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Standmount Speakers: An Addict's Guide


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Standmount Speakers - An Addict's Guide

This thread was inspired and encouraged by Cafad's fantastic "Integrated Amps - An Addict's Guide" thread: http://www.stereo.ne...-addicts-guide/. I thought it would be good to document my similar addiction to standmount speakers. Over the last few years I have owned or heard (in my system) the following models, roughly in order of purchase.

I'll use the following system loosely to rate each speaker according to my own personal preference in my system and room:

1 star = Poor

2 stars = OK

3 stars = Good

4 stars = Very good

5 stars = Excellent

  • Monitor Audio Bronze BX2 (3 stars)
  • Usher S-520 (4 stars)
  • Wharfedale Diamond 9.1 (3 stars)
  • Dynaudio DM 2/7 (2.5 stars)
  • Dynaudio Excite X12 (5 stars)
  • ProAc Studio 110 (3.5 stars)
  • Monitor Audio Silver RX2 (2 stars)
  • ATC SCM7 (4.5 stars)
  • Rega RS1 (3.5 stars)
  • Dynaudio Focus 110 (4 stars)
  • KEF LS50 (5 stars)
  • ?

As you can see, I've had quite a few through my system. I've kept some for months; some were moved on in a matter of weeks. I intend to give each speaker it's own post in this thread, where I will outline my thoughts on how they sounded and maybe some additional notes. I'll do my best to include some nice pics, but there are some models that I don't have any good ones of. Just so everyone has the full picture, I will include a section in each post that states what other equipment was used with each speaker. Other components in my system have also changed over time, and this no doubt will have had some say in my experience with each speaker.

Amplifiers have been:

  • NAD 3020
  • Redgum Sonofa'GUM
  • Rega Brio-R
  • Audiolab 8000Q/MF A3CR
  • Creek Destiny
  • Bladelius TYR

​DACs have been:

  • ASUS Essence STX
  • Stello DA100
  • Audio-gd NFB2
  • PS Audio DLIII
  • Rega DAC
  • Audio-gd DAC19-DSP
  • Audio-gd Reference 5.2

If anyone has any particular requests or follow-up questions, feel free to ask. I'll do my best to make this an informative, interactive experience which benefits everyone. :)

I thought I'd start with a shot of my system to give people some perspective on the type of listening environment I have. In a word: small. This is a very early photo; I now have the left speaker on the other side of the CD rack. Otherwise the setup placement remains the same, including the chest of drawers which provides it's fair share of early reflections... :lol:

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Edited by twwen2
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Good stuff, I have been waiting for one of these. I have only ever owned one pair of floor standers, and visually I thought they were a bit much, so I very much like the less imposing look of a nice bookshelf speaker and stand:)

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Hi Tom, I enjoy Cafad's amp thread so looking forward to your standmount one. Just one question, sure you don't have a dac addiction also?

And it looks like an integrated addiction in third place. Well done mate, an audio "hat trick" all in one post!

Seriously though, this looks to be a very informative thread from a well listened SNAer. I know I've certainly clicked on the "follow" button. Go for it Tom!

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Audioengine A5

Speaker: Audioengine A5 active desktop speakers ($399)

Source: ASUS Essence STX

DAC: ASUS Essence STX

Amp: N/A

Intro: I had actually forgotten about these, and was reminded by trawling through some of my older photos. These were the first "real" speakers I ever owned, previously I had been using a Logitech X230 2.1 setup with my PC. The Audioengines came highly recommended by the PC community, so I thought I'd see what all the fuss was about.

Where we first met: I still remember the night I set these up in my room - I played "Sand in my Shoes" by Dido and there were tears in my eyes. I'd never heard a female voice sound like that before, and it was truly divine. It's been a few years since that moment, and my memory has faded somewhat, but I'll do my best to articulate what I do remember of these speakers.

Construction: Solid and reasonably heavy for their size. Composite exterior with a carbon-fiber (or was it kevlar?) woven woofer and silk soft-dome tweeter. Well made with clean lines and curved edges. The main speaker contains the amp, line inputs and volume controls.

Bass: Not bad for a little box & woofer. These are rear-ported which helps, but they aren't going to command the room. There's enough "bop" in them to be enjoyable though.

Mids: The mids are the strong point of these speakers. Nice and open, with relatively good detail (remember at this stage I only had the logitech's to compare to, and the A5's were in another world altogether).

Highs: Very sweet and unoffensive, but with plenty of "tizz" to keep things interesting. They actually remind me of the Wharfedale 9.1 in this regard.

Overall: A very sweet and open sound that excels with voices and accoustic material. There's enough bass on tap to enjoy electronic music in a small room, but it won't shake the windows.

