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Speaker Upgrade Recommendation/Advice

luft262

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Mar 25, 2021
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I'm looking to upgrade my current speaker system. My current living room setup is comprised of the following:

Pioneer SP FS-52 Tower Speakers x 2 (Fronts)
Pioneer SP C-22 Center Channel Speakers (Center)
Polk PSW 10 Subwoofer x 2 (LFE/Subs)
Acoustic Audio CSic82 Cinema Series In Ceiling 2-Way Speaker x 2 (SR/SL)
Onkyo TX-NR676 7.2 Channel Receiver

I really love this system for movies and video games. I can't really imagine needing much more as far as that goes. For music it's OK. For parties and stuff it's plenty good, since people are also drinking and talking and not sitting in the sweet spot or anything anyway, but for critical listening, by myself, it doesn't blow me away. For that reason I mostly do my nightly critical listening, winding down time, using my headphone setup, which is comprised of the following:

JDS Labs Atom Headphone DAC
JDS Labs Atom Headphone AMP
HiFiMan Sundara (2020 Revision)

I would like to step up my entertainment system speakers to get that high quality music listening experience I get from my headphones, but from speakers. I love headphones, but speakers offer a different experience and I would like to be able to experience both at home, at will...I know...first world problems right!?

Since I'm happy with the movie/gaming experience, but want a better music experience I thought I would get the best bang for my buck looking at new front speakers. I understand that I'll have to get a new center channel also for tonality continuity, but the rest of the system I'll probably leave as is (for now) unless it absolutely has to be changed, because I figure the money would be better put into the front speakers instead of electronics etc. My budget is flexible, but I'd probably be brushing up against my limit at about $1,000 per speaker, meaning I could afford about $2K max for new front speakers, give or take.

My room is about 17 ft wide by 25 ft long with 9 ft ceilings. The back of the living room is open to the kitchen with just a wood railing and no wall between them. I'm not sure if that's good for sound. The ceiling height goes way up in the kitchen to about 18 ft. The living room is porcelain tile flooring with a fair amount of windows. There are bookshelves, couches and a large rug to help with acoustic absorption and the room doesn't echo with my current system. I sit about 9 ft from my speakers.

The speakers I'm currently considering are:

Polk Audio R500, R600, and/or R700 Floor Standing Speakers
Klipsch RP5000F, RP6000F, and or RP8000F Floor Standing Speakers
Focal Chora 826 Floor Standing Speakers
KEF Q950 Floor Standing Speakers

After reading Amir's negative review of the Klipsch RP-600M I'm a little ify on the Klipschs. I'm open to other speaker options. I ruled out ELAC Debut lines, because I figured they would be too similar to my current speakers and more of a side move or a small upgrade. They're built by the same designer, Andrew Jones, and they have a very similar design, 1" tweeter, 5.25" mid, and two 5.25" woofers for the bass.

I like the idea of a speaker with large woofers to get bigger sound than my current system, but I worry that it might actually be better for my room size/style to stick with speakers with smaller woofers (5" to 6")? I also don't know if larger woofers will be of any benefit seeing as I already have two subs with 10" drivers.

Thank you for your time and advice!
 

alex-z

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Personally I would take that money and go for a nice pair of bookshelf speakers. Towers aren't needed for a setup with subs.

Speaking of subs, those are definitely a weak point of your system. Something like a pair of HSU VTF-2 MK5 will give you deeper bass extension, with less distortion. Good subs cost more than good speakers. I would make these the top priority for your upgrades.

Woofer size has nothing to do with your room. The most pronounced effect of a big woofer is more power handling and bass extension. I actively avoid speakers with woofers larger than 6.5", as the directivity (off-axis response) becomes more problematic.

Elac Debut series is fairly good, a step up from the Pioneer lineup. The Debut Reference lineup takes the same sound and just uses higher quality components. The biggest weakness is honestly the DCR52 centre channel, the DBR62 bookshelf speakers are fantastic.

Something worth considering is the SVS Ultra lineup. The centre channel is a nice 3 way design for $700, and the bookshelf speakers are $1000 a pair.

