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PostPosted: Sat Sep 23, 2017 6:36 pm 

Joined: Thu May 12, 2005 10:33 pm
Posts: 187
Location: Toronto, ON, CA
Audio Nation is the distributor - there are several dealers. If you are in Ontario I would recommend Nick at Noteworthy Audio.

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PostPosted: Sat Sep 23, 2017 10:45 pm 

Joined: Wed Nov 11, 2009 12:11 pm
Posts: 861
Location: Abbotsford, BC, CA
Another thank you for msommers, thanks for compiling your impressions. I've been trying to get info on the Sky Tower. Another one on my radar is the Ascend Acoustic Towers out of California. They're like Salk in that they use the Raal ribbon tweeters in some of their models, but I think are typically less expensive.

Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.

Albert Einstein

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 24, 2017 4:16 am 
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Joined: Tue Jan 25, 2005 5:37 pm
Posts: 2397
Location: Toronto, ON, CA
msommers wrote:
Finally had a chance to go out and spend some time auditioning some of the speakers on my list. I made some notes throughout the day which I'll expand on.

I took the Pass Labs XA30.5 and PS Audio DirectStream Jr. out with my laptop, connected via a cheap 10' Amazon USB cable using JRiver 22 for playback. A whole range of music was tested, both high quality recordings and others that I knew would/should sound like sh*t. I tried to mimic the spatial restrictions and considerations of my home in the listening rooms: ~1-1.5 feet from the back wall, ~7 feet apart opening to a large open-concept living and dining room. This list is the order in how I listened to them throughout the day.

Totem Sky Floorstander
The first thing noted about the Sky is the immense air, beautiful decay and precise imaging - I can see some folks hearing this speaker as a bit too forward or bright (I didn't). Given other Totems I've listened to, I would say that this is one of their better designs in the high-frequency range and betters the Arros. There was a bit of low end bass-roll off and low-mid bass bump but nothing overwhelming - impact was surprisingly good. The upper mids sounded a bit recessed/sucked-out to me, which I commented on, apparently an artifact of the listening room being over-dampened.

Focal Sopra No.1
I didn't spend too much time with this speaker as I found the highs a little overwhelming or crispy. The sense of air and space here was phenomenal, imaging I would characterize on-par with the Sky but after a few songs it was becoming apparent that I could not handle these long-term. Overall a very detail-orientated, tight, forward, coherent speaker that grabs your attention and doesn't let go. Microdynamics throughout the range were fantastic (minus the lowest end) so if a speaker capable of resolving absolutely everything is what you want I would seriously put these on your short-list.

Opera Seconda
These are essentially the polar-opposite of the Focals. A little wooly, very warm, but not too stuffy allowing a fairly good sense of space and clear center image. Low-end extension was very good albeit not as good as I expected given the cabinet size, I was definitely hoping for more impact. High frequencies were very easy to listen to, very smooth, but decay ended a little too abruptly and microdetail was lacking for my tastes. One thing to note versus all the other speakers here is the incredible craftmanship - nothing even remotely came close! Admittedly, I'm a sucker for a great sounding, great looking speaker. This speaker got my foot tapping early on and overall just a fun speaker! Overall this speaker would cause me to tinker too much trying to extract more detail.

Dynaudio Excite X38
Having never heard a Dynaudio speaker before, the immediate familiarity coming from and listening to many Totems was staggering. And from there the Dynaudio was a very different flavour. The frequency range was significantly more coherent, it never felt like anything was missing. Bass was tight, highs were natural, moderately-well detailed and smooth with a beautiful midrange. Imaging was ok but not great - the image was there but it could have been more solid, but instead seemed like the sound was mainly coming from speakers than converging to a center point. Decay was too short and very neutral in its presentation where I prefer for a little bit forward presentation to keep me engaged. The lack of clear imaging and overall "neutralness" left me feeling a bit bored. Perhaps a different amp or preamp could spice things up.

