2020 has thrown up some excellent stereo speakers. That’s reflected in the quality of this year's What Hi-Fi? Awards, with each of the 11 winners in the stereo speaker category a class-leader at its respective price point. It’s the newest products that naturally grab the limelight, though.
The Bowers & Wilkins 606 S2 Anniversary standmounters (£599, $899, AU$1299) are a mildly tweaked version of last year’s Product of the Year-winning B&W 606. There’s little to separate the two on the outside, bar an extra finish option and some low-key badging, and you’ll find the only performance-related change is an upgraded crossover that uses superior capacitors.
But if that seems subtle, we’re pleased to report that the improvement in performance is staggering. This S2 version is cleaner, clearer and notably more articulate than the original. The changes are enough to ensure that the latest 606s remain our choice at their price level.
KEF’s much-loved LS50 speakers have had a positively excellent revamp too. Now called the LS50 Meta, these beautifully crafted speakers feature an innovative engineering idea called Metamaterial Absorption Technology – a way of dealing with the rearward-firing sound from the tweeter’s dome so that it doesn’t spoil the unit’s sound.
Priced at £1000 ($1499, AU$2495), the LS50 Metas sound superb, matching far more expensive alternatives when it comes to insight and finesse. Add excellent build and the distinctive appearance, and these new Metas look set to continue the LS50 success story.
The ProAc Response D2R (£2895, $4500) are another new entry. These standmounters set new standards at their premium price, delivering a combination of insight and dynamic expression that eludes their rivals. The use of a ribbon tweeter gives the D2Rs a sonic sophistication and precision most dome tweeter-equipped rivals can’t match, but it’s the care taken in the crossover calibration and the quality of the engineering that impresses most.
Don’t worry if your budget doesn’t extend half as far as the ProAcs, mind you. We have two excellent standmounters at budget levels, with both the Dali Spektor 2 (£199, $349, AU$361) and Elac Debut B5.2 (£249, $290, AU$549) holding on to their Best Buy awards from last year. They continue to deliver the very best overall performance we’ve heard at their respective price points.
If floorstanders are your thing, we’ve got some excellent recommendations for you too. At the budget end, the Fyne Audio F302 (£479, $745, AU$1095) still set the standard with a lively and entertaining sound that’s sure to make you want to listen to track after track of your favourite songs.
Moving up in price we have another repeat winner in the form of Dali’s excellent Oberon 5 speakers. At £699 ($1099, AU$1599), they represent terrific value for money.
Climb up the price ladder once again and you’ll find three more exceptional products in the form of the Wharfedale Evo 4.4 (£1199, $1998, AU$3695), the ProAc Response DT8 (£2295, $4000, AU$6495) and the Spendor A7 speakers (£3300, $4995, AU$6875). Each of these offers class-leading sound coupled to excellent build. Just make sure the rest of your system is talented enough to make the most out of them.
Finally, if you’re looking for a musical but affordable pair of desktop speakers, or just something to put in the spare room, there still isn't anything better than Ruark’s MR1 Mk2 speakers (£329, $380, AU$630), which are small, nicely made and – most importantly – a joy to listen to.
Don't forget we'll be hosting our annual awards ceremony online on Thursday 5th November, when we'll reveal which of these sensational 11 speakers wins our most prestigious Product of the Year award.