So let me explain my background first.
I'm coming from Hifiman HE-500 powered by a speaker amp, which I really enjoy. Recently, I bought the Emotiva a-100 MiniX since it was on sale, and I wanted to compare with my Baby Sophia tube speaker amp. Ultimately, my tube amp won out, but I decided to keep the Emotiva as an entry point into speakers. Since I live in an apartment and my living room is rather small, it made sense to get a pair of bookshelf speakers. My budget was <$500.
Last week I went to the Magnolia store at Best Buy and demoed some. They only had two pairs of speakers within my price range: MartinLogan Motion 4 and Bowers & Wilkins 686 (I think). I found the Bowers to have a very weird soundstage and imaging, and the mids were recessed, so I really wasn't interested. However, the MartinLogans impressed me. However, the songs played were none I've heard before. Also at first when I was wowed, the speakers were placed far apart in their special isolated listening room. I asked the salesperson if he could move them closer together to simulate what my home setup would most likely be like. He did that, and the results were less impressive, especially soundstage and imaging-wise. I ended up not buying it because it sounded less impressive when placed closer, and also I needed to do more research.
So this week I ended up settling on Focal Chorus 705 V speakers ($350). It was cheaper than the MartinLogans ($400), and they used to be in the $600 range before being replaced by a newer line. Also, the reviews for the Focals weren't bad, and they seem to be a very reputable brand.
They arrived today and I was pretty excited to set it all up. Already had stands so they are at ear level. Since the room is small, they are on each side of my TV, about 4 feet apart, and I'm sitting about 5 feet away. Also one side is less than half a feet from the wall, which could be causing some problems.
I have it hooked up through my Woo Audio WA7 DAC to the Emotiva (50W) to the Focals. I started playing music that I know very well and listen to everyday through my HE-500 or Beyerdynamic T90 at work.
I actually found the level of detail and reveal to exceed my expectations, as I've read speakers to suffer in detail retrieval compared to headphones, especially lower priced speakers. The soundstage and imaging was mediocre but I expected that since they're placed only 4 feet apart. The MartinLogans suffered the same effect when placed closer together. One thing I found pretty impressive was the treble. As for the bass, I knew the Focals rolled off at 65 Hz, so I wasn't expecting sub-bass at all, but I found the mid-bass to be elevated, and not as neutral as my headphones. It seems like they built this speaker to satisfy the mainstream crowd of (mid)-bassheads, and at that price range, I wouldn't be surprised. Overall though, I'm content with the bass, as it has the impact I like.
What I cannot be content with, however, is the midrange. I found it veiled and not transparent at all. Vocals are a bit recessed, but the real problem lies in the quality. Compared to my headphones, the vocals are of lower definition like comparing flac to 128 kbps. Yes it's that much of a difference to me, if not more. It was shocking how different the vocals sounded. I'm not sure the exact word to describe this, but I guess the best word to use would be colored. It was not natural at all, and lacked quality. Definitely sounded like it was played through a poor recording.
Now remember these are songs that I know very well and listen to everyday so I have a fresh memory on how they should sound. I played some songs I haven't heard in a while, and the vocals actually sounded better/fine. So it's most likely just the difference between the headphones I'm used to and the speakers. Later on, I decided to do something for fun, which was use the output RCA ports on the Emotiva and connected it to a headphone amp (Objective2) and then to my Sennheiser HD700, and play music through both the speakers and headphones at the same time. I was looking to merge the side and surround imaging of headphones, and the real distance soundstage of the speakers. It actually turned out pretty well, and you couldn't really tell sound was coming from two sources. However, once again for vocals, there were times when I heard a discrepancy between what was being played by the headphones and what was coming out of the speakers. This difference in quality made it quite noticeable. And I personally find the HD700 to be veiled and grainy compared to my Hifimans or Beryerdynamics.
One last note I want to make is how my progression through headphones have changed my hearing and allowed it to be more discerning. When I first got the HD700, I thought they were amazing, not veiled or grainy at all. This was coming from the HD598. Then I got the T90 and later HE-500, which are both more transparent, which now makes me find the HD700 to be a veiled. I gave away my HD598 to a friend, but I did recently listen to them again, and they sounded pretty terrible, whereas when I first got them, I thought they were the best thing since sliced bread as I've never listened to open headphones before. I guess that's what happens to our ears as we listen to better and better equipment.
So while I'm tempted to give the MartinLogans a try at home, I'm wondering if I'm really asking too much. Given how far I am into this audiophile hobby, would all sub-$500 speakers sound pretty bad to me? I guess it's not fair to compare sub-$500 speakers to headphones that are actually more expensive (HE-500: $700, T90: $650, HD700: $850)?
Perhaps the Focals just need burning in?
Or could someone recommend me some reasonable priced speakers that sound better? In all honesty though, if speakers are going to replace my HE-500 for my hi-fi music listening, it's gonna have to be a LOT better than the Focals. For watching TV and playing video games, I think it's fine and a way better than the TV built-in speakers obviously.
I guess what I'm looking for in sound is a good midrange and vocals that sound natural and transparent. The fact the HE-500 are planar magnetic and the T90 use a Tesla driver may be reasons the midrange sound so much more transparent.
Well thanks for reading. Hope I didn't sound too negative . But I'm still shocked on just how bad the vocals sounded. I think to the average consumer it would sound great. Perhaps these are like the Audio Technica M50 of the speaker world :/
Edited by Sonido - 11/1/13 at 12:41am