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Audioholics $1500-$2000 Floorstanding Speaker Shootout 2009

by March 26, 2009
Audioholics $1500-$2000 Loudspeaker Shootout

Audioholics $1500-$2000 Loudspeaker Shootout


Speaker shootouts are more fun in theory than in practice. The fact is that they are a lot of work. You need to convince a bunch of people to meet at a location, have them listen to a bunch of speakers, and record their observations. While I can imagine that a lot of you would volunteer for that at a moments notice, it isn't as easy as you think. This particular shootout lasted all weekend with guests arriving on Friday night, listening tests done most of the day on Saturday, and everyone leaving on Sunday. Some of the participants had 6+ hour drives one way.


On top of that, you have to convince manufacturers to get involved. While smaller speaker manufacturers generally will jump at the chance, the fact is that they have little to lose. Just being included gives them some sort of credibility that they may have been lacking before. Larger manufacturers will generally shy away because a) they are chicken and don't have faith in their speakers and b) feel like they have little to gain. It has been our experience (and is born out in this test) that if you are a fan, no matter what you read/hear, you'll still be a fan. Readers (especially Audioholics readers) tend to be very astute and can pick through a review or shootout for the factors that they care about. If a reviewer has a problem with a particular speaker on looks for instance, the reader can easily look at the speaker and decide for themselves. Plus, even if they use the dreaded "bright" adjective, some readers will seek out the speaker just to hear what "bright" sounds like or because they know they happen to prefer "bright" speakers. Either way, having your speaker in the mind of a shopper is a good thing. Regardless of the outcome of the shootout.



There are really only two types of participants for a shootout - professionals and enthusiasts. In this particular group, we had two professionals (Clint DeBoer, Editor-in-Chief of Audioholics and J. Walker Clarke, Audioholics Staff Reviewer and AV Rant Podcaster) and an enthusiast (a friend of J's named Jonathan - he's from Iowa not that it matters). The advantage of the professionals is that they are used to doing these sorts of evaluations and understand what to expect. They are well versed in the lingo and don't need much instruction. Jon, on the hand, needed a little hand holding at the beginning. He had questions as to what we meant by "Imaging" and "Soundstage" etc. He may not have been as confident as the other two (critical listening like this is pretty difficult especially when it is your first time), but really he jumped right in and seemed to hold his own even though I could tell he was a bit intimidated by the other two participants.


What we were looking for were floorstanding speakers in the $1500-$2000 range. This is a pretty "sweet spot" on the price spectrum for people that are serious about sound but don't have the uber-bucks required for monster speaker purchases. We were also looking for passive speakers (meaning no powered woofers) to keep everyone on a level playing field. The Floorstanding criterion, while probably not mandatory, was in place to help equalize the bass response. Theoretically, there could be a bookshelf with a low enough bass response to hang with the big boys. The problem is that no matter how it did, well or poorly, people would immediately be making attributions that were probably not fair to the other participants.


As I mentioned, getting participants for a shootout such as this is easier said than done. In retrospect, we should have lied. We should have requested speakers for a review not telling them they would be involved in a shootout. Unfortunately, we have a bit more integrity than that so we didn’t. Anticipating some problems, we devised and setup where each individual pair of speakers would get their own standalone review (by me) prior to the shootout so that they would already have press and objective measurements before the shootout even took place. We figured this would satisfy the more timid manufacturers and reassure them that even if they did poorly in the shootout, they'd still have an objective review to fall back on.


We were wrong.


Oh, sure we had a lot affirmative responses - at first. Klipsch said yes, then no, then yes, then no again. Canton said the speakers were in the mail but then never mailed them and stopped talking to us afterwards. Def Tech flat out refused from day one. I also tried to keep the speakers fairly new if at all possible just for the sake of being relative. In the end, we had Krix (a very large speaker manufacturer from Australia but pretty much unknown in the states), Salk Sound (an Internet Direct brand), DALI (a Danish company that, when told of the shootout, practically demanded to be included), and Infinity. In all fairness, Infinity didn't want to be included but my contact at the Audioholics Store sent them anyway. Sometimes it's the people you know.


Final Speaker list:



Shoot_amps.JPGWhen setting up a shootout, you'll want to make sure to follow the steps in our tech article on the subject. We made sure we had all the same lengths of cable (speaker and RCA interconnects from Blue Jeans), amplification (two UPA-2's from Emotiva Audio), all fed from a Denon DVD-3910 universal player and Denon AVR-2307CI receiver. Power was supplied by an APC H10. Switching was done manually by me.



