Expert Opinion

In her final blog entry, Kristina asks for your expert opinion. The girl needs a new pair of speakers. I think she's looking for something "wicked cute," as they say in Boston.


Over the past few days, I've thought about what I'd like to say in my last blog entry. I wanted to lend some words of wisdom to audiophiles, but all of you already know more than I ever will about audio components. And so, it seemed, a daunting task lay ahead, until I finally realized that I could make my lack of expertise work to my advantage...for once.

In my time at Stereophile I've spoken to a lot of manufacturers and distributors, and have kept my eye on the message board for 10 weeks. One thing that is constant is that audiophiles know their stuff annoyingly well. I recall countless times being on the phone simply wanting to verify a model name and price and the person on the other end of the conversation insisted on telling me about his company's new tweeter material or the frequency response of a particular electrostatic loudspeaker. In the end, I got an overwhelming amount of information because people answered questions I'd never asked in the first place.

A few weeks ago, I read an article by Wes Phillips about how difficult it is to offer people his expert advice. I understood fully what he meant. Experts know too much. The same subject was brought up again briefly yesterday and I overheard Stephen and John Atkinson discussing just how relevant that article is to audiophiles who know their stuff, but don't know how to articulate their suggestions without scaring people to death with Ohms, kHz and impedance.

So in my final blog entry, I am volunteering myself to your expert opinion. I am looking for some speakers to put in my apartment when I move back to college. But I must warn you, I don't know a darn thing about speakers and I don't want to.

Now, I know it's not uncommon for someone who is passionate about something to discuss every intricate detail as a measure of their qualified opinion. Rarely does anyone want to stick to the Audio-Components-101 description when they are clearly capable of the graduate-level Output-Stage-Configuration-575 description. But when push comes to shove, jargon only works with your peers. As I am not your peer, the impact of an audio conversation can fly over my head. I get lost in the babble of numbers and start to daydream when terms like "output stage configuration" and "crossover frequency" are mentioned.

So, I am asking for a tiny bit of guidance and I apologize for needing a watered-down suggestion. Shakespeare once wrote, "More matter, less art," and in this case I could not agree more. My only words of wisdom are to be straightforward and keep the language simple. You will be more effective in leading non-audiophiles, like me, to the speakers we want. The last thing I want is to be overwhelmed and later ask a random store assistant for the cheapest pair of speakers he has and then run away with them unsatisfied and bitter. Perhaps a brand or style of loudspeaker is all I need?

So here we go...

I live in a studio apartment and I haven't the faintest idea of what the ideal speakers would be for a room my size. Last year I had exceptionally high ceilings, but this year I've settled for a basement apartment with poor lighting so that I can have my own bedroom. Next year will be something different altogether, so I don't want speakers that would sound amazing in my basement this year but horrible in a regular house next year. My bedroom is tiny, so I won't even go there, but my living room...eye-balling it, is maybe 20x20??

The college life is a humble one and, although it would be awesome, I can't buy expensive speakers or a pair for each room. My price range is roughly $150–$300 (my mother would laugh). I would need a pair that can be moved relatively easily from my bedroom to the living room for the occasional house party (but let's not tell BU anything about that). And, although I couldn't get away with playing them full volume, I do want a loud pair that can be engulfing, emerging me fully into music/movies and drowning out the sad speakers on my roommate's desktop, just for my own inner gratification.

My more superficial side is craving something different. Small speakers are all I have room for, but cute ones are a must (yes, adorable if possible). I'd like to steer clear of a black pair. Everyone on earth has black speakers. I have to set myself apart. Bright colors would be nice, but for my price range, I throw up my hands and say, "Whatever, man."

Having done some research, I came across three sets of speakers, each of which caught my eye based on affordability and adorableness: Energy's RC-Mini in cherry ($200/pair), Monitor Audio's R180 ($229/pair) in red and Tannoy's Mercury F2 in dark brown vinyl-ish ($185/pair). John tells me that the JBL Studio L880 [reviewed in our September issue] would probably be the ideal speaker for house parties, and they only cost $1,400.

I laughed. Although those are clearly within my price range (cough), I will put away my hopes of the JBLs until a few years down the road. In any case, I can't quite put my finger on it, but the other three speakers make me warm and fuzzy inside even though I have no idea of what they are capable. I don't even know if they're offered at reasonable prices.

My last day here is August 22nd and, although it's been fun, I am anxious and excited to go back to school to be with my boyfriend and my friends. I have, however, come to the realization that I cannot go back to school and say I interned at Stereophile for two summers in a row and don't own a pair of speakers. That's just embarrassing.

See ya!

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Ward's picture

Out of the list, the Energy looks like a good option. NHT's Absolute Zero is cute (in person more than in pictures), though only in black and white, but definitely cute. $400/pair, or look for the discontinued SB1s at $200 a pair. PSB's Alpha B1 is a good deal and available in non-black options.

