A short discussion on speakers and a brand survey

The speaker is the component that interacts the most with the room. When a speaker designer designs his speaker, he must have in mind some parameters for the room in which the speaker is to be placed. Traditionally, big speakers are designed for bigger rooms and small speakers are designed for smaller rooms. In Singapore, almost all our rooms are small or 'tiny'. My listening room is technically 12'x13', but for bass purposes its larger thanks to thin partition walls :)

Paradoxically, buying a speaker is the easiest and most difficult aspect of assembling your system. Buying a speaker is easy because you can easily hear differences in speakers as well as the general character of the speakers.

Buying a speaker is really hard because of the bewildering amount of choices available and for long-term satisfaction, you have to really look hard for the one that matches your current  and  future musical tastes. Upgrading a speaker is even more difficult as your current speaker is probably so ideally suited to you that in order to find a speaker better that it, you have to look to spend nearly twice as much! [My Triangle Zephyrs at S$1280 are a case in point.]

Speaker Buying Advice
 I get asked so often about this topic by friends, colleagues and people over the net so here is my oft-repeated advice. The initial part replicates my equipment opinion on some speakers. Also keep in mind that I take Singapore prices into consideration - some brands may be more aggressive in pricing in overseas markets.

Yes, many people look to me for speaker advice, especially at the budget end. Fortunately, I have a pair of Tannoy M2s ready for demo in my office :)  To simplify things for beginners, I give them 2 diametrically opposed choices:

The mellow, darker Tannoy M2 sound. Less detail due to cheaper tweeters, but sounds more 'grown-up' than the Ms.
The bright and bouncy Mordaunt Short Ms10is or Ms20i (thanks to deep price cuts Ms20i is only slightly more expensive than the M2s)

The M2s sound good in my office, but I know its hard to make them sound good; you must have a really good source. Also, most are attracted to the bouncy sound of the Ms, which good well with budget components.

Then you might ask me, isn't there any speaker that sounds, like, in-between the 2? I've listened to KEF (harsh), Mission (dull) and I haven't found it yet. But reliable ears say that the B&W DM302 is a good middle ground. (but B&W is relatively pricey in Singapore. Blame it on the distributor).

 What Brand to Buy?

I think there is a 'brand' sound. For big speaker manufacturers with seperate lines of speakers, there is a 'line' sound. So, if you spend more on an better model, you get more of the same, as the more expensive model is better than the less expensive model (assuming that the more expensive model is not of a materially different design -- such as a switch for standmount to floorstanding).

See my glowing reviews elsewhere :) [Norman Audio Works]

Joseph Audio
Joseph Audio's advertising campaign features the fact that their speakers break into the 'best of show' at Stereophile's hi-fi shows. Also, they have a nice range (7, 7 sig, 22, 25, 30, 50) of 6 speakers that scale nicely in terms of price and performance. Their most expensive speaker costing $9k thereabouts only. Metal woofers/silk dome tweeter combination on all but their top 2 models may require some getting used to, but count me amongst the impressed. :) [KH marketing]

2 series: the budget minded Revelation series and the more upmarket Transcedence series. Somehow, I think that the Josephs and the Hales are Very American Speakers and they look the part. Put in a lot of power and they play loud! Think life-like dynamics, but for the budget minded Revelations, some midrange magic appears to have been sacrificed. Still worth an audition, especially since the dealers carry very desirable amplifiers brands as well, like Jadis... drool [Reference Audio]


Mordaunt Short
Mordaunt Short has perhaps one of the largest and most confusing range of speakers - the Ms series. Starting from the Ms05 up to the Ms50 (the last I heard, could be more :)), with numerous 'pearl' and 'classic' iterations along the way. In general, the progression Ms05-10i Pearl-20i Pearl shows improvements along the way (Ms 20i louder than better perhaps). After that, the series becomes problematic.

I say problematic because you notice the speakers becoming larger and larger with only moderate increases in cost. This is a big no-no as this means they are cutting corners on cabinet construction. Also, I think the drivers for the bigger speakers are basically the same quality as the cheaper models.

Conclusion? I would say that sound quality for the Ms series plateaus at the Ms20i Pearl. The only reason why you would buy a bigger Ms series speaker is that you have a large room and you need it to play louder. I have listened to the huge Ms50i, and really, it does about the same as the Ms10i Pearl on good stands. 

 I would really like to recommend the Ms10i Classic, which is supposed to be twice the price of the Ms10i Pearl by UK prices. However, Pearl is a volume item, so you see aggressive price cuts. The Classic, not being a volume item, doesn't get that kind of price cuts.

