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2023 was a great year for music listeners looking for mid-tier high-end floorstanding loudspeakers below $1,500.
Brands like Q Acoustics, Focal, Bowers & Wilkins, PSB, and Acoustic Energy introduced a number of new models that definitely need to be on your radar and we will be reviewing many of them throughout 2024.
Change is hard for some brands and there is always a bit of a risk when a company introduces a new range meant to satisfy the needs of the middle of the market; especially when said manufacturer has already established itself as a category leader below $1,000 and in the segment above $3,000.
Can they find that magic again in a segment of the market that often struggles to attract mainstream attention?
One can build a very satisfying high-end system around any of these loudspeakers for the price of a rather expensive high-end power cord — which is the biggest waste of money around.
All of these loudspeakers have been tested by members of our staff and look for other models to be added throughout the year.
Q Acoustics 5040
Do you really get that much more from a performance perspective when you purchase the Q Acoustics 5040 loudspeakers for $1,499 over the 3050i which retail for $999 USD?
The new mid/bass drivers offer leaner, tighter, and better defined bass response with every genre of music. The 5040 sacrifices some impact compared to the 3050i but the detail and speed are far superior.
The overall tonal balance is more neutral than the 3000 series and that makes the loudspeaker somewhat of a chameleon depending on your choice of amplifier.
You can read my two-part review of the Q Acoustics 5040 here and here, but make no mistake — these were one of the most important releases of 2023 because they made rather incredible sonic performance that much more accessible to those looking for a well made floor standing loudspeaker that is actually affordable.
Pros: Transparency, detail, clarity, very wide soundstage, very immediate presentation, superb value for the money
Cons: Very sensitive to system matching, need some space to really open up, and will make you try as many amplifiers as you can get your hands on
Where to buy: $1,499/pair at Amazon
DALI Oberon 5
DALI receives a lot of attention for its very expensive high-end models like the KORE and its Phantom in-wall/in-ceiling loudspeakers — but its best value products can be discovered at the opposite end of the market.
The Danish manufacturer is one of the largest manufacturers of loudspeaker cabinets in the world and makes almost everything in-house; including the screws and bolts that hold everything together.
Because of their long-term investment in driver technology, they are also able to pass on all of those aforementioned benefits to the consumer.
The Oberon 5 have been available for a few years but they continue to sell well and we understand why.
They are relatively compact two-way towers, measuring 33 inches high and 13 inches wide.
DALI have proven that they know how to build inert and beautiful cabinets; the Oberon 5 is made from MDF and available in four finishes; white, dark walnut, light oak, and black ash.
The driver complement harkens some comparisons to the somewhat larger Q Acoustics 3050i; the Oberon 5 use a pair of 5 inch mid/woofers and the company’s trademark 1.14 inch soft dome tweeter.
A single-wired two-way crossover is also used and the speakers do not offer a very difficult load; a nominal impedance of 6 ohms and 88dB/W/m sensitivity rating
Very much like the Q Acoustics 5040, these need some space from the wall behind them and are smoother sounding when pointed straight ahead. Angling these in towards your listening chair provides no real benefit.
The trademark DALI top end is very present with a lot of energy and detail, but you will not have to worry about any hardness unless your amplifier is tilted that way as well.
The low end is punchy and rather dynamic sounding considering the size of the drivers and cabinet, but these are not bass monsters.
What really sells us on these loudspeakers is the expressive midrange that takes vocals to another level in this price range.
Pros: Expressive sounding midrange, punchy mid bass and lower midrange, sound larger than they look, excellent build quality and value for the money
Cons: Better suited for small to medium-sized rooms, treble is sensitive to partnering equipment, need a high quality amplifier to really show off just how good they are
Where to buy: $1,300/pair at Amazon
There are a million opinions online about the topic but the simple truth is that you can drive a loudspeaker like the Magnepan LRS+ (Little Ribbon Speaker) with any amplifier that can double its output and is stable into a 4 ohm load. A/V receivers are not great choices in this scenario. Their actual power output into a 4 ohm load is rather iffy.
The LRS+ need a lot of space. A minimum of 3 feet from the wall behind them. You also need to angle the panels so that the tweeter potion of the panel are further from your ears than the woofer. I have my LRS+ turned so that the woofer panel is almost 2 inches closer to my listening position.
The LRS+ also benefit from either a heavy paving stone placed underneath the legs or a dedicated stand like the Magna Risers.
Don’t expect a lot of deep bass from the LRS+ – that’s not why you are buying it.
Pros: Transparency, detail, clarity, deep soundstage, very immediate presentation, superb value for the money
Cons: Limited bass, require high current amplification, wonky feet, need to be placed at least 3 feet from the wall behind them
Where to buy: Magnepan Dealer Locator
Wharfedale Diamond 12.3
Wharfedale’s founder, Gilbert Briggs built his first loudspeaker in 1932 in his home in Ilkey, Yorkshire; the town was based in the valley of the river “Wharfe.” Briggs opened Wharfedale Wireless Works in 1933 supplying advanced loudspeaker drivers to the growing radio industry and the company became a leading supplier selling more than 9,000 units per year until the outbreak of World War II.
The company flourished after the war and became one of the first companies to offer a two-way loudspeaker in 1945 – the prototype for the modern loudspeaker.
The Diamond series has been around for a number of years and have always offered a lot of performance for the money. A pair of Wharfedale Diamond 10.1s have graced my home office for almost 6 years and I have zero desire to replace them; they work incredibly well with both solid state and tubes.
The Diamond 12.3s utilize two 5″ Klarity midrange woofers and one 1″ soft dome tweeter in a rather inert enclosure that blends really well in modern and traditional settings.
The Diamond 12.3s deliver strong dynamics, detail, and a very high level of resolution. They don’t need to be pulled that far from the walls to really deliver balanced performance.
The build quality is superb for the money.
Pros: Balanced, airy treble, punchy mid bass and upper midrange, excellent with vocals, superb value for the money
Cons: Need better quality electronics to really shine, slightly reserved presentation, vinyl veneer
Where to buy: $998/pair at Crutchfield