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Standmount Speakers suitable for SET 300B / 2A3

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Beast_of_burden

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Extended listening Focal Aria 906 with Coincident Frankenstein 300B monoblocks.

This is a very different kind of speaker, it does not sound like anything I have owned until now. I am quite surprised and amazed even. It sounds extremely luxurious, the closest I have heard to these are B&O speakers. The sound these speakers make is as luxurious as their looks. The sound has a level of sophistication that I have rarely experienced. The casual unsuspecting visitor will be immediately taken in by their uber sophistication. Heavily voiced to sound a certain way, it has me wondering how they are doing so much processing in analog. No particular frequency stands out but upon closer inspection nothing is missing either. All players in the orchestra are audible and visible but the lead is not given too much prominence. The backing vocalists and accompanying band share the stage with the lead. Bass guitar, snare drum, voices, guitars, flute all have excellent texture. You can hear the cymbals but the resonant energy i.e the shimmer and decay are entirely muted or missing in my system with the 300B amps. This is the one sore point I have with these speakers. Same is true of trumpets, they totally lack bite and are instead presented in a rounded manner. Trumpets sound much nicer in real than on many speakers, many speakers tend to overdo it and sound quite harsh. But on these they sound sumptuous but nothing like the real thing.

If you are reading the above thinking I am being critical, you would be mistaken. Taken as a whole these are rather special. These speakers seem to be projecting sound rearward than forward, as a result it feels like listening to a band playing unplugged. Blues guitar sounds absolutely languid. These speakers are creating an effect that is remarkably pleasant to listen to . Even if you listen critically you will be amazed and before long find yourself grooving to the tune. These things can groove. For casual listening they are stunning mainly because just about everything sounds great and the high groove factor. I don't think they are optimal for the nearfield as they need space to sound their best but they sound excellent at low volume . I am super chuffed that I got these, they are a totally different take on speaker design. An altogether different experience. The 300Bs are doing great with these speakers.
 

Beast_of_burden

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As it turns out the holographic presentation described above has a lot to do with the Acoustic Portrait Swara Headphone amplifier which is currently pulling duty as a preamplifier. I replaced the Swara HP amp and replaced it with a Korg USB DAC/headphone amp and the holography was gone. It sounds good but the sense space space/reverb around instruments and voices is gone. Just to confirm, I put the Swara HP amp back in the chain and connected the Korg DACs fixed line level out to the input on the Swara. The weight in the lower registers returned along with sense of air. Fat bass guitar and trumpets. The textures all returned. I am absolutely stunned that a Rs 20k headphone amplifier can do this level of holography. There is something special going on between this unassuming HP amp, the 300B amps and the Focal 906s. The 300B amps are producing superb bass as long as the HP amp is driving them. I bought the Swara HP amp as I was very impressed with the resolution it has in the bass and it’s super quiet. I think the sound fully blooms after 30 minutes of playing. My Swara HP amp is serial #001 the very first one ☝️. It sounds dry and matter of fact with AkG cans(AKG house sound) and lush with Senn HD650s. I went through a phase with headphones but my ears kept overheating. I digress.

I had mentioned on the NAD thread that the C325BEE has me questioning my allegiance to tubes, and now this. Looks like I will have to switch loyalties. But this has proven to me the importance of a good preamplifier in a tube setup, I will be getting the Swara tube preamplifier tomorrow on trial and see how it performs in comparison to the Swara HP amp. It has its job cut out, let’s see.

I've heard a few focals, including the electra 1028 (or was it 1027?) be and I would call focals in general mediocre if I am being extremely kind. At the time I remember thinking "Who would pay money for this?" so I am surprised to read such a writeup. If you truly enjoy it then that's excellent, good for you and genuinely happy to hear you enjoy them so much.
 
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Beast_of_burden

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I've heard a few focals, including the electra 1028 (or was it 1027?) be and I would call focals in general mediocre if I am being extremely kind. At the time I remember thinking "Who would pay money for this?" so I am surprised to read such a writeup. If you truly enjoy it then that's excellent, good for you and genuinely happy to hear you enjoy them so much.
Focals are finicky speakers and quite inscrutable, they need to be placed properly and partnered with the right electronics. I have heard focal bookshelf speakers a few years back from the 700 series and I found it extremely sibilant on voices, it was a marantz AVR doing duty in the store. This is voiced very differently, it's difficult to provoke that kind of aggression. These newer Focals have huge potential when partnered with the right electronics, but they can be quite underwhelming on first listen. They aren't like Brit monitors which are far easier to find synergy with partnering amplifer and far more placement friendly. Also it's a matter of taste, these aren't vivid like full rangers, infact the exact opposite of the spectrum.
 

