Best budget hi-fi speakers 2024: bookshelf and floorstanding models tried and tested

The best budget hi-fi speakers: quick list

Not everyone has a huge wedge of cash to invest in their hi-fi system, but that doesn't mean you have to settle for poor-quality sound; there's serious value on offer from a whole range of affordable speakers.

The best budget speakers will fill your room with sweet stereo music far better than any one-box wireless speaker – and without breaking the bank. We've filtered through our reviews of the very best cheap speakers – bookshelf speakers, floorstanders and desktop powered speakers – to create this selection of our favourite performers – all under the £500 mark.

Our list spans speaker brands such as Dali, Elac, Wharfedale, Ruark and more, which just goes to show how many excellent budget hi-fi speakers are out there for under £500. We've tested every one of these speakers in our dedicated listening rooms in recent years, so you know you're getting our genuine, expert recommendation. You can read more about our speakers testing process below.

So whether you're building a separates hi-fi system or adding a pair of speakers to a microsystem (or want better sound for your TV), take your pick from our list of the best budget speakers that we've tested and can heartily recommend.

The quick list

Written by
Kashfia Kabir
Written by
Kashfia Kabir

I'm the Hi-Fi and Audio Editor of What Hi-Fi? and have been testing stereo speakers for the better part of a decade, from floorstanders to bookshelf models, and across all budgets. While hi-fi can be an expensive endeavour, our picks of the best budget speakers here show you can get a whole lot of performance even when you're on a tight budget. When testing budget speakers, I look for build quality (it should still be made to a certain standard), compatibility (how easy it is to place in your room and use with partnering kit) and, most importantly, sound quality. Clarity, detail, rhythmic drive, dynamics, scale and musical cohesion – these speakers may be affordable, but they should still get your feet tapping and appeal to your emotions with all music.

The best budget hi-fi speakers overall

Elac Debut B5.2 lifestyle

A talented and unfussy pair of budget speakers that are fantastic for this price. (Image credit: Elac)
What Hi-Fi? Award winner. Arguably the most capable standmounters we’ve heard at this budget price.

Specifications

Type: Standmounters
Drive units: 25mm tweeter, 13cm mid/bass
Ported: Yes (front)
Bi-wire: No
Impedance: 6 ohms
Sensitivity: 86dB
Dimensions (hwd): 34.1 x 18 x 23.4cm
Weight: 5.9kg
Finishes: 1 (black ash)

Reasons to buy

+
Detailed and organised sound
+
Solid build
+
Unfussy nature

Reasons to avoid

-
Some might prefer the richer midrange tone of the Dali speakers

There's no shortage of talented budget speakers on the market, so it takes something really special to top our list. Needless to say, these Elacs sound sensational for the money.

At 34cm tall, they're a relatively compact single-wired design and use a 5.25cm aramid fibre mid/bass driver partnered with a 2.5cm cloth dome tweeter. The Elacs are unfussy about placement but we'd definitely partner them with quality entry-level separates - this will allow their rhythmic talents to shine through. Anything less and you're doing them a disservice. 

They're dynamic and expressive performers capable of dealing with any genre you throw their way - dense instrumentation and complex rhythms pose no problems for these Elacs. In the midrange, they're a little lacking in warmth, but on the flip side, they're very well balanced and can make the best of any recording, regardless of audio quality.

Overall, they deliver sound with a precision and cohesion that’s rare for this level (although Dali's Spektor 2 come close). Elac has been making speakers since the 1980s, with a fine heritage of products to its name. These are some of its finest, and for this money, they're nothing short of exceptional. Buy with confidence.

Read the full Elac Debut B5.2 review

The best budget standmounters

Wharfedale Diamond 12.1 black background

Easy-going but authoritative and dynamic performance from these compact speakers. (Image credit: Wharfedale)
Surprisingly sophisticated stereo speakers for their size.

