Compact bookshelves for around £500

Discussion in 'Home Cinema Speakers' started by mister_d, Dec 30, 2006.

  1. mister_d

    mister_d
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    I realise there is no shortage of threads here about speaker choices, so I apologise for creating yet another. I do have some idea of what I'm after, and would know people's opinions on how the speakers on my current shortlist stack up against those expectations, because even after trawling through countless threads on this and other forums I have only managed to piece together a few odd pieces of information relevant to my requirements.

    Apologies for this post being incredibly long, you can probably skip most of the explanation below and go to the list if you have any opinions to share on individual speakers or other recommendations, both of which I would greatly appreciate.

    The speakers should be compact bookshelves, ideally around 30cm in height though I can go as high as 40cm if required. My room is small at approx 12' x 9', and they will be positioned around 10-15cm from the rear wall. I'm looking at a budget of around £500, and fully expect to be buying second hand - I will go a little higher if there are major benefits to be had, and would welcome something cheaper if I have to pay significantly more for a noticeable improvement. My source is an Apogee MiniDAC, and for now they'll be paired with an Arcam 8R but I intend to replace this at some point, so it shouldn't factor too heavily into considerations.

    At the moment most of my listening is through my Grado RS-1 headphones, which I love. I realise there is no chance that anything in my price range will be nearly as revealing and detailed as these, and I'm not necessarily after an absolute carbon copy in speaker form, but I would definitely like something with a similar signature.

    That means I'm after an engaging, slightly forward sound including plenty of detail and treble presence but not too excessive or fatiguing in the high end, with the mids taking overall precedence. Bass needs to be fairly taut without being too strong, meeting the requirements of my small room mentioned above. Despite their revealing nature, the RS-1s also have a surprisingly warm underlying character, which is lacking in the rest of the Grado range and very much to my liking, so I don't want the speakers to be too cold and analytical. What I really want to avoid is an overly polite sound as I get from my current B&W DM601S2s (for anyone following the headphone train of thought that means I don't want the Sennheiser signature).

    Musically, I categorise my tastes primarily as "indie", but that covers a very wide range of material from borderline folk to fairly discordant rock. Some is centred on fairly elaborate instrumentation beyond the standard guitar/bass/drums and I have found this sounds best with an upfront presentation (ie Grado rather than Sennheiser). I also listen to some rock, usually quite aggressive (not a major priority but would be nice if they did it well) and electronic (though I will stick mainly to headphones for this).

    They'll also be used in a home theatre setup, initially only stereo but to be expanded to 5.1 in the future (so a matching centre is a bonus). My overall priority is two channel music reproduction, as long as they're fairly capable at HT they should be OK though again anything that excels in this area is a bonus.

    Below are the speakers I'm presently considering, beginning with the two current front runners, together with any comments about them. Some are available to demo in my local hi-fi store as indicated, but since I want to avoid paying new prices I'm not sure how realistic a demo will be.

    • PMC DB1+ (demo) - seem to be well-regarded, but conflicting reports on how upfront they are. May also consider the TB2+, or the floorstanding FB1+ if they won't be too overwhelming for my room
    • ATC SCM12 - can get these second-hand for £550 on another forum. Sound like they could work, but again some confusion over whether they are exciting and rhythmic or just revealing and analytical
    • B&W CM1 (demo) - apparently a very different signature to other B&Ws, with a metal tweeter, not sure if they're right for me though
    • Dynaudio Contour 1.1/1.3 - too laid back? Also rear-ported (?), so will be too close to wall.
    • Proac Tablette Reference 8 (demo) - rear-ported again, and reportedly not very suited to "rock" (though reviewers' interpretations of what "rock" is seems to vary a lot)
    • Proac Response 1SC - same as above, plus well beyond my budget even S/H, but seem to be worshipped by some
    • Quad 11/12L (demo) - a budget choice if I'm feeling too poor for anything more expensive, don't seem to be very highly regarded round here
    • Wilson Benesch Arcs - sound perfect, but way beyond my budget
    • Spendor S3e (demo) - not appropriate for "rock" (treble too recessed/too laid back)?
    • Kef XQ1 - as above?
    Here are some that I don't really know anything about but have seen suggested:

    • Audiovector Mi 1 and more expensive variations (demo)
    • Naim Neat Motive 3
    • Linn Katan (demo)
    • Epos M12 (demo)
    • AVI Neutron IV
    • Ruark Sabre III
    • Stirling LS3/5a V2
    • Monitor Audio GS/GR10 (seen references to both but can only find former on site)
    Anything that anyone has to say about these speakers, or any suggestions I've missed, would be very welcome.
     
