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Best bookshelf speakers 2020: budget to premium

Best bookshelf speakers Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best bookshelf speakers you can buy in 2020.

Big speakers might give you the meatiest sound, but not everyone has the space, budget or inclination for a set of floorstanders. Instead, a small set of speakers can give you a pretty amazing listening experience.

They're known as bookshelf (or sometimes standmount) speakers. And as the name suggests, they're small enough to fit on a bookshelf, on stands, on a desk or a table.

But a bookshelf isn't necessarily where you should put them. Some speakers demand a bit more space in order to perform at their best, so make sure you check the manufacturer's recommendations before buying, while crucially all of these speakers will benefit from a dedicated pair of speaker stands.

You should also see how easy these speakers are to partner with other products, as your complete system will determine the final performance. And of course size is another consideration, as some are considerably smaller than others - when you do your research, see what fits your space.

Here are our favourite bookshelf-friendly speakers. 

Best speakers 2020: standmount, floorstander, desktop, active

1. Elac Debut B5.2

Arguably the most capable budget standmounters we’ve heard.

SPECIFICATIONS

Speaker terminals: Single | Mid/bass driver: 5.25cm | Tweeter: 25mm | Sensitivity: 86dB/W/m | Dimensions: 34 x 18 x 23cm (HxWxD) | Sensitivity: 86 dB/w/m

Reasons to Buy

Detailed and organised sound
Solid build
Unfussy nature

Reasons to Avoid

Tough competition

Elac has been in the speaker business since the 1980s and has made many fine products in that time. It’s fair to say that these new Debut B5.2 speakers should be considered one of the company’s finest efforts. 

The Elac Debut B5.2s are brilliant performers for the money. The speakers feel solid, they're unfussy about placement, and they take any music you throw at them in their stride. They have the dynamic expression, detail resolution and tonal sophistication to handle it all, and enough stretch in their abilities to get even better with a system above their natural price range. For this sort of money, they're exceptional.

Read the full review: Elac Debut B5.2

Best speakers 2020: standmount, floorstander, desktop, active

2. B&W 606

The famous B&W 600 Series is back with a bang.

SPECIFICATIONS

Sensitivity: 88 dB/w/m | Driver: Continuum 16.5cm mid/bass, 25mm tweeter | Impedance: 8ohms | Max power handling: 120W | Speaker terminals: bi-wire | Dimensions: 34.5 x 19 x 34cm (HXWxD)

Reasons to Buy

Smart, stylish design
Brilliantly balanced sound
Dynamic and detailed

Reasons to Avoid

Nothing of note

The B&W 606 speakers feature a typically smart design, come in the perfect medium-sized speaker form, and ultimately deliver an exciting, engaging and perfectly-poised sound. Building on the all-conquering B&W 685 S2 speakers, the 606s could be an even bigger success. 

A great size and price for anyone with more than a passing interest in music, the 606s will breathe new life into your favourite tracks. They’re upbeat and energetic, deliver punchy, solid bass and offer class-leading levels of detail and dynamics.

Read the full review: B&W 606

Best bookshelf speakers 2019: prices to suit all bookshelves

(Image credit: Dali)

3. Dali Spektor 2

Fine build, great sound and a bargain price.

SPECIFICATIONS

Speaker terminals: Double | Frequency response: 54-26,000Hz | Sensitivity: 85dB/W/m | Dimensions (hwd): 29.2 x 17 x 23.8cm

Reasons to Buy

Agile, articulate and expressive
Small
Unfussy

Reasons to Avoid

Nothing of note

On paper, these tick all the boxes, but get them going and it's clear they go above and beyond a decent pair of budget bookshelf speakers. They offer a range of skills that few at this price can match. 

Vocals are distinctive and powerful, delivered with nuance and precision, and there's plenty of energy to the performance. They handle dynamics with aplomb, while the soundstage is impressively expansive. They're easy to partner kit with too. Highly recommended.

Read the full review: Dali Spektor 2

Best speakers 2019: standmount, floorstander, desktop, active

4. Ruark Audio MR1 Mk2

Fantastic desktop speakers blessed with a gorgeous design and superb audio.

