Speaker audition: a novice’s journey

I am no expert at audio. But I like to listen to music, primarily classical and then a little bit of everything else such as jazz and soft/alternate rock, both at home and concerts. I am looking for speakers that can play classical well, can represent the ‘body’ of a full scale orchestra. That can soundstage and image well. And that can isolate different instruments. Oh yes, my budget is 10-15K.

On this forum I got tremendous help from several folks. Now I have a list of speakers that I need to check out.

So, sooner the better and I decided to take a plunge. Along the way I’ll also learn how to really audition speakers. It’s a little dummy’s guide to myself. I wouldn’t get into technicalities, my head rings when a dealer tries to explain first order network and phase-time coherence. After all it ain’t matters how sophisticated the science is. The speakers need to sound good. Period. My evaluation is purely by how it sounds, caveat being on untrained ears. I am planning to use the same set of music so that I can get a fair comparison.

I decided to write down my experience (coming in the response links below); hopefully someone, someday will be benefited by it. I welcome your inputs/suggestions.
Verity Audio (http://www.verityaudio.com)
Price 15,995, Sep 2009

Magnum Dynalab MD 309 Hybrid Integrated Amplifier
Transparent Cables (interconnect, speaker cables, power source)

Overall Impression
Fist thing I was impressed with was the amount of detail the speaker produced. I heard subtle sounds that I haven’t on any speaker in the 5K price range (not a fair comparison though) or even from the Sophia or B&W 8 series. However imaging left me unimpressed; the speakers failed to disappear, I had to shut my eyes real hard to imagine sound wasn’t coming from the two boxes. But to be fair the room was only 12x12, the speakers were only 1’ from the front wall and 7’ apart. My distance from the speakers was about 6’, too close for my comfort. The dealer refused to set them up in a bigger room; he thought the set up was perfect. Already he was irked by the idea that I actually wanted to spend a few hours to ‘audition,’ he said his home theater customers wouldn’t spend more than half an hour, and some would want to match the speakers with the color of their Porsche. Don’t know why a serious audio company like Verity would want to go with such home theater dealers, but that’s another story. There was very little three-dimensionality in the imaging. Soundstage was moderate, extending a little bit beyond the speakers. Perhaps due to the short and somewhat unaccustomed listening distance they sounded a little in your face, which is not what I was expecting the least bit from the Verity. The Stereophile review of Sarastro says it ‘is not a brash, bowl-you-over performer but a sonic sophisticate.’ And Leonore too maintained similar characteristics. They didn’t give me shivers at a symphony’s climax, but depicted the instruments with sufficient authenticity for me to be able to observe even the subtlest notes.

Now for the music I used
From the Caves of the Iron Mountain (Tr 7): I could hear the faint details of footsteps or water trickling or birds flapping. The Indian flute was convincing but I heard little more oomph from other speakers. Drums moving around the caves – from right to left, near to far – were okay but not very holographic in their presentation.

Lontano, Tomasz Stanko (Tr 1): The double bass sounded great, I could feel, as though, the fingers moving over the strings unlike the other speakers I have heard so far. There is a sudden burst of energy when Stanko’s trumpets comes on. Leonores played it convincingly, but the energy was sort of mellow.

Mahler Symphony 5, Benjamin Zander (1st Movement): Not many speaker so far has played it well, Verity being an exception. The instruments were isolated, without overlapping on one another. But somewhat missing were the imaging and ‘body,’ which is probably understandable for a speaker of this size. Also they lacked the drama in the second part of the movement, but by now I have come to realize that was the characteristics of these speakers.

Tchaikovsky Symphony 6, Mravinsky (1st Movement): The opening bassoon solo did not go as deep in bass as say the Sophia, some notes stood out (just a bit) and the crisscrossing of instruments in the latter part of the movement lacked coherence. But that apart the symphony was rendered beautifully.

Saint Saens Piano Concerto 2, Sakari Oramo: The notes floated beautifully. The speaker kept up well with the increasing pace of the piano. But did it have enough body? Did the piano sound a bit metallic and lacking on the wooden characteristics? Probably.

Elgar Cello Cencerto, Jacqueline Du Pre’ & John Barbirolli: Cello sounded nice, bright and warm; and the concerto played out beautifully to engulf me in its tragic emotions.

Elgar Sea Pictures, Janet Baker & John Barbirolli: Female vocal sounded a bit cool. But I need to have a better frame of reference.

