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Best active speakers 2022: budget to premium

Best active speakers Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s guide to the best active stereo speakers you can buy in 2022.

If you want a hi-fi system but are daunted by the prospect of multiple speaker and amplifier boxes, you may want to consider active speakers – that is, speakers with amplification built in. 

While most of the active speakers on this 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, but they are also often cheaper too. Read on for our pick of the best active speakers we have tested.

How to choose the best active speakers for you

To decide which active speakers are best for you – or whether you want them in the first place – it's useful to know what they are and how they work. Stereo speakers can be categorised into two different species – active and passive. Passive speakers are your 'standard' driver-filled boxes that require an external stereo amplifier to make a sound. Once the signal from the amplifier reaches these boxes, an internal crossover filters the appropriate frequencies to each of the drivers.

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 this method is represented by most of the more affordable products on this list. 

Now, active speakers. These have amplifiers built in as well, but this time they have one amp 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?)

Some active speakers are just that and require sources to be connected to them; many, though, now have Bluetooth and even network streaming integrated, essentially making them all-in-one systems. If you are after a pair of compact speakers for desktop use, powered speakers such as the affordable Q Acoustic and Ruark offerings below should be just the ticket.

Which active speaker you choose should really be based on how much source integration you require. As with everything, streaming implementation costs and can affect the engineering of a product, so get a speaker with it included only if you intend to use the feature. 

Best active speakers - Dali Oberon 1 C

These Dali active speakers are incredibly versatile and musical with both music and movies. (Image credit: Dali)
An engaging and adaptable active speaker package.

Specifications

Bluetooth: aptX HD
Power: 200W
Inputs: RCA, HDMI ARC, wi-fi streaming (optional)
Outputs: Subwoofer
Dimensions: 27 x 16 x 23cm
Weight: 4.4kg

Reasons to buy

+
Detailed, musical sound
+
Superb midrange clarity
+
Wireless options

Reasons to avoid

-
Not the last word in authority
-
Slight lack of bass depth

The Dali Oberon 1 C speakers are an impressively flexible proposition. That doesn't mean they are not well put together, rather that 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 will 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 is 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 have come to expect from Dali, we are treated to a clean, precise and detailed sound. Instruments are rendered faithfully, there is 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 are 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 have seen at this level. 

Read the full Dali Oberon 1 C review

Best active speakers - KEF LSX II

A terrific, feature-packed, premium system from KEF that looks and sounds fantastic. (Image credit: KEF)
A fantastic, multi-talented streaming system perfect for smaller rooms

Specifications

Bluetooth: 4.2
Inputs: HDMI ARC, USB-C, wi-fi streaming
Outputs: Subwoofer
Power: 200W
Dimensions: 24 x 15.5 x 18cm
Weight: 3.5kg (each)

Reasons to buy

+
Well-rounded sonic performance
+
Excellent imaging and dynamics
+
HDMI and USB-C inputs

Reasons to avoid

-
Native 24-bit/192kHz playback requires wired connection
-
Best suited to smaller rooms or desktop use

The successor to the What Hi-Fi? Award-winning LSX, this second-gen version of the successful all-in-one system takes performance and functionality to the next level.  

Comprising a network streamer, a Bluetooth receiver and an amplifier – all built into a pair of stereo speakers – the LSX II is a great option for those looking for convenience and musicality in two compact boxes.

The original LSX offered plenty of choices when it came to sources – streaming over DLNA or from Tidal, Spotify Connect, Roon compatibility and Apple AirPlay 2 – but the LSX II expands on this with wider streaming support and the modern-day addition of HMDI ARC and USB-C for TV and laptop connectivity respectively.

Essentially, KEF has taken what was already a winning formula, introduced some key upgrades that improve functionality and usability, and without really altering the speaker hardware has produced a talented set-up that sings with any genre of music sent its way.

The KEF LSX II is a stylish streaming system that comes with none of the baggage and boxes a separates set-up brings. Nothing else really comes close at this level.

The cherry on the top? They come in a range of stylish colours to match your home decor.

Read the full review: KEF LSX II

Best active speakers - Bowers & Wilkins Formation Duo

Multi-room comes to B&W speakers and the high-end Formation Duo are hugely accomplished performers. (Image credit: Bowers & Wilkins)
Wonderfully accomplished, sophisticated active speakers.

