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.