  2. Scott_Mac

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    Well you've certainly done your homework... however the most important thing you're going to have to do is listen to some, as i from a quick glance through the above, not one sounds like another on there... in a bid to listen to all of those you'd be searching until Xmas next year too as many aren't made still!!!

    Of the ones i've listened to on your list:

    PMC - Certainly not up-front, if neutral and replaying what is sent to them is what you're after, put them very near the top of your list, however i'd be concerned as to how well they'd work 15cm from a wall.

    ATC - Will chew up the 8R and spit it back out, they need far, far more power than it can kick out which would be a consideration for later.

    B&W - They're ok, not going to set the world on fire, would work well with the amp though, slightly up front presentation not the best mid range.

    Dynaudio - I'm biased, i'll admit it now, i currently have the Focus 110 on demo at home, i try and listen to other speakers but always end up back at Dynaudio, they just seem to do everything right for me. Ignore the 1.3, loads of bass which overwhelms IMO, also they're likely to be too much for the amp again. The 1.1's i love (not as good as the 110's though!) and would be stunning for what you play, the integration throughout is fantastic, very deep bass for their size, beautiful and airy mid and top end, i would be concerned on how close they are to the rear wall, sure you could use the bungs, but in my experience the slight occasional boominess is better than the changes the bungs make. I'd add the Audience 42 onto your list though, not as detailed, or airy or deep as the Contour range, but a lovely speaker (it's what usually sits on the end of my amp at home)

    Proac - Response 1SC are great, absolutely great but the 8R isn't up to them, they need something much more special to shine... The Ref 8 were ok, but spend the extra on the Signature version if you do go down that line... amazing mid range and top end, but the bass is lacking, for indie music etc you'd be a little disappointed i reckon, if you were a female acoustic only person then buy them and be done, as it stands i'd kick them off the list personally.

    I totally agree with the other points you make about the remaining...

    The other list at the bottom, I personally didn't like the Katan, nothing in particular, just didn't impress me. The AVI just seemed to lack everything when run off an Arcam Solo (as such i reckon it's a power issue again) Epos bored me stiff, no treble to speak of, they seemingly could only handle one thing at a time - maybe it's just me, but no thanks! The Audiovector i've not heard, the Neat's are a little polite and probably wouldn't be greatly suited to the Arcam amp, i've not heard the Ruarks. The LS3/5a are amazing, but again a little lacking in the bass department - a stunningly detailed little speaker which will give a thruthful representation of what you put in, but i'd place them in the same category as the Proac Ref 8's. I've not spent a great deal of time with the Monitor Audio, but they are impressive, the slightly forward presentation would, i imagine, go very well with the slightly laid back Arcam. Others know a lot more about them.

    Other suggestions from recent listening tests for me... Rega R3, a tiny little floorstander, that is front ported, has a side mounted bass driver for extra bottom end and although not a jack of all trades it did impress me with the type of music you mention. The Focal 806v was an interesting one, the tweeter was amazing, especially on a £500 speaker the bottom end struggled occasionally and the presentation was certainly forward - one to listen too.

    Back to my Dynaudio roots, the 52SE is an amazing speaker and for some unknown reason seems to sell extremely cheaply on eBay, normally around £450 to £475, which i can only assume is because people don't understand the difference between it and the 52 on which it is based. This is an amazing speaker, and at that price a steal, again i feel the 8R may be a little underpowered to run it but given that may be changing maybe good to bridge the gap, the close to wall issue again rears it's ugly head though... i'll highly recommend a nice Naim Nait 5i as the amp for you to replace yours with, i made the same move 5 years ago from 8R/8P to a Nait 3R - on paper a slightly cheaper combo, in reality a world apart!

    For me, i'd be trying to dem:

    PMC DB1+
    Dynaudio Focus 110/Contour 1.1/Audience 42/Audience 52SE
    MA GS10
    Focal 806v
    Rega R3

    All of which should be reasonably straightforward as they're all fairly readily available with the exception of the Contour 1.1

    If you're near the Midlands you're welcome to pop by to hear Dynaudio and Naim working in a very awkward environment!
     