Conclusion: The A5 is a great desktop speaker that provides a solid entry point into the messy world of HiFi. They are the sort of thing you should recommend to your friends who still think that Logitech's Z-series are the duck's nuts of HiFi. :lol: The A5's are well built, easy to setup and use, and sound great for the small price they command. I suspect they would be bested by the Aktimate Micro/Mini/Maxi, but I didn't stay with desktop speakers for long enough to find out. As soon as I discovered the HiFi scene (and SNA), I promptly made a trip into Carlton Audio Visual...

More info: http://audioengineus...e/Audioengine-5

Pics:

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Edited by twwen2
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Hi Tom, I enjoy Cafad's amp thread so looking forward to your standmount one. Just one question, sure you don't have a dac addiction also?

Haha, don't you know it. I actually went through the DAC phase very early on in my journey, before I really started experimenting with speakers. In one sense that was a blessing, as I had a relatively stable baseline to compare the various DACs.

If people would like to hear my thoughts on the DACs and amps, I'd be happy to slip them into the thread. :)

Great to see the emergence of this thread. It will be very interesting reading indeed and I hope to add some input as well.

I encourage everyone to chip in with their comments on the speakers I put up. The more opinions we have in one place, the more informed we all will be. Just remember that speakers (like all HiFi components) are a very personal and system-dependant thing, so preferences (and therefore opinions) will differ between individuals. :thumb:

And it looks like an integrated addiction in third place. Well done mate, an audio "hat trick" all in one post!

Yeah I haven't been so bad with the amps, although that is about to change over the next month... ;)

Also, one thing I forgot to say: Please provide feedback so I can tailor my posts to make them the most beneficial to everyone. Do you like the structure? Do you want to hear more about a particular aspect? Feel free to give some suggestions or ask follow-up questions.

Edited by twwen2
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I think I'm getting a bit of acheap DAC addiction, I have 3 now all acquired in a 2 month period, but have settled on 1 for the main system. I keep looking in the internet for others to try, my dilemma is I want to keep the 'toys' under $100, so far I have a single chip TDA1543($22 kit plus case) and a 4 chip TDA1543 ($55 complete inc power supply) .

THe main 1 doesn't count as it was considerably more than $100.

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Congrats on the review and also the concept Tom.

Cafad's amp thread has been a real pleasure and this would seem to have the same potential.

Throw in your wonderful photographic skills and it looks like a winner :thumb:

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Monitor Audio Bronze BX2

Speaker: Monitor Audio Bronze BX2 ($599)

Source: ASUS Essence STX

DAC: Stello DA100, Audio-gd NFB-2

Amps: Cambridge Audio SR10, NAD 3020

Intro: Before I was really aware of the bargains that could be had on the second-hand scene, I took a trip to CAV to buy my first HiFi system. I had my heart set on a Cambridge Audio 350 integrated and the Monitor Audio BX2 after reading What Hifi's glowing review. After a few hours in the store driving the salesman mad with my random selection of shoddy MP3 pop recordings, I walked out with the BX2's, but somehow was convinced to go with the CA SR10 receiver (don't ask). In all fairness it was good start, but I could have done better on the used market. In the end, that's exactly what I did. I grabbed a NAD 3020, somehow managed to offload the SR10 (again, better if you don't ask :lol:), and never looked back. The MA's filled out nicely in the bass, the vintage NAD bringing some much-needed warmth and thickness to the midrange and slightly tamed the sizzling highs.

Where we first met: "The Prettiest Thing" by Norah Jones

Construction: If MA know how to do one thing, it's build a pretty speaker. It's just the small things, but they all add up to an overall pride of ownership. Even the entry-level BX2's show the signs of a thoughtful designer - magnetic grills, screw-less driver face (it is mounted via one bolt at the rear) and rounded edges are traits seldom seen in a budget speaker. Another quirk is the milky white driver; a trickle-down from the Silver line which adds a bit of character. It's all part of the package with MA.

Bass: With the right amp and a half-decent DAC, these can boogie. The front bass port aids room placement somewhat, though I never quite tamed the "boominess" in my small 3x3 shoebox of a bedroom. They go deep for budget boxes though, and in the right room I reckon they'd be sufficiently tight as well.

Mids: The BX2's love to do the "airy" thing - feed them a steady diet of female vocals and acoustic guitar and they'll sing for you. It's been a while, but I still have fond memories of numerous rainy Sunday mornings spent with Norah Jones sitting on my bed, singing sweetly to me. :wub:

Highs: Sizzling is the word. These have a (very attractive looking) metal-dome tweeter, and it's fair to say they don't hold back. In the wrong company (a thin amp or bright recording), it can all get a bit too much and I remember throwing in the towel on several occasions because my ears couldn't take it any more. Like the mids though, when the planets align and it all comes together, the result is spectacular at the price. I don't think I've heard orchestral strings sound so epic, not before I owned these and not since.

