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To Hans Wetzel,
I am in the market for a pair of affordable, three-way tower speakers to be used primarily for music, with a little TV stereo sound thrown in. And I have a question.
First a little background. My current music setup includes a 1987-vintage Yamaha RX-700U stereo receiver, a pair of 1996-vintage Paradigm Titan V1s, and a Paradigm PDR-10 subwoofer. I use a Chromecast Audio device hooked up to the Yamaha receiver’s CD analog input to stream music from my iPhone. I plan on purchasing a Schiit Modi 2 Uber so that I can play FLAC files stored on my computer through the Yamaha receiver. I also plan on using my Xbox One’s TosLink output, connected to the Modi’s TosLink input, to play the occasional CD, and for TV stereo sound.
Due to the disappearance of the type of audio store where I originally bought my receiver and speakers (you know, the type of place that had a decent listening room and knowledgeable sales staff), I am largely trying to decide on what speakers to purchase by reading reviews. I would like the speakers I buy to have enough low end to make a subwoofer unnecessary for music playback (I am not a bass head). This leads to my question. Is there more to low-frequency extension than is shown by the -3dB low-frequency measurement? I understand one speaker may have muddy, bloated bass, while another can have taut, punchy, fast, accurate, articulate bass (just a few of the adjectives used by audio publication reviewers), all while having the same -3dB roll-off point. But can one of the two speakers “sound” like it has lower bass extension? And what would contribute to this perception? I am a firm believer in the objective/subjective review. Some things are just not measurable with simple frequency and impedance graphs, and everyone has their own personal taste in speaker sound profiles. So, I understand that a reviewer may report a perception of lower bass extension. I am an electrical engineer and have a pretty good understanding what goes into creating sound, and the logarithmic nature of decibel measurements. So, what gives with reviewers saying that a speaker has great low-bass extension? Okay, I guess that was more like four questions.
My contenders [are the following]: Elac’s Debut 2.0 F5.2, [since] Andrew Jones says he likes to give up some efficiency as a tradeoff for low-frequency response; Paradigm’s Monitor SE 3000F, [as] I love the Canadian school of objective design, coupled with subjective listening; and Q Acoustics’ 3050, [which] I know [is] a two-way, but has gotten great reviews. Any other suggestions at this price point are welcome.
P.S., I love your editorials and equipment reviews. You show a passion for helping others to see past the manufacturer marketing and reviewer B.S. Keep up the good work. If I could afford them, I would buy the Monitor Audio Bronze 6 speakers based on your review alone.
There’s far too much here to adequately cover in a short response, but let me try to broadly address your questions. Loudspeaker manufacturers are often -- how can I put this delicately? -- creative in their listed specifications. The ±3dB points are welcome compared to some manufacturers who will list a frequency response without any qualification whatsoever. But is the frequency response with listed ±3dB points an anechoic measurement or “in-room”? If the latter, how big is the room, what are the dimensions, how was it treated, and where were the speakers set up within the room? While the listed frequency response may be a decent starting point when comparing different loudspeaker models, consumers should pay more attention to cabinet volume and driver radiating area if they’re trying to gauge how much bass extension they’re likely to hear.
As for your “perception” question, psychoacoustics is a complicated thing. Moreover, everyone’s tastes differ, so a more fulsome bottom end may appeal to one listener, while another might prefer bass that’s lower in level, which can sometimes sound faster and tauter. Beauty is in the ear of the beholder. That’s a bit of a cop-out, I know, but when reading professional reviews, it’s more important to get an idea of what a speaker sounds like to see if it agrees with what you like, rather than skipping ahead to a pithy conclusion and noting whether it received something like our Reviewers’ Choice award, or some equivalent.
Regarding your contenders, it’s an interesting bunch, for sure. I haven’t heard any of the speakers you mention in person, but I know that Elac and Paradigm each have a “house sound” of sorts. Elac’s sound errs slightly on the warm, full side of neutral, with a smooth treble extension. Paradigm’s sound is more visceral and dynamic, with a livelier top end. Each company makes very good products and has a great deal of engineering expertise to lean on. Q Acoustics is an interesting choice. I’ve been interested in their products for the past year or two, and your e-mail has prompted me to reach out to them about reviewing something from their newly announced 3000i line. Their US website shows that they have a 30-day risk-free trial, so that may be a great way to audition the 3050, or perhaps the new 3050i. If you’re leery of that, then I’d probably steer you towards the Paradigm Monitor SE 3000F. If you like the way your Titan V1s sound, you’ll probably enjoy one of their newest creations. Good luck! . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
Thank you for your excellent review of Monitor Audio’s Silver 300s. I recently purchased a Walnut pair of these, but I’m wanting to get as much detail and inner resolution out of these speakers as possible. As you recognized in your review of these speakers, it can be one of their weaker points.