SPECIFICATIONS

aptX Bluetooth: Yes | Inputs: Optical, line in | Output: Subwoofer | Dimensions: 17 × 13 × 13.5cm (HxWxD)

Reasons to Buy

Stunningly musical sound
Subtle dynamics
Stylish, compact design

Reasons to Avoid

No USB input

We loved the first Ruark Audio MR1 desktop speakers when they emerged in 2013. The retro looks, the intuitive design, the superb Bluetooth sound – it was a winning combination that earned two successive What Hi-Fi? Awards. But for a while the MR1s were toppled from their perch by the lovely KEF Eggs.

But it was only a matter of time before Ruark Audio unveiled the MR1 Mk2. And sure enough, Ruark Audio is back with a vengeance, having regained its crown for the last couple of years. The step up in performance in impressive, and the Ruark MR1 Mk2s manage to be even more appealing than before. Quite simply, these are superb speakers if you're short of space.

Read the full review: Ruark Audio MR1 Mk2

Best speakers 2019: standmount, floorstander, desktop, active

5. Revel Concerta2 MI6

The best speakers we’ve heard for under a grand.

SPECIFICATIONS

Tweeter: 25mm | Mid/bass driver: 16.5cm | Impedance: 6ohms | Sensitivity: 86dB/w/m | Dimensions: 37 x 22 x 27cm (HXWXD)

Reasons to Buy

Strong dynamics, authoritative bass
Excellent integration 
Rhythmic and punchy

Reasons to Avoid

Need care in partnering

We’re surprised that a brand like Revel hasn’t made a bigger impact on the UK speaker market. All the ingredients for success seem to be in place; the products are well made, solidly engineered and, in our experience, tend to sound good. The brand even has the might of parent company Harman behind it to provide extra reassurance.

The results speak for themselves: the M16s are a bundle of fun. Sure, they may not be the most refined choice around, but they entertain in a way few price rivals can match. Well worth every penny.

Read the full review: Revel Concerta2 MI6

best hi-fi speakers 2020

(Image credit: Triangle)

6. Triangle Borea BR03

A new contender for best in class

SPECIFICATIONS

Tweeter: 25mm | Mid/bass driver: 16cm | Impedance: 4.2ohms | Sensitivity: 90dB/w/m | Dimensions: 31.4 x 20.6 x 38cm

Reasons to Buy

Sophisticated, detailed sound
Impressive sense of scale
High-quality, agile bass

Reasons to Avoid

Aesthetic won’t be for everyone
Slight peakiness to treble

We love a surprise like this. French speaker manufacturer Triangle has entered a tough, crowded part of the stereo speaker market - and come out with flying colours. This pair of affordable bookshelf speakers truly deserves a spot on anyone's shortlist.

The Triangles deliver a huge sense of scale, much larger than rivals such as the formidable B&W 607s. They can also boast impressive separation and precision. There’s detail and insight across the frequency range and, given their size, the quantity of bass is perfectly acceptable. Where previous Triangle speakers may have sounded hard or bright, these are perfectly balanced. 

A distinctive design, which is finished to a good standard, the Borea BR03 are savvy musical performers with a great sense of scale and an even greater appetite for presenting music in a transparent and mature manner. Well worthy of consideration.

Read the full review: Triangle Borea BR03

Best speakers 2019: standmount, floorstander, desktop, active

7. Acoustic Energy AE1 Active

Able to outperform any number of systems comprising separates at similar money.

SPECIFICATIONS

Power: 2 x 50W | Dimensions: 30 x 18.5 x 25cm (HxWxD) | Inputs: RCA & balanced XLR

Reasons to Buy

Clear, balanced and detailed
Rhythmically exciting
Impressive dynamic range

Reasons to Avoid

Nothing of note

It’s difficult to think of an amplifier/passive speakers combo that could better these Acoustic Energy active speakers at the price. They do everything with a flourish.

And that's not only by the standards of directly competing active speaker alternatives, but also by what we've been able to achieve in any price-comparable amp/speakers combination.

