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Best bookshelf speakers 2021: budget to premium

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Best bookshelf speakers Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best bookshelf speakers you can buy in 2021.

Big speakers might give you the meatiest sound, but not everyone has the space, budget or inclination for a set of floorstanders. Instead, a small set of speakers can give you a pretty amazing listening experience.

They're known as bookshelf (or sometimes standmount) speakers. And as the name suggests, they're small enough to fit on a bookshelf, on stands, on a desk or a table.

But a bookshelf isn't necessarily where you should put them. Some speakers demand a bit more space in order to perform at their best, so make sure you check the manufacturer's recommendations before buying, while crucially all of these speakers will benefit from a dedicated pair of speaker stands.

You should also see how easy these speakers are to partner with other products, as your complete system will determine the final performance. And of course size is another consideration, as some are considerably smaller than others. Do your research and see what fits your space.

Here are our favorite bookshelf-friendly speakers. 

Best bookshelf speakers 2021: budget to premium

(Image credit: KEF)

1. KEF LS50 Meta

These standmounters set new standards at the price.

Specifications
Speaker terminals: Single
Frequency response: 79-28,000Hz
Sensitivity: 85dB/W/m
Dimensions (hwd): 30.2 x 20 x 27.8cm
Reasons to buy
+Exceptional sonic transparency+Subtle and precise presentation+Innovative technology
Reasons to avoid
-Nothing at this price

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 new ones have gained a level of clarity and finesse the originals only hinted at. Stunning.

Read the full KEF LS50 Meta review

Best bookshelf speakers 2021: budget to premium

2. Elac Debut B5.2

Arguably the most capable budget standmounters we’ve heard.

Specifications
Speaker terminals: Single
Mid/bass driver: 5.25cm
Tweeter: 25mm
Sensitivity: 86dB/W/m
Dimensions: 34 x 18 x 23cm (HxWxD)
Sensitivity: 86 dB/w/m
Reasons to buy
+Detailed and organised sound+Solid build+Unfussy nature
Reasons to avoid
-Tough competition

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 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

Best bookshelf speakers 2021: budget to premium

(Image credit: Bowers & Wilkins)

3. B&W 606 S2 Anniversary Edition

B&W hones its 606 standmounters to great effect.

Specifications
Sensitivity: 88 dB/w/m
Driver: Continuum 16.5cm mid/bass, 25mm tweeter
Impedance: 8ohms
Max power handling: 120W
Speaker terminals: bi-wire
Dimensions: 35 x 19 x 30cm (HXWxD)
Reasons to buy
+Excellent clarity+Agile and articulate bass+Impressive dynamic punch
Reasons to avoid
-Nothing at this price

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 606 S2 Anniversary Edition prove significantly more capable than their predecessors.

Read the full B&W 606 S2 Anniversary Edition review

Best bookshelf speakers 2021: budget to premium

(Image credit: Dali)

4. Dali Spektor 2

Fine build, great sound and a bargain price.

Specifications
Speaker terminals: Double
Frequency response: 54-26,000Hz
Sensitivity: 85dB/W/m
Dimensions (hwd): 29.2 x 17 x 23.8cm
Reasons to buy
+Agile, articulate and expressive+Small+Unfussy
Reasons to avoid
-Nothing of note

On paper, these 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. Highly recommended.

Read the full Dali Spektor 2 review

Best bookshelf speakers 2021: budget to premium

(Image credit: B&W)

5. Bowers & Wilkins 607 S2 Anniversary Edition

A happy anniversary for these upgraded B&W 607 S2 speakers.

Specifications
Speaker terminals: Double
Frequency response: 52-28,000Hz
Sensitivity: 84dB/W/m
Dimensions (hwd): 30 x 16.5 x 20.7cm
Reasons to buy
+Improved clarity and detail+More expressive than predecessors+Tighter, more agile bass
Reasons to avoid
-Nothing at this price

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 pair of speakers worthy of celebrating any silver anniversary.

Read the full Bowers & Wilkins 607 S2 Anniversary Edition review

Best bookshelf speakers 2021: budget to premium

(Image credit: Dali)

6. Dali Oberon 1 C

An engaging and adaptable active speaker package.

