With most people feeling the pinch more than ever right now, it's a great time to remember the serious value that's on offer from the best affordable speakers on the market.
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 speakers – to create this selection of our favourite performers – all under the £500 mark.
Our list spans speaker brands such as B&W, Dali, Elac, KEF, Mission, Wharfedale 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 over the years, so you know you're getting our expert recommendation.
So whether you're building a separates hi-fi system based or adding a pair of speakers to a micro system (or want better sound for your TV), take your pick from our list of the best budget speakers that we've tested.
How to buy the best budget speakers for you
Why you can trust What Hi-Fi? Our expert team reviews products in dedicated test rooms, to help you make the best choice for your budget. Find out more about how we test.
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 or standmount 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. But for now, let's get on with the budget 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 only downside is you've only got one vinyl finish (black ash) to choose from. But we're pretty certain you can live with that.
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.
Overall, they deliver sound with a precision and cohesion that’s rare for this level. Buy with confidence.
Read the full review: Elac Debut B5.2
These previous Award-winners are excellent speakers, combining Dali's traditional strengths (agility, articulation and good insight) with a generous dose of entertainment.
They're built with a great attention to detail that filters down to every aspect of these speakers. They're not huge, but would benefit from stand mounting.
Sonically, they're a cut above. Vocals drip with nuance and passion, while instruments come through with finesse, precision and energy. They even stay composed when pushed to high volumes, keeping tracks organised into an involving and musical whole.
Dynamic shifts are handled with aplomb, with both large-scale swings and low-level subtleties dealt with equally skillfully.
That makes them sound ever so serious, but actually, they're a hoot to listen to. In fact, they deserve a spot high on this list for offering a level of fun even their most talented rivals struggle to match. And at this price, they're virtually impossible to fault.
Read the full review: Dali Spektor 2
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. They deliver a lovely layered sound that’s brimming with detail and dynamic nuance. The Wharfedale’s chief rival is the multiple Award-winning Fyne Audio F302 (below), which sound more enthusiastic but are notably less refined at high frequencies and lack the Diamond’s sophistication.
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.
Read the full review: Wharfedale Diamond 12.3
On the face of it, the changes that have been made in the transition from the 607 standmounts to these 607 S2 Anniversary Edition versions might appear minimal. Nevertheless, they're are a huge step forward – and the best bookshelf speakers we’ve heard at this price.
Aesthetically, these 30cm-tall speakers remain dominated by the 13cm silver Continuum drive units. Placed above them is still the same 25mm decoupled dome tweeter, too. The change, however, lies in the improved bypass capacitors that have been used across the Anniversary series.
Sonically, there is no great difference in character, dealing out a performance with immense gusto. This is a cleaner, more insightful and overall more engaging performance, though, from a pair of speakers that were already among the best you could buy for their outlay. The older versions would have remained on top of the tree, had they not been knocked off by the 607 S2 Anniversary Edition.
Read the full review: Bowers & Wilkins 607 Anniversary Edition
The F302s feature a two-way, rear-ported design, housing a 25mm polyester dome tweeter and 15cm multi-fibre mid/bass driver in each of their relatively sturdy cabinets.
Looks-wise, it's an uncomplicated design, but simplicity is often a sign of quality in hi-fi. And so it proves with these.
Run them in and you'll be treated to a class-leading sound. This is a confident, forward presentation, with all the detail and refinement we might expect from the best standmounters at this price.
There's acres of space to let the instruments do their thing, so things never sound too busy, while the bass is taut and well restrained, though still ample. It’s a more mature performance than we were expecting, even having heard what Fyne is capable of further up the food chain.
It’s rare to find such capable floorstanders in this price bracket. Their blend of awesome dynamics and accurate timing makes them a pleasure to listen to. Only the Wharfedales (above) are worth considering as an alternative.
Read the full review: Fyne Audio F302
The Q Acoustics 3030is are the largest of the three standmounters in the 3000i range and latest to receive a glowing five-star review.
Give these boxes a few days to settle and they produce a sound that’s familiar yet surprisingly muscular compared to other Q Acoustics speakers. Like the other speakers in this 3000 range, these are impressively cohesive performers with a smooth tonal balance and easy-going nature.
There's impressive weight at the low-end, but bass remains well integrated and controlled. Dynamics are impressive and they stay composed when asked to work hard at high volume. Detailed, rhythmic and ultimately rewarding, they're a great addition to the speaker market at this price.
Read the full review: Q Acoustics 3030i
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 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 review: Dali Oberon 1
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.
Tonally they’re smooth and forgiving but remain nicely balanced, with enough in the way of bite. 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 micro system or put with dedicated separates – well worth your shortlist.
Read the full review: Wharfedale Diamond 12.1
These Triangle speakers are some very savvy musical performers with a great sense of scale and an even greater appetite for presenting music in a transparent and mature manner. There’s a nice tonal balance to the delivery, which is careful and considerate, and the Boreas also demonstrate an excellent sense of timing.
There's detail and insight across the frequency range and, given their size, plenty of weight to the bass too. Some might lust after a more musclebound delivery, but it’s the texture and quality that give the Triangles an edge. Think of them as a very nimble gymnast, as opposed to a meatheaded bodybuilder.
It’s not often we stumble across a pair of speakers at this price that sound as sophisticated as the Triangle Borea BR03s. They look pretty punchy too, thanks to the contrasting colour of the mid-bass cone, the silver trim that runs through the driver’s surround, plus that eye-catching diffuser. And if the fronts look a bit crowded to you, just cover them up with the magnetic speaker grilles. Simple.
