Very difficult to position/match/drive speaker and if you mismatch them they will sound forward, bright and too analytical but if you get it right then they will impress with sonics that far, far supersede their pricerange. When properly matched with sweet sounding electronics and when well positioned (they need air and you need some distance) they sound detailed, big, sweet and airy. Reviewed elsewhere, not in the regular reference system but actually part of an almost "secondary" reference system at a friend's house.
B&W 804S (800 series, successor to the Nautilus range)
More laidback and heavier in the bass than the predecessor N804. Also less nasal in the mids but also less "live". Although mid and high frequencies are more continuous, treble is more fluid and the soundstage is even more spacious, to my ears, this new model had a distinct lack of livelyness that made me long for the N804's that I had just sold. I bought them again. To me, the older N804 has more presence and therefore a more toe-tapping quality.
Martin Logan SL3 (hybrid electrostatics)
Speakers that I used as reference for years. They can both rock and seduce. They're incredibly detailed yet never aggressive. Even the bass (hybrid) is very well integrated, deep and articulate. The soundstage is both high and wide but is also very forward, which is regarded as irritating for some listeners. Images are always projected in front of the speakers, making artists seemingly appear right in front of you, while surrounding you with sound at the same time. This is a trick that has seduced many visitors. Their only large disadvantage is their radiation pattern. Despite the curved stators they have a narrow sweet spot. Stand up and you lose HF, move to the left of the middle and you lose focus and imaging. They are speakers for selfisch audiophiles that do not mind to sit perfectly in the middle of the couch.
The Quads are seductive speakers but they are limited in many areas. Most important for me is their lack of HF extension. Because they are dust-protected by thin plastic sheets (and perhapt by other factors not know to me) they are slightly shut in in the treble. Not everybody finds this to be a problem but it is for real and can even be found in measurements in various audiomagazines. But if you can get over this lack of air, they have a lot to offer. Their mids are glorious. Very natural and at the same time relaxed and lively. The bass is articulate and quite adequate, deep enough and just loud enough.
Highly musical and neutral, although slightly hot in the treble. Best with acoustical music and real instruments and best combined with euphonic tubes or otherwise mellow sounding electronics. Reviewed elsewhere, not in the reference system.
Sonus Faber Amator 2
Very musical and a definite step above the minima amators in bass and mids and treble is now more natural but also darker. These speakers are also best with acoustical music. These speakers are so very impulsive and revealing that you really need flattering electronics or they will sound abrasive. When you've got it right and you play music that they like, such as jazz, they perform extremely well, making you forget about the system. Their bass belies their size. Reviewed elsewhere, not in the reference system.
von Schweikert vr1 reference monitors
For a standmount as small as this one, they sound incredibly large and image in a generous fashion. The bass is just about adequate as long as they're positioned close enough to the rear wall. They are very communacative, have an open and full mid and very silky highs. Dynamics and detailing is average but considering their price above standard. B&W N805 beats them in these areas but is left behind in naturalness and fluidity. In conclusion: excellent speakers for small rooms.
Very lively, open and impulsive sounding speakers. The tweeter really is excellent but bass is not far behind either. It is articulate and fast but doesn't go very deep nor very loud. The cabinet makes itself heard and the overall sound is a bit rough but altogether these are highly enjoyable and positively rocking speakers.
Vifa Basis 2.0
The emphasis is on the bass, which really is very, very good. Bas is both deep, articulate and fast. But the mids are mediocre. They sound somewhat muffled and lack some openness, despite a slight roughness. Soundstaging is also not their forte. In conclusion I'd only recommend these speakers for house music. Then they really perform. Otherwise they lack audiophile quality in may areas.
B&W Nautilus 804
More "live" and more communicative than N805. The 804's have marvellous detailling, excellent focus and a very large soundstage. Treble is surprisingly sweet and extended, as long as the tweeters have been given plenty of running in. Early N804's have a tendency for lazy bass but further stiffening of the cabinets solved this. N804's can be driven by simple amplifiers but will only excell when driven by carefully selected and pricy amplifiers. They like plenty of power and a high damping factor may be needed. They are very revealing of anything that happens earlier in the chain but will really reward with very good sound quality for their price class. They're not entirely neutral, have a slight colouration but arguably less so than other cabinet speakers. Bryston, Jeff Rowland and McIntosch amps work well with these speakers.
