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  1. #1

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    Default Speaker shootout - What I learned

    Over the past week, I’ve had the pleasure of having three excellent speakers in the house – the Usher 6311, Totem Forest, and Magnepan SMGa. All three of these tackle the challenge of stereo reproduction in very different ways and sound damn good doing it. This is a reflection on my time spent with them and what I’ve learned from the experience. The ‘trials’ were performed with a Marantz 2216, Shuguang S200mk preamp, Shuguang S845mk SET tube monoblocks, Pioneer BDP-51fd BDP, Douglas Interconnects, and Audioquest CV-8 speaker cables. To begin, I’d like to offer my opinions on the speakers themselves:



    Usher 6311

    This is my baby. I’ve had a hard time considering any speaker long-term in my rig because of the overall performance these have provided. They are warm and musical and never fatigue. The soundstage they provide extends well beyond the speakers and, according to my wife, has quite a bit of depth to it. When I first got them, I had not done any component dynamatting/room treatments and they could come across as harsh and very forward. As I’ve continued to improve my system, they have tamed down considerably and are now quite relaxed on the top end. In my 14’ by 12’ room, they have the ability to pressurize the room in every sense of the word. I’ve never needed a sub with them: my one attempt to integrate a sub was laughable after seeing how little was added to the sound. In fact, adding the sub likely diminished their performance instead of enhanced it. For an 87 db speaker, these things are able to sound well on almost anything I’ve thrown at them. Need a speaker than can pull double duty? Well guys, this is your speaker. It excels at both 2 channel and Home Theater. It isn’t the final word by any means, but its still very seldom you look at a speaker and are able to say that it can completely engross you in both presentations.

    While I do love this speaker, I find the details to be lacking. Things that are apparent on other systems are still audible, but you have to listen for them. The imaging is a little less defined than it was originally, something I assume was a trade off for the improvements that have given them a richer tonal quality. Bass can at times be overpowering, and with the wrong components upstream it can be very undefined.

    However, when paired with the Shuguang S845mk, they could be the poster child for synergy. It just sounds…. Right. This alone makes it hard to part with them, but until now, I haven’t known exactly what it was about the pairing that made me feel this way. More on that later.



    Totem Forest

    Along with the Polk LSiM 705, these are the most expensive speakers I’ve had in my house when comparing MSRP. They are beautiful speakers, and for me, their overall design and appearance is very representative of their performance. The speaker is very sleek, modern, and simple looking. It has nice touches that say “look at me”, but at the same time calls no attention to itself. I’ve never heard a coffin disappear anywhere near as well as these things do. That ability definitely rivals many high quality bookshelves. The highs sparkle and are able to point out any flaws in the recording. The presentation is in front of the speaker, and while the soundstage can extend beyond the confines of the speaker, it doesn’t spread as far horizontally as the Usher does. The bass is tight and noticeable, but not punchy. One big benefit these have is that they are able to be placed closer to the rear wall than the Usher is and actually sound better that way.

    The downfalls of this speaker are direct results of their strengths. Give it poorly recorded music, and you can have a very short listening session. They can get fatiguing if not set up properly. The bass, while articulate, does not have the ability to pressurize the room on either amp. They come across sounding more like a bookshelf entirely than your traditional tower in that aspect.

    Overall, I really like the Forest. It is an excellent speaker and brings to the table many things I wish the Usher was better at. Like the Usher, these too would probably be a great dual purpose speaker, but would definitely require a subwoofer for HT.



    Magnepan SMGa

    I’ve had these for a few months now after craving the opportunity to hear what the Magnepan sound was all about. At first I wasn’t too impressed – they did a few things that really stood out, but left me feeling underwhelmed about the overall experience. Then, I started messing around with placement. Wow, these things really started to shine! As Danny has told me before, proper setup of Magnepans is akin to switching amps – once you find the right placement, you know it and finally get to experience what the speaker is capable of. The SMGa disappears EXTREMELY well. Its like the speakers aren’t even there. The details in the music went off the chart and had me listening for things I’d never heard before with music I’m intimate with. For instance, on Phil Collins “In the Air Tonight”, a verse or two before the drums kickin, he begins to take on a synthesized type of sound. With the SMGa, I realized this was not computer driven – there was actually a second guy talk-singing in the left speaker completely independent from Phil. I had to play this for my wife and she was amazed that she had never heard it before – it was that apparent. Women sound astoundingly good on them. You think Stevie Nicks or Norah Jones sound good on your rig? Yeah, I did too. The SMGa made their performance on the Usher sound like an amateur.

