There are plenty of places to start when buying or upgrading a hi-fi system (turntable, streamer, amplifier), but the one component you'll always need is a pair of stereo speakers. And standmount speakers (or bookshelf speakers, as they're also known) are the easiest, most versatile ways to begin your journey.
Big speakers might give you the meatiest sound, but not everyone has the space, budget or inclination for a set of floorstanders. Thankfully, a small set of speakers can give you a pretty amazing listening experience, too (and fit into most spaces), as these speakers below from Bowers & Wilkins, PMC, KEF, Mission and more will show.
They're commonly known as bookshelf speakers, as some are small enough to fit in/on a bookshelf, or even on to desks. But a bookshelf isn't necessarily where you should put them – we would always recommend placing them on dedicated speaker stands to ensure they sound their best. Many of the products on this list, such as the KEF LS50 Meta, clearly demonstrate they deliver their full potential when not shoved into a corner or in a bookshelf.
We've tested every speaker on this list in our dedicated listening rooms, to ensure you get the best sound-per-pound performance and have a range of options to choose from that suit your listening needs and budget. Below you'll find our selection of our favourite standmount speakers that are great picks for anyone.
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.
The quick list
Here's a quick breakdown of our picks for the best bookshelf speakers with a short summary and some of the key features that each offers. Want more details? Click the photo of the speakers to drop down to the in-depth entry.
The best bookshelf speakers overall
KEF has taken an excellent speaker and made it even better with its innovative Metamaterial tech. The LS50 Meta are class leaders at this level, and the best all-rounders for most people.
The best cheap bookshelf speakers
These Award-winners are arguably the most capable standmounters available at the money. Superb for those on a budget.
Best for small rooms
The best bookshelf speakers for small rooms
B&W’s entry-level 607 S3 speakers win us over with a clean, refined and detailed sound that’s also entertaining. Those with smaller listening rooms should look no further.
The best mid-price bookshelf speakers
With improvements throughout, the 606 S3 are pleasingly large-scaled, spacious and refined performers for the money.
Best for audiophiles
The best bookshelf speakers for audiophiles
Prodigy by name... these standmounts might be entry level by PMC's standards, but they sound nothing short of superb, especially given their modest size.
The best premium bookshelf speakers
The R3 Meta are wonderfully transparent, refined speakers that are hugely entertaining performers, too. Premium speakers for a premium experience.
Best bookshelf speakers overall
The KEF LS50 Meta don’t look any different from the LS50, and in many ways they aren’t. The company considered revising that beautifully made enclosure but concluded that little could be improved.
The one area ripe for improvement was the LS50’s Uni-Q driver array, where the tweeter sits in the throat of the mid/bass unit. This has been thoroughly reworked, taking in all the refinements that KEF has developed over the past eight years and adding something new in the form of Metamaterial Absorption Technology (MAT) – KEF’s way of coping with the sound that comes off the back of the 25mm aluminium tweeter dome.
It doesn’t take long to realise that the LS50 have improved significantly. While the basic sonic character is instantly familiar, the new ones have gained a level of clarity and finesse the originals only hinted at. Which makes them superb all-rounders.
Read the full KEF LS50 Meta review
|Sound||Even better clarity and finesse than their predecessors||★★★★★|
|Compatibility||Not particularly sensitive, so add an amp with some grunt||★★★★★|
|Build||Beautiful to behold, and very rigid||★★★★★|
Best cheap bookshelf speakers
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 B5.2 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.
If you're not sold, you could also consider the Dali Spektor 2. They cost about the same, they offer an agile, articulate, expressive sound and are similarly unfussy over where they're placed. They also have a slightly richer midrange, which some might prefer.
Read the full Elac Debut B5.2 review
|Sound||Beautifully expressive and cohesive||★★★★★|
|Compatibility||Not super forgiving, but shine when partnered with quality kit||★★★★★|
|Build||A modern, solid build, but only comes in one finish||★★★★★|
Best bookshelf speakers for small rooms
Now in its eighth generation and going 20+ years strong, Bowers & Wilkins' 600 series of speakers has more often than not provided some superb speakers.
And that story continues with its latest entry-level 607 S3 speakers. The smallest and most affordable stereo speaker that B&W makes (even if that 'budget' price has increased in the last couple of years), the new 607 S3 replaces the previous Award-winning 607 S2 Anniversary Edition speakers and delivers a significantly improved performance.
The 607 S3 has been updated throughout, with a brand new 25mm titanium decoupled double dome tweeter, a new elongated tube loading system, a revised motor assembly for the 13cm Continuum mid/bass driver, higher-quality components used in the crossover, and sturdier cabinet bracing. The two drivers overlap to improve integration, while the use of titanium means more refined and detailed high frequencies.
