Speakers: Standmount vs Floorstanding - Only a question of Bass?

A recurring question I get is whether one should buy a standmounted or a floorstanding speaker. I've expressed my opinions elsewhere and yes, I do favour floorstanding speakers. And yes, the time has come for me to devote a full article to my subjective opinion on the topic.

First, it should be noted that my personal circumstances make me the 'ideal' buyer of a standmounted speaker. I have a small room (technically 12' x 13' but I don't have a 'real' rear wall so for bass purposes [since bass ignores flimsy little doors and windows], my room is 12' x 28'). Also, I love to listen to female vocals over noisy rock bands, and you might deduce from my music pages. Yet, I still have a preference for floorstanders.

Lets look at the things that magazine repeat on and on about standmounts vs floorstanders:

Pinpoint Imaging due to less box resonance, less volume for sound waves to bounce against
Better speed, rhythm and pace (read: absence of bass. No matter what, really low bass sounds slow because it is slow)
Not much bass
Easy to Position

Typical overenthusiastic magazine quotation:
'Has all the bass anyone but a heavy metal fan could want'

Floor Standing:
Better bass
Save money on stands
More difficult to position

Typical overenthusiastic magazine quotation:
'Images like a minimonitor'

My Personal Take

Availability in Singapore

First off, I have to say that in terms of consumer choice, there are apparently more 'good' choices in terms of standmounted speakers in Singapore. Thats mainly because when US manufacturers build floorstanding speakers, they're thinking 'HUGE'. If they build a small floorstanding speaker, its basically the cheapest budget model aimed at the budget market (I think I can safely cite the small little Thiel CS1.5 as an example; I understand that it is a relatively unpopular model compared to the larger Thiels) If they're going to build a small speaker (aimed at the budget market); it stands to reason that they'll be better off building a standmount.

Of course, there are exceptions; but by and large (ouch!), I think you're beter off hunting for small floorstanders from the European manufacturers.

Sound issues

Bass is really important. It is one of those things that, when you've heard good bass, its a bit hard to live without it. So much so that you'll be willing to sacrifice a bit on other aspects to get good bass. Such people prefer speakers that have good treble/midrange/bass as opposed to one that has excellent midrange but below average bass. Again, its your call.

Personally, you need bass to make the sound more real. The sound of the plucked double bass, the complex lines of the bass guitar plugging away in the background, etc. I'm not even talking about subwoofers mysterious improving soundstage etc. Bass is part of 'real music', even music involving chicks strumming guitars. Of course, hearing solid hard hitting bass underpinning a superb midrange is an experience unto itself, not least because its so rare.

Speaker Position

Its no secret that you get bass reinfocement by placing a speaker near the wall. This implies that if you are going to put a speaker near a wall, you should get a speaker (standmount, but not necessarily so, since many European brands are also designing floorstanders that can be placed near walls) which has less bass. Conversely, if you are going to put a speaker away from the walls, either be prepared to get less bass or be prepared to invest in a subwoofer. But certainly, speaker positioning is a very important consideration.

Listening Levels

If you listen at lower levels, there is an imbalance between perceived bass vs midrange vs treble levels. The bass will be too 'soft' and the sound is usually thin. Having extra bass is an advantage in these circumstances. Sure, at full volumes (which may not reachable in normal circumstances unless your neighbours are deaf), theres too much bass, but at lower levels, the balance is 'just right'. Again, I'm exaggerating to make a point. :)


Can a standmount+subwoofer combo equal a dedicated big 3 way speaker in terms of bass?

Heh, my Zephyr+Strata II combo cannot match the BNS Soundcolumn III in terms of bass quantity/quality [in my opinion, quantity and quality are not easily seperable - quantity can affect perceived quality]. The BNS Soundcolumn III is not a well known speaker but it is actually very good, and bought on the basic principle of extensive listening tests. Also, as it was a new brand, the price was very good. It is a tall narrow columnar 3 way design: tweeter, 2 midrange and 1 downward firing woofer. The BNS has very tight and fast bass, more suited for classical music than for rock; it also has more of it than my Zephyr/Strata. The Strata is more 'tuneful', but on points, the BNS wins.Of course, so far, one of the Champions of bass has to be anything from Platinum, particularly the Platinum Trio, which pumped out prodigious amounts of hardhitting bass even when driven by the 60w NEW A.60.

Difference Between Standmount and Floorstanding Bass

Generally, the bass from a standmounted speaker sounds like its coming from a small box. It sounds a bit congested and not as 'open' as bass from a floorstander. The bass from a floorstander seems to 'breathe' more easily. Even though Platinum Solo and Studio (standmounts) have good bass (actually beating my Zephyr in my opinion due to it being hard hitting, the bass from the Zephyr and similar small floorstanders still 'flows' and 'breathes' more easily, while a Platinums sound slightly 'forced'

As for speed/rhythm/pace, I do not see any consistent superiority of one type over another.