What would you do to recommend me “overcoming” this to get as much detail/hidden music out of them as much as possible? Any advice/counsel would be much appreciated. I know I probably need a highly resolving amplifier to accomplish this, but I just wanted to make sure I venture down the right path to get this since it’s something I value very much.
You’re right on the money about needing to partner your new Monitor Audio speakers with high-quality associated hardware in order to make them sound their best. If you’re starting from scratch, I’d recommend looking into a high-quality integrated amp with a built-in digital-to-analog converter. Something like NAD’s C 368, which retails for $899 and which my colleague Al Griffin raved about on SoundStage! Simplifi, would be a good starting point on that front. Cambridge Audio’s CXA80, which goes for $999.99, is another option at that price point. If you wanted to consider separates, I would suggest starting with Schiit Audio -- they’re the new big name in affordable hi-fi gear, and with very good reason. You could partner their Vidar amp ($699) with the multibit version of their Bifrost DAC ($599) and have a killer system on your hands. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
My name is Florian. I just read your review of the KEF Q750, and I’m looking to buy a home cinema based on these speakers. [Possibly the] Q750 or the Q950 [floorstanding speakers] -- I haven’t decided yet -- and the Q650C [center-channel], and Q150/Q350 [bookshelf speakers]. I would like to know what [five-channel power] amplifier (€1000-€1500) I should buy for this system. Could you help?
I am not familiar with many five-channel power amplifiers, as opposed to the far-more-common multichannel audio/video receivers (AVRs). That said, I was able to come up with a number of suggestions that might be available to you in France. Take note that all prices quoted are in US dollars and the power outputs are into 8 ohms.
Marantz makes a killer-looking five-channel power amp called the MM7055. It retails for $1199 and purports to put out 140Wpc, which should be more than enough for your application. Anthem makes an amp called the PVA 5, which generates 125Wpc, but it retails for $1999. Finally, Rotel offers the RMB-1555, which makes 120Wpc, and retails for around $1700 here in the United States, though it may be more affordable in Europe.
If you’re not limited to pure five-channel power amps, though, you may want to consider a five-channel AVR, as they’re much more widely available, and they can be quite good. Anthem makes the MRX 520, priced at $1399, while NAD offers the T 758 V3, for $1299, which would both be good options for you and well within your budget. Plenty to consider. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I’m a new reader and my wife and I just pulled the trigger on three [Devialet] Gold Phantoms for a [New York City] apartment, with the additional Devialet equipment. Two are for the main space and one for the bedroom. They’re coming in a few days. Quite an upgrade compared to a paired UE Boom 2 speaker setup we currently use (occasionally) or [our] phone speaker (I’m a sinner, I know). Basically, just want to ask if we did the right thing vs. other options. Thoughts?
Two initial thoughts for you, Don. Using your phone’s speaker is nearly inexcusable in this day and age. Second, and lastly, your pricy display of penitence more than makes up for such an offense.
If I were to stop reviewing hi-fi gear today, I’d buy a pair of Gold Phantoms with all of their matching accessories (stands, Dialog, and Remote) and not look back. I’m not sure I can pay Devialet, or the Gold Phantom, any higher of a compliment. Rest assured, you’re making strong life choices these days. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
Sonus Faber speakers have always been loved because of their beautiful visual design and because of their relaxing sound, super easy on the ears, just as you described in your Olympica I review [on SoundStage! Ultra]: “Indeed, a lack of spotlighting of any part of the sound meant that, in longer listening sessions, or hours of background playing as I went about my day, ‘listener fatigue’ never became a problem. This was surely intentional on the designers’ part, and remains true to Sonus Faber’s roots, and to [Livio] Cucuzza and [Paolo] Tezzon’s aspiration to make this a livable speaker -- easy on the eyes, even easier on the ears.”
However, in your review of the Venere S you wrote that they “sounded different,” “I heard abundant ambience and top-end sparkle,” and “[t]he Venere S toed the ever-slender line between sounding engaging and eager or crisp, lively, almost metallic.”
So, my questions for you are: 1) Do you think that the Venere S is not a livable speaker?, 2) Do you think that with the Ses listener fatigue may become a problem in longer listening sessions?, and 3) The prices in Spain are €6210 for the Olympica I with stands, and €5690 for the Venere S in wood finish (the only one you should contemplate). If you ever quit the reviewing game and had to choose between these two Sonus Faber speaker models for “long-term listening enjoyment,” which one would you buy?