The ATC was another very neutral speaker and was nearly ready to roll my eyes as I started to play my first song (Norah Jones - Feelin' the same way DSD64). But as I let things play out, I became more or more engaged, getting a sense of being "there" with the musician listening live. Most notably was as soon as I put on some acoustic guitar - I was floored. The body and dimensionality that the ATC brought forth was stunning. This was another very coherent speaker, nothing felt lacking except a some impact. I suspect the closed-box design is why this is. Highs were very well defined, decay was moderate to excellent, imaging was rock solid in the middle, mids were layered and detailed and lows very acute(?).
The bass was present, I could hear it extend very low (Massive Attack - Angel anyone?) but it was very bizarre as I couldn't feel it. The ATCs are very revealing of your music played (and I suspect components too). The ATCs sounded significantly more, or less, dynamic depending on which files I played. Years ago I had a pair of nearfield studio monitors from Yamaha which triggered some familiarity. For whatever reason, I played with the EQ in JRiver and these speakers could easily be tweaked using that alone and do it accurately. Overall, this speaker is the most natural and realistic portrayal of instruments and voices with incredible body placed smack-dab in the middle. However, I think the get the most out of these I would need more power as I suspect these were not as dynamic as they could have been given my amp was being pushed out of Class A.

Verity Audio Finn
I had never heard of these Canadian speakers before but were brought in for a try. The cabinets are stunningly beautiful and very efficient relative to everything else at 91db. However this was the shortest audition (close to the Focals) because the highs were just too overwhelming. Either the audio designs of the speaker didn't agree with me or the synergy with my gear was missing but things ended quickly here. Maybe a SET tube amp would fair better for my tastes. I listened to a few songs but couldn't get over how overwhelming the top-end was, which could be characterized as incredibly detailed, forward very airy, textured but seemed to be lacking body and weight. If you enjoy the Focal Sopras and looking for some competition, try these as they might be right up your alley.

Harbeth Super HL Plus
Quite a contrast from the Finn, this was about the polar opposite again. I knowHarbeths are renowned for their vocal reproduction so I queued these up immediately and with female voices, I was not left wanting anything, but male voices seemed a little stuffy. Overall, voices were silky smooth with just enough detail to feel that I wasn't missing anything but the smallest of microdetail. Decay of instruments was a little short, imaging was very solid in the middle, and acoustic guitar had a wonderful weight behind it. I can see why these are often referred to as "polite". The bass seemed to stop a little too short and not getting quite low enough, and lacking impact. If I had any negatives, it's that I wish these were a bit more engaging and had more air to notes. It got me thinking that my tube preamp with some RCA Cleartops or Teles could open these up a touch. I spent a surprisingly long time with these, not because I absolutely loved them but because I just enjoyed listening to music on them. Going through the songs I was looking to pick things apart but ended up listening, almost singing along. I'd like to go back and listen to more Harbeths and fortunately the dealer had the 30.1 and 40.1 as well.

Raidho XT-1 Stand Mount
This little guy was on the showroom floor and only heard it in passing on what looked like a Hegel H80 or Hegel H160. This thing was incredibly musical, VERY detailed but for me, just smooth enough not to be irritating like the Focals or Veritys. Imaging was pinpoint and music seemed just flow. I walked throughout the store, standing in the "sweet spot" to being way behind or off to the left, and these things filled the whole showroom with a beautiful and engaging sound that never had me feeling like I was missing anything. Someone was auditioning them and potentially bought them so I didn't get a chance to listen. The low-end was surprising given the size but not overall fulfilling. The price on these is staggering as the cabinet is smaller than a 12-pack of beer but retail at ~$7,500.

I was very eager to try some Audio Note speakers but the dealer said they're probably too efficient and recommends them generally for tube guys. Unfortunate but c'est la vie.

Going forward, I'd like to try some Totem Forest Signatures, Monitor Audio Platinum 100 II, more Harbeths and ATC, with and without my gear to check on capabilities and synergy of gear. Maybe even cart my Arros around to do direct A/B comparisons because I hate taking home a bunch of gear, because as a younger guy, I usually get grief if I don't buy things. The point of going from an Arro up to say a Hawk or equiv. price range has made me realize that I don't want to spend money if it's not a significant upgrade. This will likely be a journey to finding the right one as I'm not keen on buying and selling a bunch of stuff to see how I feel about it. One dealer made me chuckle as we got chatting about this somehow, which turned into him trying to tell me about all the things I will be buying from him in the future.

Thanks for reading.

Great review M. I would add to this list some vintage speakers, not necc easy to find.

JBL L36 or L 100, Mission 770 II, B&W DM 7MKII, Tangent RS4, KEF 105.2, If you can find them, Alison AL 130U. These are just examples of some vintage speakers (mostly from the 70's) that would be a better value and have features new speakers costing less than $1500 won't have.

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