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Updated Dec 15, 2022 5:00 PM
Despite the prevalence of wireless noise-cancelling earbuds and portable Bluetooth speakers, people are rediscovering the high-quality, space-filling audio that can come from bookshelf speakers. While many still listen to music on budget ’buds and battery-powered party speakers, there’s a growing appreciation for lossless, immersive audio on streaming services—like Apple’s Spatial Audio—high-resolution home theater set-ups, and analog warmth from vinyl and even cassettes. And higher fidelity is often accompanied by an appreciation for listening on top-notch systems. Regardless of the source, properly positioned home stereo speakers present audio with a true soundstage and vastly improved sound compared to your computer, TV, and most compact wireless speakers. Here are our picks for the best bookshelf speakers to deliver a rich response for any budget.
How we picked the best speakers for music on any budget
We regularly look through hundreds of choices to find the best speakers for music, but we don’t want you to feel overwhelmed by all the specs and requirements when online comparison shopping. So we combined our decades of collective experience, the impressions of trusted listeners, and the consensus of experts attuned to meticulous details to narrow down our core choices. The speakers on this list range in price, but all lean more toward affordable (compared to the easily recommendable multi-thousands options) and present their case for value when it comes to the research, engineering, and, most of all, performance they represent.
The best bookshelf speakers: Reviews & Recommendations
An excellent set of bookshelf speakers will enhance your listening experience with a wider stereo image and a more vibrant sound than what you get from a TV, laptop, or the average connected speaker. There is abundant variety in this category, so the following list identifies the best bookshelf speakers for different situations, desires, and budgets.
Best overall: KEF LS50 Meta
Why it made the cut: KEF speakers stand out with the impeccable sound that audiophiles revere just as well as they stand out in appearance.
- Frequency response: 79 Hz-28 kHz
- Power handling: 40-100W amp recommended
- Connectivity: speaker wire binding posts
- Drivers: 12th-generation Uni-Q driver, embedding a 1-inch tweeter within a 5.25-inch woofer
- Dimensions: 12 x 8 x 11 inches each (HxWxD)
- Weight: 17.2 lbs. each
- Entirely transparent sound
- Extraordinary detail
- Singular style
- Not as good in the low end as some passive speakers
KEF speakers, particularly 2012’s LS50, have dazzled audiophiles for years, but the updated LS50 Meta two-way bass-reflex speakers take the stunning clarity of sound to an even higher level. A new 12th-generation Uni-Q driver, which embeds the 1-inch tweeter within the 5.25-inch woofer to give the LS50 Meta ($1,499 a pair) a stark, single-cone look, integrated with new, proprietary Metamaterial Absorption Technology (MAT) for reducing distortion. The result is a beautiful design and an even more satisfying sound. These hifi speakers deliver a frequency response of 47Hz-45kHz and a maximum output of 106dB from a relatively compact enclosure of 11.89 inches (H) by 7.87 inches (W) by 10.94 inches (D). Because the LS50 Meta is a passive system, you’ll need to supply it with ample power. The NAD D 3045 is an excellent, unobtrusive 60W-per-channel hybrid amp/DAC for building the best-sounding bookshelf speakers system to project powerful audio without taking up much area (it’s also a convenient hub for digital and analog connections, plus adds a subwoofer output).
If you’d prefer to achieve the same pinpoint imaging in all-in-one self-amplified speakers, the $2,799 KEF LS50 Wireless II is the best powered option because it builds in 100W of power; HDMI, analog, and digital audio ports; plus Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity, including 24-bit/96kHz wireless streaming and compatibility with Airplay 2, Chromecast, Roon, HD and Ultra HD music from Amazon Music, and more. Willing to sacrifice some features to save some money? KEF makes a baby brother-in-size-not-sound streaming system, the $1,399 Wi-Fi-connected LSX II.
Best for home theater: Klipsch The Fives
Why it made the cut: The Fives make it easy to set up a big, bold sound for both music and your home theatre.
