Compact floorstanders offering the same scale performance as their bulky counterparts.
You’ve decided you fancy floorstanding speakers, but there’s no need to share your listening room with the hi-fi equivalent of the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. There are discreet floorstanders to be had – and the place to start looking is right here.
We’ve assembled contenders from KEF (the middle model from the new Q-series, but just 92cm tall), Kudos (the X2s, 78cm), Spendor (the 79cm A5s) and Totem (the Arros, 85cm and whippet-thin). The KEFs and the Kudos are getting their first run-out here; the other two are firm favourites.
Don’t think buying a compact loudspeaker means you’re downscaling when it comes to ability, though. Despite their dimensions, all four of these speakers cost full-fat money and you’re entitled to expect commensurate performance. Speakers carrying prices like these should be at home in large or small listening rooms, be adaptable across many genres of music, and offer the same scale of performance as their bigger siblings. Can you get a quart of performance out of a pint-pot enclosure? Read on…
Low-end woe for KEF
A promising presentation comprehensively scuppered by ill-disciplined low frequencies.
At a modest 92cm high, the KEF Q700s aren’t the burliest floorstanders you’ll encounter, but in this pint-sized company they’re the most imposing.
This impression is deepened by the Q700s’ driver-count. The 165mm aluminium Uni-Q driver with centre-mounted 25mm tweeter is taken from the class- leading Q300 standmounter. It’s joined by a 165mm low-frequency driver and two 165mm auxiliary bass radiators.
If the wood-fibre finish doesn’t feel too luxurious, don’t forget these are at the cheaper end of the price spectrum. And, where robust floor-spike arrangements and elegant biwiring speaker terminals are concerned, the KEFs are the best here.
The decision to go with passive bass radiators rather than reflex ports is an unusual one, that promises, in theory at least, better control. The Q700s are happiest out in free space, though, and toed-in towards the listener slightly.
Playing Clinic’s Bubblegum, a lot of the Q700s’ best work is recognisable from the Q300s. The beautifully defined and informative midrange is carried over, and vocalists are granted explicit detail and eloquence. There’s the same confident attack with high frequencies, too, fine scale, and a dismissively assured way with even the heftiest dynamic variances.
This, sadly, is all undermined by the Q700s’ low-frequency reproduction. The passive radiators hum along, with little regard for the beginning or end of notes; the subsequent blow to definition and organisation is mortal. There’s little low-end solidity, and this lack of precision is at odds with the rest of the frequency range. It’s this lack of coherence that relegates the KEFs to "also-ran" status.
Deserves some kudos
Treble tribulations aside, these Kudos speakers have much to recommend them.
In 2010, What Hi-Fi? featured an enthusiastic review of Kudos’s Cardea C30 loudspeakers. This X2 floorstander is the British manufacturer’s first attempt at bringing a bit of that high-end sparkle to the masses.
That’s assuming the masses can pay a fairly hefty price for a pair of speakers, of course, and the masses don’t want something too intrusive. At 78cm tall the X2s are usefully compact, wood-veneered and nicely finished. There’s a reflex port at the bottom (the plinth provides a fixed boundary gap) and a single pair of binding posts at the back. Up front, a 25mm fabric dome tweeter sits above a 150mm paper cone mid/bass driver.
They’re not picky about room position, although they’re most comfortable standing away from side or rear walls. Apply a touch of toe-in and you’re good to go.
Joan As Police Woman’s Nervous shows the X2s off to good effect. Considering the modest volume of the cabinets, the Kudoses summon decent low-frequency presence and punch, to the point that you’ll need to choose partnering electronics with care. There’s very agreeable fluidity to the X2s’ presentation, and this cheerful musicality is allied to an assertive, driving and impressively dynamic character that keeps even the most pedestrian tempos on the front foot. This spaciousness and speed is complemented by excellent attention to detail.
There’s a certain lack of unity between treble sounds and the rest of the frequency range, though, a suggestion of greyness and grittiness to the top end that’s at odds with the smooth fluency of the sound otherwise. This graininess is just enough
to cost the X2s that final star.
Hey, big Spendor!
Endlessly listenable, these capable A5s are accomplished beyond their price.
What Hi-Fi? gave these Spendor A5 speakers five stars in January 2009, and again in the February of that year and then… nothing. So this is their first formal review in over two years.
For a speaker that stands just 79cm high, the A5s are pretty heavy – it’s almost as if they’re made from concentrated essence of loudspeaker. The looks are purposeful (22mm dome tweeter above a 150mm mid/bass driver and a 150mm bass drive unit), the wood veneer is tactile, the finish flawless. Even the speaker binding posts seem classy.
At their best when out in the room and firing more-or-less dead ahead, the A5s are a multi-talented listen. Playing Villagers’ Becoming a Jackal, the Spendors summon unlikely low-end punch, extension and control, and deliver great texture too – for all their seductive size, the A5s’ fulsome bass presence means they’re not a default choice for smaller rooms.
Elsewhere, the midrange is alive with immediacy and detail – vocalists seldom sound more engaged – and the top of the frequency range is attacked boldly. There’s ample speed and drive, though the Spendors are just as capable of describing barely-there nuances as the broad strokes of a recording. In any event, their timing is sweetly precise, loading the leading edge of notes with information and offering a natural and unforced tonality. The soundstage they generate is sizeable, and their stereo focus unquestionable.
A sensitivity rating of 85 dB/W/m means they need to be shown the stick by an amplifier with adequate reserves if you’re to get properly antisocial volume out of them. Otherwise the news is all good. Good enough to see off these rivals, certainly.
Small but effective
If a wide, tall sound from thin speakers appeals, look no further then the Totems.
When talk turns to compact floorstanders, the name Totem will invariably be invoked. These Arros have undergone any number of detail changes (and a 20 per cent price hike) since What Hi-Fi? last looked at them back in February 2006; but their tiny cabinet dimensions of 85 x 13 x 18cm remain unchanged.
Totem has revised and upgraded the Arros’ crossover, capacitors and 19mm textile dome tweeter. What it hasn’t addressed, sadly, is the Arros’ entirely unsatisfactory plinth arrangement. The supplied, spiked plinths don’t bolt or screw to the speaker cabinets – instead, you must use the supplied sticky pads, Blu-Tac or similar to create a union. Does that sound like a pricey set of speakers to you?
With plenty of playing-in time under their slender belts, and with minimal toe-in, the Totems are, fortunately, talented enough to make you forgive the indignity of their plinth arrangement. Nils Frahm’s The Bells positively revels in the Arros’ distinct, wide-open soundstage and vivid imaging. Dynamically adept, rhythmically surefooted and musically up-front, the Totems offer fine timing to accompany their arresting stereo focus. There’s impressive togetherness to the Arros’ sound, a seamless integration from the bottom of the frequency range to the top.
The bass-hungry may raise an eyebrow at the flyweight low-end presence (Totem admits mass-loading the cabinets might be an idea), but what bass there is, is four-square, tonally varied and solid. In fact, the Arros cover their tracks well – they’re not the punchiest, the most transparent or the most detailed speaker here, but they are among the most vibrant and musical and, as such, ought to feature on any short-speaker shortlist.
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