How much should one give for a good speaker? If money is no obstacle, you can get the fairytale for a substantial fire-figure amount. But, fortunately, less will do. How little you can get away with paying, we will find out in this test.
We have looked at, and especially listened to, six sets of compact speakers from the cheapest end of the manufacturers selection. And it’s actually impressive how much good sound you can get for so few Pounds. All speakers in the test deliver a sound that is easy to live with if the money is small and space is limited.
In terms of price, there is a certain spread. The most expensive model costs more than double the cheapest. But since the numbers are small, the extra amount of GBP spent is not really big.
Same recipe everywhere
Although the six speaker sets look very different in both finish and size, there are many similarities: All are very compact (the size of a shoebox). And all are two-way speakers with a 5-inch midwoofer in a bass reflex enclosure, combined with a dome tweeter.
The similarities in construction do not come as a big surprise, as it is the most obvious recipe for a good result, when price and size set the limit so mercilessly. But it is still interesting that there are no exceptions to the rule at all.
Speakers of that size used to be called bookshelf speakers. And it is obvious that they will most often be placed on top of a piece of furniture or crammed onto the shelves of a bookshelf. Not least as buyers with a severely limited hi-fi budget rarely have a large living room with ample space available.
Placement in the bookcase can be just right and may even give the small speakers a much needed boost in the bass. However, if you want to achieve the best stereo image and perspective, it is an advantage to place the speakers in the “correct” way: on stands, raised to ear height and with some distance to the back wall and corners. Now, we said it. Of course, you decide for yourself. But at least allow some air around the speakers in the shelf so that the bass reflex port on the back can “breathe”.
How we tested
The speakers were – of course – tested with music in stereo. A wide variety of tracks were played in an equally wide selection of genres. The speakers were placed in a medium-sized living room of almost 25 square meters, which is probably the largest, so small speakers have a chance to play up. Especially since the acoustics here are relatively heavily attenuated.
As this is a test, the speakers were placed where they perform best, namely on stands and at a certain distance to the back wall and corners. To ensure that other links in the playback chain did not set the limit, the speakers were powered by a NAD C658 / NAD C298 amplifier set at the better end of the premium class. With 2 x 180 watts available and a price equivalent to ten times the price of most sets in the test, it was pure overkill. But it sounded good and it made it possible to focus on the strengths and weaknesses of the speakers.
Products in this test
DALI Oberon 1
Inherits from the more expensive series
DALI's smallest budget model has borrowed technology from the more advanced models.
Elipson Prestige Facet 6B
Elipson impresses with build quality and immaculate details.
Eltax Monitor III
Far better than their price
It is unbelievable that you can get so much speaker for so little money.
Q Acoustics 3020i
Engaged and musical
The Q Acoustics 3020i is reasonably priced and razor-sharp priced. But also well-sounding.
Tangent Spectrum X5
Best for background music
The Tangent Spectrum X5 are not bad. But you can get more sound for the money from others.
Wharfedale Diamond 12.1
Warm and comfortable sound
Wharfedale has had assistance from the other side of the Channel, and the result is a pair of well-sounding speakers.