despite the response curve I was looking at (not saying it could not still be further improved). I am not sure how ML does it with those small woofers, but it seemed like it was reaching down into the lower octaves really well.

I loved the synthesizer sound on B-52’s Revolution Earth… and I really took note of the cymbal snap for the first time... it stood out that much differently than with previous speakers I had heard.

On Flim & The BB's Funhouse there was very defined imaging behind all those floating obstacles at the beginning of that track. For the first time I noticed a lot of air around those sounds that were floating up and in front of me. It was seriously strange how recognizable they were.

With Melody Gardot’s Baby I'm A Fool the orchestra was right where it was supposed to be... down in front of the stage, although her voice was still big… it was not as over-bearing, yet very smooth sounding.

The imaging was spot on with Nickel Creek's Ode To A Butterfly... truly amazing!

The bass on Pink Floyd's Dogs Of War was everywhere, yet very controlled. The bass was even better than what I had heard on the THREE’s.

The genie voice on Roger Water's Three Wishes was suspended high and back… the best I have heard yet… and the guitar riff was to die for.

At :57 and 2:07 of La Habanero I heard the most extended bass of any of the speakers I had listened to thus far.

When I first decided to include the Motion 12's in the mix, I truly was not expecting that much from them. I guess I was trying to prepare myself for possible disappointment in comparison to the electrostatic versions. No doubt I was shocked. Everything about these speakers was smooth and effortless, and I could not find any flaws with the ML’s. Simply put, I was blown away by these speakers, and was asking myself how ML could get that electrostatic magic into this speaker design that was so inexpensive. I can only imagine what the Motion 40's sounds like if they are any kind of improvement over the 12’s. This is the smallest speaker in the lineup, yet it is big at everything it does. Incredible… and no doubt in the running for the final evaluation. After hearing them, I had pretty much made up my mind that these were the speakers I would keep, as I could not imagine it getting any better.
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Arx A5 Speakers - Review and Observations

Arx A5

  • 3-Way, with planar-magnetic tweeter
  • Frequency Response: 45Hz – 25kHz (+/- 3db)
  • Recommended Power: 20-300W
  • Sensitivity (2.83v / 1 Meter): 91 dB
  • Impedance: 6 Ohms
  • Woofer Size: Triple 5.5"
  • Midrange Size: 5.5"
  • Tweeter Size: 3"
  • Crossover: NA
  • Dimensions: 40.35” H x 7.1” W x 10.25” D
  • Weight (Each): ~55 lbs.
The Arx A5 towers feature a 3" wideband planar-magnetic tweeter, a dedicated 135mm midrange driver with alloy phase plug and curvilinear cone, and triple 135mm midwoofers loaded by a rear-mounted port with optional damping plug.

Setup and Placement Flexibility

The A5s almost did not make it into the listening lineup. One of them had taken a tumble somewhere in shipping, serious enough that the top of the cabinet was dinged slightly, even through generous packing. When we started to set them up, we soon realized that the dinged speaker had no operating tweeter. To our good fortune, pulling the tweeter revealed a spade lug that had jarred loose in the accident, an easy fix. As the plots below show, there was no apparent further damage, as the two tweeters matched perfectly, both in our measurements and in our listening tests. Imagine our relief!

Getting back to setup, we found that the A5s sounded quite good almost anywhere we set them. Their directivity characteristics are designed to have the music reaching out to create a soundstage regardless of location. Of course, we were being quite particular about finding the best soundstage possible, so we continued the process until we found the location where the sound opened up and filled the room. It is an exercise that can test your patience and resolve, relying partly on trial and error and partly on experience with the room and the type of speakers involved. We knew what kind of imaging was possible in Sonnie's home theater and believed the A5 design should do well in delivering one, and they did not disappoint.

Their sweet spot was wide, with the speakers angled outward and aimed at the seats on either side of the LP chair. High frequency response did not suffer in the least.

Final placement measurement from front center baffle of speaker: To Back Wall = 8'4" | To Side Wall = 6' | Spkr To Spkr = 7'6" | To Listening Position = 6'2" | Toe-in = 18°

Frequency Response, Bass Extension

High frequencies are very flat and smooth above a small dip at 1100 Hz. The lower midrange and bass profile presents as an emphasis arc extending gradually from 1 KHz down to 50 Hz and peaking at 140 Hz, with a dip in the middle between 200 and 400 Hz. Bass response extends to 45 Hz.

Room EQ Wizard MDAT file for download: View attachment 6ArxA5-2-final_listen_location-LRA-final.mdat

Power Handling

The Three Wishes genie was deep and strong. There was no hint of breakup, even when played quite loud.

Evaluation Panel - Thoughts and Comments

Wayne's Observations:


The Arx A5s sounded very good right away. And my relief that we had been able to repair the tweeter only grew as I realized how much I was enjoying them. We came this close to not hearing these speakers. And now, here they are. The evaluation experience became much more enjoyable as a result of the near miss.

The magnetic planar tweeter in the A5s is a technology choice I will be keeping my eye on. As with the air-motion-transformer tweeter, the high end is smooth, clean, open and very transparent, which describes the overall sound quality for the A5s. It is a well-integrated sound that gives the impression of simplicity and ease of delivery, yet you know there is a lot going on behind the scenes to make that happen. Elegance.

It was after completing the auditioning of the A5s thoroughly when I realized that what stood out about them was an overall sense of refinement. I could picture the design process carried out to the point where the measurements and listening characteristics seemed just about perfect, but one bothersome little detail would elicit a "Nope, that is not good enough," and another level of refinement would follow. Attention to detail above and beyond the call, and applied repeatedly, all ultimately carried out with a sense of elegance and resulting in the A5 towers. It had to be something like that, it certainly did not happen by accident.

