Q: I recently fell in love with the MartinLogan ElectroMotion ESL X floor-standing speakers. They have a very warm, rich sound and the best soundstage I've ever heard. My problem is placing them properly, as ideal placement in my room would have the sound blocked by furniture that I would rather not relocate.
Do you have any recommendations for bookshelf speakers that deliver a similar warm, musical sound, even if the soundstage is not quite as impressive? I'd like to stay under $2,500 a pair, but am willing to spend up to $5,000 if the sound quality justifies the cost.
A: As you mentioned, proper speaker placement is critical for sound quality and creating a three-dimensional soundstage that makes you feel like you are there at the performance. To get the best results with bookshelf speakers, put them on stands and place them as best you can given the furniture and surroundings.
If you want a really impressive soundstage, you need something that uses unconventional speaker technology. I will start with a few premium-priced options for you, then move on to some choices for those with a smaller budget.
Although they are not bookshelf speakers, I suggest you check out the Ohm Walsh line from Ohm Acoustics. These patented speakers use a special driver (called a Walsh driver, after inventor Lincoln Walsh) that is placed on top of the cabinet rather than in front. This is effectively the same thing as a bookshelf speaker on a stand, and it should be high enough that the sound will not be affected by furniture. The sound quality is warm, lifelike and involving. One of the most common comments about them is they sound like music, not speakers. You also get a huge, open soundstage with precise placement of the performers, and unlike electrostatic speakers this soundstage can be enjoyed from almost anywhere in the room. Ohm Walsh speakers are handmade to order in the United States and start at $1,400 per pair. If you want even better performance, move up to the Walsh 3000 ($4,000 per pair) or Walsh 4000 ($5,600 per pair). ohmspeaker.com
I just got back from the AXPONA (Audio Expo North America) show in Chicago, where I heard quite a few very expensive speakers, many of which did not sound very good despite their five-figure prices. But a premium speaker brand that sounded absolutely great is Alta Audio. These speakers use a ribbon tweeter to create a beautiful, sweet sound and an open, airy soundstage. The Alta Audio io bookshelf speakers at $3,500 a pair are worth a look and a listen. alta-audio.com
The Heil Air Motion Transformer (Heil AMT) is a special tweeter that sounds wonderful and creates a very realistic three-dimensional space. The $999 a pair GoldenEar Technology Aon 3 bookshelf speakers use an advanced version of this tweeter that incorporates a folded metal ribbon and very strong magnets. If you are after warm sound, I would pair them with tube amplification. goldenear.com
A more conventional Heil AMT is found in Emotiva Airmotiv speakers. The $399 T-Zero tower speakers have been a hit recommendation this year, and readers who purchased them continue to contact me with raves. The Emotiva Airmotiv B1 bookshelf speakers are only $229 a pair, and not only do they share the sonic character of the T-Zero towers, they make much more bass than you would expect from the small size. emotiva.com
Send questions to Don Lindich at firstname.lastname@example.org. Get recommendations and read past columns at soundadvicenews.com.