Classical speakers that do violins well??

All my serious listening is classical.

I hate nothing more than steely shrillness on violins or a glare on a soprano's voice.

I love nothing more than the faithful reproduction of the tone colors of unamplified instruments (the wood body of the violin and cello, the felt pad excting the sinewy strings of a piano).

YET, I hate bloated, indistinct, overly warm, billowy lower mids and upper bass (what I gather some think of as "musical").

Do you have any experience with speakers that might meet these needs for $2K, give or take (new or used)? Can be either floorstander or monitor, but with at least enough bass to perform decently on orchestral music. THANKS.
You don't mention your electronic chain or room considerations. Assuming no impedance or power issues, consider the Vanderstein's that fit your price range. (Used 3's or new or used 2ce's or 2ci's). Signature line up is their premium version.
sonus faber grand pianos, totem forests, castle howards, a host of others (used)in that pricerange.
Sonus Faber Concerto Domus are terrific for string instruments. Add a musical Rel sub and they'll play with anything twice their price.
I agree with the abover, and almost any "british" sound speaker: Spendor, Proac, Harbeth, etc.
Thanks, folks.

Sorry about the missing info: Quad 66 preamp and Aragon 2004 amp (100W). Both LP and CD sources (equipment in flux). Room size 21' by 12' by 8' high.
Vandersteens and Harbeth perform well with SS, might even be prefarable. The Harbeth HL5 might sell in that range used. The VS 3ASig would also be in that range and be truly "full range" (within reason:)). Don't know the Aragons, but 100 Watt SS amps are genrally a good approach for the 3As.
If you are able to accomodate them, I think Maggie 1.6's would do what you are asking for. In my opinion Aragons and Maggies are an excellent combination.

Duke, do you think the 1.6s sans subwoofer would cover the bass well enough for orchestral? I would imagine they would sound very nice on strings.
Pubul57, the 1.6 would indeed sound very nice on strings and most things. There is of course some trade-off, and I think you probably nailed it - they don't dig down real deep. On the other hand, their pitch definition in the lower registers is superb. They have a natural enough tonal balance that imho they do not "need" a subwoofer. What the Maggies have is a broad, gentle, even subtle dip in the upper midrange/lower treble region that psychoacoustically balances out lack of very deep bass. That being said, restoring the missing deep bass is benefical as long as it's done unobtrusively.

Blending subwoofers with a dipole is a challenge, and one that I have done some work on. If you'd like more information shoot me an e-mail, as I don't want to hijack the thread.

Oris 150 horn. Bartoli, Mutter & kissin sound superb. Serious bargains to be had here on 'gon' every now and then.No need for a sub. IMHO.
hi duke:

i must differ with you regarding the 1.6s. i own them. they have no dip. if anything, they have a peak in the upper mid/lower treble. this a very difficult speaker to work with. the treble is over emphasized. this definitely not a speaker for reproducing strings.

you need a good electrostatic speaker to accomplish this, or perhaps an apogee duetta signature or analysis audio omega.

the original quads are the least timbrally inaccurate.
i am looking to replace my magnepan 1.6, because th treble is overpowering and there is a slight dip in the lower midrange.

it is a somewhat lean sounding speaker.

i'm sorry i can't offer a suggestion for under $2000.
Usher BE-718, one of the most realistic violiin reproduction I have heard regardless of price. I have owned most of Sonus Faber mentioned above, Usher is a giant step above them.
Mrtennis...If you think the MG 1.6 high end is exagerated use the externally mounted tweeter padding resistor that the manufacturer provided. My measurements confirm Magneplanar specs which show no high end boost. It's flat. They say that many commercial recordings have boosted high end to compensate for HF roll off of most speakers, and that's why they provide the resistor. And, by the way, don't get upset by having a resistor in series with the tweeter. Every crossover that I have ever seen has a tweeter padding resistor: it's just that most manufacturers hide them inside the cabinet so the user cannot select to his preference.
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Telarc use ATC SCM Active 20's - another brit speaker to add to your brit audition list suggested above. You won't get an active version and a massive sub at your price point but a used passive SCM 20 should be within reach and get you started towards
nothing more than the faithful reproduction of the tone colors of unamplified instruments

If it is good enough to keep Telarc engineers happy then it may be what you are looking for...