The footprint remains the same and they're ideal for smaller spaces. Partner them carefully to balance out a somewhat forward, excitable treble performance, and you'll be rewarded with a terrifically detailed, rhythmically cohesive, agile, and energetic sound. The overall presentation is more open-sounding than before, while the treble performance is so much sweeter and more refined. For their size and price level, each note lands with precision and they even hold dynamic interest at low volume. Basslines are pulled taut and while they don’t go as bone-shatteringly deep as bigger speakers (or as big as the bigger 606 S3, below), they do land with impact.
Overall, they're just incredibly fun to listen to. There’s clarity and refinement in the mix here – to a really admirable level – but we’re struck by just how entertaining, zippy and musical this new pair sounds right from the start. We’re glad that, alongside a newfound level of clean detail, openness and precise sound, the new 607 S3 speakers have remembered to add in big doses of energy and dynamic prowess.
You should also consider the Triangle Borea BR03. For their size, they pack an immense sense of scale, making them ideal for filling smaller rooms. But their slightly peaky treble and divisive aesthetic means we prefer the B&Ws.
Read the full Bowers & Wilkins 607 S3 review
|Sound||Incredibly fun, with bags of clarity and refinement||★★★★★|
|Compatibility||Versatile, but quite forward-sounding, so partner with care||★★★★☆|
|Build||Excellent, with elegant styling||★★★★★|
Best mid-price bookshelf speakers
The 606 S3 are the bigger standmounters in B&W's latest 600 S3 range of speakers, and they're bigger, bolder and pricier than the younger sibling, the 607 S3 speakers (above).
The 606 S3 takes on from the previous generation's 606 S2 Anniversary Edition (also Award winners) with improvements and updates throughout. They're furnished with the same upgrades as the 607, from the new titanium tweeter to the revised speaker terminal layout around the back. The two-way configuration, the same well-made build quality and finishes and the same dimensions return, but the 606 S3 are yet another step up in sound quality.
Unlike the peppy, fun character of the 607 S3, the 606 S3 offer a more mature presentation. There are newfound levels of refinement and openness compared with the older S2 model, with a spacious-sounding presentation and ample headroom for that cleaner treble to soar. Meanwhile, that bigger 16.5cm mid/bass driver and deeper cabinet result in added weight, punch and authority.
This extra bass power means the 606 S3 speakers aren’t quite as prone to the slightly excitable and forward treble of its lively 607 S3 sibling, but the older siblings' more level-headed, staid character comes at the expense of that charming and immediately entertaining sound we like so much in the new 607 S3.
While the 606 aren’t slouches when it comes to attack and agility, we find they don’t hold songs together as cohesively as when played through the enthusiastic 607. However, we find the bigger 606 speakers to be an easy listen. If you can afford and accommodate a step up above the compact 607 S3 speakers, want a larger scale of sound and need more oomph to your bass, the B&W 606 S3 will be to your liking.
Read the full Bowers & Wilkins 606 S3 review
|Sound||Even more clarity and dynamism than their predecessors||★★★★★|
|Compatibility||Less forward-sounding than the 607, but still partner with care||★★★★☆|
|Build||The gold standard at this level||★★★★★|
Best bookshelf speakers for audiophiles
These might be PMC's entry-level standmounts, but they sound anything but (and they're not exactly cheap, either). That's hardly surprising – they're measured and listened to alongside the firm's reference models, and feature the same 27mm soft dome tweeter and 13cm mid/bass driver taken from models further up the company’s line.
They also feature Laminair – the aerodynamic port which was first developed for the flagship QB-1 studio monitors. This smooths the passage of air exiting the speaker to minimise airflow noise and improve bass definition.
The design is pleasingly minimalist, though it lacks some of the high-end polish of PMC's pricier models. But sonically, they're stunning, boasting excellent detail, clarity and charisma. The midrange is full of dynamic expression and solidity, and the bass digs deep without losing definition. Low frequencies have pace and punch to complement that impressive presence and depth, too.
While the Prodigy 1’s precision and organisation warrant the label ‘analytical’, the speakers aren’t informative at the expense of entertainment. Systematic, yes, but anything but soulless.
Read the full PMC Prodigy 1 review
|Sound||Bursting with scale, transparency and authority||★★★★★|
|Compatibility||Use an amp with warmth to complement the 1's analytical nature||★★★★★|
|Build||Less striking and stylish than rivals||★★★★☆|