The Audiophiliac's top 10 desktop speaker list (pictures)

Priced from $249 a pair and up, the best of today's small monitor speakers offer tremendous resolution and razor sharp stereo imaging.

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
1 of 10 Audioengine

Audioengine A2+ speakers

This Top 10 speaker list isn't in any particular order, it's just a sampling of the best desktop/computer speakers, priced from $249 a pair and up.

 The original Audioengine A2 set the standard for affordably priced, audiophile grade desktop speakers. The A2+ ($249/pair) sounds the same, but adds new features such as a built-in USB digital converter and better quality connectors.

Even in this highly competitive market, Audioengine stayed the course, the little A2+, standing a mere 6 inches tall, always sounds sweet. Granted, it probably won't satisfy headbangers' lust for power, but the A2+ will smooth over any grit or nastiness from cruddy sounding MP3s or YouTube videos.

Available at Crutchfield.com

2 of 10 M-Audio

M-Audio BX5 Carbon speakers

The M-Audio BX5 Carbon's sound is beautifully balanced and clear, definitely up to audiophile standards. As I listened, at first I just enjoyed myself and forgot to pay attention. Once I focused on the task at hand, I noted that bright recordings sounded harsh, but the BX5 Carbon $149 (each) was just doing its job, telling it like it is.

BX5 Carbon available at Amazon for $149 (each).

3 of 10 JBL

JBL LSR305 speakers

The deeply recessed "waveguide" surrounding the tweeter is the first tip-off the LSR305 is special. The guide focuses and controls the tweeter's dispersion, and how the speaker projects sound forward into the room. The LSR305's five-inch woofer was designed to match the tweeter's dispersion, so the blend between the two drivers is perfect.

With good recordings the speakers produce a sense of spatial depth, and the stereo soundstage spreads wider than the actual locations of the two LSR305s. It's a nearfield monitor, designed to sound great from as close as 36 inches away, but the LSR305s also sound terrific as stereo hi-fi speakers.

LSR305 available at Amazon for $140 (each).

4 of 10 KEF

KEF LS50 speakers

Even before you hear KEF's LS50 speaker there's no doubt it's a unique design. The speaker's single "rose" colored driver sports radial fins, and the cabinet has a swept-back front baffle. I've never seen anything quite like it before. The speaker stands 11.9 inches tall, it's 7.9 wide, 10.9 deep, and weighs 15.8 pounds. The internally braced MDF cabinet has the build quality of a very high-end design. The sound is just as extraordinary as the look, and the LS50 can be used as a desktop monitor or as hi-fi speakers. Unlike most of the other speakers listed in this survey, the LS50 isn't self-powered, so you need to also buy a stereo power amp.

The LS50 commemorates KEF's 50th anniversary; MSRP runs $1,500 (pair).

5 of 10 Emotiva

Emotiva Airmotiv 5s speakers

The Airmotiv 5s is a direct descendent of the Airmotiv 5 that debuted not that many years ago; the carryovers from the original model are the 5.25-inch polypropylene composite woofer and folded-ribbon tweeter. What's new? The cabinet and electronics are upgraded over the original design. There are two 50-watt amplifiers in each cabinet: one for the tweeter, another one for the woofer. The rear panel has RCA and XLR inputs, and three-position woofer and tweeter tone controls.

Each production Airmotiv 5s' frequency response is calibrated to be within a half a decibel of the factory's reference specification. That exceedingly close tolerance ensures every production speaker will sound the same. Emotiva sells them for $349 (pair).

6 of 10 Equator Audio

Equator Audio D5 speakers

Take a good look at the picture of the Equator D5 speaker -- do you see anything unusual about its design? Where's the tweeter? Look closer -- there it is, right in the center of the woofer! The D5's "coaxial" driver combines the tweeter and woofer into a single driver, and that's really cool! The speakers sell for $400 (pair).

7 of 10 Magnepan

Magnepan Mini-Maggie speaker system

Magnepan is known for its six-foot-tall, flat-panel speakers, but the Mini-Maggies are 14 inches high, 9.3 inches wide, and just 1.25 inches thick! They can be super thin because they don't use conventional cone woofers; Mini-Maggies feature proprietary thin-film driver technology and ribbon tweeters. The Mini-Maggies are made in Minnesota with American-made parts.

The Mini-Maggie system also includes a third panel, a woofer that measures 22.5 by 19.25 by 1.25 inches. The speakers and woofer are covered in black cloth and sit on small stands.

Sitting three feet away from the speakers the sound takes on a three-dimensional presence, and the crisp attack and dynamic impact of well-recorded drums are on par with what you get from high-end hi-fi systems. You can almost feel the texture of the drum heads, and hear the metallic brassy ring of the cymbals.

The Mini-Maggie's tweeters are so pure and effortless, you don't think about their sound. It was just there, more akin to the way we experience high-frequency sound in real life. The three-piece Mini-Maggie system retails for $1,490. It isn't self-powered, so you also need to also buy a stereo power amp (the woofer panel and speakers are designed to work with stereo amplifiers).

8 of 10 Genelec

Genelec G One speakers

The little Genelec G One monitor is a close cousin of the 8010A monitor Genelec sells to professional sound engineers all around the world. The G One is a really tiny speaker, so it should be partnered with a subwoofer, like Genelec's matching F One. This Genelec system can also be used in home theater and hi-fi systems in very small rooms.

The first thing you notice about the G One's sound is how articulate it is. Drums and other percussion instruments' dynamic contrasts are vividly presented; the G One's resolution and clarity are truly exceptional. You hear everything -- the good, bad, or ugly -- sounds in your recordings. Play an audiophile recording, and you'll hear how good it really is, while nasty and harsh recordings sound nasty and harsh.

The G One retails for $395 each, and the F One is $795.

9 of 10 Adam Audio

Adam Audio F5 speakers

Adam's rather unusual tweeter, the X-ART air motion transformer, is made in the company's factory in Berlin, Germany. The tweeter's "pleated" diaphragm compresses and expands with the audio signal. Air is drawn in and squeezed out, "like the bellows of an accordion," and the tweeter's high-frequency response extends beyond the range of most dome tweeters. The X-ART has a much larger radiating surface area than a dome tweeter, which is one of the reasons why it produces less distortion than dome tweeters. If you've only heard domes, the F5's treble will be a revelation.

The F5 also features a 5-inch fiberglass-paper woofer, sourced from outside suppliers, but made to Adam's specifications. Each F5 speaker is bi-amplified: there's a 25-watt amp on the tweeter and a 35-watt amp for the woofer. Rather than go with an off-the-shelf Class D digital amp, the F5 has superior-sounding Class AB amps, which audiophiles prefer. The speaker is 11.5 inches tall and sells for $499 per pair.

10 of 10 Focal

Focal Alpha 50 speakers

The Focal Alpha 50 has an all-new 1-inch "inverted" aluminum dome tweeter (it curves in instead of bulging out), and a new 5-inch polyglass woofer. The tweeter is mated to a 20-watt, Class AB amplifier, and the woofer to a 35-watt AB amp. The drivers and built-in amplifiers are designed and manufactured by Focal. The medium-density fiberboard cabinet weighs 16.1 pounds; the speaker has balanced XLR and standard RCA inputs.

The Alpha 50 tells the truth about the sound of your recordings -- the good ones sound really good, the best stuff is astonishing. Close up, desktop listening minimizes typical room acoustic issues/problems, so you hear a lot more direct, from-the-speaker sound, and with a something as tasty as the Alpha 50 that level of quality may come as a big shock. The speakers sell for $349 each.

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