Speakers....detail vs emotion or can we have both?

I’m sure we all have those extra special CD’s or records that give us that special something, whether it’s getting the air guitar out, shed the odd tear or start singing at the top of our voices. It’s why we buy our hi-fi, what music is all about & it’s called emotion. But can hearing every last detail on your favourite CD sometimes mask that inherent emotion in the music?

The reason I ask this is because 2 years ago I changed my speakers from an elderly pair of MA studio 6’s to a great pair of Spendor S3/5R2’s. The Spendors dig out detail in the music that the MA’s could only hint at & I love them. Yet there are certain CD’s (those special ones) that sometimes seem to have lost some of their original magic. Sure, I can hear nuances & notes I never realised were there but sometimes that original emotional clout can be missing. Beth Gibbons “out of season” is a classic example. I can now hear the intricacies of Rustin Man’s instrumental work in exquisite detail but to my ears & more importantly to my heart that original emotive soul stirring I got through the MA’s has been somehow slightly swamped.

I’d be really interested to hear of any similar speaker comparisons & any recommendations of a standmount that does the magic trick of combining detail & emotion would be gratefully received.

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Two months ago I upgraded from MA GX200 Gold (which, though modest, were a lot of fun with the new Naim system, which itself was a huge improvement over the previous Naim CD5i with NAD/Rotel amps) to massive Sehring Audio S913 (pics, and specs) and initially had a similar impression. The Sehrings have very low distortion and are much, much better speakers all around.

I realized that some tracks seemed to have lost a bit of their drama. E.g. I had always thought that the dramatic distortion in the bass in James Blake’s Limit to Your Love was part of the recording, but it turned out that in reality there’s less in the recording than I thought, and the rest was coming from the speakers. And I guess much of the drama was in hearing how the speakers were being pushed toward their limits. Similar for some voices, where the lower distortion initially felt like a loss of urgency.

It took me a week or two to get used to this. But! Since then I have listened to so much music and have found that the quality reproduction, the bass control, punch of drums, and mid-range clarity, especially in voices that are now singing right there in my room, is hitting my emotions hard.

I could not be happier, there’s detail and emotion, and I am jumping around or having a tear in my eye more than I ever did. I hope it goes this way for you, too. It might, however, depend on the character of the new speakers, too. I have never heard Spendors, but from what I read they were often characterized as a bit too polite for some people. This may be great for some music, but maybe not for all.

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I used to run a flat capped CD5 and Nait 5 with dynaudios. It didn’t have detail but bags of emotion. I then went down the classics route of a 202, 200 and NDX and some of those tracks you talk about just weren’t the same. The NDX just brought too much detail. I have now spent a lot more money trying to get that emotion back I had with the CD5/Nait 5. I have found it with an NDX2, 282, 200 but most importantly Kudos Titan 606s. For me they have emotion and detail. I get spine shivers all the time!

Speakers are so personal, and determine the character of a system more than any other component, that whatever anyone else finds does the trick may not for you.

Decades ago I found that ‘monitor’ type speakers with transmission line bass satisfy everything I want from speakers - being clear, natural sounding and full range with deep fast bass, and capable of playing pretty loud with low distortion, they present music well whether quiet or loud: solo piano, full orchestra, heavy rock, prog rock, opera, all sound good to me.

I never analyse the music produced by the system, only listen to and get engrossed in the music, so I can’t say what they do in hifi terminology.

(My speakers in chronological order since discovering this: IMF TLS50ii, IMF RSPM, PMC EB1i, PMC EB1i bass with ATC SM75-150 mid driver and Scanspeak tweeter. Best speakers I’ve ever heard: PMC MB2SE. None are standmounts - I doubt that standmounts would give sound satisfying to me, though of course it is possible that with a good sub they might.)

Edit: Correction to the above: the MB2SE is a standmount! However I think most people mean small speakers when they say standmount…

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As with changing speakers, ’upgrading’ electronics can also bring an initial disappointment on some albums and some tracks, even if the more expensive gear is more neutral, natural and less coloured.

We get used to a certain sound signature which often is possibly a little distorted, or ‘coloured’ might be a better term. When the offending component, or components, are exchanged for arguably more neutral and accurate kit, we often miss the colour we have become accustomed to.

