Decision Time - I think I have arrived ...

gava

Well-known Member
I have been on a mission to choose a speaker upgrade for the last few months, and thanks to many helpful suggestions from forum members have tried many different speakers. All of which have been auditioned in dealers' demo rooms, not in my home.

My overall budget was between £4,000 and an absolute maximum of around £10,000, but didn't really want to go over £8,000. That budget could include a subwoofer upgrade.

The fist thing that I have discovered is that my current system is absolutely fantastic for the price, and seems to have a beautiful synergy. I have listened to systems that cost £25,000 that honestly didn't sound any better that what I currently listen to every day.

The second thing I have discovered is that the room is so crucial that I cannot be totally confident that my subjective impressions of the overall systems are totally reliable.

The third thing that I have discovered is that there really isn't anything horrible (with one possible exception) in that price range. If I was not allowed to choose my own speakers and had any of the ones below forced upon me it wouldn't exactly be a great hardship.

Because it's what I have my current system is my reference: NAD C399, QAcoustics Concept 300 speakers, REL T5i subwoofer X2. Dirac Live running.

I will set my current system at a reference level of 6/10 and keeping the amp constant and say how I think the other speakers I have auditioned would fare in my living room, and to my personal taste. As I said above, I would want to upgrade the subs for some of them, but assuming for the scoring I would do that if necessary.

Amplifiers/streamers included: Linn, Naim, NAD M33, McIntosh, Mola Mola, my C399 - everything the dealers threw at them was pretty high end.

In chronological order of what I listened to:

Wharfedale Elysian 4 (£7,000)
Nice speakers. Quite big and heavy. Very competent performers. Would be happy enough with these. Would likely want a sub but not critical to have one. Likely not much of a real upgrade over what I have now though. Estimated score: 6/10 or 7/10.

JBL Synthesis S3900 (£9,000)

Pretty good. Liked the compression drivers for the upper frequencies. Bass was also good, capable of filling very large rooms. Bit boomy from the port, but I'm sure Dirac Live would tame it just fine. No sub required. Estimated score: 7/10.

KEF R7 (£2,600)

Listened to these as they were in the demo room and they didn't have any R11s, and it was mostly just for comparison to the Wharfedale and JBL. These are nice speakers, nothing to object to here, but not an upgrade. Estimated score: 5/10 or 6/10.

KEF Reference 1 Meta (£7,000)

The only speaker I listened to that could compete with the C300s in soundstage and ability to vanish in the room. They were actually even better at that than the C300s, so definitely an upgrade in that respect. However the treble was way too sharp for me in a weird way. I'm sure a FR graph wouldn't show it, but I get fatigue from my LS50s too, and this was like that but more so. Bass was weak, but it was a big and well damped room. Definitely would need a sub, but I'm sure the bass would be fine in my room and certainly be better than the C300s. This is an excellent speaker, but not for my taste. Estimated score: 8/10 for the first 15 minutes, then 4/10 as my head starts to pound.

Focal Sopra 2 (£13,000)
Very impressive speaker. I liked these a lot. Easy to see why they seem to be something of a reference for their price point. Beryllium tweeter very nice - clear and detailed without the fatigue I got from the KEFs. Mids and bass both impressive. Would not need subwoofer. Unfortunately too expensive though. Estimated score: 9/10.

Spendor D7.2 (£5,600)

Very nice. Wanted to hear the D9.2 but these were available to demo and apparently have a similar sound character. Nothing to object to here. The 7.2 would certainly need a sub. Didn't strike me as an upgrade compared to my current system. Estimated score: 5/10 or 6/10.

PMC Twenty6.24i (£5,700)

Very nice. TL bass quite startling and fun. Could easily live with these. Put a big smile on my face - just a fun speaker - seemed especially good for rock and folk music. I think if you like speakers like the big Klipsch speakers then these are a great alternative. Wanted to hear the 26i, but they are really stretching the budget. Wouldn't need a sub with these. Estimated score: 7/10, wild estimate for 26i: 8/10.