- Frequency response: 50-25,000Hz
- Power handling: 160 watts RMS
- Connectivity: HDMI ARC port, optical digital audio input, RCA stereo analog input, USB Type B input, 3.5mm stereo input, RCA mono output for optional powered subwoofer
- Drivers: 1-inch titanium dome LTS (Linear Travel Suspension) tweeter with a 90° x 90° Tractrix horn, 4 1/2-inch long-throw woofer
- Dimensions: 18.5 x 17.5 x 13.5 inches (HxWxD)
- Weight: 23.60 lbs
- Generous connectivity including HDMI ARC for TVs and Bluetooth
- Classic vintage look
- Larger-than-average bookshelf speakers
- Somewhat lacking bass response for the price
The Fives ($600 a pair) flaunt a retro-chic style in both black and walnut finishes. Still, they also accommodate a technologically diverse modern lifestyle with connections for your turntable (RCA phono/line), mobile devices (Bluetooth and line Aux input), gaming consoles (digital optical), computer (USB), and, more uniquely, your TV (HDMI ARC). Just connect your flatscreen, set the output to PCM stereo, and you’ll get to enjoy video accompanied by rich mids and clarity emanating from the 1-inch titanium dome LTS tweeter and long-throw 4.5-inch woofer. You select the input from a dial on these powered speakers or with the remote control, which can also control your TV’s volume, a rarity for bookshelf speakers. The Fives are somewhat large for bookshelf speakers at 18.5 inches by 17.5 inches by 13.5 inches, but they get loud. Their maximum output reaches 109dB with a frequency range of 50Hz-25kHz. For even more thunderous vibes from movies, games, and music, connect a subwoofer from The Fives’ Sub Out. Two subwoofers that have earned reputations for an all-around excellent low-frequency roar include the $129 Polk Audio PSW10 10-inch subwoofer, which delivers 100W of power and a frequency response of 40-160Hz from a simple, all-black cube design that can fit into most home listening setups. For a step up in power, size, and price, with an appropriate step down into the lowest depths of bass, try the $299 BIC America Acoustech PL-200II 12-inch powered subwoofer, a 1000W behemoth with gut-punching 22-200Hz frequency response.
Best for computers: Audioengine A2+ Wireless
Why it made the cut: The Austin, Texas-based Audioengine manufactures many of its speakers’ own components, such as woofers and tweeters, and its commitment to affordable, quality sound has made its speakers favorites since its founding in 2005.
- Frequency response: 65Hz-22kHz
- Power rating: 60W peak power (2 x 15W RMS)
- Connectivity: USB input, Bluetooth 5.0 aptX HD, stereo RCA I/O, stereo mini-jack input
- Drivers: 0.75-inch silk dome tweeter, 2.75-inch aramid fiber woofer
- Dimensions: 5.25 x 4 x 6 inches each (HxWxD)
- Weight: 6.61 lbs. total
- Warm and clean sound
- Impressively loud for small speakers
- High-quality components and design
- A little less bass than medium-sized smart speakers and desktop speakers
- Sound cohesiveness gets lost in large spaces
Audioengine combines a non-intrusive footprint of 6 inches by 4 inches by 5.25 inches with versatile connectivity and crisp sound in the A2+ Wireless powered speakers for bookshelves and desktops. This small set ($269 a pair) utilizes ¾-inch silk dome tweeters and 2.75-inch aramid fiber woofers, with a 60W peak power total, max output of 88dB, and a frequency response of 65Hz-22kHz. There are analog RCA and minijack connections, as well as USB for computer audio. But the juice comes from Bluetooth 5.0 for compatibility with high-quality audio streaming codecs like aptX HD for Android users (up to 570kbps) and AAC for iOS users (up to 256kbps, with no additional loss from conversion). They are some of the best computer speakers for music you can buy.
Best smart speakers: Sonos Five
Why it made the cut: Sonos helped popularize Wi-Fi hi-fi, and the company makes great speakers if your preferred source of music is streaming.
- Frequency response: 23Hz-18.8kHz
- Power handling: N/A
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi, Ethernet, 3.5mm analog input
- Drivers: Three high-excursion woofers, two angled side tweeters
- Dimensions: 14.33 x 8.03 x 6.06 inches (HxWxD)
- Weight: 14 lbs. each
- The cornerstone of a connected audio ecosystem
- Can produce stereo from a single unit, or expand the soundstage with a second speaker
- No Bluetooth
- Requires speedy home Wi-Fi
Three tweeters and three woofers help the most powerful speaker from Sonos stake the best claim to providing stereo sound from a single, horizontally placed unit. In addition, placing two Sonos Five speakers ($1,000 a pair) vertically automatically pairs them to emit beautiful, true stereo separation with a wider soundstage. In the vertical position, one Five speaker takes up 14.33 inches by 8.03 inches by 6.06 inches of space, and its output has been measured at approximately 23Hz-18.8kHz for the frequency range and a peak volume of 94dB. A single line input lets you connect turntables, disc players, and more, but the Sonos Five thrives on being a source using Wi-Fi (or wired Ethernet) for playback of streaming audio over Apple AirPlay 2 and the Sonos S2 app, which purportedly integrates hundreds of streaming services for listening to music, podcasts, audiobooks, and Internet radio. Also, optimized placement is far less labor-intensive than with some standard speakers, considering there’s no stringing of speaker wire or fiddling with EQs as Trueplay software tunes the Five based on the acoustics of your room. Sonos speakers can also be synced throughout different rooms for whole-house sound.