Soundstage and Imaging:

The A5s elicited a soundstage that filled the listening area, well beyond the speaker spacing, to the cinema screen before us, and right up to the listener's left shoulder when the female voice on Three Wishes was almost talking into our ears.

Nickel Creek's Ode To A Butterfly was easy for the Arx A5s to disassemble to its component instruments and place each convincingly separate and independent in the sound field. The sense of separation, or air between each sound source was fascinating. The perception of depth in the sound field was just as real, and I was mentally mapping the exact locations of the standup bass, the guitar, the fiddle, and the mandolin.

The fiddle on that track sounds like it was recorded in a vocal booth for isolation - you can hear the different ambient quality of the smaller closed-in studio space. The A5s precisely defined the location of the fiddle and the ambient recording space around Sarah Watkins as she played. The sonic illusion was of a space within walls, yet cohesively presented in the openness of the studio with the other instruments, a extra level of sonic detail on the part of the A5s. If a soundstage could have the power to materialize objects, guitars, drums, and singers, the A5s almost felt like they could pull it off.

Imaging was rock stable, never wandering or smearing, never indecisive in the least. Perhaps slightly soft, the tightest images were the size of golf balls or baseballs at their largest, a feat with a soundstage so large.

Frequency Response:

Frequency response was very smooth, very refined. Upon analyzing the mid- to low-frequency measured profile, it became clear that it had been tailored with care. The emphasis arc that increases gradually below 1 KHz, reaching its peak in the mid bass range, feels smoothly done and gives the A5s a bass strength that is solid without ever sounding boomy or loose. That scoop between 200 and 400 Hz never stood out, apparently just small enough to stay below the radar. It might also serve to keep the mid- and low- buildup from becoming overbearing.

As a whole, the response of the A5s sounded well-integrated. Nothing stood out as being too much or too little, all frequencies sounded just right.

Physical and Visual:

The A5s are an attractive tower-full of drivers with the three woofers plus midrange and tweeter. The finish is simple, with a roll-up-your-sleeves look that says, "We put the money where it counts, into the sound." It works for me.

Overall Listening Experience:

I had to be pried away from the Arx A5s, still feeling relieved about how close we came to not even hearing them. The impression of a materializing power in the imaging and soundstage was hard to get out of my head. A sheer joy.

What These Speakers Are Best For:

The Arx A5s are capable of handling any kind of music with ease. They know no limitations that I could imagine.

Leonard's Observations:

I have to admit ignorance of these going in. Other than giving their bookshelf version a look briefly, I had not been aware of them. That changed immediately. This speaker, like the ML, caught my attention from the middle row of seats. I was reclined icing my neck and nearly dozing off, and the sound of Cindy Wilson's voice brought me out of my seat to see what was drawing me to listen. Such an obvious improvement in smoothness and detail was a bit of a surprise. It recalled my listening to some of my favorite speakers from Thiel, which are much more expensive. Top to bottom, all of my notes were complimentary. The only critique that I can make is that they don’t go as deep as a sub, but the detail in the bass and mid bass made them my favorite. Truly a great value and this speaker could easily come home with me. All of the comments about the ML hold true here, and then some. There was a connection to the music that I felt more strongly than with the other products. They say sound and smell are two of the cues in memory that are strongest. Well, I think the subtle detail in instruments that I favor, acoustic strings, and in vocals touched some memory strings that left me sensing a live performance in front of me. I wished I had a live recording of Dr. John or Prof. Longhair as I knew the sounds here would trigger my sense that the keys were being touched in front of me.

Sonnie described his experience with some really high end systems at the trade shows in rather similar terms to what I recall listening to some very fine systems in the past. There is a sense that one gets that is something like the suspension of disbelief that one must allow to enjoy a movie. With audio it is harder, as there is only one sense being stimulated and relatively few systems are set up and capable of producing such detail. What surprises me about these is that they do so at such a low price and are so easy to set up to produce such an experience. This speaker begs to be listened to, not just heard, but to really listen.

Quenten's Observations:

Setting up these speakers for optimal placement was reasonably quick. Placement options were very forgiving and we were able to pick a sweet spot with little effort.

Finally getting my spot in "the chair," I hit play and was immediately struck by the musicality of these speakers. The first track starts out kind of benign with a simple rhythm, but nonetheless I was able to feel a richness and fullness to the notes that had been lacking thus far. Within seconds I actually said "Wow", turned around and stated "These are the best I have heard." Wayne promptly called me "too easy"... so I went back to listening. These speakers were just plain show stoppers. The soundstage on a couple of songs fully encompassed the room from wall to wall, again prompting a comment from me. I had struggled with the less than clear vocals on La Habanero until now. On that song there is a strong accent with lots of loud background music. I was able to discern the words more clearly with these speakers. I pointed this out to Sonnie so he could pay attention to it during his session. These speakers were truly amazing.

I finished my set again with the Supertramp album. No harshness and the bass hit notes that I was use to hearing with my sub. I know the frequency sweeps don't show this, so I can only attribute this to the cleanliness of the sound. I could indeed listen without a sub. I then put in the Eagles Hell Freezes Over just for fun. Again, full soundstage with pinpoint imaging, and a crystal clear guitar solo. Wow, I did not want to stop listening! I again reiterated my pleasure with these speakers, tempering it with needing to hear their off axis presentation. I heard Sonnie comment in the back that "they sounded pretty good back here." Leonard was next up, which gave me just that opportunity. Their off axis response was very good indeed. Sitting in the back and off to the right, the music was still full and smooth. Not quite the soundstage, but still easy to listen to without any harshness. Very nice for when you will have a room full of people.

