February 21, 2014
Words: Paul Rigby
They’re called compact speakers, bookshelf speakers or stand-mounted speakers but, basically, were talking about those speakers that you could, with a little bit of effort and possibly a quick refresher down the gym, pick up and carry under each arm.
Compact speakers are ideal for systems that have to squeeze into a relatively small space. Hence, if you are living in a bedsit or small flat they, and the rest of your principle hi-fi system, can be snuggly installed in the corner without dominating the room. Compact speakers are also useful as part of a second system for a study, bedroom or spare room.
Being small and compact doesn’t always equate with poor or a lower standard of performance, either. On the contrary, big speakers are not always the best. In fact, in a smaller room, a large speaker’s big bass noise often results in bass booming and ‘bloom’: where bass sounds stodgy and infects the rest of the music, masking detail. As long as you place them on a decent set of speaker stands, small speakers can sound fast, nimble, detailed and punchy.
So much for thinking small. But small for turntables specifically? Well, yes. Generally speaking, vinyl’s inherent personality leans more towards the warm sound of the sonic spectrum. So, speakers that are overly ‘sweet’ in character or are tweaked too far towards the lower frequencies can sound mushy, bloated, slow and lacking in fine detail when sourced via a turntable. What you need is balance when setting up a decent turntable-based hi-fi chain. The following selection will do wonders for your musical enjoyment.
1: WHARFEDALE DIAMOND 122
The Wharfedales have bass ports, these are holes in the cabinet that help to enhance the bass. The Diamond’s bass ports, unusually, are positioned at the bottom of the speaker, just above that small plinth you can see at the base, to aid speaker positioning. Sound quality? The music emanating from the 122s sounds big with a surprisingly large bass response for the chassis size.
2: CAMBRIDGE AUDIO AERO 2
That unusual flat driver at the top, a BMR, helps to balance the sound. It handles treble and most of the midrange, giving the driver at the bottom a break, allowing it to concentrate mostly on bass, meaning that the midrange sound is effortless and easy. Detail fairly floats from the speaker without stress or strain. The speakers also offer quite a bass kick too.
3: Q ACOUSTICS CONCEPT 20
The Concept 20s are a step up from the company’s budget 2020i speakers priced at £210. It’s basically the same but has a better cabinet offering a freedom and lucidity that was not previously there, along with admirable force and precision from the bass. Looking and sounding good, the speakers can also be bought with their own stands (£200) which improves the sound still further.
4: ACOUSTIC ENERGY 301
Acoustic Energy makes all of its own speaker ingredients and that pillar-box slot at the bottom, which enhances bass, makes it easier to position. Put the hole at the back of the speaker and bass sounds muddy when the speaker is placed against the wall. Put the hole at the front and the problem goes away. Soundwise? Clean, crisp detail and a refined yet well-rounded sound.
5: KEF LS50
Looking rather striking, with its copper-coloured driver system, this speaker looks even smaller because music spurts from a single, all-in-one driver. The KEF is one dramatic-sounding speaker, although we would advise placing them near to a wall to enhance the bass response. Don’t expect massive bass response from the diminutive boxes but driving them comparatively hard, the KEFs still offer an eloquent sound.
6: MARTIN LOGAN MOTION 15
The American-based Martin Logan speaker design uses different drive units such as this Folded Motion tweeter. This means delicate sounding cymbals, spacious reverb off the back of drum strikes and real emotional involvement during vocals. Deep bass is largely absent but you’d never know because it’s so finely balanced that your ear is fooled to think that nothing is missing. An articulate speaker design.
7: ATOHM GT 1.0
Questions such as “Who?” and “How much!?” spring to mind, don’t they? As for the first, Atohm has been busy quietly making drive units for other manufacturers of quality speakers while the price is explained by the high quality of engineering that these speakers exhibit. In play, vocals float free of the speakers themselves while detail comes alive via the Atohms. Pure class.
8: USHER DANCER MINI-X DIAMOND
Usher is another one of the few outfits out there that makes all of its own drive units. Sound quality is smooth, without any nasty treble tizzy noises but with plenty of detail. Bass, meanwhile is powerful and realistic which is helped by the high quality construction. Surprisingly, it offers value for money as it can out-perform speakers at twice the price.