It would be hard to think of a much more diverse bunch of monitors than our four in this price range, but before we analyse their differences, let's look at the merits of the floorstander against standmount speakers - what circumstances might guide us into choosing one or the other?
One guiding factor to the uptake of floorstanders is price. The market is dominated by small to medium-sized two-way bookshelf and standmount monitors from the budget to medium-priced area but as we get closer to the £1,000 mark, the picture changes and sees the larger monitors less outnumbered. This is partly due, I suspect, to buyers wanting more box for their money.
There are also two well-substantiated sonic factors to consider. The first is that a small enclosure is likely to have more acoustic integrity and less cabinet resonance or 'voice.' The second is that a larger enclosure is likely to have more lower register bass. The latter is certainly a practical consideration for large rooms, and for people living in converted school houses or chapels (for example) with an extra-large listening room, a floorstanding speaker is pretty much obligatory.
All the speakers in this test were terminated for bi-wire/bi-amplification. Here, I have in the past criticised some manufacturers for insecure bridging links between the high frequency and mid/bass terminals. These comments have only been directed at monitors with wire links, and happily, all the speakers tested had the more reliable metal strip links. The most unusual speaker in this area was the Tannoy which also has an earth terminal for speaker wire shielding if used, and/or connection to an amplifier ground terminal.
All speakers were run-in and tested in an acoustically neutral, non-parallel medium-sized room. The source was a Moon CD 5.3 RS player and i5.3 RS amplifier retailing at £3150 each. Atlas Mavros Cabling was used throughout, and all speakers were checked for level and room anomalies with a pink noise generator.
Of the four speakers reviewed here, only one of them convincingly dipped lightly into the area of sub-bass but that's not to say that the others fell far short. Each one has a definite character which could be readily identified in blind tests. Read on to see which might be worth a personal audition.
Price: £750 More info: Acoustic Energy Size: 920(h) x 230(w) x 297(d) mm Weight: 18kg Drivers: 2 x 110mm bass, 1 x 110mm mid, 25mm silk dome tweeter Frequency response: 40Hz - 24kHz Impedance: 8 Ohms Power handling: 175 Watts peak Sensitivity: 89dB/Watt Finishes: Black ash, birch or cherry real wood veneer
Acoustic Energy Aelite three
A British design team specifying speakers built in Malaysia has the advantage of controlling costs and who can complain when it leads to spectacular value for money? The Aelite 3s were launched in 2004 which makes them an unusually long-lived model but the thinking here is why change something that was right first time?
The design of the enclosure is a contemporary flattened teardrop cross section, popular due to its innate strength and lack of internal right-angle corners. They come in real wood veneers in black ash, birch or cherry.
The unusual aluminium cone drivers have also remained, but after that, it has been a story of constant evolution with subtle changes, particularly to the crossover components. The latest modification was made in 2007.
First impressions of the sound quality was one of immediate openness with excellent vocal and instrument placement and clarity. At times, however, there were slight traces of hardness as it walked the thin line between resolution and aggression.
The biggest surprise of this, considering it's one of the smaller monitors, was the bass performance. This was uncannily well-controlled in the upper bass area but managed to portray a flavour of sub-bass. A tribute to its cabinet and porting design and perhaps the stiffness of the driver cones. The bass roll-off has plenty of fine tuning potential with sponge plugs for one or both rear-firing ports.
Creates immediate excitement with cutting-edge clarity and sound stage detail and an astonishing bottom end performance for its size Minus points
Plinth design is a not so astonishing bottom end
Price: £899 More info: B&W Size: 1019(h) x 198(w) x 340(d) mm Weight: 26kg Drivers: 2 x 165mm bass, 1 x 150mm FST (Fixed Suspension Transducer) mid, 25mm aluminium dome tweeter Frequency response: 38Hz - 22kHz Impedance: 8 Ohms Power handling: 200 Watts peak Sensitivity: 90dB/Watt Finishes: Black ash, light oak, red cherry, Wengé real wood veneer
This famous Worthing-based company is distinctly British despite being owned offshore for more than 20 years. It has a long tradition of innovation and production of modern-looking speakers. The 600 Series is no exception with an unusual semi-compliant surround to the Kevlar midrange cone and the 'Nautilus' tube at the back of the aluminium dome tweeter to provide some clever infinite baffling.
Everything about these speakers is heavyweight, including a large bolt-on plinth with a soft foot/adjustable spike combination. It's so heavy for its size that it feels like it has been partially sand-filled. The cabinet is available in a choice of vinyl wood patterns in black ash, light oak, red cherry and Wengé (dark coppery brown) - all with the black front panel.
The 683 at neighbour-friendly sound levels has a satisfyingly broad sound stage with well-timed lower frequencies but with slightly veiled mid to higher frequencies.
At volumes that will have any dwellers next door reaching for their broom handles, the vocal frequencies in particular seem to come alive and become very convincing.
Adjustment for room acoustics and positioning has three levels from leaving the front port open or inserting the bungs supplied. The third level of adjustment is to remove the pre-cut centre to reduce the size of the port. Despite the smaller port size, noise is not a problem, aided by the sponge material which naturally slows the surface air. A similar treatment is given to the actual port by the dimpling on the surface to disrupt the air flow.
Comes alive at high volume levels. Excellent sound stage. Well-timed bass Minus points
Comes alive at high volume levels. Exposed tweeters aid dispersion but are vulnerable to being touched