Leonard followed next and while sitting next to Sonnie, I stated that this was making me look forward to the $2,000-$2,500 shootout. Sonnie commented that they were going to have to "bring it" to outdo these speakers. And I agree, Jon has a winner here.

Sonnie's Observations:

It is true! They almost did not make it into the round-up. Jon Lane was somewhat hesitant about sending them to me, despite The Audio Insider being a sponsor at HTS and having their own forum here. Can you imagine us not being able to get a sponsor of ours to send us a pair of speakers, especially considering they only cost $749 for the pair? Yes, I could purchase them on a trial period, but that was not the point. I am not saying Jon was not justified in his thinking, he had genuine concerns and I respect him for being inquisitive about this event. Nonetheless, there is no doubt it would have been a huge disappointment for all of us. His reservations alone (even though I understood them) placed a doubt in my mind that I could not shake loose... a doubt that had me thinking they would not compete. What an inane thought that ended up being.

Much like the ML's, the A5's were super easy to setup... very forgiving of their placement. As I began to listen, I was immediately asking myself if we even changed speakers. I literally thought for a second that we had gotten confused and placed the ML's right back in the room again... seriously, I opened my eyes and took a good hard look at the A5's just to make sure we had indeed been handling the A5's and not the 12's during setup. How strange is it that two speakers can sound so much alike. Wow... the soundstaging, imaging, clarity, openness, and all those magical terms started exploding through my mind. These speakers truly sounded great, unbelievably great for their retail pricing point of only $749. I was stunned by how finely detailed and airy they sounded to not be an electrostatic speaker.

There is no need to repeat what I previously stated about the songs in the ML Motion 12 section, because it would basically be the same wording, and I am not sure I can describe them any differently. If you will read my thoughts about each song in my MartinLogan Motion 12 observations, you will have my exact thoughts for the A5.

I will state that there was a slightly notable difference with the guitar on Spyro Gyra's Breakfast At Igors that I was able to pinpoint causing me to believe the A5's might have a slight edge over the Motion 12's. The guitar seemed to be a little more detailed and defined; however, I would have to hear it again on the Motion 12's to verify what I thought I might be hearing, which I would do in the final session.

I kept listening for more apparent differences without going back to the Motion 12's... and I finally came to a tentative conclusion where I felt the A5's might be the most disappearing speakers I had heard thus far. It is ironic that I had written that down in my notes and a few minutes later I heard Leonard telling Wayne that he thought these speakers just disappeared with almost everything (were you peeking at my notes Leonard?). Again, I wanted to make sure and would need to confirm my thoughts in the final listening session.

The bass on the A5's and the 12’s were very very close… and it made me curious if it was merely coincidental that they both have rear-firing ports. While the bass on the 12's may have been slightly fuller, the A5's seemed to have slightly better control.

At this point, the A5's seemed to have the edge, but I could not be sure until I went back and listened to the Motion 12's again, which would not be until later. We were no doubt going to have to get really nit picky to make a final choice between these two speakers. I do not think there was any doubt the A5's were in the final running... the only question left was if the remaining two speakers in the round-up would join the A5's and the Motion 12's. I am still amazed at the fact that these speakers are selling for $749 a pair... they could easily be $749 each! It is almost too good to be true.
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Tekton Model Lore Speakers - Review and Observations

Tekton Model Lore

  • 2-way, with Audax "gold" super tweeter
  • Frequency Response: 30Hz – 30kHz (+/- 3db)
  • Recommended Power: 200W
  • Sensitivity (2.83v / 1 Meter): 98 dB
  • Impedance: 8 Ohms
  • Woofer Size: 10"
  • Tweeter Size: 1"
  • Crossover: NA
  • Dimensions: 39” H x 12” W x 13” D
  • Weight (Each): ~55 lbs.
The Tekton Model Lore towers feature a high-output direct-radiating 10" mid-bass transducer and an Audax "gold" super tweeter.

Setup and Placement Flexibility

The Tekton Model Lores seemed easy to get set up. Their soundstage and imaging characteristics were immediately apparent and were quite good and very forgiving in allowing various listening distances and angles. Their sweetest spot almost eluded us, though. We thought we had them tuned in nicely and had started listening to our evaluation tracks, and upon leaning well forward in the LP seat, the evaluator discovered the best soundstage was located two feet out in front of the seat. With the Lores adjusted forward, they gave us their very best.

The Lores ended up on-axis with the listener, widely spaced, and well away from the listening position.

Final placement measurement from front center baffle of speaker: To Back Wall = 7'8" | To Side Wall = 5'2" | Spkr To Spkr = 9'2" | To Listening Position = 7' | Toe-in = 30°

Frequency Response, Bass Extension

The frequency response profile for the Lores shows smooth high frequencies that drop off slightly above a small 6 KHz peak, with a broad peak just below 2 KHz. Lower-mid- and low- frequencies are emphasized, with a broad scoop between 150 and 300 Hz, the strongest bass between 45 and 65 Hz. Bass extension goes to 40 Hz.

Room EQ Wizard MDAT file for download: View attachment 7TektonModelLore-LRA-final.mdat

Power Handling

The depths of the voice of the Three Wishes genie were menacingly powerful, and were handled cleanly with no hint of breakup.

Evaluation Panel - Thoughts and Comments

Wayne's Observations:


The Tekton Model Lores surprised me. I knew very little about them, and - for no particular reason - had placed no expectations on them. When they ended up performing extremely well, I was knocked out altogether.

Soundstage and Imaging:

The Model Lores gave an absolutely monstrous soundstage. If anything, it was pushing at the walls and ceiling, asking for more space to fill with sound.

