Standmount Loudspeakers Group Test 2021
ALL SIX OF this month’s contenders are given a few hours of general running-in time before testing begins in earnest to discern toe-in and proximity to the rear wall, and those speakers that have bungs are tested both with and without them in place.
The speakers are placed on a pair of Partington Dreadnought stands (the exception to this being the Q Acoustics, which is tested on its own stand in the manner of how it is sold) before levels are set with a pink noise test tone and by checking the voltage at the speaker terminals with a meter. The real-world sensitivity differences between the six cabinets here is sufficiently small that only relatively fine adjustment is required
With this done, the test programme is played from a Melco N1A controlled via Roon Nucleus and wired directly to Chord Electronics’s 2Go.
The six speakers are tested back to back before a process of returning to specific models playing certain tracks to identify initially noted strengths and weaknesses. With this done, the cabinets also enjoy a few hours of more general listening to help further identify their overall character and performance traits. As with all our Group Tests, as well as their out-and-out performance, the design, build, price and overall feel of the contenders is taken into consideration when establishing the final placing.
Bowers & Wilkins 705 Signature
Beautifully finished and superbly capable, this works well in most systems.
Fyne Audio F1.5
Small but impressive performer capable of exceptional imaging and fluency
An impressive performance that’s not without some quirks
PMC twenty 5.21i
Entertaining and potent, it rewards with a sensibly matched system
Q Acoustics Concept 300
Extremely detailed and spacious, lacks a touch of excitement, but looks fascinating
Spendor Classic 3/1
The traditional looks hide a superbly talented and engaging speaker
Group test verdict
An exceptionally capable selection of standmount speakers, all with some singular talents. Ed Selley picks his winner
THE LEVEL OF ability on display in this group is unusually high and results in some unique scoring as a result. Pointing out that the JBL has the most apparent limitations in its performance has to be done at the same time as noting it costs at least £ less than any other speaker in the group and that its treble is near the top of the pack.
After much deliberation, I find myself unable to split the Fyne Audio, PMC and Q Acoustics. These are three very different speakers, but their capabilities are all worthy of note. The Fyne’s superb spaciousness, three-dimensionality and excellent tonality is tempered by the slight lack of scale, but it’s a very engaging speaker. The Q Acoustics on the other hand wants for nothing in terms of weight and impact and it also creates a fine stereo image, although the slight lack of emotional involvement might be an issue for some. The PMC, on the other hand, is rather more fun and hits very hard for such a compact speaker, but care needs to be taken to ensure it doesn’t come across as a little too forward with poorer-quality recordings. All three of these speakers, if partnered with any degree of care, though, should be able to delight.
The Bowers & Wilkins is a very successful amalgam of all of these different abilities into a single, hugely impressive speaker. It manages to combine accuracy, scale and spaciousness without losing the sense of engagement that has you wanting to keep listening and it’s also beautifully made. Only a fractional hardness to the top end and some limitations to the stereo image prevent it from taking the top spot, but it’s a superb performer nonetheless.
The Spendor Classic 3/1 isn’t as pretty as the B&W, but the performance is a truly sensational blend of accuracy, scale, refinement and sheer unadulterated fun. It’s also beautifully made and admirably unfussy about placement and partnering equipment.
The addition of the 2Go to the Hugo 2 results in a compact and extremely capable network streamer that has the added bonus of an additional volume control to make fine level matching in the test as simple as possible. The exceptionally transparent performance of the Hugo2 also makes for an excellent piece of test equipment.
INTEGRATED AMPLIFIER: Naim Supernait 3
Naim’s largest integrated is ideal for testing as the 80W of claimed output is more than up to driving any of the speakers here and the latest refinements to the circuit improve the soundstage without impinging on the traditional Naim virtues, making this an amp that balances grunt and refinement to excellent effect.
PLAYBACK SOFTWARE: Roon
Roon remains the gold standard of music software. It’s easy to quickly browse through a sizeable library and select the material you need, including being able to pick content from streaming services, assemble it into a playlist and have it ready to go as many times as you need it.
INTEGRATED AMPLIFIER: Cyrus i7-XR
The i7-XR is an impressive step forward for Cyrus, taking everything that the company has traditionally done well, ironing out some of the rough edges and offering a package with a superbly comprehensive specification.
TURNTABLE: Vertere DG-1
The Vertere looks unusual, but it’s a superb set of technical solutions to the business of building an affordable (by Vertere standards anyway) turntable that delivers sensational performance in an easy-to-use package.
MAINS CONDITIONER: iFi Audio PowerStation
The PowerStation is an excellent mains conditioner. It delivers a meaningful improvement over more conventional mains devices and combines this with some useful and well- implemented additional features.
Remember My Song (16/44.1 FLAC)
Fuel to Fire
Aventine (24/48 FLAC)
All Rise (Deluxe) (24/96 FLAC)
Petals For Armour (24/96 FLAC)