Read the full review: Triangle Borea BR3
These speakers' smaller siblings are previous What Hi-Fi? Award winners, so we were very keen indeed to see what their larger stablemates could do. Suffice to say, we weren't disappointed.
They feature a more rigid and better braced cabinet to reduce resonance and distortion. And they sound pretty much how they look - unassuming and understated are two words that leap to mind.
They boast an open and well-balanced frequency range, free to reach high into the treble and deliver ample bass without forcing any more than is comfortable. If you want more low-end, you’ll need a bigger cabinet; these Elacs aren’t going to pretend they’re bigger than they actually are, at the expense of transparency.
There's plenty of punch and rhythm on show, and they even perform well at low volumes, which shows a maturity sorely lacking from some rivals. A great buy, at a price only just approaching mid-range.
Read the full review: Elac Debut 2.0 B6.2
The first thing you'll notice about these is how clean and modern the design is compared with their predecessors, the Q300s. Gone is the strip of chrome across the front baffle, as well as any holes for attaching the grilles (which now snap on magnetically).
It's a sleek, minimal look that's matched by their sonic performance. They display a level of clarity and subtlety that’s unheard of at this price. Previously unheard levels of detail are exposed, as these speakers unearth nuances with composure and precision.
It's a well-timed presentation that goes surprisingly deep into the bass notes, too. Yet they always manage to not sound too clinical. It's an impressive feat that few at this price can pull off.
If your budget can stretch as high as this, these standmounts are no brainers. They offer stunning sound and elegant looks at a competitive price that see them taking the trophy at the top of their class. Another triumph for KEF.
Read the full review: KEF Q350
If you don't like the look of the Dali Spektor 2s, these are the next best alternatives at this modest price point.
Mission's parent company brought in a dedicated design team for the LX-2s (among other speakers), and the results are obvious. They bring back Mission's winning aesthetic of old, with the tweeter below the mid/bass configuration. This also helps the sound: it aids the time alignment between the drivers – the sound from each unit arrives at the listener better synchronised – making for a more integrated performance. And we're happy to report that it works.
They get right to the heart of the music, packing a serious punch, and delivering serious bass weight with precision and authority. They time well, communicating changes in momentum convincingly, and they never omit the small details: it's a subtle, finessed performance that's even more impressive at this price.
The LX-2s have recently had a price cut, which makes them an absolute steal, delivering a huge slice of fun that few rivals can get close to. They may not be one of the newest speakers in the list, but they remain a solid go-to recommendation for anyone on a tight budget.
Read the full review: Mission LX-2
We loved the first Ruark Audio MR1 desktop speakers when they emerged in 2013, and as they entered mark two stage our love only grew stronger. Winners in the What Hi-Fi? Awards desktop speaker category, they are the closest any desktop wireless speaker has come to sounding like proper hi-fi.
That's high praise indeed, but one listen and you'll see what we're talking about. The sound is even more open and insightful than their predecessors, making for a wonderfully musical performance. There's even more subtlety on show, delivering a whole new level of rich detail and fluid dynamics.
There’s plenty of space between instruments in the airy soundstage, giving songs an expansive feel that makes rivals sound more congested than a motorway at rush hour. The Ruarks breathe new life into whatever music you play through them.
Quite simply, these are superb speakers of their type. Do your desk a favour and treat it to a pair of these.
Read the full review: Ruark Audio MR1 Mk2
The Mission QX-2 speakers have always been one of the more interesting-looking speakers at this price point. But there's method to the design qwerks, too. Firstly, there's the latest version of Mission’s DiaDrive bass/mid driver complete with acrylic ﬁbres that glisten when light catches them. And this is surrounded by the “serrated acoustic damping frame”, which helps remove unwanted sonic reflections and smooth the frequency range. This damping extends to the 1.5-inch ring dome tweeter.
Then there's the driver positioning; they're configured in Mission’s IDG (Inverted Driver Geometry) format, with the tweeter mounted below the mid/bass driver. This arrangement is chosen specifically to optimise time alignment so that sound waves from each driver reach the listener at the same time. All this technology is put together in fine style to make a solid, aesthetically-pleasing speaker, as we've come to expect from Mission.
So what about the sound? They come from five-star pedigree but while these 2nd-generation speakers can't quite match the all-round appeal - and the fresh competition - of the originals, they still deliver music in a fun, entertaining way. They offer scale and will fill a room with sound, plus they can also rattle any loose fittings thanks to their weighty delivery of bass.
We wouldn’t say the Missions were the most transparent listen, though. Key rivals, such as the B&W 607 S2 Anniversary Edition, cut through the noise and open up tracks even further, adding dynamics as they do.
These Mission speakers remain a solid choice; if you like the looks, and want a fun listen that delivers bags of bass, they are well worth auditioning.
Read the full review: Mission QX-2 MKII
How we test speakers
We have state-of-the-art testing facilities in London, Reading and Bath, 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 set of speakers up against the next, to figure out exactly how they differ and what each one does best. We keep class-leading products in our stockrooms so we can compare 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, try plenty of different types of music, 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 as thorough as possible. There's no input from PR companies or our sales team when it comes to the verdict, with What Hi-Fi? having decades of delivering honest, unbiased reviews.
You can read more about how we test and review products on What Hi-Fi? here.