You owe it to yourself to track down a pair to discover that for yourself.

Read the full review: Acoustic Energy AE1 Active

Best speakers 2019: standmount, floorstander, desktop, active

8. KEF R3

These superb standmounters set the standard at this price.

SPECIFICATIONS

Sensitivity: 87 dB/w/m | Impedance: 8ohms | Max power handling: 180W | Biwire: Yes | Dimensions: 42 x 20 x 34cm (HXWXD)

Reasons to Buy

Exceptional insight and resolution
Balanced and entertaining sound
Excellent build and finish

Reasons to Avoid

Nothing at this price

Part of the company’s premium R series, the R3s offer a large chunk of the pricier Reference 1’s engineering content and sonic performance at a fraction of the cost.

And that's a winning combination. The R3s are brilliant all-rounders. They’re expertly sonically balanced and work well across a wide range of systems, but give them a top class feed and they will deliver a sound good enough to worry most standmounters below the two grand mark. This is one to buy with confidence.

Read the full review: KEF R3

Best speakers 2019: standmount, floorstander, desktop, active

9. B&W 607

A stunning pair of stereo speakers.

SPECIFICATIONS

Speaker terminals: Bi-wire | Driver: Continuum 13cm mid/bass, 25mm tweeter | Sensitivity: 84dB/w/m | Impedance: 8ohms | Dimensions: 30 x 16.5 x 23cm

Reasons to Buy

Dynamic and punchy
Well detailed, with fine balance
Versatile with positioning

Reasons to Avoid

Nothing at this price

The 600 Series is the most affordable range in B&W’s catalogue of stereo speakers and, standing just 30cm tall, the 607s are the smallest and most affordable stereo pair in the line-up. And for a pair of standmount speakers costing this sort of money, you’d do well to beat them. These B&W speakers are energetic, insightful and riotously entertaining, snappy timing is combined with plenty of punch, detail and deep bass, for an impressively complete package.

Read the full review: B&W 607

(Image credit: Q Acoustics)

10. Q Acoustics 3030i

An excellent addition to the 3000i series of speakers.

SPECIFICATIONS

Bi-wire: No | Driver: 16.5cm mid/bass, 22mm tweeter | Sensitivity: 88dB/w/m | Impedance: 6ohms | Dimensions: 32.5 x 20 x 33cm

Reasons to Buy

Insightful and expressive
Impressive, well-integrated bass
Fine build

Reasons to Avoid

Tough competition

The Q Acoustics 3030is are now the largest of the three standmounters in the 3000i range and, with all the current models already having gained five-star reviews, they had quite a legacy to uphold.

Give these boxes a few days to settle and they produce a sound that’s familiar yet surprisingly muscular compared to other 3000i series standmounters. Like the others in the range, these are impressively cohesive performers with a smooth tonal balance and easy-going nature. Rivals such as Dali’s Oberon 1s or B&W’s 607s may deliver a more vivid and exciting sound, but the Qs counter that with a balanced, slightly understated but always engaging performance.

Read the full review: Q Acoustics 3030i

(Image credit: Future)

11. Elac Debut 2.0 B6.2

A mature and understated pair of speakers.

SPECIFICATIONS

Speaker terminals: Single | Frequency response: 44-35,000Hz | Sensitivity: 87dB/W/m | Dimensions (hwd): 37.4 x 19.5 x 26.8cm

Reasons to Buy

Hugely transparent
Don’t force their own character
Rhythmic and dynamic

Reasons to Avoid

Unforgiving of poor sources

The bigger brothers of those Elacs featured at the top of this page, the B6.2s are a wonderfully transparent pair of standmount speakers. Content not to colour your music with their own character, they offer a mature performance that will shine a light on the electronics in the rest of your chain. That can prove a problem if the rest of your system is not quite up to scratch, but you'll struggle to find a more honest pair of speakers at this price.

Read the full review: Elac Debut 2.0 B6.2

Best bookshelf speakers 2019: prices to suit all bookshelves

(Image credit: Q Acoustics)

12. Q Acoustics Concept 20

Looking for top-quality budget bookshelf speakers? Ignore these at your peril.