Well, when I contacted Emotiva about providing the amps, they suggested the UPA-2. It's a new low cost amp. It has plenty of power for my application (the room is smallish and none of the speakers are all that hard to drive). What I didn't know was that the UPA-2's have a volume control on the back. I knew that the Denon AVR-2307CI didn't have trim controls for its second zone. You need trim controls so that you can level match the speakers. My plan was to split the DVD output into both the front and surround analogue inputs on the receiver, send the outputs to two separate amps, level match the two sets of speakers, and manually turn the amps on and off as needed. This would give the two pairs an identical signal, identical amplification, and level matching capability. My experience with the Emotiva RPA-1 was that the amps when on and off in a fraction of a second.





Shoot_wires.JPG Shoot_rack.JPG



The problem was that the UPA-2s don't go on and off quite that fast. Luckily with the volume control, I could turn one up and the other down very quickly. What was unfortunate was that I didn't know that the UPA-2's had the volume control. If I had known, I could have level matched using four of the amps (rather than one for each pair) and set the second pair on Zone 2. Then I wouldn't have had to do any manual switching at all and they could have done it all from the remote. But I didn't so I ended up behind the screen the entire time flipping amps whenever they asked.

Shootout Method Continued

There were two different tests conducted - blind and sighted. For the blind test (which was done first) I had the entire front of the room blocked off with a large piece of speaker grill fabric. This fabric is acoustically transparent and very thin. From behind it, I could clearly see each of the participants to the point that I could tell when they were looking over each other's shoulders. Once I blocked the light coming in from the window behind the screen, the participants could neither see me nor the speakers. The screen was set up before the participants arrived on Friday and stayed up until after the blind listening tests were completed on Saturday. After each listening session, I switched the speaker cables (each marked with an A or B as were the amps), came out from behind the curtain, and let the listeners rest their ears/minds as long as they wanted. I did not answer any questions about which speakers were in the previous tests even after all the blind tests were complete. In fact, as of this writing, they still don't know. They are finding out the same time as you.

Shoot_part_through.JPG     Shoot_front_screen.JPG

After the blind tests were done, I took down the screen. I asked the participants to examine the speakers. They inquired after the grills (which were removed for all the listening tests), they looked closely at the finishes and build quality, and even picked up the speakers. I then allowed them to switch the speakers individually and compare them as they wished. I asked for an individual writeup of each speaker for the sighted portion. They were encouraged to compare and contrast speakers in any way/order they wanted. During the sighted test, I was not in the room (for most of it I was taking a nap).

My first big concern was ensuring the signal chain didn't affect the sound. Since I was running one pair of speakers through the "main" analogue inputs and the second through the "surround," there was a concern that the sound quality would be affected. Before the participants arrived, I hooked up one of the speakers and took a measurement with the Sencore SP395A FFT Audio Analyzer. I then switched the speaker wire to the second amp and took a separate measurement.


As you can see, the measurements are identical. The second big question is how the speaker grill fabric I was using for a screen would affect the sound. With the same setup, I took a measurement and then held up the fabric and took a second measurement. This second measurement probably is worse than what you'd experience in the actual room as there may have been more folds in the fabric and my proximity to the speaker/mic could have made a difference. As you can see, the measurements are both very close.


My room is 14.5 feet long and 12.5 feet wide. It is open on two sides. It has undergone the Auralex Room Analysis Plus process which has you do measurements of your room and uses the data to suggest room treatments and locations. My room is treated by my own DIY acoustical absorbers and six GiK Tri-Traps. The room is not at all dead nor is it 100% flat. For a complete discussion of my room, please see the review of the Auralex Room Analysis Plus (forthcoming). The big problem with this setup and the room is not so much the acoustics (which thanks to Auralex and GiK are quite good) but the number of speakers. Four pairs of floorstanding speakers are a lot in a 12.5 foot wide room. What this meant was that the best spot for the listening was in one of the two center seats. The side seats aren't that great even with one pair of speakers but with four, they go from tolerable to terrible. This required the participants to switch seats - something I would have asked them to do anyways.

