On the off chance that one or two of you might be interested here're a few very brief thoughts on the new gear that recently replaced my aging system.
The setup: A Sony PS3 feeding a Pioneer PDP5010 via a Yamaha RX-V3800 with Axiom M80s (front L&R), QS8s (L&R surrounds), and VP 150 (center). The M80s are about 10' apart and about 8' from the listening position, the 150 is about 6' in front of the listening position, and the QS8s are approximately 4' above ear level, a foot or so down from the ceiling and right at 20 degrees behind the listening position. The M80s are set to 0dB, the VP150 to 0dB, and the QS8s to +3dB. The EQs on the M80s are flat for 2-channel music and +3dB (Q=3) at 30Hz for movies; the QS8s EQs are flat; I'm still working on the EQ for the VP 150.
Wow. Far and away the best speakers I've owned though that in and of itself isn't saying much. Initially it was a bit difficult to accurately guage the volume level as I'm used to hearing at least a bit of distortion, harshness or breakup at very high volume levels and the M80s simply didn't deliver any of those cues, they just kept delivering more clean volume. The clarity of the sound and the space they deliver in the mix is just outstanding.
The harshness I thought I heard initially was a source problem. I'd picked up the Perception box set by The Doors thinking that it'd be fun to have new mixes (including 5.1 Dolby and DVDA surround) of some of my favorites. On some songs there was just a hint of harshness for a split second here and there but comparing these mixes to the remixes from the Original Studio Recordings box and the original CD releases showed the same problem in the same spot on each version so I'm satisfied that it's probably present on the master. It's that sound you get if you pull the percussion levels up in a mix to the point that they just jump past the rails, the tiny little spots of breakup/harshness you hear when momentarily driving the sound past the limits of the equipment. On one hand I'm a bit bummed to hear this in some of my favorite music but on the other I've heard some of these songs hundreds of times on dozens of systems and have never heard even a hint of it before which speaks volumes to the accuracy of the M80s reproduction.
Every movie I've played sounds great through the M80s and two channel music can be stunning where the mix has some inherent space and separation. Everything from Warren Zevon, to the Crystal Method, to Bon Scott's AC/DC, to Willie Dixon was absolutely fantastic. The audiophiles in the crowd will scoff but to someone who's played some of those songs with a Filtertron-equippped axe plugged straight into a JCM 800 it's really quite amazing to hear a stereo speaker reproduce the dynamics of a Marshall in one's living room. A lot of old recordings whose music I've always liked and whose sound I've not really came to life; things like Humble Pie, Nazarath, and the like came to life in ways I'd not heard before. On the flip side a few recordings with poor production didn't fare too well. For example, Uncle Kracker's "Heaven" might well feature the worst production values in the entire history of westerns civilization ... but it doesn't sound too bad on an iPod.
Surprisingly well matched with the M80s when reproducing movie soundtracks. They're typically very unobtrusive and create a surround field that's diffuse enough that you'll rarely be able to pick out the speaker location. Very seamless on effects that travel to or from the front speakers.
I don't care for the QS8s for 2-channel music processed for surround though. Neither the Neural THX, PLIII Music, nor any other setting I tried sounded particularly good. Pulling the volume down helped as did setting up a "loudness" type of EQ curve but by the time you've fit them into your mix they're really pretty much buried and using them is a bit pointless. Mated with smaller fronts they might sound better to my ears but asking the QS8s to keep pace with the M80s for full range constant use is asking a bit much of them. That said I'm thrilled with the QS8s for the purpose I purchased them for and I doubt they could be significantly improved on for that use.
The jury is still out on the VP 150. At moderately high volume levels (-15dB and up on the Yamaha whose volume ranges from -80dB to +16.5dB) there's a very unpleasant resonance that occurs with some voices. I tried several locations: on the floor against the television stand, on the stand in front of the television, on a shelf below the television that's open on four sides, and a foot or so in front of the stand on the floor. The resonance seems to be position independent so I moved on to the EQ and created a notch filter (Q=10, -20dB) and moved it up and down the spectrum with some but not satisfactory results. It seemed that the resonance was happening between 150 and 250 Hz but unfortunately I'm limited to setting the filter's center frequency to preset frequencies so I couldn't be as precise in my experimentation as I'd have liked. Flattening the filter out a bit to Q=3 and pulling the cut level up to -6dB at a center frequency of 180 Hz took a significant bite out of the resonance but I still hear that particular tonal character. Some movies / mixes / voices don't have much of an issue at all, others (e.g., Peter Fonda and Sam Elliot in Ghost Rider; Ian McDiarmid near the end of The Phantom Menace) are a bit grating. The sound is very clear and doesn't sound strained at all, it's more like the soundtrack hitting the resonant frequency of the cabinet or an overtone thereof. I think with a bit more tweaking and listening the VP 150 will sound fine but it seems a bit odd that there's be a tonal issue after the M80s and QS8s sounded fine with totally flat EQs.
Of interest to Axiom owners will be the fact that it will drive M80s loud enough that I don't want to be in the room with them with no audible breakup at all. This is particularly true when running two channel audio, movie volumes are limited by how much resonance I'm hearing from the VP 150. The sound quality is exceptional, I really don't have any complaints at all. No HDMI problems, no overheating, no shutdowns, everything worked right the first time it was plugged in. I've seen a few folks asking about the Yamaha line, I'll be happy to answer questions about this unit should any of you have any.
This is probably the way to go if you're in the market for a Blu-ray player. Sony will be updating the firmware to meet the new BD spec shortly and the PS3 is quite a capable piece of hardware. Ten years ago I'd have killed to have something this powerful on which to run our network traffic and space based antenna sims, now it's a game system. Go figure.
The only flaw is a cooling fan that goes into overdrive after about 15 minutes of use. It's can be pretty distracting at low volume levels but since I moved the PS3 behind the television it's far less an issue. And to be honest it's rarely quiet enough when I'm watching movies to notice anyway but be aware if you do a lot of low-volume late-night watching.
Just killer. Suffers from just a bit of black crush out of the box but a couple of clicks of additional brightness and a small contrast cut and the picture is, quite literally, perfect. It's so perfect in fact that a heavy hand by the colorist can be a bit jarring as scenes switch. I've been feeding SD DVDs to the Pioneer at 480p and letting the set upscale them. Good transfers (The Matrix Trilogy, Star Wars I-III, the T2 Extreme DVD, etc.) are exceptional.
Overall I couldn't be happier with the quality of the components and I'd buy the same system again if I were doing it over. The real cure for the VP 150 would be an M80 center but I don't have a setup that will allow that.