Best active speakers: floorstanders, desktop, budget and premium

Best active speakers: floorstanders, desktops, budget and premium
(Image credit: KEF)

Best active speakers Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s guide to the best active speakers you can buy in 2019.

Speakers come in two kinds: active and passive. Passive are your bog-standard speakers that need an external amplifier to make a sound. Once the signal from the amplifier reaches them there's an internal non-powered crossover built-in that filters the appropriate frequencies to each of the drive units.

There are also speakers that are passive in nature but still have an amplifier built-in. These are referred to as powered, and are represented by most of the sub-thousand pound products on our list.

Active speakers have amplifiers built-in too, but have one dedicated for each 'way'. So, a two-way speaker with a tweeter and mid/bass will have two power amplifier modules. 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 better integrated and more precise sound.

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, with Bluetooth and certain streaming services built-in. Not only are these more practical and neater than a bunch of separate components, they're often cheaper too.

Looking for some active speakers? Let's see what's on offer.

Best active speakers: floorstanders, desktops, budget and premium

(Image credit: KEF)

1. KEF LSX

This system might be small, but it has a big sound and lots of features...

SPECIFICATIONS

Hi-res support: 24-bit/192kHz | Streaming services: Apple AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, Tidal | Bluetooth: 4.2 with aptX | Inputs: Optical, 3.5mm, ethernet | Finishes: 5 | Dimensions: 24 x 15 x 18cm (each) | Weight: 3.5kg (each)

Reasons to Buy
Brilliant insight
Lots of connections
Colourful
Reasons to Avoid
Some issues with the app

This 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 ethernet cable, and they come in a range of bright but stylish colours. But you will need to plug them 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. 

Read the full review: KEF LSX

Best active speakers: floorstanders, desktops, budget and premium

(Image credit: Ruark)

2. Ruark MR1 Mk2

A very appealing set of desktop speakers.

SPECIFICATIONS

Hi-res support: 24-bit/192kHz | Streaming services: N/A | Bluetooth: 4.2 with aptX | Inputs: Digital optical TOSLINK, line-in | Finishes: 2 | Dimensions: 17 x 13 x 13cm (each) | Weight: 1.7kg (each)

Reasons to Buy
Musical sound
Compact design
Lean skillset
Reasons to Avoid
Lacks a 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're not just lookers - they're the desktop speakers that come closest to sounding like a proper hi-fi set-up. 

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.

Read the full review: Ruark MR1 Mk2

Best active speakers: floorstanders, desktops, budget and premium

(Image credit: KEF)

3. KEF Egg

A cracking pair of desktop speakers.

SPECIFICATIONS

Hi-res support: 24-bit/96kHz | Streaming services: N/A | Bluetooth: 4.0 with aptX | Inputs: Mini USB, mini TOSLINK optical, 3.5mm | Finishes: 3 | Dimensions: 27 x 14 x 17cm (each) | Weight: 2.15kg (each)

Reasons to Buy
Very good integration
Balanced audio
Versatile
Reasons to Avoid
3.5mm input could be neater

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. Well worth shelling out for.

Read the full review: KEF Egg

Best active speakers: floorstanders, desktops, budget and premium

(Image credit: KEF)

4. KEF LS50 Wireless

Top performance in a smart, compact package.

SPECIFICATIONS

Hi-res support: 24-bit/192kHz | Streaming services: Spotify Connect, Tidal | Bluetooth: 4.0 with aptX | Inputs: USB, TOSLINK optical, RCA, ethernet | Finishes: 3 | Dimensions: 30 x 20 x 31cm (each) | Weight: 10kg (each)

Reasons to Buy
Great clarity
Impressive bass and dynamics
Brilliant build quality
Reasons to Avoid
Could be more usable

Another complete all-in-one streaming music system, the LS50 Wireless aren't really wireless - both master and slave speaker need to be plugged into the mains, and there's a cable connecting them. But still, it's a lot neater than a full hi-fi set-up with lots of separate boxes. 

And the sound is very impressive indeed - there's a ton of detail to get your teeth into, and it's all delivered in an organised and stable manner. It's a refined listen, too, able to handle dynamic shifts without breaking a sweat, with a soundstage that opens up like a vista in front of you. A brilliant buy.

Read the full review: KEF LS50 Wireless

Best active speakers: floorstanders, desktops, budget and premium

(Image credit: Dali)

5. Dali Zensor 5AX

With the right set-up, these powered speakers will do you proud.

SPECIFICATIONS

Hi-res support: 24-bit/96kHz | Streaming services: N/A | Bluetooth: 4.0 with aptX | Inputs: 3.5mm, TOSLINK optical | Finishes: 3 | Dimensions: 83 x 16 x 28cm (each) | Weight: 11kg (each)

Reasons to Buy
Superb sound
Excellent sense of timing
Versatile
Reasons to Avoid
Fussy
Fiddly remote

These Dalis are a bit more fussy when it comes to what kit you partner them with, 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. But with the right teammates, they'll shine, with a sound that's detailed and enthusiastic, and vocals that are full of expression. Spaciousness isn't an issue, and neither are scale and dynamics. And for all this, they're just flat out fun to listen to. A great pair of floorstanders.

Read the full review: Dali Zensor 5AX

Best active speakers: floorstanders, desktops, budget and premium

(Image credit: Acoustics Energy)

6. Acoustic Energy AE1 Active

These active speakers do everything with a flourish.

SPECIFICATIONS

Hi-res support: N/A | Streaming services: N/A | Bluetooth: N/A | Inputs: RCA, XLR | Finishes: 3 | Dimensions: 30 x 19 x 25cm (each) | Weight: 9kg (each)

Reasons to Buy
Balanced, detailed sound
Great dynamic range
Exciting
Reasons to Avoid
Nothing of note

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 50W 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. At this price, you'd be hard-pressed to find separates to match this performance.

