Something strange is happening in hi-fi country. Those who look around well, discover more and more loudspeakers that sound particularly good, are nicely finished and have very accessible price tags.
We have a whole number has already been reviewed, such as the 3050i of Q Acoustics Definitive Technology D7 and Monitor Audio Bronze 6. But that is only part of the playing field. In this dossier we look at three loudspeakers that have recently been introduced and that have price tags that are not at all dissuasive. We always choose a floor stand to compare better, but almost all tested speakers are part of a larger speaker family with multiple models.
File: affordable speakers
Often we have done a surround test for online with multiple models of the same series, so we can note that loudspeaker families are usually more coherent than ever. There are few differences in sound character between the models from the same family, which used to be different. Of course, a floorstander will not sound the same as a bookshelf speaker, but those similarities within the same loudspeaker range are there.
But beware: we remain convinced that you have to dare to spend a bit more if you have a low-cost search for a better sound begins. There are certainly budget speakers that do not sound bad, such as the Polk T15 or the Dali Spektor 6. But you might buy speakers for life or for a very long time, and then you better come to the level just above. Around 500 euros each you will meet loudspeakers that really offer a lot in terms of sound quality and increasingly also in terms of finish and design. And those two things are also important.
Danish design: DALI Oberon 7
The Oberon 7 call the most beautiful loudspeaker that Dali ever designed is perhaps short for the corner, but maybe just the truth . The key question is of course: does the Oberon sound as beautiful as it looks?
Dali always works his speakers neatly, but with the Oberon 7 it reaches a new and higher level. Only now is Dali really ‘Danish’, or what many people associate with that label in terms of design. As always with successful design, it is in small but important matters that ensure that these speakers fit with modern furniture. Such as the used wood veneer with relief that is placed over the relatively solid MDF cabinet. The version we received is Light Oak, a light wood that is nicely complemented by a matte white front. The wood veneer looks very handsome. If you brush it with your hand, it feels noticeably more artificial than real wood.
A third design element that gives the Oberon a contemporary face is the grille with rounded corners and lined with fresh, modern textiles with fine gray light shades. Yes, it was completely ‘finished’ when the grille was magnetically attached, as is now becoming the norm in everything except the cheapest speakers. Finally, there is an elegant base that is delivered ex-factory assembled.
In addition to the light oak version, there are Oberons in the classic matt black, a matt white and a dark walnut. The white version has the same gray grille as the light oak, the walnut and black versions have an almost black grille with a much more subtle color. It is therefore the oak and the white versions that in our opinion score in terms of design appearance.
Flat against the wall
As we are used to by Dali’s, the Oberon 7 is designed to be relatively close to the wall. Not turned in, just the same with the wall behind. And that is – again – slightly more interior-friendly. That the turning of the speakers in this case should not come because Dali always tries to achieve very good horizontal off-axis reproduction. Or in human language: even if the speakers are not aimed straight at your ears, you experience a lot of detail. It also makes the Oberon 7 a family-friendly speaker. Everyone in the seat experiences music in a good way.
In terms of sensitivity, the Oberon 7 is 88.5 dB, the impedance is 6 Ohm. That makes this Dali speaker not the most insensitive, but also not the easiest to control. He does benefit a bit from an amplifier with a bit of power, yet if you like to turn up the volume when listening to heavy orchestral works or techno-stuff with lots of dynamics. You still have a bas-gate at the back, so you should keep the Oberon 7 at least 20 cm off the wall in our opinion
More expensive Dali speakers (like the Rubicons we have a weakness for ) are really strong in the broad radiance of the high thanks to the combination of a dome and a ribbon tweeter. The Oberon 7 keeps it on a dome tweeter. This tweeter is added to the Oberon 7 with two 7-inch woofers made of wood fiber – and with SMC. Dali watchers will know that SMC is the ‘secret’ ingredient of the more expensive Dali lines. It is a material used in the magnet system of drivers, with the special feature that it is very magnetic but not very conductive. This ensures that a magnet system with SMC speeds up the transition from attracting to repulsion (and vice versa) of the voice coil, without hysterisis – a physical phenomenon that introduces distortion. SMC also suffers less from unwanted eddy currents that heat up the magnet system and change its behavior.
Ok, ‘Liquid Spirits’ by Gregory Porter is not exactly an album that challenges loudspeakers extremely. Moreover, at some point, Porter’s voice was too ubiquitous on hi-fi demonstrations, just like Diana Krall was until recently. Maybe that’s why we have not played this album for a long time. A bit unjustified, we realize again, if we play it in lossless FLAC format from a Synology NAS with Minim server on a Primare i15 amplifier that controls the Oberon 7’s. As stated by Dali, the Oberon speakers are not screwed up, placed in our test room about 3 meters from the listening position.
