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Building Surround System - ESL Noobie (Q/A)

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fireform44

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Hello Everyone,
You have a great forum here! I've been browsing for a little while and I'm very impressed with everyone's contribution.

I'm new to ESL's, in that I've never owned them, but I've been listening to ML ESL's since '92'. I've heard them at a number of friend's homes, and at a few showrooms, like Magnolia HiFi. I thought, "what great sound, one day I will own me a pair or two". That day is almost here!

In the next 6 mo. I have $8,000+ to spend on speakers alone. Should I spend it all on a 'like new' pair of Summit's? Maybe the new vista's or classic SL3 MKII's? Here in lies the problem. So many to choose from, soo little time!

I've listened to the SL3's, the Aeon i, and the Monolith III's, I like all of them, but I really don't know enough about the ML line. There are new ones and old ones, and most of them I haven't listened to yet. How to decide?

So here it is. I'm building a 5.1 / 7.1 DSP surround system, and I'm looking for the right ESL that can work well with DSP surround programs. I like a large soundstage with fine detail and life-like spacial imaging. While there are a number of ML models that will give me that. I need it to work well with bright electronics and some what colored sound. I been told the ML ESL's will expose the lack of quality in both the sound source and the electronics, but some of that can't be helped. I have also been told that the Theater i is a good center channel ESL, and the Script i is a great for the surround ESL's. I already have a sub system that I'm very happy with. My current AMP is a Yamaha DSP-A1, it puts out 240W at 4ohms. I might upgrade to Pass Lab's X5 surround amp, and a Mcintosh Pre Amp later on. The listening space is 20'x15'x8'.

All that being said, the questions are...

I don't have $20,000 I do have $15,000. $8,000+ for the ESL's and the rest to upgrade my system. 1) Can a system that can produce superior surround sound with little to no coloration, where the sound system disappears completely so there is only pure sound, be built for less than $20k?.. no?.. but?.. well?

I know this is highly subjective, but to all who own them... 2) Do the Summits really have such superb quality, that most everyone who has heard them, think that they are the best ESL Martin Logan ever made by a large margin, they are near flawless, and I should buy them if I can afford them, regardless?
3) If they ARE all that, then why are people selling them when they haven't been out a full year yet? (Yes, people buy things they can't really afford.)

In buying a center, two rears, and a main pair of ESL's, 4) Should I spend most of the money on a better pair of mains, and get a used center and used rear channels, or should I opt for getting everything new for $8,000 plus?
5) Which ESL's in the ML line will work better than others with bright electronics, and DSP surround programs, while at the same time, put out a wide soundstage and detailed sound that tends towards being more musical?

Sorry for such a long post, I didn't want to dole it out over 2 or 3 threads.
I appreciate any input all of you may have, I've seen that the mods on this forum have been great, and very well informed.

Thank you for reading this post! -fireform44
 

cleon

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For me the best thing you have to do is to buy a pair of summits cause this are the speakers from where you are going to enjoy music and where the 70% of your money must be invested.Then go for the stage cause this is the speaker which makes the diference in your theater.For surrounds i am going to wait for the new scripts with x-tand panels cause i thing it's stupid to invest money to speakers that only exist to hear bangs on films.GO FIRST FOR THE MAIN SPEAKERS THEN FOR A GOOD PRE,AMP AND PLAYER AND KEEP YOUR SAVINGS FOR THE REST. ;)
 

SteveInNC

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My approach would be a bit different than cleon's. I would hold off on the center for the last of my purchases/upgrades, particularly given what the Theater/Stage costs as part of your budget. All HT systems that I'm aware of will "fake" a center channel well enough. For the cost of the Theater ($2500), you could buy a nice Musical Fidelity A5 Integrated amp which has high current output like MLs crave. It has a HT bypass input, so you can couple it with your existing receiver as the fronts amp for surround, but feed two-channel sources straight to the A5 for critical listening. There are of course similar units that I'm sure will be mentioned... :)

If part of your remaining $7k was going for electronics, you could also use the not-Theater part to help fund separates.
 

