Best active speakers Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s guide to the best active speakers you can buy in 2022.
Quick physics lesson: speakers can be categorised into two different species – active and passive. Passive speakers are your 'standard' driver-filled boxes that require an external amplifier to make a sound. Once the signal from the amplifier reaches these boxes, there's an internal, non-powered crossover built-in to filter the appropriate frequencies to each of the drivers.
Stay with us: there are also speakers that are passive in nature, but still have an amplifier built-in – often squirrelled away into one of the boxes. These beasts are referred to as 'powered', and are represented by most of the sub-thousand-pound products on this list.
Now, active speakers. These have amplifiers built-in too, but they have one dedicated for each 'way'. So, a two-way speaker with one tweeter and one mid/bass driver unit will have two power amplifier modules, one for each driver (or 'way'). These models are fed by an 'active' powered crossover that works at a much lower voltage than their passive cousins. That means the components can be optimised for precision rather than pure power handling, resulting in a potentially better integrated, more precise sound. (See! That was quick, wasn't it?)
While most of the products on our list look just like standard speakers, don't be fooled: there's a lot of clever processing going on inside these cabinets, and many of them support hi-res audio. Some are also complete all-in-one systems, double as Bluetooth speakers and also have music streaming services built-in. Not only are these more practical and neater than a bunch of separate components, they're often cheaper too. Read on for our pick of the best active speakers that we've tested.
The Dali Oberon 1 C speakers are an impressively flexible proposition. Don't worry, that doesn't mean they're not well put together, it means you can have them pretty much any which way you like (in terms of stereo speakers, at least).
The Oberon C active speakers ship with Dali's Sound Hub Compact which gives you access to aptX HD Bluetooth for wireless streaming, an HDMI ARC socket for connecting to your TV/AV system, plus RCA and subwoofer connections. If you want multi-room, courtesy of BluOS and DLNA playback, you'll need to pay a small premium for the original, and larger, Sound Hub.
The speakers are largely unchanged from the passive Oberon 1, which are small and nicely made, with a mahogany coloured 13cm wood fibre mid/bass cone that's used in conjunction with Dali’s Soft Magnet Compound (SMC) technology and sits below the 29mm soft dome tweeter in the familiar Dali arrangement. These are active speakers, though, so each unit here is fed by a dedicated 50W Class D amplifier.
Sonically, as we've come to expect from Dali, we're treated to a clean, precise and detailed sound. Instruments are rendered faithfully, there's a good sense of scale and dynamics are impressive. Their size means you can only expect so much power and drive but for small speakers, and in small to medium-sized rooms, they're more than capable.
Active streaming systems are becoming increasingly common in this convenience-craving world, and the Dali Oberon 1 C are among the best examples we’ve seen at this level.
Read the full Dali Oberon 1 C review
A previous What Hi-Fi? Product of the Year (need we say more?), the LSX is actually an all-in-one system, comprising a network streamer, Bluetooth receiver and amplifier – all built into a pair of stereo speakers.
The speakers talk to each other wirelessly, so there's no need for a joining cable, although you will need to plug each speaker into the mains.
You have plenty of choices when it comes to sources: streaming comes either over DLNA or from Tidal (both from within the KEF Stream app), while Spotify Connect, Roon compatibility and Apple AirPlay 2 are also part of the package.
And the sound? As beautifully expressive, tonally even and rhythmically astute as you would expect given their lineage. The timing is spot-on, thanks to KEF's trademark-pending ‘Music Integrity Engine’ digital signal processing, which works to ensure accurate time alignment and phase coherence. It means the LSX has an assured approach to rhythms.
The cherry on the top? They come in a range of stylish colours to match your home decor.
They're not cheap and their aesthetic might not appeal to everyone, but if you want a wireless pair of standmounts that nothing comes even close to right now in terms of sound, you've found them. The Duos are deadly precise speakers with excellent clarity and speed of performance that make you want to dig out tune after tune just to hear what they can do.
The multi-room feature set, while not perfect (we'd prefer a single app to handle every function), is more than made up for by the superb audio performance. Bowers & Wilkins may have been late to the multi-room party, but boy it arrived with a bang – more fashionably late than annoyingly so.