A final note is your room acoustics. All rooms have decay time, which is measurable with a cheap USB microphone. Just because the echo isn't audible doesn't mean there is none. All rooms, regardless of shape or size, benefit from absorption. 2x4ft mineral wool panels are extremely cost effective to DIY and will noticeably change the sound. Companies like GIK Acoustics do sell similar products, at 2-3x the cost of building yourself.

Anecdotally, my empty room started out with 600-700ms of RT60 time and sounded natural. Treating it down to 350ms RT60 noticeably improved the sound quality, to the point that it is eerie when I remove the treatment temporarily.
 

Eetu

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Good advice from Alex above. I agree that the subs seem to be a weak link. Consider allocating some of the budget to subs, for example 2x SVS SB1000 Pros. Once you have more powerful subs integrated you don't IMO necessarily need towers since your main listening distance is only 9ft.
 
OP
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luft262

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I guess it's hard for me to fully understand the need for better subs, since, in my understanding, subs are mostly for movies and video games. I wanted better tower speakers so that I could listen to higher fidelity music. True, I listen to all kinds of music, but I'll probably be playing more jazz, folk, singer/songwriter, rock, than pop or hip-hop. It's hard for me to see the value in tighter subs when I'm trying to turn the subs off for music and just play awesome towers.

Maybe I'm not understanding the impact good subs can have on music? Would super expensive ($1K) subs be overkill for most genres of music in my current system? Wouldn't they mostly only make movies and maybe electronic music sound better?

Thanks.
 

Eetu

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I guess it's hard for me to fully understand the need for better subs, since, in my understanding, subs are mostly for movies and video games. I wanted better tower speakers so that I could listen to higher fidelity music. True, I listen to all kinds of music, but I'll probably be playing more jazz, folk, singer/songwriter, rock, than pop or hip-hop. It's hard for me to see the value in tighter subs when I'm trying to turn the subs off for music and just play awesome towers.

Maybe I'm not understanding the impact good subs can have on music? Would super expensive ($1K) subs be overkill for most genres of music in my current system? Wouldn't they mostly only make movies and maybe electronic music sound better?

Thanks.
Do you use a high pass filter on your towers when listening to music? If you crossover at the 'default' 80Hz (or higher) a lot of content will be handled by the subs. Not only explosions or synth bass.

And since the main difference between standmounts and floorstanders is bass output (simplifying of course) I think you would be fine with 2 good subs and 6" bookshelf speakers. And even if you decide to go with towers, I'd still high pass them and use subs too.


This video (I recommend watching the whole series) does a good job explaining some of the benefits of subs.
 

alex-z

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Feb 19, 2021
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I guess it's hard for me to fully understand the need for better subs, since, in my understanding, subs are mostly for movies and video games. I wanted better tower speakers so that I could listen to higher fidelity music. True, I listen to all kinds of music, but I'll probably be playing more jazz, folk, singer/songwriter, rock, than pop or hip-hop. It's hard for me to see the value in tighter subs when I'm trying to turn the subs off for music and just play awesome towers.

Maybe I'm not understanding the impact good subs can have on music? Would super expensive ($1K) subs be overkill for most genres of music in my current system? Wouldn't they mostly only make movies and maybe electronic music sound better?

Thanks.

Subs are for everything, music included. They should not be turned off.

Drivers are not linear throughout their excursion. As you push small woofers to produce bass, distortion climbs rapidly. The simplest solution is just have subwoofers handle everything below 80Hz. This works well because human hearing loses directionality below 100Hz. Why not simply use tower speakers? Because even they only get down to 30-40Hz. Every time you drop an octave, 4x more excursion is required to maintain SPL. So even a single 12" sub dramatically outperforms a good tower speaker.

Another huge benefit of subwoofers is room acoustics. Multi-sub can be used to nullify room modes. Not all of them, but enough so that the improvement is noticeable. If you placed tower speakers in positions to fight room modes, you would ruin the rest of the sound.

https://www.harman.com/documents/multsubs_0.pdf

$1000 subs aren't super expensive by subwoofer standards. A good sub needs a big, sturdy cabinet, powerful amplifier, and a woofer with good motor strength, high cone stiffness, linear suspension, good thermal management, etc.

All of that engineering doesn't come cheap. A high quality 12" subwoofer with DSP and 250 watts of power would cost about $500 to DIY, if you already owned the tools to build the cabinet yourself.
 
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