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Bookshelf Speaker Faceoff 2007

by August 21, 2007
2007 bookshelf speaker shootout

2007 bookshelf speaker shootout

It's not often that we assemble for a good ole-fashioned speaker face-off. In fact, the last one was in May of this year and was handled solely by one writer. This time we brought in reinforcements from around the east coast offices. Participants included Gene DellaSala, Clint DeBoer, Tom Andry, and J. Walker Clarke. If you think that getting four professional reviewers into one room is guaranteed to yield solid, empirical results, then you are highly mistaken. While most of us did agree most of the time, there were several moments where we simply agreed to differ on some finer points of preference. What we've assembled below is an organized attempt to consolidate our experiences into a cohesive article that will guide you through the process of listening through seven (7) pairs of bookshelf speakers priced from $200 - $850 per pair (and we tossed in an unofficial $1800 "eighth" pair from Dali USA since they were on hand).

The Contenders

We had a nice sampling of speakers, and with the exception of the Dali's we had at least one pair that was price-matched to another. Given the arrangement we paired them off into 3 categories: $200-250/pair, $400/pair and $800-$1800/pair. We also recognized that the Dali's were priced too far out of the competition, but since they were on hand we wanted to see if they were a significant step up and thus included them in our later rounds of listening tests. The speakers we had on hand included the following:

Each time a speaker is introduced we'll give its specs - but only once. You can cross reference as needed and reference the measurements at the back end of the review for more information.

The Speaker Shoot-out Process and Listening Environment

Shoot_measure1.JPGWe carefully selected only a couple of tracks so that we could concentrate on various qualities of each bookshelf speaker as it related to the limited program material. We also used tracks that each of us was at least marginally familiar with to help us know where to listen for various minutia and attributes of the music. For our initial rounds we stayed with “Chant” from Fourplay's Greatest Hits album and “Cousin Dupree” from Steely Dan's Two Against Nature. The listening room was Reference System 1, which is a larger room (over 5000 cubic feet) and features a complete room acoustics treatment package from Auralex Acoustics. All of the speakers were, as a result, driven very hard, enabling us to see how they would fare in extreme situations. We also listened to all of the speakers in 'Large' mode with no crossovers engaged and no subwoofer. When we make comments about some of these speakers "bottoming out" realize that in a smaller room, and with a properly configured subwoofer, this is not likely to be an issue.

Shoot_measure2.JPGSome other configuration notes:

  • We switched seats quite frequently to gain different perspectives on the speakers
  • We level-matched the speakers by measuring each of them driven at 1 watt/meter and compensating for the level differences via the master volume controls of each zone.  We also attempted to spot check to 82dB at 1kHz* prior to each comparison but later found this not to be accurate realizing the more accurate method was via pink noise comparisons.
  • Only two speakers were ever compared at a time with a 5-10 minute interval (minimum) between listening sessions during which we set up a new test
  • Loudspeakers were being fed signal from Zones 3 and 4 (level-matched) off of a Denon AVR-5805 AV receiver. Each channel was muted and unmated to enable us to switch signals
  • Speakers were positioned on stands such that they were in a "1L / 2L - 1R / 2R" configuration. This ensured that the distance between the speakers was identical per pair and one had only to move their head 12-inches right or left to achieve a centered listening position for either pair.

We did sighted tests, but made rough attempts to pay little attention to which speakers were in positions 1 or 2. Gene set up each listening session so the rest of us were oblivious, at least until we got further along, which speaker we were initially listening to. We did not attempt to do a controlled blind test, nor did we desire to set up any sort of mechanism to remove all forms of bias during the process. This was mostly due to time and the equipment on hand to facilitate such a process. We used no speaker toe-in having all of the speakers firing directly ahead in the listening area.

*We also factored in speaker sensitivity (based on real measurements, not manufacturer specs) and the frequency response when setting levels. We can easily claim +/- 0.5dB accuracy or better.


About the author:
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Clint Deboer was terminated from Audioholics for misconduct on April 4th, 2014. He no longer represents Audioholics in any fashion.

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Recent Forum Posts:

warpdrive posts on September 05, 2007 23:31
Guiria, post: 302038
I find it interesting that reviews away from this one regarding the X-LS are all great, positive, and people boast the ID concept as a better bang for your buck than speaker companies using brick and mortar distribution etc. Then this review has a slightly less expensive (than X-LS) model of Polk's from a line available at Circuit City that appear to be equally if not better than the super valued X-LS.

I now doubt my internet direct beliefs which were “You get more for your dollar going ID”.

There is more wisdom in auditioning several speakers before purchasing than many believe.

Thank you for writing a review that challenges my hyped up notions from all the forum buzz out there, and a review that has made me a wiser consumer.

I hope other people read this and come to the realization you did (thanks to this review). There are no absolutes in the audio world.

My observations:
ID brands are not always a better value than B&M brands sonically.
Price only loosely correlates to sound quality when comparing brands.
Sound quality is highly variable among different speaker brands.
Tex-amp posts on September 05, 2007 02:25
Another rave review for the Sierra I in the September issue of Affordable Audio. http://www.affordableaudio.org/
Tex-amp posts on September 02, 2007 00:31
PENG, post: 303908
You may be right about the B&Ws, but Paradigm? Don't they offer products from US$120 a pair Cinema series all the way up to US$6,000 top of the line Signature series? I would say they can compete at all levels except the real high end level such as the B&W80X Diamond series and beyond.

I think the poster is referring to Paradigm offerings at the same price point.

This is what a reviewer had to say about the Sierra 1 and where it matches up with Paradigm…

With the Ascend Acoustics, something did: From the very beginning, I could tell that the Sierra-1 had outstanding clarity, and was conveying much more low-level detail than any other under-$1000 two-way I’d ever heard – qualities that became even more apparent when I sat down to do some critical listening. In fact, the Sierra-1’s ability to let me hear into recordings was right up there with Paradigm’s Signature S2 and PSB’s Platinum M2, two of the best two-way monitors on the market, and each of which sells for about two grand per pair. (I own a pair of Signature S2s.)
PENG posts on August 31, 2007 19:11
silversurfer, post: 303610
Have you actually done side by side comparisons?

At the same price points, I would agree that PSB and Energy have comparable product, but not Paradigm and B&W. Again, none of them can touch the finish of the X-LS.

You may be right about the B&Ws, but Paradigm? Don't they offer products from US$120 a pair Cinema series all the way up to US$6,000 top of the line Signature series? I would say they can compete at all levels except the real high end level such as the B&W80X Diamond series and beyond.
silversurfer posts on August 31, 2007 18:34
anamorphic96, post: 303870
But getting back to the main point. All of these speaker companies being talked about are like great bottles of wine. Each has a slightly different character.
It's all subjective. One mans neutral is another man's bright. Just because someone doesn't like a certain companies character does mean its a bad speaker. Their just not the flavor you like.
If that is the case, then everything is comparable.
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