The imaging was eye-opening. The sounds recorded with tightest imaging were presented the size of a pea, practically pinpoint sharp. In a soundstage that large, the effect was baffling. Voices seemed carved from the air by lasers. Cindy's vocals on Ain't It A Shame originated from a point source.

In discussions about imaging there are those who will say they prefer softer imaging because it is more like natural sound sources, which usually have some size to them. A singer is not a point source, since they have sound radiating from their face, throat, and chest. Why not have an image that large?

My disagreement is not that a larger image sounds bad. It sounds wonderful if it was recorded to sound that way. But a voice recorded by a single microphone and handled properly through the recording and mastering process can sound like a point source in the recording, and that is the way I want to hear it, not "fluffed up" by poor driver matching to sound bigger. The Model Lores were doing their job, and I loved it. The effect was a sense of realism that had the psycho-acoustical brain wondering if Cindy had been transported to the room by the Tektons. In my experience, only the sharpest imaging can accomplish that delightful little trick. Well done, Lores.

Soundstage development and cohesiveness were natural and convincing, very true to life. The Tektons completely disappeared in the sound field.

Frequency Response:

Let us start with the bass. Phil's kick drum on I Don't Care Any More had depth and power that punched right in the gut, almost feeling like there was a subwoofer involved. The genie's deep voice on Three Wishes was especially powerful, like he was speaking to us through the ground. The bass seemed tight and well defined. Not quite as refined as it might be - there was sometimes a sense that something was missing, but I could never identify what it was - but not worthy of major complaint, either. Bass for bass lovers.

The peak just below 2 KHz was like a definition laser. Details in voices and instruments were laid bare, nothing could hide from the Lores. It could be a little much after awhile, though, slightly fatiguing. With more time to play with them, we might have found an off-axis setup that tamed that peak without sacrificing the monstrous soundstage and laser imaging. As it was, the forwardness of that peak was one small negative for a pair of speakers whose assessment was adding up to mostly big positives.

Physical and Visual:

For some reason I think of an old Victrola horn when I see the Lores, with the large woofer at the top. Their appearance is somewhat atypical for tower speakers, but in no way unattractive.

Overall Listening Experience:

The Tekton Model Lores have so many great qualities going for them, I find myself wishing for the chance to work with them again. I would love the chance to try to find a setup with the same monstrous soundstage and laser imaging, and with that midrange "details" peak just slightly tamed.

What These Speakers Are Best For:

There are no limits for the Model Lores. They needed to be spaced away from the LP, so might not be the best choice for a small room. And the midrange might get out of hand in a very live room. In a larger, deadened room, they have surprises in store. Who knows, maybe there is a sweeter-still sweet position waiting to be discovered, with perfect midrange AND all the rest!

Leonard's Observations:

I was excited to hear these and expecting them to wow me based upon what I have read about Tekton in general. They did not disappoint. These would compete with the Klipsch and Magnepan as my favorites in the second tier of speakers. They are very dynamic and lively-sounding and frankly, fun to listen to. I found them only a little bright, and lacking only a little detail compared to the Arx and ML. The bass was full sounding, perhaps a bit lacking in detail and tubby in the 50-70Hz range, but not tiring. They seemed to handle the blues guitar of Kenny Wayne Shepherd better than most of the other speakers. Anyone who says that reproducing the unnatural sound of an electric guitar is an incidental feature of speakers will get argument from me. I like a Strat to sound like a Strat, not a Les Paul. There is something to be said for being able to produce distortion precisely, which is much of what electric guitars are about. I suspect it is partially the sensitivity and dynamics, and partially being able to handle complexity in the signal. The detail on acoustic guitar and strings from a deep bass to violin was impressive. With the high efficiency of this speaker, it is very versatile and would be something one would be happy with for a long time under many system conditions.

Quenten's Observations:

Let's just say I was getting pumped now. Every speaker thus far had outdone the previous one hands down, and now here were the Tekton Lore's, very respected speakers with many good reviews. Placement went quickly and yielded a nice, wide soundstage, but just not as full as the ML's or A5's. By no means bad, just not quite as full, something that would be easy to miss without this kind of comparison. I also noticed a slight drop off in the tonal quality of male vocals. This was not apparent at all with female vocals. Bass response was a bit dull as well with the bass melodies in the Supertramp album (synthesizer generated). Track #1 "School" has a very nice bass melody at about 4:50 that I like to use for this test, as it is a very revealing passage. Taking my turn in the back showed a slightly more diminished soundstage (off-axis response). While it did encompass the speakers, it fell short reaching out to the walls.

Sonnie's Observations:

The Lore's were probably the most intriguing speaker of the bunch for me, simply because they seem to have gotten a lot of attention recently and their big brother, the Pendragon, has scored serious acclamations from a few reviewers.

Imaging and soundstage was pretty good on the Lores… probably as good of imaging as I have heard in any of the speakers. The bass was to die for in my opinion… I loved it. I wish all of them had this bass, as it was the only bass I really felt.

On the B-52’s Ain't It A Shame and Revolution Earth I thought the voice was a little sharp. I tried toeing the speaker out a little to compensate, but not only did the soundstage and image suffer, it did not really help.

With Nickel Creek's Ode To A Butterfly the imaging was very defined, but not quite as deep as what I have heard on a few other speakers.

The bass on Phil Collin’s I Don’t Care Anymore was cool. I had not really commented much on this song thus far... and it was pretty good on most of the speakers, yet was a step above on the Lore's.

Once again, the bass on Pink Floyd's Dogs Of War sounded sub-like, almost like we had a small 8-10” sub in the room, yet the sax was a bit bright.

On Roger Water's Three Wishes the genie was again amazing sounding and although I feared the guitar might be too edgy, it was really good and sounded about as good as it had sounded with any of the speakers.

