Small room, "budget priced" speaker advice, please


I recently sold my dearly beloved, old Vandersteen 2C's here on Audiogon (and I hope SgtPeppers is loving them at this moment!) :-) I did this because in our remodeled house, my new listening room (which will double as a guest room) is just too small for the 2C's. The Spousal Acceptance Factor was just too low. ;-)

I have a PS Audio Elite-Plus integrated amp for power (around 70 W/Ch) and a soon-to-be-shipped-off-for-a-refurb Sota Sapphire for an analog front end (I have "miles" of vinyl)! I will also get a CD player at some point.

For now, I need to find a pair of best-of-breed, truly "budget" speakers. By "budget," I'm talking upper limit of $850/pair. (Gone are my free-spending, single days... I'm a dad now...) :-)

Listening habits: lots of 60's and 70's folk and rock, some jazz, Donald Fagen/Steely Dan, a little classical. Listening volume: not too loud. Sonic preferences: I value transparency and imaging/soundstage. Bass should be accurate above all, as opposed to chest-pounding powerful.

I've looked at Paradigms, which I know are highly regarded at lower price points. Trouble is, our one, local dealer is primarily a TV/home theater outfit, so you're trying to hear them in a showroom crammed with other stuff... you know the drill. I've also hit a high end shop. Listened to a pair of PSB small towers and disliked them; they sounded muddy and veiled to me. Listened to a pair of the smallest Rega's and liked them quite a bit, but would want to go back to listen again. I even wrote to PS Audio for advice; they recommended the "baby" Epos monitors, but they're out of my price range.

Thanks if you've read this far. Knowing how subjective all this is, I'd still welcome any advice you have to offer about what I should try to audition.
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Used Spendor S3/5 or S3/5se would be within or below your price range. They are leagues ahead of the Paradigm, IMO. The S3/5 has an excellent midrange and a large soundstage.

In excellent condition, a pair of used S3/5 should sell for about 600.00.
There are a couple of pairs of Spica TC-50s for sale on A'gon. Easily within your price range. Also a couple of pairs of Celestion sl700s that would stretch you budget by a few dollars. Both are classics.
Baby Epos out of your price range? You can find the being discontinued M5 for $650 list or less.

FWIW, Robert Reina's review of the Paradigm Studio/20 in the May 2008 issue of Stereophile:

I compared the Paradigm Reference Studio/20 ($998/pair) with the NHT Classic 3 ($800/pair), the Nola Mini ($695/pair when last offered), and the Epos M5 ($650/pair).

The NHT Classic 3 was as delectable and rich in the midrange as the Paradigm, but had more silky, extended, and detailed high frequencies. The NHT's articulation of sibilants was noticeably more delicate and subtle. Its midbass was much warmer than the Paradigm's, but its high-level, bottom-end dynamic slam was in the same league.

The Nola Mini resolved more inner detail and low-level dynamics than the Paradigm, and had more top-end air as well. The Nola's bass seemed to extend deeper, and its midbass was more neutral than and not as warm as the Paradigm's.

The Epos M5, too, resolved more inner detail than the Paradigm, and its high-frequency extension, detail, and articulation was the best of the four speakers. However, while the Epos's midbass was the cleanest and least colored of the four, it lacked the Paradigm's dynamic bass slam at high levels.

Also see
If you're coming from Vandys, I'd suggest Ohm MicroWalshes. The Talls are a little more than $850, but if you can stretch, I think they're an amazing speaker. They also have a short version, that's closer to budget.

Otherwise, the Totem Arros are nice too.
From my own experience, I would look at:

Rega R1
NHT Classic Two

From reading reviews, I would add to the list

B&W 685


Somebody posted a pair of Totem Model 1s at a screaming deal price this morning. They'd be perfect and well within your budget--fantastic midrange and soundstaging and great, accurate bass that defies their size. Not associated with the seller at all.
The Nola Mini's might be a little hard to find as they're not being manufactered anymore, and the people that do have them, have a tendency to hang on to them. Matter of fact, haven't seen a pair of Nola Mini for sale on Audiogon for quite some time. Nevertheless if you can find a pair, quite good sounding speakers that should meet your expectations.

