Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

Articles

The Best Bookshelf Speakers 2023

The best bookshelf or stand-mounted speakers below $1,000? We have 11 options that have impressed us enormously.

Q Acoustics 3020i Bookshelf Speaker Lifestyle

Has there ever been a better time for consumers to dip their toe into the audiophile pond? When has there ever been this much choice when it comes to affordable components and loudspeakers? It certainly was not the case in the 1990s and many brands have continued to prioritize the very top of the market where a very different type of customer exists.

But if we want there to be a new generation of audiophiles who love better sound quality, the entry-level components and loudspeakers have to be the drug of choice.

There are certainly some big differences between the $60 Dayton Audio B652-AIR and models like the Q Acoustics 5020 and Focal Theva No.1 which are at the top of our list. You should demand a lot more and these two loudspeakers definitely deliver.

Bookshelf or stand-mounted loudspeakers are evolving and while the movement is in the direction of wireless loudspeakers, there is still no shortage of excellent and affordable passive bookshelf options right now. My favorite budget bookshelf loudspeakers of 2023 feature a wide range of options

Not everyone has the space or budget for floorstanding loudspeakers and there are also a growing number of consumers who have not heeded the RTO charge from their employers and continue to work from home and desire something for the desktop or their office.

None of these loudspeakers priced below $999 will break the bank, but don’t forget that almost all of them will benefit from using higher quality amplification; either an existing amplifier that you might own, or something from our list of integrated amplifiers.

Building a system is a process and it’s not a bad move to find a pair of loudspeakers and amplifier that you prefer before blowing the rest of your budget on sources and cables.

Dayton Audio B652-AIR 

Dayton Audio B652-AIR Bookshelf Speakers
Dayton Audio B652-AIR

I can hear the laughter around the globe, but 99% of you have never listened to the original Dayton Audio B652 or the B652-AIR that utilizes a 1″ x 1″ mini AMT tweeter with surprisingly good results.

Just how good can a $60 USD pair of loudspeakers be?

The black ebony pica vinyl cabinet isn’t winning any industrial design awards but were you really expecting a pair of Sonus faber Amati for $60?

The 6.5-inch woofer offers relatively robust bass considering the size of the sealed cabinet and the 87 dB sensitivity (6 ohms) makes these rather easy to drive. The roll-off below 70Hz is rather noticeable, but that makes them a great candidate for an inexpensive subwoofer or as a pair of loudspeakers in a bedroom or on the desktop.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

The treble can be somewhat peaky on the B652, but we did not find that to be the case with the AMT tweeter which is smoother sounding, and far more detailed.

A vintage receiver would drive the hell out of these fun loudspeakers and a warmer tonal balance would certainly be preferable.

Where to buy: $59.98/pair at Amazon


RSL Speakers CG3M

RSL Speakers CG3M Bookshelf Loudspeakers
RSL Speakers CG3M

The new C3GM bookshelf loudspeakers replace the best-selling CG3 that were discontinued in 2022 and it’s almost impossible to find a better pair of loudspeakers at the price; RSL sells all of their products direct to consumers and there is enormous value here for $210 USD/pair.

The C3GM work well on both stands or a desktop; the loudspeakers do not take up a lot of space (9.5”H x 5.3″D x 6.7”W) and there is a keyhole mount for those who might wish to mount them on a wall and use them as rear channel speakers.

The 4-inch mineral-filled woven aramid fiber cone woofer and 1-inch silk dome tweeter offer a fairly robust sound, but there is noticeable roll-off around 90Hz making these ideal candidate for a subwoofer.

The 86.5 dB (6 ohms) sensitivity is on the lower side but they will work just fine with 30-50 watts; and they certainly won’t implode if you drive them with 100 to 125 watts of power either.

A clean sounding pair of bookshelf loudspeakers with above average detail and speed considering the entry-level price tag.

