I had the pleasure of meeting Jason (jakeman) earlier today. Jason's an all-around nice, soft-spoken, pleasant young man but he and his wife are plagued with a problem. Should they keep their recently purchased M60s, upgrade to M80s, keep their old M22s or maybe create their own frankenspeaker (more on that later
Since I have 80s, Jason asked me if he could listen to them to help make up his mind. Always happy to help, I became even happier when he told me he was bringing his 60s and 22s over so that we can satisfy our curiosities. After exchanging pleasantries, we connected the 22s and 80s to the B channel, calibrated the speakers and settled in for three hours of acoustical exploration. It's worth mentioning here that I used pink noise recorded at -10dB for the calibration and I turned the 600 subwoofer off. The speakers were about 8 feet away. The M80 was producing 69dBC at -20dB. The 60 produced that same SPL at -19.5dBC. So there was negligible difference in the sensitivities of the two speakers. We did not run the calibration for the 22s (although we should have) but it's worth pointing out that the 22s have the same sensitivity as the 60s. With the 600 on, the SPL jumps to 81 dBC.
1. Our first match was 80s vs. 60s. We decided to place the 60s on the interior of the 80s. Jason closed his eyes and I mixed the speakers up by switching quickly back and forth between A and B a number of times. Echoes of Incas: Ventana al Sol
is a superb track for gauging soundstage, imaging and all audible frequency bands. This track features waterfalls, drums, flutes, guitar and birds chrping and singing all around. Jason already knows the 60s well and he was able to identify them each time. Then I took a turn and confirmed that I know my 80s just as well
. The 60s sounded warmer with the mids and highs taking a bit of a back seat. Mids sounded more airy and natural with the 80s and the highs were crisp and clear. The soundstage was more expansive with the 80s although, as we discovered later, this had to do with the fact that the 60s were too close together. Given the widely-spaced waterfalls in this track, speakers are susceptible to localization. The 80s however completely disappeared with the waterfalls sounding very transparent and well outside the 80 boundaries. With the 60s, waterfalls sounded like point sources and the speakers became translucent rather than transparent. The 60s imaged very well but the chirping and singing birds sounded like they were being somewhat muffled. We both preferred the clear, crisp more forward sound of the 80s over the warmer, more laid back sound of the 60s. Now when we say forward, we don't mean in your face. What we mean is that relative to the 60s, the sound was less recessed and that to us, was an incredibly good thing. We both agreed that while the 60s were very good, the 80s were that much better.
2. The second bout was 60s vs. 22s. The pairing was very distinguishable. The 22s sounded very clear and very crisp but were missing warmth even with the 600 turned on. The sound was forward but not objectionably so. The over-all effect was too thin for my liking but I believe Jason enjoyed it. We both agreed that the 60s sounded more natural and that we'd like to see the qualities of the 60s and M22s combined. If I had to choose between the two, I would take the 60 as it more closely approximated musicality. As for Jason, I think he remained undecided at this point.
3. The third scrimmage was 80s vs. 22s. This was really a no contest. The 22's crispness and clarity was embodied in the 80 without the 22's lack of warmth. We both agreed the 80s were far superior.
4. Now this is where it gets interesting. It turns out that Jason and his wife liked the warmer sound of the 60s but preferred the cleaner, clearer, crisper more forward sound of the 22s. So Jason decided to see if he could marry the attributes of the two and create...
...the Jasonstein abomination
! Could the M80 take on this beast? Well it turns out that this is a beauty in beast's clothing. Axiom's true flagship electro-acoustic transducer consists of something created by a mechanic. Jason should get royalties
. We both unequivocally agreed that M82s are cleaner, clearer, crisper and more transparent than their shorter albeit better looking brother. I now wanted to trade up to 60s and 22s! JohnK and his tastes for classical music surfaced in our discussions at this point. John, you have 3/7 of the speaker you need. Without a 60 to support your 22s, you are cheating yourself out of a more realistic experience.
5. So if an M82 is better than an M80, guess who thought that an M102 may be a good idea? That's right. If Jason can create his own beast, then I, being an engineer and all, should be able to build a much better monster. Behold, the Mojostein!!!
Have any of you ever heard the saying "to engineer is human"? It means that engineers are human too and like humans, they also make mistakes. With the Mojostein, I found out that I was more human than most. Sure, it sounded big and bold. But then again so does King Kong. Speakers need some finesse and refinement of which this juggernaut had none. The soundstage collapsed between the speakers and the centre image shot forward in an unnatural manner. As Mary Shelley said, "How I...came to think of, and to dilate upon, so very hideous an idea?". Perhaps, in a larger room, with wider spacing and longer listening distance, this behemoth would exude some class and grace.
What was perhaps most interesting about this arrangement was the fact that the 60s sounded very similar to the 80s. We also got my wife (the lovely musician) involved and she totally disliked the goliath but found it difficult to decide between the flipped, "floating" 60s and the 80s. I twisted her arm (gently) and she conceded she liked the mellowness of the 80s better. I would have to agree with her on that. By this time, Jason was dreaming of M82s so I don't think he cared much either way.
6. We then decided to listen to M102s
. As we found out earlier, more is not necessarily better. The couple was certainly very clear but we found the centre image was "weird". We even tried shifting the M22 towards the back wall to no avail. This couple has no future together.
7. We then positioned the 60s to the outside of the 80s. And this formed the first friendly rift between Jason and me. Jason distinctly heard a much wider soundstage (a foot or more) with the 60s. I didn't hear a difference but the waterfalls were localized to the 60s whereas they were transparent on the 80s. This new position did not affect the 60s tone.
We also listened to Diana Krall: Love Scenes, Eric Clapton: Unplugged and The Eagles: Farewell Tour I DVD. Vocals were mellow with the 60 and the 80 with the 80 sounding more natural, airy, up front (in a very, very good way) and live. Jason also felt the power of the 600 during the U-571 depth charge scene. I wish I had snapped a picture of him as he sat there, immersed in the entire experience with sheer terror in his eyes :-). Incidentally, another friend of mine came over yesterday and he had a very similar experience. His heart was apparently pounding.
So while I don't want to speak for Jason, my conclusions are that while no one will go wrong with M22s, greater realism and warmth at the expense of clarity and sharpness are right around the corner with M60s. For those that have the room for M60s and are willing to part with a few more greenbacks, M80s offer no compromise. But at this point, why not pair the 60s with the 22s and enjoy warmth along with maximum clarity, sharpness and transparency.
Jason and I had a very entertaining afternoon and unfortunately my Denon survived the whole experience. It's wonderful that busy people can get together to share interests. We concluded we need to re-convene and this time with a larger group. Maybe we'll meet sooner than we think
P.S. Sorry for the lack of numbers and formulas. I decided to just chill out for once