Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

Reviews of Attainable Hi-Fi & Home-Theater Equipment

To Hans Wetzel,

I am in the market for a pair of affordable, three-way tower speakers to be used primarily for music, with a little TV stereo sound thrown in. And I have a question.

First a little background. My current music setup includes a 1987-vintage Yamaha RX-700U stereo receiver, a pair of 1996-vintage Paradigm Titan V1s, and a Paradigm PDR-10 subwoofer. I use a Chromecast Audio device hooked up to the Yamaha receiver’s CD analog input to stream music from my iPhone. I plan on purchasing a Schiit Modi 2 Uber so that I can play FLAC files stored on my computer through the Yamaha receiver. I also plan on using my Xbox One’s TosLink output, connected to the Modi’s TosLink input, to play the occasional CD, and for TV stereo sound.

Due to the disappearance of the type of audio store where I originally bought my receiver and speakers (you know, the type of place that had a decent listening room and knowledgeable sales staff), I am largely trying to decide on what speakers to purchase by reading reviews. I would like the speakers I buy to have enough low end to make a subwoofer unnecessary for music playback (I am not a bass head). This leads to my question. Is there more to low-frequency extension than is shown by the -3dB low-frequency measurement? I understand one speaker may have muddy, bloated bass, while another can have taut, punchy, fast, accurate, articulate bass (just a few of the adjectives used by audio publication reviewers), all while having the same -3dB roll-off point. But can one of the two speakers “sound” like it has lower bass extension? And what would contribute to this perception? I am a firm believer in the objective/subjective review. Some things are just not measurable with simple frequency and impedance graphs, and everyone has their own personal taste in speaker sound profiles. So, I understand that a reviewer may report a perception of lower bass extension. I am an electrical engineer and have a pretty good understanding what goes into creating sound, and the logarithmic nature of decibel measurements. So, what gives with reviewers saying that a speaker has great low-bass extension? Okay, I guess that was more like four questions.

My contenders [are the following]: Elac’s Debut 2.0 F5.2, [since] Andrew Jones says he likes to give up some efficiency as a tradeoff for low-frequency response; Paradigm’s Monitor SE 3000F, [as] I love the Canadian school of objective design, coupled with subjective listening; and Q Acoustics’ 3050, [which] I know [is] a two-way, but has gotten great reviews. Any other suggestions at this price point are welcome.

P.S., I love your editorials and equipment reviews. You show a passion for helping others to see past the manufacturer marketing and reviewer B.S. Keep up the good work. If I could afford them, I would buy the Monitor Audio Bronze 6 speakers based on your review alone.

Joe Pop
United States

There’s far too much here to adequately cover in a short response, but let me try to broadly address your questions. Loudspeaker manufacturers are often -- how can I put this delicately? -- creative in their listed specifications. The ±3dB points are welcome compared to some manufacturers who will list a frequency response without any qualification whatsoever. But is the frequency response with listed ±3dB points an anechoic measurement or “in-room”? If the latter, how big is the room, what are the dimensions, how was it treated, and where were the speakers set up within the room? While the listed frequency response may be a decent starting point when comparing different loudspeaker models, consumers should pay more attention to cabinet volume and driver radiating area if they’re trying to gauge how much bass extension they’re likely to hear.

As for your “perception” question, psychoacoustics is a complicated thing. Moreover, everyone’s tastes differ, so a more fulsome bottom end may appeal to one listener, while another might prefer bass that’s lower in level, which can sometimes sound faster and tauter. Beauty is in the ear of the beholder. That’s a bit of a cop-out, I know, but when reading professional reviews, it’s more important to get an idea of what a speaker sounds like to see if it agrees with what you like, rather than skipping ahead to a pithy conclusion and noting whether it received something like our Reviewers’ Choice award, or some equivalent.

Regarding your contenders, it’s an interesting bunch, for sure. I haven’t heard any of the speakers you mention in person, but I know that Elac and Paradigm each have a “house sound” of sorts. Elac’s sound errs slightly on the warm, full side of neutral, with a smooth treble extension. Paradigm’s sound is more visceral and dynamic, with a livelier top end. Each company makes very good products and has a great deal of engineering expertise to lean on. Q Acoustics is an interesting choice. I’ve been interested in their products for the past year or two, and your e-mail has prompted me to reach out to them about reviewing something from their newly announced 3000i line. Their US website shows that they have a 30-day risk-free trial, so that may be a great way to audition the 3050, or perhaps the new 3050i. If you’re leery of that, then I’d probably steer you towards the Paradigm Monitor SE 3000F. If you like the way your Titan V1s sound, you’ll probably enjoy one of their newest creations. Good luck! . . . Hans Wetzel