Gold Note A3 Evo II (£3,500)

Nice speakers. Quite similar to the C300s. Possibly a slight upgrade. Was hoping to hear the floorstanders. Estimated score: 6/10 to 7/10.

ATC SCM40 (£4,000)

Absolutely stunning. Hard to drive but I loved these speakers. Listened to every song on my playlist from start to finish and went back and listened to some of them again. How could they be so cheap? Will definitely need upgraded subs, and to match their quality will likely need £2,500 to £3,000 for the subs. Estimated score: 9/10

Dynaudio Confidence 20i (£9,000)

Listened to these after the SCM40. Very competent speakers. Fairly similar sound signature to the C300. Just a straight upgrade, but I wasn't totally blown away - especially considering the price. Estimated score: 8/10.

Goldenear Triton One.R (£7,000)

Massive disappointment. Treble fine, not as nice as silk domes though - similar to the Wharfedales, good by not particularly to my taste. Mids shouty and fatiguing and astonishingly lacking in detail. Bass flabby, soft and poorly integrated. Really not good. Sounded like a very big bluetooth speaker. Managed to simultaneously be too loud and too soft. Estimated score: 3/10

Final conclusion:

Firstly the C300s are amazing at their price and I am loathe to get rid of them. Great synergy with my C399 and Dirac Live combo. If I hadn't been so blown away by the ATC I would be seriously considering simply upgrading to the C500s.

However, I definitely see the ATC SCM40s in my future, fortunately they are at the bottom end of my price range, so will also be going for a sub upgrade too.

Phew, I'm finally exhausted now. I feel like I have listened to enough speakers to have figured out what I like.
 
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D.D.D.

Active Member
Focal Sopra 2 (£13,000)
Very impressive speaker. I liked these a lot. Easy to see why they seem to be something of a reference for their price point. Beryllium tweeter very nice - clear and detailed without the fatigue I got from the KEFs. Mids and bass both impressive. Would not need subwoofer. Unfortunately too expensive though. Estimated score: 9/10.

ATC SCM40 (£4,000)
Absolutely stunning. Hard to drive but I loved these speakers. Listened to every song on my playlist from start to finish and went back and listened to some of them again. How could they be so cheap? Will definitely need upgraded subs, and to match their quality will likely need £2,500 to £3,000 for the subs. Estimated score: 9/10

Both scored as 9/10 , and both have similar things: +db on lows&highs, and -db at 3-5kHz.

Just suggest that if you listen to SF Sonetto VIII they will also get 9/10.

Do you really like that sound signature?

SCM40:


atc_scm40_quasi_anechoic.jpg


Sopra 2:

41221-focal_sopra_2_lab2.jpg




With the budget you have custom or DIY will give you far more.
 

gava

Well-known Member
Both scored as 9/10 , and both have similar things: +db on lows&highs, and -db at 3-5kHz.

Just suggest that if you listen to SF Sonetto VIII they will also get 9/10.

Do you really like that sound signature?

Well I guess it seems I do.

I haven't listened to the SF. I must admit I find them (I'm sure I'm unusual in this) almost unbearably ugly.

I am not a DIY person, having neither the space nor the inclination. As for custom I find it difficult to believe I could get a custom speaker for £4,000 that was better than the ATC. I suppose a better custom speaker than the Focal for its price I would be more inclined to accept. At any rate, I did think about it, but have decided against it.

I will be using Dirac Live and subs too, so minor tweaks to FR are easy to accomplish as required. FR doesn't tell the whole story, there is more to the character of a speaker than shows up in an FR graph. Perhaps it's possible to measure those things and chart them, but I don't think we know how to do it just yet, and if such measurements are taken they certainly don't seem to be widely available.

If FR was the only thing to be concerned about then there would be no point really in upgrading, all that is required is a good starting point and Dirac Live to even out room issues and make final tweaks.

1652507121406.png


1652507147618.png


With my current in-room response as adjusted

1652507482079.png


So finished? Is all the rest of it simple delusion? My system sounds great and I'm not really going to be able to make it better?

Certainly it's possible, but I do think the sonic character of the speakers is subtly different.
 