fireform44

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Thanks Cleon

Hi Cleon,
Thank you for your advice. I see your a fellow 7.1 surround listener, I'm sure you have some experience behind your words. I'm kind of moving in that direction, but I'm still doing some research, so it might be awhile. Thank you again! -fireform44
 

fireform44

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Thanks SteveInNC

Hi SteveInNC,
That is some good advice. I agree, I could save some by not buying a center, then put that money on the electronics. I still have alot of research to do. Using a high current output amp with my current one, is also a great idea. I'm sure the Stage is going to be pretty pricey when it comes out. Thank you! -fireform44
 
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jlippert

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fireform44 said:
Hi SteveInNC,
That is some good advice. I agree, I could save some by not buying a center, then put that money on the electronics. I still have alot of research to do. Using a high current output amp with my current one, is also a great idea. I'm sure the Stage is going to be pretty pricey when it comes out. Thank you! -fireform44
i've gone through a similar exercise (and similar budget) over the past couple of months, so you might want to take a look at what i've put together on the audio side -- my system is #106. to me, it came down to what i wanted to listen to. if you're mostly into music, by all means put your budget toward your mains and the amp. if it's surround DVD / home theatre stuff, you can save some money by (slightly) scrimping on the mains to fill out the rest of the system.

i've been very pleased with using Aeon i for my mains, and using a fresco/mosaic combination for the rears. the aeon's need serious amplification for a good sound stage. you could go the theatre/cinema/ESL route for a center channel, or go the fresco route. depends on your budget.

one key item i've been playing with is subwoofers lately. a lower end sub (like the dynamo) is "ok", but you'll get some weird booming effects. the servo-based subs from ML like the descent or depth make a big difference in some cases. i have the depth which solved a lot of booming issues (as well as dynamos, so i've been able to compare side-by-side).

more later on, when i have more time to detail things further.

Jim Lippert
system #106
fremont, ca
 

fireform44

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Thanks Jlippert

jlippert said:
i've gone through a similar exercise (and similar budget) over the past couple of months, so you might want to take a look at what i've put together on the audio side -- my system is #106. to me, it came down to what i wanted to listen to. if you're mostly into music, by all means put your budget toward your mains and the amp. if it's surround DVD / home theatre stuff, you can save some money by (slightly) scrimping on the mains to fill out the rest of the system.

i've been very pleased with using Aeon i for my mains, and using a fresco/mosaic combination for the rears. the aeon's need serious amplification for a good sound stage. you could go the theatre/cinema/ESL route for a center channel, or go the fresco route. depends on your budget.

one key item i've been playing with is subwoofers lately. a lower end sub (like the dynamo) is "ok", but you'll get some weird booming effects. the servo-based subs from ML like the descent or depth make a big difference in some cases. i have the depth which solved a lot of booming issues (as well as dynamos, so i've been able to compare side-by-side).

more later on, when i have more time to detail things further.

Jim Lippert
system #106
fremont, ca
Hi Jim,
Thank you for your ideas. I think your right on, it comes down to what we listen to the most. For me that would be music, but with AC3 and other surround formats and programs, I like to listen to music in surround. I have listen to the Aeon i, I'm not sure they can deliver a large soundstage. You do have a point though, to really open them up, we need to amp them up.

I look forward to hearing more details when you have time. Thank you again!
-fireform44
 

Jeff Zaret

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I too had to look at what was important when I built my system. Two channel is my priority and then I just built a HT around it without losing what I had.

Jeff :cool:
 
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jlippert

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fireform44 said:
Hi Jim,
Thank you for your ideas. I think your right on, it comes down to what we listen to the most. For me that would be music, but with AC3 and other surround formats and programs, I like to listen to music in surround. I have listen to the Aeon i, I'm not sure they can deliver a large soundstage. You do have a point though, to really open them up, we need to amp them up.

I look forward to hearing more details when you have time. Thank you again!
-fireform44
ah. more time this afternoon than i'd orginally thought...

first of all, you're being very smart in doing your research up-front. i did things in a piecemeal fashion that eventually led to a good solution, though i might have done things differently if i'd thought it through fully before starting...

for soundstage width and depth, there are a lot of variables. room acoustics, speakers, speaker placement, amplification, etc. i've placed the Aeons in two different places thus far. first time, i had them too wide apart which resulted in a nice hole in the middle (good width, no depth). current placement (about 6' apart) still isn't optimal, but i now have good depth at the expense of width. that's the best i can do given the room layout (and girlfriend acceptance) factors... i'm hoping to move to a new house next year, and finding an acceptable HT room is part of my priority.

i also like to listen to music in various "surround" modes. i've found the mosaics are fantastic speakers for their price. in fact, i originally bought the mosaics to be my "mains" and bought a fresco for the center. while awaiting the fresco delivery, i learned about the aeon closeouts and jumped. that led to the purchase of a depth, cinema i, and a second fresco to complete the 7.1 surround...