Specifications

Power: 250W
Bluetooth: aptX HD
Inputs: Wi-fi streaming
Outputs: N/A
Dimensions (hwd): 39.5 x 19.7 x 30.5cm
Weight: 10.6kg

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent multi-room features
+
Snappy timing
+
Tight, authoritative bass

Reasons to avoid

-
No fully featured app

They are not cheap and their aesthetic might not appeal to everyone, but if you want a wireless pair of standmount speakers that nothing comes even close to right now in terms of sound, you have 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 would 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 

Best active speakers - Ruark MR1 Mk2

Stunning audio and compact size make these stylish Ruarks the ideal desktop speakers. (Image credit: Ruark)
A very appealing set of active desktop speakers.

Specifications

Bluetooth: aptX
Inputs: Optical, RCA, 3.5mm
Outputs: Subwoofer
Power: 20W
Dimensions: 17 x 13 x 13cm (each)
Weight: 1.7kg (each)

Reasons to buy

+
Musical sound
+
Compact design
+
Lean skillset

Reasons to avoid

-
No USB input

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 are not just lookers; they are 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 will immediately add character along with some brilliant sonics. Close your eyes, and you will think there's an orchestra in front of you, not a pair of bookshelf speakers.

They have 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

Best active speakers - KEF LS50 Wireless II

A superb all-in-one system with innovative technology, streaming smarts and gorgeous sound (and looks). (Image credit: KEF)
Innovative, entertaining winners of a current What Hi-Fi? Award.

Specifications

Power: 760W
Bluetooth: 4.2
Inputs: RCA, optical, coaxial, 3.5mm, HDMI eARC, wi-fi streaming
Outputs: Subwoofer
Dimensions (hwd): 30.5 x 20 x 31.1cm
Weight: 20.1kg

Reasons to buy

+
Big performance leap
+
Clean, punchy sound
+
All-encompassing connectivity

Reasons to avoid

-
Nothing at this price 

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 will 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 are 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

Best active speakers - KEF LS60 Wireless

KEF's successful streaming, wireless speaker systems are now available in a floorstander design and they sound fantastic. (Image credit: KEF)
Everything a modern all-in-one hi-fi system should be

Specifications

Power: 1400W
Inputs: Optical, coaxial, RCA, HDMI eARC, wi-fi streaming
Outputs: Subwoofer
Weight: 36.2kg
Dimensions (hwd): 109 x 21.2 x 39.4cm (with plinth)

Reasons to buy

+
Focused, hugely entertaining sound
+
Superb driver integration
+
Streaming and amplification built-in

Reasons to avoid

-
Wired connection needed for native 24-bit/192kHz playback

KEF redefined what you should expect from an all-in-one stereo system with the LS50 Wireless standmounters (above); and it has managed to raise the bar once again with the stunning LS60 Wireless floorstanders, which combine streaming smarts, amplification and stereo speakers into two slim (CD-width!) cabinets.

But the KEF LS60 Wireless isn’t simply tower speakers based on the bookshelf version. That description just doesn’t do it justice, and as you can see from the image and price tag, the company has thrown so much more at the LS60 that it's on a whole different level. If your interest is piqued, we really do recommend you read our in-depth review.

In a nutshell, though, the British brand has managed to combine impressive engineering and a comprehensive feature set with an attractive user experience and top it all off with fantastic audio quality. It’s a fine example of modern hi-fi and currently has no real rival if you are in the market for a convenient yet premium solution. 

The LS60 Wireless system is a fantastic achievement and a fitting way to celebrate KEF’s 60th anniversary.

Read the full KEF LS60 Wireless review

Best active speakers - Q Acoustics M20

These well-connected, affordable and energetic Q Acoustics desktop speakers can double up as your main audio system. (Image credit: Q Acoustics)
Q Acoustics more than achieves its aims with this desktop system

Specifications

Bluetooth: aptX HD, aptX Low Latency
Inputs: USB Type B, optical, RCA, 3.5mm
Outputs: Subwoofer
Power: 64W
Dimensions (hwd): 27.9 x 17 x 29.6cm
Weight: 5.5kg

Reasons to buy

+
Insightful and spacious sound
+
Unfussy on placement
+
Great connectivity

Reasons to avoid

-
Probably too big for a laptop system
-
No wireless network streaming

The Q Acoustics M20 are a pair of powered speakers designed to work wherever you feel like putting them. They also have a lot of useful connections on the back – TVs, CD players, turntables and laptops can also be wired to the M20 through optical, RCA line-level, aux and USB Type B connections. And there's wireless Bluetooth streaming, too. One speaker in the pair is the mains-powered 'master' and feeds the other through a supplied piece of speaker cable.