I too run MA speakers (GX300 Golds) which I have owned throughout my entire Naim journey, from Uniti 2 to full 500 series, and I love them. But I am pretty sure they are far from neutral and I have become attached to their colour palette. I expect the inevitable speaker upgrade, when it comes, will be somewhat of a shock to the system, and I will need time to adjust to the added detail, control and neutrality more accomplished speakers will inevitably offer.

Apologies to the OP, as I cannot help with your central questions.

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I’ve found the “detail vs emotion” conundrum can be simply solved in my system by very careful use of the volume control.
There’s a threshold of presentation. Just slightly lower in volume details are more evident - and listening more attentively.
Just slightly higher in volume and saturation can make details more set into the presentation and the “feel” of what’s played comes across better.
So really Emotion = louder in my book :grinning:

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All that I can say is that speakers or systems who try to excel in neutrality have always sound soulless for me.
So a compromise is necessary, even if the sound is a bit coloured, a little bit, but engaging and creating emotions.
Personally I am more on the side of Sonus Faber, Harbeth, Apertura, Kharma…than Magico or ATC.

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FR, by the way, if everything is going as planned, Stefan Sehring will come around tomorrow and we’ll squeeze out the last few percent.

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Possibly different interpretation of the word ‘neutral’. To me neutral, when applied to a description of music reproduction means minimal distortion, where instruments and vocals sound natural and closer to reality.

Others might interpret the word neutral to mean unexciting and bland.

It was not a contradictory reply to your post Nigel. Just a thinking on the term neutral, or strict accuracy.
Naim has for instance a sound signature, a certain kind of character. It’s not strictly neutral, in my opinion. But I like it .

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Hi @devondick, this is one that I’ve struggled with for years and might only have stumbled upon an accidental answer recently.

The speakers I’ve had the longest in use have been the Guru QM10’s, which replaced B&W 805s. The overriding characteristic of the Gurus is definitely in the musical camp.

When I looked at upgrading them I tried all sorts, all at significantly more money, none came close, they might have some spotlight areas that were attractive but as a cohesive sound none could bring the connection, so the Gurus saw off all comers.

Through covid boredom I made a random purchase of the rave reviewed Kef Ls-50 metas, my rationale was they would go in second system (which also had gurus) as based on the reviews they could go louder.

The one limitation with Gurus is that for 90% of your listening life they go plenty loud, then you want to crank things a bit and their warning lights start dancing and you back them off. Now they say these lights are not necessarily a limiter more a quality of signal arbiter, but fear factor kicks in and I back them off.

Anyway the Kefs were interesting and took a lot of experimentation and run in but eventually I bit the bullet and left them on extended run in the main system, which is Naim based.

One thing I found was that I needed to play music louder to get the same involved experience, after that it was more of a level playing field and the Kefs have a ridiculous amount of transparency.

Most recently I added the Kc62 sub, driven if I am honest from the physical experience of London Grammar at Ally Pally end of 2021, the bass was incredible.

After much experimentation with cross over point and sub volume I’ve got it nicely dialled in and the sound is amazing.

However, I am once again listening to music at a much lower level and getting same enjoyment.

My verdict is that the hifi vs musical balance is mostly in the area of micro timing at the bottom end, the Gurus are acknowledged to be pretty special with their bass, not in the slam so much more the timing. With the sub correctly dialled in the Kefs have the same effect on the room that the Gurus did but do add their transparency.

For me the thing that shows this the most is can the music be enjoyed at lower levels as well as higher. Ironic given I went to the Kefs for more volume ……

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In the context of audio, I always struggle with the term neutral. Not a single component in an audio system is neutral. Every component, cable, connector and rack/shelve does something. How can you judge neutrality of a component that’s part of entire chain of non-neutral building blocks?

While at the same time, we don’t know how a recording sounded after mixing in studio in the first place. At that time, the processed recording is usually already miles away from the actual performance.

But maybe my thinking is wrong. :man_shrugging:t2:

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All is in the ear of the beholder. But for now I found my speakers which have both. Detail and dynamics… although not the top leaugue when it comes to specifications or measurements. But emotion…especially joy and pleasure…a lot! Without being too warm. In the past I have had ASW, Paradigm, Infinity… but my new Q Acoustics Concept 500 are a different league. So yes, in my honest opinion you can have both.