Specifications

Type: Standmounters
Drive units: 25mm tweeter, 13cm mid/bass
Ported: Yes (rear)
Bi-wire: No
Impedance: 8 ohms
Sensitivity: 88dB
Dimensions (hwd): 31.2 x 18 x 27.8cm
Weight: 6.8kg
Finishes: 3 (light oak, black oak, walnut pearl)

Reasons to buy

+
Detailed but easy-going nature
+
Seamless and fluid midrange
+
Pleasing build and finish

Reasons to avoid

-
Tough competition from new rivals

Pretty much everything here is new for this generation of Diamonds, from the drive units to the cabinet construction. It's a neat and compact box – standing just 31cm tall, it won’t dominate any room. The polypropylene/mica composite 'Klarity' mid/bass cone is tuned by a rear-firing reflex port, rather than the elaborate downward-facing design used in previous models.

There's enough bite in the top frequencies, but overall these speakers have a smooth and forgiving nature while remaining tonally balanced. They have a surprisingly bold and full-bodied presentation and sound confident and composed in a way that evades most budget rivals, and top that with a good degree of refinement. They deliver more authority and scale than their modest price and size suggest too.

Lastly, they're good and flexible no matter their task. They sound balanced wherever placed and are both forgiving and transparent enough whether used as part of a microsystem or put with dedicated separates – well worth your shortlist.

Read the full Wharfedale Diamond 12.1 review

The best budget upgrade standmounters

Dali Oberon 1 books

Perfect for small spaces, these tiny Dalis are bold, expressive and enthusiastic performers. (Image credit: Dali)
High-quality small speakers with an unfussy nature.

Specifications

Type: Standmounters
Drive units: 29mm tweeter, 13cm mid/bass
Ported: Yes (rear)
Bi-wire: No
Impedance: 6 ohms
Sensitivity : 86dB
Dimensions (hwd): 27.4 x 16.2 x 23.4cm
Weight: 4.2kg
Finishes: 4 (white, black, light oak, dark walnut)

Reasons to buy

+
Bold and articulate sound
+
Excellent with voices
+
Fine build

Reasons to avoid

-
Limited bass depth
-
Lack a little authority

About the size of a shoebox, these Dalis keep strictly to convention as far as design is concerned; they are a two way, rear-ported design, just like all their closest rivals. And to look at, you might think they're nothing special. But you couldn't be more wrong.

For these Dalis are actually quite exceptional. They're wonderfully articulate performers that marry a bold, forthright nature with the kind of refinement and insight that’s rare at this level. They're particularly stunning with vocals, delivering them in a solid and expressive manner that really enhances the listening experience. You'd need to spend around three times as much as these to better the vocal performance - it really is that good.

Admittedly some rivals, such as the Triangle Borea BR03, are able to dig up a tad more detail, but few deliver it with such a sense of passion and enthusiasm.

Tonally they tread a fine line, with a smooth treble that's not short of bite. The full-bodied presentation always sounds impressively confident and composed, no matter what it has on its plate. Although be aware that speakers this small are never going to produce loads of bass.

Read the full Dali Oberon 1 review

The best budget floorstanders

Wharfedale Diamond 12.3 lifestyle

Affordable, wonderfully refined and well made – these Wharfedales are terrific towers. (Image credit: Wharfedale)
What Hi-Fi? Award winner. Refined, entertaining and affordable floorstanders.

Specifications

Type: Floorstanders
Drive units: 25mm tweeter, 2x 13cm mid/bass
Ported: Yes (rear)
Bi-wire: Yes
Impedance: 8 ohms
Sensitivity: 89dB
Dimensions (hwd): 97.5 x 18 x 34.8cm
Weight: 19.6kg
Finishes: 3 (light oak, black oak, walnut pearl)

Reasons to buy

+
Superbly balanced presentation
+
Expressive and revealing midrange
+
Pleasing build and finish

Reasons to avoid

-
Perform best if given a little room to breathe

The Wharfedale Diamond range of speakers has an almost unrivalled reputation, predominantly forged on the performance of the standmount speakers. But now, thanks to the the Diamond 12.3, we have a superb entry in the range in floorstanding form. 