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Flobs

Active Member
I must admit I find them (I'm sure I'm unusual in this) almost unbearably ugly.
More than ugly, a monstrosity especially for my listening space. VIII for 8 drivers? what a complete mess that would play havoc in my room (I'd have to place them horizontally) 🤣
Good read, I struggled finding speakers under €8000.
I did flirt with the idea of custom but not being a joiner or ebeniste plus the drivers I ended up choosing it would have cost me a lot more with the risk of getting it all wrong and haveing to redesign and pay to have cabinets rebuilt over and over again.
Seem good the ATC's but need some power, how are they at low volumes?

I'm not a fan of focal but did take a look at the Kantra (desperate times and all that) but decided that the only one worth considering was the Sopra which really was out of price range, particularly for a make I wouldn't be happy with.
 

Derek S-H

Distinguished Member
@gava - so your final decision was the ATC SCM40 + 2 x Subwoofers?

What are going to do with your old speakers + 2 x Subs, trade them in or keep them for another room?
 

gava

Well-known Member
Well the design committee has told me she is very unhappy I am going to sell the Concept 300s because she loves the way they look and sound.

tbh the trade in offer I have received is low enough that I think perhaps I should just hang on to them, loan them to a friend or something until I get a better offer.

If I traded them in on the Concept 500 I would get an extra £500 and the design committee would be much happier. She doesn't hate the black ash on the ATC though, and accepts that sound is more important than looks. From her feedback though I'm slightly rethinking the 500s. I've gone from 95% sure to 85%.

For the subs - I have an pretty decent upgrade offer and trade in on the old ones from MJ Acoustics for a pair of Reference 400s. But once again not so much money on the trade in that I might not loan them to a friend who could then buy them if they liked them.
 
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3rdignis

Active Member
The 500's come up regular on the used market.

Screenshot_20220514-130045_Samsung Internet.jpg
 

Ugg10

Distinguished Member
The SCM40’s also come in a satin black paint also a light wood plus white. I am not a fan of black ash either.

ATC_SCM40_review_header.jpg


If it has to be black then it is satin paint for me.

scm40_black_3-4__large_full.jpg
 

prosilent

Active Member
I would keep your speakers until you have compared your new speakers in your room.
 

gava

Well-known Member
Life is short.

Just placed an order. :)
 

gava

Well-known Member
ATC
 

gava

Well-known Member
If anyone has any advice regarding subs I have started a sub thread now. :p

 

Helix Hifi

Well-known Member
@gava, congratulations. This speakers look gorgeous, bet they sound incredibly also.
 

Steve356

Distinguished Member
If anyone has any advice regarding subs I have started a sub thread now. :p


Congrats on the new speakers. You won't be disappointed.

My SCM 19s work very well with a M&K X10 sub on the end of a Lyngdorf TDAi 3400.
 

Paul7777x

Distinguished Member
Everyone seems to love the ATC 40s. Good luck with them sir. 👍

I’d like to have a good listen to the active ones.

In black of course. The black ones sound better.
 

Call me Candy

Distinguished Member
I think you have made a wise choice after a hell of an audition process with some very good speakers. You must have had a lot of fun.
I wish you years of happiness with your new speakers........ but it would be the black satin finish for me.
 

gava

Well-known Member
I think you have made a wise choice after a hell of an audition process with some very good speakers. You must have had a lot of fun.
I wish you years of happiness with your new speakers........ but it would be the black satin finish for me.

Thanks!

Yes, it certainly was very interesting. I figured that there were so many recommendations and good brands that it was worth some time getting a good sampling, these may well be the last set of speakers I ever buy - at the very least I want to keep them for 5 years.

Of course there are still many that I didn't get a chance to hear, but I tried to listen to the most-recommended and main brands where I could.

Some I was also able to eliminate based on whether I would be happy having them myself almost regardless of how they sound...