SPECIFICATIONS

Speaker terminals: Single | Frequency response: 64-22,000Hz | Sensitivity: 88dB/W/m | Dimensions (hwd): 26.5 x 17 x 28.2cm

Reasons to Buy

Awesome clarity
Refined sound
Brilliant construction

Reasons to Avoid

Pricey stands

These might be oldies, but - as their inclusion on this list attests - they're certainly goodies. A soft-dome tweeter with carbon fibre and ceramic-coated paper mid/bass combine to give surprisingly effective bass, especially for such a small speaker. They display equally impressive dynamic verve and clarity throughout the frequency range, with an articulate yet subtle presentation. But it's the transparency that really stands out, meaning they manage to stay composed even when really tested. To hear them at their best, you'll need the dedicated stands, which don't come cheap. Still, one listen and you'll know it's worth every penny.

Read the full review: Q Acoustics Concept 20

(Image credit: Wharfedale)

13. Wharfedale Linton

The best of old hi-fi combined with the best of the new.

SPECIFICATIONS

Speaker terminals: Single | Frequency response: 40-20,000Hz | Sensitivity: 90dB/W/m | Dimensions (hwd): 56.5 x 30 x 33cm

Reasons to Buy

Effortless bass production
Detailed, open soundstage
Authentic good looks

Reasons to Avoid

Looks won't be to everyone's taste

If you want a new speaker that's built using modern methods and materials, but that takes an old-school approach to styling and sound, then you might well want the new version of the Linton, launched to celebrate Wharfedale's 80th anniversary. A pair of rear-firing reflex ports aids a big, bassy sound, without skewing the balance, and they pair wonderfully with the bespoke, vinyl-carrying stands. Pair with some energetic electronics and you can buy with great confidence.

Read the full review: Wharfedale Linton

Best bookshelf speakers 2019: prices to suit all bookshelves

14. Quad S-1

Lovely compact speakers that impress with an enchanting sound.

SPECIFICATIONS

Speaker terminals: Single | Frequency response: 58-20,000Hz | Sensitivity: 84dB/W/m | Dimensions (hwd): 28.5 x 15.6 x 24cm

Reasons to Buy

Detailed, precise sound 
Excellent treble and midrange
Lovely build and design

Reasons to Avoid

Could sound more authoritative

Talk about lookers - these speakers have an exquisite woodwork exterior that's reminiscent of a fine dining table. They'll provide a fine soundtrack to any dinner party too, with the vocal performance being particularly impressive - it has an intimate quality that'll have you falling in love with your music collection all over again. Elsewhere, there's tons of subtle detail and lots of clarity, while the tonal balance is very good indeed. They're not quite as authoritative as some bigger rivals, but if it's an intimate, cosy sound you're after, these are about a lot more than just looks.

Read the full review: Quad S-1

Best bookshelf speakers 2019: prices to suit all bookshelves

(Image credit: KEF)

15. KEF Q350

These speakers' sophisticated, insightful presentation goes beyond their modest price.

SPECIFICATIONS

Speaker terminals: Single | Frequency response: 63-28,000Hz | Sensitivity: 87dB/W/m | Dimensions (hwd): 35.8 x 21 x 30.6cm

Reasons to Buy

Stunning clarity and detail
Huge sound scale
Excellent timing

Reasons to Avoid

Lacks drive
Demands loud volumes

Stunning sound meets elegant looks at a price that will have the competition sweating bullets. Design-wise, they're clean and modern, with a sleek, minimal style that's at once both current and timeless. The sound is equally impressive, offering levels of clarity and subtlety rarely heard at this price. Nuances are dug up and exposed, breathing new life into tracks you might have grown tired of. There's huge scale too, and a beautifully even delivery across the frequency range. A mature set of speakers whose looks perfectly fit their composed delivery.

Read the full review: KEF Q350

Best bookshelf speakers 2019: prices to suit all bookshelves

(Image credit: Dynaudio)

16. Dynaudio Emit M20

Another entertaining set of speakers, as meticulous as they are merry.