Want to explore another Wi-Fi multi-room ecosystem? Bluesound offers several speakers, such as the Omni-Hybrid PULSE M, which manage wide dispersion from a compact form factor and can sync/pass off audio with other speakers using the BluOS system on your home network. These include the flexible, powered PSB Alpha IQ, a stereo bookshelf streaming solution we will evaluate in 2023.
Best studio monitors: PreSonus Eris E4.5
Why it made the cut: These monitors allow for studio reference sound even if your workstation space is limited.
- Frequency response: 70Hz-20kHz
- Power handling: 25X per speaker
- Connectivity: bare speaker wire inputs, RCA inputs, balanced ¼-inch inputs, 3.5mm input
- Drivers: 4.5-inch, woven-composite woofer and 1-inch silk-dome tweeter
- Dimensions: 9.45 x 6.42 x 7.09 inches (HxWxD)
- Weight: 2 lbs. each
- Compact and accurate
- Headphone jack
- Only so expressive because of size limitations
- Not the most bountiful bass
Small-studio musicians, producers, and DJs all love the PreSonus Eris E4.5 powered monitors for their accurate, reference-level sound coming from compact speakers that merge studio monitor and bookshelf speaker attributes. The Eris E4.5 ($200 a pair) has both bare speaker wire inputs, RCA inputs, and balanced ¼-inch inputs, plus a front-facing power switch, volume control, headphone jack, and aux input. Its 4.5-inch, woven-composite woofer and 1-inch silk-dome tweeter pump out a maximum volume of an even 100dB with a frequency response of 70Hz-20kHz. The 9.45 inches by 6.42 inches by 7.09 inches monitors also come in a Bluetooth-equipped model for $30 more, but if you have a little extra space and don’t need the front-panel features, check out options such as the Pioneer DJ VM-50 studio monitors if you’re building a more traditional workstation/listening post.
Best budget: Edifier R1280T
Why it made the cut: Price. You can enjoy every note for around a C-note.
- Frequency response: 75Hz-18kHz
- Power handling: 21W x 2
- Connectivity: 2 x RCA inputs
- Drivers: 4-inch woofer and 13mm (roughly a half-inch) silk dome tweeter
- Dimensions: 6.9 x 9.5 x 5.8 inches (HxWxD)
- Weight: 10.80 lbs.
- An inexpensive go-to for two-channel sound
- Clean, retro look
- Bass, treble, and volume dials
- Limited connectivity
- No subwoofer out
While there are even lower-priced bookshelf speakers, the compact and attractive wood-veneer Edifier R1280T delivers a surprisingly warm and balanced sound for just at $100 so that music lovers on any budget can enjoy a step up in sound. These powered speakers take up only 9.5 inches by 6.9 inches by 5.8 inches of space and come with cables for the two aux inputs, a remote control, and removable cloth grilles. The maximum output is 96dB with a frequency range of 75Hz-18kHz coming from the 4-inch woofer and 13mm (roughly a half-inch) silk dome tweeter. For only a few dollars more, you can score the R1280Ts with subwoofer output to boost that bass.
Best with a radio: Tivoli Audio Model One Digital (Gen. 2)
The DNA of the Tivoli Audio Model One Digital (Gen. 2) traces back to 2005 and a mid-century-styled tabletop radio. However, the latest permutation of that analog original adds AirPlay 2 and Google Chromecast to increase connectivity and clarity for audiophiles (and others) who have embraced streaming. The Tivoli Audio Model One Digital (Gen. 2) (which we thoroughly reviewed here) can still pick up DAB/FM radio broadcasts, but it can also present anything your smartphone throws at it with a rich, detailed response. Admittedly, this speaker differs from the rest because it isn’t stereo and won’t have anywhere near as expansive a presentation as others in this round-up. But not every bookshelf is a big bookshelf and sometimes you want a convenient concert for one in the living room, kitchen, etc. Perfect to nestle between art books or cookbooks, this is a compact wireless speaker that sounds as good as it looks. And it looks gooooooood. Plus, if you want something more robust in the same vein, you can upgrade to the Tivoli Audio Music System Home (Gen. 2).
