We put just as much effort into choosing our budget range as we do our top line equipment,
and what to offer in terms of small and affordable speakers is an area that we’ve
been struggling with for a while.
However, after a lot of listening we discovered it in the Q Acoustics range. The
diminutive 2010i is the replacement for the its remarkable predecessor the 2010.
The 2010i features a treated bass driver and soft dome tweeter and they produce a
smooth and entertaining sound. They are low on colouration and image impressively
as well as having remarkable bass output for their size, both in terms of quality
Above: terminals mounted underneath the speaker (Walnut finish)
Finishes: See prices below
Dimensions: Height 23.5cm, Width 15cm, Depth 20cm
Q Acoustics 2010i in Walnut or Graphite: £120/pair
Q Acoustics 2010i in Gloss Black or Gloss white: £160/pair
Q Acoustics speaker stands in gloss black or white: £85
Q Acoustics 2020i
Everything said about the impressive 2010i (featured above) holds true for the 2020i
shown here. The differences between the two speakers are simply a larger cabinet
and bass driver, so as you’d expect the go deeper and play louder. Another benefit
of this upscaling is the image scale and dynamics have both grown proportionally
too, and with an extra 2dB sensitivity they’re even easier to drive.
Finishes: See prices below
Dimensions: Height 26.5cm, Width 17m, Depth 28cm
Q Acoustics 2020i in Walnut or Graphite: £160/pair
Q Acoustics 2020i in Gloss Black (as pictured) or Gloss white: £200/pair
Q Acoustics speaker stands in gloss black or white: £85
Q Acoustics Concept 20
The Concept 20 is a new design from Q Acoustics with a novel cabinet design for a
speaker at this price level. It features cabinet side walls made from two layers
of mdf with a Gelcore coating between them, this non rigid gel layer appears to damps
the cabinet very effectively. Two finishes are available, a high gloss black and
high gloss white, as pictured above and below. Matching stands which also use Gelcore
in their construction are also available and these really should be considered an
integral part of the speaker, for reasons I will explain below.
The Concept 20 has a very refined sound, one that has impressive levels of bass for
their size and good sense of overall tonal balance. There does seem to be a low cabinet
signature coming from the box leaving the lower mid range pleasing clear of colouration
and they are able to create a good wide and reasonably deep soundstage, especially
when pulled away from the rear wall. The stands do seem key for getting the best
balance out of these speakers, it’s clear they’ve been voiced to work with one another
as they impart a warmth and solidity to the sound that is missing when used with
many lesser stands.
There are more dynamic speaker designs available and ones that time better in the
bass (arguably the greatest limitation of the design and something that the stands
do seem to exacerbate - I suspect this is a small side effect of the Gelcore damping),
but regardless of this, the overall performance Q Acoustics have managed to achieve
at this price point is really very impressive, and in a very sophisticated looking
package to boot.
Finishes: See prices below
Dimensions: Height 26cm, Width 17m, Depth 28cm
Q Acoustics Concept 20 in Gloss Black (as pictured) or Gloss white: £350/pair
Q Acoustics Concept speaker stands in gloss black or white: £199/pair
Usher S-520: from £350
The S-520 is superb mini monitor design. It uses high quality drivers to produce
a detailed and open sound that is revealing enough to tell you all about the quality
of the electronics you drive them with. They are also immaculately finished which
makes their low price tag even more astonishing, with Piano Black (as pictured here),
Ivory, Silver, Red, Yellow, Golden Cherry wood veneer or ‘Mahogany’ Cherry wood veneer
available. Shielding is an option for those people that need to place them near to
older CRT TV screens for an additional £20.
Finishes: please see text above.