Bat for Lashes: I picked this primarily for the drums and Lenores didn’t disappoint, playing out all the drums and cymbals with conviction.

Indian Classical, male vocal, live recording: The vocal sounded warm, softening the brash voice of the singer somewhat, which definitely made it more musical. But the warmth was bit of a surprise given that the female vocal sounded cool. Being a live recording you could hear people whisper in the background and on the Leonores I could almost make out what they are saying. The tablas played beautifully and realistically. However I could not feel the stage, being so close to the speakers. It sounded too much all over me.

Before I left, I asked the dealer to play the last piece on his $150K Burmester systems and there it was. It transported me to the realm of a world where I could hear the performance live, like the way this music had been recorded. Coming back, the Leonore sounded hollow and fuzzy in comparison. I left with a heavy heart, first because I couldn’t audition them in a room I would have liked and second, no matter what there will always be something superior above your budget. But at least I enjoyed the music for a few hours I spent there.
I guess the strength of the Verity Leonore is it's efficiency. You would certainly want to use it with a tube amp. However, I do not understand the logic behind a rear-firing mid-range.

Looking at some of the music you listen to, do listen to Avalon. Avalon needs careful amplifier matching, but it can handle large and congested music. Plus, you need a modest-sized speaker with your room, and the footprint of the Indra or Eidelon Diamond would work. Big box speakers will not work in a room which is 13 feet across.

Don't worry about your room, and exotic equipment. I am sure you will find a speaker that satisfies.
I believe the Leonore has a front-firing midrange (and tweeter) and two rear-firing woofers.
Sounds like you're off to a good start. Don't apologize for your inexperience. If you regularly listen to live, acoustic music, your ears are well trained. Using the same recordings, as you've mentioned, is the best means for comparison. You are in a price range that is more than adequate to get what you are listening for, but beware, it's also in the paying for prestige range. There are many speakers that do a good job with full orchestra, yet very few are exceptional. Let me know if you'd like specific suggestions.
Neal1502 if the dealer doesn't want to assist you with buying the right speaker you need to go to another dealer. Doesn't seem like this dealer provided much value.
Based on your stated preferences, please explore products by Thiel and Vandersteen. If preservation of musical timbre is important to you and it sounds like it is, then phase and time accuracy would be a goal of yours in auditioning speakers.
A word of advice. It's not the speaker, but how the speaker is setup and interacts in YOUR listening room. As a hypothetical example, a $5k speaker properly setup in a good sounding room will out perform a $15k speaker in a bad room, say 12' x 12' with the speakers too close the the rear wall.

You need to find a dealer who will work with you and if you're willing to spend up to $15k, it should be worth your while to get on an airplane or otherwise travel distance, if necessary. And by work with you I mean a dealer who will listen to what you want, guide you and then let you listen for hours, or ideally even take products home, and then setup your final purchase.

Finally, regarding your budget. Expand it to $5k to $15k. Product pricing has a large degree of marketing input. If a designer can't produce a really good speaker at $7-9k, then it's unlikely that they can produce one at $12-15k. Within any product line the cheaper speaker may be better suited to your tastes and your room.
ESP speakers match your preferences. I have the Bodhran SE and the soundstage and imaging are naturally superb. They project a lot of energy into the room, which in my case required some acoustic applications but the time and money were well spent. The bass extends into the lower 30's and is sufficient rather than crushing as with most ported designs, more akin to what one actually experiences in a concert hall. Price wise they are slightly over your budget but sometimes it's better to spend a little extra. Take a look at the website www.esploudspeakersna.com

If you can stretch your budget just a little, the DeVore Fidelity Silverbacks at $16800 would be my first recommendation. Within your stated budget, my other recommendation would be the Vandersteen Wood Quattro's.

My listening preferences (in terms of what I listen to and where) have changed and are causing me to make a major change. I will be getting the Silverbacks for my primary system where I tend to listen mainly to classical and occasionally to other things - the same as your stated preferences. The Verity Fidelio Encores will move from my primary to my secondary system.

Again, the reason for this change is to maximize my enjoyment of classical music where I listen to it most - my primary system. Both the Silverbacks and the Wood Quattro's excel in this regard (In my room, in my system, to my ears, etc. etc.).

BTW, thank you for starting this most interesting post. I look forward to your follow-ups and the comments by others!

Enjoy the process!
What Onhwy61 said.