As for the other speakers being mentioned, I would second the choice of the Spendor S3/5 or S3/5se. My taste in music is similar to yours, and I've demo some of my CDs on a system with the Spendors and I definely liked what I was hearing.
Ascend Acoustics CMT-340 SE with shipping for about $600. 30-day satisfaction guarantee and five-year warranty.
For your consideration, the GR-Research Neo-2X

By the way, the designer of these, Danny Richie of GR-Research, is the designer of several commercial speakers for various manufacturers that have gotten excellent reviews.
Given that you don't play loud and value transparency, imaging, and soundstage, I would look for monitors that have higher impeadance (90db +). I second Grinnell's suggestion, Triangle Comete might fit your ticket, or even the smaller Titus.
What is the size and configuration of the room? What is your ceiling height? How far into the room is the listening position? Hard room or Soft room?
It depends on the sound you want, the music you listen to and your other equipment. My 2nd system is in a room that's 11 x 13 with an 8 foot ceiling and I use either a pair of original 1983 Linn Kans, similar to LS3/5As, or Reference 3A Dulcets. Different amps depending on the speakers. The Linns were designed to be placed on their stands against the wall. The Dulcets are about 3 ft into the room. I've had a number of other small speakers over the years but these are keepers.

That's a good question about the room dimensions. I'll take the measurements and post back. Right now it's a pretty hard room: windows on three of four walls, and hardwood floors. However it'll become a bit softer soon. There will be a "day bed" couch on the wall opposite the speakers, as well as some shades on the windows and a second piece of soft furniture on one side.
Okay:Room dimensions, approximately: 8 ft. ceiling, 15 feet wide, 13 feet deep. Speakers would be by the long wall.
Magnepan MMG's. They have a great return policy, and are one of the best budget speakers made.

That's not too small. I would imagine that the speakers would be on the one wall without windows? So, essentially you are working with a room DEPTH of 13 feet.

Most desirable would be a listening position three to four feet off of the "Back" wall, in turn leaving you with 9-10 feet for speaker positioning. I would suggest immediately a speaker that could be placed against the wall. That would allow you a little more versatility with your listening position.

Because of the size of the room, you may find a bookshelf speaker, even if very efficient, having a problem in a room of that configuration. With 70 watts, I would be concerned with speaker efficiency and would want something in the 89db efficiency rating minimum. I would try to avoid any type of subwoofer arrangement, so a floor standing speaker should provide enough bass reinforcement simply due to cabinetry and you would want to consider (if ported design), a front firing port as to not induce any additional wall excitation.

Considering your amplifier power and your posted listening preferences, you would want something with a fast articulate bass driver to help maintain transparency and minimize cabinetry interaction, and assuming the "other" considerations ie: clean power, quality interconnection, etc. have been addressed and are correct, do a little homework and investigate the Triangle line of speakers.

In particular, a speaker that might do a great job in a room like yours, is their "Heliade ES". 91db efficient, floor standing, front firing port, three way design, can be placed less than a foot from the wall, Stereophile "Class B" rated (for what that's worth), available new for less than what you're willing to spend. (about $700pr. from Upscale audio)

One word of caution.... A very revealing speaker. So if you are having problems upstream, they'll make you very aware of them. Otherwise, an awesome sounding speaker. They would be absolute heaven for Steely Dan and progressive jazz.

P.S. You'll need to do some room dampening!
Wow, thanks for the response. Yes, there will be some room dampening.... curtains and a carpet, at least. And yes, you nailed something important, this can't be a speaker that demands being placed 3 feet from the back wall... I don't have that kind of space.

I went to the upscale audio website and couldn't find the heliade es... is "Heliade" the manufacturer or the model?
I STRONGLY second the suggestion of going with Danny Richie's new NEO 2X two-way. Danny has a very strong record of winning shootouts with his prior two-way designs (blind listening panel no less!). This is his latest design and I have yet to hear anything from him that falls short of greatness.
Hi Rebbi. The manufacturer is "Triangle". They are a French manufacturer. The model is the "Heliade ES".

Here is the link:

Scroll down for the ad below:

PRICE DROP! Triangle Heliade ES (new sealed) - First quality factory sealed A stock. The Heliade is a small floorstanding speaker. Slightly smaller version of the highly regarded Altea. Fits perfectly in a small listening room, or in an office or bedroom system. Retail $1399/pr. Pick yours up today for $979 NOW $699! Full factory warranty. Available finished in your choice of Champagne, Cognac, or Bordeaux.

