Best Buy HiFi Speakers
Audio Nirvana is a pair of good loudspeakers away
Happiness is a decent pair of loudspeakers.As an AV led website we tend to focus on multichannel speaker packages but with two channel continuing to stage an impressive fightback over the last few years, we have been starting to look at speakers available in classic stereo pairs. The choices available are enormous so we have quite literally only dipped a toe in the waters to bring you some of the highlights.
As with many aspects of stereo, your buying decisions really need to be made having got hands on with and having listened to the product in question. As most stereo amps don't EQ their output, you will need to choose a speaker that works well in your room without artificial assistance. To this end, in 2015 we focussed mainly on standmount designs and all in one speakers. These are some of the highlights of the year.
In audio terms, the amount of great things that happen under £200 is sadly a little limited. It is perfectly possible to spend that sum of money on cabling and accessories. Happily though, Q Acoustics seems to have made it their mission to bring incredibly good speakers to market at exceptionally low prices. Having tested a multichannel pack of the 3000 Series, we decided to secure of pair of the 3020s to see what they could do. These compact standmounts take some of the technology from the Concept Series and add an all new tweeter and revisions to the cabinet that make for a more effective use of space and improve the looks over the older 2000 Series.
As a brand, Q Acoustics has gone from plucky newcomer to part of the establishment in a short time so expectations are high. The good news is that the 3020 delivers in spades. The 3000 Series- in fact pretty much every speaker that Q Acoustics has ever made- is an admirable demonstration that just because you can build drivers out of very exotic materials does not necessarily mean that you should. This is a tremendous loudspeaker that delivers more musical satisfaction than you would ever reasonably expect and it is the undoubted pick of sub £200 stereo speakers.
With Q Acoustics dominating at the lower reaches of product, we took a look a little further up the price order and KEF's striking LS50 was the logical choice. This is a one off model that joins the striking (and expensive) Blade and Muon Series as one off technology concepts. As well as a bespoke version of KEF's distinctive Uni-Q driver, the cabinet is an extremely clever combination of materials including an incredibly dense baffle made from plastic. The result of all this frenzied activity is a very striking but also rather handsome loudspeaker.
This isn't just a pretty face though. The KEF is in keeping with the classic vein of British broadcasting monitors that were made by a variety of speaker manufacturers (and which for the most part, used KEF drivers). Given that the LS50 has almost nothing in common with these speakers in a technological or design sense, this might sound a little odd - but after some time listening to them, the parallels make a great deal more sense. It has a real 'stop what you're doing and just listen to this' quality. The scale and positioning of the performers is totally convincing and this is partnered with tonality that is truly exceptional. There is a school of thought for many people that metal drivers can sound hard or synthetic and while I've heard plenty over the years that are anything but, this is one that most eloquently rebukes that claim. This is a speaker that works across huge swathes of musical styles and satisfies with all of them.
If you adhere to the perfectly logical belief that there is no substitute for cubic capacity when it comes to bass, the PMC might come as something of a surprise. Using the company's sophisticated transmission line system, the twenty.21 manages to extract a great deal more bass from its compact cabinet and 5.25 inch bass driver than you might expect. It means that this beautifully finished and rather handsome speaker should present few problems domestically while also delivering on the sound front.
And make no mistake, the twenty.21 delivers. Where the twenty.21 excels is filling out the lower registers with a depth and authority that is simply not something you'd expect from a speaker of this size and design. The PMC sounds fuller and richer than you might reasonably expect a small standmount to be. Furthermore, this is not achieved at the expense of speed. The PMC never sounds slow or bloated and will stay with anything you throw at them. This is a speaker which delivers accuracy, speed and scale in a way that puts clear air between itself and most rivals and little at the same price can compete with it.
Wireless speakers are big business at the moment and Sony has decided to throw the kitchen sink at the sector with a huge range of products. The SRS-X7 sits below the flagship SRS-X9 but offers most of the same impressive features. You get DLNA streaming, wifi, AirPlay and NFC Bluetooth. This is given some go via three drivers and Sony's own S-Master amplifier system. For something relatively compact, the Sony does an impressive amount of different things and does so with a surprising amount of heft.
In use the Sony does an awful lot right. Ignore the dozens of EQ settings and keep it flat. Keep it neutral and the SRS-X7 will entertain with crystal clear mids and a lively and engaging presence. For those listening to the spoken word, dialogue is very well rendered and even without the special mode engaged, manages to deliver a surprisingly wide stereo listening field. The sound quality is superb, in this class, and it possesses extremely flexible connectivity options. It also looks great, feels very well engineered and you can use it away from the mains thanks to the inbuilt rechargeable battery, should you wish. If you are looking to add music to another room, the Sony takes some beating.
Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin WirelessAs one of the original Wireless speakers, the Zeppelin has been continuously updated from the original iPod dock speaker but the classic shape and close relationship to Apple products remains. The latest Wireless version now includes Apt-X Bluetooth as well as AirPlay and still looks and feels extremely impressive with excellent build and a quality feel helped in no small part by an excellent control App.
The Zeppelin sounds immensely competent. There is meaningful bass extension and impact while vocals are clear and well defined. As a single point source, the Zeppelin is never going to give you a vast stereo image but equally it manages to sound more than a simple mono speaker. When you select something more obviously 'hi-fi', the Zeppelin has real presence and tonal realism and partners this to a far greater sense of left/right separation and something that is much more obviously a soundstage. It is impressive to see how the evolution and development of the design has kept the Zeppelin near the top of the pack. Now shorn of physical connections, the Zeppelin is sicker, easier to use and more capable than ever before.
As with many of the categories we cover, there is no shortage of choice but many products we have seen offer spectacular performance. Whether you want an all-in-one solution or something more bespoke, there's something suitable for under the tree.
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