When picking the pairs, I went to random.org and generated pairs of numbers, each between one and four. I numbered the speaker based on the order I received them (seemed about as random as anything else). I ignored pairs that were identical (1 and 1, etc.) or that were repeated (in either order). This left me with the following order of pairs:
















One of the joys of randomness is that it takes all of the guesswork out of trying to "fool" the listeners. Of course, Clint said afterward that he "knew" I'd pair up Krix and Salk first. The fact is that I didn't and he knew that I had chosen the pairs randomly so he didn't "know" anything. At the end of each of the listening tests, I would switch the speaker cables and reset all the amps. At the end of the break I would re-check all the speaker/amp connections and start the next test.

Shoot_front_left.JPGIn order to facilitate data collection, I decided to draw up two forms - one for the sighted test and one for the blind. The blind form was very specific as to what the listeners should be paying attention to - Highs, Mids, Lows, Soundstage, Imagining, etc. After they filled out the form on their laptops, I had them email them to me. This way, they couldn't go back and make changes after talking during the breaks. For the sighted form, all I listed were build quality and aesthetic concerns. At first I had drawn up a second set of listening pairs like the Blind table above but in the end I decided just to let them have at it. It had already been a long day and six more listening tests really wouldn't have proven anything. Better, I thought, to get their individual reactions to each speaker in a sighted test and let them compare and contrast as they will. The only addition I made to the sighted test was to ask them to do a listening test with the Krix Phoenix speakers without the port plug. During my review of the Phoenix speakers, I found that the bass response was extremely overbearing without the port plugs so I left them in during the blind tests. I could have included a second configuration of the Krix to the blind tests but I didn't think it would do much good (as I figured they'd just get creamed) and would add considerable time. The evaluation of the Krix without the plugs in the sighted test backed that up.

The participants were asked to bring their own music for the shootout. We burned a CD with six songs on it (the first track was a 45 second clip, the rest full songs) to eliminate having to switch CDs in mid test.

Track 1 - 45 second clip from Seal's Crazy off the 1991 album
Track 2 - Happier Girl by Wellville off their same titled release
Track 3 - Toy Matinee from the band of the same name off the album of the same name
Track 4 - Willie and Lauramae Jones by Shelby Lynne off Just a Little Lovin'
Track 5 - South Texas Girl by Lyle Lovett off It's Not Big It's Large
Track 6 - Tonight by Kate Walsh off Tim's House

All in all, the CD was 25 minutes long though they had the ability to fast forward, rewind, and jump around as they wished.

Shootout Results - Blind

The real question, of course, is what did they think? First, let's talk about the blind form a little more. There were nine questions, two yes/no and the rest open ended. In retrospect, I could have been clearer that the boxes under the first yes/no question were to explain their choice. Participants didn't always use the boxes and sometimes didn't answer the yes/no portion. Where possible, I inferred their yes/no response from the text.

There were two yes/no questions - Do you like this speaker? and Would you want to own this speaker? As you might imagine, the responses to both these questions lined up pretty closely. The thought was that you could like a speaker in a comparison but not want to own either of them. It would be very unusual to want to own a speaker that you didn't like. Results of those questions in the table below:


I Like

I Would Buy













Each speaker was heard three times by each listener. The number is the absolute number of times the listener either liked or would buy the speaker. The maximum would be nine (all three saying yes in all three comparisons). For the DALIs, they were preferred only in the comparison with the Infinities. The Infinities were generally not preferred except occasionally by Jon. Krix did best against the Infinities where everyone preferred them. The Salks did the best overall with J consistently not preferring them but Clint and Jon generally preferring them over just about everything else. The clear winners were the Salks with the DALI's and Krix tied for second. If you look at the comparison between the two, we find that the Krix generally bested the DALI's in head to head comparison. The DALIs got all of their votes in the comparison with the Infinities while the Krix votes were mostly in the Infinity comparison but also by one listener against the DALIs.

Blind Listening Test Summary

The remaining questions on the blind form were open ended and specific to facilitate the listening sessions. I've been in a number of these shootouts where you were just asked to write down your observations and the problem has always been how to integrate afterwards. With a form, you end up with a more directed experience that facilitates the data collection, organization, and reporting while prompting the listeners. The full responses to the first six questions can be found here

. While you can review the unedited results at your leisure, I've summarized them below by speaker:


Dali_stock.JPGThe DALI LEKTOR 8's were consistently described as having a subdued high end. "Muted" was the most oft descriptor though consistently the speakers were described as "pleasing" and "natural." Bass was consistently described with positive words like "tight" and "punchy." There were times that the speakers came off as a little bass heavy but overall the comments seemed to favor the DALIs in the bass department. Mids were a little more often described negatively with words like "recessed" and "muted" though we do see more positive words like "natural" and "warm." While the bass and treble comments were pretty consistent, the midrange comments were consistently inconsistent. They varied in positive and negative in the same comparison. This may have to do more with source material and the interaction with the room and the speaker.