Specifications
Bluetooth: aptX HD
Power: 4 x 50W Class D amps
Finishes: 4
Weight: 4.4kg
Dimensions: 27 x 16 x 23cm (HXWXD)
Reasons to buy
+Detailed, musical sound+Superb midrange clarity+Two Sound Hub options
Reasons to avoid
-Not the last word in authority-Slight lack of bass depth

The Oberon 1 C have evidently been designed to appeal to more than one kind of buyer and set-up. This standmounter package belongs to a three-strong active speaker system series, which also incorporates the 7 C floorstanders and On-Wall C wall-mounted speaker, and is based on the Danish company’s Oberon passive speaker range.

However, the Oberon C models are a slightly different proposition to their active system siblings, largely due to their more accessible nature. That is in terms of tech and sonic presentation, which matches detail and musicality with the kind of balance that can be accommodated in even the smallest of rooms.

Read the full Dali Oberon 1 C review

Best bookshelf speakers 2021: budget to premium

(Image credit: Triangle)

7. Triangle Borea BR03

A new contender for best in class.

Specifications
Tweeter: 25mm
Mid/bass driver: 16cm
Impedance: 4.2ohms
Sensitivity: 90dB/w/m
Dimensions: 31.4 x 20.6 x 38cm
Reasons to buy
+Sophisticated, detailed sound+Impressive sense of scale+High-quality, agile bass
Reasons to avoid
-Aesthetic won’t be for everyone-Slight peakiness to treble

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

Best bookshelf speakers 2021: budget to premium

8. KEF R3

These superb standmounters set the standard at this price.

Specifications
Sensitivity: 87 dB/w/m
Impedance: 8ohms
Max power handling: 180W
Biwire: Yes
Dimensions: 42 x 20 x 34cm (HXWXD)
Reasons to buy
+Exceptional insight and resolution+Balanced and entertaining sound+Excellent build and finish
Reasons to avoid
-Nothing at this price

Part of the company’s premium R series, the R3 offer a large chunk of the pricier Reference 1’s engineering content and sonic performance at a fraction of the cost.

It's a winning combination. The R3 are brilliant all-rounders. They’re expertly sonically balanced and work well across a wide range of systems, but give them a top class feed and they will deliver a sound good enough to worry most standmounters below the two grand mark. This is one to buy with confidence.

Read the full KEF R3 review

Best bookshelf speakers 2021: budget to premium

(Image credit: Q Acoustics)

9. Q Acoustics 3030i

An excellent addition to the 3000i series of speakers.

Specifications
Bi-wire: No
Driver: 16.5cm mid/bass, 22mm tweeter
Sensitivity: 88dB/w/m
Impedance: 6ohms
Dimensions: 32.5 x 20 x 33cm
Reasons to buy
+Insightful and expressive+Impressive, well-integrated bass+Fine build
Reasons to avoid
-Tough competition

The Q Acoustics 3030i are now the largest of the three standmounters in the 3000i range and, with all the current models already having gained five-star reviews, they had quite a legacy to uphold.

Give these boxes a few days to settle and they produce a sound that’s familiar yet surprisingly muscular compared to other 3000i series standmounters. Like the others in the range, these are impressively cohesive performers with a smooth tonal balance and easy-going nature. Rivals such as Dali’s Oberon 1 or B&W’s 607 may deliver a more vivid and exciting sound, but the Qs counter that with a balanced, slightly understated but always engaging performance.

Read the full Q Acoustics 3030i review

Best bookshelf speakers 2021: budget to premium

(Image credit: Future)

10. Elac Debut 2.0 B6.2

A mature and understated pair of speakers.

Specifications
Speaker terminals: Single
Frequency response: 44-35,000Hz
Sensitivity: 87dB/W/m
Dimensions (hwd): 37.4 x 19.5 x 26.8cm
Reasons to buy
+Hugely transparent+Don’t force their own character+Rhythmic and dynamic
Reasons to avoid
-Unforgiving of poor sources

The bigger brothers of those Elacs featured in number two on this list, the B6.2 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.