Dimensions: Height 30cm, Width 18cm, Depth 27cm
Price: £350 (+£20 for magnetic shielding if required)
Q Acoustics 2050i
We’ve made no secret of our admiration for the Q Acoustics range, and the 2050i is
no exception. This is the largest model in the range and uses two paper coned bass
drivers either side of the fabric tweeter. Like the rest of the range the build quality
is incredibly impressive, and at 21kg they’re very substantial too. The sound quality
is superb at this price point, cabinet colouration is very low, and the speed and
midband quality is a match for the other models in the range (i.e. superb). They
are rated at 92db sensitive so don’t need much power to play loud and are fairly
easy to drive too. Bass is very extended, perhaps a tiny bit fruity unless pulled
away from the rear wall a bit, but never bloated. When asked, visitors consistently
guess their value as at least double the price (customers and competitors alike)
and this perhaps best sums up this ranges giant slaying abilities.
Finishes: See prices below
Dimensions: Height 100cm, Width 27m, Depth 32cm
Q Acoustics 2050i in Walnut or Graphite: £420/pair
Q Acoustics 2050i in Gloss Black or Gloss white (as pictured): £550/pair
The RS1 is the smallest in the Rega range but shares many aspects with its bigger
brothers. For a start there’s the wonderful paper cone bass/mid driver that Rega
make in house and is common to all the RS models. This gives the speaker great speed
and tactility but not at the expense of it’s low frequency response, which for a
speaker of this size is rather impressive. The rear port has been designed for close
to wall positioning and so they will work well on both stands or wall brackets. The
RS1 is available in various finishes, see below for details:
Rega RS1 in Cherry (as pictured above) or black Ash real wood veneer: £438.
Rega RS1 in high gloss black (as pictured below): £488.
Edwards Audio SP1
The SP1 is a very compact British made mini monitor from Edwards Audio. This design
uses a novel two layer cabinet made from mdf and ply wood bonded together, which
is combined with additional damping applied internally. The resulting enclosure is
very well damped which helps give very low perceived box colouration.
For such a diminutive box the bass extension and clarity of the SP1 is incredibly
impressive, they like a little amount of space away from walls and corners (which
naturally gives them very good imaging depth), but when positioned properly you could
almost think there was a very well integrated sub woofer playing simultaneously as
it’s hard to believe so much can come from such a small enclosure.
Finishes: Oak real wood veneer, Gloss White and Gloss Black
Dimensions: Height 31cm, Width 17cm at widest point, Depth 25cm
Edwards Audio SP1 loudspeakers in Oak real wood veneer: £499.95
Edwards Audio SP1 loudspeakers in gloss black or gloss white finishes: £629.95
Audio Note AX1
Not many people know that Audio Note produce a range of affordable speakers, but
the AX1 (and the AX2 featured below) really deserve much wider recognition as they
offer extraordinary value for money.
Designed with reasonable efficiency in mind (for their size) and an easy impedance
curve, the result is that they can be driven by practically any good quality amplifier
on the market, irrespective of output (we used everything from 4 watts and upwards,
but would recommend upwards of 8 watts for most customers unless used in the very
The real strengths of these speakers is their even tonality and involving fast paced
performance, they simply are exceptionally easy to listen to. If you’re not put off
by their low price and their slightly dated appearance you’ll be rewarded with a
speaker which can reproduce voices in a way few other budget designs can match.
The AX-Two shares much in common with the AX-One featured above. It builds upon its
strengths by adding greater bass solidity and scale, to the point it rarely sounds
like a small speaker at all when positioned close to a wall on good stands. Dynamics
from its light paper bass driver are of a very high standard and this design is remarkably
revealing of system quality and will especially reward those users with high quality
amplifiers (valve or transistor). The AX-Two is very easy to drive and I can think
of no better affordable design to show you the special qualities of a single ended
valve amplifier - namely their exceptional tonality and speed.
Even if your budget extends much higher than the price of these speakers I still
highly recommend an audition, most other manufacturers would put these speakers in
an exotic box and charge 2-3 times the price.