Where to buy: $210/pair at rslspeakers.com


Elac Debut 2.0 B5.2

Elac Debut 2.0 B5.2 Bookshelf Speakers
Elac Debut 2.0 B5.2

Andrew Jones set the entry-level category ablaze a few years ago when he was tasked with creating something that audiophiles could sink their teeth into for less than $400. Not only did the acclaimed loudspeaker designer build out a rather impressive niche for the brand, he forced the competition to rethink what could be done for very little. Jones has moved on to MoFi — but we still have the Elac Debut 2.0 B5.2 to recommend for less than $330 depending on where you find them.

The 86 dB sensitivity rating (6 ohms) might feel like it’s on the low side but this is one pair of bookshelf loudspeakers than can work with a rather wide range of amplifiers and AVRs.

The 5.25-inch woven aramid fiber bass driver and 1-inch soft-dome tweeter delivers deep impactful bass and rather smooth and extended top end performance that makes these suitable for both music and movies.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

If you have to place the Debut 2.0 B5.2 close to the wall behind them, Jones wisely put the bass ports on the front of the cabinet allowing for greater flexibility when it comes to room placement.

The 46Hz – 35kHz frequency response is rather accurate and you would be surprised just how deep these bookshelf loudspeakers can go with the right amplifier.

We don’t love the black ash vinyl finish, but the MDF cabinet is extensively braced and these are rather well built for the money. Elac sold a lot of these because they are cohesive sounding, detailed, and far more expressive than the average entry-level loudspeaker.

Where to buy: $329/pair at Amazon


Triangle Borea BR03

Triangle BR03 Bookshelf Speakers
Triangle BR03

The Triangle Borea BR03 BT made our “Best Wireless Speakers of 2022” list and I was very fortunate to try them for almost 6 months. They are worth every cent.

The passive version are even more impressive and less than 50% of the price which makes them one of the easiest recommendations of 2023. The Borea BR03 are rather agile sounding loudspeakers, although I do wish that the 1-inch silk dome tweeter was slightly better behaved depending on the amplifier.

The 6.2-inch woofer has more than enough extension and scale to make orchestral and classic rock selections come alive in my 16′ x 13′ x 9′ den.

Clarity, detail, and a rather high level of resolution makes these one of our favorite loudspeakers on the list because they really respond well to integrated amplifiers in the $650 to $1,500 range and you would never guess how affordable they are.

The 90 dB sensitivity (4 ohms) is slightly deceptive and we would suggest 50 watts as a minimum to really give these vibrant loudspeakers the foundation they need. Triangle has a done a great job with the Borea range and these are still flying under the radar for most people which we find a tad strange.

Where to buy: $349/pair at Amazon


Q Acoustics 3020i

Q Acoustics 3020i Bookshelf Speakers
Q Acoustics 3020i

Very much like Jason Statham’s character in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, the Q Acoustics 3020i are a tad unleashed. They communicate music like an effortless weapon, and with some serious punch in the lower registers with the right amplifier. They borrow some of their driver technology from their much larger sibling; the Q Acoustics 3050i floor-standing loudspeaker that retails for almost three times the price.

Q Acoustics have tweaked something in the cabinet design and crossover of the 3020i making it hit much harder than one would expect considering the size of the cabinet and drivers.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

The 3020i s not a very difficult loudspeaker to drive (88 dB, 6 ohms) but it definitely benefits from an amplifier with some grip and midrange punch. Stay away from amps that veer dark because the 1-inch soft-dome tweeter needs some illumination.

Available in Graphite Grey, English Walnut, Carbon Black or Arctic White. All are finished with an attractive chrome bezel around each driver and feature magnetic speaker grilles.

Ditch the grille covers and do not use the foam bungs even if you need to place them closer to the wall; the mid bass and lower midrange loses some of clarity in the process. The price has increased over the past 12 months which is a shame because these are very fine loudspeakers.

Where to buy: $449 at Amazon


Acoustic Energy AE100 MK2

Acoustic Energy AE100 MK2 Bookshelf Speakers
Acoustic Energy AE100 MK2 (walnut)

The revised AE100 MK2 (also referred to as MKII or AE1002) from Acoustic Energy are a very balanced sounding bookshelf loudspeaker with fantastic build quality and excellent punch. They might not be the last word in the lower registers but they can still deliver the goods for only $499 USD.

For more information: Read our AE100 MK2 Review.