Read the full review: Acoustic Energy AE1 Active

Best active speakers: floorstanders, desktops, budget and premium

(Image credit: Dynaudio)

7. Dynaudio XEO 10

They're certainly pricey, but they're versatile and sound fantastic.

SPECIFICATIONS

Hi-res support: 24-bit/96kHz | Streaming services: N/A | Bluetooth: 4.0 with aptX | Inputs: RCA, 3.5mm, optical digital | Finishes: 2 | Dimensions: 26 x 17 x 15cm (each) | Weight: 4kg (each)

Reasons to Buy
Detailed, agile sonics
Spacious soundstage
Plenty of features
Reasons to Avoid
Don't feel premium
Bluetooth issues
Pricey

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 add. You're also spoiled when it comes to placement - the XEO 10s 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. 

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 spot-on whatever you throw at them. Compact, versatile, great sounding... these speakers have it all.

Read the full review: Dynaudio XEO 10

Best active speakers: floorstanders, desktops, budget and premium

(Image credit: PMC)

8. PMC Result6

Fancy a home studio? These studio-grade speakers could be the ideal halfway house.

SPECIFICATIONS

Hi-res support: N/A | Streaming services: N/A | Bluetooth: N/A | Inputs: Balanced analogue XLR, wired Pin-1 screen | Finishes: 1 | Dimensions: 38 x 20 x 36cm (each) | Weight: 8kg (each)

Reasons to Buy
Balanced, punchy sound
Unfussy to position
Stereo-grade sound
Reasons to Avoid
Won't suit everyone

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 65W module drives the tweeter while the bass has a meatier 100W 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, look no further.

Read the full review: PMC Result6

Best active speakers: floorstanders, desktops, budget and premium

(Image credit: Dali)

9. Dali Callisto 6 C

Premium sound meets wireless convenience.

SPECIFICATIONS

Hi-res support: 24-bit/96kHz | Streaming services: Tidal, Qobuz, Deezer (all with Sound Hub) | Bluetooth: 4.0 with aptX (with Sound Hub) | Inputs: RCA, 3.5mm, optical, coax (with Sound Hub) | Finishes: 2 | Dimensions: 100 x 20 x 35cm (each) | Weight: 23kg (each)

Reasons to Buy
Neat
Bursting with features
Great dynamics and insight
Reasons to Avoid
Module at odds with speakers 

DSP and analogue combine to great effect in these wireless wonders, and there are some nice design flourishes to show off (such as the ability to change volume by running your finger along the front edge of the top panel). To get the most from them, you'll need Dali's £549 Sound Hub, which is basically a wireless preamp that adds Tidal, Qobuz and Deezer music streaming, plus Bluetooth. 

It won't leave you disappointed - the sound is dripping with drive and energy, while the bass has plenty of precision, agility and texture. The imaging is also handled with aplomb, making for an expansive soundstage. Worth every penny.

Read the full review: Dali Callisto 6 C

Best active speakers: floorstanders, desktops, budget and premium

(Image credit: ATC)

10. ATC SCM40A

Heavyweight floorstanders bursting with sonic ability.

SPECIFICATIONS

Hi-res support: N/A | Streaming services: N/A | Bluetooth: N/A | Inputs: XLR | Finishes: 1 | Dimensions: 98 x 37 x 34cm (each) | Weight: 36kg (each)

Reasons to Buy
Great detail
Composed when loud
Integrate well
Reasons to Avoid
Underwhelming at low volumes

Weighing 36kg each and costing £6000 per pair, 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. 

The SCM40A has three power amplifiers (and an active crossover) in each enclosure: there’s a 150 watts module for the bass driver, 60W driving the midrange and a 25W 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

Best active speakers: floorstanders, desktops, budget and premium

(Image credit: Kii Audio)

11. Kii Audio Three

The design is about as sophisticated as they come.

SPECIFICATIONS

Hi-res support: N/A | Streaming services: N/A | Bluetooth: N/A | Inputs: Analogue, AES/EBU, KiiLink | Finishes: 2 (plus custom) | Dimensions: 40 x 20 x 40cm (each) | Weight: 19kg (each)

Reasons to Buy
Clear, precise, agile
Great bass
Innovative design
Reasons to Avoid
Pricey

Unlike anything we've seen before, the Kii Audio Threes will sound their best almost regardless where they're placed in the room. Now that's seriously clever. 

The Threes really are sophisticated boxes, crammed full of tech. Each of those six drivers are driven by a dedicated 250W Ncore Class D amplifier module and controlled by arguably the most comprehensive DSP (digital signal processing) we’ve come across in any speaker. There’s also digital-to-analogue and analogue-to-digital circuitry in each enclosure.

Use the Threes alone, (without the partnering £1,495 Kii Controller) and they will accept a balanced XLR analogue signal from your current preamp or up to a 24-bit/192kHz AES/EBU digital feed through the same socket. 

The optional Controller digital hub is about the size of a small paperback and looks like a tabletop computer attachment rather than a typical preamp. It adds a volume control and more inputs in the form of optical (24-bit/192kHz compatible), coax (24-bit/192kHz) and USB (24-bit/384kHz and DSD128).

Fire up the Audio Threes and what a sound they pack - they're incredibly agile and precise, particularly the bass, which partners with plenty of punch. 

Once you hear them, it's hard to believe they're as small as they are. If you want compact speakers that sound amazing in any room, these are the ones for you. Now you just need to find a spare £10,000.

Read the full review: Kii Audio Three

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