As you might have already noticed from my blogs, I am a music maniac. One of the factors influencing your music listening experience is what speakers you use. I was lucky right from the beginning, my parents are music maniacs as well. In this blog I introduce you to the speakers I listened while living at my parents, and three pairs of speakers I bought myself.
I must admit that I never did a really thorough research about speakers and acoustics. I always listened to my ears, how much I like what I hear. This made my journey in listening to music a bit of a crisscross :-)
The early years: Acoustic Research AR 8 LS
While most people in the communist block had only a Sokol radio at home, I had the luxury of listening to a HiFi system imported from the West. Components were carefully chosen based on recommendations from the friends of my father. The speakers were made by Acoustic Research, a pair of AR 8 LS.
I did not know much about speakers at that time: there was no Internet yet, and no magazines about hifi yet (at least not in the remote part of Hungary, where I lived). The only thing I knew that I could not hear this level of sound quality anywhere else. I loved loud music, and even if these were bookshelf speakers, they could easily fill a 5m x 8m room. But when my parents were away and I had the time, I built a small triangle and listened to them just from a meter away.
Many years later I learned that the AR 8 LS was the smallest of a series of speakers. It was built for music enthusiasts, but this particular type was mostly used by professionals in studios as near field monitors. What a coincidence :-)
The university years: Altec Lansing 2.1 system
The AR speakers sounded fantastic, but as I started to listen to music elsewhere I suddenly realized that they did not have much bass. Or rather at that time I did not know yet, that others had too much bass. So, when I had a chance to buy something for myself, I ended up with an Altec Lansing self-powered 2.1 speaker system. Obviously, I did not have much budget, and these I could source at a relatively good price (even if this price was still 5x more than anyone around me would spend on speakers…). I do not remember the exact type any more, but it had a huge sub-woofer and the satellite speakers were two way.
Listening to Pink Floyd was fantastic on these speakers and the explosions in movies sounded terrifying. When we had a 5m x 5m room full with guests dancing, everyone wanted to buy similar speakers for home. However classical music or music with acoustic instruments did not sound nearly as good as on the AR 8 LS.
By that time I had a friend at university who brought me to various hifi events and I quickly became aware of the limitations. I fell in love with Linn and Heed Audio at that time, but as a university student they were out of reach for me.
My first larger salary: JVC EX-A5 wood cone system
When my Altec Lansing 2.1 system died with a bit of smoke I had to look for something new. I remembered reading about JVC wood cone systems earlier, so I visited a JVC show room to listen to one. I liked it, but it was expensive. A few months later, when I got my first relatively good salary for teaching SUSE Linux at a bank, finally I bought an EX-A5 mini system. It is a complete mini system: an amplifier built together with a radio and a CD/DVD player bundled together with a pair of two way wood cone speakers.
It did not have the extreme bass of the Altec Lansing 2.1 systems I had earlier, but for the rest it had a fantastic, well balanced natural sound. Suddenly I had to listen to my whole music collection again: all music had a lot more more detail. The speakers can fill a smaller room if necessary, but best listened to just as the AR speakers: as near field monitors. And many recording studios use them as such.
My dream speakers: Heed Enigma 5
Do you remember Heed from a few paragraphs earlier? For the last couple of years I am lucky enough to listen to a pair of Heed Enigma 5 speakers. I first listened to them during my university years at a factory visit. I did not know why, but no matter where I was in the room, I felt that instruments are all around me. It was a love at first sight, or rather at first listening. These are non-directional or omnidirectional speakers. The speakers are not directed at the listener, but slightly upwards. What it means that you do not have to sit in a traditional triangle setting to enjoy a perfect sense of spatial sounds.
With the Enigma 5 there are no compromises. Bass sounds perfectly just as everything else. Almost everything sounds much better than anywhere else. Even with speakers costing more than an average car I often had the problem that music came directly from the speaker, there was no sense of having a band in front of you. With ominidirectional speakers this problem is gone. However there are some recordings which do not sound that well on them: some persecution recordings sound strange, and the problems of some low quality recordings are over emphasized by this setup.
What is next?
Most likely nothing :-) Sometimes I think about connecting the wood cone speakers as an alternative to the current system. They sound a lot better with the current amplifier than with the bundled one. However, a switch between the speakers would most likely alter the sound of the system, and I would not want that. Luckily there are really just a very few recordings which do not play well with the Enigma 5. I can listen to them using headphones, and that hides away most of the recording problems as well.