Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

To Hans Wetzel, 

Your review of KEF's R900 speakers was very informative and full of good information. I am interested in your room size as I am being advised that the R900s are too big for my room. My room is 5.6 meters wide where the speakers will be located, and the back wall is 7.15 meters wide. Length is 7 meters. It is about 45 square meters in area. I'm told I should get the smaller R500 but didn't really like the sound coming from them.

I live in Moscow, Russia, and have limited choices but have been looking at the Bowers & Wilkins CM10/CM9 surround-sound speaker system and Sonus Faber's Venere 3.0. These are available in gloss white as my wife is insisting on this color for our apartment. All the speakers will be used in a surround-sound system but I listen to a lot to music and will possibly get an amp that delivers good music as well as movies. At some stage I may get a separate amp and processor just for playing music. So maybe the movies would be the priority for the new amp.

The A/V receivers I am looking at are the NAD T 787, Marantz SR7008, Denon AVR-X4000 or AVR-4520CI, Integra DHC-9.9 or DTR-50.2, and finally, the Pioneer SC-LX87. Pioneer seems to have all the bells and whistles for the latest movie surround-sound system, but I don't know about the music side of it.

Any advice would be appreciated, and again I really like your reviews. I have not yet seen a review on the Bowers & Wilkins CM10s.


So let's start with the room. Converted to feet -- because Americans find the metric system too inconvenient -- it looks like your room is about 18’ by 23’. That is decidedly not a small room. Accordingly, I think the R500s, while certainly capable speakers, as our own Doug Schneider believed when he reviewed them, might not work as well as the larger R700s, or even the R900s as a stereo pair. A few months ago, I would have said without reservation that you should spring for the R900s. They are a 90+% loudspeaker in every parameter of their performance, and, along with PSB's Synchrony Ones, really are the benchmarks at about the $5000 USD price point.

Here's the thing, though. After having spent a goodly amount of time with some top-quality, narrow, two-way speakers recently, like Vivid Audio's Oval V1.5s and Sonus Faber's Olympica I, I'm now keenly aware of how giant cabinets can affect a speaker's presentation. My room is huge, with about 12’ ceilings, and floor dimensions of around 20’ by 30’. Unfortunately, my setup is really hamstrung due to my living in a city apartment, so their placement is far from ideal, sitting about 7-8’ apart, and non-equidistant from my sidewalls. The result is still impressive, but I now have a strong sense that the large cabinets of the R900s necessitate their being placed much further apart -- I'd say 10-12’, which means you'd want to sit equally far from them. Spaced, as I currently have them, the sound is a little confined or boxy. In retrospect, I should have sprung for the R700s, I think.

If you can afford to give them that much space, I say go for the R900s -- they're a large-room speaker, and properly set up, I'm confident you'll find them superior to the Bowers & Wilkins speakers, as well as the Sonus Fabers you mention. If you can't give them that much space, I would suggest either the R700s, which dig nearly as deep in the bass, or the R500s with KEF's matching R400b subwoofer. If you're building a home theater, and it sounds like you are, then go the R500/R400b route. The towers can play obscenely loud, and they use an uni-Q driver identical to their larger R700 and R900 siblings. As such, you are losing nothing in the sound-quality department, are getting significantly smaller cabinets (which will mean they image a bit cleaner), and will get even deeper bass (courtesy of the R400b) for less money than the R900s. Going with the R900s in a home-theater setup in a room with your dimensions is overkill, in my mind.

Both Bowers & Wilkins and Sonus Faber manufacture great-looking speakers, arguably better looking than the KEFs, but I have some reservations. I suspect the CM10s will have a warm, non-neutral tonal character, as well as a contoured frequency response that makes the speaker sound pleasing, if not ultimately faithful to your recorded music. As for the Venere 3.0s, I would bet they are quite neutral, and I know they're just crazy good-looking in person. But are they as resolving as KEF's R-seriess speakers? I doubt it. The Olympica Is that I have in for review are likely the prettiest speakers I've ever seen, but I do not think they are any more revealing than my R900s, which would seem to suggest that the Veneres would not be either.

On the AVR front, I admit to being wholly ignorant -- I am a two-channel guy through and through, unfortunately. That said, I might be able to give you a little bit of help. I know that NAD and Marantz make great-sounding stuff. I would also add to your list Anthem, whose R&D facility I visited last year, as well as Arcam, whose headquarters I toured a few weeks back.  Both companies have highly competent engineers, and they are as concerned about outright sound quality as they are with connectivity.

On the Arcam front, I spent some quality time with their AVRs, as I explained here. Their AVR450 is terrific for its $3500 asking price, which looks to be within your budget. No need, to my ears, to purchase a separate amp or processor. Their $6000 AVR750, however, is on another level. If there's an "ultimate" AVR to be had, I think it's that one. Even through modest loudspeakers, the difference in sound quality between the two models was profound. Good luck with your search, and let me know if I can be of further assistance. . . . Hans Wetzel