Triangle is a very highly respected line. Extremely resolving. Incredible tight, snappy bass response.

LONG BREAK-IN PERIOD!! About 200 hours to calm down, but well worth the wait.

Hi Rebbi:

A question to run by the wife ... will these speakers need to be wall or shelf mounted? Often with children and pets, monitors on stands are not always a workable option. If wall or shelf mounting is how it will be, make sure to consider speakers that are acoustic suspension/ sealed box (like the NHT Classic Line) or front ported or designed specifically to be placed near rear walls (like the Rega R1).


Hi, Rar1,

Tell me more about the Rega R1 or R3. I went to hear the R1 at a local dealer. I liked the way they sounded, but (and I know this is silly) that paper cone midrange driver looked like something out of a 1960's transistor radio. Is the quality really there?

I'm definitely thinking sealed box or front-firing port at this point... I am not going to be able to put these speakers far out from the wall.
There are lots of people who like the Triangle speakers. The ES series are on sale lots of places because they are an older model.
Quad 12L - well rounded and smooth sound
Quad 11L - if you can't afford their big brother
Totem Rainmaker - imaging kings
B&W 685 - front firing and good value
B&W CM1 - little speakers, big sound, and sound good next to wall
Era Design 5 - not quite up there with the B&W CM1, but what a beautiful cabinet!
Dynaudio Audience 42 - well rounded but like a lot of current
Usher S-520 - if you like the way they sound and look, a great bargain

If you like how the Rega's sound, don't worry about what the cones are made of. Wilson Audio, high end Ushers and many other makes use paper cone driver to very good effect, and at many times the price of the Regas.
Turns out there's a local dealer here who carries Totem. I'll have to get over there and listen. :-)
Consider Triangle Titus or Comete. They match your requirements very well.
If you can find them used, Taylor Taylo Reference or Mini-Reference are phenomenal little speakers that excel in precisely the areas you value most. I was floored when I heard the Taylo Reference spakers on a Gamut CDP and Quad amp (if I remember the amp correctly) a couple years ago.

Good luck!
Hang on until you find a used pair of Rega R3's for 500 or so. After umpteen pairs of others, these aren't going anywhere!
Hi Rebbi:

Rega quality is there. They design and manufacture their own speaker cones. The woofer in the R1 is used throughout the rest of the line. Plus the enclosure is real wood. I had read in some online review that even the acoustical stuffing used was wool based.

The Regas have a pleasant warmth and detail to them, as well as a well defined bass output.

Regards, Rich
I see a lot of enthusiasm for the Triangles and Totems. I'm not sure if anybody retails the Triangles here in Austin, TX. How do you find out? The Triangle website is pretty useless in that regard.
I've always liked Totem when I've heard them as well. They may have a different sound/timbre from Triangles. Triangles are very fast, neutral and transparent, which makes them good at low volumes, like Maggies for example. Totems reminded me more of Dynaudio or even B&W when I heard them, with a somewhat warmer sound but perhaps not as fast and transparent as Triangle.

You'll probably have to go second hand on agon or use a web vendor via agon or a direct vendor site for Triangles.

I've seen on of the more popular Agon members sell Triangle recently. Was it UpscaleAudio?
Oh, you're in Austin. That's where I first heard PrimaLuna tube amps and Dynaudio speakers together. The same shop also carries Triangle and Rega. You should be able to compare all three speaker brands in one place with your amp.

Audio Systems
1102 W Koenig Ln
Austin, TX 78756
(512) 451-5736

I would also go give the Totem Rainmakers and Arros and the B&W CM1's a listen if you get a chance.
Usher s520 is a lot of fun for not much money at all. Give them a listen you may be surprised at how much they cost.

Thank you all for your enormous help. You've pointed me toward choices that wouldn't have known existed! I found dealers for Triangle, Rega, Usher and Totem all in my area. I'll have some auditioning fun and report back! :-)
By the way Rebbi. If you really wanna' sound like the French audio gear specialist that you'll soon be when auditioning :>)

"Triangle" is pronounced: Tree-On-Jel. That's right from the owners mouth.

