This test explores the virtues and vices of four floorstanding loudspeakers under (and one way under) £1,000 a pair. They're all quality stereo speakers, though each is available with matching centre and rear loudspeakers, and a subwoofer for multichannel audio and home cinema applications.
One surprising benefit of these floorstanders is that they don't take up any more room than much smaller speakers which need pedestal stands to deliver their best. Even more surprising is that compared to similar, smaller speakers they generally are more sensitive, which means less power is needed to drive them. Good for your ears, and good for your room.
Price: £999 More info: B&W Size: 910(h) x 200(w) x 300(d) mm Weight: 20kg Drivers: 1 x 165m bass, 1 x 130mm midrange, 25mm tweeter Frequency response: 34Hz - 50kHz Impedance: 8 Ohms (min 3 Ohms) Power handling: 150 Watts Sensitivity: 88dB/Watt
B&W is the world's leading supplier of quality loudspeakers, of which the new CM series is two up from base, with designs that are said to be B&W's interpretation of classic loudspeaker design. The CM7 is the largest in the series and is dressed in real wood veneers and although a little bland, build quality and detailing are of the highest order.
Highlights include the overlapping mid and tweeter means a more consistent and uniform off-axis performance (but see Kef iQ9), and don't forget the fixed surround midrange driver, which is much more attuned to midrange performance than the usual solution - a smaller version of the bass driver.
The B&W is a precision tool, aimed at providing a great amount of resolving power, but it has to be treated with care. Use the supplied (removable) hollow foam inserts in the reflex port, and ensure the speakers are used clear of the back wall to allow room for the bass to 'breathe'.
Avoid the magnetically secured baffle covers if possible unless you have small children who may see the tweeter as an invitation to press for action. Musically however the B&W has a superb treble - open and lively, and a complex midrange and bass which are refined and musically informative.
Neutral, clean, open and extended
Needs particular care over set-up
Price: £749 More info: Focal JMlab Size: 950(h) x 222(w) x 340(d) mm Weight: 20.5kg Drivers: 1x 165mm bass, 1 x 165mm midrange, 25mm inverted dome tweeter Frequency response: 50Hz - 28kHz Impedance: 8 Ohms Power handling: 200 Wattstts Sensitivity: 91.5dB/Watt
Focal JMlab Chorus V 716V
A little taller and slightly bulkier than the B&W CM7, the third generation French-made Chorus range screams value for money, comparable in intent to the B&W CM series, which uses as much technology as possible from the upper echelon Utopia range.
The letter V is something of a leitmotiv, which is echoed in various ways, notably in the cutout at the top of the detachable grill, which helps reduce acoustic intrusion on the tweeter output. The sloping inwards side panels helps suppress internal resonances, and the front and downwards firing reflex ports reduce susceptibility to near wall placement.
Musically, the Focal and the B&Ws have a surprising amount in common, but ultimately, the Focal lacks the B&W's midrange/treble sharpness and precision in favour of a more colourful and rich tonality, and at times a greater sense of image depth. The B&W is the precision tool here, but the Focal is good enough to serve as a viable alternative.
As promised however, the Focal 716V is more tolerant of different positioning, and certainly a little easier on the ear, and it is happier with the covers on than its British counterpart. Meanwhile, the sense of image depth and space that embellishes the raw notes is impressive and thrilling.
Sonorous, tonally rich and varied, full bass
Well sorted system, difficult to criticise in context, but lacks the ultimate resolving power of the B&W CM7
Price: £900 More info: KEF Size: 942(h) x 220(w) x 327(d) mm Weight: 16.6kg Drivers: 2 x 165mm bass units, Uni-Q midrange driver & 19mm tweeter Frequency response: 38Hz - 40kHz Impedance: 8 Ohms (min 3.2 Ohms) Power handling: 200 Watts Sensitivity: 91dB/Watt
This model is fundamentally different to the others. The flattened teardrop cross section is indicative of the efforts that have gone into resonance control. The most distinctive feature however is the Uni-Q drive unit, which combines tweeter and midrange units into an integrated whole, to produce a speaker which radiates sound from a single point in space over the important upper frequencies.
The iQ range uses a new and much revised version of KEF's now familiar Uni-Q technology with new cone materials. magnet systems, basket design, and detail changes elsewhere to in an attempt to reduce coloration and other unwanted artefacts.
The iQ range is a significant advance of early Uni-Q speakers, but it remains significantly coloured, with a shelved up upper midband that means the speaker is a little too energetic and 'hard' in this region, and which helps suppress presence in the bass region, which is well extended, but can sound lightweight.
That said, the bass and lower midrange do have smooth, open quality. The mid/treble region is also a little hard and coloured, probably a side effect of the tweeter mounting in the middle of the large midrange cone, but at least the voicing remains consistent when walking around the room, and the bass is free of boom and overhang.
Very consistent soundfield imaging, detail, well disciplined bass
Some colourations and harshness, especially in mid and treble
Price: £400 More info: Monitor Audio Size: 850(h) x 165(w) x 247(d) mm Weight: 11.5kg Drivers: 1 x 130mm bass, 1 x 130mm bass/mid, 25mm gold anodised tweeter Frequency response: 36Hz - 30kHz Impedance: 6 Ohms br>
Power handling: 120 Watts Sensitivity: 90dB/Watt
Monitor Audio BR5
The secret of the new Monitor Audio entry level BR range is that it's designed over here (UK), and built over there (China) to help bear down on costs - just like the KEF iQ9. The BR5 is the smallest model here, but it's also by far the least expensive.
It has had a thorough makeover, with a new higher performance ceramic coated aluminium/magnesium dome tweeter, redesigned mid and bass units with a less enclosed construction behind the cones, a better specified crossover, and an improved enclosure featuring outrigger feet for better stability, improved bracing and separate bass and mid chambers internally.
The BR 5 is a thoroughly distinctive loudspeaker and a clear improvement on its predecessor. The treble immediately stands out with its much firmer, cleaner and more controlled presentation than the old models, but the midrange is if anything even more impressive, being lively and sharp, and very open and three dimensional.
The bass doesn't have the extension of the bigger models, but it still goes deep, with a fuller upper bass than the others, and the kind of presentation that is often described with the single word 'slam'. It's not the most neutral bass around, but it doesn't boom, and it is surprisingly tuneful.
Lively, open and transparent, energetic voicing
Lacks some sophistication and bass evenness when stressed hard
The most evenly competent all-rounder here is the B&W CM7, but the Focal JMlab runs it close at a useful saving, and the Monitor Audio is an excellent performer for a fraction the price of either of these alternatives - very impressive value. The KEF has some distinctive strengths too, but it remains an oddball, and difficult to sum up. The recent technology improvements leave it sounding a little too lean and exposed in the upper midband/treble, where the other three models tend to wear their compromises more easily.
For most music types and systems, we rank the B&W top, followed by the Focal JMlab, and then the Monitor Audio. The KEF is recommended too, but it has more “personality”, though it's well worth a dem to see if you like it.
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