    The Magnepan sound obviously has its pitfalls though. Imaging is definitely not a strong point. While you can get a pretty solid image for one source, if several sources come in the image tends to get a bit muddy. They lack extension on both ends of the spectrum. They crave power and are the only speaker of the three that actually sounds better on the Marantz than the Shuguangs. The soundstage shrinks both horizontally and in depth. They also require proper placement well into the room, an attribute that makes them impossible for HT application (even with a sub) as they would block out a large portion of the screen.

    The SMGa is a speaker I picked up cheap and won’t be leaving my possession anytime soon. It is a great compliment to the extreme dynamics of the Usher. I love mellow, folksy type music and that is where the Magnepan really shines. Even with their limited extension, they are a speaker that I’d highly recommend most people at least get their ears on because their sound is very unique.



    What I learned

    Before I got the Totem, I was very happy with my two speakers. The Totem does a great job bridging the gap between the two, and had me debating which way to go from here. I’ve been struggling with this for the last week and it finally hit me tonight what I wanted to do and why it was the best choice. I’ve decided to keep the Usher and sell the Totem. Why? As great as the Totem is, what it doesn’t bring to the table is the presence and impact of the Usher. I guess I’ve got a touch of my car audio days left in me because I still like to FEEL the music. I don’t need overpowering bass, but when a kick drum hits, I want to feel it as well as hear it. I’d love to get the detail and imaging of the Totem out of the Usher, but in order to do that I think I’m going to have to look up the line. The Mini Dancer 1 is on my radar once again as a top candidate for my next speaker. It should be able to add some of the Totem character while maintaining what it is I love about the 6311.

    What I think got in the way was having a speaker in the house with a similar design concept and having it point out flaws in the 6311. I think the instant reaction is to focus on those flaws and want them fixed. I gave it time to think it all through and came to the realization that I wasn’t focusing on anything the 6311 brought to the table on the positive end. The impact turns out to be the biggest thing that sucks me out of music, and I definitely did not realize that until I stepped back to look at the whole picture instead of pieces of the puzzle.
    Last edited by DSkip; 11-08-2013 at 12:47 AM.
    Usher CP-6311, Shuguang S200MK, Shuguang S845MK, Pioneer BDP-51fd, Essence Audio HDACC, Douglas IC's, Douglas Alpha bi-wire SC's, Pangea/Douglas PC's, Epson 8100

  2. #2

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    Great review.

  3. #3

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    Cool write up. Now I want to hear that Phil Collins song...

  4. #4

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    Nice review....my personal observation is those Totems would perform better with SS amplification. Other than that, I think the other thing you learned is that synergy is a bitch.

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    skip, here's something to wet your beak. i found this old thread by bill baker of response audio (he use to be an usher dealer) who does crossover mods.

    " Yes, I have done extensive modifications to the Usher 6311. Below is some of the mods performed. Due to the custom nature of most of these mods, they are not laid out on my website. Below are the modifications recently performed on a customers custom ordered pair.

    * Crossover capacitors upgraded to consumer's preference with AuriCap, SoniCap, Oil caps or a well thought out combination. (AuriCaps were used in this particular pair).
    * Mills non-inductive resistors were used in place of thesand cast units
    * The bi-wire capability was removed in favor of a single wire setup to eliminate the sonic robbing dual post and bridges.
    * Seperate runs of Sonoran wiring was run from the binding post to each of the crossover boards.
    * All internal wiring is replaced with Star Sound Technologies Sonoran wiring featuring Micro Bearing technology
    * Bybee Purifiers were installed at both the positive and negative terminal of every driver.
    *ALL internal damping material was removed and a predetermined amount and thickness of card wool lines the cabinet walls.
    * ALL hardware holding the drivers on and securing the cross-overs was replaced with solid brass hardware.
    * A predetermined amount of Micro Bearing fill is placed in the sub-chamber located at the bottom of the cabinet.
    * Audio Point were used in place of the stock cones

    This was a very time consuming and obviously costly modification but the results were stagering. Everyone who was able to hear these speakers while I had them in the facility burning in was amazed and put them in the leage of $6k plus speakers.
    Due to the time consumption of a modification of this extent, I do not like to take to many on but for those who can appreciate the time, effort, technology and results involved, they do go on the list.