Tracks like ‘Liquid Spirit’ and ‘Lonesome Lover’ we hear on these Danes with pleasure again. The Oberon 7 presents these crackling-as-a-fire-fire songs just beautiful, beautiful between the two speakers and also separate from them. The broad appearance that Dali is so strong in, really delivers what it promises. The music fills the room and does not suddenly change character because you reach your cup of coffee on the table next to the sofa. If you are sitting on a long bench with a couple of friends, you do not hear radically more detail than that guy a meter or two away from you. They are social speakers, these Oberons (and actually all Dali’s, except for the Epicon, we have the impression after a short listening session with those top models.) That ‘big’ reproduction makes the already pretty nasty ‘Suspiria’ soundtrack by Thom Yorke even more chilling, especially at ‘The Hooks’ and ‘Belongings Thrown in a River’.
Also more funky tracks like Mark Ronsons ‘Feel right’ and ‘Happy’ and ‘Come Get it Bae’ by Pharell Williams go the Oberon 7’s particularly good. Exactly the placement and positioning is not in the stereo image, which is a bit of the downside of the wide look we suspect. And the high detail is not entirely there, but that does not make it any less fun to listen to. These Dali’s are looking forward to it, with a good, fast reproduction that is not hyperkritic for pop music. And no, at ‘War Anthem’ by Max Richter, the Oberon 7 can not dive deep enough to really bring the extreme lows in this track with enough body. That is not what they are strong about. They do have a sufficient layer extension and speed to make you head nods quickly with the fast beats of the Mirapolis Remixes by technoartist Rone (via Qobuz and Chromecast, built into the Primare amplifier). At War Anthem, the last piece is ultra-thin, which swells and extinguishes with every stroke. We lack that sustain here.
The Oberon 7 and his smaller Oberon brothers are a great successor for the Zensor speakers. You can take that literally. They are the kind of speakers that you are happy to recommend to a friendly couple who asks you for advice on an affordable hi-fi set for their living room. That the price tag is still very acceptable, you can not see these speakers. And you do not hear it either, because the Oberon 7 performs well for the segment.
Dali Oberon 7
€ 898 / pair | www.dali-loudspeakers.com
The ELAC F5.2 does not try to seduce you with a beautiful design, which works a bit to his disadvantage. Thanks to the brilliant Andrew Jones, however, they sound very good.
Since the launch of the original Debut series a few years ago, we were jumping to test this speaker family. ELAC is German, but because Jones is in the U.S. works and the Debuts originated at the US department of ELAC, they first came to the press in the United States. He was unanimously enthusiastic about it, which of course stimulated our curiosity. The name of Andrew Jones also attracted attention, because this engineer has become a legend in the audio world through his work at Pioneer and luxury brand TAD.
In the end it took a bit longer to get the Debuts, but because of that we were able to get started with Debut 2.0 version. These new speakers are tuned slightly differently than before (slightly flatter) and are technically highly adapted. The new line received new Aramide fiber drivers, new tweeters and more solid enclosures from black veneer. With some Debut 2.0 models, the bass port has moved to the front, making the speakers easier to place. After all, a bass port in the back is disadvantageous if you want to place speakers close to a wall. But with this three-way floor stand, the gates – there are three – remain at the back. The Debut 2.0 F5.2 floorstanders are quite slim, which makes them less disturbing in a smaller space.
The overall build quality of the Debut 2.0 speakers is very solid. It does not look so exciting and you can choose all colors if it is black, but despite the low price you never think: “This looks cheap”. The casings of the speakers are in any case solid and seem to have little trouble with vibrations during testing. Placement is not a big problem, a bit of twisting is welcome. The F5.2 is completely a floor stand for now: slim and barely 18 cm wide. You can also expand it with an Atmos module, you want to go for a surround setup. Cable management is a bit of a problem.
The F5.2 has been extensively tested as part of a larger Debut 2.0 surround test. Even during the review, which can be read on homecinemamagazine.nl, it was noticeable that these speakers are doing well with music. At the meeting between Thor, Loki and 142 versus Hela and her soldiers, ‘Immigrant Song’ by Led Zeppelin plays in sync with the on-screen action. We often use this scene to test surround setups, the ELACs we look at just because the Led Zeppelin track is displayed much more musically than is usually the case with.