One easy 'trick' (not meant in any negative way tho') a designer of a standmounted speaker can do is to avoid low bass altogether and push up the midbass region slightly. The bass then seems to flow more easily from the standmount and the worst of box resonances due to trying to force low bass from a small box are also avoided.

For some reason, the way a standmount does bass has a lot of variety. The midrange and treble is basically 'there', but when you listen to the bass of a standmounted Proac Tablette/Response vs. Platinum Solo/Studio vs. B&W N805/CDM1SE, you'll notice that they sound quite (ok, VERY) different. Whereas, I daresay that the bass of floorstanding speakers are not as different (its all relative - the difference is still obvious). The problem of how to bend the laws of physics and get good bass leads to different solutions. For floorstanders, I suppose its a little bit easier as you have more space inside the enclosure to push the sound around before pushing it out of a port, or even adding another woofer.

Having said that, I think that the types of bass produced can generally be classified into 2 broad types:

  • The 'Rock and Roll' type bass (American speakers like JBL); open as opposed to tight, slightly exaggerated midbass to give a nice open, warm feeling. Ideally suited for hammering out U2 at loud volumes.I suppose you can also call it 'SLAM' (taking my cue from the REL Q100 settings)
  • The 'Claustrophic Classical' (many European speakers). Emphasises timing, speed, focus and extension. A tight, accurate sound. Very ideal for classical music as you don't want to drown out the violins with excess midbass.U2 sounds strangled on this kind of speakers. I suppose you can call it 'DEPTH' (again, refer to the Q100)

Another key point is whether or not you can hear the pitch to the bass or whether its just a dull thud.Usually, this is a function of 'price' rather than whether the speaker falls into the 'SLAM' or 'DEPTH' category.



A floorstander should of course cost more than a standmount (the price of stands may bring the price closer) since theres more of it, and extra rigidity must be added to avoid box resonances. I think I've mentioned somewhere that at the very high end, floorstanders make more sense, while at the low end, standmounts are your only choice.. However, I think most readers would be more interested in the midpoint where standmounts compete with floorstanders. Currently, it appears that standmounts have the upper hand, in no small part thanks to the Sonus Faber Concerto (High End Research). However, if you feel the need for bass, heres the list:

Surveying the mid-range floorstanding market (another frequently asked question - where to buy what - so I've listed the shop next to the brand): Triangle (Norman Audio Works), System Audio, Castle (Margil), JMLab (Asia Sound), Hales (Reference Audio), Vienna Acoustics (State of the Art), Mission (Pertama), Monitor Audio (Precision Audio), Tannoy (Tat Chuan); Note: I've left out High-End brands (mainly because I'm lazy...); for more just look around my website, I'm sure I have/or will in near future put up a list :)

Also, to let you know of my next purchase dream, if I'm going to upgrade speakers, I'm looking at the JMLab Electra 915, mainly because I like JMLabs rather smoothish, natural, flowing sound. Maybe I'm getting old, but the exciting Proac Response 2.5 sound with plenty of treble extension is not as appealing anymore :) Costing the same as a B&W Nautilus 805+stands, I think its a great bargain. (ok, I'm also looking at the relative UK prices - in UK the JMLab costs far more than the B&W 805)

Home Theatre

Oh dear, I've really gone to the dark side if I'm using 'Home Theatre' to bolster my side of the argument. However, I think that this will be a swing factor for many purchasers. You want to hear the sound of the White House exploding in Independence Day? A floorstander is your best bet :)

Difficult to Drive?

Generally, standmounted speakers are more difficult to drive than equivalent small 2-way floorstanding speakers. However, I think this consideration is only relevant if you're using really low powered amps. If you follow my recommendation of 100w solid state, 50w class A or tube, you can be pretty sure you'll be able to drive almost any speaker. 3 way speakers are a bit more difficult to drive because of the extra woofer, no matter their apparent specifications are. For example, my Zephyr is a 2-way speaker rated 91dB 4 Ohms vs the BNS soundcolumn 3 rated at 90dB 4 Ohms. The BNS is definitely more difficult to drive. I've tried using my Quad 77 integrated amp (84w at 8 Ohms, 115w at 4 Ohms) to drive the BNS and it cannot maintain the 'grip' on the sound that my 150wpc Sony N70ES can. Using the Quad 77 vs N70ES on my easier to drive Zephyr, the extra power of the N70ES doesn't give it that much of an edge.

The subject of power requirements could easily take up another article. But believe me, you need more power than the British mags tell you. The fact that British manufacturers make tiny amps is more a reflection on the British audiophile who can't spend much, and whose spouse refuses to allow large ugly Krells and Mark-Levinsons into the house. Small amps can sound good though, as 25 good quality watts beat 100w of crap anytime. [but this is a speaker article so...]


Brand Recommendations?

Just flip open your typical Hi-Fi Choice. They always review the cutest floorstanders.