Finishes: Black (pictured above) and White Ash vinyl (pictured below)
Dimensions: Height 38cm, Width 23cm, Depth 23.5cm
Price: £POA at manufacturers request
The RS3 is the smallest floor standing speaker in the Rega range, but shares many
similarities to its larger brother (see below), including a side firing bass unit
and front facing paper bass/mid driver. This speaker is ideal for people who want
a high quality but discrete floor standing speaker
Finishes: See prices below
Dimension: Height 80cm, Width 22.4cm at widest point, Depth 24.6cm
Rega RS3 in Cherry real wood veneer (pictured above) or Black Ash: £778
Rega RS3 in high gloss Black: £858
The Rega RS5 is a remarkably discrete design, it’s only 83cm tall but produces a
sound that is much more substantial than it’s dimensions would suggest possible.
What’s more remarkable is it does this with great speed and tactility, with a very
natural presentation throughout the all important midband. This is all thanks to
Rega’s development of their drive units, especially the mid and bass drivers which
are made in house. They feel this gives them much great control over the design and
through extensive development have been able to reduce the complexity of the crossover
required, which is always a good thing and I’d suggest is responsible for the directness
and speed of these speakers.
The mirrored side firing bass driver also allows great flexibility with setup, for
close to side wall applications they can be put facing inwards to reduce bass boom
for example, and the design works well close to rear walls thanks in part to the
front firing port. These speakers have very rapidly become one of my favourites and
in my opinion are the best speaker Rega have ever produced.
Finishes: See prices below
Dimensions: Height 83cm, Width 24.6cm (at widest part of foot, actual cabinet width
only 17cm), Depth 33cm.
Rega RS5 in Cherry real wood veneer (pictured above) or Black Ash: £998
Rega RS5 in high gloss Black: £1,098
ProAc Studio 115
The Studio 115 is ProAc’s latest model in the Studio range. This stand mount design
is beautifully constructed, and it has a clean uncoloured sound to prove it. Sonically
these speakers have a lot of elements in common with a mini monitor, that almost
ethereal presentation to voices and pinpoint imaging, but due to the 115’s larger
cabinet dimensions they don’t squash dynamics in the same way, so are a much more
rewarding listen. In many ways these are also close to a nice sounding studio monitor
(like my favourite Studio 100 featured below) whilst being a bit more forgiving of
lesser recordings and equipment at the same time.
Finishes: Cherry (pictured above) , Maple, Mahogany and Black real wood veneers Dimensions:
Height: 38cm, Width 19cm, Depth, 24cm
Price : £1,075.
We are often struggling to find speakers we like, many designs are seemingly dreamt
up by marketing departments and offer little sonic enjoyment to the discerning listener.
In our hunt to find speakers that we could happily recommend we discovered the V
series from Usher. Designed by the great Joseph d'Appolito these Taiwanese made speakers
offer incredible value for money. When we first ordered a pair to listen to, we did
so based based purely on the parts used - a derivative of the carbon and paper pulp
bass/mid driver we’ve always enjoyed partnered with a nice soft dome tweeter - we
were rather taken aback by the size of the boxes that arrived. There were two specifications
we’d overlooked, their height, an impressive 119 cm’s and their weight, a rather
eye watering 30kg each. It’s difficult to understand just how much speaker you can
get for your money, and what’s so astonishing is we cannot find any evidence of
shortcuts being taken, the drivers are superb and cabinets incredibly rigid.
They are a healthy 90dB sensitive so don’t need much power, although a slightly trickier
than normal impedance means they work best with amplifiers with a little feedback
(which really only rules out some of the single ended triode amplifiers we sell).
Combine them with a great amplifier like the Croft integrated or Pure Sound A30 and
you get a substantial sound you can sink into, they’re all encompassing, delicate
and refined. This type of mid bass unit always has a smooth and low colouration signature,
and that’s exactly what you get here, but the speed isn’t seemingly compromised to
a major degree either. They’re quite simply great all-rounders and wonderful at filling
large spaces effortlessly.
If the size and weight put you off then there are two smaller models in the range,
one a stand mounter (V-601 at £500) and another shorter floorstander without the
top bass/mid driver (V-603 at £800).