Imaging and soundstage were both generally reviewed as positive by the listeners. The soundstage was described most often as "wide" except when the DALIs were compared to the Salks. In that comparison, the most oft used word was "narrow." Imaging overall was very positive with words like "good" and "detailed" but again, in the Salk comparison, the DALIs were described as "OK." Generally the dynamic range was viewed as "limited" though there were a few positive comments. A few of the listeners suggested that the bottom end response of the speaker might have been obscuring the top end and therefore limiting the range.

Infinity Classia C336

Infinity_stock.jpgThe Infinity offerings were a grab bag of comments. On the top end, we find everything from "SHRILL" to "relaxed." In the midrange we see many different types of comments but a common theme of "unnatural" running throughout. Bass is alternately described as "muddy" and "tight" - often in the same comparison. What was most interesting was that the most positive comments for the Infinitys were recorded during the comparison with the Salk SongTower QWTs - one of the highest rated speakers. Consistently, listeners used positive words for the Infinitys but only one of the three actually preferred the Infinitys over the Salks.

"Small" and "narrow" seemed to dominate the observations about the Infinity's soundstage though there were a few suggestions of "wider." One listener remarked that the seating position on this speaker was fairly important as it changed from one seat to another. In comparison with the Salks and DALIs the Infinitys were unflatteringly described as having "lousy" and "muddy" imagining. With the Krix, however, the terms were more positive including "excellent." Dynamic range was described consistently as "narrow" with the most positive terms used in the comparison with the Salks.

Krix Phoenix

Krix_stock.jpgThe Krix speakers were often described as having a "crisp" top end. All of the comparisons contained this descriptor though it was usually balanced with comments like "brittle" and "fatiguing." In the comparison with the Salks, the midrange seemed "recessed" or "lost" though in the other comparisons much more favorable words are used like "cleaner" and "pronounced." The bass is generally described as "warm" and "realistic" though in the DALI comparison the Krix are described as "anemic" and "sloppy."

The soundstage of the Krix was described as "wide" and "narrow," "forward" and "recessed." "Wide" was most often quoted though it is interesting to see how different the descriptions are even within the same comparison. The imagining was consistently described as "center focused" with one listener explaining that while the center image was well presented, other sounds tended to cluster in the center that shouldn't be. The dynamic range was described very differently within and between each of the comparisons. Words like "narrow" and "wide" sit alongside "full" and "natural." There seemed to be very little agreement on this speaker.

Salk SongTower QWTs

Salk_Stock.jpgThe high end of the Salk speakers was consistently described as "crisp" though not always positively. Overall, the listeners seemed to like the high end of the Salks with "clean" being the overriding theme. Across the board, the midrange was evaluated positively with "natural" being the most oft repeated descriptor. The bass was generally described positively with terms like "low" and "balanced." Each of the comparisons had one of the three listeners describing the bass unfavorably with words like "thin" and "loose."

The soundstage of the Salk speakers was described alternately as "wide" and "narrow." One listener commented that seating was important as the speakers seemed to pull the soundstage toward your seat. The imaging was fairly consistently described positively as "tight" and "great." A few comments of "reserved" and "weak" peppered the overall positive reaction but these were not limited to a specific comparison. The comments on the dynamic range were fairly hard to decipher which is odd considering the other speakers all had fairly straightforward comments. Overall, the comments seemed positive with terms like "even," "crisp," and "articulated" being used. "Limited" and "muffled" also showed up.

Shootout 2009 Results - Sighted

As I mentioned, the sighted form was much more based on build quality and aesthetics plus I asked for an overall summary of each speaker. I've included the comments from each of the listeners verbatim below. One listener did not answer the last question as he felt that "Appearance" and "Fit and Finish" were the same thing.


Build Quality


Nice drivers. Like the color. They feel substantial in weight

Heavy and wide, solid and stable.

The cabinet appears to be well built. A vinyl wrap was used for the wood grain verses a real wood veneer. The vinyl is very well done.


The three woofers gives the impression that they might be compensating for something. They feel top-heavy and seem like they tip forward a bit too easily.