  3. mister_d

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    Thanks very much for your extremely detailed reply, and indeed for getting through my post in the first place. I only really started looking into speakers yesterday so it's all from forum posts and reviews I read throughout the day (not much else to do this time of year), I'm still very much new to everything and don't really know what I'm talking about.

    Another colossal post I'm afraid. I'll try to keep actual questions to a minimum as you've already helped a lot, I think I only ask about amps (paragraph after next) and Dynaudios (couple of paragraphs later), the rest is mostly just me gibbering aimlessly.

    I realise I either need to demo if I want to buy with confidence though as stated I really don't see myself buying new, so I need to work out a way around that. My local retailer is PJ in Guildford but they don't carry many of the ranges mentioned, I could perhaps make it to Audio-T where I bought my previous setup (with virtually no research or demoing). While I seem to have stated quite confidently what I'm after I am still fairly clueless when it comes to hi-fi, and my preferences may change completely once I actually hear some systems in the flesh. Otherwise, I'll have to buy and hope for the best, then sell on if I'm not satisfied, though I should probably get a new amp first if I'll be doing that.

    Thanks for your kind offer of trialling your setup, bit of a trek to the Midlands for me unfortunately.

    Regarding the amp, do you think there would be any benefit to adding an 8P as a stopgap measure to add more power, or is that just postponing the inevitable? Suppose it will also cause problems with single-terminal speakers like (all?) Dynaudios. I'm not much of an expert on component matching (in my headphone setup I have a fairly warm valve amp with the forward Grados and it seems to work well, plus the Apogee DAC is on the fuller rather than leaner side if not exactly laid-back), I would be thinking something more aggressive along the lines of Naim but perhaps not if I can get some good synergy going. Taking that into account together with source, cabling and of course room placement, and my head begins to hurt...

    The proximity to the wall is a necessity because of the door being at one side, so even as it as at present with just under 6ft centre-to-centre and the B&Ws about 10cm from the wall it's hardly ideal. To clear the door completely I'd be looking at no more than 4ft centre-to-centre, it's a bedroom setup and I've had to make some compromises to fit speakers and HT in. I've read that the ATCs are fine almost touching the wall, and think PMCs are supposed to be OK with that too, obviously going to be an issue with the rear-ported Dynaudios though...

    Interesting that you should mention the Focus 110, I discovered those after making the post and they sounded like a good option to me - hadn't noticed them before because I find the Dynaudio range quite confusing with a number of completely different options. I had always presumed that the Dynaudio signature was quite reserved and not suited to my tastes, but if that's wrong then I'm pleased to be corrected. I've heard they're great for HT too, which is certainly a bonus.

    I had assumed the Contours wouldn't really be an option (putting the speakers on the other side of the door, ie about 60cm+ from the wall, is an option but probably won't work with my small room and will look strange as the projector screen will be on the wall) and ditto the Audience, which is where the Focus come in, but will definitely them all serious consideration if they might work.

    PMC sound like they might not quite be for me but I'll give them a go if I can, they seem very highly regarded so perhaps my expectations are wrongly adjusted.
    ATC I'm still very interested in, had assumed their character to be similar to PMC so would be interested to learn more under the assumption that I also get a new amp (say a 5i as you suggest).
    I'll presume you're talking specifically about the B&W CM1s as my 601S2s sound anything but upfront (unless I'm completely misunderstanding the concept), I had noted concerns elsewhere about their mids and this is the most important frequency range to me so will perhaps give them a miss.
    Your comments on the Proacs are pretty much in line with what I've seen elsewhere, while they'd be great for some of my collection their overall character doesn't seem to match my needs.
    Also came across the LS3/5A last night after posting, absence of bass isn't necessarily a problem per se as I personally find my choice of music is most heavily biased to the mids and lower treble but I will admit to preferring some degree of colouration to a neutral-as-possible sound.
    A little surprised that the Naims are considered polite, thought that politeness wasn't in Naim's vocabulary but will take your word for it as I've (regrettably, always wanted to try a CD5) never actually heard any Naim equipment.
    Will look into the Regas and (JM Labs?) Focals, both sounds as if they could be just right for me though I don't want the bass to be too overwhelming.