Smartly finished, these speakers are available in black, walnut, white and a rather classy light oak. They are a 2.5-way design where the upper 13cm driver covers everything from midrange downwards, leaving the second one to reinforce the lows. The tweeter is the 25mm coated woven polyester soft dome model seen across the range.

We found they performed best around 50cm away from a wall and with a slight angle but they're pretty unfussy and will play nicely with any price-compatible amplifier. The sound they deliver is brimming with detail and dynamic nuance, with layered details in the soundstage. Feed them a poor signal and they’ll round off rough edges and downplay unwanted aggression without sounding like they’re smothering the life out of the music. 

Working well at low and high volume, you really shouldn't buy another pair of speakers at this size and price without hearing the Diamond 12.3 speakers. If you do fancy auditioning an alternative, Fyne Audio's F302i would be the right place to start. 

Read the full Wharfedale Diamond 12.3 review

The best budget desktop speakers

Ruark Audio MR1 MK2

Stunning audio, petite size and retro style make these Ruarks the ideal desktop speakers. (Image credit: Ruark)
What Hi-Fi? Award winner. Desktop speakers with great design and superb performance.

Specifications

Type: Standmounters, powered, Bluetooth
Drive units: N/A
Ported: Yes (rear)
Bi-wire: No
Impedance: N/A
Sensitivity: N/A
Dimensions (hwd): 17 x 13 x 13.5cm
Weight: 3.6kg
Finishes: 2 (walnut, grey)

Reasons to buy

+
Stunningly musical sound
+
Subtle dynamics
+
Stylish, compact design
+
Hi-res support through optical input

Reasons to avoid

-
No USB input or wi-fi streaming

We loved the first Ruark Audio MR1 desktop speakers with Bluetooth when they emerged in 2013, and as they entered the second-generation model, our love only grew stronger. Winners in the What Hi-Fi? Awards desktop speakers category for multiple years running, they are the closest any desktop wireless speaker has come to sounding like proper hi-fi. And they're affordably priced, too.

That's high praise indeed, but one listen and you'll see what we're talking about. 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.

With their retro wood-and-grey styling, these Ruark Audio speakers will look at home on almost any surface, too. Even though they've been around a few years, these are superb speakers of their type that we enjoy listening to every time.

Read the full Ruark Audio MR1 Mk2 review

The best budget powered speakers

Elac Debut ConneX DCB41 with computer

(Image credit: Elac)
What Hi-Fi? Award winner. A neat, affordable and talented entry into speaker systems

Specifications

Speaker type: Powered speakers
Amplifier Power: 2 x 50 watts
Tweeter: 19mm soft dome
Woofer: 10cm Polypropylene
Inputs: HDMI (ARC), USB (24-bit/96kHz), line/phono (switchable), optical, Bluetooth aptX
Subwoofer output?: Yes
Dimensions (hwd): 25 x 14 x 20cm
Finishes: Black Ash, Royal Blue, Walnut, Orange

Reasons to buy

+
Balanced and insightful performance
+
Unfussy nature
+
Good range of features

Reasons to avoid

-
No volume indicator
-
Volume/input selector is inconveniently positioned at the back
-
The phono stage could be better

It’s possible to spend upwards of £1000 on a pair of powered speakers, but if you’re operating on a more modest budget Elac’s Debut ConneX DCB41 is a compact, great-sounding system at a fraction of the cost.  

All the amplification is built into one master speaker, with a supplied cable to connect it to its passive sibling. There are no native streaming capabilities onboard, but you do get aptX Bluetooth for wirelessly connecting to a phone or laptop, with wired inputs including a pair of stereo RCAs, USB, optical and HDMI. There’s even a built-in moving magnet phono stage.

Each speaker is equipped with a 10cm mid/bass unit and a 19mm soft dome tweeter, so while they won’t quite reach party volumes, the overall performance is clear, balanced and insightful, with plenty of detail and control. The digital inputs offer the best sound, and the phono stage is only really good enough for occasional use, but there are no significant areas of weakness. 

