Which Speakers Do You Recommend? Ask the Editors

speakers

Q: As a former high-end AV-store employee some 25 years ago, my 2-channel system includes Audio Research electronics, Vandersteen speakers, etc. At that time, I bought Vandersteen’s gigantic Signature center, four on-wall speakers, and a subwoofer as well.

Fast forward to today. I want to sell all that; the on-walls are not exciting enough, and the center is too huge and heavy. I want to get something clean but exciting with good vocals and midrange. I have several subs I can use, and I don’t need surround speakers.

I’m trying to do it for less than $2000, and I’ve read every review out there (AVS Forum, CNET, Stereophile, Audioholics, etc.). Most of the speakers I’m considering can’t be auditioned in person without weeks of travel.

I’ve narrowed it down to:

Definitive Technology BP9060
ELAC UF5
Emotiva Airmotiv T2
GoldenEar Triton Five
KEF Q750

Any guidance?

– Steve Jacoby


A: This is one of the toughest questions that audio experts are asked. As you know, the perceived performance of any speaker greatly depends on the acoustic environment as well as where the speaker and listener are located within that environment. Thus, even an audition at a retail store won’t necessarily reveal how a speaker will sound in your room. Reviews by experienced reviewers can be helpful, but again, they are conducted in an acoustic environment that is probably different than yours.

Another important factor is the amplifier. The speaker must present an impedance load that matches the amp’s capabilities. If the speaker’s impedance is too low, the amp will try to produce more power than it was designed to, which will increase distortion. And even if the speaker’s impedance is not too low, the interaction between a speaker and various amps can cause the sound to differ from one to another.

The best approach is to audition speakers in your room with your electronics, but that is usually impractical. If you order products from Amazon, you can return them within 30 days. But unpacking tower speakers, setting them up, listening for a while, then repacking and shipping them back if you don’t like them is a major pain in the rear (not to mention the back!).

You say you want “something clean but exciting with good vocals and midrange,” and that the Vandersteen on-walls are “not exciting enough.” I don’t know what you mean by “exciting,” but “clean” probably means low distortion, and “good vocals and midrange” are clear enough. I think that all of your final candidates meet your criteria, so let’s take a quick look at each one.

Definitive Technology BP9060 ($849 each on Amazon)

I haven’t heard the BP9060, but by all accounts I’ve read, it’s a fine-sounding speaker. However, it includes an integrated, powered subwoofer. You already have several subs, and I generally recommend that the low frequencies should come from a different location in a room than the mids and highs. So, I suggest this isn’t your best option, mainly because you’re paying for something you don’t need. Nominal impedance is 8 ohms, so this speaker should be no problem for almost any amp.

ELAC UF5 ($500 each on Amazon)

I’ve heard these Andrew Jones-designed speakers in a variety of environments, and I think they sound wonderful—very clean and crisp. Like the KEFs, the UF5 uses a concentric tweeter/midrange driver—which isn’t surprising, since Jones used to work for KEF. Even better, they are tied for the least-expensive item in your list. However, nominal impedance is only 4 ohms, so some amps might have trouble driving it.

Emotiva Airmotiv T2 ($999/pair from Emotiva)

The Airmotiv T2 uses a folded-ribbon tweeter, which generally results in an airy, extended high range. The cabinet is a bit clunky for my taste, but it is designed to minimize edge diffraction for better transient performance and imaging. I haven’t heard this speaker, but online-shashki Forum Senior Editor Mark Henninger gave the Airmotiv T1 ($699/pair) a Top Choice award in his review. Emotiva products are only available directly from the company, but it offers a 30-day, “no-hassle” return policy. Nominal impedance is 4 ohms, so some amps might have trouble driving it.

GoldenEar Triton Five ($1000 each from GoldenEar)

I’ve heard several versions of the Sandy Gross-designed Triton tower in a variety of settings, and I think they sound superb. It uses a folded-ribbon tweeter and passive bass radiators, and the result is a very clean, clear, well-balanced sound. However, they are not available from Amazon, and they can only be returned to GoldenEar in unopened condition. Also, they are the most expensive item in your list. Nominal impedance is spec’d to be “compatible with 8 ohms,” so this speaker should be no problem for almost any amp.

KEF Q750 ($750 each on Amazon)

Like many KEF speakers, the Q750 employs the company’s Uni-Q concentric tweeter/midrange driver. I haven’t heard this model, nor has online-shashki Forum Senior Editor Mark Henninger, but he thinks the bookshelf Q350 sounds great, so the Q750 should as well. Here is his review of the Q350. Nominal impedance is 8 ohms, so this speaker should be no problem for almost any amp.

Among your candidates, my first choice is the GoldenEar Triton Five, followed by the Emotiva Airmotiv T2 and ELAC UF5 (if you have an amp designed to drive 4-ohm speakers). However, with your budget, the Triton Five leaves nothing for a center-channel speaker if you want one.

Mark Henninger also cites the Triton Five as a top pick here. However, he says that the Airmotiv T2 is the clear value leader, and it has the “most macho” center-channel speaker to go with it—which you can afford within your budget. “If powerful output is the goal,” he adds, “it’s the T2, hands down.” Just remember that you need an amp that is designed to drive a 4-ohm load.

Of course, other online-shashki Forum members will likely have different opinions, which I welcome in the comments.


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