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Dayton Audio B652-AIR

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.

This 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 (25mm) square tweeter promises clearer, lower-distortion sound than many dome tweeters can manage.

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Bowers & Wilkins 805 D3

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.

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Editors' Rating

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Magico Q1 speakers

Magico, based in Berkeley, California, established itself as a major American speaker manufacturer in just a few years. The company builds state-of-the-art speakers with truly innovative technology. I've listened to a lot of Magico speakers over the years, and was never less than astonished by their sound. This is the company's smallest speaker ever, but its sound quality looms large. The Q1's cabinet is an extensively braced-aluminum-and-copper design. Mounted on its matching stand, the Magico Q1 measures 44 inches (112cm) high; the stand and speaker together weigh 120 pounds (54.4kg).

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Photo by: Magico

Reference 3A MM de Capo BE

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.

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Dynaudio Focus 160 speakers

The Dynaudio Focus 160 has remarkably deep bass capability for a speaker that measures a trim 7.9 by 13.8 by 11.6 inches (202 by 350 by 294mm). Beyond the bass, the Focus 160 projects a huge soundstage, vibrant midrange, and clear highs.

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Photo by: Dynaudio

Bowers and Wilkins CM6

Combine British sophistication and smart engineering into a thoroughly contemporary design and you'll have the Bowers & Wilkins CM6 S2. Price and performance-wise it sits halfway between the superb B&W 685 S2 bookshelf and the reference quality B&W 805 D3.

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Photo by: Bowers and Wilkins

Pioneer SP-EBS73-LR speakers

The SP-EBS73-LR was designed by Andrew Jones, the man who was responsible for recently developing another "bookshelf" speaker, the stratospherically priced TAD CE1 Compact Evolution One that garnered raves last year in Europe and at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The SP-EBS73-LR sells for a mere fraction of the CE1's price but still sounds effortlessly clear and clean, and a pair of these speakers can project a huge, precisely focused soundstage.

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Photo by: Pioneer

Bowers & Wilkins 685 S2 speakers

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!

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Photo by: Bowers & Wilkins

Opera Mezza speakers

This Italian-made speaker indeed sounds very Italian, which is to say very rich and bold. Not surprising for a speaker from a company called Opera; vocals sound utterly natural and acoustic jazz really comes alive over this small speaker. The leather-covered front, top, bottom and rear surfaces contrast with wood or painted side panels. Opera Loudspeakers was founded in 1989, but its origins date back to the early 1980s.

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Photo by: Opera

PSB imagine Mini speakers

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!

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Photo by: PSB

GoldenEar Technology Aon 3 speakers

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.

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Photo by: GoldenEar Technology

Wharfedale Diamond 220 speakers

The Wharfedale Diamond 220 sports a 1-inch (25mm) soft dome tweeter and 5-inch (130mm) woven Kevlar woofer. It's a small, affordable speaker that sounds richly balanced, yet never lacking in detail.

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Photo by: Wharfedale

Monoprice MBS-650 speakers

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.

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Photo by: Monoprice

Harbeth P3ESR speakers

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.

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Photo by: Steve Guttenberg/CNET

Technics SB-C700

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.

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ELAC Debut B6

After Andrew Jones left Pioneer and moved over to ELAC he designed the Debut B6 that sells for close to double the price of the SP-BS22-LR. The Debut B6's sound is much improved, and home theater buyers can partner the Debut B6 with ELAC's matching Debut Series F5 towers, C5 center and an ELAC subwoofer. The Debut B5 bookshelf is slightly smaller and less expensive than the Debut B6, and sounds almost as good.

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Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET
Editors' Rating

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Dynaudio Emit M10

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.

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Klipsch RP-150M

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.

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Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET

ELAC Uni-Fi UB5

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.

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Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET
Editors' Rating

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SP-BS22-LR

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.

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Photo by: Sarah Tew/CNET

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