I thought the Lore's really brought the bass extension, and perhaps having the larger dynamic driver and being the most sensitive of all the speakers, this made sense. The major issue I had was how bright they were. We thought tilting them up a bit might help, but it made them brighter for me. It did not seem like anything we did was helping tame the brightness. Had these speakers been smoother through that upper midrange area, they could have easily stole the show. I truly look forward to listening to... and perhaps reviewing the Pendragon model at a later date, but I think the Model Lore's might need some taming before I could live with them.
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Vandersteen 2Ce Speakers - Review and Observations

Vandersteen 2Ce

  • 3-way, with metal alloy dome tweeter
  • Frequency Response: 29Hz – 29kHz (+/- 3db)
  • Recommended Power: 40-160W
  • Sensitivity (2.83v / 1 Meter): 86 dB
  • Impedance: 7 Ohms
  • Woofer Size: 10" Active Acoustic Coupler / 8"
  • Midrange Size: 4.5"
  • Tweeter Size: 1"
  • Crossover: 600Hz / 5000Hz
  • Dimensions: 39.75” H x 16” W x 10.25” D
  • Weight (Each): ~30 lbs.
The Vandersteen 2Ce towers feature a 1" critically damped metal allow dome tweeter with ferrofluid voice coil cooling, a 4.5" midrange with ferrofluid voice coil cooling, an 8" woofer, and a 10" critically damped long-fiber-cone active acoustic coupler.

Setup and Placement Flexibility

Final placement measurement from front center baffle of speaker: To Back Wall = 7'8" | To Side Wall = 5'2" | Spkr To Spkr = 9'2" | To Listening Position = 7' | Toe-in = 30°

Frequency Response, Bass Extension

Bass response peaks at 63 Hz, with extension to 44 Hz. There is a dip between 70 and 120 Hz. We used crossover settings of -2 dB for the midrange and -2 dB for the tweeter. At that setting, frequency response in our listening room was very flat from 100 Hz to almost 10 KHz, with a midrange peak just below 2 KHz.

Room EQ Wizard MDAT file for download: View attachment 8Vandersteen2Ce-LRA-final.mdat

Power Handling

The 2Ce's handled the depths of the genie's voice with ease and with no sign of breakup.

Evaluation Panel - Thoughts and Comments

Wayne's Observations:


Maybe we gave up too soon. As we tried and tried to find a sweet position for the 2Ce's, it seemed like we almost had it a number of times, were just one step away from the "Eureka" of achieving a great soundstage with them, but we never found it. Based on their specifications and the reputation of the company, I can only assume we did not do our jobs as we should have.

I would love a chance to hear them in a known good setting. As it was, I can only report that their performance was somewhat lackluster in our room on that day.

And in hindsight, Sonnie remembered that they were mounted on bases with wheels, great for moving around, undoubtedly lousy for sonic performance. Doh! We heard them late on our second day, when we were not at our freshest, or I am confident we would have figured out what was holding them back - wheeled bases or whatever - and gotten a performance they seem, by reputation, to be worthy of.

So, in brief, here is what I heard, but take it in context: they probably could have sounded better. Vandersteen lovers, we truly mean no offense.

Soundstage and Imaging:

The soundstage was a little wider than the spacing of the speakers and pleasantly deep, but seemed like a collage of little soundstage pieces that did not fit together well. Imaging was quite sharp, a sign that we were not totally off base in setting them up.

Frequency Response:

There was a bit of shrillness from the peak just below 2 KHz. We tried to tame it using the rear level controls, but they made little difference. Bass response was solid, with good extension.

Physical and Visual:

The Vandersteens are unique in design and appearance. The smaller drivers are mounted in successively-smaller stacked chambers, and the whole assembly is hidden by a surrounding grille cloth.

Overall Listening Experience:

The Vandersteens seemed uneven to me, grainy, coarse. unrefined.

What These Speakers Are Best For:

As we heard them, I would use them for simpler music. They struggled with the more complex tracks we were playing.

EDIT: Update on my impressions, see post #141.

Leonard's Observations:

The inclusion of the Vandersteen might be questioned because of the price of a new pair, but Sonnie had the opportunity to purchase a used pair in the same ballpark as the others. I was quite interested in these because my two channel experience is somewhat (well, OK extremely, like 20 years) dated but the original 2C was one speaker I was quite familiar with back in the day. I fully expected to listen and be impressed. Sadly, it was among the lower tier of performers in this group. That said, they do a lot right and are a well-balanced speaker with a nice image. They were one of the harder speakers to place for optimum image. Once positioned, the soundstage was wide, moderately deep, but not much height. I attribute this to the wheeled stands. I suspect that raising the speaker a bit and a more solid stand might improve the performance. One quirk that was not shared by any of the rest of the speakers was that image became rather indistinct at the location of the speakers. They get “out of the box” nicely otherwise, but sounds that seemed to emanate from the speaker location were not well focused like deeper more center image sounds. Subtle detail seemed lacking in general compared to some of the rest of the tested speakers. Overall, for the price of a new pair, these did not hold up well. For the used price they are certainly a good value and I fully understand what it is that many people love about these. They have a bit of that romantic sound that I used to describe about one of my old favorites from Snell. I expected to enjoy these most going in. They are an easy speaker to listen to but nothing drew me in to listen more. I wonder if there was a need for a bit more power and if the tube amp was not a good match for them. These are a speaker that I often hear bi-amped, and they might really benefit from it.