I really like the looks of the Venere S. I think the Venere S is the prettiest speaker I’ve ever seen, too, and being a tower I think that the S can play louder and maybe deeper in the bass, with more dynamics. It costs less money, too, but if you tell me that these are the only points where you think the S is more enjoyable than the Olympica I, maybe adding a good subwoofer later on to the Olympica I we can solve these advantages. Do you not think so?
Hope to hear from you soon. Keep up the good work. I really enjoy your reviews.
Oof, this is tough. It seems like you’re really drawn to the Venere S, but also love the classic Sonus Faber sound that the Olympica I exhibits. If the latter is what you’re after, I worry that the Venere S will be too much of a deviation from that for your liking. From the way your e-mail reads, then, I might suggest you spring for the Olympica I and look for a subwoofer down the line.
You did ask what I would do in your situation, though. I think the Venere S is a perfectly competent speaker to live with for the long run, and of the two models you mention, it’s the one I’d buy. Crucially, however, I happen to like the Venere S’s sound. I enjoy extended treble response, and a clean, maybe even crisp midrange. But that sound profile is certainly a bit different than the Olympica I’s, which is demurer by comparison. Trust what you like, and if that’s what you read in my Olympica I review, I think you already know which loudspeaker you should opt for. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I just discovered your columns a few weeks ago and have enjoyed them. Do you know if SoundStage! Access has plans to review the Billie Amp from Heaven 11 Audio? I took a chance and funded the Kickstarter, and have been waiting a while. They are close to shipping (over a year late -- boo!) and I’m curious how it will stack up. Does SoundStage! Access have a policy or an opinion on Kickstarter hi-fi attempts, perhaps encouraging attempts to innovate, or have you found the products from crowdfunding sites lacking in quality? I’d be interested either way.
This is an interesting question, Ron. As a general rule, we don’t review products that exist only on Kickstarter. The product, and potentially the entire “company” behind it, may or may not exist within a year or two after the Kickstarter project ends. Furthermore, how can we be sure that there is infrastructure and support in case something goes wrong with a product like this? It could well be that a first run of products gets shipped to consumers and then the company folds -- what then for the guy who just shelled out quite a bit of money?
In the instant case, I just did a quick online search for the cofounders, Itai Azerad and Andre Keilani, to see what I came up with. According to LinkedIn, the former has a bachelor’s degree in environmental design, while the latter describes himself as an “object & interior designer.” While they may be “[A]ward-winning product designers with a lifelong passion for music,” as the Kickstarter listing mentions, it doesn’t appear on the surface that either has any background in electronics.
It’s certainly possible that the Billie Amp, if and when it ships, will be a very good component. Class-D power married to a tubed preamp and an ESS Technology DAC definitely sounds interesting. Until a working amp makes it into the hands of each and every backer, however, the Billie Amp is not a product that we would consider reviewing on any of our SoundStage! Network websites. There is already too much reputable gear out there that we do not have the bandwidth to review, so reviewing potential vaporware simply isn’t very high on our to-do list. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I am trying to decide between the [Bowers & Wilkins] 704 S2, which you recently reviewed, and the KEF R500. Given that the R500 was chosen as a Recommended Reference Component [by SoundStage! Hi-Fi], I am assuming it is the better speaker. However, having heard a lot about the new Continuum midrange material [on the 704 S2], I wanted to hear your thoughts on the same.
While I didn’t review the R500, Doug Schneider did, I currently own R700s, and previously owned R900s, so I’m very familiar with KEF’s R series.
I always hesitate when I’m asked about which of two speakers is “better.” As always, what’s better for one person might be terrible for another, so it’s all relative to each listener’s sonic preferences. That said, the R500 was chosen as one of our Recommended Reference Components for a reason. As you can see from the measurements that accompany the R500 review, it’s a very well-designed, neutral transducer. If you’re into a neutral sound, with no part of a musical performance over- or under-emphasized, then I’m not sure you can do much better for the price than the R500. But -- and this is a substantial but -- if you prefer an exciting sound, one where instruments sound ultra-vibrant, voices pop from recordings, and recording spaces sound cavernous, then the 704 S2 is absolutely worth considering. If you take a look at the 704’s accompanying measurements, particularly the “Listening Window” chart, you’ll see that the 704 S2’s averaged frequency response peaks at 1kHz, and then again at 4kHz and 9kHz. Those peaks (and corresponding troughs) aren’t inherently a bad thing -- there's a reason so many people like messing with an equalizer when listening to music -- but they’re absolutely audible, and you should be well aware of that approaching a potential purchase. My strong suggestion would be to listen to a pair of 704 S2s in person. I suspect that you’ll hear much of what I did during my review process. As for whether or not you’ll like what you hear -- only you can decide that. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I have recently purchased a pair of B&W 704 S2s and found your review helpful, because I have found dialing in the 704s difficult to avoid either a bright edge or overblown bass when too close to the front wall. Thank you. I wonder if you could provide some more details on the size of your test room and the final distance from the front wall and the toe-in angle you used: this would be helpful to compare my results.