Finishes: Golden birch and Mahogany Birch (pictured here)
Dimensions: Height 119cm, width 23.5cm and depth 32.5cm
Usher V-604 floorsstanding speakers: £1,150
Audio Note AZ2H
The AZ2 is floorstanding two way speaker from Audio Note. The design is what they
call a folded quasi parabolic horn design, whose mouth vents through an exhaust at
the top of the rear of the cabinet. The speaker is intended to be used pushed hard
into the rooms corners, where it develops well defined and extended bass. The version
featured here is the latest ‘H’ model, which dispenses with the paper bass driver
of the original model and instead uses cones made from Hemp, as seen on many of the
dearer Audio Note speakers and are a key part to what makes this speaker rather special.
The benefits of the longer grains on hemp gives the sound a relaxed and highly textured
mid band quality. If you’re used to a paper driver then at first you may feel that
leading edge definition has been traded off, but as you acclimatise (as you must
with any substantial system change) you suddenly realise that it’s the subtle colouration
of paper that has gone, and yet neither the speed or dynamics have been sacrificed.
It sounds as if distortion is lower and at higher volume levels they remain even
more composed. Cabinet colouration isn’t as low as their dearer models, but this
is a minor criticism which doesn’t affect their musicality one jot. With these speakers
you get seduced by the mid band, the tactility and life like vocal/string region
and ultimately they show what is so glaringly wrong with so many of the mass market
competitors designs. They may not be the prettiest speakers in the world (although
the current vinyl finish is of good quality) but the money has been spent on the
insides where it counts, and to complain about that would be churlish given the performance
As you’d expect from Audio Note these speakers are both easy to drive and sensitive
(circa 93dB) so can be used with any high quality amplifier. The original paper coned
version are still available and priced below:
Finishes: Cherry, Walnut and Black vinyl
Dimensions: Height 90cm, Width 25cm and depth 30cm
Audio Note AZ2 paper coned floor stander: £POA at manufacturers request
Originally the Studio 100 was designed as a studio monitor and is currently used
by many recording studios and engineers for mixing, however unlike most monitor designs
which can be rather relentless in their presentation, the character of the Studio
100 is much more suitable for home use.
After 10 years of production ProAc discontinued them, but after another 4 years they
were forced to reintroduce production due to demand from many people (including ourselves).
It was with bated breathe that we ran in the 2004 version of the 100’s to see if
the magic was still there or if our memories had been playing tricks on us. Thankfully
our fears we’re unwarranted, these are indeed still very serious speakers.
Like any quality design they need a bit of effort put into getting the best out of
them, both in terms of the electronics used with them and the stands they are mounted
on, but also care must be taken to run them in properly as these speakers take an
unusually long time to get going - we recommend about 200 hours use before they’re
at their best.
What makes them so special is their transparency and neutrality, and when partnered
with a high quality valve amplifier such as the Pure Sound A30 or the 8 watt Audion
Silver Night 300B SE they come to life producing a quality of sound that is well
beyond their price range. The mid range and the seamless integration to the tweeter
are particularly special, but then again there really isn’t an area where these speakers
Finishes: Cherry (pictured above), Mahogany and Black real wood veneers
Dimensions: Height 40cm, Width 20cm, Depth 25.5cm
Audio Note AZ3H
The AZ3H is the larger version of the AZ2H featured above. The differences are not
just limited to the increased cabinet size but also the tweeter, whereas the AZ2
uses the same tweeter as found in the AN-K, the AZ3 uses the tweeter found in the
AN-J and AN-E. As you’d expect there’s greater treble refinement and resolution from
the superior tweeter, and greater low frequency ability due to the larger cabinet,
but for me the biggest jump was a reduction in cabinet colouration (which is counter
intuitive given the increased cabinet size). If you can live with their taller dimensions
then these speakers are an absolute must for anyone looking for an affordable floorstander,
the fact they’re very easy to drive and can be placed in corners are just the icing
on the cake.
