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Need suggestions for Desktop Speakers


some1x
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I'm looking for

1. Reasonably full range, extend down to 46hz or more

2. Easy to drive: 88+ dB/w, preferably 8ohm

3. Not too big, (Harbeth Compact 7 is about the biggest I can use)

4. Front ported or sealed

5. Cost less than 3000 for a used one in good condition

Musical preference: classical and Wagner. Listening at relatively low levels (in an apartment). Therefore, vocals and ability to come alive at low volume are important. Speakers will be used on desktop, about 2 feet away from where I sit.

I'm considering Merlin TSM and Harbeth Compact 7. They seem like good choices, but I'd like to hear more suggestions.

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I've been on the hunt for the same. Have Merlin TSM-MXE, Von Schweikert Unifield One, and 47 labs 4722 here now. All three are different and all are good in their own way. If I had to choose a best today, it would probably be the Unifields. They are each in a separate price category though, so what is the best value? I don't know.

What amp are you using?

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for that big of a budget, id like to throw in a vote for some nice lowther drivers (excellent midrange from what i have read and from the 2 pairs of pm6a's that i have heard) in a simple cabinet (driver would depend on the cabinet chosen). on paper they go that low but i dont know you will be able to get buttshaking bass out of them. sq wise i think they might be better than much prettier speakers with fancy crossovers and such things.

also they are all at least 96db efficient so you could drive them quite easily with the amp that you have.

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afaik, lowther only manufactures drivers and one floorstander. so it would have to be a diy/commision job unless you are willing to pay a 3x markup which would land you outside your budget. i have seen 2 smaller designs used for desktop use. they are very deep though. imagine a horizontal transmission line. actually thats exactly what that is. will look for the designs in the evening. wasnt able to find them last night. for midrange i cant think of a better driver for desktop use other than maybe feastrex but those things are a lot more expensive. perhaps phy or some seas offering but those are more $$$ as well.

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I can't recommend the Merlin since it sounds pretty dead to me, especially so at lower volume levels. The Lowther isn't that good of a choice either since it needs a larger box to get decent bass, and that runs counter to your size limitations.

One speaker I know of that would meet all the criteria is the Oskar Aulos, but I can't say I know how good it'll sound from a couple feet away since i was listening to them from a distance of about 7-8'. The bass isn't as tight as say, a PMC or Harbeth but I didn't find it to be overly loose or boomy either, certainly no worse than a B&W 804 or 805.

Another speaker I like which unfotunately doesn't meet the sealed/front vented requirement is the TB2i, it uses a transmission line which exits to the rear. The overall sound is similar to the Harbeth's but it's more lively and works better at lower volumes as well as being more efficient. Once again I'm not sure how they'll work out at your proposed listening distance.

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My Merlin's don't sound dead. What version did you listen to? Maybe it was associated equipment.

The Harbeths are a great size for the desktop, unlike the Theils. I had the p3es2 not the 'r' version but the bass was not acceptable to me with my MC275. With a more powerful SS amp it was though. Oskar recommends at least 50wpc so I'm not sure the op will have the wheats for them.

I've not found a rear ported speaker that works on my desk but I am up against a wall. Some1x, what is your desk set up like?

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I just swapped the Merlins for the Unifields again. Maybe there is no best. Merlins are more detailed/analytical and the Unifields are a bit more cohesive, have more bass extension and are a bit more laid back. There is a little more action at low volumes with the Unifields as well (and they are a bit more efficient). Let us know what you end up hearing.

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i suggested the lowthers purely for midrange, not for bass. seemed that that was more important. i cant find the plans anywhere but i have sent the gentlemen who had those speakers an email to see if he can direct me in the right direction. iirc, he had actually purchased them from some company in either north or south carolina. will post if i get a reply from him. when i heard those things, the bass wasnt all that impressive but the midrange was about as good as i had ever heard. he also had apogee calipers and those cool looking gallo speakers (reference 3 maybe, but i dont remember the model number). of the 3 rigs, the lowthers were quite a ways ahead in the midrange dept. non existent bass compared to the gallo speakers which had subwoofers in each cabinet.

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My Merlin's don't sound dead. What version did you listen to? Maybe it was associated equipment.

X version for the TSM and VSM plus the version immediately before the X, for the VSM I've heard everything from the Gen III onwards. I've heard them in several systems, some better, some worse, but the Merlin sound is always there. My reference is the Living Voice OBX-R2 and Quad ESL-57, a lot of speakers, including many highly regarded ones sound dead or hopelessly coloured next to them. I'm also damn picky with speakers, there's a lot of little things that bug the hell out of me which most people probably wouldn't care about.

Oskar recommends at least 50wpc so I'm not sure the op will have the wheats for them.

They'll be fine, I've heard them with a 30W tube amp and they'll still go plenty loud on that.

i suggested the lowthers purely for midrange, not for bass. seemed that that was more important. i cant find the plans anywhere but i have sent the gentlemen who had those speakers an email to see if he can direct me in the right direction. iirc, he had actually purchased them from some company in either north or south carolina. will post if i get a reply from him. when i heard those things, the bass wasnt all that impressive but the midrange was about as good as i had ever heard. he also had apogee calipers and those cool looking gallo speakers (reference 3 maybe, but i dont remember the model number). of the 3 rigs, the lowthers were quite a ways ahead in the midrange dept. non existent bass compared to the gallo speakers which had subwoofers in each cabinet.

Lowthers are goddamn finicky sumbitches, especially when run full range. If you want to play operas, solo vocals, or jazz at a low to medium volume they are absolutely stunning. But if you start pushing the volume a bit with say, Pavarotti then you get the dreaded Lowther "shout" and it starts going honky. Throw massed choral works at it (O Fortuna from the Carmina Burana for example) and it gets ugly fast.