Conclusion: A good budget speaker that, partnered correctly and used with the right material, will make amazing sounds for your hard-earned.

More info: http://www.monitorau.../bronze-bx/bx2/

Review: http://www.whathifi....dio-Bronze-BX2/

Pics: I don't have any good shots from when I owned mine, so I've cheated and used someone else's. I was still discerning though, only the best pics for you guys!

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The following owner was very skilled with his camera lens, but unfortunately the same cannot be said for his sense of up from down! :lol:

In fairness, he was probably just trying to get the tweeters closer to ear level.

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Edited by twwen2
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Usher S-520

Speaker: Usher S-520 ($350)

Source: ASUS Essence STX, JKSPDIF Mk3

DAC: Audio-gd NFB-2, PS Audio DLIII, Rega DAC, Audio-GD DAC-19DSP

Amps: NAD 3020, Redgum Sonofa'GUM, Rega Brio-R

Intro: What can I say about the Usher S-520's that hasn't already been said? These are truly the champion of budget bookshelf speakers, and are almost universally loved around these parts. I purchased my pair on the back of John Darko's very positive review (see link below) for the measly sum of $250, and to this day it was probably the best value I've ever got out of a HiFi purchase. Out of any component I've owned, these have been kept in my system the longest. If I ever ran into hard times and was forced to return to a budget setup, I would go straight for the Ushers without a second thought. That says it all really.

Where we first met: I'll explain this choice below. Haters 'gonna hate!

Construction: The S-520 is available in a vast array of finishes, from the real timber veneer (not your standard vinyl) to glossy black, red, yellow and white. Overall design is similar to the ProAc 1SC clones with a front bass port, clear driver and silk dome tweeter. These are solid and heavy, they feel like they belong in a much higher price bracket soley based on their build.

Bass: Bass from the S-520 is a funny beast. It's certainly there, but seems to come and go depending on the particular recording being played. I would normally say they don't go very low at all, but every once in a while I'd play a track and the Ushers would boom out these low notes that made me jump and think "where on earth did that come from"!? Maybe I was hitting room modes in those instances, maybe it was just the recording. I'm not sure I'll ever know. However, what I can say is that the S-520's produce very realistic bass. It isn't overdone in any way, shape or form. It excels with percussion, snare drums in particular are a real treat. They also know how to follow a rythm unlike any other speaker I have owned to date. At one stage my system consisted of the Rega DAC (which is incidentally the fastest DAC I've heard), the Rega Brio-R (which is known to have excellent pace and timing) and the Ushers. This combination was lightning fast - I remember playing some dubstep one time (don't judge :P) and being utterly amazed at how the speakers not only kept up with the pace, but literally surged through the song. I felt like I was being pulled along for the ride - the feet have never tapped so hard and I might have had a sore neck from nodding/bopping too enthusiastically. :lol: Many people say that the Redgum Sonofa'GUM is a good sparring partner to get the best bass from the Ushers, and they would be correct in a sense. For the price, the little Redgum certainly brought the "slam" to the party. I found the Rega Brio-R lost a bit of this punch, but made up for it with more tuneful bass. Looking back, the Redgum just liked to hit hard, but perhaps didn't have as good an aim as the faster, nimbler Rega.

Mids: You know how I said the MA BX2's loved to do "airy"? Well the Ushers do it better. With the exception of the ATC SCM7, I haven't heard a more clear and neutral sounding speaker. They do their best work in the "presence region", again with Female vocals and single instruments. Acoustic guitar in particular is just divine through the Ushers. I should warn that the upper midrange can get a bit shouty and hard, so you need to partner them carefully.

Highs: I love the treble response on these. They simply shimmer in the highs. Similar to the mids, amplifier partnering is key here. The Sonofa'GUM was a bit too "steely" and "thin" at times. The Brio-R is a lot sweeter while retaining the fantastic extension and sparkle.

