17 of the best British speakers of all time

ProAc Response D2R
(Image credit: ProAc)

We're celebrating all things British hi-fi this week on What Hi-Fi?, so we had to include our newly updated round-up of our favourite sets of speakers to have emerged from these isles.

This list includes some big, some small, some heavenly high-end, some much more affordable – but all straight from the top draw when it comes to performance-per-pound value. 

Our verdict? The hi-fi industry has been, and continues to be, spoilt with British engineering talent, as you can see for yourself from the following list of superlative hi-fi speakers...

Wharfedale Diamond I (1982)

17 of the best British speakers of all time

The original Wharfedale Diamonds were the seeds for what has become one of the most successful speaker ranges of all time. 

While speakers these days come in more shapes and sizes than ever before, these pint-sized efforts, standing at just 24cm high, were designed for those who needed a speaker to fit into a tight space.

They had a particularly praiseworthy midrange and bass considering their budget price, though they were slightly fussy in terms of partnering kit, working better with more upmarket amplification.

Heybrook HB1 (1983)

17 of the best British speakers of all time

Heybrook was a British hi-fi manufacturer that started life in 1978 and was named after Devon's Heybrook Bay, which was near the site of the company's original factory. 

Heybrook got off to a flying start after its inception, with the Peter Comeau-designed, entry-level HB1s proving a highlight of What Hi-Fi?'s early years. It was the first product to win three What Hi-Fi? Awards in a row, no less.

With a sealed box design, they worked well close to a wall, but aside from that, thanks to a high-quality finish and dynamic sound, the HB1 were another example of a speaker that could hold its own against much more expensive efforts. 

Acoustic Energy AE1 (1988)

17 of the best British speakers of all time

Acoustic Energy's AE1 were also smaller speakers whose performance belied their size. They were capable of impressive punch and dynamic reach - in part thanks to their metal drivers, which were rare at that time. 

They also weren't limited to one decade, evolving over several years and several variations to inspire what is today one of our favourite active speakers, the suitably-named AE1 Active.

Epos ES11 (1991)

17 of the best British speakers of all time

We enter the '90s with Epos' ES11, which were similar in sonic character to the legendary ES14 but available for a fraction of the price. A win-win, then.

As was usual for the brand, the crossover was minimal – it employed a single capacitor for the tweeter – helping them produce surprisingly sturdy bass and excellent resolution, in addition to superb rhythmic drive and dynamic expression.

A modest-looking but really musical pair of speakers, they could deliver just the right amount of aggression, delicacy and restraint as a song demanded.

Monitor Audio Studio 20 (1992)

17 of the best British speakers of all time

The Studio 20 were, back in 1992, one of the most detailed-sounding speakers we'd encountered.

They needed some fine-tuning and a fair bit of running-in thanks to those metal drivers but, these issues aside, they were incredibly well finished and sounded terrific.

It was no surprise that their successors, the new-and-improved Studio 20 SE, arrived a few years later and occupied our test rooms as our reference model for many years.

Mission 753 (1992)

17 of the best British speakers of all time

The 753 were an important speaker in Mission's history, ushering in a new slim floorstander design no wider than an, erm, ice skate (see above).

Both looking and sounding the business, they had a smörgåsboard of drive units with four 13cm drivers – two mid/bass drivers, two low bass units – and a single 25cm dome tweeter, through which a fast and punchy sound ensured whatever they were playing was enjoyably involving.

Tannoy Mercury M2 (1997)

17 of the best British speakers of all time

The Mercury M2 made an immediate impression when they burst onto the scene in the late '90s. Back then, we said they were the closest anyone had come to creating the perfect mass-market standmounter.

Quite frankly, our ears hadn't heard a more satisfyingly musical all-rounder at their price (£150), so it's hardly surprising that we called them "an extremely safe bet [that] will suit a wide variety of systems".

Wilson Benesch A.C.T. One (1999)

17 of the best British speakers of all time

Five years after launching its first product, the Wilson Benesch Turntable, the British company launched a second: the A.C.T. One speaker.

