3/10 best on-wall loudspeakers
Not so long ago I had a chance to put my ear on ten or so on-wall loudspeakers. Not my cup of tea exactly but on the other hand, it was great fun to listen to music as it was listened over half a century before Hifi hobbyists started to drag their loudspeakers off the wall in the 1980s hoping the move would improve the sound, bass performance and soundstaging in particular.
Among the speakers I heard there were no poorly sounding models, the tonal balance and other main aspects of the sound being, if not perfect, at least moderately good and acceptable. There was however a tendency among the less expensive speakers toward commercially appealing sonics, not enough to be erronous, but a kind of sound that contained bass a dose or two more than necessary for Hi-Fi purposes. As a result, the sound was pleasant but not especially luminous over the midrange.
It was noteworthy that the sound quality didn't follow directly the price tag; eg. Monitor Audio sent three speakers, and the smallest and cheapest one (Sound Frame 3) wasn't the most controversial case of the three.
The winners of the test, to my ears, were Martin Logan SLM, Monitor Audio Apex a40, and PSB Imagine W1, all of them kind of highend speakers in the group, as opposed to speakers meant for a wider audience, which fact I think was audible in their sound performance. Totem Tribe 1 belonged to this group too.
The sound of the Martin Logan had an obvious quality in it: the tonal balance was skillfully executed, no fuss at any level, and the sound in general very natural and tuneful although slightly bass shy.
Monitor Audio APEX a40 too produced a balanced sound but with sturdier bass, yet the sound was nicely detailed and sophisticated over the treble.
PSB Imagine W1 had same overall quality as Martin Logan with distinctive shades and purity, an ability to follow music's dynamics, and perhaps the best, the most structured, soundstage of all.
Two general remarks. One, the soundstage of on-wall speakers isn't identical to off-the-wall speakers but far from hopeless; much can be achieved by carefully choosing for the speakers the right spot on the wall as well as correct listening distance.
Two, most of the speakers were able to generate enough bass despite their relatively high resonance frequency.