Also... I liked this review, it was fresh and easy to read. I still had a question when I reached the end, though.

The impressions are nicely detailed, and they refer to specific aspects of the reproduced performance, specific instruments. But I don't know if the music moved you. Where's the emotion?

Maybe if you didn't mention it, that's because it didn't happen.
First, if you have not already done so, get a copy of Floyd Toole's 'Sound Reproduction'. With that education behind you, you are ready to 'listen', in the room the speakers will be placed. Find a dealer that will loan you the speakers that you are interested in. Demo'd in the dealers showroom is not good enough. Only when you hear them in your room will you be able to make a good choice. Your price point is the hi-end, so a dealer should provide a service of a loaner, otherwise don't do buisness with them.
NealI502, Just to clarify a couple of things. If you were hearing a Verity in the 5-6K range, that would have been the Finn. Sorry if I misunderstood, but I thought you said that it was in the 6K range. The Leonore, as you know , is around 16K. Secondly,are you purchasing an entire system here, or adding a 10-15K speaker to electronics you already have. If not, please state your budget for your whole system. Not that it matters much, but I have a pretty good idea who that dealer was, based on how you describe your experience. Lastly, don't let that experienced listener crap sway your thoughts or decisions. If it sounds great to you, it sounds great. If it sounds like crap, it sounds like crap, period.
I agree with Onhwy61 on this one - It is tragic that you didn't hear the Lenores at their full potential. Bad setup (a 12 x 12 room is a nightmare, far too small, and being a square will create big standing waves) will kill even the best sounding speaker.
Ok. I did see your system and components as you had posted.
IMHO, if that is your entire budget, I would get maybe a 7-9K
speaker, and save a few bucks for future upgrades. If you then decide you are happy w/your source and amp, buy more music. If not, you haven't eaten up your entire budget for just the speakers. And as far as the 12 X 12 room, well, what Goatwuss said.
As you are probably already aware the equipment upstream makes all the difference. To a certain degree the system is only going to sound as good as it's weakest link. I agree with the people who say that speakers are the most important element in your system. But when I started I was personally amazed at how much difference there could be between CD players, and didn't believe that cable could make much difference until I tried 4 or 5 different types of wire. They all sounded different. Personally I now like solid core wire.
So what are you using, equipment wise, at home to push your speakers? That's the problem with auditioning at dealers. All the elements are maximized; perfect acoustics, premium transport, wire, power, and all the accouterments to make you say "Man, these speakers are killer. How soon can you deliver them?". I advise you to listen to friends stereos, and audition speakers on sale on Craigslist and Audiogon. I buy used equipment, admittedly very carefully now that I learned a few lessons, and I've bought some used components I've been really happy with. But I think you should listen to a LOT of different speakers in all kinds of environments. I personally can't say enough good things about Vandersteen speakers. To my experience so far, Richard Vandersteen makes for the money the best speaker you can buy. I also recommend Quads. But I like speakers that are harmonious. As far as dealers go dealers are like car mechanics. There are a lot of bad ones around. If you are close to Southern California I highly recommend Brooks Berdan in Monrovia, Ca. The guy is a peach. He's so low pressure, and he really wants you to get the system you can afford that is right for you. Be patient and take your time. Getting speakers is like getting a dog. You don't want to take it home a realize you don't like it. Good luck.
I'm sure there are a lot of opinions out there. This is my short list of advise:

1) Start with the room. Make sure the room is well prepared including the appropriate acoustic treatments

2) Ensure that you have an idea of balance of the whole system (electronics, cables, etc). It should work as a system

3) Try before you buy....if you can

4) Trust your ears and go with the most musical sound regardless of specifications. Don't get sucked in with other opinions or hype.

This is a great thread and I look forward to your next review/post. There is a huge temptation to provide specific options, and several speakers come to mind that I have enjoyed revelatory classical music experiences with the right electronics in the right listening room.

Have to agree with much of the advice here - your electronics/speaker/room combination is critical. A dealer that wants to sell you $10-15K speakers without offering to move to another listening room, let alone demo in you home or offering to hook up to your current electronics in their shop, is someone you should sprint away from IMHO. There are good dealers out there, and as someone suggested, if necessary you should travel to hear various speakers if not available in your home town.