The speakers bristle with raw energy, and the stereo imaging is completely on-point. They deliver a huge amount of power when called for, while serving up a delicate beauty in the quieter passages.
The downside? They will expose any flaws in recordings, so make sure your source material is up to scratch.
Read the full review: Bowers & Wilkins Formation Duo
With their retro wood-and-grey styling, these speakers will look at home on almost any surface, be it an office desk or a kitchen work surface. But they're not just lookers; they're the desktop speakers that come closest to sounding like a proper hi-fi set-up. So while they might be small, they are most definitely mighty.
The soundstage is gloriously spacious, giving each instrument enough room to breathe, and the sound is bathed in rich detail and fluid dynamics. Their timing is also a highlight. Put them in any room, and they'll immediately add character along with some brilliant sonics. Close your eyes, and you'll think there's an orchestra in front of you, not a pair of bookshelf speakers.
They've won our 'Best Desktop Speaker' Award for years on the trot, so you can be assured of their brilliance.
Read the full review: Ruark MR1 Mk2
The follow-up to the outstanding KEF LS50 Wireless speakers improve on greatness – no easy feat, even for an audio brand as sure-footed as KEF.
Like their illustrious predecessors, the LS50 Wireless IIs serve as a superb all-in-one system by dint of their advanced connectivity. Improvements including upgraded components and a new KEF Connect app where you can access the likes of Tidal, Qobuz, Amazon Music and Deezer.
Not that you'll need to reach for any of the aforementioned apps; these speakers are capable of streaming via AirPlay 2, Google Chromecast and Bluetooth, and are also Roon Ready.
KEF's striking design is matched by stunning sonics, enhanced by refreshed Uni-Q drivers and KEF's all-new MAT absorption technology. The presentation is spacious and the addition of the new MAT technology can be heard in the refined treble and clean mids.
Quite simply, if you're in the market for a high-fidelity all-in-one system packed with streaming smarts, this sophisticated sequel should be top of your list.
Read the full KEF LS50 Wireless II review
Essentially, the Rubicon 2 Cs are an amalgamation of Dali’s five-star Rubicon 2 passive speakers (they borrow the drivers and cabinet construction) and the 2018 Callisto active speakers, from which they take the company’s capable Class D amplifier technology as well as the third box in the set-up, the Dali Sound Hub.
This Sound Hub is essentially the brains of the system – a streaming preamp that connects to the speakers wirelessly via Dali’s own proprietary network (on either the 2.4GHz or the 5.8GHz wi-fi band, depending on the location and quality of the connection) and transmits audio to them at 24-bit/96kHz.
The Rubicon 2 Cs’ presentation is wonderfully cohesive across the frequencies: highs, lows and mids are distinctly defined, yet never stray from their seemingly effortless coordination with one another.
With the versatile Sound Hub the final piece in the puzzle, the Rubicon 2 Cs make for an altogether appealing all-in-one solution. Our only gripe in an otherwise glowing review was that the hub itself doesn't match the aesthetic of the speakers – a small issue in an otherwise great-sounding proposition.
Read the full review: Dali Rubicon 2 C
The Focal Shape 65 are far from the first pair of studio monitors we tested here at What Hi-Fi? but they do offer something a little different from the majority of monitors to have passed through our listening rooms. Transparency is paramount here, with the Focals delivering a sound that is at times unforgiving (the treble is quite sensitive) but there's no arguing with the amount of detail.
Versatile in terms of positioning, you'll be treated to impressive stereo imaging however you settle down in front of them. They don't major on bass weight but there's good punch and control to low frequencies. We do find timing sometimes slips up a touch, not ideal for a monitor, but it's about the only wrong step the Shape 65 speakers take.
Detail levels are superb and even aspects such as the sensitive treble response and staid dynamics will work in the favour of many musicians and producers. As a tool, these active monitors are hugely adept.
Read the full Focal Shape 65 review
These Dalis look just like their passive siblings save for a small LED on the left master speaker to denote the input you've selected. This master speaker holds the brains of the setup, including the 50-watt-per-channel Class D amplifier, a choice of physical inputs and the wireless components for Bluetooth.
Input-wise, there's not the biggest choice – just 3.5mm aux, digital optical and aptX Bluetooth. But that should be enough for most sources.