Very impressive and solid – looks like a piece of art.

The infinity uses a black plastic molded body that has a matt texture to it. The only wood is the trim on the top that bottom. The speakers have a decent weight to them.


Why is the tweeter so freaking low? Apparently designed for midgets or 2 year olds who prefer to stand when listening to their speakers.

Well built, but not very heavy. Does not seem stable.

The wood veneer is perfect and the cabinet appears to be well made.


Surprised at how light the movement of the mid-drivers are when pushed in by hand. Super big port on back is surprising but obviously well-hidden. Lack of bi-wirable terminals is weird as is their direct-mount positioning in the rear of the cabinet.

Tall, heavy and very solid. Excellent.

The light, maple wood veneer is seamless; the speakers’ cabinet is very solid and heavy.


Fit and Finish


Pretty speakers. The back gives away the fact that it's not real wood - a shame since the veneer is so good otherwise.

Vinyl wrap looks like wood. Front and side of speaker finished well. Rear not so much.

With the speaker covers removed, the drivers blend in with the cabinet face. The surfaces are all done in a more flat finish.


The most interesting design, sure to please some who prefer a more decorative look to their speakers. The one negative is that the makeup of the front and sides is reminiscent of a "plastic" texture/material. Overall a nice look - just very different from a wood or straight veneered speaker.

Hardwood cap and base are impressive. Silver plastic outriggers look cheesy.

The plastic parts used for the cabinet seem to be well made. The wood accent trim on the top and bottom of the speaker makes for a nice, modern look.


Nice cabinet that is well-made, though the back looks and feels cheap.

Nice veneer and corners. Base seems cheap and looks like a hasty afterthought

Well made with no real issues to point out. This speaker has the simplest design overall and shows a lot of wood. The wood finish is a dark color with a slight sheen to it.


Excellent look. Like the gap/separation between the speaker and the base.

Fit and finish is impeccable, especially where the black faceplate meets the cabinet

Great look with real wood veneers and seamless finish from the light wood to the black face. The wood has a slight sheen to it that makes it look like fine cabinetry. The side to the back is seamless with no lip or transition.




Vinyl wrap looks like wood. Big, bold looking speaker. I love the brick red drivers – different!

This is the largest speaker in the test but still does not look too big. There is no extra base or support on the bottom which makes the speaker look more streamlined and square to the floor.


Modern, curvy look. Has high-end vibe. Looks expensive. Grey/silver drivers seem cheesy and do not convey the class of the cabinet.

Has 5 drivers which is the largest number in the test. I liked the angled top piece of wood that will prevent things being set on top of the speaker. The silver colored drivers don’t seem to match with the brown wood trim and the black cabinet; I think it gives it a cheap appearance.


Least impressive visually of the bunch. Boring styling, black thin base serves no purpose and does not help aesthetic appeal.

This is the smallest and most simple looking speaker of the bunch. The wood veneer is a pretty exotic looking wood. There is a black base that appears to be an after though. The overall presentation of these speakers is pretty boring.


Gorgeous blonde maple hardwood veneer. Cabinet seems to float above the black base.

The magnetic speaker cover is a cool touch since there are no holes on the face for the pegs that normally attach the grille to the cabinet. This gives a streamline appearance when the covers are off.

Shootout Results - Final Thoughts

The last thing I asked the participants to do was to evaluate their overall opinion of the speakers during the sighted test. While I didn't provide a particular form for this, they had already filled out observations forms for each speaker during each of the comparisons (12 total speaker pair write-ups). I figured by this time they could wing it. Plus, it was getting late and I could tell everyone was getting tired.




Freakin loads of bottom end. Chest-thumping kick in "Happier Girl". Lots of reverb and ambience. A tad muddy when playing the chorus of this song. Wide soundstage. Could localize details in "Toy Matinee" very well. Perfect left to right pans of the toms in this tune. Can really hear the high-end detail. Female vocals seemed authentic in presentation.

Rich, full sound. Very lush and detailed. Plenty of punch. Bold looks and the sound backs it up – these are big and beefy speakers. I love this speaker – my kinda character.

Great sounding speaker overall. Seems a little heavy on the bass with some of the test music though. The highs and mids were clear and well defined. The speakers gave a very full sound. Because of the overall dark color, these speakers appear big. These speakers would be my second choice.