Where to buy$499/pair at Amazon


Wharfedale Diamond 12.1

Wharfedale Diamond 12.1 Bookshelf Speakers
Wharfedale Diamond 12.1

The Diamond series receives a facelift every 3-4 years, and the new Diamond 12 series products are already proving to be a massive hit. 

Wharfedale understands that most consumers don’t have a lot of space and are working within a very specific budget when buying a hi-fi system. 

There are specific brands of electronics that work exceptionally well with Wharfedale’s loudspeakers; Audiolab, Croft, Marantz, Cambridge Audio, Quad, Rega, and NAD.

The Wharfedale Diamond 12.1’s are the ideal size for a desktop loudspeaker or placement on a credenza in a home office scenario. 

These stand-mounters are a two-way, bass-reflex design. The 5-inch mid/bass driver uses a polypropylene/mica composite cone material, and the tweeter is a 1-inch textile dome design that offers a very smooth sounding top end and excellent dispersion. 

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

Where to buy: $449/pair at Crutchfield


DALI Spektor 2

DALI Spektor 2 Bookshelf Speaker in Walnut
DALI Spektor 2

The Danish manufacturer is now distributed by Lenbrook in N. America and that situation makes them much easier to find. DALI makes excellent loudspeakers across the board but their affordable Spektor 2 is a fantastic value and wonderful platform for a wide range of amplifiers. 

The Spektor 2 offer an insightful, detailed, and very expressive presentation. They are not overly fussy about placement, but they can be rather underwhelming with low powered amplifiers. Anything above 50 watts per channel should be quite sufficient.

Where to buy$499/pair at Amazon | Amazon.co.uk


Cambridge Audio Evo S

Cambridge Audio Evo S Bookshelf Speakers
Cambridge Audio Evo S

Cambridge Audio make loudspeakers? Rather excellent ones as we discovered recently. Our review of the Evo S is forthcoming as part of a series on the entire Evo Series, but we were rather surprised by just how authoritative and detailed these somewhat chunky bookshelf loudspeakers actually sound.

Not only are they rather easy to drive (88dB, 8 ohms), but the silk dome tweeter is smooth, detailed, and one of the best performing from all of the loudspeakers on this list.

The rear ported cabinet is built like a tank and better suited for a pair of 24″ stands to really maximize its superb imaging and strong mid bass output. You can certainly place these on a credenza or media unit, but placement too close to the wall behind them will create too much bass impact and take away from the very open and clear sounding upper bass and lower midrange.

A real sleeper product that works extremely well with the Evo 150 network amplifier and many other integrated amplifiers.

Where to buy: $799/pair at Audio Advice


Q Acoustics 5020

Q Acoustics 5020 Bookshelf Speaker Grille Off in Santos Rosewood
Q Acoustics 5020

The Budget Audiophiler’s review of the 5020 can found here and those interested in learning more can watch his videos on Instagram. What’s fascinating about the 5020 is just how different it sounds than the 3030i; the tonal balance and presentation are completely different, yet it manages to be one of the most open, expressive, and spacious sounding bookshelf loudspeakers on the market.

Bookshelf loudspeakers are generally less sensitive than floor standing loudspeakers and that proved to be the case with the 5020; they responded better to the amplifiers in the 60 to 100 watts/channel range but that doesn’t mean that I was remotely unsatisfied with the lower power tube amplifiers in my collection.

A lot of the performance and choice of amplification depended on the size of the room and genre of music; if you don’t listen at very loud levels and don’t plan on feeding them a steady diet of rock or new wave music — you can certainly get away with less. 

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

If you listen on the desktop or in a nearfield scenario where you are 10 feet or less from the speakers, 30 watts per channel is going to work just fine.

Where to buy: $899/pair at Crutchfield


Focal Theva No.1

Focal Theva No. 1 Bookshelf Speaker in Light Wood
Focal Theva No.1

The Focal Theva No.1 offer a very different level of performance but at a price that actually makes us want to own them. $998 USD for a pair of loudspeakers made in France. William Jennings was completely smitten by their performance and you can read this detailed review here.

