Budding Audiophile Seeks Speaker Guidance

Hello and thank you for taking the time to read this thread. I am new to the world of quality home theater audio and am currently trying to decide on a speaker brand. I have demoed several brands so far and, thankfully, have been able to rule a few out. I have spent many weeks learning what I can on my own, but am now at the point where I need the advice of more experienced audiophiles to guide me.

I have a 12x12 living room with a 54" Panasonic VT25. The system will be used for somewhere around 70% movies and 30% music. Movies are my primary concern, but I would like for it to sound good on music as well. After all, the music in film soundtracks is an essential element of the viewing experience. The system will start as a 5.1, due to limited space at this time, but will eventually become a 7.1 when we move in a few months. I will have a separate, powered sub, and have not determined which brand it will be yet, although I'm looking at the $500 price range for it. Additionally, again, due to space limitations, I will need to go with bookshelf speakers for the fronts. As for the two rear channels, my couch is up against the wall in the back of the room and really cannot be moved, so I'm unsure of the speaker type and placement that I should go with. Everything will be powered by the Onkyo 3008.

From Magnolia's offerings, I was able to narrow things down to B&W and MartinLogan. As for the B&W, I listened to the 685B fronts with an HTM61B center channel. For the MartinLogans, I listened to the Motion 4s in front with a Motion 8 center channel. My findings may give you an idea of my personal preference and help you steer me in the right direction. I found the B&W to give a pretty good sound, with dialogue quality being its high point for me. The dialogue was clear, though just a little unnatural-sounding. As for the MartinLogans, the dialogue was good, but not as clear as the B&W. Dialogue clarity is very important to me because, due to a minor hearing problem, I sometimes have trouble understanding the occasional word or words when there is an ambient sound of some sort playing at the same time.

The MartinLogans actually offered something important to me as well, which was emphasized during a particular sound effect. The demo being used was Tron: Legacy, and there is a part in the first bike scene when one bike jumps over the other in slow motion. With the B&Ws, I heard the sound of the bike, and it was fine. With the MartinLogans, however, I could not only hear the sound as part of the film, I could "feel" it, as if the bike actually was nearby. It was a very natural sound for a bike, though, and not overdone at all.

What I really need is the best of both worlds here--a system that will give me very natural and clear dialogue, as well as giving me a balanced and as-intended punch on sound effects that call for it. I would like to stress that, just as I'm not interested in anything underdone or overly-restrained, I also don't want anything overdone or unnatural. Budget-wise, I'm looking to stay in the range of the aforementioned speakers, so basically around $1500 total for the fronts, center, and two surrounds. I could probably manage just a bit more if necessary.

The other brands that are available for me to demo within a "fairly reasonable" driving distance are NHT, Paradigm, KEF, Boston Acoustics, PSB, and Monitor Audio. Would any of these brands be good choices for my personal preferences and requirements? Would any of them absolutely not be? Any that I could exclude would be helpful since I live in the middle of nowhere and am looking at a 300-mile trip to several cities just to demo these few brands.

Thank you so much for any help and advice you can give. I'm holding off on watching many of my favorite films until I get the system installed and I'm so excited to be closing in on the final steps!!

I should add to the previous post that if your listening seat is within the "nearfield" (from about 6 ft. away or closer, acoustic issues may not be as much of a concern. In fact listening from the nearfield position can solve many acoustical problems since some unwanted reflections are no longer in play. Many audiophiles who have small rooms use the nearfield listening position. Here is a guide for nearfield setup from UHF Magazine:

    1. Bring your speakers into the room, two or three feet away from the back wall, as a start.
     2. Set them well apart, a minimum of six feet, I would say.
     3. Set your initial listening position at the same distance away from the center as the speakers are apart. For example, if the speakers are seven feet apart, start your listening tests by sitting seven feet from the center.
     4. Move gradually closer and, using well recorded music selections, listen carefully for improvement in width, depth and imaging.
     5. With each move forward, toe in your speakers so that each one aims at the side of your face nearest it. Don't overdo it. You must still be able to see the inner side of each speaker.
     6. Wait for that magic moment when you get maximum width and optimum depth.

Again, hope this helps.
For 7.1 movie sound in a 12 X 12 room, you would be wasting your money if you spend more than 1K on the entire system. Think HTIB, (home theater in a box, for the uninitated).

Visit your local Definitive Technology dealer and listen to the Home theater systems they offer. They start at $600. I heard this system at a local dealer and with all the big systems sitting around I didn't know which speakers were playing and the sub was small but it shook my innards. I felt this was one of the best systems I had heard under $2,000. It was a sub, two front and two rear speakers and a center channel. They were on a Cambridge Receiver and a 60" flat. I stook there for several minutes trying to figure out which speakers were playing and these don't take away from the music. We had this at a very high volume and WOW the WOW factor kicked in. I was impressed and that is something inexpesive systems don't usually do. Give it a listen. I also heard some music through it and it was nice too. I did not hear it in the 2 channel mode and that could be a deal breaker if it doesn't perform as it should.
I agree with Shakey. The issue here is the room size. Yes there are some good buys out there, but they have to perform in the room where you put them. If you look at the THX high-fidelity audio/visual reproduction standards for home theaters (below), it’s clear that size matters. The size of the room determines how much air can be moved. The more air moved, the larger the scale of sound. Realism in sound reproduction depends to a large degree on how much the scale approximates the sound as it would be in the actual venue or location where it occurs or is depicted in the film/movie. Bottom line is, it depends on what satisfies your viewing and listening needs. To take the room out of the equation, audiophile grade head-fi gear can be quite impressive, but IMHO it can’t rival the realism attained by a great sound system set up properly in a room with good acoustics. In a good HT system, the level of both visual and sonic realism is what makes the viewing/listening experience.
“THX Ultra2: THX Ultra2 Certified products bring the cinematic experience to larger home theaters, 3,000 cubic feet in size, with a viewing distance of 12 feet or greater from the screen.
“THX Select2: THX Select2 Certified products are for medium sized rooms, up to 2,000 cubic feet in size, with a 10-12 foot viewing distance from the screen.
“THX I/S Plus Systems: Certified Systems (AV Receiver + Speaker Bundle) have the power to fill a small home theater or dorm room where the viewing distance from the screen is 6-8 feet.”