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I am a confused soul, trying to find the meaning of life. And I feel, there is no better way to see things clearly than to write them down. So I write...oops..type ;)

Sunday, October 07, 2018

My Speakers Story

After a long break, i would like to share my journey to finding the speakers that I would love to listen to everyday.
My search for good musical speakers began many years ago and it has been an on and off urge. Had checked out some model of Polk audio tower speakers almost 10-15 years ago at "5.1 sounds" in Nerul, Navi Mumbai (i guess this shop is no more) but the price back then of the Hifi setup was my entire year's salary :( and so i couldn't pursue it.
Fast forward to present day and i started looking for a stereo setup once again in Bangalore. My benchmark was my Bose QC3 Noise Cancelling headphones that i have had for 10 years now and hadn't heard anything better than that so far. Therefore, i began my search with Bose. Checked out Bose Soundtouch 10, 20, 30, the Wave IV system and the Bose soundbar + Sub. I wasn't sure what kind of setup i was looking for. But, all i knew was, it should sound great. The Bose gadgets fell well short of my expectations. I always considered Bose as the gold standard for speakers, and so i was really disappointed.
Then came my meeting with Mr. Palani at Audio Planet, Koramangala. The moment i mentioned to him that i had auditioned Bose speakers and wasn't satisfied, all he had to say is, you haven't seen/heard good speakers yet :(. I wanted to tell him, i love my QC3 headphones. He seemed like a very knowledgeable person i the field of acoustics and so i let him advise me further. Based on my requirements, he recommended Cambridge Audio TVB2 soundbar which he thought would suit my needs. Also he had one spare in stock which he could give me. Now, i had never heard about this company called Cambridge Audio or all the other brands he had in his store, so thought of taking my time to research further. BTW, Mr. Palani generally caters to high end audio setup and i would recommend him to anybody into serious audio stuff to check out things at his shop, which is behind Koramangala BDA complex.
Well then, meeting Mr. Palani was an eye opener and then I started looking out for some great sounding speakers. It is now that i realized how confused one can become after going through the Internet in search of speakers, with so much info out there. I was bombarded with words like Tower speakers, bookshelf speakers, monitor speaker, active speakers, passive speakers, floor standers, surround speakers, Bluetooth speakers, drivers, tweeters, woofers, sub-woofers, bright speakers, warm speakers, blah blah blah...INFORMATION OVERLOAD!!!!

That is when i decided to visit a Hifi shop in Bangalore to see (and hear) things to understand. My music source was my Apple iPod from 2004. I visited ProFX at MG Road, Bangalore and checked out Polk Audio Signature S50 tower speakers, KEF Q100 bookshelf speakers. Initially i liked the S50s paired with a Sub-woofer. Didn't like KEF Q100s at all. As i was about to leave the shop i happened to look at Polk audio RTiA7 tower speakers, which looked great and so wanted to try them out. I was just amazed by the sound and completely floored. Some of my test songs were:
Chiquitita - Abba
Aate Jaate Haste gate - Maine Pyaar kiya movie
Me Raat Takali - Marathi song from movie Jait Re Jait
I walk a lonely road - American Green Day
Bhetateti Ashi - Marathi song from movie Asehi Ekda Vhave
Kitida Navyane - Ti Sadhya Kay karte

Next 2 months did some more research, and now i was even more confused about, weather i should go for Active or Passive speakers, Bookshelf or Towers, an AV receiver or an Integrated Amp, and i would keep changing my mind every second day, and to speak a little in software engineering terms, my mind was in an infinite loop outputting random numbers ;)
One thing i kept reading over and over again on the Internet, that one should just trust their own ears to pick speakers. I was not an audio expert and so did not want to trust my ears.
After reading lots of reviews I started believing i might like the sound of DALI Speakers. Found out that i could audition them at DNI Home Theater at Bellandur Bangalore. Called up the folks and walked in with my wife and kid. The speakers that I auditioned here were, Focal 714 Towers, DALI Zensor 5 and Zensor 7 Towers. The Focals sounded better than the DALIs and i was totally underwhelmed by the DALIs  :(. Then, i found out from the Focal's website that the 714s had been discontinued.
I was back to square one :(

Finally decided to go back to my first love, the Polk Audio RTiA7s. Visited ProFX Bangalore again and this time auditioned the new KEF's 2018 series Q150, Q350 bookshelfs, and Q950 Towers, Polk RTiA3 bookshelf, S50/55/60 Towers and RTiA7s, which were mated to different AV receivers (mainly from Denon x1400/x3400 or Yamaha R 602N Integrated amp).
It is only now that i started understanding that, to MY EARS, Polk RTiA3s sounded better than KEFs top of the line Q950, where Q950s were crossing well over a lakh and the RTiA3 were around 23K. Also, listened to a pair Cabasse 3 way bookshelf speaker (can't recall the model) but didn't like those due to their boomy sound (hard to imagine a bookshelf speaker with a strong bass, isn't it).
I had finally shortlisted Polk RTiA7 and RTiA3 speakers but my wife didn't like the strong bass response of RTiA7 (it is a 3 way speaker, and so doesn't really require a sub). Before i booked RTiA3, the folks at ProFX wanted us to have a look at RTiA5 as well which was kind of mid way between RTiA3 and RTiA7. On the day of booking we had them switch between RTiA3s and the 5s at least a dozen times (ProFX MG Road has a very nice setup where they don't have to mess with cables and the speaker switch over happens in a second). We were listening to parts of songs and switching speakers in quick succession and the RTiA5s sounded better in comparison.

I may scale up the current setup to 5.1 in the future and so went with an AV receiver (Denon X-2500H). Also, to my amateur ears, the sound from an Integrated Amplifier didn't appear too different to one coming from an AV receiver.

By the way, I still cant relate to terms like Warm and Bright speakers, but what my wife mentioned about the RTiA5s was, it had "goad awaz" (sweet sound in marathi), unlike the KEF Q350s and Q950s which had greater clarity but lacking "Mithaas" (sweetness). For me (and wife), the speakers need to sound pleasant to our ears instead of running after sheer clarity.

I hope others in search of speakers find this useful.

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