These are speakers that fade into the background, leaving the music to take the limelight.

Read the full Elac Debut ConneX DCB41 review

Also consider

Mission LX-2: Entertaining budget speakers with strong, punchy dynamics, good timing and insight, and great stereo imaging. They're a few years old now but don't let that deter you, as they remain a great listen for the entry price. A spikiness in the upper mid/lower treble area means you have to take a bit of care with partnering

Q Acoustics 3010i: One of the most likeable and forgiving speakers at this ultra-budget price. But that doesn't mean Q Acoustics has cut corners on sound: rich detail, energetic presentation and the kind of refinement we're amazed to see at this price level. These speakers have an enjoyable balance and work well when put in corners and close to the wall, too.

Q Acoustics 3020i: Want a richer, deeper sound with greater scale and dynamic reach? The step-up, bigger 3020i are an even better example of Q Acoustics' budget range, and delivers much of that easy-going presentation with a greater degree of refinement and sonic maturity while remaining affordable.

How to choose the best budget hi-fi speakers for you

So, we're here to find a bargain - these are affordable speakers after all - so you've already settled on a budget, which is a good first decision. Pick your upper limit and stick to it otherwise you'll never make a decision. 

But what else should you be considering before you settle on a pair of speakers? We suggest measuring your room or the area for your system, at least roughly, so you can narrow you search to speakers that are the right size and not too large for the space.

Then, decide whether you want bookshelf/standmount speakers or floorstanding speakers. As a general rule of thumb, bigger speakers tend to be capable of delivering higher volumes, better dynamics and more bass.

Passive, active or powered? Passive speakers require a separate amplifier. Powered and active speakers have integrated amplification, so you don't need an external amp. As a rule, more boxes means better sound, though the appeal of integrated units is convenience. Separates are also easier to upgrade one step at a time.

Want more advice? Check out our guide on how to choose the right speakers and get the best sound.

How we test hi-fi speakers

We have state-of-the-art testing facilities in London and Reading, where our team of experienced, in-house reviewers test all of the speakers we review. 

What Hi-Fi? is all about comparative testing, listening to one pair of speakers up against its benchmarked rival in the same price range, to figure out exactly how they differ and how each speaker performs – and which speaker is best at its price point. To ensure we give you the best buying advice, we keep our favourite five-star and class-leading products in our stockrooms so we can always benchmark new products to ones we know and love.

We are always impartial and do our best to make sure we're hearing every product – including budget speakers – at their very best. So we'll use different partnering products, experiment with speaker positioning in the room, try plenty of different genres of music to give the speakers a workout, and give them plenty of listening time (and time to run in).

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're being thorough and consistent. There's no input from PR companies, manufacturers or our sales team when it comes to the verdict, with What Hi-Fi? having decades of delivering honest, independent, unbiased reviews.

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

FAQ

How much should I spend on a pair of budget speakers?

The general advice is that the more you spend, the better sound you get. If you're just getting started and are on a tight budget, we would recommend looking at under £500 / $500 per pair for a good 'budget' speaker, with plenty of terrific options in the £200-£400 / $300-$500 bracket.

You should also keep an eye out for some great discounts during the sales seasons, which should bring the price of budget speakers down even lower. It's also a good idea to look into speakers that are a few years old – the price will have come down a fair bit, making them an even better deal than before.

All of our speakers are tested on a 'cost-per-sound' basis, so prices are heavily factored in when awarding a star rating. We believe that you should get a fantastic sound quality no matter the price, but it's always worth asking: "Am I getting the best value for money considering the performance I'm receiving?" before simply buying the cheapest model.

MORE:

Our pick of the very best speakers

The best computer speakers: desktop and wireless models tested

The best hi-fi and wireless speaker deals available now

Advice: How to choose the right speakers

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 (including speakers, amplifiers and headphones), 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 tending to an ever-growing houseplant collection and shooing her cat Jolene away from spinning records.

With contributions from