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 being your search.
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).
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.
How to choose the best bookshelf 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.
Some speakers demand a bit more space in order to perform at their best, so you need to decide what size and set-up you plan to have them in. If you want stereo speakers for a system in your living room or bedroom, you've come to the right place.
If you just need some quality wireless stereo speakers for your desk space, however, our best computer speakers guide is worth checking out instead.
Next, you have to think about your budget and the size of your space. Are you after a small, affordable pair that can go into the corner of your room? Are you after a large pair of speakers, or have an extensive budget for premium standmounters? Whatever the case, make sure you check the dimensions so the speakers will fit in their dedicated space (or on their dedicated speaker stands).
As far as audio quality goes, it's definitely important to find a great-sounding pair of speakers, but how your speakers sound is naturally tied to what you're using to drive them. Building a hi-fi setup can quickly become complicated when there are thousands of different products out there, so if that's what you're doing, check out our ultimate guide to building the perfect hi-fi system.
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 favorite bookshelf speakers that are great picks for anyone. Want something bigger? Check out our best floorstanding speakers.
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 where it could improve 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, these What Hi-Fi? 2022 Award winners have gained a level of clarity and finesse the originals only hinted at. Stunning.
Read the full KEF LS50 Meta review
Elac has been in the speaker business since the 1980s and has made many fine products in that time, but it’s fair to say that these What Hi-Fi? Award-winning Debut B5.2 speakers should be considered some of the company’s finest efforts.
They're 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.
Read the full Elac Debut B5.2 review
The Bowers & Wilkins 600 range is now 25 years old. On paper, the low-key nature of the revisions to the 606 S2 leaves us underwhelmed considering the significance of the anniversary. Cosmetically, they amount to the addition of an oak finish to go along with the existing black and white options, and an inscription on the tweeter surround to mark the Anniversary status.
The only performance related change is an upgraded crossover that now features better-quality capacitors, some of which were originally seen in the recently announced and more premium 700 Signature series.
Given the modest nature of the engineering changes we weren’t expecting much of a difference in the sound. We were wrong. While retaining a broadly similar sonic character, the What Hi-Fi? 2022 Award-winning 606 S2 Anniversary Edition prove significantly more capable than their predecessors.
Read the full B&W 606 S2 Anniversary Edition review
Try finding a better-sounding pair of speakers for this price – we dare you. Little has changed between last year's B&W 607 and this year's Anniversary Edition, other than some new capacitors and an inscription around the tweeter, but the sonic gains have been huge.
This is a cleaner, more insightful and overall more engaging performance 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. But when you have both pairs in the same listening room, it’s difficult to go back.
If you’re looking for a pair of lower-midrange speakers and the B&W 606 S2 are just out of your budget range, then these are a superb option – and a What Hi-Fi? 2022 Award-winning pair of speakers worthy of celebrating any silver anniversary.
Read the full Bowers & Wilkins 607 S2 Anniversary Edition review
We think these new Mission 770 are right up there with the very best at this price. Mission takes design inspiration from the original 770 speakers launched in the 1970s, but has improved and modernised every other element: from the cabinet design to the drivers and even new dedicated stands.
While the retro link will be the main attraction for some, for us that’s put in the shade by the speakers' excellent all-round performance. The 770 have a range of sonic talents that sets them apart from most rivals and earns them a warm recommendation.
They have so much finesse when it comes to delivering extended bass. They sound taut and agile, but also delicate in the way they paint bass textures and resolve low-level information. There's plenty of punch and power, too. The speakers have a slightly forward balance, especially with the clear and expressive midrange, that sounds lively and engaging – but thankfully never too aggressive.
Songs are delivered with wide-ranging dynamics, impressive authority and scale. It’s a musically cohesive presentation that’s controlled and nicely organised. If you have the budget - and space - for these What Hi-Fi? 2022 Award-winning speakers, they're worth an audition.
Read the full review: Mission 770
On paper, these Dali speakers tick all the boxes, but get them going and it's clear they go above and beyond a decent pair of budget bookshelf speakers. They offer a range of skills that few at this price can match.
Vocals are distinctive and powerful, delivered with nuance and precision, and there's plenty of energy to the performance. They handle dynamics with aplomb, while the soundstage is impressively expansive. They're easy to partner kit with too, although we'd suggest an amplifier packing a decent amount of poke.
A neat alternative to the Elac Debut B5.2 and the budget Q Acoustics models, these Spektor 2 speakers are highly recommended.
Read the full Dali Spektor 2 review
We love a surprise like this. French speaker manufacturer Triangle has entered a tough, crowded part of the stereo speaker market – and come out with flying colours. This pair of affordable bookshelf speakers truly deserves a spot on anyone's shortlist.