Bookshelf speakers—sometimes called standmount speakers because they’re often placed on stands rather than shelves—are smaller and usually less expensive than floorstanding speakers. Their relative affordability is because bookshelf speakers may have a more narrow frequency range, less power, and less presence in the low-end than the best floor-standing speakers, but that doesn’t mean their sound quality is significantly less than that of floor-standers, which can be overkill and unimpressive if you don’t have a properly sized, optimized space or won’t play them loudly enough to make them necessary.
For small to mid-sized rooms at middle-to-mildly loud volumes, bookshelf speakers stand at the locus between price, footprint, and performance, while also presenting an enormous amount of options in the price range, design, and features. That means there’s something for everyone, but also several factors to consider, including size, price, appearance, and compatibility with the devices and electronics you will use with the speakers.
Bookshelf speakers are not standardized in size to all fit on, say, the average Ikea bookshelf. They vary in dimensions, so figure out where you will put them and measure the height, width, and depth you have available for the speakers. Also, settle on your target price range, since bookshelf speakers can cost tens of dollars on the low side and thousands of dollars at the top of the line.
The devices from which you want to playback on the bookshelf speakers will also inform your decision. If you’re a vinyl lover, you’ll need phono inputs for a turntable. If you want the convenience of streaming from your phone, you’ll need Bluetooth or some other wireless capability, and so on.
The visual style of a bookshelf speaker set may be a priority for some and not as important for others. However, with all other factors being equal, you will still have a variety of speaker aesthetic designs from which to choose, so pick something you’ll be happy to see every day in what’s likely to be a prominent place in the space the speakers occupy.
Finally, you have to know whether to purchase passive or active (powered) speakers. The last thing you want to do is to buy a set of passive speakers that you thought were active, or vice versa.
Passive vs. powered bookshelf speakers
Before shopping for bookshelf speakers, you must know the difference between passive and active—also known as powered—speakers. Passive speakers require external amplification from an audio/video receiver, digital audio converter (DAC), or amplifier component. Passive speakers tend only to have speaker wire hook-ups that connect to the amplifier, which has inputs for your audio devices and other electronics.
On the other hand, active speakers are powered with internal amplification, thus the “powered” label. Active speakers also have all their connections for audio or even video devices. Still, the quantity and variety of those connections are features that differentiate sets of powered speakers and also can affect their price.
Audiophiles often lean toward passive speakers because they allow the users to try out different amplifiers and DACs and to upgrade components as their taste or budget dictates, all while keeping the same speakers. Passive speakers don’t have to plug into a power outlet, which may open up more placement options in your space (though they require speaker wire, which poses its challenges). Without the internal amp electronics, passive speakers can be lighter and possibly smaller than active speakers while offering comparable sound.
Active speakers’ advantages include simplicity of setup and fewer overall components and cables. Theoretically, the amplifier within a set of powered speakers should already match the speakers’ capability.
Whether you opt for passive or active speakers, there are plenty of options at all price ranges to suit various needs. And both passive and powered bookshelf speakers can pump out the satisfyingly spacious stereo sound that single-unit Wi-Fi and Bluetooth speakers, TVs, and laptops cannot match.
Do you want more bass?
The smaller size of bookshelf speakers imposes some natural limitations on the bass that emanates from them. Woofer sizes in the speaker systems in this round-up range from 4 inches to 5.25 inches. Bookshelf speaker woofers don’t come much larger than that; adding to their challenges, they have to take care of mid-range frequencies alongside the low end. Even though some bookshelf speakers exhibit impressive bass response, the physical size of a woofer within a speaker does matter for moving enough air to create the kind of low-end thump that shakes the room while you’re shaking your butt. Boosting the bass through EQ can have some effect, but won’t let you exceed a speaker’s inherent limits. Too much EQ boosting in the low-end can result in subtle-to-nasty distortions.
Larger floor-standing speakers have larger low-end drivers on average than bookshelf speakers, so they are capable of more rumbling responses. However, they also tend to cost more and take up more space.