4 mosaics and a fresco would make a pretty good 5.1 music system for the money. it's worth considering. the mosaics sound much better than the ESL claritys to my own damaged hearing. if you do go the ESL route, there are still new aeons to be found through places like magnolia, though you'd probably want an ESL center to complete the front of your system.

when i listen to music, i do the 5.1 with the aeons/mosaics/cinema combination. i've just started playing with tying my rear frescos to a dynamo sub, but it's still not "right" to my ears. probably more to do with breaking in the frescos than anything else, as they're progressively sounding "better" as the weeks progress.

amplification is really really important with any of the ESL speakers. the aeons are rated at 4 ohms nominal (and down to about 1 ohm at high freqs). from an electrical engineering standpoint, power = current (squared) x resistance. most amps are rated with 8 ohm speakers, so you have to SQUARE the current output for ESLs to get the same power output. net result is that it doesn't take that much volume to drive a lower-power amp to its knees (audio clipping or amp overheating) with ESL speakers. note that there are similar factors with the other MLs i have (mosaic, fresco) though the high end impedance/resistance tends to make the ESL speakers a bit more finicky.

so i'm bi-amping the aeons with a 200W x 5 sunfire amp. no overheating or clipping at volume levels that hurt my ears. a very good addition to the aeons.

finally, and i think i mentioned this before... don't scrimp on your subwoofer choice. it becomes significant when you listen to music in surround modes. my "extreme test" track is the eagles "hell freezes over" version of "hotel california" -- the bass drum in the beginning will really boom on a low end (dynamo or $500-ish) sub in surround modes. and while you can adjust the sub volume to some extent, you'll wind up fiddling with that knob every time you change the volume on your receiver. ugh. a good servo-driven sub (ML depth/descent) or some of the other subs posted on this site make a huge difference at the low end. i went the depth route for my sub, and chained my mains to it to fill out the very low end when i'm playing music in stereo-only modes.

one funny side note: i tied my other dynamo (remember what i said about piecemeal purchases!) to my center channel yesterday on a whim. 95% of the time, you'd never know it was there... but last night, my girlfriend watched "survivor", and there was a lot of bass coming through the center-wired dynamo. booming in fact. surprised me. her comment was "wow, this really sounds good!" i innocently turned down the bass on that dynamo after she left the room. boom=bad to my ears.

your mileage may vary, and trust your own ears!

Jim Lippert
Fremont, CA
system #106
 

fireform44

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Jeff Zaret Thanks

Jeff Zaret said:
I too had to look at what was important when I built my system. Two channel is my priority and then I just built a HT around it without losing what I had.

Jeff :cool:
Hello Jeff,
I hope it can work out that way for me. I am concidering doing some building around an existing system, and trying to upgrade at the same time. I still do a ton of research though. I'm glad it worked for you. Thank you very much!
-fireform44
 

SteveInNC

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jlippert said:
finally, and i think i mentioned this before... don't scrimp on your subwoofer choice. it becomes significant when you listen to music in surround modes.
...
i went the depth route for my sub, and chained my mains to it to fill out the very low end when i'm playing music in stereo-only modes.
What he said. I have a Depth tied into my Ascent i mains. I think it helps too on two-channel listening, particularly for some of the music like jazz and synthetic stuff that I listen too. With Summits, the need for the reinforcement is probably less.
one funny side note: i tied my other dynamo (remember what i said about piecemeal purchases!) to my center channel yesterday on a whim. 95% of the time, you'd never know it was there... but last night, my girlfriend watched "survivor", and there was a lot of bass coming through the center-wired dynamo. booming in fact. surprised me. her comment was "wow, this really sounds good!" i innocently turned down the bass on that dynamo after she left the room. boom=bad to my ears.
Depending on how old (young) your girlfriend is that may be a factor in liking boomy bass. Keep in mind that there is a whole generation being brought up to think that window-bulging thumping bass in a car is hot. I'm afraid that by the time that crowd is old enough to appreciate more refined music and gear, they won't be able to appreciate it due to blowing out their ears. Comparative youngsters on this board are obviously a different breed with more refined tastes :)