    I have also custom built many pairs of X-708, X-718 and CP-730 with two pairs of X-718s currently on the benches. Further information on these modifications will be posted on my website very soon. There is some new "stuff" incorperated into our mods that has not yet been released."
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  6. #6

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    Nice review DS. Enjoyed reading your impressions. Ever thought about acquiring a pair of SDA's and modding them? They possess the the qualities you describe that you like best in all three of the speakers.
    "Science is suppose to explain observations not dismiss them as impossible" - Norm on AA; 2.3TL's w/sonicaps/mills, polyswitches removed, Lg Solen inductors, RD-0198's, MW's dynamatted, Armaflex speaker gaskets, H-nuts, brass spikes, Cardas CCGR BP's, upgraded IC Cable, Black Hole Damping Sheet strips installed on back wall behind MW's & Tweeters, interior of cabinets sealed, AI-1 interface with 1000VA A-L transformer

  7. #7

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    Excellent write up, I enjoyed reading it with my morning coffee...
    "Life is one grand, sweet song, so start the music." ~ Ronald Reagan

    "I love songs about horses, railroads, land, Judgment Day, family, hard times, whiskey, courtship, marriage, adultery, separation, murder, war, prison, rambling, damnation, home, salvation, death, pride, humor, piety, rebellion, patriotism, larceny, determination, tragedy, rowdiness, heartbreak and love. And Mother. And God." ~ Johnny Cash

  8. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by tonyb View Post
    Nice review....my personal observation is those Totems would perform better with SS amplification. Other than that, I think the other thing you learned is that synergy is a bitch.
    Agreed on both accounts. While I wish I had access to a SS amp outside of the Marantz 2216 to see how it paired, the fact is its a moot point as far as the shootout is concerned. My monoblocks aren't going anywhere anytime soon. I made a big commitment to them and as long as they continue to sound superb with the 6311, I have no reason to move on.

    Quote Originally Posted by drumminman View Post
    Nice review DS. Enjoyed reading your impressions. Ever thought about acquiring a pair of SDA's and modding them? They possess the the qualities you describe that you like best in all three of the speakers.
    SDA's simply don't do it for me. I think highly modded ones are great speakers, but they still don't captivate me the way the Usher (and a few others I can't afford) does. As a side note, the width and setup requirements of SDA's would make them an ill fit for my space. Even though the Magnepan has similar setup requirements, the beauty with them is they are easily moved and take up virtually no room when not in use.
    Usher CP-6311, Shuguang S200MK, Shuguang S845MK, Pioneer BDP-51fd, Essence Audio HDACC, Douglas IC's, Douglas Alpha bi-wire SC's, Pangea/Douglas PC's, Epson 8100

  9. #9

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    Hello DSkip and good morning to you sir. As Rick mentioned, it sure was nice to read your observations over a cup of morning coffee. Well done.

    Tom
    In search of accurate reproduction of music. Real sound is my reference and while perfection may not be attainable? If I chase it, I might just catch excellence.

    The best way to enjoy digital music reproduction is to never listen to good analogue reproduction.

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    Skippers
    I plan on coming up early Friday morn, maybe late Thurday before Saturdays gathering.
    You pretty much know what SS gear I have and can bring it up if you have the time around your school schedule if you want to play around on Friday.

    Nice write
    Home Theater:Samsung8000-55LED,Pioneer SC35, Pioneer DV-79AVi, Sunfire TGA7201, LSi25, LCi RTSc, LC80i
    2chnl system:Melody 101 tube pre, Pass XA30.5 amp, Usher MD2 speakers, W4S Dac, MG Audio Planus2 speaker cables
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  11. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by txcoastal1 View Post
    Skippers
    I plan on coming up early Friday morn, maybe late Thurday before Saturdays gathering.
    You pretty much know what SS gear I have and can bring it up if you have the time around your school schedule if you want to play around on Friday.