To summarise their 'sound': bright, bouncy, plenty of apparent detail, too much too some, but detail is etched and hollow compared to more expensive speakers. Also, they do sound like small speakers (which they are). Note: New series of Ms coming out (new model=new review in Hi-Fi mags=new awards). At this the budget level, changes are only cosmetic/different voicing, so discounted Ms are still great buys.

Where to listen: whenever you find a shop willing to demo.

Moving to the premier line, the Performance Series. There's only one place in the whole of Singapore where you can hear them, some obscure factory/warehouse place. They don't even bring them to Hi-Fi shows to demo. I haven't heard them yet, so I can't comment.

(Mordaunt Short has since gone bust but was bought over by the same group that owns Cambridge Audio. I've not seen the new MS models yet...)



Major lines:

The M series - traditional design (replaced by the MX series)
The R series - slightly more upmarket and less bulky than the M series.
The Hexagonal 'Profile' Series - dual concentric driver
The 'D' series - regular box, but slants at the top where the drivers are mounted - dual concentric driver
Westminster - kitchen cabinet - dual concentric driver

Sound: On the mellow side. Is this the 'British' sound? . However, speaker designs are well executed and their innovative drivers work. The Westminster sounds wonderful.

Sadly, the focus on Tannoy would be their budget line of M1-M2-M3-M4 and not the lines with the dual concentric drivers. The M3 costs as much as the 631SE (631SE is smaller than the M2/Ms10i!). However, many people fail to see the virtues of the 631SE, whereas the loudness of the M3 is easily appreciated.

I like the mature grown up sound of the M series. Its a matter of opinion why I call the Missions 'dull' and this fine. Like my title page says, your opinion is as good as mine. The M series as a home theatre set-up was favourably reviewed by Stereophile Guide to Home Theatre.

Where to listen: Tat Chuan, the distributor. Adelphi first floor.



Sister company of Mordaunt Short, but with a more upscale line of speakers. Epos is also highly recommended in Singapore whenever the distributor, Absolute Sound has sales, Dec'97 - ES14 for $700 (no kidding). But with the economy and the ridiculous pound, you'll have to wait. 

The line: ES12, ES14 standmounts. ES22,25, 30 etc floorstanders

Moving from the standmounts to the floorstanders a huge jump in price (about double the price). If you read my comments about Ms, you'll know that this is as should be. It is safe to say that the more expensive the model, the better it is.

Sound: Unique. First off, you require at least 100 w of power. I've heard my friend's Epos ES11 powered by Cyrus pre/power with PSX. Sounds closed-in and slightly congested. In the demo showroom, ES12 is demoed with at least 100 w of Classe amplification.

Assuming you have the requisite amplification, the Epos sound is open, bouncy, with plenty of rhythm and pace. Treble energy is moderate, neither bright or dark. Soundstaging is relatively weak, a trade-off for the bouncy sound. I wouldn't call the Epos sound 'coloured', but it is unique. A mix between the bouncy sound and the slight lower-midrange prominence I think. But I'll defer to any Epos owners who can provide a better description.

(Went bust with MS, bought over by Creek. Hasn't reappeared in Singapore yet)


 Drool, drool. But bad pound. Baaad pound Wait for the pound to drop.

Proac has 3 lines:
Studio - moderately priced floorstanders (relative...)
Tablettes - 2 superb minimonitors
Response - 1 minimonitor and a whole load of amazing floorstanders

The Singaporean will be most interested in the Tablette 50, Tablette 50 Signature and the Response 1 SC, and even perhaps the Studio 150. The Response 1 SC is only a few hundred dollars more than the Signature, so you might want to plump for the Response. Still, the 50 Signature is a fabulous speaker.

The Studio series are actually very good speakers, though they have stiff competition. Their presentation is more relaxed than their more expensive brethern, the bass is a tad slower and with less impact, the imaging is not the stunning pin-point type, but the sheer evenhandedness of its presentation makes the Studio speakers very musical.