There's a couple guys I know who have a ton of experience with Lowthers, according to one of them the key is to run them as a wide-band midrange from about 500-5000Hz, and removing the whizzer along with a few other modifications. It keeps the midrange goodness while getting rid of most of the colourations and it lets them play a lot louder without distorting.

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what aerius said. planet10-hifi makes phase plugs specifically for that application. gets rid of the shoutyness from the fostex 206e which is waaaaaaaay more honky in the higher registers than any lowther driver.

wonder what could be done with a not so expensive woofer and a dx4 in the same cabinet with a crossover at say 400hz....decent bass + excellent mids. when i was messing around with the fonkens, i tried to get more bass quantity out of them but failed miserably. was expecting too much from a 4.5" driver. but the bass quality with a nice amp was rather satisfactory. that was with $400 in parts. with considerably more money and better/bigger drivers i am sure better slam could be achieved. i dont know if it would be fair to ask a desktop monitor to produce the same kind of bass that perhaps a dedicated 15" subwoofer could produce.

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Glad there there are others out there with the exact same requirements and some experience :)

My desk is right up against the wall, the back of the speakers will be at most 1 foot away.

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i suggested the lowthers purely for midrange, not for bass. seemed that that was more important. i cant find the plans anywhere but i have sent the gentlemen who had those speakers an email to see if he can direct me in the right direction. iirc, he had actually purchased them from some company in either north or south carolina. will post if i get a reply from him....

That would be appreciated. This is for a monitor sized speaker with lowther drivers right?

Edited by some1x
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wonder what could be done with a not so expensive woofer and a dx4 in the same cabinet with a crossover at say 400hz....decent bass + excellent mids. when i was messing around with the fonkens, i tried to get more bass quantity out of them but failed miserably. was expecting too much from a 4.5" driver. but the bass quality with a nice amp was rather satisfactory. that was with $400 in parts. with considerably more money and better/bigger drivers i am sure better slam could be achieved. i dont know if it would be fair to ask a desktop monitor to produce the same kind of bass that perhaps a dedicated 15" subwoofer could produce.

The problem is you can't do it for cheap, and the speaker will be a decent sized floorstander. Finding a woofer which matches the efficiency of Lowthers isn't easy, you'll have to go into the pro-audio world (Beyma, 18sound) or a boutique maker like AE Speakers and that is going to cost you. Oh yeah, and they're big, 10" woofer at the absolute minimum, more likely, a 12" or 15" unit. So the speaker is no longer a nice slim box, it's now a big fat box. Then you need to find a tweeter, none of the tweeters from Scanspeak, Focal, SEAS or the usual audiophile companies will have the required efficiency, so you're looking at pro-audio tweeters, ribbons (Beyma, RAAL, Mundorf) or some sort of compression driver/horn combo. Once again, $$$.

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Has anyone heard the Zu Druid Credenza or Tone Mk. 2? I really like Credenza's flat profile, and at least its specs are right.

Going to hold off buying until the Montreal Sound Show next week :) Can't believe I didn't know about it till last year.

Edited by some1x
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Good point. I'm trying to find more info on them, but it seems that the credenza is designed to sit on desktops/bookshelves, so the bottom firing port shouldn't be a problem. I really like the form factor of both the Credenza and Tone. Haven't found much affirmation for their sound, though.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Got back after going through various systems at the Montreal Salon Son & Image show. I didn't know what to expect, but was clearly expecting too much. Didn't get any spiritual, out-of-body experiences from the speaker setups. Most systems were in very small (like 12x10) hotel rooms, and many of them were congested (didn't help that the speakers were played more loudly than normal, to compensate for the high ambiant noise). I'm also not familiar with the music being played (100% jazz); but I did bring my own CD to try on a few systems.

There were two very large show rooms. One of them featured La Sphere They looked freaky and I didn't want to stay in the room for too long. The other room had Ocellia Signature speakers. The presentation was effortlessly natural and concert-like, but it wasn't played very loudly.

The Harbeth Compact 7 was setup in a small room, driven by a Rogue integrated amp. It was a refreshing change from most of the other setups, which were too forward and congested. I really liked its tonality with vocals (demo'ed my Das Rheingold for this one). I thought it could use a bit more bass impact and detail, but that could detract from the overall presentation. Also, the "Compact" 7 is bigger than I thought and I don't think I'll get them after all. May arrange a demo for the P3ESR instead, though I have my doubts on how much bass it can put out.

There was a Joseph Audio stand mount that was really impressive. It is the "head" of this speaker. It had great presence and big sound, only congested a bit during very loud passages (again, the small room is mostly to blame). I listened to my own Wagner CD. Only complaint is that vocals were a bit too "big." I would like to try the RM7XL, but they weren't there.

There were a lot of systems featuring Verity speakers, including a drool-worthy setup featuring a 4-box dcs Scarlatti stack. Didn't hear it with my own CD though.

Back in familiar territory, I finally got to hear the PS1000 (with RA1 and Ayre CX5) and HD800 (Grace M902 fed by a Cambridge CD player, and then a separate system with a Burson(?) amp fed by a Denon DVD player (not 29xx/39xx)). PS1000 was doing good until I got to the vocal parts- the amount sibilance was terrible.

I would definitely like to try out the HD800 for long term. The build quality is excellent (contrary to whatever douche??nyc posts, reason #9000 not to read head-fi). Anyways, the HD800 presented big scale music effortlessly. More so than my K1000 and HP2. More transparent? I don't know yet. Downsides? Presentation is a bit distant and cool; bass isn't "full", but impact is good enough. Should go well with the Moth 2A3 amp I thinking of getting.

I'm arranging a in home demo of Legacy Audio Studio HD monitors. Woot :)

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