This issue: Speakers
PSB Imagine T2 – £2,499
You can pay an awful lot of money for pair of floor-standing speakers, but if you’re ‘kind of’ watching the pounds then the PSB Imagine T2s offer great value for money. They’re a bit of a cult brand based in Canada who are fast becoming a big deal over here too.
These are fairly conventionally designed floor-standers with three medium-sized bass drivers, as opposed to one huge one. There’s a fairly large mid-range driver at the top, with the tweeter sited underneath it. One interesting thing is that the T2s are fairly thin for floor-standers, though they have lots of depth so need a fair bit of space.
Completely obvious the first time you play music through them is the level of detail and power at the lower end – they simply love bass. Not in a booming, uncontrolled way, but the bass is delivered tightly, with edge. On tracks like Genesis’ Turn It On Again, they provide a solid foundation for the music and then let the keyboards and guitars take over. In some ways they’re a little less aggressive and smoother than some of the other big floor-standers we’ve heard recently – the best description we can come up with is ‘refined’.
Q Acoustics 3020 – £200
Many of the top speaker companies have been around for a long while, the brainchild of boffins who got addicted to hi-fi in the 1970s. That makes Q Acoustics, who celebrate their 10th anniversary next year, the new kids on the block. In that time they have established themselves as one of the leading budget speaker brands, and the 3020s are the latest winner from their stable.
These are top-notch budget bookshelf speakers at an attractive price (remember, to get the most out of them, you’ll also need to budget for stands). In standard finishes, the 3020s sell for £200, while fancier stuff like black leather goes for £249. Build quality is exceptional for this price point too – they’re solid and stiff, which is important for keeping sound accurate.
In fact, the pair really deliver what all budget speakers should: they’re very warm-sounding with loads of detail and are capable of handling loud volumes. They revelled in Sheer Heart Attack-era Queen. If there’s a weakness, it’s the slightly muddy low-end and occasionally dribbly bass. However, they more than compensate for this with a sweet, warm sound.
There are many excellent bookshelf models around but at the moment, these are the ones that are setting the pace.
KEF R300 – £999
So you have £1,000 to invest in quality speakers. Do you go for bookshelf or floor-standing models? If you have a smaller room, you’re better off with bookshelf models, and if that’s the case, look no further than the KEF R300s. Part of the acclaimed R series, these are quite simply brilliant value for money. They’re sturdy, sport three drivers – including a six-inch bass drive – and are available in a number of finishes, including piano black and walnut real-wood veneer.
The level of detail they deliver is a leap on from the Q Acoustics model. From the moment the Clapton guitar breezes in on Badge, it’s obvious that this speaker has presence and detail in spades. Jack Bruce’s voice has a haunting quality while Clapton’s guitar really does make the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention. Significantly, the bass is much tighter and more controlled, giving an oomph to the power of the delivery, without overwhelming it. Genesis’ Misunderstanding perfectly highlights this, with the backing vocals having a great deal more impact than before.
There are two key things to think about when you’re buying speakers: the gear you pair them with, and the size of the room where you’ll use them. Our test kit included the NAD 375BEE (£1,199) amp, Pro-Ject 2 Xperience SB Black with Ortofon silver cartridge turntable (£1,049) and the NAD C546BEE (£500) CD player. Top-end stuff, but if you spend much more on the speakers than on the source and the amp, you risk the speaker underlining the weaknesses of the rest of the system, so choose carefully.
As for room size, don’t place floor-standing speakers in a small room – they’ll interact with the walls and furnishings and the low end will submerge the detail.
The Q Acoustics 3020s are great if you’re on a budget, the PSB Imagine T2s will sing in larger spaces, but our favourites are the KEF R300s. They deliver superb levels of detail, plus lots of low-end oomph for a good price.