A loudspeaker is the single most influential link in the hi-fi chain. It will exert more character on the overall sound of a system than anything electronic, making it the most important and perhaps the trickiest thing to get right.
When buying, start by evaluating your room size and be realistic: you'll only need a small standmount speaker in small to medium rooms, but large, open spaces will require a larger floorstanding speaker. Most UK rooms, however, are modestly sized, and it's therefore crucial to remember that despite their compact dimensions, standmount speakers usually provide the best all-round solution in terms of performance and value.
Below are our top 10 favourites across all budgets.
10 PMC DB1+ (£625)
The DB1+ (Dinky Box 1) from 'prosumer' speaker expert PMC, is one of the finest speakers you can buy. It's small, good looking and easy to integrate into any system. PMC's speaker knowledge - gained from years spent making studio monitors - really shows in this well-rounded, dynamic speaker. Key to its appeal is its beautifully judged sense of balance which lends the speaker to all kinds of music. Key specs: Type: Standmount; Dimensions (width x height x depth, in cm): 16 x 29 x 24; Sensitivity: 87dB (claimed)
9 Q Acoustics 1050 (£350)
The impressive Q Acoustics brand has redefined the budget end of the loudspeaker market, and this popular floorstander is the darling of the range. Using British design and Far Eastern construction, the Q Acoustics 1050 has got it all. With two substantial 165mm bass units flanking a 25mm tweeter, this 18kg speaker is, materially, incredible value for money. Its well-balanced, honest and dynamic sound is just as good value, too. Key specs: Type: Floorstander; Dimensions: 19.5 x 97.5 x 30; Sensitivity: 92dB (claimed)
8 Bowers and Wilkins 683 (£899)
It's not every day that Bowers and Wilkins launches a new range, so when the company recently changed its ever-popular 600 series, it was big news. The B&W 683 sits in the middle of the new line-up and features the company's 150mm FST midrange unit found in the flagship 800 series. This, coupled to two 165mm aluminium/Kevlar bass units and an aluminum dome tweeter, makes for a dynamic and revealing loudspeaker design that's going to set the standard for years to come. Key specs: Type: Floorstander; Dimensions: 19.8 x 100 x 34; Sensitivity: 90dB (claimed)
7 Quad ESL 2805 (£4,500)
If you've not yet heard an electrostatic panel you're in for a treat. Based upon a 50-year-old design that's been refined (but never bettered) across the years, the Quad ESL 2805 is now better than ever, with extra bracing to make it super-rigid. Essentially though, it retains the four large Mylar panels and radiating ring electrostatic design for unparalleled midband clarity and neutrality. Not for rock or dance, but surely the ultimate acoustic speaker. Key specs: Type: Floorstander; Dimensions: 70 x 107 x 38.5; Sensitivity: 90dB (claimed)
6 Dynaudio Audience 42 (£400)
This legendary Danish loudspeaker is renowned for a punchy presentation that breathes life into music like nothing else at the price. It's been around for a while too, testament to its enduring popularity and obvious credentials. If you're a fan of beat-driven music, you owe it to yourself to give the Dynaudio Audience 42 a whirl. Mix with electronics from the likes of Rega and Naim for the best results. Key specs: Type: Standmount; Dimensions: 17 x 29 x 24; Sensitivity: 86dB (claimed)
5 Focal Chorus 836V (£1,549)
This five-driver, top-of-the-Chorus-range speaker is no beauty, but it makes up for its pedestrian exterior with a 20mm-thick cabinet and clever internals that are hard to better at the price. With four in-house-built Polyglass-coated paper cones delivering the goods, you might think that this is a powerful, bass-oriented speaker. You'd be wrong; this dynamic, warm-sounding model is perfectly integrated across the board and is a fine example from the French, of how to build a multi-driver loudspeaker. Key specs: Type: Floorstander; Dimensions: 28 x 115 x 38; Sensitivity: 92dB (claimed)
4 ATC SCM19 (£1,500)
Like PMC, the ATC SCM19 has a pro heritage and has been screwed together with a whole lot of hi-fi know-how. It contains one of ATC's legendary drive units and a plethora of high-class engineering all squeezed into one of the finest boxes around. But be warned: this is a warts-and-all speaker that won't gloss over the sound. However, for many people, it will be the closest they can get to those precious studio master tapes. Key specs: Type: Standmount; Dimensions: 22 x 44 x 31.4; Sensitivity: 85dB (claimed)
3 Bowers and Wilkins 802D (£8,000)
It deserves to be number one, yet only a lucky few can afford it. Still, this is probably the best speaker money can buy, without entering the loony high end. B&W's 802D (D for diamond tweeter) is an engineering tour de force and the benchmark for high-end speakers to aspire to. At 80kg each (that's more than this writer) these colossal masterpieces deliver music with a realism and authority like nothing else. Beautiful and technically brilliant. Key specs: Type: Floorstander; Dimensions: 27 x 115 x 56; Sensitivity: 85dB (claimed)
2 Dali Ikon 7 (£1,000)
This Ikonic speaker is different from the pack because it uses a hybrid tweeter that combines a conventional treble unit with a ribbon. It gives the Ikon 7 an edge over its sub-£1,000 rivals delivering an incredible level of transparency, which makes it incredibly coherent with both vocals and music. Best of all, it reminds us of Dali's expensive Helicon 400 speaker, which is considerably more expensive at £3,000. Key specs: Type: Floorstander; Dimensions: 20 x 114 x 34; Sensitivity: 92dB (claimed)
1 Epos M12.2 (£450)
At £450, the standmount M12.2 is one of hi-fi's biggest bargains. It's incredible command of the midband is to-die-for and although some corners criticize it for being a little bass-shy, nothing comes close to its magical ways with acoustic music. It's fast, communicative and is hauntingly good with vocals and instrumentation. If deep bass is important to you, Epos can also supply its M Sub subwoofer (£650) that takes the M12.2 to a whole new level. Key specs: Type: Standmount; Dimensions: 20 x 37 x 25; Sensitivity: 87dB (claimed)