Conclusion: As you can probably tell by now, I love these speakers. This is reflected in the fact that they were my reference component for a long time. Their outright resolution and talent provided the ideal baseline that allowed my to rotate and compare other products in my system, particularly DACs which sometimes are hard to tell apart immediately. I decided to sell my S-520's on several occasions, but after typing up the ad I could never bring myself to hit the "submit" button. I just kept finding an excuse to keep them, I enjoyed them so much. I finally caved in once I'd heard the ATC SCM7's, which share the Usher's overall sound signature while improving all aspects (at 4 times the price mind you). I think I might have had 3-4 pairs of speakers in the house at that time, and I really needed to move some on. The Ushers would have been neglected, so I passed them on to another lucky owner. I'd like to finish by quoting John Darko - I think he sums things up perfectly:

"
The entry-level standmounts from Taiwanese Usher offer a highly resolving and dynamic sound. That they land at one’s feet for such little cash means the buyer can enjoy a rare opportunity to tip the spend scales in favour of a relatively more expensive – and hopefully more powerful – amplifier. With plenty of high-current grunt behind them, the Usher S-520 will reward the listener with an engaging presentation that has few peers in this price bracket. You bring the braun and it’ll bring the brains. Those that demand clean, in-your-face excitement from their loudspeakers could easily end their loudspeaker search right here and now. That they look stunning is but the icing on the proverbial cake.
Feed them the right amplification diet and few competitors in the budget category will get close to the performance of these entry-level Ushers."

More info: http://www.usheraudi.../s-520-shielded

Review: http://www.digitalau...nt-loudspeaker/

Pics:

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Edited by twwen2
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Ever heard anything from the John Blue range?

Great photos, just like all your FS ads.

I think ive had about 7 or 8 standmounts through my system at various stages. Your review of the Monitor Audio's had my thinking of my Focal 707's

keep em coming

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Need to add some SGR CX3B's in there :P

Again, that's a price bracket I currently do not reside in!

Ever heard anything from the John Blue range?

Nope, but I have heard the 47 Lab Lens speakers at LilCeasar's place. Fantastic sound from such small boxes (and full-rangers to boot).

Your review of the Monitor Audio's had my thinking of my Focal 707's

That wouldn't surprise me to be honest, given the similar design (6.5" woofer and metal-dome tweeter).

Edited by twwen2
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Wharfedale Diamond 9.1

Speaker: Wharfedale Diamond 9.1 ($300)

Source: ASUS Essence STX

DAC: Rega DAC, Audio-GD DAC-19DSP

Amps: NAD 3020, Rega Brio-R

Intro: My first few pairs of speakers were fairly "bright" sounding, with emphasized treble responses and a strong upper-midrange. The Wharfedale Diamond 9.1 was my attempt to obtain a warmer, more bass & mid-oriented sound as they are well known for possessing these qualities. These little British boxes are widely and well reviewed, and as far as I'm aware are still considered excellent value for money. The only potential catch is that the newer 10.1's apparently (I haven't heard them) improve on the older model for hardly any extra coin.

Where we first met: I never really had a special moment with these. So in the spirit of the party speaker and with tongue firmly in cheek, I give you "Party in the USA" by Miley Cyrus :lol:

Construction: Fairly basic but still elegant enough, especially with the curved cabinet. The finish is vinyl wrap; my pair were black and not much to look at to be honest. However, they felt reasonably solid and have a bit of weight to them which is reassuring.

Bass: These speakers definitely emphasize bass. The reports of the infamous mid-bass "hump" are correct, there's a very noticeable lift in output in those frequency regions that give an impression of a much stronger and deeper bass. It's a clever trick that is quite effective - these speakers are heaps of fun. The best word I can use to describe what they do is "bop". The love to latch onto a lively track and have no trouble getting the feet tapping. It's sometimes very obvious that they're cheating, but who really cares if enjoyment is all you're after?

Mids: Dark and smooth (a few different thoughts are running through my head after typing that, and none relate to speakers...). There's no hint of aggression in the upper mids, so that objective was certainly acheived. The mids are fairly pleasant overall, but they are voiced in such a manner that can cause the sound to feel a bit "veiled". Colouration is probably the correct term.

Highs: The Wharfedales pull off an interesting treble effect that I've only seen replicated in a few other speakers I've owned, in that they have a very lively high-frequency response without overdoing it. It's probably related in some manner to the crossover, and almost certainly related to the recessed upper mids. I found that there was plenty of "tizz", but without the "ringing" that usually comes with a bright speaker. I will say however that there's probably a lack of detail in the treble.

Conclusion: The Wharfedale 9.1's are a very good option in the entry-level arena if bright speakers are not your thing. They are easy to partner with amps and possess effortless get-up-and-go. Bags of fun for the asking price, albeit at the expense of neutrality and resolution. All said, the 9.1's would make an excellent choice for someone who listens to lots of poorly-recorded pop music. A party speaker perhaps. :party

More info: http://www.wharfedal...gb/default.aspx

Reviews:

Pics: Again, these are not my pics but I tried to find some decent ones.