Good Luck!
What are your speaker + listener placement constraints (distances to walls/speakers), room dimensions, and acoustic conditions like?

These things have at least as much to do with what you're hearing as your speaker choice. Placing your speakers within a few feet of the front wall will get you a low frequency boost that will move up into the midrange as you get closer. Sitting too close to the wall behind you will do the same thing. A room that's overly reverberant at high frequencies, TV between the speakers, or coffee table in front of you can get shrill.

You really need to optimize the speakers + room as a system. If you're stuck with the speakers being too close to the front wall you want to be looking at on or in-wall designs that take into account the low frequency boost. If you're sitting far from the speakers something with more directivity (horns) will help retain clarity. Etc.
Spica TC50 or Angelus are very good at reproducing the tonality of strings without harshness, are not bloated at all in the bass (the Angeluses seem to have a bit of a dip in the mid bass, but strong low bass). They do have their weaknesses, though, in terms of high frequency extension, dynamics, resolution, and ability to play loudly. (Perhaps this is a speaker that even MrTennis could like?) Plus, they are very inexpensive. Also consider the Audio Physic Virgo II. I've never owned a pair, but remember them in the showroom as one fo the best all around speakers I have ever heard. I liked the Magnepan 1.6 QRs, but could not get them to work well in my room. I also listened to the next model up in the Magnepan line, and thought its tweeter wa way too revealing - every cymbal strike sounded like somoeone throwing a fistful of gravel at the cymbal. More shimmer than you hear in real life.

You may be right - come to think of it I measured the dip on the 3.6, not the 1.6. It was subtle, averaging maybe 1 dB or so.

Overall though, my impression of the 1.6 is different from yours for whatever reason.

Have you tried adding "wings" to your 1.6? That would extend their bottom end and warm them up a bit. You could do a test run with cardboard wings. Also if you use a resistor on the tweeter, I suggest something higher quality than the sandcasts the factory provides.

If Hesson11 is willing to change amps, the original Quad ESL would be my suggestion.


I use 4 ohm resistors and still have a problem. I am using a tube amp, passive preamp and tube cd player.

i realize we all hear differently. i suspect its a case of perception. I probably perceive a spectral balance which emphasizes an exaggerated treble response more often than most.
Check out the Tonian Acoustic loudspeaker
The fostex driver makes instruments sound so natural

Bass is pretty good as well for a small monitor
Mrtennis...4 ohms is a lot for the MG1.6, although that value would be in line with what many speakers use when trying to hush up a dome tweeter to match the typical woofer. Since Magneplanar designs and builds both the woofer and tweeter parts of the MG 1.6 they can get the efficiency to match better than a manufacturer who uses off the shelf drivers.

I settled on 1.5 ohms. However, I have also replaced the stock iron core crossover inductors with #10 air core inductors having less resistance, so my woofer efficiency is a bit higher than stock.
Spendor SP 1/2E. You should be able to get a good condition used pair for 2K.

Pro: they produce very accurate tone and frequency response. They are well and rightly recognized for this quality - a classic loudspeaker.