Finally, I have come to the conclusion that with respect to both rock and classical music there is no replacement for displacement. Your budget should put you in a position to get a big enough cabinet to reproduce the scale of this music with convincing scale and authority. But as mentioned, you are starting to edge into the range where marketing and cachet get ahead of acoustic value. Beware.
Guys.. I didn't mean to suddenly drop off of the thread, was just having a terrible time with a new ISP. I am off to Denver today for the RMAF and would respond to you all on my return. I have auditioned Sonus Faber Cremona M in the mean time. I'd write about that as well as my experience at the RMAF.

RMAF Oct 2-4 09

RMAF was cool, though people said it was much smaller both in terms of participants and visitors. I, however, couldn't complain, being my first time. We got to listen to so many systems, that my wife said 'you need coffee beans for your ears.' True you can't 'really' audition a speaker in a hotel room, with little room treatment, with noise creeping in from adjoined rooms and from people chattering (not everyone softly) in the back. But the manufacturers, distributors and most of the dealers (not all) tried their best to let you have a decent audition. Met quite a few interesting folks - members from audiogon, audiophiles from elsewhere and people in general, that are interested in and some highly knowledgeable about stereophonic audio. I had a long list of speakers thanks to the recommendations here, and although many of the companies hadn't participated, I still had quite a handful. Of course I knew I couldn't go through my usual auditioning ritual, so I picked three albums - Saint Saëns Piano Concerto 2, Mahler Symphony 5 (1st Movement) and Tchaikovsky Symphony 6 (1st Movement). Not all the three pieces have great recording quality, but my music collection is a mixed bag anyway and I'd still want to enjoy most of it. Besides, many of the legendary performances of yesteryear were not recorded well. I also realized (thanks to a friend's friend) I could not really test imaging or deep bass extension (both very important for classical) in a set up like that. In the end I didn't have a new pick, eliminated a few and bookmarked a couple for further exploration.

Well... that was a pretty long intro, let me come to the speakers and what I thought of 'em. And once again, this is just how 'I' felt about them in a less-than-perfect setup.

Daedalus Ulysses 11K
This speaker is a tad on the warmer side with decent soundstage width and horizontal imaging, but lacked in stage depth (may be room). Piano notes didn't float too well. They aren't very detailed but more than made up in the drama / energy however. Good price-performance especially if you could take advantage of the 30% show discount.

Bamberg Audio 5TMW 8.3k
I was in fact pleasantly surprised by them. These speakers use active woofers, like the Vandersteens. They are more towards neutral and quite detailed. The notes floated nicely between the speakers. But the music was probably a bit big for the room.

German Physiks 35k
I entered this room not knowing the speakers were worth 35k and came out not knowing why they are worth 35k. May be my ears were in desperate need of coffee beans by then and I am sure many people would have loved them. But I must say they looked cool, kind of like space-age retro (I just made it up). The piano lacked body, subtle notes didn't come up good. By now I came to know the price and didn't have a reason to pursue the test any further.

Wilson Beneche Curve 10k
The speaker, on good recordings, sounded like I am sitting in a recording studio with the singer singing into the microphone in the next room. Very detailed and super clear - these speakers will make my Bose-loving friends go wow. Just kidding, couldn't help. The piano lacked body however and the soundstage was unusually low, almost at the bottom of the speakers.

PS: you must check out the 50A amps designed by a local Denver lady called Kara.

Avalon Indra 19.9k
Though well above my price range, these were the speakers I liked the most. The soundstage is behind the speakers and quite high, almost like sitting on the 10th row of a symphony. Most neutral presentation that I heard, with right amount of drama - neither held back nor too melodramatic. However unfortunate it might be that I couldn't do a full audition of all the three classical pieces here, Indras will be in my shortlist for further exploration.

Focal Utopia Scala 30k
Cool (not the kewl cool), sounded somewhat metallic, lack of drama. Could not image well in a small room. Could not connect with them emotionally.

Emerald Physics C2.3 4.8k
Overall nice but lacks the body and energy of orchestral music or the piano concerto. But they are going to have a bigger speaker towards the end of the year, which would be good to check out.

Audiomanufacture SLS from Boenicke audio 12k
These speakers use a reverse horn technology (doesn’t Bose use the same?) and they sound much bigger for their size. But I wasn’t totally sure of the tonal accuracy of the horns, bassoons or trombones. However these are done by a young designer from Switzerland and I think they will improve over time. The other issue might be being side fired they have somewhat higher room dependence, especially on the side walls.