    Nice write
    Great offer, but I'm hoping the Totem's will be out the door well before that time. The money I have tied up in them needs to be freed up now that I've come to a decision. If they are still here in a few months, it would be fun to see what they are capable of on good SS power.



    I appreciate the kind words. I had to write this last night for myself and thought it'd be good to share once I had it written. It really helped clear the head and draw conclusions from all my thoughts.
    Usher CP-6311, Shuguang S200MK, Shuguang S845MK, Pioneer BDP-51fd, Essence Audio HDACC, Douglas IC's, Douglas Alpha bi-wire SC's, Pangea/Douglas PC's, Epson 8100

  12. #12

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    So when does the review of the Wilson Alexia's come?

    Tom
    In search of accurate reproduction of music. Real sound is my reference and while perfection may not be attainable? If I chase it, I might just catch excellence.

    The best way to enjoy digital music reproduction is to never listen to good analogue reproduction.

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    Damnit...I keep telling myself I don't need a pair of 6311s...but then you come and post this and again have me reconsidering...
    "Unwad those panties and have a good time man. We're all here to help each other, no matter how it might appear." DSkip
    I may have an addiction... RTA-15TL, SDA 2, LSi25, LSi15, LSi9, LSi7, LSiCx2, LSiFX, LS/FX, RT/FX, DSW MP2000...and that's just the Polks...

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    Quote Originally Posted by dskip View Post
    sda's simply don't do it for me. I think highly modded ones are great speakers, but they still don't captivate me the way the usher (and a few others i can't afford) does. As a side note, the width and setup requirements of sda's would make them an ill fit for my space. Even though the magnepan has similar setup requirements, the beauty with them is they are easily moved and take up virtually no room when not in use.
    crs+ ?
    "Science is suppose to explain observations not dismiss them as impossible" - Norm on AA; 2.3TL's w/sonicaps/mills, polyswitches removed, Lg Solen inductors, RD-0198's, MW's dynamatted, Armaflex speaker gaskets, H-nuts, brass spikes, Cardas CCGR BP's, upgraded IC Cable, Black Hole Damping Sheet strips installed on back wall behind MW's & Tweeters, interior of cabinets sealed, AI-1 interface with 1000VA A-L transformer

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    Quote Originally Posted by DSkip View Post
    SDA's simply don't do it for me. I think highly modded ones are great speakers, but they still don't captivate me the way the Usher (and a few others I can't afford) does. As a side note, the width and setup requirements of SDA's would make them an ill fit for my space. Even though the Magnepan has similar setup requirements, the beauty with them is they are easily moved and take up virtually no room when not in use.

    You mean to tell me your still buying speakers to fit your house ? Not buying a house to fit your speakers ? Oh, the horror of it all. LOL.

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    Nice write up DSkip..
    While I have never heard any MMG's or Ushers I have heard the Totems really find not impress me much could have been the room in the store or improperly set up..
    I would love to get my ears on some 6311's the MMG's are made here in Canada now at the Paradigm plant..
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    Nice post, I would really like to listen to the different Usher lines.
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  18. #18

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    At the end of the day, personal preferences will always have the last word; and they should.

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  19. #19

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    Dskip, thanks for the write up. It was actually really helpful and you pretty much put into words what I have been feeling about my Totem Hawks with this line:

    "As great as the Totem is, what it doesn’t bring to the table is the presence and impact of the Usher. I guess I’ve got a touch of my car audio days left in me because I still like to FEEL the music. I don’t need overpowering bass, but when a kick drum hits, I want to feel it as well as hear it."

    My Hawks do so many things well that it's easy to overlook their weaknesses, mainly mid bass thump.

    Sounds like we have a similar background with car audio. I was "into it" at one point as well. It also sounds like I need to get my ears on some Usher soon. The 6311 might the speaker for me too :)

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    The Usher woofers/tweets have a long history in the DIY car audio world. The woofers are know for great power handling, great midbass in a sealed door or kick, clarity, and a cheaper buy than Scan Speak drivers. I heard them in a car before but never the home systems....but it's not surprising the towers do so well in the low range.