The original paper coned version are still available and priced below:
Finishes: Cherry (pictured top left), Walnut (pictured top right) and Black vinyl
Dimensions: Height 100cm, Width 28cm and depth 32cm
Audio Note AZ3 paper coned floor stander: £POA at manufacturers request
The picture below shows the AZ3H on the right hand side, alongside the smaller AZ2H
on the left.
ProAc Studio 140 mk2
The old Studio 140 had wormed its way into my affections to such an extent that they
became my recommendation in an incredibly wide range of systems and settings. The
new mk2 version build upon the strengths adding an air of refinement that makes them
kinder to lesser electronics yet without compromising the resolution and shear fun
factor that they can produce. Their 91dB sensitivity and easy impedance means they’re
exceptionally easy to drive (closer to 94dB by my measurements, albeit with a 4 ohm
load), suiting everything from low power amplifiers and upwards.
Effortless is a great word to describe these speakers, they always sound at ease,
yet never squash the life and dynamics. Their ability to fill large listening rooms
is tremendously useful, but their clever floor porting means they’re remarkably
unfussy about positioning so they can be used close to a rear wall as well - I’d
only recommend avoiding direct corner placement.
Finishes: Maple (pictured top left), Cherry (pictured top right), Mahogany and Black
real wood veneers
Dimensions: Height 104cm, Width 19cm, Depth 28cm
The SP3/1R² is a reasonably compact stand mount speaker with a very tricky name to
remember, but thankfully with a sound that’s hard to forget. It’s part of the Spendor
Classic range, and appropriately uses the classic BBC recipe of thin walled cabinets
with internal damping placed in critical positions.
The first thing you notice about the sound is it’s immediately exciting. The energy
these small speakers reproduce is quite remarkable, the dynamics and timing are very
impressive, yet the sound is beautifully integrated and never tiring. Their clarity
is superb, with great vocal quality (no surprise given the BBC background) and the
bass is remarkably impressive for a box of this size.
They are also a very easy load s well as being quite efficient and I’ve been enjoying
them immensely with a 7 watt single ended 300B amplifier, which is always a stern
test. Positioning is also easy, they’re rear ported but they seem very room tolerant
and work well from about 30cm from the rear wall.
Finishes: Cherry (as pictured here), Black Ash or Dark Walnut.
Dimensions: Height 40cm, Width 22cm, Depth 28cm
Rega’s flagship speaker uses the same drive units found in the RS5 featured above
but fitted into a larger cabinet and with quarter wave transmission line loading
instead of reflex porting. As ever the clever mirror imaged side mounted drivers
allow easy positioning in many rooms.
Finishes: See prices below
Dimensions: Height 99cm, Width 246cm, Depth 35cm.
Rega RS7 in Cherry real wood veneer (pictured above) or Black Ash: £1,838
Rega RS7 in high gloss Black : £1,998
ProAc Response D18
The D18 is the smallest floorstander in the Response range, measuring just under
a metre tall and only a discrete 19cm wide. Like all the products in this series
the build quality is quite exceptional, the cabinets are much heavier than their
proportions would leave you to imagine, weighing in at a substantial 25kg each. They
are very heavily dampened and are exceptionally rigid and this is clear when you
listen to them - there’s very little of the thickening of the sound you often get
with lesser constructed boxes meaning the vocal region has great clarity.
The clever porting arrangement also ensures exceptionally extended bass, the port
exits at the bottom of the speaker onto the integral plinth and exhausts either side.
This makes the speakers remarkably easy to position by being much less fussy about
their distance from the rear wall than most other designs.
Finishes: see prices below
Dimensions: Height 93cm (inc cones), Width 19cm and Depth 26.5cm
ProAc D18 in Black Ash, Mahogany, Cherry and Maple (as pictured above) real wood
ProAc D18 in Ebony and Roseood real wood veneer: £2,574