They don't have the connunicative and detailed mids that the 804's have but they are also slightly more laidback which can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your tastes and situation. The 805's are very spacious, very detailed and have better bass that you'd expect given their size. They do need proper amplification without roughness because they are very telling of bad equipment but if you combine and set them up properly they reward with sound that is unmatched in their price range. Second hand a real bargain.
Considering that these are regular speakers, not electrostatics, they have immense detail and effortless, open and airy highs as well as very natural mids. This is a huge accomplishment for a "box" speaker. But then of course this is no ordinairy box. They have an immense soundstage with very good focus. However, they are quite laidback and have massive bass that can really overwhelm since the mids are quite relaxed too. This is a speaker that needs a big room and can play really loud without pain. Overall a very good speaker but not an entirely neutral one. The 800D is more neutral despite their larger woofers and cabinet.
Indeed these plastic speakers do not sound boxy, but they do have a slightly tubby bass (although given their size quite deep) and have mediocre detailing. They do however sound quite spacious and are enjoyable enough. They also look very groovy and are easy to drive. For the money though, you can get much better sound. But then you'll have to live with a boring square box...
Very spacious, coherent, detailed and refined speakers with a well controlled and reasonably deep bass. Imaging is beyond doubt. But despite the massive cabinet there seems to be some chesty nasality. A sort of coloration in the mids. Despite this they are quite neutral but like most speakers they are also very sensitive to positioning and room acoustics. In my room there was a distinct dip in the mids that I couldn't get rid of and I'm not sure if the speakers were to blame but no other speakers I tried had this phenomenon. They need musical and sweet sounding electronics to sound their best.
Dali Helicon 400 MKII
Although they cost more than the N804's, they also do perform better in some areas. For example, they have less colouration (they're more neutral) and have tighter as well as (much) deeper bass and their treble is almost as open as that of the Nautilus which is in itself quite an accomplishment. The area in which they are less established is the mids. Here the N804 really performs very well and in comparison it's as if you can hear that the Dalis are only 2-way designs. Also, I felt that the B&W's are more spacious and despite their colouration, altogether sounded less like a box-speaker (and more like a dipole).
Dali Concept 1
Of course these are no serious high end speakers but for their money, they perform surprisingly well. They have an open sound and are very detailed, fast and tight and hav a highly articulate, although not very deep, bass. What they do lack is the mellowness that larger Dalis have. Concept 2 is already a lot better in that respect. The Concept 1 just sound somewhat too small. Which they are of course. But for surrounds they are a fine choice.
IMF Compact II
These old speakers from the seventies are still very musical and can be used close to walls without sounding boomy which is great for surround sound. That was actually how I used them with excellent results. They never call attention to themselves, are never harsh or aggressive and go surprisingly deep in the bass. When used as front speakers you start to notice their lack of dynamics. They are just too laidback for that.
Magnificent speakers that share many aspects that are great about the Martin Logan SL3's, but without some of the latter's lesser sides and with a different presentation. The Magnepans have incredible inner detail and focus, together with a massive soundstage that is wide, high and deep. The bass is a lot like that from the Quad 988. It goes surprisingly low and even remains tight, fast and controlled but there's no real pressure down below. The treble is in a league of its own. It is extremely resolving, refined and airy in a way that I have never heard from any Martin Logan. It is both fluid and lush but can also lay bare bad recordings because of its openness. The sweetspot is very wide. The ribbon tweeter really spreads sounds across the entire room. Martin Logans may well rock harder but Magnepans are more refined and gentle. These are speakers that need great care in setup and lots of patience if you want to hear what they're capable of but they really do reward the efforts.
Judged by themselves very neutral and highly musical little performers with a smooth balance. But compared to von Schweikert VR1's the Epos speakers sound restrained both dynamically and rhythmically as well as sounding less full, which you can't blame them for given their size.