Quenten's Observations:

Setting up these speakers was a real challenge. Sonnie and I moved the speakers into every conceivable spot and then back again. I don't think we ever found the sweet spot, just the best spot. Even then they were not as smooth as we thought they should be, thus we used the tweeter adjustments to dial those down a bit. Wayne and Leonard listened before me so my off axis evaluation became burned in, which was extremely poor. When I did take the chair however, I was surprised. The sound stage improved, imaging cleared up and the bass really came through (not surprising with that large woofer). But alas, nowhere close to keeping up to any of the other sets. Sonnie closed out the evaluation putting me in the back again. Wow, back to reality! The only plausible consideration might be that these speakers were two generations out of date and used. Given the fact that these speakers have garnered some glowing reviews, I was left wondering.

Sonnie's Observations:

The Vandersteen's also accumulated quite a few votes... coming in third on the poll. I was very pleased with their condition, as they look like new speakers, practically flawless. I was not sure what to expect, other than they obviously must sound good because they have been around for fifty-eleven years and have a host of positive reviews.

Strangely enough, the 2Ce’s gave us the most trouble finding a sweet spot, but we finally agreed that the same positioning as the Maggies, Klipsch and Lore's worked the best, although we never got that same soundstage and imaging that we had on most of the other speakers. I do believe we moved these around more than any other speaker... six inches this way... six that way... six more back, left, right, backward, forward... every which way. I was worn out moving them around.

I will not get into commenting about the songs, as it is really a moot point at this time. I do not know if it was simply the older technology or the design, but they were probably lacking the most in clarity, spaciousness and detail. That does not mean they sounded terrible or even bad, they sounded okay to me, but all the other speakers just sounded slightly to a good bit better. These speakers are fairly insensitive and being a 7 Ohm speaker, they were not getting the full power of the Rogue amp, which was setup internally for 4 ohm speakers. To be fair, I believe these speakers would benefit more from a couple hundred watts of power and maybe even bi-amped. Another thing was the stands and rollers... I am not so sure they were needed. With these stands the speakers were tilted slightly back. It may be that sitting flat on the floor or on spikes might be the best vertical height. I still have these and may do a bit of experimenting to see if I can find better positioning and better sound. Either way, I do not see them being on par with the ML's or the Arx. I realize some Vandersteen owners may be scratching their heads, but I promise we tried and it obviously was not meant to be... maybe we needed more coaching.
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Summary and Conclusion

Leonard's (lcaillo) - Overall Impressions by Category of Analysis

Ease of Placement for Optimal Soundstage: The easiest to find the best room location, in no particular order, were the Klipsch (could be the winner in this category), Arx, Martin Logan, HTD, and Tekton. The Magnepan, Vandersteen, and Focal were more challenging in this regard, though all of the speakers were able to produce a rather nice sound stage. The Klipsch, Arx, and ML speakers were strikingly robust in this sense, tolerating moves and turns while still producing a good soundstage and always seeming to produce sound that seemed to be “outside the box.”

Imaging: As noted above, all of the speakers could produce a nice image, but some shined over others. In this regard I would say that the Magnepan, Arx, and Martin Logan speakers stood out, but with the qualification on the Magnepan that you have to be listening in the sweet spot, which is smaller, and it is much harder to set them up to find that nice soundstage. I actually think that the space of the sound stage with the Magnepan is more realistic if you can get them set up properly, but perhaps more detailed in the other two. None of the speakers disappointed in terms of imaging, except perhaps the Vandersteen.

Detail and Clarity: Overall, again, most all of the speakers were great performers. Most just had areas where they fell a little short relative to the best in the group. There were very few recordings where I did not feel that the Arx produced greater detail and clarity than the others. The Martin Logan speakers were a VERY close second in this regard. Not far behind those were the Tekton, Klipsch, and HTD. Most of the speakers revealed great detail and most of the shortcomings were relatively minor criticisms of coloring, sibilance, or loss of detail in a specific frequency range.

Frequency Response: I’ll leave detailed comment on this alone and refer you to Wayne’s response measurements. They are averaged from six sweeps and generally show reasonably good response. Some of the anomalies did correspond with our more subjective observations. One unfortunate one that may have handicapped the speaker was noting a large difference in the tweeter output on the two channels in the HTD speakers. None of the speakers went terribly deep, generally rolling off below 40-50 Hz. Not unexpected, and for most music not a problem, though some may want to add a sub for very deep notes and to tweak the bass region.

Mid-Bass: One area I am sensitive to is the mid bass area. I am not very tolerant of a lack of detail or over emphasis here. The standouts here were the Arx and the Tekton, with the Martin Logan a close third. This was an area that very slightly led me to favor the Arx over the ML in the final selection. Both were actually very good here, but I felt that the Arx were slightly more precise in producing lower strings on guitars, particularly acoustic guitars and cello.

Efficiency: Clearly the standout here were the Tekton Model Lore's. These were very easy to drive to quite loud levels and never straining to be dynamic. The Klipsch were close behind and both were impressive in their dynamic sound. In the middle but above average were the Martin Logan, Focal, Arx, and HTD. The opposite end of the range would be the Vandersteen and Magnepan speakers.

Listening Fatigue vs. Begging Listening: This character is something that I have always noted that may be meaningless to others. Most have heard reference to listening fatigue, and maybe not heard the call of a speaker as I have. I found the sibilance of the Focal to be fatiguing, though others did not. Most of the rest did not notably produce listening fatigue, but the only ones that begged me to listen more, and that I did not want to quit listening to were the Arx and Martin Logan. Particularly, the Arx was my siren and for some reason I just kept wanting to listen more and more. Everything I played sounded very good and I heard detail in voices and instruments that others lacked, at least for me. Related is the idea of musicality. I found the Klipsch surprisingly musical, which for me means producing instruments with low distortion and the distortion that is produced is not harsh but perhaps even complimentary. The Arx and Martin Logan excelled here, but the Klipsch was surprisingly close in most ranges.