square_wave

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Aug 16, 2006
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Cons
Very picky with placement
Treble is recessed, miss the cymbals
Tonally lightweight
Not revealing but resolution to spare(weird)
You are not alone to land in this predicament. Whenever I have heard focal speakers, I land up in the same situation. Somehow, "focal - resolution" does not equate to hearing music in its natural form. Highs are in your face but you are "somehow " missing details and your brain is looking for it which leads to mind fatigue ! Their top of the line speakers are a different game altogether. I hear the same problems with the low and mid level B&W speakers as well. In contrast, the blumenhofer's horn (which I own ) sounds laid back and time aligned with the woofer but when there is details in the recording, it is presented its full resolution without drawing attention to itself.
 

Beast_of_burden

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You are not alone to land in this predicament. Whenever I have heard focal speakers, I land up in the same situation. Somehow, "focal - resolution" does not equate to hearing music in its natural form. Highs are in your face but you are "somehow " missing details and your brain is looking for it which leads to mind fatigue ! Their top of the line speakers are a different game altogether. I hear the same problems with the low and mid level B&W speakers as well. In contrast, the blumenhofer's horn (which I own ) sounds laid back and time aligned with the woofer but when there is details in the recording, it is presented its full resolution without drawing attention to itself.
I heard the Blumenhofer Fun horns with the Einstein amp at the HFV meet in Indiranagar several years ago. Definitely more real than these Focals, but speaking from memory the Fun horns were doing scale rather well and I felt they were characterized by a certain lightness as well but a good deal more vivid in the midrange. The Focals are on the impressionistic side of the spectrum. The 906s are really good at conveying the big picture, the mood and the feel of a performance rather well subject to the usual caveats.

On the subject of Focal 's hot tweeters, these 906s appear to be voiced very differently, they are very laid back in the treble. The measurements corroborate this. Source: Soundstagehifi.com

fr_listeningwindow.gif

I am quite perplexed with the deep trough in the treble. As noted already, the midrange and bass are superbly textured and big - I suppose this is the opposite of sounding smaller and tonally denser. This combined with their innate speed makes them groovemeisters. Occassionally one does want a bit more grip, a bit more grasp of the notes and voices.

This poster on ASR sums it up rather well. I hope it's doesn't violate forum rules.


Nice! I am a big fan of the sound of French speakers—Triangle, in particular, of which I own the Celius, Titus, Sextan, Aliote, and Sub Espace in a 7.1 configuration. Triangle, Focal, Cabasse, Elipson, and JM Reynaud speakers do not all sound the same, but there is a pretty consistent lightness and speed to the sound—in other words, the bass is never overcooked and plodding, and the midrange is not burdened by chestiness in voices, etc.

I have heard the Cabasse MC40 bookshelf speakers and they too convey the same sense of speed and lightness. As I said it's a different take on speaker sound and something I have grown to appreciate over the past few days.
 

fLUX

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Focals are finicky speakers and quite inscrutable, they need to be placed properly and partnered with the right electronics. I have heard focal bookshelf speakers a few years back from the 700 series and I found it extremely sibilant on voices, it was a marantz AVR doing duty in the store. This is voiced very differently, it's difficult to provoke that kind of aggression. These newer Focals have huge potential when partnered with the right electronics, but they can be quite underwhelming on first listen. They aren't like Brit monitors which are far easier to find synergy with partnering amplifer and far more placement friendly. Also it's a matter of taste, these aren't vivid like full rangers, infact the exact opposite of the spectrum.

Do agree that Focals don't pair really well with Marantz, partnered with PM8006 they sounded alright but nothing exceptional. Having spent a good deal on my HT setup and speakers was not in a position to spend an equal amount on amplifiers so was looking for alternatives and got a good match with IndiQ Saptak PA which by themselves are quiet neutral and let the chain dictate the signature. Further paired with a Denafrip Ares II and a Nelson Pass ACP pre and saga+ tube buffer they sound exactly the way you have articulated it , I doubt that I could articulate it that well but can certainly co-relate with everything you have written.
 