B&W Matrix 805
Very warm and smooth sounding speakers that simply won't shout at you. Detailing is definitely not bad but they have a strange frequency-curve. Mind you, this is before the well-known Nautilus metallic dome tweeters and this old tweeter simply sounds a bit muffled and lacking air compared to the newer models. But a very musical performer it is nevertheless.
Very lively and communicative, speaks straight to the heart. A speaker for music lovers rather than people who want to hear every intricate detail. Mate them with powerful yet musical and full sounding, forgiving electronics and cabling and they will reward with pure emotional music. Just don't expect ultra-refinement or airy treble.
Referred to as one of the world's best center speakers, this is indeed a very good center speaker. But given that it is built along the lines of a N804, I do have to subtract points. It has the same components and a comparable housing but is not a 100% sonic match. One reason for this could be that the HTM1 is a sealed box, whereas the N804's are ported designs. In any case, this speaker sounds almost full range and has plenty bass and fullness to do all sounds justice. It never sounds small and that by itself is something that goes for very few other center speakers. But I find that it sounds more boxy, more constrained and ultimately less musical than the N804's. If you stuff the bass reflex port of a N804, you start to hear an approximation of what the HTM-1 sounds like. But this is when comparing the speaker in place of one of the N804's, playing music. As mentioned before, for all center speaker duties this is a fine design. I was expecting a horizontal clone of the N804 which it is not entirely. It is unmistakenly a B&W Nautilus design though, and I doubt that any other center speaker would make a closer match to the 804's sonically. In fact, the best centerspeaker I heard, an active Meridian M60, was also not enjoable when used as one of the stereo speakers, playing music, but it excelled for home cinema use. Might it be that I am missing the point?;-)
Harman/Kardon GLA-55 powered loudspeakers
Onboard digital amplification, long voice coils and DSP means that these speakers go incredibly loud without distortion. They also produce remarkably deep bass, really negating the use of a subwoofer. The sound is clean, transparent, articulate, well-focused and spacious. They are quite pricey but they really perform way beyond their size and combined with their arresting visual appeal I'd say they're almost worth their asking price. I did buy them and have no regrets at all but have to admit that you could probably match the soundquality for less outlay by going for regular speakers and a decent amp but you'd miss out on this beautiful eye-catching style.
Incredibly small yet incredibly capable subwoofer. Basically the size of a football, this little sub is still capable of going down to 23hz! Its sound is clean, uncoloured and fast. There are various subtle filtering options that make it possible for the sub to blend in completely with the main speakers. Even this little sub is meant to complement the main speakers by working at the lowest frequencies (typically lower than 40hz)
The strata is an older subwoofer than the Quake II but it is quite a bit larger and uses a larger woofer. Its sound is more articulate and fuller but not quite as neutral as that from the Quake II but it has more bite and character. Or you could say that it is more coloured, which is probably also true. But combined with my fullrange Magnepans, it provides just the right amount of colour and body to fill in the Maggies' inherent leanness.
I have immense admiration for the 800D's when all circumstances are optimal. Than means combining them with forgiving cables and playing only well-recorded CD's. They have fantastic soundstaging and their bass can be stunning. If I had a second room and no cost restraints I would probably keep them. They are that good. But now that I have to choose between them and the Magnepans, I simply have to conclude that the Maggies move me more. Not by sheer bass power perhaps, but emotionally they do the trick, whereas the 800D's, because of their analytical character, their neutrality and honesty, fail to move me with more than half my CD collection. Statement speakers, for sure, but a little unforgiving at that.
These speakers sound formidably spacious and have very deep bass. The sound is transparent and reasonably detailed, but there's some sort of charming colouration going on. They always sound romantically pleasant, harmonically rich and never agressive. These speakers aren't about analytical precision. But they throw a huge soundstage and are effortlessly musical, not to mention having huge, full, deep bass that even in my large room rendered the subwoofers unneccesary.
In not too large rooms it produces a wholly believable and very powerful sound with very deep bass. Its surround illusion is very convincing, only as long as you sit in the middle. The S9 wipes the floor with many mini-systems and is incomparably better than any TV's built in speakers. The perfect solution for anyone craving good sound but wary of their rooms being taken over by 5 or more speakers.