Unveiled at the 1994 Frankfurt High End show, the floorstanders, were made mostly out of carbon fibre (like many Wilson Benesch speakers after them), introducing the world’s first curved carbon fibre composite panel in a speaker design.

These superbly-engineered and elegant-looking towers were the most analytical and musical speakers we'd heard before the turn of the century.

Read the full Wilson Benesch A.C.T One review

Quad ELS 2805 (2008)

17 of the best British speakers of all time

This side of the millennium we have the Quad ELS 2805. After all, it would be sacrilege to not include one of the British company's legendary electrostatic speakers in this list. So here it is.

"Fifty years after its electrostatic speakers first wowed the hi-fi world, Quad breaks new ground," we said of the 2805 in 2008.

These one-way speakers (meaning there was no crossover in the signal path) fired equal amounts of sound backwards and forwards, so care was needed setting up. Any bother was well worth it, though. The lack of punch and slightly lumpy bass were drawbacks, but in every other way they were truly exceptional performers.

Read the full Quad ESL-2805 review

B&W 800 Diamond (2012)

17 of the best British speakers of all time

Continuing the high-end trend, these £18,500 speakers represented the pinnacle of B&W's cutting-edge technology back in 2012. "The ultimate expression of all the company’s trademark technologies." This has since manifested itself in the latest Diamond range.

From tweeter domes made out of diamond, to cleverly braced and shaped cabinets, to cones made out of Kevlar, they were innovative speakers that at the time showcased unrivalled clarity, dynamic reach and volume. The bass was stunning, as was detail, and all of this sound was delivered with speed and punch.

Read the full B&W 800 Diamond review

KEF LS50 (2012)

17 of the best British speakers of all time

The KEF LS50 were, and remain, blindingly good speakers. They've won multiple What Hi-Fi? Awards over the years and have recently formed the basis of active versions in the shape of the LS50 Wireless II and LSX, as well as the passive LS50 Meta – all three What Hi-Fi? Award winners themselves. 

Of course, a hat tip deserves to be directed to KEF’s trademark Uni-Q array (an aluminium dome tweeter in the centre of a magnesium/aluminium–coned mid/bass), which was largely behind the LS50's insightful and musical, bassy yet balanced sound.

Read the full KEF LS50 review

Neat Iota (2012)

17 of the best British speakers of all time

He who dares wins, right? With a sideways orientation that makes them look more like an AV centre channel speaker than a pair of stereo speakers, the 13cm-tall Neat Iotas were certainly different, but brilliantly so.

The Teesside-based speaker company's unusual design allowed us to experiment using them with the tweeters placed on the inside or outside, the latter of which we preferred. The Iotas sounded remarkable - big and bold, with plenty of detail, weight and scale on offer. And their tiny-boxed design only added to their appeal.

Read the full Neat Iota review

Q Acoustics Concept 20 (2013)

17 of the best British speakers of all time

The strength of the competition at this price is always fierce, but it speaks to the talents of Q Acoustics' Concept 20 that they remain firm favourites. 

They utilise what is still some of the company's top-tier technologies, such as the complex cabinet design that sees two layers of MDF separated by a lossy Gelcore material in an effort to dampen resonances. And due to such innovative engineering, they produce a multi-talented, all-round sound that delivers everything from punch and attack, to subtlety and precision. 

The fact they're available at nearly half their original price (opens in new tab) these days is staggering.

Read the full Q Acoustic Concept 20 review

PMC Twenty 26 (2014)

17 of the best British speakers of all time

Speakers from PMC’s Twenty range have not only been winning awards in recent years but also occupying our test rooms.

Few rival floorstanders are as musical or as balanced as the Twenty 26, whose strong dynamics, impressive detail, even tonality and seamless integration is hard to find fault with. These may not be the latest models in the Twenty range, but they are among our favourites.

Read the full PMC Twenty 26 review

Spendor SP2/3R2 (2016)

17 of the best British speakers of all time

It'd be easy to dismiss Spendor's SP2/3R2 as a retro throwback, but that would be to miss out on a stellar speaker that very much deserves the attention of anyone with this budget. "Despite a design ancestry that dates back to the 1970s, there’s much this dinosaur could teach its modern competition," we noted in our 2016 review.