I am in love with the midrange and level of detail, but getting the balance right is proving a challenge; nonetheless, these are impressive speakers. Did you have plinths on and did you biwire? Thank you for any advice.
Ah, someone else feels my pain. I, too, found myself very frustrated with setting up the 704 S2s. I did use the included plinths, but did not biwire the speakers, and I’m dubious that biwiring would rectify this issue. You should be able to find workable bass balance by pulling the speakers away from your front wall by 3-4” at a time, as well as experimenting with plugging the 704 S2s’ ports. My room’s dimensions and exact setup won’t help you there.
The “bright edge” you reference is a different kettle of fish. As you probably read in my review, I was unable to determine an optimal setup that allowed the B&W’s talented midrange to shine without sounding bright or etched on some material. Placing the speakers so they pointed straight ahead lost me too much in the stereo imaging department to be worthwhile, though perhaps you’ll have better luck. Ultimately, I did toe-out the speakers a few degrees more than I normally do with review samples, which “took the edge off,” so to speak, resulting in the 704s sounding better, if not ideal.
I bid you good luck, Alan. With the right listening material, Mercury in retrograde, and the winds blowing briskly from the southeast, I thought the 704 S2s sounded genuinely sensational much of the time. The rest of the time, I found myself chasing those ephemeral moments, praying I could recreate them. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
Great review [of the KEF Q750 loudspeaker]. I will go listen to the Q750 today. It’s the Q350 I want to hear. Amazing how trickle-down technology can pay off. Look forward to the Q350 review from you, if possible.
Given the number of KEF products that I reviewed over the past few years, I doubt that I’ll be reviewing another one soon. But based on how accomplished the Q750 is, I have little doubt that the Q350 is a peach. Maybe going forward another writer will review one of the Q bookshelf models. . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
I just read your article about streaming and Tidal and AirPlay. I agree wholeheartedly about the predicament many would be in if Tidal were to go bankrupt or something else, but for now I’m enjoying lossless streaming all day, every day in my job at a hi-fi store here in Trondheim in Norway.
I’m sure it’s been suggested to you already, but have you tried Bluesound’s products? Specifically, I would recommend the Bluesound Node 2 for your streaming needs in the main system. I bought one this autumn and have been using it every day since. Just thought I’d give you a tip. Hope it helps, although I’m probably far from the first to suggest this to you. I really like the SoundStage! webpages, by the way, and especially SoundStage! Access, since I’m not really in a position to buy really expensive gear. Keep up the good work!
Med venleg helsing [kind regards],
Thanks for the kind words. As for Bluesound, no, I haven’t had the opportunity to try their products, but we reviewed the Node 2 (along with the Vault 2 and Pulse Mini) back in 2016 on our sister-site SoundStage! Xperience. It looks super convenient for streaming from online services and local computers or NAS device. In my case, though, I have local media on an external hard disk drive -- not a local computer or a NAS device -- and my old computer with Roon would effectively fill this role, albeit in a less-streamlined fashion than the Node 2. Unfortunately, the Node 2’s $499 retail price would get me a full-fledged computer that could fit my needs almost as well, so I don’t think I would gain much from it. That said, I appreciate the suggestion! . . . Hans Wetzel
To Hans Wetzel,
Attributes like USB audio, minimalistic, Tidal streaming (MQA), server storage, and cheap do not go together in the audiophile world. Unless we are talking about the Auralic Aries Mini. I have had mine for a while and in my humble opinion, there is absolutely nothing on the market right now that surpasses it for $500. I currently use it with its own interface app (Lightning DS) to stream Tidal to my Parasound Halo Integrated via USB (FLAC, DSD, Tidal MQA). It also supports an internal storage drive, should you wish to add your own. About two years ago I asked you [via e-mail] to give it a try. You said that you were given no response from Auralic. You may want to give them another call (or e-mail). Really cool group, and the president himself answers the support messages every time I have a question. I hope you find what you are looking for!
We’ve been looking to review Auralic’s products for several years now, but for a variety of reasons it’s never worked out. On your advice, I’ve reached out directly to Auralic’s CEO, Xuanqian Wang, and to my surprise he responded. I’m hoping that we’ll soon be able to see (and hear) first-hand what Auralic’s products can do in the form of a review sample or two. Unfortunately, he did confirm that the Aries Mini is no longer sold in the North American market. That probably rules out my purchasing one unless I find a used example. That said, many thanks for nudging me via e-mail. In the meantime, I may just buy a cheap Windows laptop or used Mac Mini and start using Roon again. . . . Hans Wetzel