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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.

 

Participants

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:

 

Method

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.

 

Why?

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

Shoot_speakers.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.

Confused about what AV Gear to buy or how to set it up? Join our Exclusive Audioholics E-Book Membership Program!

 

About the author:

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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Recent Forum Posts:

engtaz posts on April 05, 2009 14:45
Nice write up. I like it when you discussed lessons learned about music length, music choice and I really like the blind listening. The individual review you did before it when cool. I liked how you compared your personal testing from what you were hearing during the shootout.

Thanks,
Roy
krabapple posts on April 05, 2009 13:34
jinjuku, post: 546806
Dinging ppl since they need Dinging since 1988:

I am all aflutter waiting for the krabappleholics.com audio enthusiast web site where blind listening is done with 500 people wired to machines that record over 200 different biometric functions. Most importantly when they wet themselves.

end of rant.

Your wait is over. You can stop fluttering. The site is called Hydrogenaudio

Also odd that you'd jeer about blind testing….since the Audioholics shootout under discussion was, you know…*blind*. And I applauded them for that. Audioholics markets itself under this banner: “Let our rigorous testing and reviews be your guidelines to A/V equipment—not marketing slogans”. If the testing is only ‘somewhat’ rigorous….some of us notice that sort of thing.

Anyway, you ‘dinged’ me just out of spite, not because anything I wrote was incorrect or malicious. It just made widdle baby jinjuku *annoyed*.

Better get a change of diapers ready before you read the following; it's a post from yesterday by Sean Olive – the guy who's been running all those ‘scientifical’ tests on loudspeakers at NRC and Harman for a decade or more, with the same goal as Audioholics – ‘to pursue of the truth in audio’ – but using better methods. You might notice it says *kinda the same thing I did*

http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?p=16198521#post16198521

First of all, I'd like to say that it is extremely difficult and often misleading to make comparisons between different speakers without the use of speaker mover to control positional effects. The positional effects can easily swamp out any true audible differences between the speakers, particularly if the measured differences among them are very small. I used to find that positional effects alone could change the preference rating of a loudspeaker by 20%. That is why Harman spent considerable money on a multichannel and in-wall speaker mover – so the positional biases are removed from the test.

Secondly, you cannot correlate what you hear to what you measure unless you have comprehensive on and off-axis data like the kind we advocate. You could be hearing brightness in a loudspeaker that has a dip at 2-4kHz on-axis because of its off-axis response. The upper-treble brightness you are hearing could also be due to the 2-4 kHz dip since the dip could produce a release in upward masking - emphasizing the frequency range above the dip. In our listener training exercises, listeners commonly mistake dips as peaks located higher in frequency.

Comprehensive anechoic loudspeaker measurements combined with the right set of in-room measurements can usually explain what you are hearing.
jinjuku posts on April 01, 2009 13:35
krabapple, post: 546779
Bravo that you did the test blind, but I can't put too much stock in the results – Harman built an expensive ‘loudspeaker turntable’ and and acoustically optimized room for a reason. It's just not fair to compare loudspeakers situated in different positions in the room, given the effects loudspeakers position has on room interactions.

Also, three listeners is a mighty small sample….and I wouldn't venture to guess what statistical analysis would say about the results. It would also have been interesting to allow repeat of pairs. And allowing the listeners to discuss their impressions amongst themselves during the test (which appears to be the case) is a definite no-no.

Dinging ppl since they need Dinging since 1988:

I am all aflutter waiting for the krabappleholics.com audio enthusiast web site where blind listening is done with 500 people wired to machines that record over 200 different biometric functions. Most importantly when they wet themselves.

end of rant.
jinjuku posts on April 01, 2009 13:33
Dinging ppl since they need Dinging since 1988:

I am all aflutter waiting for the krabappleholics.com audio enthusiast web site where blind listening is done with 500 people wired to machines that record over 200 different biometric functions. Most importantly when they wet themselves.

end of rant.
krabapple posts on April 01, 2009 12:02
Bravo that you did the test blind, but I can't put too much stock in the results – Harman built an expensive ‘loudspeaker turntable’ and and acoustically optimized room for a reason. It's just not fair to compare loudspeakers situated in different positions in the room, given the effects loudspeakers position has on room interactions.

Also, three listeners is a mighty small sample….and I wouldn't venture to guess what statistical analysis would say about the results. It would also have been interesting to allow repeat of pairs. And allowing the listeners to discuss their impressions amongst themselves during the test (which appears to be the case) is a definite no-no.
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