Overall Pick: For me it was the Arx. The ML was a very close second. Everything else had reasons to like but were not in the same league with these two fine, well-balanced products.

Wayne's (AudiocRaver) - Final Analysis

Making A Choice: Arx A5's and MartinLogan Motion 12's

It was clear to all that the MartinLogan Motion 12's and the Arx A5's were the top candidates to consider, given our common listening preferences. We moved the Motion 12's forward to right beside the A5's in their favored position, then listened to verify that repositioning the Motion 12's had not impacted their performance.

By the time I sat down to take my turn in the listening position, I had completely lost track of which set was hooked up to the amplifier, and said so. Leonard wisely replied, "Don't worry about it." Agreeing, I started to listen.

One set had a little more bass, and a subtle sense of added liveliness, but there was a sense of refinement about the other set that won out in the end.

Several tracks from Plastic Beach by Gorillaz were revealing of these differences, with impact-filled beats and strong bass lines and rich synthesizer tones. Here the slight increase in bass had me leaning toward the Motion 12's for awhile. But it was a sense of control by the A5's that ultimately led me back to them.

I tried to pick out any imaging and soundstage differences between the two. The Motion 12's employ dipole midrange drivers, which one would expect to energize the room in a different way from that of the classic forward-radiating midrange drivers of the A5's. There were no clear imaging or soundstage differences that I could tell.

Two Deerhoof tracks, Super Duper Rescue Heads and Fete d'Adieu came to my rescue and helped point out the frequency response differences, pushing the low-midrange and high-bass regions. The tracks have a raw dynamic quality that can be alternately complex then simple, dense then sparse. Those tracks played a tiny bit cleaner on the A5's.

Collapse The Light Into Earth, by Porcupine Tree, ends with dense strings that are recorded with a hint of compressed harshness that can get muddy on an unrefined speaker. That track gave a final confirmation that the A5's had the clarity edge.

The differences were small. Having the two pairs of speakers standing side-by-side did not appear to affect either set negatively. Under other conditions, one would be hard-pressed to identify those differences. On the other hand, another room might favor the Motion 12's with their dipole midrange drivers.

Either speaker would be a delight to own. Heard separately, the differentiators we noticed would probably never come to light. In the end it was that sense of refinement and control that made the A5's my final recommendation.

In Summary

What an amazing weekend. It was a perfect storm of listening conditions:
  • Eight wonderful sets of speakers.
  • Two days to concentrate on how they sounded.
  • A well-treated listening room.
  • Great people to share the experience with. Thanks to Sonnie for making it possible.
We got very nice imaging and soundstage qualities out of the Magnepan, Klipsch, MartinLogan, Arx, and Tekton speakers. I thought the Tekton's gave the finest performance in this regard. The stability and room-sized listening sweet spot from the Klipsch model were an attention-getter, though.

The frequency response and bass capability from the Focal, Klipsch, HTD, MartinLogan, and Arx speakers were all to be admired and enjoyed.

Power handling came down to the genie's voice at 2:30 on Three Wishes (short version). All but the Magnepan's were able to handle it with no breakup.

The definition standouts were the Magnepan, Klipsch, and Tekton models, although some listeners might find the midrange emphasis a bit fatiguing .

As our choices for the speakers that met our overall listening criteria most clearly, the MartinLogan Motion 12's and the Arx A5's were both excellent speakers, but the A5's had my vote with their sense of control and refinement.

Sonnie's Summation and Finale - The Choice Announced!

It all came down to two pairs of speakers standing out among the others. This is not to say the others did not sound good, because we were able to get them all to sound pretty good. Clearly some of them were better than others. I will state again for the record that some of these speakers may have performed better under different circumstances, different surroundings, differently treated rooms, and with different amps (specifically more power). The choice I made is based on the environment and equipment that was used during this evaluation and that will continue to be used by me (all of which are my preferences). I will repeat it again... just because we think a speaker sounds better than the speaker you may own, is no reason for you to be upset or disappointed. We can have differently hearing qualities, we may prefer a different sound... there are numerous variables to consider why I may pick a speaker different from you. I made my choice based on what I like and what I heard in my given surroundings and with my equipment that I want to use. Could the results have been different in a different room or with different equipment? I do not know and I do not care. The purpose of the event succeeded in what I was looking to accomplish, which was my most important concern. I hope everyone reading can appreciate and respect my choices.

As you probably already know if you read above... the two pairs of speakers that made the final listening session were the MartinLogan Motion 12's and the Arx A5's. Over the last couple of months I have listened to quite a few speakers at Lone Star Audiofest and Capital Audiofest. I will say without reservations that what I have heard with the Motion 12's and the A5's comes very close to some expensive setups I have heard at these shows. Of course the most expensive speakers at those shows were not what necessarily sounded the best to me... proving to me that it does not take a lot of money to get that magic in two-channel listening. I also contribute the excellent sound we heard during this event to the Rogue Cronus Magnum Tube Integrated Amp, which performed flawlessly. This integrated tube amp is a solid contender for a two-channel system.

During the last session, we placed both speakers side by side and one of us would change out the speakers playing, while listening to several tracks of our own choosing. I had 35 songs picked out from various artists that I listen to on a regular basis. I went back and forth several times. At one time I was having a difficult time making up my mind, but ultimately the A5's kept nudging the 12's out of the way, although it was very close. I am not sure I could even describe the subtle differences I heard, but as I continued to listen, swapping them out over short and long listening periods, even for several days after the event, the A5's continued to come out on top.