Good kick drum thump. Some of the tonal low end of the Seal Crazy track but more of the upper range of the low frequency sound I was listening for. Shrill highs. Fatiguing upper mids and tweeter content. Soundstage was less clear than the DALIs during the tom sequence of "Toy Matinee". Needed to stop listening to these in a short time due to fatigue setting in… found myself lowering the volume.

I don’t hear as much detail in the Infinity’s as from the other speakers in the shootout. Bass seems reserved – sitting further back in the stage. When listening to female vocal, it became apparent that they could become fatiguing quickly. Mids to highs quickly become painful, especially at higher volumes. To my ears, this speaker does not compare well with the other 3 in the shootout.

The overall sound was pretty good but sometimes seemed a little muddled or not as defined. In some of the music, the highs were not as clean sounding, the mids seemed pretty good and the bass was a little sloppy. The speakers have a cheaper look overall due to the black plastic cabinet and the silver contrasting color of the drivers. The Infinity would be my third choice.


Good thump on Seal but missing the lowest frequencies. (lower than Infinity's); Slightly compressed upper-mids, lending it to be a fatiguing experience at high volumes. Cymbals sounded compressed and harsh (Happier Girl). On Toy Matinee the 'sh' in "Fish or a mountain to scale" line came across as overly sibilant. Imaging was excellent; the toms panned correctly across the room and were easily identifiable/localizable. The Shelby Lynn track definitely had tons of detail. The Lyle Lovett track exhibited more incredible detail, but it had a crispy, gritty texture that was pervasive on the top end of everything I heard it play.

Emphasis on upper mids and highs. Bass not well defined, resting back in the stage a bit. Upper frequencies tend to get crunchy after extended listening, but I do like the sound of these speakers – they do reveal a lot, but at a cost. Between their ugly appearance and potential to fatigue, these fall a notch below the Salk and DALI speakers. Just for kicks, we pulled out the port plug and they were out of control boomy! Very hard to believe that much boom came out of such a small speaker…

These are the most boring looking out of the bunch. Pretty much they are a box with pretty exotic wood veneer. The highs are well delivered if not too bright sometimes. With some of the music, the highs came across as too harsh. The bass is good but the mids tended to be lacking in some of the test music. With the plugs taken out of the air ports, these speakers became very bass boomy. These speakers seemed very “loud”. The Krix would be my last choice.


Solid low freq performance on Seal's "Crazy". Open and airy with "Happier Girl" wide soundstage. Fixed center anchor on female vocals. Natural sound. Imaging is perfect on these. Much clearer than the Krix. Much gentler sibilance and guitar peaks were tame - much less fatiguing. Great chesty bass hits on Shelby Lynn track. Authentic female vocals. Gentle reverbs with natural decay.

Darker sounding speaker. Clean, open stage. Big sound. Plenty of detail, very easy on the ears.

These are my favorite looking and sounding speakers. The light maple looking wood and the black trim is very classy looking. The speakers seem to have a good balance of highs, mids and bass. The overall presence of these speakers is great and very authentic sounding. These would be my first choice.

If we go back to the original "Would you buy these speakers" question, you can see that the sighted and blind tests for the Salk SongTowers QWTs match pretty well. The overall sighted assessment is very positive as are the blind tests. On the other end of the spectrum, the Infinity Classia C336 blind and sighted tests are also very similar in their negativity. What as most interesting, however, was the sighted versus blind comments on the DALIs and Krix. While in the blind tests, these were very similar with perhaps a slight edge to the Krix, the sighted tests gave the clear edge to the DALIs. Part of this very well may be because of the lackluster reaction to the Krix appearance and the converse reaction to the DALIs. Also playing a part might be because two of the participants had already had positive experiences with other DALI offerings and the LEKTOR 8s in particular. The two reviewers (Clint and J) had heard the LEKTOR 8s on the show floor at CEDIA and were impressed. J in particular considers himself a "fan" of DALI and freely admits that it could affect his sighted judgments.

I also asked the participants to give me a few final thoughts. These I will list by participant:

I really enjoyed the speaker shootout. It gave us a chance to really evaluate several different speakers in a somewhat neutral setting where our preconceived ideas of the speakers themselves were eliminated from the equation. I am painfully aware that my biases affect my evaluations, which is why I appreciate any review (displays for example) that can yield objective results. I tend to lean heavily on the objective in order to minimize the coloration that my subjective nature tends to apply on reviews. In this case, Tom's careful structuring of the tests yielded an opportunity for us to simply use our ears and notate our findings.