Con: they don't have very good bass or excellent dynamics. One famous review rightly described them as being "polite".
The most revealing speaker I've owned that doesn't hurt my ears is the Revel M-20. Not sure it's bass is adequate for full tilt orchestra. You might look into the larger Performa series speakers that use similar drivers with additional woofers.
The best I listened Sonus faber guarniere(not memento), I sold my pair , but just now I and two friends were talkin about ths aspectof SF guarniere, it is the best speaker to play cords!
Hesson11, although I firmly believe your problem is largely in electronics or sources, I would strongly recommend the Reference 3A Grand Veenas. They are quite accurate in the top end thanks to the Murata supertweeters. If they sound shrill, it is something upstream that is the problem.
I love what my Vandersteen 3a signatures do for string sounds. Gorgeous, but...what is your front end? I know that this is controversial, but they couldn't do what they do without a turntable, the latter being the #1 most incredible improvement in massed string sound, including replacing the air around not only the instruments, but also the string choirs. It's amazing. I've gone back to vinyl after 20 years of CD. I have a VPI Scoutmaster but I've also found such string magic even from a Technics TT.
Thanks so much to all of you for your thoughtful responses. I will definitely take them into consideration. A few of you have addressed some good points not strictly related to speaker brands, and I have either addressed or considered them. And yes indeed, Jdaniel13, I do love my vinyl (via an Oracle Paris table). Thanks again, I really appreciate it.
Vienna Acoustics' Bach Grand fits your bill. See:

I've got the Beethoven Baby Grands which are exceptional with strings. I've also heard the Bachs and they have similar mids.

I'm an orchestral trumpet player (hobby, but serious) and I listen to a lot of orchestra and string music. For instance, last night I was listening to Janos Starker and Josef Gingold play the Kodaly Duo for Violin and Cello, Op. 7. Man-alive that was stunning. Incredible string tones on 180 gram vinyl.

The Bach is going to roll-off around 45 Hz, but I think it's got one of the best midranges in your price range.

Compare to the Sonus Faber, also distributed by Sumiko. Most dealers that carry one carry both. As a musician I think you'll find the VA have more accuracy in the mids. Also, the VAs have great cabinetry. They're not as flashy as the SFs, but the quality of construction is equal.

Consider the Linkwitz Orions. They are full range and excel at revealing the inner detail of complex classical music. You can hear the wood vibrate.
In that price range, try one of the new Focal Chorus speakers if you don't want planars. The new tweeter is great. Strings sound smoother than either Vandy 2 or 3.
For classical music, ranging from solo, to chamber, vocal, and orchestra, I am extremely partial to the entire Austrian line of Vienna Acoustics, which like the Italian Sonus Faber, is imported by Sumiko Audio. I listen mostly to classical, and I have recently acquired a pair of Vienna Mahlers, which I absolutely adore: deep and tuneful bass, authority, subtlety, rich harmonic content, extended silky highs. The characteristics are shared by the entire family of Vienna products, and I just noticed there are a couple of Vienna Strausses on Audiogon--the Mahlers barely smaller brothers: e.g.
This pair is being offered at $2900 (an absolute steal!). Note that Vienna speakers are rather sensitive to placement for optimizing bass control. The relatively generous size of your room would be perfect for the Strausses. My friend and fellow Agoner PSCIALLI fell in love with the Vienna sound at the last RMAF. He rapidly caved in, and replaced his B&W 803s with a pair of Strausses for his 13 x 15 music room. The only caveat is that Vienna speakers like to be driven rather sternly by amps having high damping factors, or they may sound loose in the bass. What is the damping factor of your Aragon 2004?
If you are seeking a set of speakers that make violins sound like emotional instruments with a soul, rather than fizzy/tizzy/stealy creatures, Vienna speakers are definitely worth considering.
My goodness, those Strausses are my zip. Must resist... OMG, what a deal. Thank goodness they don't match my maple armoire.

My SF Guarneri Hommages reproduce violin and in fact all stringed instruments about as well as any speaker i have heard.
in order to do a definitive test of a speaker's ability to reproduce timbre accurately, it is necessary to record an instrument in one's living room and compare the recording to a musician's presentation of the same music.

of course one will need a musician who is willing to particpate in this experiment as well as a way to method for recording, such as an open reel tape deck, a dat, or a cd recorder. hopefully, the quality of the recording is sufficient to make a meaningful comparison.
Mrtennis, you're not proposing a casual project. Mic selection is a mine field in and of itself. Also, NO MIC sounds like the instrument itself. A really good mic can get close, IF properly set up and feeding a very high quality recorder. You'll blow the OP's budget on one mic.

