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Best active speakers

Best active speakers
(Image credit: KEF)

Quick physics lesson: (we promise quick!) speakers can be categorised into two different species – active and passive. Passive speakers are your standard speakers, requiring an external amplifier to make a sound. Once the signal from the amplifier reaches them, there's an internal non-powered crossover built-in which filters the appropriate frequencies to each of the driver units.

There are also speakers that are passive in nature, but still have an amplifier built-in. These beasts 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 they 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, 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? Have a little look at what's on offer.

KEF LSX

This active speaker system might be small, but it sure is mighty.

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.

Ruark MR1 Mk2

A very appealing set of active 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

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'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.

KEF Egg

A cracking pair of active 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

Unintuitive input placement

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.

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.

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.

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.

Dynaudio XEO 10

They're pricey, but these Dynaudios are 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.

Dali Callisto 6 C

Premium stereo 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 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.