Versatile, simple to use and nicely put together – crucially, they also sound the part. The M20 speakers sound full, loud, spacious and energetic. For relatively affordable speakers that pack in quite so much, we are impressed how refined and detailed they manage to sound.

Q Acoustics has released an unfussy, just-add-source set of powered speakers that we find impossible to dislike. With all of the amplification squirrelled away in the master speaker and the plethora of connectivity and placement options covered, the M20 is far more likely to become your entire music system than it is simply your new desktop speakers – and for this money, you will be hard pushed to better the sound quality with hi-fi separates. 

Read the full Q Acoustics M20 review

Best active speakers - Dali Rubicon 2 C

A premium pair of active speakers that combine streaming talents with beautifully transparent and cohesive sound quality. (Image credit: Dali)
Dali draws on its past achievements in passive and active speaker design to create this convenient and entertaining all-in-one speaker system

Specifications

Bluetooth: aptX HD
Inputs: RCA, coaxial, 3.5mm, wi-fi streaming
Outputs: N/A
Power: 250W
Dimensions: 25 x 30 x 34cm
Weight: 8.4kg

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.

This Sound Hub is essentially the brains of the system – a streaming preamplifier 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

Best active speakers - Focal Shape 65

Superb transparent detail and stereo imaging make these active studio monitors from Focal worth an audition. (Image credit: Focal)
Versatile studio monitor speakers with sensational detail

Specifications

Bluetooth: No
Outputs: N/A
Inputs: XLR, RCA
Power: 200W
Dimensions: 35.5 x 22 x 28.5cm
Weight: 8.5kg

Reasons to buy

+
Incredibly transparent
+
Great for analysis
+
Top stereo imaging

Reasons to avoid

-
Not expert timing
-
Bass could be more textured
-
Unforgiving tweeter

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 is no arguing with the amount of detail.

Versatile in terms of positioning, you will 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

Best active speakers - Acoustic Energy AE1 Active

They might have basic features, but the Acoustic Energy AE1 Active is one of the best active speakers around for pure performance. (Image credit: Acoustics Energy)
These active speakers do everything with a flourish.

Specifications

Bluetooth: No
Inputs: RCA, XLR
Outputs: N/A
Power: 100W
Dimensions: 30 x 19 x 25cm
Weight: 9kg

Reasons to buy

+
Balanced, detailed sound
+
Great dynamic range
+
Exciting

Reasons to avoid

-
Nothing of note

These Acoustic Energy active speakers 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 is no wireless connectivity, just RCA or balanced XLR inputs for connecting your source components. But the AE1 Active 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, these speakers are very impressive. There is 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 would be hard-pressed to find a group of separates to match this performance.

Read the full review: Acoustic Energy AE1 Active

Best active speakers - ATC SCM40A

(Image credit: ATC)
Heavyweight floorstanders bursting with sonic ability.

Specifications

Bluetooth: N/A
Inputs: XLR
Outputs: N/A
Power: 235W
Dimensions: 98 x 37 x 34cm
Weight: 36kg

Reasons to buy

+
Great detail
+
Composed when loud
+
Integrate well

Reasons to avoid

-
Underwhelming at low volumes

Weighing 36kg each and with a considerable asking price, the SCM40As are heavyweight in every sense of the word. But they are 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 are even more astounding. Sorry, neighbours.

Read the full review: ATC SCM40A

How we test active speakers

We have state-of-the-art testing facilities in London, Reading and Bath, where our team of experienced, in-house reviewers test the majority of hi-fi and AV kit that passes through our door – including active speakers.

What Hi-Fi? is all about comparative testing, so we listen to every pair of active speakers we review against the current leader in its field to gauge how it compares to the best-in-class competition. We keep What Hi-Fi? Award winners, such as the KEF LS50 Wireless II in this category, in our stockrooms so we can always pit new products against ones we know and love. And we do our best to review as many new models in as many markets as possible to ensure our contextual knowledge is the best it can be.

We are always impartial in our testing and ensure we hear every pair of active speakers at its optimum, with sources we know and like. We test them in their best use case with different partnering source kit, whether that's with a phone or laptop playing from a supported streaming service or over Bluetooth, or with a wired source component. And we play plenty of different types of music through them. Naturally, we give them plenty of listening time (and time to run in), too.

All review verdicts are agreed upon by the team as a whole rather than an individual reviewer, to eliminate any personal preference and to make sure we are being as thorough as possible. There is no input from PR companies or our sales team when it comes to the verdict, with What Hi-Fi? proud of having delivered honest, unbiased reviews for decades.