The Triangles deliver a huge sense of scale, much larger than rivals such as the formidable B&W 607. They can also boast impressive separation and precision. There’s detail and insight across the frequency range and, given their size, the quantity of bass is perfectly acceptable. Where previous Triangle speakers may have sounded hard or bright, these are perfectly balanced.
A distinctive design, which is finished to a good standard, the Borea BR03 are savvy musical performers with a great sense of scale and an even greater appetite for presenting music in a transparent and mature manner. Well worthy of consideration.
Read the full Triangle Borea BR03 review
The bigger brothers of those Elacs featured at the top of this page, the B6.2s are a wonderfully transparent pair of standmount speakers. Content not to colour your music with their own character, they offer a mature performance that will shine a light on the electronics in the rest of your chain.
That can prove a problem if the rest of your system is not quite up to scratch, but you'll struggle to find a more honest pair of speakers at this price. They’re fairly basic and unassuming, but that is representative of how they operate, presenting your music faithfully and uncoloured.
Punchy and rhythmic, unfussy with volume, and with heaps of dynamic expression on offer: these Elacs simply echo the information they’re being fed. Impressive at this price.
Read the full Elac Debut 2.0 B6.2 review
If you want a new speaker that's built using modern methods and materials, but that takes an old-school approach to styling and sound, then you might well want the new version of the Linton, launched to celebrate Wharfedale's 80th anniversary.
A pair of rear-firing reflex ports aid a big, bassy sound, without skewing the balance, and they pair wonderfully with the bespoke, vinyl-carrying stands. We get a brilliant sense of scale and space from the Lintons; it’s such a fantastically open presentation of the music that our listening space feels bigger than it is. Agile rhythms, effortless weight and clean precision - it all combines together with a marvellous level of detail.
These speakers do an impressive job of capturing something of an older, fuller, more easy and open style of hi-fi sound without forgetting to make the music exciting. Pair with some energetic electronics and you can buy with great confidence.
Read the full Wharfedale Linton review
The largest of the three standmounted speakers in the 3000i range, the Q Acoustics 3030is, produce a sound that's familiar to anyone who's dabbled with Q Acoustics before. Though, you might not be expecting this level of muscle.
These speakers have an impressive weight at the low-end, but they never threaten to dominate the proceedings. Instead, the bass remains well-integrated, like it's kept on a tight leash.
Power aside, they boast an impressive level of cohesion, with an even tonal balance and easy-going nature, much like other speakers in Q Acoustics' 3000 range. And impressively, the dynamics stay composed even when working hard at high volumes, never managing to sound distorted.
In all, they're detailed, rhythmic and ultimately very rewarding. A great option for anyone wanting more from their sound system.
Read the full review: Q Acoustics 3030i
The looks of the JBL 4309 might be a little divisive, but they are fantastic bookshelf speakers that produce a punchy, dynamic and exciting sound. For the money, You'll struggle to find a pair that sound quite like the JBL 4309.
These speakers convey dynamics exceptionally well; there's an authority with large-scale shifts while low-level nuances are delivered with all the finesse you could wish for at this level. Bass is full-bodied, taut and tuneful and all the elements of a track are precisely placed in the soundstage.
Push the JBLs hard and they show no signs of stress although there's a slight lack of refinement which you just need to be aware of when it comes to system matching and the quality of music you play through them. All in all, though, the 4309 are a fun, captivating and seriously entertaining listen.
Read the full JBL 4309 review
How we test bookshelf speakers
At What Hi-Fi? we have state-of-the-art testing facilities in London, Reading and Bath where, as a team of audio experts, we review of hundreds of products every year, including one of the most prolific hi-fi products of all – bookshelf speakers.
We judge products on a performance-per-pound (or dollar) basis, so during our testing we always compare products to similarly priced class leaders to help us settle on a star rating for the review and the order for these five-star performers in these buying guides.
We often review bookshelf speakers by them using at least two systems – our reference system, to reveal the best they can sound when fed the most accurate signals, and a more price-comparable one to see how they perform in real-world scenarios. Our choice of test music is varied, too, to see how pairs sound when playing a variety of different music.
Whether we're reviewing a set of bookshelf speakers that cost a few hundred dollars or a fair few thousand, our review philosophy doesn't change, and you can be sure that any five-star speakers (and particularly What Hi-Fi? Award-winning ones) will offer up a fantastic performance for the price.
As a rule, no input from PR companies or sales teams is taken into account during reviews, maintaining What Hi-Fi?'s decades-long reputation for delivering honest, unbiased critical feedback.
You can read more about how we test and review products on What Hi-Fi? here.
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And a lot of people want speakers to go on walls/shelves as it's the only practical place to put them.
The Menuets look great - and I'd love to try some... if I had the cash.