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Very interesting. This post has made me sit in silent contemplation for some time… so thank you Devon for that🙂
Thankfully we live in an age where we have some fantastic component choices however I do think that speaker choice is very personal and dependent on the type of music we like and How we like to listen.
BBC ls3/5 style monitors whose design principles are still evident in many popular speakers today sound fantastic in a small room but cannot produce the emotion that those seeking low frequency detail would want.

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That’s certainly been my experience throughout my journey with several of Mr. Surgeoner’s products, and, in answer to the O.P.'s question, this was never more shown to be the case than during a direct home comparison between my Neats and a pair of active ATCs.

As always though, my room, my ageing aural receptors, and my mood on the day.

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I’ve been through a 6 to 9 month period of trying to upgrade my speakers and the results were quite surprising. I have been using a pair of Kudos X2 that I bought with my first Naim kit in 2009. They have improved with every change of equipment up to 282 250DR and now onto Linn. I’ve tried speakers from Spendor, ProAc, Sonus Faber, ATC, PMC and Kudos S20 and ranging from £3k to £17k. Nothing I tried convinced me to change the X2’s as whilst they brought more detail and soundstage, they just weren’t as enjoyable to listen to. I had several experiences with dealers other than my preferred usual dealer and again I have been quite disappointed. Some lent the speakers to someone on home demo despite me booking a demo 4 weeks in advance, so after a 2 hour drive I was not very impressed. They preceded to offer me demos of speakers I knew weren’t suitable for various reasons. Other dealers couldn’t even be bothered to call me back, so they can’t be too desperate for the profit on the £10k to £20k speakers I wanted to listen to.
In the end it was the Kudos Titan range that got my vote and my money. A jump from the bottom of the Kudos ladder to the top. They bring all the fun and musicality of the little X2’s with the scale, dynamic and detail I wanted. Cheap………no, but worth every penny for me.
If you like what you’ve got but want more, go up the ladder with the brand you like, but make sure you compare them to others to be sure you like what you’re getting.

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A huge thank you for all the replies to my query. They all make very interesting reading with some spot on comments regarding among other things personal choice (Richardw), volume levels (Adam1 & Tobyjug) & particularly the effect “coloured” sound signatures of well loved components have on what we consider to be a great sound (NigelB). Unfortunately most of the speakers you have had success with cost about 10 times the value of my car so unless my numbers come up tonight I can only sigh & dream! The little Spendors are really very good speakers for the majority of my listening time especially in my smallish cottage lounge & they will probably take some beating especially at the sort of prices I can afford. But if my numbers did come up the Kudos Titan range would be at the top of my audition list (Thanks IanW).

Once again, a very hearfelt thank you for all the replies.

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I strongly feel that detail and emotion are inseperable. The encapsulated emotion is revealed via fidelity to detail.

However, a major issue is people’s comprehension of detail. It is nearly always conflated with “details” but “detail” and “details” are not the same.

Detail has several aspects.

  • Temperal resolution.
  • Pitch fidelity (can be lumped with THD).
  • Dynamic range fidelity.

All are encoded in a recording. They are all encoded in the same track regardless of format. They are all aspects of encapsulated detail. How accurately they are reconstructed is another matter. Temporal resolution is generally what makes people feel something reveals “details”. Dynamic range fidelity is generally what people feel reveals emotion. That nuance of range that clues you in to the performer such as how hard they are plucking those strings or how many calories they are burning belting out a ballad. Some systems struggle with different aspects like dynamic range or tempiral resolution. The latter - the one people sometimes think gives them details without emotion - gives the added cherry on top for emotions. Maybe it’s the wind caught in the singer’s throat, or the rapid breathing of a violinist.

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Buying secondhand then makes sense - vastly increased buying power, and speakers last decades.

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@frenchrooster @Pylod

Or not :upside_down_face: Just got off the phone, Covid cases in the factory, so we have to postpone and because of time constraints we pushed it to February. Oh well, it sounds great as it is, I’ll survive.

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