You can read more about how we test and review products on What Hi-Fi? here.

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Kashfia Kabir
Hi-Fi and Audio Editor

Kashfia is the Hi-Fi and Audio Editor of What Hi-Fi? and first joined the brand over 10 years ago. During her time in the consumer tech industry, she has reviewed hundreds of products, been to countless trade shows across the world and fallen in love with hi-fi kit much bigger than her. In her spare time, Kash can be found catching up with TV shows, tending to an ever-growing houseplant collection and hanging out with her cat Jolene.

  • Moree Spingato
    Was so excited to see this list, then disappointed with the silly recommendations. Dynaudio, Kii etc? Seriously — get these reviewers to find less over priced and esoteric tripe. Edifier S3000Pro or Kanto TUK should be in this list. Far cleaner, warmer and more well rounded sound than the usual fare like KEF or the bass heavy B&W, or the hard to find stuff like acoustic energy. Hope the next round of these is a list from 2020, not 2011.
    Reply
  • 3dit0r
    No self-respecting article on the best active speakers should neglect to mention Meridian DSPs. The originals and still world-class speakers which sound absolutely mind-blowing.
    Reply
  • Moree Spingato
    Any link or review?
    Reply
  • doifeellucky
    When are Q Acoustics going to release an update to the BT3?
    Reply
  • Simonsays
    Shame you mention the KEF LS50 wireless and not the latest model , the MK2, that does not need an interconnecting cable and is a big improvement on the original . You have tested the Mk2 before your comparison, so no excuse. I am evaluating a pair now fed from an Innuos Zen Mk3 server compared to using Buchardt 500s instead of the Kefs. Possibly alos the bluesound Vault as a cheaper option. I look in your reviews and the Buchardts or any Buchardt speakers has never been reviewed by you or the Innuos or bluesound Vault for that matter. These speakers, are expensive, but are consideraby cheaper than some you had in your comparison and I am told far superior to the Kefs.
    Reply
  • carewser
    Moree Spingato said:
    Was so excited to see this list, then disappointed with the silly recommendations. Dynaudio, Kii etc? Seriously — get these reviewers to find less over priced and esoteric tripe. Edifier S3000Pro or Kanto TUK should be in this list. Far cleaner, warmer and more well rounded sound than the usual fare like KEF or the bass heavy B&W, or the hard to find stuff like acoustic energy. Hope the next round of these is a list from 2020, not 2011.

    Couldn't agree more, not sure how companies like Edifier, Audioengine or Kanto got overlooked in a discussion of powered speakers
    particularly since all three offer excellent value but it seems What Hi Fi? instead tried to appeal to the extremely wealthy 1% of the listening public with this list. If I wanted cork-sniffing reviews i'd read the Absolute Sound or Stereophile
    Reply
  • LillaQuqen
    What Hi-Fi? said:
    Active speakers have many advantages over their passive cousins. These are the best in show.

    Best active speakers: floorstander, desktop, budget and premium : Read more
    "best in show" and don't have B&O Beolab 90!? Pfffft...
    Reply
  • Immu
    What have the editor think, when authoriced this article? Very poor selection of active speakers! For example WHERE'S GENELEC? Worlds most renowed manufacture for active speakers, that don't do anything else but these speakers. Half of the worlds recording studios are using them.
    Reply
  • Combat
    carewser said:
    Couldn't agree more, not sure how companies like Edifier, Audioengine or Kanto got overlooked in a discussion of powered speakers
    particularly since all three offer excellent value but it seems What Hi Fi? instead tried to appeal to the extremely wealthy 1% of the listening public with this list. If I wanted cork-sniffing reviews i'd read the Absolute Sound or Stereophile

    Totally. It shows how little knowledge this whole publication has of the HiFi market now a days. I really don't know what they are doing. If you look at how many reviews they do it's crazy. They seem to do less than one a week.

    Andrew Robinson and Darko Audio both seem to do more reviews than What HiFi and they have to produce videos rather than just write some words.

    Aside from the brands mentioned there are loads of new active releases worth considering but What HiFi literally mentioned the same expensive brands you probably would have mentioned five years ago.

    I just got the Triangle AIO Twin active speakers and paired with the Rel T-Zero MKIII sub they are unbelievable! I have had the Audio Engine A5+ and S6 sub pairing before and the Edifier S880DB before so it pains me to feel that I probably have just as much knowledge about active speakers as this whole publication.
    Reply