    Here is a guy overseas that used the 8" woofer and DMD Diamond tweet in a 2-way front in a comp car: http://www.diymobileaudio.com/forum/...ndustries.html
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    2 Ch Dreaming...hoping to purchase, build someday???
    OPPO 105 | Cary or Rogue Audio tube Preamp | Parasound HALO A21 amp | DIY Mini Statements towers

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    Quote Originally Posted by tonyb View Post
    Nice review....my personal observation is those Totems would perform better with SS amplification. Other than that, I think the other thing you learned is that synergy is a bitch.
    I was thinking the same thing. Along with adding a Killer sub for low end impact would have really kept the Totems in the house.
    Dan
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    Quote Originally Posted by drumminman View Post
    crs+ ?
    Those go completely against the reason I am keeping the 6311.

    Quote Originally Posted by steveinaz View Post
    At the end of the day, personal preferences will always have the last word; and they should.
    This is the main thing I learned. I thought i knew what i wanted out of a speaker and the Totem delivered it. What I realized was that what the 6311 provides is a baseline I have to work from. I can't just go and get something that delivers on its weaknesses - I'm going to have to work from the foundation laid and find ways to build on it.

    Quote Originally Posted by audiocr381ve View Post
    Dskip, thanks for the write up. It was actually really helpful and you pretty much put into words what I have been feeling about my Totem Hawks with this line:

    "As great as the Totem is, what it doesnít bring to the table is the presence and impact of the Usher. I guess Iíve got a touch of my car audio days left in me because I still like to FEEL the music. I donít need overpowering bass, but when a kick drum hits, I want to feel it as well as hear it."

    My Hawks do so many things well that it's easy to overlook their weaknesses, mainly mid bass thump.
    Paired with a solid subwoofer, I don't think you would need much else. I think they are great speakers and can see why people like them now that I had a chance to hear them on a decent system.

    Quote Originally Posted by WLDock View Post
    The Usher woofers/tweets have a long history in the DIY car audio world. The woofers are know for great power handling, great midbass in a sealed door or kick, clarity, and a cheaper buy than Scan Speak drivers. I heard them in a car before but never the home systems....but it's not surprising the towers do so well in the low range.
    If I ever get back into the Car Audio world, it will likely be built around a P99 and Usher midwoofers. I don't know that I could go with their tweeters in the car - they are often harsh in a bad environment and the bulky front plate makes them a bit of a hassle to install and not look bulky like the one you linked. That was a pretty awesome install though.

    Quote Originally Posted by mantis View Post
    I was thinking the same thing. Along with adding a Killer sub for low end impact would have really kept the Totems in the house.
    More than anyone on the forum, sometimes I wish you could come down here and just listen to my setup. I think you'd be mightily impressed with the performance it provides for a dual purpose, 2 channel rig. The entire setup, including the room, just has synergy that I couldn't have dreamed of.

    While I'm not opposed to a good subwoofer if needed, I'm VERY picky with my subs and know it would be a big investment on my part. Factor in that I'd then have to sell off my monoblocks and find new power that synergizes well with the Totem, and its a battle not worth fighting when the system already performs so well. The Shuguangs are perfect pairs with the 6311 and there is ZERO need for a subwoofer for either experience.
    Usher CP-6311, Shuguang S200MK, Shuguang S845MK, Pioneer BDP-51fd, Essence Audio HDACC, Douglas IC's, Douglas Alpha bi-wire SC's, Pangea/Douglas PC's, Epson 8100

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    skip, thought about calling this weekend to bring the usher amp by but every time i passed i35 and saw the backup i said hell no. maybe this up coming weekend.
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    If you're willing to make the trek, Sunday would likely be the best opportunity. Either that or Friday night, and Fridays are hell for traffic.
    Usher CP-6311, Shuguang S200MK, Shuguang S845MK, Pioneer BDP-51fd, Essence Audio HDACC, Douglas IC's, Douglas Alpha bi-wire SC's, Pangea/Douglas PC's, Epson 8100

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    Quote Originally Posted by DSkip View Post
    The Shuguangs are perfect pairs with the 6311 and there is ZERO need for a subwoofer for either experience.
    I can vouch for this statement.

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    I enjoyed reading through this thread, thanks. How about some pictures?? Love pictures!!

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