Even if we listen to the F5.2 separately, that observation will remain stand. The ELACs are not loudspeakers that emphasize something heavy and certainly not high. The low is also present, but not exaggerated. The latter is something that might come across as surprising, given that the Debut 2.0s from the U.S. come. And speakers with a view to home theater applications are always being tuned somewhat more woolly. In this case, the F5.2 is rather a speaker that is relatively neutral and has good timing.
His relative weakness is a low reflection that we find somewhat modest, noticeable with our War Anthem benchmark but also with the deep bass on ‘ Where’s the drop? ‘By Deadmau5. It is also a more compact speaker with smaller woofers than those of the Dali Oberon 7 or Paradigm 6000F. This inevitably has an impact on performance. What is striking is that Jones did well in terms of cabinet construction. If we play that techno of Deadmau5 at high volume, the housing of the F5.2 remains vibration-free. Now building a solid cupboard at a low price is less of a challenge than before – see also Q Acoustics – but it’s a nice performance given the price point.
The F5.2 is the hardest to drive the three in this test. It is also the cheapest, but the money you save on the loudspeaker side you may have to invest on the amplifier side. You need something that can deliver power without stress. No problem for the Hegel Röst that we use here, but we assume that the budget of buyers of the F5.2 will be slightly lower than the 2,000 euro plus of the Hegel.
The F5. 2 has the look of a classic speaker. The black veneer and straight lines is not sexy and plays a bit in their disadvantage. Especially when you look at what can be found elsewhere. So you could be mistaken and think that the ELAC speakers belong in the budget category. But that is not the case with sound. ELAC and Andrew Jones have ensured that the floorstanders offer the very best performance. The F5.2 has good timing and is fast. In this price segment this speaker belongs to the top.
€ 698 / pair | www.elac.com
Paradigm Monitor SE 6000F
Paradigm from Canada has a great reputation in the high -end, but also dares to make interesting speakers at a lower price. Like the 6000F from the cheapest Monitor SE line
Paradigm we know because of some very impressive demos on High End Munich, where especially their subwoofers made a big impression on us. But the Canadian company does much more than subs. Not so long ago, it launched the Monitor SE line, affordable speakers that enjoy a drop of technology from higher speakers. We were very curious about the performance of these affordable speakers.
Compared to the slim Scansonic, the Monitor SE 6000F is a giant. Although it is not too bad in terms of physical dimensions, they mainly have a great appearance. They are nicely finished, in our case with a beautiful white lacquer. There is also black available for those who want it. Due to the lack of seams, it is all very luxurious.
What makes the 6000F also appear to be a lot, are the many drivers. Among the recessed dome tweeters, which comes across with its wave guide, there are four 140-mm drivers (one midrange, three woofers). Because the fastening rings and screws around the drivers remain visible and twelve holes are provided for the grille attachment, this Paradigm looks pretty busy without a cloth. Although we prefer it differently, in this case we would recommend to keep the grille. The many woofers give this Monitor SE an instant idea when you listen to music with bass. They are noticeably attendees in the low compared to the Scansonics that are next to it, which is sometimes really nice. It depends a bit on the genre.
For those who would doubt: the depression in which the large tweeter is located is not there for the looks. The soft curves of the walls guide high frequencies wide into the room, and you notice that when you listen to the 6000F. He is not so directional and we quickly came to the conclusion that we did not need a toe-in in our space. So we were mainly off-axis listening, which also explains why we got more attention for the energy that the Paradigm put in the low. If you turn on the Monitor SE 6000F, you get a brighter sound – but we found that these speakers are just the best when they emit a bit wider music. It only indicates how important and influential positioning can be on the sound you hear. Incidentally, this is a difference with the Dali Oberons: they also radiate wide, but they change character if you turn them in (which the manufacturer advises against). The 6000F you can still ‘tune’ a piece by changing the angle to your listening position.
Another plus: the Paradigm speaker can be controlled very easily. Of the four loudspeakers in this file, it is by far the most sensitive, 92 dB. This means that you do not necessarily need a sample booster to get everything out of it, although you may not be too frugal. Those three woofers would like an amplifier with some control, such as the Hegel Röst that we use for our test. It even seems essential that you do not choose an exaggerated ‘warm’ amplifier, because then it might sound a little woolly.