Bookshelf speaker users can instead add a subwoofer to their system. Subwoofers are dedicated to low frequencies, usually in the 20-200Hz range. When paired with a bookshelf speaker system, subwoofers almost always extend the system’s frequency range lower and relieve strained bookshelf speaker woofers of the burden of creating all of the bass tones. With a subwoofer, you can crank the bass higher without distortion to experience the full power and presence of music, movies, and games that the artists originally intended. And the midrange and treble will benefit from the increased headroom that comes from offloading the lows.
Once you commit to expanding your frequency horizons with a subwoofer, any choice you make will let you enjoy the low-end of your music and other audio, not just in the auditory space but also in the physical space with a bass response you can feel.
Q: Do bookshelf speakers sound good?
Regarding sound quality, bookshelf speakers occupy the space between larger and more expensive floor-standing speakers at the top of the food chain and lesser options such as single-unit Bluetooth speakers and the built-in speakers of your computer, TV, phone, or tablet. Bookshelf speakers also range in price from about $25 at the obscenely low end to $25,000 a pair for some of the most expensive audiophile speakers. So the sound quality among the many available bookshelf speaker systems varies significantly. However, in general, all of them give you the advantage of listening to true stereo speakers, and many sound quite good. At a minimum, they represent a step up from the built-in speakers of TVs, computers, and mobile devices.
Q: Are Dayton Audio speakers good?
Affordable bookshelf speakers like the popular Dayton Audio B652 and B652 Air are not the absolute best speakers sonically, but they consistently rate as one of the best buys for low-cost, passive bookshelf speakers. They earn praise for both their respectable build quality and a sound signature that includes decent bass and smooth high frequencies for their price. The B652 Air set adds a ribbon tweeter for a more accurate treble definition.
Q: Are expensive bookshelf speakers worth it?
Generally, speakers costing, say, $1,000 a pair will almost invariably sound better than a $100 pair. Audio companies put money into more expensive materials and sophisticated engineering that can increase manufacturing costs. But sometimes you’re paying for aesthetics or a limited edition. And The world’s best speakers won’t sound good without proper amplification and quality signal sources. So, the price increase is not always equal to the increase in sound quality. However, does the KEF LS50 Meta sound the best of our bunch when set up in a proper signal chain? Absolutely.
Q: How good are bookshelf speakers for mixing audio?
Despite their visible similarities, bookshelf speakers—as presented in this guide—are not good for mixing audio. Studio monitors are designed to reproduce sound exactly as intended, translating to a flat, neutral frequency response with no coloration. This is because production professionals want to hear exactly what they created so they can make informed mix decisions and root out sonic imperfections without being influenced by the “sound” of their speakers. Consumer bookshelf speakers, or “hi-fi speakers,” are designed to provide a purely enjoyable listening experience and generally boost lows and highs (aka the “smiley” EQ curve) to make things sound bright and powerful. Some more pricey options, like the powered, connectivity-packed JBL 4305P monitors ($2,200), come from a heritage of studio control rooms and live sound reinforcement, so you might get away with auditioning more active mixes on them alongside using purely production-focused speakers. But it’s not the single most-optimal choice. While it might be more fun to listen to music on consumer-focused speakers, they’re the sonic equivalent of rose-colored glasses and will cloud your judgment when evaluating mixes.
Q: What should I look for when buying bookshelf speakers?
Though we go into it in more detail in the “What to consider” section above, it can’t hurt to reiterate that, when buying bookshelf speakers, the main attributes to look for are the size, price, appearance, and compatibility to fit your needs. There is also the consideration between passive and active speakers. First, decide where you want to put the speakers and figure out the speaker height, width, and depth that will fit into that space since bookshelf speakers vary a fair amount in size. Also, decide how much you’re willing to spend, as bookshelf speakers can cost less than a hundred or thousands of dollars. You also must ensure prospective purchases have the connectivity you want, whether phono inputs for a turntable, Bluetooth for wireless streaming, etc. If you want to purchase or already have a stereo receiver or amplifier, you can opt for passive speakers; otherwise, you will need active speakers already powered with amplification. Finally, with all your other needs met, you can choose the speakers whose looks best match your style.
The final word on choosing the best bookshelf speakers for you
Bookshelf speakers offer a relatively quick and painless way to improve your audio listening experience, beating built-in device speakers and single-unit wireless speakers without giving up the expense and real estate that floor-standing speakers require. Finding the best bookshelf speakers for you comes down to settling on your preferences for size, price, connectivity, and style and then narrowing down the wealth of options that exist as both passive and powered bookshelf speakers.