Great-sounding speakers have never been more affordable; here's a top-10 list of the very best speakers (and one subwoofer) you can buy for under a grand.
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.
Technology can lower the price of a lot of things, but when it comes to speakers, the very best ones are really expensive, so if you want a world-class speaker be prepared to spend well over $10,000.
That said, you can buy a pair of very respectable speakers for less than $1,000. The following list is in no particular order, but since $1,000 is still out of reach for a lot of folks this top 10 will feature speakers ranging in price from $29 up (all speaker prices listed are per pair). And since the prime weakness of affordable speakers is they lack true authority in the bass, I've included one overachieving subwoofer, the Epik Empire to round out this list. I've covered bargains before, but this is the first top-10 list for speakers that sell for $1,000 or less.
Zu Audio Omen ($999). Zu is one of my all time favorite American speaker manufacturers, but they've never made a speaker as affordable as the Omen, which will be released November 1 for $1,500. The speaker is finished in real maple veneer and manufactured in Ogden, Utah. Zu speakers are extremely dynamic, lively performers, and they produce razor-sharp imaging. Right, $1,500 is priced over my self-imposed limit for this top-10 list, but for just this week (ending September 17) the company is taking preintroduction orders for the Omen for just $999.99, saving you $500! Zu is selling the Omen with a 90-day money-back guarantee.
Magnepan MMG ($599) This 4-foot-tall, 1.25-inch-thick flat-panel, made-in-the-U.S., bona fide high-end speaker will knock you for a loop. Magnepan's larger speakers, like my reference MG3.6, are only sold through dealers, the MMG is sold direct, and it's a great way to get a taste of what makes high-end audio so special. If you've only heard box speakers, the MMG will be a major treat for your ears.
Dayton B652 ($29) That's not a typo, the Dayton B652 sells for $29 a pair. It was $25 when I first wrote about the speaker a few months ago, but since then a lot of audiophiles on a budget have raved about this little speaker with a 6.5-inch woofer. Seriously, I know a few guys with very high-end speakers who love the B652 and swear its price/performance ratio is off-the-charts good.
NHT Absolute Tower ($999) NHT is a American speaker manufacturer with a real knack for turning out extraordinary performers. The Absolute Tower is a sleek, floor-standing three-way speaker with a 1 inch aluminum dome tweeter, a 5.25 inch polypropylene midrange driver with two 5.25-inch woofers. The Absolute Tower features a luxurious 10-coat gloss-black finish.
Aperion Audio Intimus 4T ($650) Aperion Audio's skinniest tower is one of my reference home theater speakers. Finished in a gorgeous real cherry wood or pristine black gloss, the 4T is a handsome speaker. Mated with a decent receiver the 4T makes a serious home theater or hi-fi statement. The direct sale price includes free in-the-U.S. shipping.
Audioengine 5 ($349) This is an amazing speaker; amazing that something this size and price can sound this good, and make truly powerful bass. The Audioengine 5 has a built-in AC power outlet on the rear panel and a USB power port on top for powering wireless products to stream music. Better yet, it's a powered speaker, so you don't need an amp; you could just play an iPod or Zune directly into the Audioengine 5. The price includes free FedEx Ground shipping in the U.S.
Dynaudio DM 2/7 ($1,000) Dynaudio is a very Danish, very high-end speaker company. So sure, the DM 2/7's sound is neutral, colorless, and extremely precise. I've used Dynaudio speakers in my hi-fi and home theater systems for years. Build quality is exquisite, but don't for a second think these European beauties can't rock out with a vengeance.
Klipsch F-30 ($998) This Klipsch tower speaker will rock a hi-fi or home theater with equal gusto. The F-30 would make an ideal choice for a two-channel home theater; its twin 8-inch woofers make enough bass on their own, so you might not need to add a subwoofer. Like every Klipsch I've ever tested, the F-30 delivers powerful dynamics for a lively sound.
PSB Image B6 ($495) I'm never surprised by Canada's PSB Speakers' great sound. The company's founder and chief engineer Paul Barton invests long hours measuring and evaluating every aspect of his designs, and many more hours conducting blind listening tests (where listeners don't know which speaker is playing, the PSB or a competing brand's model) to develop the best possible sounding speaker. The Image B6 was reviewed by Stereophile magazine's Robert J. Reina.
Energy Take Classic ($600) This hard to fault six-piece system is an outstanding home theater bargain, the Take Classic's satellite speakers are downright tiny, but they sound awesome. The minisub kicks harder than it should! The entire system looks swell in its shiny black-laminate finish. The discounted price is around $400, and trust me, there's nothing that can touch the Energy Take Classic's sound for that kind of money.
Epik Empire ($799) There's lots of decent cheap subs, but if you really want to feel the bass, the Epik Empire is the King Kong of affordable subs. It has not one, but two 15-inch woofers; a Class D 600-watt (1,500-peak-watt) power amplifier; all crammed into a 22-inch-high, 18-inch-wide, and 24-inch-deep cabinet. The Empire's 120-pound weight might be a not so subtle indication that it's solidly built.