Summary: Home audio is such an expensive and a very relative hobby. We have hundreds of companies that produce variants of products that will make any type of listener happy and hopefully make them loyal to that brand.
On top of that we have countless reviews of products, they are all biased and fulfill the reviewers own agenda on what he or she thinks is good sound. Hence the biggest suggestion you will ever hear is: Go listen to the equipment yourself and decide.
I have been in the market for good quality speakers for a long while, my search had gone beyond any reasonable amount of time and auditions and spanned into about 3/4s of a year.
I started out with the usual suspects. ProAc, PSB Platinums, PMC, Dynadio, Magnipan & Wharfdales.
My bias in quality of music is a marriage of warm and non-bright sound with clarity. The statement in its own is a bit of a contradiction as clarity has a price which is the production of songs may reveal the bright aspects in the song, which is something I can live without.
I started my auditioning with my Arcam kit. Arcam A series Int Amp and I would take it in where the stores had the speakers or I would bring the speakers home to minimize most if not all variables.
After listening to all (and without discussing my opinions about the contenders) I picked PMCs. During this time I had purchased the Arcam AVR300 for home theatre and started to do more research and was quite happy as Arcams community loves the pmc arcam combo.
I thought it was a done deal but then I started to read more and more about speakers and found lots of audiophile/stereophiles raving about StudioLab Reference One speakers. I had driven by this obscure little speaker shop on Lawrence East countless times and never associated it with audiophile class speakers.
I read on cancukaudio a lot of happy customers of reference one and decided to give them a go I went in and listened to the series and was quite surprised at the clean, accurate reproduction of sound.
I took in my arcam second time around where the owners and the speakers engineer were very helpful and let me spend a good hour or two listening to reference one and reference protégé line.
I even took my existing speakers (which were a custom joby that were warm, lacking in detail and soundstage) and compared them side by side, not an easy venture.
After listening to them I was leaning more and more towards Reference protégé mostly because of their capability of handling low frequencies and hitting the right notes with string instruments and piano (as suggested by the speakers engineer). I had also gotten a capacitor upgrade to smooth the highs a bit.
I finally put in the order for five (four towers & one centre) Reference Protégé speakers as I believe in having same speakers all around; I would probably get a raised eyebrow with this comment and would be told its a waste of money. My response would be yes but then again it all boils down to personal preference.
These speakers were a custom order and Id have to wait about a month or so. These speakers were also responsible for practically getting a thumb off of one of the workers in the factory hence they became blood speakers in mahogany.
After a much understandable delay of the delivery date, they were finally ready for pickup. Four towers and a centre moving from the factory to my home was quite the chore as they are lead shot filled from factory and VERY heavy.
For setup I used just a pseudo blue tack material and placed it underneath the speakers and set them on my wooden floor.
I set them up with Ultralink audiophile 512 strand copper wire all around and connected it to my Arcam avr-300.
My initial response was yuck, but as I have found now a totally dumbfounded and premature response. I knew they need break-in time and I started to leave radio and random music playing constantly for days after days.
I would emphasize if you do buy these speakers that 100-150 hours is a LOT of days and is required for them to sound like they are meant to. So dont be quick to judge unless you have lived with them for at least 150 hours.
After the break in period I was very wowd at the quality of sound that I was getting. The highs were detailed & transparent, the bass was realistic and not over or under stated & the vocals were realistically accurate.
These speakers handle bass very well, my intention was to create the most natural and accurate sound reproduction so I experimented with the Xover and found 80hz to be the best setting to use with my HSU vtf3 mkII subwoofer. I also set the speakers to sub/small in my Arcam and everyday that I listened to music I found detail that I had never heard before.
Talking about brightness and these speakers you cannot really label them bright as they are in my opinion true to monitor quality that is they produce a very flat and accurate sound response. They are not super warm/laid back like the PMCs and they are not too in your face/bright, I think they have the perfect balance between the two.
My music habits are vast I would listen to everything from rock to jazz to RnB to rubbish pop.
One of the songs that I really enjoy listening to is St. Louis Blues by Louis Armstrong. This re-mastered track has it all; bass, brass & the famous vocals of Louis. This track still gives me goosebumps to this day if I listen to it on this setup. From the beginning of the track the horn is detailed and just bright enough to give you the feeling that its being played in front of you. The soundstage is so involving that you forget that you are not in a tavern listening to a live venue. The vocals are equally captivating and make you enjoy music with all its emotion.
Something a little different would be The White Straps, from their album Get behind me Satan track my doorbell. This song was produced I would say in a very flat manner, there is no background noise between the instruments it is as if its dead silent. The bass is very accurately reproduced and the highs are clean and clear and as transparent as it gets. Listening to songs like these make you realize that home stereo systems can produce sounds at this caliber at such an affordable price.
I can go on and on about different types of music and how they shine through differently with these speakers. One thing that would be true is I think my setup is very unforgiving to bad recordings and you would be able to notice a badly produced CD from a decent one very easily. Having said that there are a lot of CDs out there that are very badly produced.
I have been a happy StudioLab Reference Protégé owner for a while until I started to listen to more and more music from these speakers instead of my Sennheisers (HD-650s). I would recommend these speakers to anyone who wants a well engineered & built speaker which is clear, accurate and has a great soundstage.
Another note to this review would be I recently changed the receiver to a Yamaha RXV1600 which I borrowed from a friend. Ironically these speakers make the difference of sound quality between the two amps very noticeable. Immediately I notice flatness in soundstage & lack of clarity and the receivers tendency to sound muffled. Whats my point you ask? Its to show that these speakers would defiantly shine if they are paired with a HIGH quality receiver or amplifier.
I am currently in the process of deciding on a stereo power amp from bryston and will amend the review after some time of listening. Hope this review helps anyone who is deciding to buy speakers and should give StudioLab reference series a serious listen. They are Canadian, locally built & have been built by people who love music.
Here's my experience with Studiolab: they refused to honour their warranty. Many years ago I bought a pair of their speakers. Not the cheapest, but the second from the top of the line. The speakers came with a lifetime warranty. Well a couple of years ago I called them to make arrangements to bring the speakers in for service as the rubber surrounds were fatigued. Instead of honouring the warranty I was told that they absolutely would not honour the warranty because they said the speakers were too old. This indicates to me that this company lacks integrity. I guess they've never heard of Bryston.
Not all companies are dishonourable with their lifetime warranties. One of a pair of very old Cardas cables cracked on the outside casing. No excuses, as that model was no longer made, they sent me better new pair in exchange for the damaged cable that I sent back to them.