The Proac Tablette 50 Signature is the same price as the Studio 150, but you have to add $900 worth of stands to the Tablette :) The Tablette is an upfront and lively speaker with pinpoint imaging and plenty of detail. The reason you would upgrade to a 1SC would be slightly more body and warmth. The Tablette can sound a tad relentless at times. Of course, theres not much bass to speak of (REL Strata II would be a great upgrade), and it has a bit of the 'small-speaker sound'. On points, I would say that it edges out my Triangle Zephyrs (but the Tablettes would definitely need a subwoofer if I were to live with them for the longer term). As for the more expensive Proacs, if you can afford them, you don't need to my help to get good sound, just buy a full Proac/AR system from Advance Synergy :)

Where to listen: Advance Synergy - Adelphi 2nd floor (also sells Aerial speakers, but they're huge)


MORE TO COME... Models change, voicings may change etc. Alway trust your ears.

B & W
Makes a reasonable range of speakers, including some flagship products. As far as I can tell, there are only 3 places which bring in B & W speakers. Elpa, the distributor. A shop at Parkway Parade and Emjay at Peninsula (parallel, not warranty from Elpa). Klas Audio brings in B & W occasionally [they can just walk upstairs to Elpa and get 1 set and sell them to you, so why not just buy from Elpa? :)] The fact that parallel imports exist might hint at the prices of B & W speakers, but really they're not that bad and B & W should be one of the brands you should evaluate. It is also one of the most aggressive advertisers in UK Hi-Fi mags, and it gets a lot of nice reviews from certain UK Hi-Fi mags (go figure).

The Line:

  • DM302, DM601, DM 602 series
  • P4 and P5
  • CDM 1SE, CDM 2SE, CDM 7
  • The 800 'Matrix' series - newest range just out
  • Other very expensive speakers.

DM=digital monitor, CDM=compact digital monitor. Which doesn't tell you anything anyway. There's a variety of standmounts and floorstanders.

Generally neutral. Very reasonable and quite 'hi-fi' sounding speakers. Strangely, the 2 models I have heard have seperate idiosyncrasies confirmed by many others but never mentioned by UK Hi-Fi mags. Hmmm....

B & W DM302:.
5 stars, Stereophile Budget Component of the year finalist. Costs about $390 in Singapore. Checking the UK prices and converting:

  • B & W DM302 - 140 pounds - S$390
  • Ms 10i - 140 pounds - S$199
  • Tannoy 631SE - 170 pounds - S$375

UK magazines often compare DM302 to Ms10is, Tannoy M2s etc. In Singapore, we have to compare it with the Tannoy 631SE, cheaper System Audios etc etc. Fortunately, The DM302 is far superior to the Ms10i and Tannoy M2, and so it has a fighting chance against the others. This leads me to think that theres something wrong with UK 'list prices'. The 302 sounds more opened, detailed, and full-bodied than the Ms10i or M2. If I were assembling a first Hi-Fi system for $1,500, I would seriously consider the 302s. Its that good, and in this respect the magazines are correct.

Now the nit-picking. The bass is more or less non-existent, which is no worse than speakers of this sort, and I would prefer better quality midrange than good bass at this price anyhow. But the thing is the midrange of the 302 has a slight 'lift' and a slightly nasal quality. It also sounds a bit ragged at the upper end.

Comparing it to the much smaller Tannoy 631SE, the B&W sounds rough at the edges, however, it does sound more lively and energetic. If I had to buy a $390 speaker. I would probably get a 302. For a bit more, I could get the Ms10i Classic, which wins on points. However, the Ms10i Classic still sounds thinner than the 302. 302 is recommended but you must try to see whether you can live with the slight nasality.

B & W CDM 1/1SE
Numerous awards, including a coveted 'class B' rating in Stereophile. I have to say: duh?, its good, but not that good that it can share the space with the Proac Response 1SC and Platinum Studio.

When you listen to it, it basically sounds fine. All very pleasant and all that. A while later, you notice the bass and wonder 'doesn't the bass' sound funny? Is it the room? Based on observations from others and my own listening experience, I conclude that the CDM 1 does have a, ummm unique bass sound which you have to listen to to see if you can live with. It also doesn't play very loud and doesn't have a 'big speaker' sound. You might seriously want to consider the P5 which costs the same, but you save on stands.

I also understand that B&W speakers are slightly more difficult to drive than say, the Ms and Tannoys, but then, so are many great speakers, so please, no NAD 312, Rotel 920, etc, for them. Haven't heard the others yet, but B&W should be a serious contender if you're getting new speakers. But you must listen to them.

B & W Nautlius 805
Aha! Class B rating as well. Where does that put the CDM1SE then? The class B rating for the N805 is justified. No audible Kevlar-nasality here. A very neutral sounding speaker with some midrange magic. No bass of course. Pity about the price from Elpa....


Where to listen: Elpa. Maybe that place in Parkway. Haven't been there.