If you're really serious about understanding a speaker's ability to reproduce timbre accurately simply invite a few musicians over and ask them to focus on that part of the presentation. Timbre shouts out to muscicians. Listen to soprano, strings, trumpet and a good musician will easily identify inaccurate timbre.

Tacet makes some incredible string recordings of solo violin and small chamber groups. Any of the solo stuff by Janos Starker should put a cello in your listening room. (Cello is actually less challenging because of its mellow timbre).

Anyway, people that hear these instruments live day after day don't need a live vs. recorded demo to tell you if it's accurate or not.

I agree MRT, I will herewith get in touch with Mr. Ma, as I am partial to the sound of Stradivari cellos. I am positive that Mr. Ma will immediately be sympathetic to the plight of this obscure audiophile, and will rush to Austin to facilitate my comparative analysis. I will report to this thread as soon as I have some hard data to share. Oops, I now remember that I really couldn't care less about the sound of his cello recordded in my room. . . I really want my room to emulate the sound of Ma's Stradivari at the Teatro Alla Scala. . . oh dear, this is now getting a little complicated. . . Oh well. . .
Daveyf, I am not at all surprised about your observations on SF Guarneri with violins. Like Vienna Acoustics, Sonus Faber are known for their extreme usicality, and by the way, they are also imported by Sumiko.
Again, thanks so much for the wealth of responses—even if a few are just a tad beyond my budget! :-)

Guidocorona, the Aragon 2004 is listed as having a damping in excess of 200, so I think I should be okay in that category.

MrT, until I can fit a symphony orchestra into my 21" x 12' room, I'll just have to compromise and go by my memory of what music sounds like in a concert hall—and get as close as I can, knowing I might fall a bit short. THANKS again, everyone.
in order to do a definitive test of a speaker's ability to reproduce timbre accurately, it is necessary to record an instrument in one's living room and compare the recording to a musician's presentation of the same music.

of course one will need a musician who is willing to particpate in this experiment as well as a way to method for recording, such as an open reel tape deck, a dat, or a cd recorder. hopefully, the quality of the recording is sufficient to make a meaningful comparison.

Not completely could simply buy the equipment used to impress musicians in the world's top studios...the main monitors...there are literally at least a half dozen highly respected designs and all of them have excellent timbre and play at realistic sound levels of live music. You have to count on the fact that top artists and top conductors are auditioning play back of THEIR music on these same speakers which you can easily acquire...what more checks and controls do you want?

Of course your room will always be a major doubt that studios spend a lot on room designs and acoustic treatment. I figure it would be highly wasteful to get such quality speakers and then not treat a room at least modestly even though many of us have to respect domestic dual purpose requirements.

Good Luck! Try trusting the artists and musicians and sound engineers themselves...pick an artist or a record label with outsanding audiophile quality productions and then find out what they gear they are using...for example Bob Katz of Chesky uses Lipinski monitors....
i actually performed a simple experiment myself. admittedly not ideal, but here it is:

i used a cymbal as an instrument. you can purchase a decent cymbal for under $100.

i visited my friend who has a cd recorder. we recorded a cymbal and then compared the recording played through his stereo system to the sound of the cymbal.

yes there are flaws and the comparison is subjective.

the lesson to be learned is that there are obvious differences between the sound of an instrument and what you observe when you hear a recording of that instrument.
Mrtennis...There are enormous differences in the way that different microphones sound. Part of the skill of a recording engineer is to pick from a wide range of mics the ones most suitable for the instruments to be recorded. It is very unlikely that your mic was "right" for cymbals.