Analysis Omega 22K
They did well on a good recording (Saint Saëns) but were merciless on not-so-good ones (Mahler). The piano sounded very musical (my wife said ‘notes dipped in honey’), the subtle / soft background orchestra came alive, behind a very energetic pacing of the piano. But they tended to get somewhat muddy on the fast movements of Mahler. Soundstage depth wasn’t great either. Crisscrossing of instruments on the Tchaikovsky wasn’t reproduced to my satisfaction. I have heard them play better on a Maggie 20.1, in a properly set up room at a dealer no less. But I want to give them benefit of the doubt and explore further.

There were several speakers that I went by either not being able to or not wanting to audition. I don’t want to talk about those first impressions, as it would be an injustice to them. I wish I could check out Dynaudio or Usher, but unfortunately could not do as their rooms were crowded every time I tried. Since my return last night I have been listening to my Spendors a lot, with renewed and invigorated interests. They don’t do a bad job after all and for the money (1.8k pair) they are wonderful.
I want to thank Rtn1, 4musica44107, Ojgalli, Bryans, Stevecham, Onhwy61, Rhljazz, Tobias, Buconero117, Fjn04, Goatwuss, Mjwpicman, Goose, Knownothing and Unsound for your thoughtful response. Thanks to your recommendations, I have a good list of speakers that I need to check out and some of them I already did at the RMAF. And other advice as well such as importance of room acoustics, associated components, having a wider range, dealer advice, what to look for and also a book. I also appreciate all the encouragements.
Similar to you, I listen exclusively to Germanic-Austro-Hungarian-Russian classical music from the 1790s (Beethoven), onward. For me, it just does not hold if the soundstage is not there. I need to be convinced that I am sitting in front of an orchestra. Speakers are the rate-limiting-step in soundstage reproduction. I think you are correct in putting soundstage as a priority in your listening. In addition, detail and sense of scale are very important. You need to strike the correct balance between detail/bite, and smoothness/lushness. If it is too smooth, it becomes boring for me.

Once you find a speaker that accomplishes your goals, there is so much which can be done upstream to refine and fine-tune the sound.

Also, do not become speaker poor. You will not enjoy your expensive speakers if you cannot get the proper amp for them.
I have had Verity speakers for a while now and can tell you that I have had no problem making their speakers disappear. As a matter of fact at times I wonder how these smallish speaker could produce such a wide and deep sound stage.
I would recommend you locate another dealer and listen again.
We're having fun now, aren't we. As I said in the past letter, I'm a big Vandersteen fan because you get so much for the money, and they also score so highly on the emotional interactive scale. That is the most important component for me. Speakers may be the best technically, but if they don't connect emotionally, if they don't thrill me, nothing else matters. So I am going to recommend also the new Quads. After listening to them at Brooks Berdan for a while I thought " I could live with these and be happy". I thought they were wonderful. And only 10K.
Good luck and keep ue posted. MJWPicMan.
Hello everyone in this thread,
It was a surprise to find a review of the time that Neal and I spent listening together in September, including a review of my demeanor, while I was doing some resource research this morning regarding the Leonore. Believe me when I say it feels a little weird for me.

Anyhow, I'd like to address a couple of items mentioned in this thread.

Firstly, I appreciated and valued the time Neal spent in our store. Neal had taken the time to contact us on the Friday prior to his visit. On Saturday night, after closing, I spent roughly 2-3 hours listening, tuning and precisely leveling the speakers so Neal, and all other future visitors, would be given an accurate interpretation of, and window into, the speakers capability.

Because of the time spent invested in voicing the system for Neal's evaluation, in advance of his visit, and the seriousness with which I approach setup, I hesitate to move the speaker as if the room is THE determinant of a speakers perceived performance. Because of the time put in, he was able to listen, almost totally unobstructed (I only inflicted a few demo cuts on him) and make the observations he cites above.

My facial expression tendencies make me a little more transparent than many people, for better or worse. He may have seen an expression of surprise on my face when he pulled his stack of evaluation material from his bag, along with his listening journal. I certainly wasn't irked by his desire to do such intensive listening. Once I understood the "requirements" of this particular demo, I moved in and out of the room to listen with him while making sure other obligations were being addressed during business hours. I had no qualms with his schedule and applied no pressure to end the demo

Experience has shown me that when I critically setup a stereo, it becomes far easier for anyone to evaluate. Conversely, a cold, thrown up system can, possibly, yield a no-fuss listenability that is pleasing and colored in a way that better matches what we'd encounter throughout life, and we identify with that out of the gate. However, longer listening reveals vagaries that become intolerable if your goal is fidelity to the recording, and demonstration of the investment asked for getting there.