Unfortunately, the biggest change I'd request in future shootouts would have to do with the time it takes to do the evaluations. A speaker shootout of even just 4 samples seemed to be difficult to undertake in a single day. It was my fear that our ears were fatigued by the time we got to the latter part of the day, even though we took breaks in between. I wonder if a more careful selection of tracks by a professional, with notes on what to listen for and how, might actually help in a future speaker evaluation. While I don't want to be told "what" to hear, it may be an interesting test to have a description of some particular music cues that reflect "accuracy." As I see it, a good speaker is one that most accurately reproduces what the mixer heard in the studio and pulls the speakers themselves out of the equation.

I enjoyed this more than the bookshelf shootout because the number of speakers allowed for more time to do the work. It was a long, hard day, but the end was already in sight by the time fatigue set in. Doing a shootout is a little unnerving because I knew that I was contradicting myself at times (especially knowing there were only four pairs), which created the potential for me to begin second-guessing my conclusions. At times I was worried that I trashed a speaker that I had praised only 30 minutes earlier, but that is part of being honest in a blind test. The first setup is always the hardest, but as the day moved along we quickly found the groove. Overall, I thought we did pretty well identifying the differences in the speakers.

I loved the way the shootout was set up, with the scrim hiding the speakers from us. Because Tom was willing to sit on the floor behind the rack to switch and "A-B" the speakers, it made it easy for us to focus on listening and have him toggle between two pairs. I think the most difficult part of the testing is the music selection. Each of us has our own taste in music, which means we each have songs we like and things we listen for. There always seems to be one song that, at the end of the day, becomes the song that everyone agrees can really bring out the subtle distinctions between the speakers. Although we ended up with 4 key selections, I felt that the Shelby Lynne cut became this song.

I felt a little out of my element being the green guy. The listening tests were much more work then I anticipated. That much focused listening tired me out almost as much as working hard all day on a home renovation. I think what did me in was the concentration needed to complete the tests. By the end of the day my ears were shot and I am pretty sure I was hearing things that were not really in the music…or maybe that was the voices in my head?! Overall I would say it was a fantastic experience that will better prepare me for what to expect next time and also helped me to have a sharper ear for what to listen for.

The music was the hardest thing I think. We had too many selections that almost made it hard for me to compare what I was hearing between speakers. I think that two or three songs max next time and each of the test songs should have certain qualities that we can more easily distinguished or look for (would that be cheating?). The format of the test was well thought out and having the fill-in forms helped to keep me focused on what I was trying to accomplish.

Shootout 2009 - Facilitator Thoughts and Conclusion

Shoot_tom.JPGDuring the blind tests, I spent the entire time behind the curtain where the participants couldn't see me. When I came out I wouldn't answer any questions about the previous or future comparisons. The only question I did answer was when one of the listeners was complaining that they were feeling insecure about their observations. I reassured him that when he found out what speakers he was referring to (I didn't tell him the exact comment), he would laugh at his accuracy. After all tests were done, I expanded on this informing him that he had described the Infinitys as "tall" and the Krix as "short" (physically, very accurate).

One thing you might have noticed was that I in no way participated in the shootout. That was partially by design but mostly because I already had a personal stake in the results. Part of the process of the shootout was that I'd review all the speakers first. Well, after reviewing all the speakers (except for the Infinitys which came in late), I had a clear idea of a favorite. Plus I had reviewed each of the speakers and if one that I reviewed positively got slammed in the shootout… well, you can see how that might taint my reactions. As a trained evaluator, I felt that I probably could control my biases but that it would look too bad to you the reader if I participated. Honestly, in retrospect, I'm glad I was behind that screen. Every time someone said something even slightly different that what I'd said in a review about a speaker I could feel myself reacting. I'm glad they couldn't see my face or body language. I very well might have given off subtle (or in some cases not so subtle) cues.

Through the screen I could see the participants clearly. One thing I wished they would have done more of is switch seats. They switched occasionally but it was mostly instigated by the two professional reviewers and not Jon. I could clearly see that Jon felt somewhat intimidated by the other two. That aside, they did not switch seats as much as I would have liked even though I did remind them from time to time. This very well may have affected some of the blind tests (I wasn't around for the sighted stuff) especially in relations to bass response (an overly bassy speaker may sound very different from seat to seat), imaging, and soundstage.

