In loudspeakerland no ‘magic ingredient’ guarantees success, though there are some clues here as to how function may follow form. The Tannoy and KEF speakers both use their own individual variations on the co-axial main driver theme, where the tweeter output is generated from the centre of the midrange (or bass/mid) cone. Such an arrangement has several pluses and minuses compared to a conventional, separated tweeter. For example, the amount of wide off-axis output, and therefore the in-room ‘airiness’ will be reduced, but symmetrical radiation will be maintained through the crossover region, assisting integration. And there’s no denying the KEF and Tannoy did show particularly good voice coherence through the crossover region (as well as a little less ‘air’!).
Because these speakers are so different from one another, it’s hard to state categorically that one is better value than another. The little Tannoy might look costly compared to the two floorstanders, but that’s at least partly because it’s dressed up in very nice real wood veneer. It has high-class ingredients throughout, performs very well within its size limitations, and would certainly suit someone looking for a pretty and discreet speaker for a modest size room.
To fill a really large room, you would be better to check out the Bowers & Wilkins 683, and its full, deep bass will need no extra sub-woofer assistance even when reproducing movie soundtracks, although it will need a capable amp to drive it.
If pressed I’d have to say that the KEF probably provides the best sound for the money, because of the way it supplies excellent voice band coherence alongside decent bass weight. But an equally strong case can also be made for the Focal’s warmth and lively dynamic exuberance, which has the sort of airiness and freedom from box colour that comes with the standmount territory.
It’s also important to bear in mind that a pair of speakers (unlike headphones) doesn’t operate in isolation: what you hear is a combination of the speakers and the room in which they’re used, and the influence of the room is arguably the hardest thing to pin down.
While the differences one might find between any group of four CD players costing between £629 and £900 will probably be quite subtle, that’s certainly not the case with these speakers. It is of course true that a speaker can only reproduce the signal it is fed, but it’s equally true that the variations between different speakers are relatively huge. Which is why it’s important to take extra care when choosing a pair.