Just the French pronunciation alone makes it sound like a $10,000 speaker....... Tree-On-Jel Electroacoustique. :>)

You'll sound very impressive.

Either that or you'll be accused of practicing "Bad French".

Best of luck, Ed.
Hi, Ed, LOL! Well, I'll have to give your pronunciation tips a try, although I doubt that it will gain me much "cred" here in Texas... :-) I have found local dealers for Usher (got an appointment there tomorrow evening) and Totem. Don't know of anyone here who carries "tree-on-jell" locally, however. I did get a chance to hear a pair of Dynaudio Audience 42's today at the same dealer that carries Rega. They blew the Rega R1 away... for an extra $250/pair. Wondering what you guys think of them...
Never heard a pair of Dynaudio's set up properly that I didn't like. Audience line is very good price/performance.

Triangles are a touch faster and more transparent at low volumes, otherwise Dynaudio rules. Very lively and very solid and extended low end for small monitors.
Dyanaudio Audience are great with the proper amp and placement as Mapman suggests. If you want more bass, you could look at the Audience 52, maybe used if you can find them.

Question Rebbi: did you see the Dynaudios at Audio Systems? They used to carry Triangle speakers, not sure if they still do?
Yes, the Dynaudio's were at Audio Systems. It seems that they no longer carry Triangle, though. I didn't see any in the shop, and it's no longer listed on their web site as a product they carry.
I was wondering if the Dynaudio's, at 4 ohms, would demand a better, more powerful amp than I have. I've got that PS Audio Elite Plus with 70 watts per channel. Do you guys think that would cut it?
Anyway, I'm off to hear the baby Usher's tonight... that should be fun. All this time spent in audio shops is taking me back to my youth! :-D
By the way, FWIW, Audio Systems doesn't keep the Rega R3's in stock, but will special order them. Seems that they think they've got better choices at the $1000 price point.
Addendum about the Triangles: I'd emailed Upscale Audio about the Triangle Heliade, which they currently have on sale. Here's what he said:

"I don't know of any magazine reviews of the Heliades, sorry. The Heliade is
going to be very different compared to the 2Cs... not as much bass, and will
have quite a bit more extension in the highs. Triangles are very fast, and
image like no other, but can be a little hot on top especially when breaking
in. They do settle down a little after burn in, however they still maintain
a pretty extended top end."

I am very much intrigued by Upscale's sale prices on the Triangles right now, but I don't think I can deal with buying something I've never heard online, even with all the great recommendations from you guys. ;-)
Upscale's description is accurate regarding Triangles exceptional speed and imaging which is very "Maggie Like" and best in class, in my opinion. This makes them best in class in my opinion for use at lower listening volumes/SPLs.

I would probably still own large Maggies if I did not also own Triangles. They convinced me that dynamic box designs can deliver speed and accuracy like the Maggie planars.

If the Triangle description sounds good and you don't hear these things in the other speaks you try, it may be worth considering even without a listen if the seller offers some sort of satisfaction guarantee.

I own Triangles and Dynaudios. Dynaudio's are outstanding, but not as fast and transparent at low volumes IMHO. That is where Triangle shines in particular.

For what its worth, my local dealer that I bought the Triangles from now sells Usher instead (also Magnepan and Sonus Faber). I have not had a chance to listen to Ushers critically, but I suspect they may have some of the same strengths of the Triangles, so definitely give them a good listen.
"Sonic preferences: I value transparency and imaging/soundstage. Bass should be accurate above all, as opposed to chest-pounding powerful".

Rebbi, you'll note your above statement. THAT is the reason I suggested the Triangles. YOU described the sound YOU wanted.

That is Triangle to the letter.

There are hundreds of great speakers available. I mean really great speakers. However, try to keep in mind REQUIREMENTS vs. preferences....

You NEED close to wall. You NEED efficiency. You NEED room dampening. If you don't use the above as minimum requirements, it won't make a bit of difference what the nametag says. Ultimately the sound will be less than desirable. Room acoustics could make a pocket radio sound fulfilling.

Also, and with all due respect, I disagree with a "pretty extended" or "sizzly" or "bright" definition being used in conjunction with the Triangle line. If the high frequency is being considered (in my terms) "overly significant", it is more than likely the speaker simply exposing a problem upstream IE: Bad AC, Impedance mismatches, Vibration issues, etc.