Neal opens by saying "First thing I was impressed with was the amount of detail the speaker produced. I heard subtle sounds that I haven’t on any speaker in the 5K price range (not a fair comparison though) or even from the Sophia or B&W 8 series." That's what I strive to provide in all systems I work with, and I would have given that impression with the Sophia and 800/802D, having worked at length with both. In fact, I've shifted notions of what particular equipment "does" when I've been given the keys to some widely respected and disrespected equipment and had the opportunity to share the results with people, i.e. you've heard Watt/Puppy's but have you heard the Watt/Puppy's I've setup?

Retrieval of detail can oftentimes sacrifice emotionality - initially. In the pursuit of neutrality as a virtue, and an accurate playback platform, things can cool somewhat. This is why I enjoy revisiting setups and it's one of the joys I know as an owner. I can identify what's missing, the presence of which would make a difference, to borrow a line from a class I took. There are manufacturers who intrinsically sound pleasing; who make you smile. The system we listened through was not all from one manufacturer, like a Linn might be and therefore it can take some work and rework to "know" what it can/should sound like. The demo system that day was made up of a speaker we'd had for less than two weeks and it was only my 3rd or 4th time positioning them (only my second hard core effort).

I've included a link to an audio recording I made, of a track played through the stereo Neal heard the following Monday, using my iPhone, that I posted to share with friends of mine via facebook. This recording was from the exact system he heard. Even given the compromises of the recording, I hope you agree it's a contribution to this thread. I think you might need a facebook account to hear it.


I refused to move the speakers then and there because of the significant effort already made on behalf of Neal, the equipment manufacturers who can only hope their equipment is well shown, our showroom and the subsequent investment (a risk in this economy) and the fact that we may have gained a sense of how they fill the room, but would have lost many other aspects of a focused setup without taking the time to reset them tactically.

Neal was in the showroom for three hours, which is less time than I typically give a single stereo's setup. Knowing the amount of time I give to voicing a stereo, based on extensive experience, I don't need to waffle on whether I think switching rooms is a good idea at that moment. If I'd plunked them down when he came in, I'd be glad to plunk them down somewhere else in the store. That wasn't the case. Respectfully declining the request, even if held to firmly, isn't the same as being some stereo N*zi.

My memories of the visit:

Neal came prepared to listen. Once I'd gotten an impression of what would work for him, I largely gave over all control of his listening to him. This handing over probably occurred in the first 20-25 minutes, which is not an inordinate amount of time for a client to be "left alone."

He was clearly on a quest and that day's visit was critical, but only represented a step he was taking on that quest, as evidenced by his subsequent trip to RMAF.

While we're interested in closing sales, in order to further fund the company and the investments made that allowed for this very kind of real world demo, my recall is that, in the end, I really just wanted to know where this experience stood with him, against experiences he'd had elsewhere and his notes. My memory was that he said the experience that day placed the Leonore at or near the forefront of contenders, even against those that more obviously displace air. That helps me, as a salesperson, to gauge what I might have in my pipeline and tells me how we measure against the competition. If I felt the experience was a dud, our relationship would have gone dormant. As we left it, Neal and I had a respectful and inquisitive, if brief, correspondence earlier this week as a form of professional pulse taking (my research, which led me here today, was unrelated).

Neal learned and confirmed certain ideas regarding the importance of excellent power conditioning, relating what he was hearing to what I shared philosophically (I wax lyrically about this stuff) plus what he had experienced with a close friend's hi-fi.

He was excited by many aspects of his visit. I was happy with the visit and our time together. It was enjoyable and involving.

Finally, about imaging. I have certain views on imaging, that I even tested last night when I listened to people speak during a meeting I attended. I'll just say that I go for a natural type of imaging that mimics the real thing. For me, this means that you can source the source of sound with some specificity, i.e. from 30'-35' I could hear differences in where three people spoke from, who were all in the same general area but seated and oriented differently, but I couldn't carve out their voice from the soundstage. In low lighting, I could tell that where my eyes were looking wasn't the source and my ears told me to keep looking until there was alignment between what I saw and what I was hearing. Yikes! I sound wordy, so I'll drop this topic. Just believe me when I state that my speaker setups correlate with a certain take on imaging, combined with at least a dozen other considerations. Any question as to whether my approach is valid, without bowing at the altar of the image, should read again what Neal said about his witnessing of subtle detail.

