Question Recommended £500 active speakers w/bluetooth for music, movies

setmajer

Novice Member
Apologies for the novella. I certainly don’t expect anyone to read all of this but thought I’d put it all in up front rather than ping-ponging throughout a thread.

TL;DR
  • Active speakers
  • Bluetooth (AAC more useful than APT-X)
  • Optical input
  • 3.5mm input a nice-to-have
  • AirPlay a plus, not essential
  • Can sit on a shelf (can’t be floorstanders or require stand mounts)
  • Clear dialogue for movies
  • Neutral or mid-forward for music
  • No buzzing when not playing
  • £500 all-in, used OK
Room
  • 4.83m × 3.45m
  • Hard floor
  • 1 short wall is all east-facing windows
  • Sofa opposite (approx. 2.5m between screen & heads)
  • TV against one of the long walls
  • Next to sofa on long wall, away from windows, is open doorway to kitchen
  • In a London-sized (read: small) 2 BR ex-local authority flat
Small room is why my wife says no floorstanders/stand mounts. There are possible solutions for that, but for now she’s not having any and given the size of the room & flat floorstanders are likely a bit much anyway.

Considering

Ruark Audio MR1 MK II: Affordable buy-it-now option, would upgrade in 1–2 years and move them to the bedroom; also intrigued by the battery backpack for use on our terrace (which is ample) but realistically I’ll not use it enough to warrant sacrificing sound
KEF Egg: Another buy now-upgrade later option; currently last choice because the 2m integrated speaker interconnect limits placement
Dali Zensor 1 AX: Mid-range compromise; can stretch budget for these now (esp. used) but they’re too big for the bedroom so I’m unlikely to upgrade later; will just get something good-enough for there
Elipson Prestige Facet 6B BT: As above; slightly less keen as have read the 8Bs non-active don’t have particularly tight bass & concerned that might be a family trait
KEF LSX: a bit out of range right now, but could stick with current gear and save for 6–9 months

Open to other ideas, of course.

Not considering

Soundbars:
my impression is they’ll be notably worse for music than comparably-priced speakers
Sonos: not fussed about multi-room and the 1s sound objectively good for what they are, but the treble is a bit bright and the bass a bit boomy for my taste
Addon: again, no need for multi-room and the koala shape isn’t the most space-efficient
One box solutions (e.g. Mu-So Qb): do want stereo, not just a streamer
Subwoofers: wife is allergic to tummy-rumbling bass & buzzing, the latter seems a common fault in subs at this price range and with such a small room it seems overkill
Surround: wife doesn’t want wires to the back, I Can’t Be Arsed with all the standards, connections, etc., and wireless options all seem to rely on a soundbar
Hi-res audio: CBA re-ripping my whole music collection (800+ CDs)
Phonograph: also CBA re-buying stuff on vinyl
Audio streaming: can use Spotify via phone or computer when I want it
Receiver + passive speakers: just a taste thing, really: always had a soft spot for clever, compact gear and I like the simplicity of an all-in-one. A receiver seems unnecessary given our requirements anyway.
Voice assistant: not excited by talking to my stuff, frankly. Siri isn’t that reliable, we don’t use any Microsoft devices, I’m unconvinced about being Google’s product, and I trust Amazon about as far as I could throw Jeff Bezos’s wallet.

Buying

We’ll probably be upgrading to one of the following TVs about the same time as I buy the speakers:

Panasonic TX-58GX800B 58in
Samsung UE49RU8000 49in
Sony KD-49XG9005 49in

…in roughly that order of preference for the moment. I prioritise natural colour reproduction over punch or absolute detail/contrast.

We only use Netflix, iPlayer and (occasionally) Amazon Prime for streaming. I occasionally hook up the computer to watch movies (I’ll spare you the reasons for d/ling to a computer rather than buying) or to watch American football (my teams play on Fox, and Fox Sports isn’t available here so I use a VPN to connect to a legit U.S. streaming service). If we go the Sony route, would probably think about an AppleTV as the Android TV OS on our current telly is awful.