In general terms..... A speaker that is "extended" in any area of the frequency range, will have difficulty projecting imaging in a proper, balanced perspective. Triangle imaging is virtually holographic. With a 91db efficiency in that sized room, your amplification will feel like it's vacation.

Last but not least.... Room acoustics. Otherwise..... Don't blame the equipment. :>)

BTW, the Heliade ES were a "Class "B" $$$" rated speaker in Stereophile. I think it was 2004, but I'm really not sure. Maybe someone can look through their Stereophile collection?

They are a discontinued speaker (not that it makes any diff), which also kept them well within your price point. These are expensive speakers otherwise. $1500 originally?

P.S. Break-in is miserable for a couple of hundred hours.
agree with buscis2.

Triangle high end is NOT harsh, just very revealing.

If you need close to wall, front port is preferred to back port. My Triangles are front port, my Dynaudios back.

Also, my Triangles may still be the most accurate speakers I own.
Well, I got to listen to Totems and Ushers today!

I heard both the Totem Dreamcatcher and Rainmaker, both at Austin Home Theater.

The Dreamcatcher, which is the smaller one, (tiny would be a better word) sounded wonderful. The sound is completely "out-of-the-box;" the soundstage is huge and there is no sense that you are listening to a couple of boxes. Even bass response is impressive for the size. The dealer put on a Diana Krall CD track featuring a very "upfront" acoustic bass and some finger snapping... that's all... sorry I can't remember the name of the track. In any case, the sense of presence and realism of the upright bass was astonishing, again, given the size of the speakers.

Even though the Rainmaker is currently just under $1000, i.e., about $150 over my budget, I asked to listen to them as long as I was in the showroom. If the Dreamcatchers are "wonderful," then I guess that makes the Rainmakers "magical." Again, that ENORMOUS soundstage, with beautiful, detailed highs and excellent imaging. They seem to have the same "DNA" as their baby brothers, but with more "air" and detail. I was very impressed.

Tonight, I also got to listen to the "baby" Ushers at a small dealer here in Austin called Tube Dreams (he also carries Totem, by the way). The associated equipment was all, as you would guess from the name of the dealership, very high-end tube stuff, including a Cary CD player with a tube output stage. I mention this because it's obviously hard to know how much of what I was hearing was attributable to the speakers and how much of what I was hearing was attributable to the associated equipment...

Be that as it may, listening to these tiny Ushers was an extremely interesting experience. Midrange and vocals were silky smooth and gorgeous (again, the speakers or the amplification?)... I spent a good deal of time listening to some James Taylor and definitely had a few of those "wow, he's actually in the room" experiences. I also spent a fair amount of time listening to a variety of cuts from Buena Vista Social Club, and again, the realism and coherence of the voices was fabulous. I joked, "Sounds like a couple of guys singing to me!" What was odd about the speakers, though, was the way they presented the soundstage. The experience was sort of like "looking through a window" BETWEEN the two speakers. In that space, there was a depth and an amazing sense of each instrument or singer having its own place. I can't think of a better word than "coherent." However, and this was the puzzling part, the soundstage did not seem to extend at all beyond or outside of the two speakers. What I heard was gorgeous, but it was all confined to that "in between" space, and I can't figure out what that was about.

All things being equal, at this point I'm leaning toward a Totem Rainmakers, if I can squeeze another $150 or so out of my budget.

By the way, since everybody is so incredibly enthusiastic about the Triangles, I haven't taken them off my list, just yet. But I still get the heebie-jeebies from the thought of buying loudspeakers I've never heard...
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I haven't heard Totems for quite a while but recall loving them for much the same reasons you state when I did.

Interesting about the Usher soundstage. I am not familiar enough with them to say why for sure. More "intimate" room acoustics by design maybe to match the tube orientation of the equipment?

Its very hard to precisely compare two different speakers set up in two different rooms with two different rigs. WHat did the dealer say about the SS with the ushers? I need to get to my dealer to give a listen to the UShers some day soon.

Were the setups at the dealer similar at all to the configuration you will have when you place the speakers in your room? Are the UShers and Totems ported? If so, front or back? THis might be worth taking into consideration based on how they will be placed in your room.