Scansonic M20

It’s an abiding argument among audio enthusiasts – should you go for small standmount speakers or floorstanding designs? Assuming you’re not in a small room, where hulking great towers might overdrive the space and prove tricky to control, the decision becomes slightly more problematic. After all, a standmount used on decent stands is going to take up about the same amount of space as a floorstanding model of similar design – and indeed there are more than a few two-way tall speakers seemingly little more than a standmount with its box extended down to the floor.

Fortunately, for the space-conscious, there’s a good choice out there of compact floorstanding speakers, of which the Scansonic M20 is a prime example. It has a considerably smaller footprint than the curvaceous stands the company can supply for its standmount models.

Yet it is more than just one of those ‘standmount-on-stilts’: it’s a proper 2.5-way design, complete with a dedicated bass driver to augment its tweeter and mid/bass. As you’d expect from a speaker whose manufacturer shares a roof – and design team – with high-end speaker company Raidho, as part of the Dantak group, the M20 uses a version of the ribbon tweeter seen across both brands’ models, and a fine example of trickle-down technology. This tweeter has a kapton/aluminium sandwich membrane just 20μm thick and it’s sealed around its edges to smooth its output’s transition to the rest of the driver complement.

Mounted in a circular faceplate to match the lower drivers, it operates down to 4kHz, where the baton is taken up by the 102mm mid/bass unit. This uses a fibreglass cone with honeycomb reinforcement and a central phase plug, while bass duties are handled by a similar driver, operating from 300Hz downwards.

Stylish perforated lid-type grilles are provided for the drivers and the bass is tuned using two slot-shaped ports on the rear of the well-braced enclosure, which comes complete with ‘outrigger’ feet to spread the footprint, improving stability. The whole package feels remarkably well put together and the impression of quality is further aided by the standard of finish in a choice of black or white silk effect.

Bi-wire terminals are provided, with the usual jumper arrangement for single-wired use and a claimed frequency range of 50Hz-40kHz, 86.5dB/W/m sensitivity.

Those figures (and the price!) suggest this isn’t your common or garden budget floorstander, able to be used on the end of inexpensive amps of modest power, and Scansonic agrees – its suggestion is that it be driven by “high-quality 100-200W” amplification. Trying the M20 with a variety of amps, including my Naim Supernait 3 (HFC 456), Leak Stereo 130 and a pair of hefty Cambridge Edge M monobloc power amps, I’d suggest that the power recommendation is a bit pessimistic. It sings on the end of the Naim, which claims 80W into 8ohm, as well as with the Edge Ms’ 350W/4ohm output; however, the ‘high-quality’ bit is worth observing – this is a speaker best driven not just sufficiently, but well.

Sound quality
I think it’s safe to say that the M20 comes up a little short. No, not in performance, which I’ll come to in a bit, but in its physical stature. Having played around with positioning for a while, I end up with it about 60m from the wall and a bit further in from the side walls, with a slight toe-in towards the listening position.

Nonetheless, I think that the speaker still sounds a bit soft in the treble, with a lack of sparkle on cymbals and space in atmospheric recordings, and only after a bit of experimentation do I work out what I assume to be the problem.

Despite the dispersion characteristics of that vertically mounted tweeter, I form a strong impression that, in my listening position, my ears are just too high for this short speaker – an opinion reinforced when I get off the sofa, which isn’t exactly high, and sit on the floor. This is much better, leading me to wonder whether this speaker is designed for bean-bag listeners, and then to try some ways of solving the problem. Some small wooden blocks under the front spikes gives the M20 an upward tilt, which seems to help, but things really improve when I trawl out of the shed a pair of old – and hefty – 12in stands I have for some long-forgotten speakers, and park the M20 on these. Suddenly there’s better treble detail and focus, and an altogether more involving sound.

I’m not sure what brand the old stands are, and the nearest I am able to find is Atacama’s Audition 300, which might even be a bit too tall (and certainly isn’t cheap), but has a sufficiently large top-plate – so perhaps buyers might need to experiment with some breeze-blocks or something similar if they encounter this problem.

The overall sound is well balanced, although it should be noted that the bass here is of the ‘light, but tight’ variety – as is perhaps appropriate for a speaker suited to use in smaller spaces – rather than truly room shaking. Yes, there is plenty of speed and slam down there, but ultimate welly is a bit AWOL when it comes to deep synth-bass, major orchestral chords and church organ.

That said, the glorious drama of Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances (Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of Yannick Nézet-Séguin) is resolved well, from the fine detail to the weight of the musical forces, and there’s fine insight into the soundstage picture. And while the grungy growl of Alice Cooper’s Detroit Stories set is lightened a bit, you can’t argue with the way the M20 brings out the character of the familiar voice and the accomplished musicians around him, for example on the slamming cover of MC5’s Sister Anne and Bob Seger’s East Side Story. The usual epic Bob Ezrin production job, familiar from much of Cooper’s output, comes over big and bold; you can’t ask more of this dinky speaker.

It does finesse, too, showing a beautifully light touch with everything from the distinctly vintage (and very two-channel) sound of Bob Dylan’s Talkin’ New York, 1962 to the close-focused recording of soprano Jodie Devos’ And Love Said… set, which is – as you might expect – unashamedly romantic both in its content and its sound. After works by Bridge, Britten and Vaughan Williams, Devo pays off, unexpectedly, with a version of Freddie Mercury’s You Take My Breath Away – and boy, does it work through this compact cabinet, which brings out the purity of the voice and the simplicity of the piano accompaniment. Though not without its foibles, the M20 is nonetheless a highly appealing listen; if your space is tight and you’re low-slung, it’s well worth investigating. AE    

Product: Scansonic M20
Type: 2.5-way floorstanding loudspeaker

● Ribbon tweeter
●  102mm mid/bass driver
●  102mm bass driver
●  Quoted sensitivity: 86.5dB/1W/1m (4ohm)

Read the full review in  Issue 474

Decent Audio (UK distributor)