Current gear
  • Sony Bravia KDL43W805CBU (43in)
  • SoundWorks 2.1 computer speakers w/upgraded interconnects
  • Creative T20 desktop speakers in office
  • MacBook Pro, Retina 13-inch Mid-2014
  • iOS/macOS household now, but wife is threatening to switch to Linux/Android for cost reasons
The SoundWorks are not audiophile gear, obviously. But they suit my preferences for music. Where they fall down is dialogue clarity for movies and the sub buzzes a bit (I don’t mind, but it drives my wife up the wall). They’ll go back in the office to replace the T20s, which are a just-adequate cheap stopgap — sound profile is too v-shaped & not especially clear.

For an idea of my sound preferences, I have more experience with IEMs than loudspeakers, so:

Etymotic HF-3: One of my favourites, stopped buying them due to durability and a bit of fatigue in long listening sessions, but I love the way they render electric guitar
Sennheiser IE8: shockingly muddy bass until I used the ‘electric tape’ fix, then OK; bags of detail, but the treble was a bit sharp and they struggled with complex mixes
Shure SE535: current favourites; struggle with the seal so have to replace the triple flange tips every couple months or the bass starts fading; I cut off the third flange to open up the treble a bit and they’re very good, albeit not perfect (just a skosh polite)
RHA T20i: the only ‘U-shaped’ buds I’ve really liked; lovely airy, delicate treble (my favourite bit about them) and bass had fun impact without bleeding into the mids
Sennheiser IE800: just had a couple hours with these, but found them fatiguing; the bass was nice but the treble just had a hard edge to it — probably the usual Sennheiser trick of peaking the treble in places to increase the impression of detail

Also have a couple over-ears:

Sennheiser Momentum 2 Wireless: got them on closeout for £170 and am satisfied, but had I paid £300+ they’d have gone back due to sharp treble & the bass just seeming a bit over-egged (hard to describe what I’m hearing, TBH)
Audio-Technica ATH-40: brilliant for the price; almost prefer the sound to the momentums but they leak sound & can be a little on the analytical side

My wife finds all of the above bass-light (even the T20i) but I suspect that’s due to fit. For loudspeakers though, she’s quite bass shy as she finds the physical sensation of heavy bass/sub-bass uncomfortable.

I also have a soft spot for portable bluetooth speakers. Currently using a JBL Flip 4 with a bit of fabric inside the grille as a low-tech solution to over-bright treble. There are better out there but either the improvement was small and came with other flaws (e.g. the Tribit XBoom has smoother treble, but the bass seems a bit flabbier) or they lack a feature I use (e.g. the Flip 5 doesn’t have speakerphone). I prefer the sound of my old Denon Envaya mini: notably less extension in both treble & bass, but music just sounded more integrated into a song, as opposed to the more like a bunch of instruments playing on the JBL. That said, it’s not enough to make me buy the Envaya 150 (which sounds about the same as the mini).

Music

So long as dialogue clarity is there, music is more important than movies for sound. Generally listen to hard rock & EDM (mostly my wife — leans towards trance or stuff with fat beats), but also a smattering of blues, hip hop, soul, experimental/noise/alternative, jazz, and a bit of classical. Some favourites:
  • Clutch
  • Cancer Bats
  • Brother Ali
  • Shirley Bassie
  • Ministry
  • Patti Smith
  • Leadbelly
  • Beethoven
  • Sam & Dave
  • Steve Earle
  • Paris
  • Daft Punk
  • Acoustic Ladyland
  • Entombed
  • Death Grips

Movies & TV

Mostly suspense/thrillers, epic sci-fi/fantasy, drama, and documentaries. Some action movies (especially martial arts — including old Chinese/Hong Kong kung fu), but hate whispered-dialogue-massive explosions sound mixing. Sports aren’t a priority, but do watch a bit of MMA & American football. Some favourites:
  • Game of Thrones
  • Jessica Jones
  • Stranger Things
  • Ken Burns & David Attenborough documentaries
  • Firefly
  • Call the Midwife
  • Murder in Paradise
  • Star Trek (primarily TNG-era)
  • Better Call Saul
  • The Big Lebowski
  • Narcos
  • Deadwood
  • Goodfellas
  • Dark City
  • Last Kingdom
  • Peaky Blinders
  • His Dark Material
  • Three Kingdoms
 

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