The funksoul of Charles Bradley often comes back when we listen to new ones. speakers. It is just very nice, atmospheric music, and his albums are also well recorded. It is also the Changes album and the brand new posthume ‘Black Velvet’ that we listened to on the 6000F. It just fits together very well, partly because the bass line that is so important in ghetto music like this is quickly and perfectly set by the Paradigm. You get to hear a nice, big soundstage, where Bradley is lifelike and the rest of the band gets a place. Not as expansive as the Dali Oberon 7, but with a little more focus. For example, the crickets from ‘Crickets’ by Air are far outside the loudspeakers.
The Monitor SE 6000F produces a very full sound, nothing meager, and yet there is a limit to what it can do. At Max Richters we notice that ‘War Anthem’, where the percussion does not dive as deeply as we expected. Our expectations were simply too high, perhaps, but there are indeed limits in this segment. But do not let that spoil the fun, because there is a lot to enjoy. The longer we listen, the more that distinct character of the Monitor SE 6000F stands out. Now take ‘Street Tattoo’ from Stan Getz, where the wave guide on the tweeter sends the hi-hat wide into the room while Getz’s saxophone completely disengages from the speakers.
It’s also the 6000F that has a number like ‘ The Number Song ‘by DJ Shadow (with samples from Metallica) can show compelling weather, while the other three have more trouble with it.
The 6000F is a very nice loudspeaker to listen to especially if you enjoy songs with a lot of dynamics. Even at lower volumes they transfer a lot of music and you get a big soundstage presented. Paradigm also opted for a more American tuning, with a layer that is present but detailed. In terms of looks they are not very special and placement is a point of interest, but they are speakers that you have to listen to with great pleasure.
Paradigm Monitor SE 6000F
€ 1.098 / pair | www.paradigm.com
During testing we have the speakers connected to different amplifiers. In between on test devices that blow in, but to listen in the end especially with the combination Devialet Expert Pro 220 and Roon and with a Hegel Röst and Auralic Altair, again driven by Roon. Those are admitted devices from a higher price range than the tested speakers. But they are well known, which allows to really focus on what a speaker has to offer. A lot of music has been listened to, but for comparison we go back to a playlist in Roon of all kinds of tracks from many genres that we personally find good benchmarks and that we know through and through. The three speakers that we are viewing here are certainly not everything that is available. If you are hunting in this segment, you can also consider the speakers we previously viewed.
In the context of this dossier we are dealing with three very competent loudspeakers that offer a lot for their price . The Best Buy is without doubt the ELAC F5.2, which offers great sound quality for a very low price. Best Tested is a tough one, because the DALI Oberon 7 and the Paradigm 6000F are all very good in their own way. If we had to choose purely for the sound quality, Paradigm would be the winner. The total picture – design, sound, ease of installation – is, however, better at DALI. The Oberon is therefore awarded our Best Tested award.
Rest of the playing field
There are other worthy alternatives for those looking for speakers of around 300-600 euros each. In the past, we have tested a number of them separately.
Slender floorstanders: Monitor Audio Bronze 5
With the Bronze 5 Monitor Audio has delivered a successful speaker that offers a lot for its price point and dares to compete with established values. But if you really like a pounding bass layer, we recommend to go for a 2.1 setup or to look at the slightly larger Bronze 6 floorstanders with their 3-way setup and slightly larger C-CAM drivers. It is also important to realize that in terms of adding low frequencies you can always do something, while a lack of detail is often insurmountable. The possible weakness of the Bronze 5 can therefore be absorbed and what counts is present. As far as we are concerned Monitor Audio with the Bronze 5 delivers a very attractive speaker that offers a lot for a reasonable price tag. In terms of detail, he plays at a higher level than the price tag would suggest, and it is precisely his precision and clarity that will please him in people who like the fine details – the plectrum that glides over the strings or the drumstick that tapping on the edge of a snare drum – hearing in their music.
British rounded sound: Q Acoustics 3050i
The Q Acoustics 3050i is a floorstander that can be deceiving. Although the price tag is not as spectacularly low as with the 3020i bookshelf speakers, they still remain very competitively priced for what you get. They offer excellent sound quality, far above what you would expect at this price point. For just under 800 euros you get a sound quality that is really good. This is thanks to the well-designed housings. That the 3050i is also a handsome appearance, makes it totally fantastic. Highly recommended.
Eccentric approach: Definitive Technology D7
The Demand 7 speakers are not perfect. But if you consider that they are very compact, then you have to admit that they perform more than pretty well. Their strongest point is the rendering of vocals and the midrange, and that in a way that is very spatial. The speaker geek in us is of course addressed by the unusual choices that were made, but they seem to have a good result. The D7 is reasonably priced, nicely finished and relatively small. Properties that make him a good choice.