Battle of The Bookshelfs Page 5

Listening for Yourself So there you have it. The winner, fair and square, is the Monitor Audio Bronze 1. Al would encourage you to give the Jamo E 610 a listen, too, as I would for both the Acoustic Energy Aegis One and Boston Acous tics CR75. All four models deserve serious attention. But there are several les sons to be learned beyond these results:

Lesson #1. Experienced and critical listeners using wildly different program material can come to very similar or even identical conclusions about the sonic quality of a speaker, given a sufficient variety of music and a listening-test environment where fair and free comparisons can take place.

If you're lucky enough to find a cooperative dealer, try to incorporate some of our fairness safeguards into your own comparative auditions. While most dealers will be unwilling to install a curtain in front of the speakers - and, after all, unlike in our test, a speaker's appearance is relevant to your choice - at least try to have the speakers positioned so the tweeters are at approximately the same height relative to your ears as they will be when you are seated in your listening room (we had all the tweeters about 1 meter off the floor). A good dealer will also let you place the speakers you're comparing right next to each other so that the stereo soundstage shifts very little from left to right when you switch between them.

Try to match the speaker levels closely - with a sound meter and a test tone if possible, but at the very least using a band-limited test tone (such as those on the Delos Surround Spectacular CD or Ovation Software's Avia test DVD). A dealer can throw the results of any speaker comparison to his more profitable model by making it as little as 1 dB louder, especially if the speakers sound similar to begin with.

Lesson #2. Take along a variety of your own discs to the audition. Dealer-selected demo music can bias a listening test. Use the store's discs only if you already know them very well.

Using a number of familiar tracks that exhibit at least five different musical textures (slow, fast, simple, complex, acoustic, electronic, very soft, and very loud), as Al and I did, will decrease the influence of any one disc's sonic peculiarities on your choice. You don't want to end up with a speaker that sounds good only on one track of one disc.

Lesson #3. You can use our test, and especially our blind comments on each speaker's sound, to teach yourself how to be a critical listener. Take along our comments to any speaker audition, even for speakers in a higher, or lower, price range, and listen to one of the models we auditioned, regardless of its final standing. Using either your own musical selections or the same ones we used, try to hear what Al and I heard and described. Even our comments on the speakers that fared less well may be useful, as they point to aspects of speaker sound that cause trouble in any price range.

If you try to listen fairly, ignoring the manufacturer's reputation and the various blandishments offered by, at this point, an undoubtedly irritated salesman, be prepared for some surprises. We were surprised at some of our results, with some of the better known brands stumbling in comparison with models from smaller or lesser known companies. (The NHT's substantially smaller size and audibly limited bass abil ities suggests that it might do much better as a satellite paired with a subwoofer.) We're fascinated enough by these results to already be contemplating which brands and models to request for our next speaker comparison. Don't worry - while we'll be going for the naked truth again, both Al and I will remain fully clothed.