The French manufacturer has been designing and manufacturing drivers and loudspeakers internally at their facility in Saint-Étienne, France, since 1979 and jumped into the car audio category in 1989. 

The Theva No.1 is the entry-level model in the lineup which also includes 3 floor standing models, a center channel loudspeaker, surround loudspeakers, and two different stands for home cinema users who may wish to mix and match models to create the multi-channel configuration that is ideal for them.

They possess the clarity and detail in the treble that make Focal’s speakers special, the fluidity of the larger Kanta models, and the tonal balance of the Chora 806 that charmed the pants off our esteemed EIC Ian White. 

Combine all of those positive attributes and you have an extremely good pair of loudspeakers that are engaging, colorful, and lively in the best possible way.

Where to buy: $998/pair at Crutchfield


Related reading: Best Wireless Speakers

42 Comments

42 Comments

  1. Steve Messenger

    January 23, 2023 at 3:59 pm

    Ian, I always look forward to and appreciate your posts. What integrated amps do you suggest with the Triangle BR03, and are they OK if only 10 inches off the front wall? Thank you. Steve

    • Ian White

      January 24, 2023 at 1:59 pm

      Steve,

      Thank you for reading and kind words.

      Cambridge Audio and Rega would be a great place to start with these. Not the io.

      Best,

      Ian White

      • Dean

        January 28, 2023 at 4:17 am

        Hi,I have a spare pair of q acoustics 3020i’s in the bedroom attatched to a very small nobsound amp, while I was impressed with this cheap amp from China at 50 Watts per channel because I can bluetooth to it from my samsung s21 ultra in bed I feel I need another amp to get more clarity,I do have a system in my lounge, rega planar 3 marantz cd & pm 6007 with bowers & wilkins 607 s2 silver anniversaries. so I know a bit but I only have about £250 budget for upstairs, any ideas what’s suitable.

        • Ian White

          January 28, 2023 at 12:22 pm

          Dean,

          Thank you for reading us and that is a great question.

          I’m not sure how much the NAD C316BEE V2 is in the UK, but that is a great combination. If you can find one used in great shape for that price…definitely do it.

          If you can find an older Audiolab 8000A (the original) used. that is another excellent amplifier for these speakers.

          Let me think on this some more, but these two are a start.

          Best,

          Ian White

          • Martz

            March 10, 2023 at 10:23 pm

            I would stick to ChiFi for a bedroom set up, especially if you want Bluetooth connectivity. Go for something with tone controls, like the Aiyma T9,or T9 Pro, or the BRZHiFi M6 (the later has tone controls for bass, treble and mids). Both have all the connectivity options you could ever need, and sub out (the sub out on the BRZ unit is not well implemented though – the output to the sub is not controlled by the unit’s volume).

            The slightly thin mid range typical of Class D amplification, and somewhat exposed by the 3020i, can be greatly improved by a slight bump in equalisation between around 120 to 800 Htz.

      • HARRYVH50@GMAIL.COM

        January 30, 2023 at 1:07 am

        Just surfing but play with hifi description of room size and amp type very informative, watch out for d class amps

      • Javier Gonzalez

        March 7, 2023 at 2:18 am

        Hey Ian, I have an old denon avr3300. Trying to keep my system budget friendly. I’d like to put my money into some speakers so I was wondering if this receiver would do for now paired with any of the speakers mentioned. The BRO3 really caught my eye.

        • Ian White

          March 7, 2023 at 3:10 am

          Javier,

          Power rating into 8 ohms and overall tonal balance?

          Best,

          Ian White

          • Javier Gonzalez

            March 11, 2023 at 4:05 am

            105w per channel
            As for the tonal balance, I’m not sure. I apologize. I’m fairly new to this. Would that be similar to frequency response? If so, it’s 10Hz-50kHz.

  2. sorrel

    January 23, 2023 at 8:15 pm

    Oops! .4 meter (m). Hmm. Still, experiment w/ speaker placement.

  3. roman

    January 25, 2023 at 8:00 pm

    Hello! I have the Q Acoustics 3020i pair with a Rega IO amp, do you think this is a good combo?