I'm not a snob when it comes to most brands - even though a lot of people wouldn't consider spending so much money on QAcoustics or Wharefdale - I've a lot of fondness for both these brands and it wouldn't bother me to have them. That doesn't mean I'm completely immune however - for no particular reason I didn't bother to investigate the MA speakers - mainly I think I just don't like their looks. B&W weren't considered because the 800 series were too expensive and I've not enjoyed previous auditions of the 600/700 series. There are a fair number of brands that are very hard to find or I simply don't like the way they look e.g. Sonus Faber.

Also I feel like I did reach a point where I'd found a speaker I loved and listened to enough different ones that I was confident I'd had a decent crack at it and wasn't about to make a horrible and expensive mistake.
 

gava

Well-known Member
Those ATCs look great and I’m sure, will do you proud. Did you by any chance consider ProAc?

I did briefly, but I really wanted a 3-way (despite auditioning a few that weren't - only to get a feel for the marque).

The ProAc 3-ways were all out of my budget so I didn't try to audition.

Even though I listened to quite a few speakers, there are an awful lot more that I didn't, quite likely one or two that I might even have preferred, but I am very happy that I have chosen something that I really loved when I heard it and that has an excellent reputation with people that I respect.

Even if I might have eventually been able to choose something better, I am at least confident that I have chosen something very good.

It still remains to be seen whether I regret it later, but I don't think I will. I think I'm going to be very happy. :)
 

D.D.D.

Active Member
Well I guess it seems I do.

I haven't listened to the SF. I must admit I find them (I'm sure I'm unusual in this) almost unbearably ugly.

I am not a DIY person, having neither the space nor the inclination. As for custom I find it difficult to believe I could get a custom speaker for £4,000 that was better than the ATC. I suppose a better custom speaker than the Focal for its price I would be more inclined to accept. At any rate, I did think about it, but have decided against it.

I will be using Dirac Live and subs too, so minor tweaks to FR are easy to accomplish as required. FR doesn't tell the whole story, there is more to the character of a speaker than shows up in an FR graph. Perhaps it's possible to measure those things and chart them, but I don't think we know how to do it just yet, and if such measurements are taken they certainly don't seem to be widely available.

If FR was the only thing to be concerned about then there would be no point really in upgrading, all that is required is a good starting point and Dirac Live to even out room issues and make final tweaks.





With my current in-room response as adjusted



So finished? Is all the rest of it simple delusion? My system sounds great and I'm not really going to be able to make it better?

Certainly it's possible, but I do think the sonic character of the speakers is subtly different.
The problem with DIY is that there is no shops who exhibit it, as DIY speaker sounds better then from the brands and shops are not interested to sell cheap solutions and earn fraction of profit.

There are DIY projects where you can get factory made cabinets, and all the job is simplifies to cut damping cloth, screw-in drivers and connect crossover with fast-ons.

With the budget you had there are few options as for DIY too for custom.
DIY small floorstanders, what are definitely sound amazing are

SB Acoustics Rinjani Beryllium DIY kit with factory crossover - it is 1/2 of £ paid for SCM

Here is the review of standart Be kit by Soundstage Australia:
take a look on the reviewer's gears and it's costs and you'll get a clue what Rinjani Be is when he writes:

"I struggle to think of a floorstander anywhere near this price point offering a mix of such high quality drivers and which is built to this level of integrity and finish. Add to that, most importantly, the fact that Rinjani BE performs, presenting music to very high standards. Think towards double its value and you’d be in the ball park.

Mount Rinjani is the second largest active volcano in Indonesia. As a fitting reflection of the sheer might of a volcanic event, the SB Acoustics Rinjani BE is a force-of-nature erupting on to the quality loudspeaker space. Yes, I’m convinced the Rinjani BE is a compelling, genuine high-end audio bargain."


Another project I can recommend is also comes from SB Acoustics, bigger one -
SB Acoustics Sasandu Beryllium - easy to assemble, the highest complexity in the process is to cut damping: cabinets are big with a lot of chambers, many pieces of damping to the right chamber.
The cost Sasandu kit is close to the cost of SCM 40, but technology inside is far ahead and sound is amaizing, except few moments what I personally think might be better. I've measured&listened Sasandu and well-reviewed Perlisten S7T, and I can say that in pure Stereo Sasandu is step up (or two) from 15k£ S7t.