I've noticed that a lot of advertisers have caught on to the fact that people have subs now. I find that many ads have some serious low-end bass lines or droning effects recorded with them to further seek your attention.
 

jmschnur

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With $8000

I would use the Vantage for L/R and and the next version of the Cinema i or Theater for the center- total would be about $8000. I would use what ever older speakers are left in your home as "left overs" for the rear 2 or 4 rear channel until another day. Vista would also work but then you would really need a subwoofer.

It all depends on space and $$ of course. The Vantages are not that large and sound very very good after break in and do go down to 34 hz which can work fine for LFE for most DVDs with a proper preamp like the Lexicon. The Summitts are above your price range and take a lot more space.

Outlaw has a good 5 or 7 channel amp that will drive the front three MLspeaers without a problem.

The rear channels are just not that critival for most DVD experiences as long as they are there and properly balanced in the system, Later on you can upgrade to M/L surround dipoles etc.

Joel
 
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jlippert

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SteveInNC said:
Depending on how old (young) your girlfriend is that may be a factor in liking boomy bass. Keep in mind that there is a whole generation being brought up to think that window-bulging thumping bass in a car is hot. I'm afraid that by the time that crowd is old enough to appreciate more refined music and gear, they won't be able to appreciate it due to blowing out their ears. Comparative youngsters on this board are obviously a different breed with more refined tastes :)

I've noticed that a lot of advertisers have caught on to the fact that people have subs now. I find that many ads have some serious low-end bass lines or droning effects recorded with them to further seek your attention.
yep, you called it. i'm 42, but i was a wannabe audiophile back in my teens/early 20s. she's 34, and had never been exposed to truly wonderful equipment. it's an amusing educational process. she's continually amazed at what i'm willing to spend on A/V equipment (and i'm still noodling WHEN i'll go for the native 1080i/p television or projector ;) )

i seriously believe the hearing aid market will explode in the coming years. i just haven't figured out how to make money doing it.

Jim Lippert
Fremont CA
System #106
 

fireform44

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Thanks Jmschnur

jmschnur said:
With $8000

I would use the Vantage for L/R and and the next version of the Cinema i or Theater for the center- total would be about $8000. I would use what ever older speakers are left in your home as "left overs" for the rear 2 or 4 rear channel until another day. Vista would also work but then you would really need a subwoofer.

It all depends on space and $$ of course. The Vantages are not that large and sound very very good after break in and do go down to 34 hz which can work fine for LFE for most DVDs with a proper preamp like the Lexicon. The Summitts are above your price range and take a lot more space.

Outlaw has a good 5 or 7 channel amp that will drive the front three MLspeaers without a problem.

The rear channels are just not that critival for most DVD experiences as long as they are there and properly balanced in the system, Later on you can upgrade to M/L surround dipoles etc.

Joel

Hi Joel,
I'm trying to decide between Vista or Vantage, maybe even the Summits. I do have $8000+ and I have seen some 'like new' Summits for $8500 ish. As far as space, I can place them 2 1/2' to 3' from the wall about 6' to 8' apart, and still sit 10' away from them. I really don't know how much room they need as far as room size though, in order to have they're full soundstage. If the Summits are head and shoulders above the Vista or the Vantage, then it's really worth considering.

I haven't listened to any of those three ESL's yet, the Magnolia HiFi near me doesn't have them in. What besides the built in amp, is the difference between the Vantage, and the Vista?
I already have a subwoofer-amp system that I'm very happy with, the crossover is currently set at 180 hz. I would probably match an AMP to whichever ESL I do get. What I really need is more info from Summit owners to make a real decision.

Thank you for your advice, and I agree with you, I will probably upgrade the rear channels later. Have you heard anything about the Pass Labs X5 surround amp?
- Alan (aka fireform44)
 
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