I contribute a lot of the A5 qualities to its excellent design. Their smoothness is attributed to their low distortion, plain and simple. The planar tweeter is about four times the surface of a typical dome tweeter, and therefore has roughly four times less IM distortion. The three SplitGap woofers are roughly half the distortion of every other conventional 5" woofer. According to Jon Lane of The Audio Insider, the midrange is a special part developed for the application. It has a wonderful response raw, and it uses a relatively minimalist crossover. The functions are impulse-perfect and in-phase between woofers and mid, and constant power, in-phase between mid and tweeter. Sweeping the speaker's response while measuring off-axis vertically gives a really linear attenuation as you move further off axis. All in all, this is a very deliberate design, and while it has Jon's usual emphasis on thorough dampening in all three domains, it has very little indeed between it and the input signal. There are only five poles in the entire speaker's network, and two more components plus a few resistors to manage impedance and level. All are high grade. This is one fine speaker design and it shows in its sound qualities. The best part is the pair is available for only $749 from The Audio Insider. For what these speakers can do when properly setup (with a very liberal positioning range), it is amazing that they are so inexpensive. Excellent work Jon Lane! You are to be commended!

Members gorb, gtpsuper24, ironglen, JQueen, needspeed52, Sunlesstrawhat, and tcarcio... all got it right and they have met the qualifications to be entered into the $500 Cash Giveaway. The winner will be announced in the HTS Newsletter that will be published in the next day or two.

The speakers I am choosing for my two-channel system are the Arx A5... and they have now been purchased from The Audio Insider.

Could I have chosen the ML's and been happy, absolutely! I would almost keep them if I had reason to... and thought about taking them to my lake shack, but the listening environment is just not the same, nor anywhere near as flexible. Plus I do not have much time for music listening while we are there. I thought about keeping them and swapping them back and forth, but that just does not make sense, especially if the A5's are slightly better and they fill my needs. So ultimately the ML's, Magnepan's and Vandersteen's will all be up for sale at very attractive pricing... if interested, please shoot me a PM.

A special thanks goes out to the panelist, Wayne (AudiocRaver), Leonard (lcaillo) and Quenten (Tonto). I could not have done this without you guys. You were great company and I enjoyed our time together... and I look forward to the next event! I am pumped up already! I also want to thank all of our members who participated in the voting and who joined in our conversations about the event. A big thanks also goes out to those companies who supplied speakers that did not get chosen, as well as Rogue, RAM and SVSound for being part of the event. A huge thanks to Jon Lane for "finally" deciding to send us the A5's... :hail: And ... last but certainly not least, my wife, Angibug! Thank you sweetheart for accommodating us and all these speakers and boxes over a several week span, you are a gem and I love you! :kiss:

Congratulations once again to the the Arx A5 speakers for being my speakers of choice.

Join us in our search for the best $2,500 speakers.
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Wow great read! Seems like you guys did a very thorough comparison. I voted vandersteens and thought for sure they could hold up against the competition but I am very satisfied with your conclusion. You gave every speaker a fair shake and to think the Arx A5's almost didn't make it to the room! Good job all involved and now can't wait to hear the $2500 thread take off.
Great job! Thorough and very well put together, with lots of built in suspense. I hope you enjoy your new spx.
A very interesting read and wow; did you guys put in some work or what? I have also been poking around for a new set of speakers for a dedicated two channel rig. I have mine narrowed down to most likely a pair of Paradigm Studio 100's. I might just have to try and give a listen to the ARX's. Thanks to all involved for the time spent reviewing.
What a great write up to a successful event. Well worth the wait. Congratulations on your purchase of the A5s. I love my A5s and can relate to the experience described -- the speakers disappearing into the background and you listening to the music vs. the speakers. I hope to have the privilege of listening to the other speakers someday and I'm glad the impressions written gives me an idea of what to expect.

Thank you again and congratulations to Jon, Colin and the rest of the Arx community. :clap:
I can see why it took so long to get the results up - that was quite a lot of writing! Great to see measurements taken on all the speakers as well.

Nice to see the ARX take the win, since I'm very interested in them myself. Not that many people thought they would be chosen though :D
Several months ago, I was about to purchase a set of B&W 600 series (683'S, 686'S and CC) when a friend suggested I try Internet Direct companies first. He specifically mentioned Arx as a brand to consider. Since I had no knowledge of ID companies, I went on search to learn everything I could about them and the products they offer.

Of the brands I was considering, Arx seemed to have the least amount of feedback/reviews (at least professional quality reviews), so I'm thrilled to read the in-depth, well thought out review you all posted. I can't wait to order a set and give them a listen. Hopefully they will satisfy my ears, as they did yours, and make a home in my living room. Thank you for the time and effort you put into this, it's greatly appreciated!
Fantastic job guy's. You don't get more thorough than that. :clap:
Several months ago, I was about to purchase a set of B&W 600 series (683'S, 686'S and CC) when a friend suggested I try Internet Direct companies first. He specifically mentioned Arx as a brand to consider. Since I had no knowledge of ID companies, I went on search to learn everything I could about them and the products they offer.

Of the brands I was considering, Arx seemed to have the least amount of feedback/reviews (at least professional quality reviews), so I'm thrilled to read the in-depth, well thought out review you all posted. I can't wait to order a set and give them a listen. Hopefully they will satisfy my ears, as they did yours, and make a home in my living room. Thank you for the time and effort you put into this, it's greatly appreciated!
There is not as much talk out there about the Arx. Yet. We can attest that they do not send out eval sets to just any reviewer. It was a privilege to hear and write about them. Let us know what you think of them. Hope you will be a very satisfied owner.
I'm not up on all the charts and what not but I hope after all the specs. have been rated that the real final choice was what pleased your ears the most. When I make an expensive purchase I try to compare the specs. Then try a couple out and pick the one that suits what I want or do the best.

Your competition and the many posts was great.
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