Main business for SB Acoustics is speaker drivers, they make so good drivers that in right hands they are incredible performers. Many DIY guys excited by price/performance, many manufacturers use their standard or OEM/custom versions and many small manufacturers use them in affordable by the price design.

I've seen that some DIY kit designs from SB are used without any changes except logo by some speaker manufacturers and even were presented im Münich high-end . Some have modified crossovers, but share same drivers and cabinets, some just have similar ideas of cabinet with own mods - I'd rather call it custom speakers, even it have own brand names, but no big investments into marketing to keep the price more affordable.

Here are the custom projects what fits to the budget - ready to go speakers
Sound Of Eden - 2-way with passives: 3500€
review:

new model just released - Trio (on the right), it is around 5500€, no reviews yet. Keeps same design concepts as Duo, but it is 3-way, what goes lower.
Trio-1280pix.jpg


Drivers are SB Acoustics ceramic series,
With the price of S.O.E. 3-way Trio you can buy 60% of branded bookshelves which use OEM version of same SB ceramic drivers:
Duo costs more and does not sounds and measures better.

Another custom projects within a budget are based on SB kits, but with seriously improved crossover designs are:

SB Acoustics Rinjani Berilliym by StereoArt - it is modified version of SB Rinjani Be, ready to go speakers with exceptional musicality due to new crossover design with better frequency and phase response.

Big brother "brother" - modified Sasandu, the design is conversion from standart SB Satori to newest SB Satori Textreme series woofers: the technology you hardly find in speakers under 50k€
These are on the upper edge of your budget - 10k£, but still exceptional value for money:
SB Acoustics Sasandu Textreme by StereoArt
almost 94dB sensitivity and LF extends to 26Hz -3dB with very flat phase response.



Just a note about DIRAC and other electronic correction: it adjusts FR, it removes reflections in a single and quite limited in space listening area, but it does not remove phase errors from the speaker designs - how drivers joined in their co-work - passive or active crossover.

I would say that phase errors are one of the important things what makes speaker sounding good.

Here is an image of phase response of two speakers with inverted tweeter: means that tweeter should work opposite to woofer - 180 degree shift, when one is pushing and another pooling.
It shows behavior of "opposite" out-of phase connection, where is seen how drivers are aligned in-time to each other. In non-inverted connection it is not seen that good, phases and responses summed and there is some line shows more or less good response.
Phase allign-inverted.jpg

Green one: phase response of the speaker with good phase alignment - phase shift between woofer (under 2.8kHz) and Tweeter (up from 2.8kHz) is quiet good - almost 180degrees, what shows good crossover design.
Red one: phase shift is less then 180 and in crossover point it is no that good. Upper part 2.5-4K - it is not that good as green, it shows that woofer partially co-works with tweeter and "eats" tweeter, and same, but with less exposure on the lower part from 1.8 to 2.3K, tweeter's response added to woofer and if have phase shift, in the area of 1.8 to 4K we have zone where in non-inverted design one driver is pushing and another is puling, they canceling each other, but if we add few dB to FR of the drivers in 1.8 to 4K, we will get flat response of the speaker, but the drivers will still cancel each other - the dynamics, soundstage, presence will suffer.
Electronic correction will not help here :(


P.S: red line is Concept 300 measured with inverted tweeter. While it reviewed by many magazines with relatively good FR measurements, Concept 300 sounds better then many other speakers in 3000k€ range, but it still have some bug, which standard measurements will not show but it will be in the air, and this leads to "upgrade bug", when owners want to get something better sounding. This is endless process, as speaker manufacturers do not offer "perfect speakers", as if they do, the sales will stop, and no Gen1, Gen2,,,GenX will appear :) The problem with small brands like Sound of Eden, StereoArt and similar - they make that good designs that once customer bought it he disappears - he is fully satisfied and do not need future upgrades. That is not good for the traders and shops, as they need returning customers, thus those bands are not too popular due to poor marketing leading to no resellers.
 

gava

Well-known Member
The problem with DIY is that there is no shops who exhibit it, as DIY speaker sounds better then from the brands and shops are not interested to sell cheap solutions and earn fraction of profit.