    • sorrel

      January 26, 2023 at 7:32 pm

      Hi, roman. QA’s entry-level speakers play well with most good amps. Been there, done that. But to answer your question: N-O. (See ASR–Rega IO Review.) All the best to you.

      • Ian White

        January 26, 2023 at 11:33 pm

        I would say no from a power perspective. The io is a good integrated amplifier within its limitations.

        Best,

        Ian White

        • Paul Ingle

          February 22, 2023 at 11:13 am

          Ok loving this article. Back into music and want a good system no more than 1500 hopefully this article really helps.

  4. Doesnt Matter

    January 27, 2023 at 8:30 pm

    500$ is a budget speakers now? wow..

    • Ian White

      January 27, 2023 at 10:57 pm

      The list includes speakers that are under $100 up to $500. That is certainly budget.

      Best,

      Ian White

    • Paul Orr

      February 1, 2023 at 10:05 pm

      Very budget. Unfortunately.

      • Ian White

        February 3, 2023 at 9:26 pm

        It is but the truth is that all of these speakers sound great at their respective price points.

        And you can get a lot more today for your money than even 5 years ago. I get that $500 is a lot of money for most people but that buys a really good speaker in 2023.

        IW

    • Will Kimbrough

      April 16, 2023 at 3:06 am

  5. Lash

    January 30, 2023 at 2:34 am

    Good to see an piece like this. Too many mags are enamored with stuff very few can afford.

  6. Kyle Bass

    January 31, 2023 at 3:06 pm

    Cool article! Don’t know how they sound but those MKII are beautiful looking speakers.

    • Ian White

      January 31, 2023 at 3:16 pm

      Kyle,

      The Acoustic Energy are excellent loudspeakers. Really great value for the money.

      Best,

      Ian White

      • Tom

        March 5, 2023 at 6:00 am

        I have to agree Ian, I own the AE100MK2 and continue to be amazed. They require better electronics to appreciate what they can offer. I’m using Schiit, Rotel, and other tweaks in a 2 channel A/V system with stellar results! Cheers

        • Ian White

          March 5, 2023 at 12:37 pm

          Tom,

          Great to hear that I’m not alone. I love them. And I agree that they require better electronics.

          Best,

          Ian White

          • Mark A

            June 19, 2023 at 3:57 pm

            I have the AE Aesprit 300’s from 20 years ago. Still out great sounds.

  7. Mike Waz

    February 1, 2023 at 12:33 am

    Hi. Thanks for the good article. Aside from some MUCH higher end speakers in other rooms, in the bedroom I have some Mordaunt Short Music Series speakers. They are quite old but generally fine. Are any of these, in your judgment, seemingly superior? If not, anything else you might recommend?

    Thank you

    • Ian White

      February 1, 2023 at 1:24 pm

      Mike,

      The DALI are the true sleeper product in this mix. They need some power to really shine though. I’m a big Wharfedale and Q Acoustics person (I own multiple pairs of speakers from both brands), but there is something about the DALI that really shines higher than the rest.

      You need to spend a lot more money in my opinion in the bookshelf category to get better products. Perhaps $500 to $1,000 more.

      Best,

      Ian White

      • Mike Waz

        February 1, 2023 at 3:17 pm

        Thank you Ian. Perhaps allow me to further clarify. The bedroom receiver is an arguably mediocre Yamaha Natural Sound RX-A1040. The MS speakers are the 30i version. Given the receiver, has the technology improved so much that the DALI speakers would clearly be superior to the MS 30i? Also, IF I wish to spend more, what bookshelf speakers would you suggest for $1,500 a pair or less given the existing receiver? The best speakers I own are the B&W Nautilus 803S but they are clearly not going into the bedroom. Thanks again.

        • Ian White

          February 2, 2023 at 3:11 pm

          Mike,

          Let me do some research on your Yamaha before I answer.

          Best,

          Ian White

          • Ian White

            February 3, 2023 at 9:52 pm

            Mike,

            I would use the Wharfedale or Q Acoustics with that amplifier. Not a huge investment and it would work rather well.

            IW

        • sorrel

          February 3, 2023 at 5:19 pm

          I’m curious, Mike Waz: What amplifier do power your 803S loudspeakers with?