I had asked Clint and J (because at the time I didn't know Jon was coming) to pick out a few songs or pieces of songs that we would use for the shootout. What I envisioned was five or six 30-60 second song clips that we could quickly flip through on a single disc. Clint picked out a clip and two full songs while J misunderstood and brought a full disc of material. While all the material he brought was great for evaluation, it tended to be overwhelming. We ended up with Clint's three tracks and three off of J's disc. In the end, even that was too much. Too often, I saw them get stuck on a song (or piece of a song) that they glossed over in other listening tests. If we had had a more limited (and preferably targeted) musical selection, perhaps the results of the blind tests would have been a bit more consistent.

Like I said, I could see the participants through the screen very clearly. Clearly enough that I could see them reading over each other's shoulders. While they claim they weren't "copying," I know from personal experience with these shootouts that you can't help but be affected by what you read. It might be for the good ("Oh, I didn't think to listen for that") or the bad ("Gee, maybe he knows more than me") but there will be an effect. In a room such as mine (and in most rooms, honestly), you can't really separate people enough to keep this from happening. I will say that I tended to notice it more at the end of the listening sessions than at the beginning and I didn't notice anyone going back and "changing" their answers. Instead it looked more like they were confirming their own observations or checking out what other people said after they finished their own.


Is there a clear winner here? It seems to be the Salk SongTower QWT from both the sighted and blind tests. But if you look it over, you'll see that the DALIs and Krix just about tied in the blind tests but the DALIs triumphed in the sighted. One of the participants even indicated that he would purchase the DALIs over the Salks after the sighted test. So what's going on here?

Obviously, aesthetics has a lot to do with it. If we had pulled back the curtain would the Salk performance in the Krix body still have been the overwhelming favorite? Doubtful. But more importantly, I believe there were two types of speakers under review here - Detailed and Bassy. The Salks and the Infinitys seemed to be more in the "detailed" camp while the Krix and DALIs were in the "bassy" camp. Clearly the differences were large enough between the Salks and Infinitys that the Salks easily came out on top. The DALIs and Krix, however, seemed to have a much closer performance gap. Were the aesthetics enough to push the DALIs over the top of the slight lead that Krix had in the blind tests or was it something else? It's impossible to say with only three participants and one comparison between the two speakers.

Really, the Krix, Salks, and Dalis are all winners here and all four deserve a listen. You can go back through the observations and see how each of the speakers received glowing and damning praise. Music, room, seat, mood, fatigue and more all factored in to all these listening tests. In a perfect world, I'd have a lot more people doing a lot fewer (and more targeted) listening tests. But this isn't a perfect world so we do what we can.

The comparisons were informative for you the reader in a number of ways. First it identifies how these speakers perform when in a blind test against each other in a particular room. Amplification, source material, even power and cable length were all held constant. The largest differences were placement (a perfect setup would involve some sort of Lazy Susan setup) and the speakers themselves. But remember, the room is a big part of how a speaker sounds. Take the Salks home, and they might fare very differently. This shootout also showcases the importance of aesthetics and history on buying decisions. Even though the DALIs scored mid pack in the blind tests, the final decision of one of the listeners was that he'd purchase those first with the Salks second. If you don't think that your eyes inform your purchases, you're sadly mistaken.

Hopefully, the biggest lesson is how to compare speakers and identifying the inherent problems with such comparisons. Sure, we've seemed to have come to a consensus about the "favorite" speaker, but that is the favorite speaker in my room. Clint took the DALIs home with him and immediately noted that they didn't sound as good. Of course, he knew this would happen because of the location he was forced to place them in (around a TV that is placed on a stand in a corner) and is working to optimize placement. If I were shopping for speakers, I'd take a look at this shootout and read carefully through the comments. I'd look at the pictures of the speakers. I'd think about how my room matches the shootout room. I'd re-read the original reviews. I'd try to keep in mind my personal sound preferences and view the descriptors in that light. Most of all, I'd go out there and listen to everything I could. And then I'd buy the Salks. But that's just me.

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About the author:
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As Associate Editor at Audioholics, Tom promises to the best of his ability to give each review the same amount of attention, consideration, and thoughtfulness as possible and keep his writings free from undue bias and preconceptions. Any indication, either internally or from another, that bias has entered into his review will be immediately investigated. Substantiation of mistakes or bias will be immediately corrected regardless of personal stake, feelings, or ego.

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