    Thanks very much again for your advice, and if anyone out there isn't completely intimidated by the volume of writing here then it would be great to get another angle...
     
  4. hammers80

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    Hi there,

    I think the limiting factor would eventually be the amp.But the best 500-600 speakers for me have been,Dynaudios,Totem mites,Neat Motive,Revolver,and Epos ranges,but couldn't say how they would work with the Arcam,I think the B&W could work well also.
     
  5. Shakey21

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    Don't mean to hijack the thread but I'm in a similar boat, not sure what to do speaker wise. I have just purchased a plasma and my wife wants to 'downgrade' my front speakers (B&W DM603) for something a little smaller (I think I could get away with somemthing similar if they were more in keeping with the room. Well IMO this gives me the chance to change out the speakers regardless of what is available. I have a Cyrus DAD3Q CD player and a Cyrus 7 AMP.

    Scott Mac - I see you have Stourbridge as your location, have you used Midlands audio exchange (MAX) which I believe isn't too far from Stourbridge, I'm keen to hear the ATC STM11 which they stock and also maybe some of the new 'tower' series, can you comment on this dealer, I don't want to do the 2 hour round trip unless they know what they are talking about, will give me a good deal and can do some kind of credit at a reasonable rate - and maybe a trade in on the B&Ws. My worry is these speakers won't compliment a cyrus system.

    Any info appreciarted.

    Cheers.

    EDIT: and they would need to be good main speakers for movies also.
     
  6. Scott_Mac

    Scott_Mac
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    Hi Shakey,

    Yes i have visited MAX, not at their current location though, John is a great guy - i popped in a while back and felt very much at ease despite looking at probably the cheapest item they stock! I ended up spending a couple of hours there chatting about music and listening to all manner of systems - i didn't ultimately end up buying anything but they're worth a visit. As for credit, part ex etc i think you'd have to take that up direct with them as i don't for certain... worth phoning ahead.

    As for the ATC's i found them an odd ball speaker... very accomplished, but again need a lot of grunt and i'd be a little concerned about a Cyrus 7... only way to really tell if they're for you though is to have a listen to them, doing that and finding out what you feel about them is a lot better than not making the 2 hour return trip!

    Audio Excellence in Worcester are not too far away after that though if you made the trip and they have a good range of other things you could try....

    Scott
     
  7. Scott_Mac

    Scott_Mac
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    Hi Again Mister D,

    I'll try a chronological run again:

    Adding an 8P made a big difference to my system when i had speakers capable of being Bi-Amped, however when i swapped them both to a Nait 3R the performance took a further step up, as such i would say there is not much point adding an 8P if you do ultimately feel like changing the amp - they tend to fetch around £100 on eBay, but selling your current amp and adding that money puts you in the vicinity of the Nait 3R, which tend to go for between £300 and £400 depending on age and whether or not it is the R variant, which has a remote control. Cabling becomes less of a headache if you do go the Naim route too as you'll get a pretty amazing sound with the standard cables provided and the speaker cable is pretty much defacto as NACA5 (Naim's own), though i am changing mine to Chord Epic but at £39 a metre that's hardly a cheap upgrade! Cables etc are a minefield, probably worth dealing with at a later stage when you have an idea what amp etc you do want.

    Ok, helps to understand the issue regarding the positioning - i'm not convinced on the PMC being that close to the wall, ATC/AVI will probably be fine, but as i said above, i'm not keen on their tonal character much.. certainly not up front and aggressive which you seem to suggest you're looking for at the moment.

    Dyn Focus 110 - amazing, really are... very close to a wall they aren't that bad actually - the bass does become a little overwhelming when pushed though (having just tried it) The Audience range actually like the boost IMO, i used to have mine wall mounted using the Dyn mounts and didn't bother with the bungs (mostly as i never had them!) I was certainly happy with the sound too... and it's taking the Focus range to make me swap! The Dyn speakers are certainly not reserved, you must listen to them as i think you'll be very impressed, they can do polite, but they can equally do fast, hard hitting, powerful and very loud! Some go lower, some have less upfront treble, but few have the mid range breadth and "airyness".

    Regarding your other comments on the speakers, the CM1 were certainly more up front than the DM series, not sure if the tweeter is significantly different or if the cabinet design changes something, but there was a big difference - though for me since the first DM601 came out the range has gone down hill a little.