      • Pier

        December 3, 2023 at 10:59 pm

        Hi Ian.
        Since I believe you have heard many times the new diamond 12.x series , how would you compare them against the 3000 series from Q ? In particular 12.2 vs 3030i

        • Ian White

          December 4, 2023 at 2:48 pm

          Pier,

          Similar in some ways (warmer tonal balance), but the 3030i offer much firmer bass response. The 3030i definitely need more power. I’ve noticed a significant difference in their performance when driven by more powerful solid state amplifiers. They can handle 100 watts or more and it opens up the sound a lot. Both have similar sounding treble ranges.

          Best,

          Ian White

  8. Mike Waz

    February 3, 2023 at 6:43 pm

    Hi. The Krell KAV-2250.

    • Ian White

      February 3, 2023 at 9:18 pm

      Mike,

      That’s a really nice amplifier.

      Indeed.

      IW

      • Mike Waz

        February 3, 2023 at 9:46 pm

        Agreed; thank you.

  9. Alex

    February 9, 2023 at 9:54 am

    Hi, will you make a similar articles for floorstanding speakers ?

    • Ian White

      February 9, 2023 at 1:29 pm

      Alex,

      Coming this month. Already started it.

      Best,

      Ian White

      • Alex

        April 28, 2023 at 6:45 am

        Has the same articles for Floorstanding been released ?
        Didn’t found it 🙂

  10. GordM

    October 23, 2023 at 9:58 pm

    I have a pair of Wharfedale Diamond 12.0 powered by a NAD C388 w/ a Bluos module for TV and music in my bedroom system which I purchased online from Vinyl Sound, sight unseen. To say that they far exceeded my expectations would be an understatement. Would love to hear some of Wharfedale’s big boys some time, if their smallest system is that impressive. The company seems to be a bit underrepresented in Canada, certainly as the higher end models are concerned.

  11. Mike Hartmann

    March 26, 2024 at 1:18 pm

    Just recently purchased the Acoustic energy AE100 2 bookshelf speakers being amplified with the Naim UnitiQute 2 streamer inegrated 30 watt amp in a small living room setting sitting 10 feet away from speakers and I must say the sound is sublime,very happy with speaker choice.

    • Ian White

      March 26, 2024 at 5:34 pm

      Mike,

      Have a pair myself driven by an older NAD amplifier. Sounds great. Enjoy.

      Best,

      Ian White

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Advertisement

You May Also Like

Bookshelf Speakers

Do the Acoustic Energy AE100 MK2 Loudspeakers compare favorably with the competition below $500? They should be on your audition list for sure.

News

Feeling lucky? Enter for a chance to win a pair of Q Acoustics M40 Wireless Speakers with QED Cables. Must be 18+ and U.S....

Articles

Build a complete audiophile-grade stereo system around the Acoustic Energy AE1 Active Bookshelf Loudspeakers for under $4,000.

Amplifiers

With 300-watts per channel RMS, Goldmund claims Telos 800 is one of the finest Stereo Power Amplifiers ever crafted.

Integrated Amps & Stereo Receivers

2nd generation CXA81 arrives with upgraded DAC and new circuitry for improved depth and stereo imaging for $1,119.

Bookshelf Speakers

In celebration of the beginning of its 50th Anniversary, ATC is proud to announce the forthcoming release of an exclusive new active stand mount...

New Products

With fully balanced and improved circuitry throughout, the BAT VK-85 Preamp and REX 300 Amp claim pure musicality from a $27,500 combo.

HDTV 4K & 8K TV

Roku's top-of-the-line 2024 Pro Series 4K TVs feature QLED and Mini-LED technology in 55″, 65″ and 75″ sizes priced from $899 to $1,699.

Advertisement

ecoustics is a hi-fi and music magazine offering product reviews, podcasts, news and advice for aspiring audiophiles, home theater enthusiasts and headphone hipsters. Read more

Copyright © 1999-2024 ecoustics | Disclaimer: We may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.



SVS Bluesound PSB Speakers NAD Cambridge Audio Q Acoustics Denon Marantz Focal Naim Audio RSL Speakers