This list of bookshelf speakers is brimming with budget, mid-fi, and high-end contenders, and each one was selected for its exceptional sound quality.
The Bowers & Wilkins 705 S2's sound is low in distortion and high in clarity, so with top drawer audiophile music from Reference Recordings and MA Recordings the 705 S2's sound was palpably real, and bass definition was excellent. ($2,500, £1,800, AU$3,500 a pair)
ELAC's Andrew Jones just recently revised the Debut B6 speaker, now it's the Debut 2.0 B6.2 ($298/pair), and the sound is much improved. Home theater buyers can partner the Debut B6.2 with ELAC's matching Debut Series F5.2 towers ($299/each), C5.2 center channel speaker ($198) and an ELAC SUB3010 subwoofer ($449).
This low, low priced speaker measures 11.8 inches high (299mm), and it has a 6.5-inch (165mm) polypropylene woofer that's a good deal larger than what you'll find in most budget speakers. And instead of a dome tweeter the B652-AIR boasts an air motion transformer tweeter. This flat, 1-inch (25 mm) square tweeter promises clearer, lower-distortion sound than many dome tweeters can manage. ($49.88/pair)
The Vanatoo Transparent Zero are self-powered speakers ideal for desktop applications or small rooms. It comes highly recommended for folks seeking quality sound from a very small pair of speakers. ($359 per pair)
Very few affordable speakers offer the Q Acoustics 3020's level of engagement, and they're the perfect cure if you find your music or movies sound "boring." They're fantastically dynamic speakers, and will let you hear your favorite music anew. ($289, £148, AU$449 per pair)
The Sixes are part of Klipsch's new Heritage Wireless series of self-powered speakers that connect to a turntable, TV, computer, or Bluetooth device. The Sixes are sold in pairs, so bona-fide stereo was part of the allure. The Sixes sound more dynamically alive and clear than what we've heard from pairs of Sonos Play:3 speakers, that's for sure! ($799 per pair)
Sumptuous is a word we've never applied to affordable bookshelf speakers, but that's exactly what the Definitive Technology Demand Series D9 sounds like. The sound feels like a warm hug. ($799 per pair)
The Q350 sounds more expensive than it really is. In our listening tests, paired with either the Sony STR-DN-1080 receiver or a NAD C 338 integrated amplifier the Q350 let the music speak for itself. ($650, £529, AU$769 a pair)
The Emotiva Airmotiv B1 is a small, affordable two-way bookshelf speaker with a folded-ribbon tweeter and a 5.25-inch (133mm) mid-woofer. It offers a good deal of flexibility and can be used as in-room or nearfield stereo desktop speakers, or as front or surround speakers in home theaters. ($300 a pair)
This Canadian made stand-mount speaker has soul, gravitas and romance. Other speakers may be more accurate and clear, but the Reference 3A MM de Capo BE tips the balance to touch your heart. Not the shy and retiring type, this one can rock out, and still sound very credible with symphonic music -- it does it all. ($3,290 per pair)
The Special 40s are really special in that they're unusually small high-end speakers, they're just 7.8 x 14.2 x 12.1 inches (198 x 360 x 307mm) and ideal for apartment dwelling audiophiles. These made in Denmark speakers can play surprisingly loud in small to midsized rooms. The sound had a deliciously organic feel to it. ($2,999, £2,500 per pair)
The TAD ME-1 is an amazingly natural sounding speaker, it wins by doing less and lets more of the music's essence through unscathed. The stereo imaging was the best I've had at home, as the ME-1 liberates the music while bringing it back to life. Build quality of this made in Japan speaker is beyond reproach. ($12,495, £10,000 per pair)
Nothing gets older faster than high-tech, but the Harbeth P3ESR sounds so good you may never want to replace it with another speaker. That's no hype -- we know audiophiles still using similar speakers originally manufactured in the 1970s.
