With multi channel audio codecs constantly being foisted on movie lovers, it seems people rarely eschew complexity for a simpler (but higher quality) 2.0 or 2.1 system. Instead, they make-do with the plastic- or metal-enclosed speakers that come with a home-theater-in-a-box kit.
When I first got in to hifi just before college, I decided I wanted a pair of 2-way bookshelf speakers. I made a list, read reviews, looked at prices, and finally listened to several different models. I ended up at Definitive Audio in Bellevue, comparing the B&W DM602 S3 against the Paradigm Mini Monitor (version III)*. (At the time, I was not aware of AudiogoN, where one can find used hifi gear.) Now that I have been paying attention to the hifi scene for longer, I thought it might help others to have a list of “budget” bookshelf speakers.
For the most part, they all have a 6.5 or 7″ woofer (excepting the S30), are ported, have a crossover point below 3 kHz, and can be had for under $1,000 new. Several are from manufacturers that have benefited from the Canada’s National Research Council. The Boston Acoustic, Energy, and Cambridge Audio speakers are the most affordable and can be readily found online. The B&Ws and Quads both use Kevlar woofers — which I did not like in the DM602 S3s — but include here because sound is subjective and they are well-reviewed. While it is not all-inclusive, I have purposefully excluded some makes**/models.
Check out review sites
A few humble notes on speaker design, audio industry
- Ceteris paribus, heavier is better as one can infer a better cabinet and/or better internal bracing
- A ported speaker will generally be capable of lower frequency extension than a sealed one, but a poorly tuned/designed port can have major downsides too
- A lower crossover frequency used with a metal tweeter (versus a cloth one, ex. silk) requires a better engineered tweeter to avoid ringing
- A front-facing port reduces the effects of room placement
- Crossovers are hidden from view, and so manufacturers often cut costs here — sticking with a relatively simple 2-way design minimizes this risk
- A speaker with a higher sensitivity is more efficient and will seem louder
- It’s best to avoid budget speakers that advertise an upper frequency range above 20 kHz because common digital sources are only faithful to the Nyquist Frequency and most digital to analog converters (DACs) will produce artifacts above it
- Power (watt) ratings are mostly meaningless
- Ceteris paribus, a company that spends a greater proportion of its income on advertising/marketing will make an inferior product
*My former roommate bought the Paradigm Mini Monitors from me when I upgraded to floorstanding speakers.
**Atlantic Technology, Bose, Definitive Technology, Infinity, JBL, KEF, Klipsch, Mordaunt Short, Thiel, Wharfedale.