They're a bit more fussy when it comes partnering products, be it a CD player, streamer or laptop. Sure, you could buddy them up with so-so components, but you certainly won't get the best out of them.
With the right teammates though, they'll shine – a sound that's detailed and enthusiastic, with vocals that are full of expression. Spaciousness isn't an issue, and neither is scale or dynamics. And for all this, they're just flat-out fun to listen to. A great pair of floorstanders.
These might be considered a little basic in terms of what they do and how you set them up, but you won't hear any complaints from us; simplicity is no bad thing, especially when the results are as good as this.
There's no wireless connectivity, just RCA or balanced XLR inputs for connecting your source components. But they do feature adjustable controls for bass and treble, so you can fine-tune the sound to suit your room. Power comes from a dedicated 50-watt class A/B power amplifier module for each drive unit.
Sonically, they're very impressive. There's plenty of body in the mid-range, delicate control in the treble and bags of rhythm to get your head nodding. They also have a keen sense of punch and drive, the timing is spot on, and the dynamic range subtle yet extensive.
At this price, you'd be hard-pressed to find a group of separates to match this performance.
Versatility is the name of the game when it comes to the Eggs. They work wirelessly or wired, and play nice with devices lacking serious amplification, like computers, portables and TVs thanks to their built-in 50W amplifier. They feel weighty and well built, and they come with connections aplenty for hooking up external sources.
No matter what you partner them with, sound dispersion is up to the task, making for a seamless and immersive experience. Plus there's a good level of clarity and agility on show.
According to KEF, these are the most “sophisticated and acoustically accomplished version” of the speaker, And based on our testing, we're inclined to agree. They shine whether you're listening up close or across the room. Integration is a particular forte: no matter where you stand in the room it is hard to tell where midrange ends and treble begins. Well worth shelling out for.
With Bluetooth, a 3.5mm headphone jack, compatibility with TVs, and an optical input that supports 24-bit/96kHZ files, you're not short of choice when it comes to sources you can play through the Xeos.
You're also spoilt when it comes to placement – the speakers have a switch that optimises their performance depending on where you put them, be it close to a wall, in a corner or out in open space. So you shouldn't have to rearrange your furniture around these.
For speakers so small, they have an impressively panoramic soundstage, and they stay sounding clean even at high volumes. The low-end also packs plenty of weight, while the timing remains unflinching no matter how complex a track you challenge them with. Compact, versatile, great sounding... who says you can't have it all? And from a pair of speakers that don't dominate the room, too.
Pull up a chair, because wherever you sit it'll sound fantastic.
Read the full review: Dynaudio XEO 10
Built for the recording studio, these pro-grade speakers are ideal for home use too thanks to some clever cost-saving measures employed by PMC. They are two-way active speakers with two Class D power amplifiers inside each nicely made cabinet. A 65-watt module drives the tweeter while the bass has a meatier 100-watt to work with. Connectivity is limited to a single balanced XLR analogue input and mains power - nothing wireless here.
Bed them in, and you could be forgiven for thinking you've been transported to the BBC's Maida Vale Studios where PMC's pricier speakers reside.
The sound is incredibly detailed, and tonality is spot-on. They even manage to control the bass when placed close to a wall, which is no mean feat. For a pro set-up without the price tag – though admittedly, with some of the bulk – look no further. An instant guest impresser.
Weighing 36kg each and with a considerable asking price, the SCM40As are heavyweight in every sense of the word. But they're actually the cheapest way to experience ATC's studio-grade technology for yourself.
Unlike most small speaker companies, ATC makes its own drivers, giving it full control over every aspect of the sound. That means it can fine-tune the innards exactly to its desired specifications, fitting the cabinet perfectly. It makes for the perfect match of style with substance.
The SCM40A has three power amplifiers (and an active crossover) in each enclosure: there’s a 150-watt module for the bass driver, 60 watts driving the midrange, and a 25-watt amplifier just for the tweeter.
And it shows. Sonically these are masterful, magnificently detailed and less clinical than some 'pro' speakers, with a hefty low-end and a surprising amount of subtlety. At higher volumes, they're even more astounding. Sorry, neighbours.
Read the full review: ATC SCM40A
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