There are DIY projects where you can get factory made cabinets, and all the job is simplifies to cut damping cloth, screw-in drivers and connect crossover with fast-ons.

Indeed. I think it takes some confidence and experience to simply jump into the process for these expensive speakers, otherwise it's a huge leap of faith that:
1. They really will sound better if properly assembled, etc.
2. That I am capable of properly assembling them. I am sure there are plenty of ways to mess things up - and I would be sure to do most of them. :) Then to find out if there are problems, fix them, etc.

It does sound like fun though. :)

My biggest problem really is that I live in an apartment in London, I don't have a place where I could easily assemble and test these. If I had a decent sized workshop and dedicated listening room then I would be much more inclined. Perhaps one day if I move out of London then this could become a thing.

Anyway I am now committed - paid deposits, etc on my new setup which will need to last me for 3-4 years.

I could however perhaps begin to experiment with some smaller DIY speakers for a desktop type of setup to replace my KEF LS50 speakers. I do also have a DDRC24 and Behringer A800 that I could use for experimentation.

So if you have any recommendations for that then I would be happy to look into it. I will have a look at the SB Acoustics kits you linked above. :)
 

Ugg10

Distinguished Member
@gava there are ways of doing DIY speakers without a workshop, possible but may cost a bit more.

There are thousands of designs out there with driver, crossover and cabinet plans, a lot being two way bookshelf speakers.

Drivers can be sourced fairly easily from Falcon, Wilmslow, Willys, Hifi Collective, Lean or Blue Arran in the UK, same for crossover parts and speaker hardware.

For cabinets, if you stick to standard rectangular boxes then there are a number of places you can buy precut baltic birch ply or MDF just leaving you to cut out and rebate the driver holes which can be done with a router and jasper jig. Some timber merchants will also cut to size for a fee. An alternative is to contact a woodworking CNC house, there are a number about so get a few quotes that will cut the parts out and also provide the driver cutouts and rebates but obviously depending on where you go this may cost a bit.

Finish is down to you but veneer is fairly cheap and can be just glued on and then sanded and oiled for a pretty professional finish.

I think there is a sweet spot at around £1000 for all parts etc. (typically around £4-600 for drivers, £200ish for crossovers and hardware and £200ish for cabinet materials).

Have a search for the Adelphos (or Kairos) by Jeff Bagby which uses SB Satori drivers and have good frequency plots and phase coherence (as mentioned by @D.D.D. ), the Carerra design by Paul Carmody also get good reviews from those who built them. You may find some of the speakers online are closed and only available from places like Jantzen (for Troels Gravesen designs) or Meniscus but if you call/email them they may just sell you the plans rather than buy a whole kit which gets expensive to ship and then add 20% VAT on. (Quick tip, if you use teh Way Back Machine sometimes design start off open and then are closed down so worth a look).

I think the only place in the UK that produced full kits with boxes is Wilmslow Audio.

Hope this helps.
 

gava

Well-known Member
P.S: red line is Concept 300 measured with inverted tweeter. While it reviewed by many magazines with relatively good FR measurements, Concept 300 sounds better then many other speakers in 3000k€ range, but it still have some bug, which standard measurements will not show but it will be in the air, and this leads to "upgrade bug", when owners want to get something better sounding. This is endless process, as speaker manufacturers do not offer "perfect speakers", as if they do, the sales will stop, and no Gen1, Gen2,,,GenX will appear :) The problem with small brands like Sound of Eden, StereoArt and similar - they make that good designs that once customer bought it he disappears - he is fully satisfied and do not need future upgrades. That is not good for the traders and shops, as they need returning customers, thus those bands are not too popular due to poor marketing leading to no resellers.

The C300 I think have decent drivers, good crossover and absolutely superb cabinets and stands.

I wonder actually whether there would be a way to keep the cabinets and stands and go for a big upgrade with some really high end drivers and upgraded crossover - possibly even make them active - I do have a spare DDRC24?

Would that work? I can't particularly see why not.
 

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