I also don't fret over disappearing loudspeakers. Having setup probably 100+ High End two-channel systems over the last ten years has me believe this shouldn't rank at the top during initial setup; hours of playback time, of which this system lacked, will usually disappear a speaker to a satisfactory extent. If you heard the Leonores in their current configuration, you'd hear what I mean, as the sound pans quite free from the speakers. Again, this is a byproduct of concerning myself with other qualities first. No, I don't keep a David Wilson evaluation sheet when I setup, which weighs and tracks desirable criteria, although I have used that approach and I know it's useful.

Also, the room is 13'x15'x8' with drapes and an angled alcove doorway. Not a cube.

Hmm, what else? I guess I know there's always a certain amount of "suck" in things I do, even things I love. Still, I strove to provide value and continue to attempt that. There's passion in what I do. I'm not a geek or a freak, but I've given ten years to my work and strive to perform professionally from the listener's perspective, and that's not ten years of doing the same thing wrong again and again, IMHO (to steal a favorite forum quip). I look forward to seeing Neal again, and hope the link I included in this "rebuttal" works for some of you and that you've enjoyed this.

Kind regards,

Graham Skardon
Grahamps well said,and I believe you are honest enough
to post and explain your side,If Iam Neal I will go
back to your store.
Well Neal, that reply from Graham Skardon should put you in your place. Seriously though, I wouldn't pay a lot of attention to most of that nonsense. I tend to disregard input from people who tell me that my ears are wrong when I'm the only one listening through them. And I agree with you about auditioning in a room that is too small, like a 13' x 15' room. Music can't open up and breath in a small room. In the meantime we are all waiting to hear what, if any, conclusions you have come to and buying decisions you have made. Here's hoping that you are finding plenty of sustenance along your your journey to audio nirvana.
Graham - It sounds like you know a lot about your craft, and care about your customers... but why would you run a serious speaker audition in such a small room? I've never heard anything better than mediocre in a 13' x 15' or smaller room, I've found that there is no substitute for adequate room size if you want a stereo open up and be lifelike and involving. Any stereo I've ever heard in the top 20% has been in a room with the lesser dimension no smaller than 16' or 17' feet.
For what is worth, we auditioned the Leonore at a dealer in Atlanta. Overall, I was very impressed by certain aspects of the speaker's performance, plus the appearance and finish of the speaker is quite striking. They really look like a piece of fine furniture. However, like Neal, the width and depth of the soundstage seemed compressed and the imaging was not up to my expectations. Of course, I am accustomed to Audio Physic speakers (Virgo II & III, and Avanti III). When properly set-up, few speakers disappear as well AP speakers do. Of course, few speakers can be as fussy and room dependent as AP speakers which is why I am looking for new speakers. For us, in our room, I do not think the Leonore is the right choice.

I had fallen into a deep slumber. Graham’s mail came as a wake up call. But I was out of town and with blessings from Murphy my computer crashed. To my and many of yours disappointment, I haven’t done many auditions since my move. New place, new job responsibilities and significant travel. And I cant do much where I am.

First of all I want to personally thank all of you (especially Rtn1, Hevac1, Cdc, Mjwpicman, Magnumpi205 or Don, Jayctoy, Goatwuss, Tdavism3 and of course Grahamps or Graham) that care to read these long posts, care about my progress and post your thoughts, inputs and suggestions. There are also several of you who email me directly. It might just sound customary, but I really really appreciate you guys a lot.

And I also appreciate Graham for making an honest and personal effort to explain his side.

One thing I have realized that in the field of reproduced music there is very little right or wrong. In spite of its footing on science, it is a lot about personal preferences. And when that happens, there are points of view, that can be ~very~ contradictory. There are hundreds of speakers (and audio systems), many with their own personalities and characteristics. None is liked universally, none is disliked universally (except probably the real crappy ones). What is nirvana to one can often be a nemesis to another.