Nice try, anyway :-)
Shadorne, the real question is how many recording engineers use the same equipment in their personal systems. The needs of a recording studio are different from those used for entertainment.
Classical music (the OP's interest) is often not recorded in a studio. More likely it's recorded in a concert hall, a church or a recital hall.

If you've every been privy to comparing a Neumann to a Schoeps, to an AKG, to a Shure, to an Audio Technica, to a Beyer, etc., etc. you'll know that the mic colors the sound at least as much as most speakers.

If you've lived with a recording from take through mixing through master, you'll realize that seldom is the final master the same as the original take. Tacet is one label that tries to keep that unalterred, but they use Neauman-based rebuilt tube mics that are noted as some of the most euphonic available. (I love them in fact).

I highly recommend Tacet to anyone wanting to test their system's string timbre. They really get it right, with a loads of overtone without undue edge. You hear the body of the instruments, not just the strings.

A cymbal... sheesh. Yes, a challenge to record well, but not really a great test of string timbre. Talk about letting the budget limit and influence the validity of the test. Mrtennis, don't you know any "real" musicians. (Drummers and percussionists are real musicians, but cymbal wackers are NOT). I'll bet neither your or your helper knew how to make the cymbal properly resonate. It's not as easy as it seems.

Shadorne, the real question is how many recording engineers use the same equipment in their personal systems.


Some do use the same speakers at home - of course many may not feel the need given what they have all day at work - why even bother to compete with a pro setup....why take your work home. However, some artists/engineers do buy speakers after encountering them in high end studios...not that like you or me they won't have five or ten other pairs of ordinary consumer speakers at home....they will. Of course domestic requirements may mean that they do not put ugly behemoths at home in a small room or the kitchen or the patio....but I hope you get the idea.

The needs of a recording studio are different from those used for entertainment.

I agree, home playback does not require the same in terms of electronics (no mixer/compressors/limiters and all manner of expensive tube and analog processors and no need for hundreds of mics etc.) I also agree that studio near-field monitors with narrow dispersion that are used for mixing are ill-suited to the home where you want good sound in a wide area with a lively reverberant soundfield rather than a vice-grip position for your head and having the sound beamed at you (clinical sound).

However, I believe that a good speaker is important to both home and studio. The studio "main monitors" are generally the ones that are designed to be the most "impressive" - this is what the artsists hear themselves on. These are designed to make the artists/conductor pleased about the decision to use the studio....they are the usually the best quality speakers in a studio that is cluttered with many smaller two way near-fields (so guest engineers can use whatever near-field they prefer to mix on).
. . . back to Vienna. . . Bob, your Aragon 2004 should be in the very safe range for the Strausses or other Vienna offerings. The damping factor of my JRDG 7M monos is just under 200 and work well with the Mahlers. By the way, if the Strausses were still exceeding your budget, the Beethoven Grands or the Beethoven Baby Grands my fit the bill. I have heard the Beethoven Baby Grands at RMAF on my classical test CD and they were delicious. Please do feel free to PM me if you wished more info. Saluti, Guido
Guido, his budget is 2-grand, so getting something higher up the VA ladder than the Bachs is going to require luck in the used market. If he could stretch for those used Strausses he'd be fixed forever, but by the time you add shipping and insurance, then you're well over his budget.

Also, with luck he could wait for some used Beethovens (Grands or Babies) but that could be a long wait.

Yeah, the Strausses are a bit beyond my budget—and probably a bit larger than would fit comfortably in my humble abode. But perhaps the Beethoven Babies, Mozart Grands or Bach Grands would be possibilities. Besides, I have a real problem with a speaker named Strauss being bigger than a speaker named Beethoven!

Since we're talking about microphones, does anyone have a copy of the first Stereophile test CD? On it, J. Gordon Holt reads one of his articles through a series of changing mics. It's only a slight exaggeration to say that he sounds like a different person on different mics. The differences are really ear-opening.

Thanks again, all.