Hsu Research is best known for its line of high-performance, yet affordable subwoofers, but it also makes speakers. This one we have here, the CCB-8, is a large bookshelf model with a single "coaxial" 8-inch (203mm) polypropylene driver, with a 1-inch aluminum (25mm) dome tweeter nestled in the center of it. The sound is hugely satisfying, high in resolution, with wide stereo imaging. ($699 per pair)
Few audiophiles would have seen this coming, but Technics, the name we associate with DJ turntables, now makes one of the very best monitor speakers on the market. Bass is deep, fast and well-defined; midrange and treble are clear; and stereo imaging is precise. ($1,700, £1,199 per pair)
The Andrew Jones-designed Pioneer bookshelf speakers reset the bar for what we could expect from budget priced speakers in 2011, with the SP-BS21-LR. It was redesigned a year later as the SP-BS22-LR that's still being made, and still sounds unbeatable for the price. ($95 per pair)
Thanks in large part to its Uni-Q driver a pair of LS50s project a huge, but precisely focused, room-filling soundstage. With some recordings it's akin to listening to 3D sound, these little speakers create a big stereo image. ($1,500, £800, AU$1,825 a pair)
Tiny audiophile grade speakers like the Dynaudio Emit M10 have a special affinity for small rooms. This highly transparent monitor deserves to be used with top grade electronics to let the sound fully bloom. ($800, £499, AU$999 per pair)
This mid-size bookshelf speaker has a rock and roll heart. We say that because it sounds more dynamically alive and vibrant than a lot of similarly sized competition, including the stellar ELAC Uni-Fi UB5. The slightly larger RP-160M packs a bigger wallop than the RP-150M. ($419 per pair)
How mini is it? The Mini is the smallest speaker in PSB's Imagine series: it's just 9.25 inches (235mm) high, and it weighs 6.5 pounds (2.94kg). The Mini's proprietary 4-inch (102mm) clay/ceramic-filled polypropylene woofer makes more and better bass than you'd normally get from a wee woofer in a small cabinet. The 1-inch (25mm) tweeter is no slouch, and the Mini produces legitimate high-end sound quality -- it's really, really good! ($749 per pair)
GoldenEar speakers don't use dome tweeters. In their place, you'll find a lower distortion alternative, a "Folded Ribbon" tweeter. The Aon 3 also features a 7-inch (178mm) cast frame bass/midrange driver, and 8-inch (203mm), mass-loaded, low-frequency radiators mounted on the speaker's side panels. Clearly, the Aon 3 isn't your typical bookshelf speaker; it offers bona-fide audiophile sound in a reasonably compact size. ($1,000 per pair)
The Bowers & Wilkins 685 S2 is an update of the very British approach to midsize bookshelf speaker design that dates back to the 1970s. It's so easy to listen to, all music genres fare well, bass is plentiful, and clarity is good -- the 685 S2 is a winner!
A true statement design from Bowers & Wilkins that combines bona-fide audiophile cred with the accuracy required for use as a recording studio monitor. The B & W 805 D3 features a synthetic diamond tweeter and a radically redesigned midrange/woofer. The high-resolution sound redefines the standard for speakers of this size. ($6,000, £4,500, AU$8,500 per pair)
Andrew Jones has done it again with the ELAC UB5, this compact monitor delivers shockingly deep, super-solid bass, vivid midrange and treble, and clearly focused stereo imaging. If there's one catch, it's that you'll need to partner the Uni-Fi UB5 with high-powered, quality electronics to hear it at its best. ($500 per pair)
Don't let the rock-bottom price throw you -- the MBS-650 speakers are more than decent sounding. The only major faults come on the design side, as they're not particularly stylish and the speaker connectors on the back don't grip wires as tightly as they should. And sure, these speakers don't measure up to more expensive bookshelf speakers like the Pioneer SP-BS22-LR, but the MBS-650s weren't expected to -- they sell for a fraction of the SP-BS22-LR's cost.