Beast_of_burden

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Do agree that Focals don't pair really well with Marantz, partnered with PM8006 they sounded alright but nothing exceptional. Having spent a good deal on my HT setup and speakers was not in a position to spend an equal amount on amplifiers so was looking for alternatives and got a good match with IndiQ Saptak PA which by themselves are quiet neutral and let the chain dictate the signature. Further paired with a Denafrip Ares II and a Nelson Pass ACP pre and saga+ tube buffer they sound exactly the way you have articulated it , I doubt that I could articulate it that well but can certainly co-relate with everything you have written.
Nice DAC and preamplifier.

I've got the Acoustic Portrait Swara tube preamplifier in the house, let us see.
 

Beast_of_burden

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Tube Preamplifiers aren't working for me anymore, too vivid for my tastes. Some might say accurate, but I am tending towards a more lush, warm and easy on the ears sound. Strong pronounced bass is something I cannot do without. Sticking to the Acoustic Portrait HP amp as preamplifier for the foreseeable future, it's the one that a future contender needs to beat. I tried the NAD Preamplifier section of the C325BEE, the AP swara HP amp is still better, although a touch warmer. But the NAD preamplifier section is suiting my tastes as well.

As for the 300B + Aria 906, they take on the character of the Preamplifier and source in chameleon like fashion.the combination sounded vivid, fast, somewhat bright and very extended with the Swara tube Preamp. The bass was the strongest with the Swara tube preamplifier. The imaging is really good with Swara preamp, it's totally different from the swara HP amp though. My tastes are tending towards warm sound signature, plenty of resolution, air and imaging. The Aria 906s change colour dramatically between these two Preamplifiers. The speakers are quite special in many ways, keepers. They are mostly neutral, perhaps a bit warmish but the soundstage, imaging and light touch in the bass are excellent attributes that have won me over.

Today I took the trouble to listen to the Quad S2s with the 300B ams for the very first time. Sweet sweet music, so beautiful that I played Morph the Cat twice over. Beautiful bass, sweet midrange and treble. Here the cymbals splash quite a bit more relative to the Aria 906s. These feel like they do have a flatter frequency response. Smaller in scale comparatively but they are imaging champs in their own right. These are truly beautiful 8 watts, plenty of volume for my listening levels.

But I have arrived at a rather interesting conclusion as to the component that’s making the biggest contribution to this Uber refinement . It’s not the speaker cables for sure - using transparent monster speaker cable from more than 10 years ago. Mid fi AQ diamondback ICs and Coincident ICs for the amps. The Coincident amps and ICs are perhaps the only somewhat high end components. The rest is all cheap and hopelessly cheerful. The most cheerful is the Acoustic Portrait Headphone amplifier - in my book it’s a sleeper preamplifier. I am not even using the XLR input. I am using 3.5 mm to RCA adapter at the Headphone out. It’s a mess of wires but who cares when it sounds this good.

Next up I will try the super low sensitivity Spendor classic 3/5s and see how they fare with 300B amps. The 300B amps sound stout in the bass with the Quads as well as the Arias, that may not be true with the Spendors as they have very limited extension.
 

Beast_of_burden

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Some more rambling on preamps....

the preamplifier is the voice of the system, it influences the presentation in profound ways that simply cannot be described as subtle.
A good part of the NAD BEE amps is the preamplifier, when I connected to my 300B amps a large part of the NAD sound came through.

On another thread I had argued that adding a tube pre to a SS amp was a bandaid at best. Tube Pre as I have experienced is no panacea as per my experience, a good solid state preamplifier can just as well deliver good results. If you aren’t happy with your system, I will concede that you should try a different preamplifier before anything else. Speaker placement too.

These days most DACs have a pretty neutral presentation aside from DACs with special output stages that have been chosen to sound a certain way. Most Entry level DACs to me sound similar and I don’t find them lacking in resolution. In the right system, the Allo Revolution, Korg DS DAC, Apple dongle, Edirol USB sound card et al are all competitive and any one can provide a compelling experience. First get your system to sound good with a decent DAC like the Boss2 or Allo Revolution before thinking of buying a big dollar DAC. Then you might actually see value for the money that you paid.

But there is a driver section in every power amp and that can influence the presentation, but taken as a whole the power amp should be neutral and refined. However this isn’t always the case. Hard to say whether you are hearing the sound of the preamplifier or power amp. There is some merit in sourcing both preamp and power amp from the same manufacturer, but taken as a system it still might be fatiguing, bright , accurate, beautiful, rolled off, V curve, blah blah.