SPECIFICATIONS

Speaker terminals: Single | Frequency response: 50-23,000Hz | Sensitivity: 86dB/W/m | Dimensions (hwd): 35.5 x 21.5 x 26.5cm

Reasons to Buy

Sweeping dynamics
Tons of insight
Huge scale

Reasons to Avoid

Nothing

Dynamically, these speakers are always on the move, proving equally adept at handling major changes as they are subtle ones. While some speakers might be great for only certain genres of music, the M20s are comfortable handling whatever you throw at them, be it rock, pop, jazz, classical, or something in between. You'll need to place them with a fair bit of room to get the best of their tonal balance, but once you do there's no looking back.

Read the full review: Dynaudio Emit M20

Best bookshelf speakers 2019: prices to suit all bookshelves

(Image credit: B&W)

17. B&W 707 S2

Compact speakers that pack a mighty punch

SPECIFICATIONS

Speaker terminals: Double | Frequency response: 50-28,000Hz | Sensitivity: 84dB/W/m | Dimensions (hwd): 28 x 16.5 x 26cm

Reasons to Buy

Authoritative
Powerful bass
Great build quality

Reasons to Avoid

Lacks subtlety and rhythmic dexterity

Small speakers can sound big - the S2s are proof of that. Standing just 28cm tall, they manage to sound awesomely authoritative, with a solid, composed presentation that renders bass with plenty of punch and power. It's a full-bodied, refined sound that's overflowing with detail that other similarly-sized speakers tend to miss. And while the low-end comes across thick and fast, it never threatens to dominate proceedings. The only downside is they tend to struggle with more complex rhythms. It's a shame, but for many it won't be a dealbreaker.

Read the full review: B&W 707 S2

(Image credit: Dali)

18. Dali Rubicon 2 C

A fine premium pair of active standmounts

SPECIFICATIONS

Hi-res: Up to 24-bit/96kHz wireless | Outputs: 2x optical, coaxial, RCA, 3.5mm | Bluetooth version: aptX HD | Dimensions (hwd): 35 x 20 x 34cm

Reasons to Buy

Transparent and well-integrated
Welcomes most sources
Simple set-up and operation

Reasons to Avoid

No phono input
Sound Hub doesn’t match speakers

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.

The result is a hugely entertaining and conveniently proportioned wireless system with all the talents to slot into or replace your traditional hi-fi set-up. Just make sure you've saved enough pennies.

Read the full review: Dali Rubicon 2 C

  • James Robinson
    This is a nice collection of small speakers, but it would be good to see a review of actual bookshelf/wall-mounted speakers, particularly at the higher end of this price bracket. Here many of the higher end speakers actually require stands and the reviews suggest that their performance would be significantly compromised if they were positioned close to/on a wall (or on a bookshelf!).
    Reply
  • scene
    I know what you mean. I was recently looking for some (albeit cheaper) bookshelf speakers - to actually go on Billy bookshelves. I wish that (WHF) reviews differentiated more clearly between "stand-mounters" and "bookshelf" speakers - or at least indicated whether a speaker was suitable for Bookshelf/Desk-standing/Wall-mounting/Stand-mounting. There are probably few small speakers that wouldn't sound better on a stand - but some are designed for it. Others are very much designed to be placed well away from walls...

    And a lot of people want speakers to go on walls/shelves as it's the only practical place to put them.
    Reply
  • James Robinson
    I currently have a pair of Dali Mentor Menuets that are designed to go on the wall, which I've been very pleased with; I also have some on the bookshelves in another room, where they also sound good - they were quite pricey, but worth looking out for secondhand. It would be nice to have some upgrade options, though...
    Reply
  • scene
    Due to budget constraints, my (new) bookshelves are the Q3020i - which are excellent for their price (in my opinion :))
    The Menuets look great - and I'd love to try some... if I had the cash.
    Reply
  • jjmcubed
    I to would love to know which speakers need to be stand mounted. Was about to pull the trigger on Revel M105's, but then I saw the rear ports. I only have approx 8 inches behind the speakers and they have to be on top of a dresser. Have a feeling the Revels will need more room.
    Reply