    The LS3/5A need something with attack on the end to combat their very neutral, monitor-esque reproduction - hence they do work very well with Naim.. you might also want to look at Linn Kans, seen by many as a successor to the void filed when the LS3/5A disappeared, the series 1 has the most fans, but the second and third are also excellent - these could be a great option actually as the wall positioning is not an issue, the bass, although minimal is very well timed and quite punchy, but the frequencies that matter to you are borderline sublime!

    To the best of my knowledge the Neat Motives are actually made by Neat and Naim although involved never actually put their name to them... you are right that Naim themselves are not what i would call polite!!!

    I recently bought a Naim CD5i (much better than a CD5 in my opinion) the "entry level" Naim system is not cheap but you really should listen to it.

    Definitely add the Focal (yes formerly JM Lab) and Rega to a demo list, both are good at different things... but neither are an Audience 42 in my book :D

    Hopefully others will come along and help you a little more with other thoughts/suggestions as i appreciate life can be a little dull when all one-sided!

    BTW Audio T are certainly worth a look, i buy my equipment from Audio Excellence in Worcester and they work well with Audio T in the "Music At Home" and the Bristol HiFi Show and seem to share a similar passion in music.
     
  8. mister_d

    mister_d
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    Please feel free to join my thread, the more opinions I can get the better. Have contemplated Cyrus electronics myself alongside Naim though understand they're something of an individual taste.

    Don't want to get too hung up on the amp issue as it will be changed sooner or later, hopefully sooner, I just want to sort out the speakers first becuase they'll have an impact on room layout and I'm personally of the belief that presentation is most noticeably affected by speakers. So pretend I have something better (perhaps by the time I buy the speakers) and the Arcam is just a temporary placeholder.

    Looks like Dynaudios aren't stocked at Camberley Audio-T, so would have to go to Reading/Basingstoke, and PMCs are either PJ or miles away, so even if I can talk a dealer into letting me audition it looks like either travelling some distance or buying second-hand and hoping for the best.

    Scott_Mac, just seen the new post - you've really gone beyond the call of duty this time, think you've told me everything you ever possibly could. If 8Ps are down to around £100ish now (was £150 when I last checked) then I may try that if the speakers I decide upon are biwireable, mainly because the prospect of £3-500 on an amp on top of speakers (then later a 5.1 amp, centre, rears, cable, possibly food at some point) is a slightly fearsome prospect at the moment.

    I'll find what I can about PMCs close to the wall. I'm talking to someone now about a pair of DB1S+s for £375, if I can clear up the wall issue I would honestly be very tempted as I'm sure I would have no problem shifting them at a similar price if not satisfied. After hearing so much about the Dynaudios though I can't help feeling I'd never quite be satisfied until I listened to them though.

    I could actually rehinge my door so it opens behind the speakers and they can be 30cm+ away, also meaning I would only damage the back rather than front if I open the door too quickly, still think it would look a little strange having the so far from the screen though. Also, in this picture of russ.will's setup, which is what got me thinking about speaker options in the first place, he has some GB1s just below his projection screen and fairly close to the wall if a little more than 15cm.
    Edit: Seems the DB1s were recommended and demoed for wall-mounting in this thread, and the poster here (hope linking to another forum is OK) tested the DB1s/TB2s fairly close to the wall, if marginally further away than I'll manage. Plus PMC themselves seem to make a wall bracket, so can't be too bad...

    Will probably skip the ATCs then, unless I'm going for the random second-hand purchase route in which case I may be able to obtain some SCM7s cheaply, can see if I like them and use as rears or sell on at minimal loss if not. Those Linns sound promising, a pair of Mk1s on ebay now which I will keep an eye on and again possibly. With the others, will have to do what I can but may need to give most of them a miss unless I find somewhere and some way to demo them.

    Dynaudios - airiness is definitely good, going back to headphones yet again (sorry, it's all I know) that's where I find the Grados really excel, my preference is for the supplied pads rather than the more popular "flat" pads which bring the drivers closer to the ear, increasing the upfrontness and bass but reducing the airiness and generally sounding less claustrophobic. So maybe Dynaudios are exactly what I want, even if it's contrary to what I've heard before. Just need to work out how to hear some now...

    Thanks very much, you've been extremely helpful and even if I don't end up trying out your main recommendation I've certainly learnt alot from this thread.
     

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