Review6 compact loudspeakers

Good sound everyone can afford

It does not have to cost a fortune to get good stereo sound in the living room. We've found six sets of speakers that will fit any budget.

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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”.

(Photo: Wharfedale)

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.

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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.

Clean and nuanced reproduction, especially in the midrange. Draws up a nice acoustic scene.
Less effective than the others, so forget about playing loud.

Elipson Prestige Facet 6B

Superior workmanship

Elipson impresses with build quality and immaculate details.

Excellent build quality. Nuanced sound and good dynamics.
More expensive than any other. Not as three-dimensional and accurate as DALI and Wharfedale.

Eltax Monitor III

Far better than their price

It is unbelievable that you can get so much speaker for so little money.

Insanely cheap: It costs a third of the test's most expensive! And the sound is actually pretty decent.
The sound is decent, but still far below everyone else in the test. The cabinet is thin and the build quality is poor. But what can you expect at the price?

Q Acoustics 3020i

Engaged and musical

The Q Acoustics 3020i is reasonably priced and razor-sharp priced. But also well-sounding.

Engaging and musical reproduction. Low price.
Cheapfinish. The sound could be more detailed.

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.

Ultra-discreet look that will offend no one.
The sound is as anonymous as the design.

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.

Warm and comfortable reproduction at a really good price.
The sound is not overly detailed
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