Sonically, they're huge, with a scale and authority that's made for epic blockbuster soundtracks. But there's absolutely no shortage of dynamics or detail either, and while they don't deliver the last word in punch or drive, rhythms are delightfully measured. 

Read the full Spendor SP2/3R2 review

ATC SCM 50 (2019)


(Image credit: ATC)

We’ve been using ATC’s SCM50 as our reference speakers for well over a decade, and in that time they’ve been connected to just about every piece of electronics that has passed through our test rooms. And guess what? They've never let us down.

Every so often we come across rival speakers – usually of higher cost – that better these ATCs in some respect, whether it’s outright resolution, openness, stereo imaging or rhythmic precision. 

Yet we haven’t managed to find something that’s as satisfying an all-rounder or as practical to use as a day-to-day review tool. Considering the SCM50 was originally introduced in the mid-80s, that’s quite some achievement. It seems great engineering doesn’t date.

Read the full ATC SCM 50 review

ProAc Response D2R (2019)

ProAc Response D2R

(Image credit: ProAc)

Don't let the lack of curved cabinets or fancy cone materials fool you. The ProAc Response D2R are among the finest speakers we've ever heard and are more than worth of their spot on this list.

You'll need suitable stands, suitable electronics and to spend a decent amount of time tinkering with positioning, but once sorted, these exceptional standmounters deliver an intoxicating mix of detail and entertainment that is tough to beat at this price.

Read the full ProAc Response D2R review


Becky is the managing editor of What Hi-Fi? and, since her recent move to Melbourne, also the editor of Australian Hi-Fi magazine. During her eight years in the hi-fi industry, she has been fortunate enough to travel the world to report on the biggest and most exciting brands in hi-fi and consumer tech (and has had the jetlag and hangovers to remember them by). In her spare time, Becky can often be found running, watching Liverpool FC and horror movies, and hunting for gluten-free cake.

  • Lefizz
    What Hi-Fi? said:
    To celebrate British Hi-Fi Week we've rounded up some of the best speakers from the British talent pool since the early '80s.

    17 of the best British speakers of all time : Read more

    Seriously disappointed the KEF Coda 7 isn't on this list. Absolute era defining speaker for me.
  • Dbglobal
    How could they have left out one of the most Iconic British speakers ever made, the Rogers LS3/5a's. Makes you wonder who made up this list?
  • Alexcann1
    The original JPW Sonata?
  • wpcheadle
    agree with Dbglobal...how can you leave off a 50 year old design still being made today?
  • HifiMusicMan
    Living Voice: Air partner, Tone Scout, Vox Olympian
    Carfrae: Big Horn, Little Bog Horn
    Lowther; just about everything they ever made in their exceptionally long history!

    Who put your '17 'list together? Have they ever heard any of the above truly great British loudspeakers which will outperform everything on your list?
  • Hifiman
    The comments are proof, as if proof were needed, that the list needs to be longer than 17! My personal addition would be Mission 70 Mk2s. After over 35 years I’m still impressed by them over contemporary speakers. Now that’s longevity.
  • djh1697
    The Diamonds from 1983 where my first pair of speakers! They were a little bright with my Mission Cyrus 1, a NAD 3020 killer, from the same era. In time I upgraded to a pair a Tannoy Mercury M2's. These where both pleasant speakers. I now have a pair of Kudos X3's, which replaced a pair of Neat Motive 2's, which I am surprised haven't appeared in your list? Perhaps they don't have a large advertising budget with your magazine?
  • Renfrew
    Dbglobal said:
    How could they have left out one of the most Iconic British speakers ever made, the Rogers LS3/5a's. Makes you wonder who made up this list?
    I heard the Rogers Studio 2 speakers around 1983 and they were compared to much more expensive B&W speakers
    Needless to say the Rogers were faster and just more present for the lack of a better word.
    They can handle 500 Watts RMS and weigh about 100 lbs. each. No they aren't gorgeous but what a sound. I'm still enjoying them.