I believe, after having been to numerous concerts, that ‘Imaging’ is as much auditory as it is visual and about knowledge. You know it’s the first chair playing the flute because you can see it. You know it’s not the bassoon next chair because you know how a bassoon sounds. If you close your eyes, you can only ‘sense’ the sound coming from a certain section of the orchestra. So in that respect the viewpoint of lack of origin specificity for sound is quite right. But when I am at a concert I am also using my eyes and my knowledge to complete that specificity.

The story, however, changes significantly if I am very close to the stage, say in the fourth or fifth row. I can identify the sources with much more accuracy partly due to the proximity itself (and consequent less loss of sound) and partly due to the perspective (wider soundstage with more directionality).

If we look at its origin, Stereo was conceived to create a ‘constructed’ reality. That is to create an ‘illusion’ of reality. However stereo misses an important element of music which is visual. Also stereo accentuates sound, if you compare with the concert hall. I read somewhere the problem with audiophile systems is if you listen to them too much you start hating live performances. Though largely exaggerated, there is probably some truth in it.

The same imaging logic applies to ‘Soundstage’ as well. From the front of the concert hall (at Orchestra level) one can feel the width and depth. As you go back, both tend to shrink. However (arguably) the best sound and a deeper soundstage you get is from the First Tier, where tickets are usually as or sometimes more expensive than the first few Orchestra level rows. But how many of us like speakers that have a soundstage near the bottom. May be many of us do (think Wilson Beneche). And that takes me back to my point again – there aren’t too many rights or wrongs.

I find superb, subtle details with restricted soundstage and real life imaging without much specificity bit of a paradox. You generally get that kind of soundstage and imaging from back of the orchestra level and from there you do not hear superb details (without amplification) due to the losses as sound travels, no matter which concert hall you are in and how good the acoustics is.

Long story short, I think lifelike stereo is slightly overrated. It finally comes down to your preferences on how you want recorded music be reproduced.

Now couple of points about Graham’s response. As I said before I was impressed with the amount of detail. But soundstage and imaging were by no means what ‘I’ (I repeat ‘I’) was looking for. And not to beat this to death again – there is nothing wrong about what I want from my stereo for my $20K investment (price + tax + cable).

We live in a comparative and competitive world. When I see dealers who tell me that I could come back the next day, if I were not happy with the set up or the room; or tell me I could audition as many times over as many days I want till I am convinced or even offer me to take the speakers home and listen in my setup and return if I am not happy with them; my obvious preference will be for them.

I still think Leonores are in my shortlist and deserve a better audition.
I only would add that, when it comes to speaker placement, few people are as knowledgable as Graham. Regardless of which speakers we end up buying, I will pay Graham to come to our home to help ensure that we realize the value of our investment by properly placing the speakers in our room. Few things annoy me more than not realizing the full value of a sizable investment.

Having said that, we have now auditioned the Verity, Burmester B20(??), B&W 802, and Sophia 2. I was surprised that, of the foregoing speakers, the B&W was my least favorite and, based on listening, that the little Burmester was my favorite overall thus far. Going into this process and having owned several B&W models over the years, I expected to end up with the 802. However, in comparison to the Sophias, the 802Ds, at roughly the same price, just did not stand up. Unfortunately, the Sophias had suprisingly little bass (i.e., none to speak of) which left me both disappointed and puzzled. Although I suspect the lack of bass in the Sophia was the result of placement and electronic matching, it was significant enough for me to pass on a great deal on a demo pair. Nonetheless, I liked everything else that the Sophia did. In many respects, it was amazing. However, I do not want to spend that kind of money and still need to include a sub, such a result would be unacceptable to me.

So, our choice is coming down to the Sophia, Duette (less placement dependent and would add a sub) or the Burmester B25. In an accoustically challenged room such as ours (18 x 30 with 25 foot ceilings and several levels), I am convinced that no speaker will be perfect, but feel fairly confident that one of these speakers can be made to work better than my old AP speakers. (To its credit, the off-axis response of the Sophia was impressive.) Besides, after paying Graham a princely sum to properly place them, they better. : ) Also, from a WAF perspective, all of the finalists are relatively small and attractive. Though, I must say that the fit and finish of the Burmester is quite striking in the Ebony Macassar finish.

Before making a decision, I want to listen to the Focal Scala Utopia and a couple of the Dynaudio Confidence models. However, I have never been a Focal fan and the Dynaudio is a big speaker.

As I look back on this posting, I realize how rambling it became and apologize to those reading it. I am not sure this post made any coherent point and represented more of a stream of random thoughts regarding our selection process.