What's this; new speakers now is it...?!


the record spot

On another thread (Gareth82's here: http://www.whathifi.com/forum/hi-fi/change-speakers-or-amp ) I mentioned that I was off to hear some speakers this morning to replace the Mission 751 Freedom standmounts that I'd been using of late.

Unlike the original 751, Mission used a silk dome tweeter on this model and somehow managed to excessively roll off the treble to such an extent listening to music was fast becoming a chore instead of a pleasure. It was fine for TV and movies, but it throttled the life out of music irrespective of the source. As I listen to music most of the time, that's a non-starter. Actually, it's a non-starter anyway!

I'm governed by a lack of space at home to some extent. Although my lounge is a decent size, having my speakers firing down the room means putting speakers against the windows and in full view of anyone outside, would probably mean putting the TV here too, thus blocking out the view out to the sea and the light in general and that's no good. So they sit about six feet away across the room, which is preferable in any case.

I didn't particularly want a long drawn out hunt for some small standmounts, Edinburgh has several dealers, but I typically go towards The Home Cinema Centre on Morrison Street first. They've probaby got the best speaker selection in town and had a good range of models from around the £300 up to £600 mark (if they add any more to their extensive range, they'll need a warehouse...!). I shortlisted a few the other day and it went a bit like this by the time I whittled it down:-

KEF R100

KEF Q100

Epos M12 (secondhand)

Castle Knight 1

I took my amp along for the demo and grabbed a few WAV files with some well known tracks on USB which go straight into the Onkyo's front mounted DAC. This is then converted by the onboard DAC and thereon to the speakers. Chris from the HCC had wired in (what I think was) a Linn Majik DS as well and we had a listen to some hi-res tracks at the end of the session. For the majority of the demo, I used the tracks I'd brought, mainly as this was using the least used source (USB) but with a good quality CD equivalent WAV file. If the contenders did alright with this, we'd be doing fine with the source inputs that'd be more commonly used at home. Well, that was the rationale anyway...!

The £600 KEF R100s were already wired in with the Castle Knight 1s sitting in line. The KEFs are an interesting design, cube shaped, lovely finish and featuring the company's latest UniQ driver arrangement. Build and finish can't be faulted - gloss black and the drive arrangement would probably leave more people leaving the speaker grilles off.

I'll bypass the tech specs (readily available elsewhere) but will say that while this speaker delivers a full bodied presentation with good mirdrange and a decent treble performance, the bass overwhelms some tracks making things that should be clear sound muddled. Sleeper's "Nice Guy Eddie" from their 1996 CD "The It Girl" should absolutely just bounce along, it's a pop track, but it came out sounding congested and lumpy. Likewise Saint Etienne's "Only Love Can Break Your Heart" from their debut "Foxbase Alpha" album has a prominent bassline, but it didn't gel well together here.

That said, the KEFs were pretty much straight out the wrapper a few days ago and likely needed more running in time. I suspect that's the heart of the problem here in mitigation. The bass port could be tamed (two-part foam bungs are provided giving you three options for the port; fully sealed, part-sealed, or open) and I think that'd make all the difference. There's a big heart in the KEFs and there's no doubting it's one expressive box with a huge performance that's waiting to be unleashed, though maybe after a few more days in finishing school...!

Next up came the Castle Knight 1, the cheapest in the list at £299, but it delivered a great performance that outgunned the more expensive KEFs. They tracked the music well; Genesis' "Squonk" sounded like it should with that delicate twelve-string at the beginning leading into the band coming in in full and the Sleeper and Saint Etienne material was far more enjoyable. Vocals were well handled and the overall impression was overwhelmingly positive.

I was surprised; if you'd asked me which speaker at that point was the pricier one, I'd have said the Castles as they got to grips with the business of making the music sound like it should. They're nicely voiced, not strident or with excessive treble as seems to be a gripe for many these days when they've just bought some new speakers and with a good overall balance that will please many.

The Epos M12s were in the room and though these looked a little too big for my room, I gave them a whirl and Chris kindly set them up. Lovely speaker, full of detail but without making things clinical. Lovely midrange and given that these are going for £299 in the HCC with the dedicated Epos stands which also retail for around £150 separately, these'll be an utter steal for someone.

Lastly, I asked to hear Tannoy's Revolution DC4. I'd originally discounted this one on the basis of a few reviews which commented on their lack of bass and lean sound, but when in Rome...

Chris set them up and off we went again. Looks-wise, they're very distinct using Tannoy's Dual Concentric driver arrangement and housed in a trapezoidal cabinet that takes up a very small footprint - they fit comfortably within the Mission Stancette plate and they're already pretty compact to start with!

Sound-wise, they were the biggest surprise of the lot; we listened to the tracks I'd brought but they absolutely came into their own with hi-res music from the Linn. The 24/192 Hotel California was a revelation (though in fairness that's always been a well-done disc), Cans and Brahms from the Yes "Fragile" DVD-A was spine-tingling. This is a small speaker with big ambitions.

The Tannoys' clean, low colouration, lovely and effortless sound allied to a bass performance that's more than you've a right to expect from a speaker of this size just made you want to sit and listen to music - or anythng really - for hours on end.

And that's pretty much what I've been doing since I came home. I bought the display pair (thanks for the discount chaps!) and am utterly delighted by them. They're "fit and forget", but forgetting them's the last thing you'll do as you'll keep coming back to them. If you can break away from them first that is...

Lastly, thanks to Chris and the guys at the Home Cinema Centre in Edinburgh for their help and advice this morning - much appreciated.