We take a (slightly irreverent) look at the classic British speakers that have given class-leading sound quality, or offered exceptional value, or broken the mould with unique design, or divided opinion, or just look super-cool! We've concentrated on models that can still be found reasonably easily, and at reasonably affordable prices (under £500). Speakers are very much a personal choice, so if you don't like our choices, comments are turned on!
QUAD ESL-57 (circa 1957)
Initially released as a mono speaker, so don't be alarmed to find that not all 'pairs' have consecutive serial numbers. If you like small-scale classical (chamber) music, these 65 year old designs might still be your end game. They say, after these, most small 'box' speakers sound like toys. You'll need space behind them and they have a narrow 'sweet-spot', but if you can accommodate them, you should get to hear them. In summary: A design that was ahead of it's time.
GOODMANS MAGNUM (circa early 1960s to late 1970s)
When speakers were made by engineers, not accountants, and bought by husbands, not wives! There are a few different versions; early models had better cabinets, later models had better HF units. DIY enthusiasts strip out the crossovers and wadding, dope the drivers and steel line the inside cabinet walls. In summary: Massively underrated; the Lenco of classic British speakers!
SPENDOR BC1 (circa 1969)
Warm and comfortable - and those are just the slippers worn by the average BC1 owner! The bextrene cones quacked if you pushed them too hard, and early ones were rated at just 25 watts. But, they do have a bit of a cult following, earning lots of praise for 'midrange purity' and owners are not easily parted from them. In summary: Masters of received pronunciation!
KEF R105 (circa 1977 - image at top)
Visually, these belong to an era of innovation that brought us distinctive designs such as Concorde and the hovercraft, and we can definitely imagine Raymond Baxter purring about them on Tomorrow's World! Dynamically, they are off the pace (the castors are a giveaway!), but they do still look beautiful. Don't expect too much and don't pay too much, plus you'll need lots of power to get through the horrendously complex crossovers. Apparently, they measure great in an anechoic chamber, which is great if you live in one! In summary: Musically flawed but aesthetically super-cool.
LINN KAN (circa 1979)
The most divisive speaker, ever? It's certainly in the running, thanks to a 'love it or hate it' presentation. 10 records in your collection never sounded as good through any other speaker! The rest of your records sounded like there was something missing - and what was missing, was bass! We know people who have bought and sold Kans, multiple times. Often retailed with a hopelessly ill-matched Naim Nait 1; they really needed a NAP160 (or more) to get them moving. In summary: Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em!
MISSION 70 MKII (circa 1983)
Fast and punchy, the baby Missions were great communicators. Clever 'clamshell' sealed-box construction, simple crossover, worked well against a back wall. And, cheap! We still have the pair that I carried home from Laskys in 1984. In summary: Fun, fun, fun.
HEYBROOK HB1 (circa 1983)
Generous and articulate, and easy to drive. In the wrong set-up, treble can be very obviously over-bright, so partner with care. The venerable A&R A60 is known to be a very nice match, and they will suit vinyl more than CD. Lots still around, often with their matching open-frame stands. In summary: Bright, bouncy, direct. Still good value.
EPOS ES14 (circa 1986)
The acceptable alternative for 1980s flat-earth fans who had realised that their shoe-boxes had no bass! A very simple crossover arrangement broke the BBC manual that many were still partly wedded to and helped with midrange dynamics and clarity. Sufficient meat on the bone combined with a well-judged tweeter implementation made them enjoyable for extended listening. In case your LP12 'fruit-box' set off your room's bass nodes, the ES14s came with purpose-made port bungs. In summary: A coherent all-rounder.
NAIM SBL (circa 1986)
When Linn upset Naim by introducing their own range of mediocre amps, Naim got their revenge by introducing their own range of mediocre speakers. Still, some people do love 'em! Probably of little interest outside of a Naim system, they liked power, so think NAP250 and above. Tight and unforgiving but they make the list thanks to precisely that 'marmite' quality plus wide availability and low prices. In summary: The earth is flat (against the back wall)!
IMPULSE H6 (circa early 1990s)
If your budget didn't stretch to the H1s or H2s, or you didn't have the room for those larger designs, the H6 were considered the sweet-spot in the Impulse range. Suited to valve amplification (often sold with Audio Innovations, back in the day), these have an engagingly 'live' sound with plenty of body and presence, and good imaging. In summary: A bit of a bargain for fans of low powered valve amps, but check condition of drivers and HF units as original replacements may be difficult to source.
Worthy of mention...but missed the list due to either scarcity or high prices:
LS3/5A - lots of variants available (Rogers, KEF, Harbeth etc) and loved by owners, but prices have gone sky high.
Wharfedale W-90 - natural sounding, large floor-standing pieces of furniture with tweed grilles! Underrated but scarce on the used market.
Gale 401 - a pig to drive but still revered, and the best looking stands ever made! Pricey and rare.