To Doug Schneider,
I am an avid reader of your opinions and reviews. I originally purchased my B&W Matrix 803 S2s because of your review. Now I am downsizing from a Bryston 4BSST amp (300Wpc) paired with a Bryston SP3 preamp-processor with B&W Nautilus 803 speakers to a Bryston B135 SST2 integrated at 135Wpc with a Burson Audio DA-160 DAC.
My question: I am looking to evaluate full-sounding monitors that are good looking (subjective I know), soundstage well, and have good lows. I am considering keeping my 803s, but I am looking for a smaller footprint. I have a new pair of B&W CM5s that I will test, but I think they will be thin. What can you recommend to me at $6000 or less?
I will keep on reading!
I'm going to assume that when you say "monitor" you're talking about a stand-mounted design and want to stick only to those. Your $6000 should be enough to get you a great-looking speaker, but one thing I constantly tell people is that while more money will usually get you a better-looking, better-finished speaker, it doesn't guarantee superior performance. In fact, some of the priciest stand-mounted speakers have quite questionable performance and it's very easy to get a better-performing speaker for less money. In other words, you may or may not have to pay that much for great sound.
There's no better example than YG Acoustics's original Anat Reference Main Module that I reviewed several years ago. The Anat Reference Main Module was certainly a neutral-sounding loudspeaker, which I mentioned in my review, but its dismal distortion performance was something that shocked me when we measured it in the chamber at Canada's NRC -- you wouldn't expect it from a $300 pair of speakers, let alone one that costs $30,000 per pair. Supposedly, YG's latest efforts attempt to address the distortion, but we've never measured anything in their current line. I found Wilson Audio's Duette to have a really screwy tonal balance despite its price tag of nearly $15,000/pair (with stands), and is something that shows up quite readily in our measurements of it. Its bass performance is also quite pathetic despite having a woofer that measures more than 8" across. All told, it seems you have to tweak the Duette to death in order to get it to sound half-decent in a typical room. Then there's the Krell LAT-2, which Wes Phillips reviewed for us a decade ago and I think whiffed on (he confessed as much to me later). Those speakers cost $10,000 per pair when they were available, but, like the YG and the Wilson, could be bettered in numerous ways by various speakers costing a fraction of the price, even back then. The LAT-2 measures poorly as well (seeing a correlation here?). That long-winded explanation is to say that if you want to spend your money wisely, stick to speakers from brands known for rock-solid engineering and commensurate performance (along with good measurements), rather than those that come from makers more interested in boasting about fancy cabinet materials or some other technology that may or may not translate to better sound. Also, don't go by price.
That said, I haven't heard the newest B&W speakers, but I think you should try to listen to their new PM1, which is tiny but looks interesting. I think it's about three grand. I actually asked them to send me a review pair, but, unfortunately, they didn't. The only thing I worry is that its bass performance might not be sufficient for you. Add the KEF LS50 to your list, which costs just $1500/pair and has shocking bottom end (I listened to the LS50 at High End in Munich earlier this year and was thoroughly impressed). As well, listen to their Reference 201/2 model, which I reviewed several years ago and costs $6000/pair (your limit) -- it's an incredibly neutral and revealing loudspeaker, and it also measures extraordinarily well. I thought that Dynaudio's Confidence C1 sounded marvelous when I had a pair in my room a few years ago (although I can't say I liked the appearance), so the newer C1 II and C1 Signature versions are worth checking out. They're priced at $7700/pair and $8500/pair, respectively, so more than your budget allows, but they can at least demonstrate what topflight performance sounds like (providing they are better than the original C1, although there's no reason to think they shouldn't be). They also might be attainable if you can find a retailer willing to give you a deal (no harm in asking, right?). If not, Dynaudio's lower-priced Focus and Contour models might float your boat. Finally, I recommend checking out Paradigm's new Inspiration loudspeaker, which is a limited-edition design (only 300 pairs are being made). I didn't hear the Inspiration at last weekend's TAVES event, but I did hear the floorstanding Tribute, which sounded incredibly good for its $6000/pair asking price. If the Inspiration sounds similar to the Tribute, it could be a downright steal for its price of $3000/pair -- and proof that you don't always have to pay more to get better sound. What's more, the Inspiration has a beautiful cabinet to boot. . . . Doug Schneider