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Dynaudio Excite X12

Speaker: Dynaudio Excite X12 ($1400)

Source: ASUS Essence STX, JKSPDIF, Audiophilleo 2, Synchro-Mesh

DAC: Rega DAC, Audio-gd DAC-19DSP, Audio-gd Reference 5.2

Amps: NAD 3020, Rega Brio-R, Redgum RGi60, Audiolab 8000Q/Musical Fidelity A3CR

Intro: These are my all-time favorite speakers. As shown in the information above, I've probably tried these with a larger range equipment than any other speakers I've owned, so I've got a pretty good idea of what they're capable of. Obviously they display different characteristics with different partnering equipment, but I feel like my current setup has them sounding the best I've heard them. I was actually considering selling these a few weeks ago, but when I put them back in the system after buying my latest pre/power amp setup they've had a new lease on life.

Where we first met: With this post, I'd like to introduce a new section into each review I write. With most of my speakers there has been one particular track where it all came together and I've thought "I finally understand what these speakers are all about". With the Dynaudio X12's it was "Contact High" by Architecture in Helsinki. It was the last track I played when I was auditioning the speakers, and it completely sealed the deal. The Dyn's rendered this track in a powerful but clean manner that was hard to ignore.

I'll go back and insert the relevant track for each of the existing reviews. :)

Construction: The X12's are drop-dead gorgeous, just check out the photos below. There's something about glossy black that pushes all the right buttons, but it's not just the colour that impresses up-front. Everything about the build reeks of quality and a thoughtful designer. I also think that they are perfectly proportioned for a small standmount speaker.

Bass: These are not bass-shy! For relatively small cabinets, they put out an incredible amount of bass. The 120W into 8R MF power amp certainly helps out here, but even the little Rega Brio-R is capable of coaxing some great bass from them. Considering their nominal 4R load (and Dynaudio's usual reputation for requiring a high-current amp to truly shine), they're incredibly easy to drive. I'm informed that this was a specific consideration in the design brief for the entire Excite range. The X12's are capable of not only impressive depth, but they can also hit incredibly hard. Some of my speakers have had very deep bass, but no punch. Others managed to bring percussion to life, but didn't dig deep at all. In my opinion, the Dynaudios get the balance just right - they go low without being boomy, and also retain the "punch" that can be so addictive.

Mids: The mids are really the only area where the X12's depart from outright neutrality. Dynaudios have a reputation for warm, smooth mids, and this has been consistent with my experience. There's still incredible resolution and detail, but with warmer amps they can sometimes make vocals sound a bit "distant" or "behind". Maybe the best description is that they have a distinct lack of "sharpness". Now that I think about it, they don't really do "airy". Now on the one hand, this can be a god-send when like me, you're trying to deal with a small room full of reflection points. On the other hand though, I quite like the "airy" effect on some tracks. It's a hard thing to describe, but I hope that gives you some idea of the sound I'm trying to convey. However...

As I said in my intro, I recently got a pre/power amp combo and I unpacked the X12's to see what they could do with some serious wattage and current driving them. The result is simply astonishing - the already impressive bass tightened up a bit and found some real speed and agility. The mids however were the area that I noticed the biggest difference; almost all trace of the warm "veiled" effect had vanished, replaced by an open and resolute mid-range that I honestly didn't know these were capable. It's tipped the mid-range balance in the right direction in my opinion, and they're far more enjoyable speakers for it.

Highs: I won't say much about the highs except that they are very detailed and extended, whilst being well controlled. I haven't had any trouble with fatigue using these speakers, which is the exception in my current room/setup.

Conclusion: Like all the best speakers (and other HiFi components for that matter), the Dynaudios are well balanced. They don't draw attention to any one particular aspect (except maybe the surprisingly strong bass); they simply get out of the way and get on with it. They're not perfectly neutral (that honour goes to the ATC SCM7 - writeup coming soon), but don't stray too far so it becomes noticeable. I find it difficult to describe the overall sound, so hopefully you'll be able to put the above pieces together in order to build the picture. I'd encourage anyone who has heard these (or other similar Dynaudios) to chime in with their thoughts; someone might do a better job describing these than what I'm capable of. All in all, I can highly recommend these. I'd like to quote the What Hifi review, as they seem to lay it out pretty simply:

"Low frequencies are deep and solid, the midrange vocals are alive with character, and the top end attacks with control. The whole frequency range knits together painlessly, and the soundstage is well defined."

I'll finish by saying that the X12's have found their way onto my list of components that I don't think I'll sell for a long time. :thumb:

More info: http://www.dynaudio..../excite_x12.php

Reviews:

Pics:

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Edited by twwen2
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