Ward's picture

Oh, what will you be using to power the speakers?

Clay White's picture

With the bonus you no doubt deserve for your excellent service and your willingness to put up with that nutcase Stephen for two summers you can extend your budget and get the little ERA Design 4's in cherry finish. Cute little non-rectangular shape and great sound for about $600. If, however, my bonus recommendation is batted down, go for the Epos ELS3 or the Wharfedale Diamond 9.1. Both can be had new for around $350 in cherry finish. With the latter," you can return to your boyfriend sporting a fine sounding stereo system and not one but two ""diamonds"". That ought to get his attention.

john devore's picture

Rega R-1s. They list for around $500 a pair (remember you're still a member of our industry, so think around 40 percent off) (oh, and keep that a secret, okay). Actually made in the UK (not China), real wood! (I think!) very easy to drive and great sounding. Nothing else comes close that I've sat in front of. And the Rega guys are just cool. If you up the budget a bit, I probably have a B-stock pair of speakers around the factory...

Yazad's picture

Instead of the Monitor Audio R180 why don't you check out their Bronze series? The Bronze 2s should be just within your budget. Having owned a pair of the original Bronze 2s I can assure you they rock :)

Christian's picture

John's offer looks pretty sweet. As a second choice to that I own a couple pairs of Energys and have been very happy with them. They are generally pretty efficient so they can play loud, and they aren't picky in terms of what amplifier you are using. I would move to something a bit larger than the RC-Mini though. The C100 or C200, they will put out more bass than the RC Mini will. Of the three, the Tannoy looks like a good all around speaker.

Stephen Mejias's picture

>I cannot go back to school and say I interned at Stereophile for two summers in a row and don't own a pair of speakers. That's just embarrassing. I worked here full-time - for five years - before I brought home any gear. Imagine how I felt.

Kristina's picture

I love that I am getting so much feedback! Thanks so much! Now to answer a few questions...I have no idea what I will be powering my speakers with because I am just getting started. This is the baby stage of getting ready to purchase some cool stuff within the next few months so any suggstions are gladly welcomed. I think the Gallo's Nucleas Micro are adorable! I am going to research those so thank you, Jeff! I also took a look at the NHTs Ward suggested and although they do look awesome, I think for my first pair I want to stick to something a little less conservative looking pair.Thanks again for all of your comments....seriously a huge help. Any ideas on what I can plug these babies into? I thought of that after I wrote my blog so don't be surprised if I write another one in the next few days about some ideas I had in mind.

Nance's picture

Wow Kristina, i think i know even less about speakers than you. I'd say take these people's advice before mine hahhaa all you need are some sick speakers to get us rallied on the weekends and then to watch movies with on those cold lonely nights in Boston.. but at a good price so you don't have to take out loans for spring break like i might have to hahahaha anyways, back to work. :D

Kristina's picture

Stephen: I don't feel so bad anymore...but it's still embarrassing :)Nancy: Sick speakers for rallied weekend? Why not? And spring break? Oh spring diesel.

Hal's picture

I would recommend a pair of PSB speakers to anyone looking for a bargain. I got a pair of Alpha A/V's about 10 years ago, and still love them. The Alpha B1 is the current model, and it is $279.00. Good luck picking a pair of speakers.

Kristina's picture

Stephen did tell me about the Arcam and I was very impressed. It might be beneficial to have the rLead in case I want to hook up my iPod. Thanks for suggesting it, Clay.

Kristina's picture

Monty, I love those B&W's in Turquoise! :) They're on my list of potentials. Thanks!

Greg's picture

Check out the Tannoys, they were called F2's, when I got them for my wife's art studio a couple years back. They can be had in light wood (apple??) or black, they sound the same which is to say they sound very nice for around $300. Particularly female vocals. If you will permit a bit of jargon, they are exceptionally well-voiced for a speaker in this price range. If you get a chance to listen to them, you will hear what I mean. A vintage Kenwood receiver drives our set. They are well suited to small to mid-size rooms. Limitations? They won't do concert sound levels and they don't play the deep bass. But they are worth seeking out. With a 100-disc cd changer and XM radio for sources, my wife can focus on the canvas and enjoy the music.Greg

Kristina's picture

Greg: Funny that you mention the Tannoys because I just got off the phone with the comapny and so far of all the speakers I've been researching the Tannoys are at the top of my list. I am a fan of deep bass so I am a little skeptical. Nonetheless I'm glad you said some positive things about them because they may just end up in my apartment. :) Apple wood is what I would choose too.

emilio's picture

well kristina, if you are are a true fan of deep bass, i have to reccomend the magnum golds, those speakers are bumpin, and your entire buildings sure to get rocking.- keepin it real

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