I have to conclude and with some sadness tell you, curating a system that you love is darned tough.
 

nn_in

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I heard the Blumenhofer Fun horns with the Einstein amp at the HFV meet in Indiranagar several years ago. Definitely more real than these Focals, but speaking from memory the Fun horns were doing scale rather well and I felt they were characterized by a certain lightness as well but a good deal more vivid in the midrange. The Focals are on the impressionistic side of the spectrum. The 906s are really good at conveying the big picture, the mood and the feel of a performance rather well subject to the usual caveats.

On the subject of Focal 's hot tweeters, these 906s appear to be voiced very differently, they are very laid back in the treble. The measurements corroborate this. Source: Soundstagehifi.com

View attachment 59471

I am quite perplexed with the deep trough in the treble. As noted already, the midrange and bass are superbly textured and big - I suppose this is the opposite of sounding smaller and tonally denser. This combined with their innate speed makes them groovemeisters. Occassionally one does want a bit more grip, a bit more grasp of the notes and voices.

This poster on ASR sums it up rather well. I hope it's doesn't violate forum rules.


Nice! I am a big fan of the sound of French speakers—Triangle, in particular, of which I own the Celius, Titus, Sextan, Aliote, and Sub Espace in a 7.1 configuration. Triangle, Focal, Cabasse, Elipson, and JM Reynaud speakers do not all sound the same, but there is a pretty consistent lightness and speed to the sound—in other words, the bass is never overcooked and plodding, and the midrange is not burdened by chestiness in voices, etc.

I have heard the Cabasse MC40 bookshelf speakers and they too convey the same sense of speed and lightness. As I said it's a different take on speaker sound and something I have grown to appreciate over the past few days.
I have owned Triangle comete aniv spkrs and your descriptions match very well. I still recall auditioning cabasse at proxfx barton center - as you mention the "speed" analogy is spot on.I moved to xavian and soundwise they seem to between brit and french spkrs.
 

Beast_of_burden

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I have owned Triangle comete aniv spkrs and your descriptions match very well. I still recall auditioning cabasse at proxfx barton center - as you mention the "speed" analogy is spot on.I moved to xavian and soundwise they seem to between brit and french spkrs.
Brits are famous for PRaT a.k.a Pace, Rhythm and Timing. French speakers too I suppose.
 

SwaroopKS

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Tube Preamplifiers aren't working for me anymore, too vivid for my tastes. Some might say accurate, but I am tending towards a more lush, warm and easy on the ears sound. Strong pronounced bass is something I cannot do without. Sticking to the Acoustic Portrait HP amp as preamplifier for the foreseeable future, it's the one that a future contender needs to beat. I tried the NAD Preamplifier section of the C325BEE, the AP swara HP amp is still better, although a touch warmer. But the NAD preamplifier section is suiting my tastes as well.

Does the AP headphone amp have pre-out or are you using the headphone out to connect to power amp?
 

Beast_of_burden

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That is really interesting! Have you by any chance compared the results with Swara tube preamp in chain?
Yep, I have posted my detailed impressions in an earlier post. The tube Preamplifier is far more vivid and resolving. As strong as the bass is on the HP amp, it's even stronger on the Swara tube amplifier. In the end I preferred the relatively neutral and some may say warmer presentation of the HP amplifier.
 

Beast_of_burden

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Today I took the trouble to listen to the Quad S2s with the 300B ams for the very first time. Sweet sweet music, so beautiful that I played Morph the Cat twice over. Beautiful bass, sweet midrange and treble. Here the cymbals splash quite a bit more relative to the Aria 906s. These feel like they do have a flatter frequency response. Smaller in scale comparatively but they are imaging champs in their own right. These are truly beautiful 8 watts, plenty of volume for my listening levels.
The Quad S2 needs a bit more power than 8 watts to sound good. After listening to several albums the 300B + Quad S2 combination didn't do it for me, there was a consistent lack or grooviness and warmth that was the Hallmark of the NAD + Quad S2 combination. The bass doesn't bloom with the 300B and overall sounds shut in and constricted. But the Quad S2s have much more extended treble compared to the Aria 906s. Ken Micallef has commented in the Stereophile review that the it didn't work for him with a Haut Brion. These speakers do need a bit more power based on my experience too.

The Aria 906s are back on the speaker stands and as ever they are groovemeisters. The Quad S2s are going back to my study paired with the NAD C325 BEE.

Ken Micallef's review does stand upto scrutiny But the Quad S2 doesn't appear to be an easy load on a low power amplifier, best paired to an amplifier with 40-50 watts.
 
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