Read the full Elac Debut 2.0 B6.2 review

best bookshelf speakers - Fyne Audio F701

(Image credit: Fyne Audio)

11. Fyne Audio F701

A distinctive take on a premium standmounter

Specifications
Speaker terminals: Bi-wire
Frequency response: 35Hz - 34kHz
Sensitivity: 91dB/W/m
Dimensions (hwd): 46.5 x 28 x 39cm
Reasons to buy
+Strong dynamic performance+Musical cohesion and precision+Distinctive engineering
Reasons to avoid
-Need careful partnering

Fyne Audio burst on to the scene in 2017 and quickly established itself as a manufacturer of note when it comes to affordable and midrange speakers. Formed by hi-fi industry veterans, the company clearly knew how to make a great pair of speakers – and now it has proved it can do high-end, too.

The F701 uses an Isoflare point source driver array. This is one of Fyne Audio’s core technologies and places the 25mm magnesium dome compression tweeter right in the throat of the 20cm multi-fibre mid/bass driver. This should help deliver a more even dispersion and better alignment between drivers. 

There are lots of other lovely design and build touches, which help make a product that both looks, feels and, most importantly, sounds, like a truly premium pair of speakers. 

The Fyne Audio F701 are truly entertaining performers, if installed with care. They sound big, bold and enthusiastic in a way that eludes much of the high-end competition. Most rivals concentrate on refinement and detail resolution whereas the Fynes sound like they just want to have fun. 

Rivals such as the highly polished Dynaudio Contour 20i deliver a more sophisticated sound and are sweeter through the higher frequencies. But, there’s something about the snappy way these Fynes deliver rhythms and track dynamics swings that makes them hugely appealing.

Read the full review: Fyne Audio F701 review

Best bookshelf speakers 2021: budget to premium

(Image credit: Wharfedale)

12. Wharfedale Linton

The best of old hi-fi combined with the best of the new.

Specifications
Speaker terminals: Single
Frequency response: 40-20,000Hz
Sensitivity: 90dB/W/m
Dimensions (hwd): 56.5 x 30 x 33cm
Reasons to buy
+Effortless bass production+Detailed, open soundstage+Authentic good looks
Reasons to avoid
-Looks won't be to everyone's taste

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 aids a big, bassy sound, without skewing the balance, and they pair wonderfully with the bespoke, vinyl-carrying stands. Pair with some energetic electronics and you can buy with great confidence.

Read the full Wharfedale Linton review

Best bookshelf speakers 2021: budget to premium

(Image credit: KEF)

13. KEF Q350

These speakers' sophisticated, insightful presentation goes beyond their modest price.

Specifications
Speaker terminals: Single
Frequency response: 63-28,000Hz
Sensitivity: 87dB/W/m
Dimensions (hwd): 35.8 x 21 x 30.6cm
Reasons to buy
+Stunning clarity and detail+Huge sound scale+Excellent timing
Reasons to avoid
-Lacks drive-Demands loud volumes

Stunning sound meets elegant looks at a price that will have the competition sweating bullets. Design-wise, they're clean and modern, with a sleek, minimal style that's at once both current and timeless. The sound is equally impressive, offering levels of clarity and subtlety rarely heard at this price. Nuances are dug up and exposed, breathing new life into tracks you might have grown tired of. There's huge scale too, and a beautifully even delivery across the frequency range. A mature set of speakers whose looks perfectly fit their composed delivery.

Read the full KEF Q350 review

Best bookshelf speakers 2021: budget to premium

(Image credit: Dynaudio)

14. Dynaudio Emit M20

Another entertaining set of speakers, as meticulous as they are merry.

Specifications
Speaker terminals: Single
Frequency response: 50-23,000Hz
Sensitivity: 86dB/W/m
Dimensions (hwd): 35.5 x 21.5 x 26.5cm
Reasons to buy
+Sweeping dynamics+Tons of insight+Huge scale
Reasons to avoid
-Nothing

Dynamically, these speakers are always on the move, proving equally adept at handling major changes as they are subtle ones. While some speakers might be great for only certain genres of music, the M20 are comfortable handling whatever you throw at them, be it rock, pop, jazz, classical, or something in between. You'll need to place them with a fair bit of room to get the best of their tonal balance, but once you do there's no looking back.

Read the full Dynaudio Emit M20 review

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  • James Robinson
    This is a nice collection of small speakers, but it would be good to see a review of actual bookshelf/wall-mounted speakers, particularly at the higher end of this price bracket. Here many of the higher end speakers actually require stands and the reviews suggest that their performance would be significantly compromised if they were positioned close to/on a wall (or on a bookshelf!).
    Reply
  • scene
    I know what you mean. I was recently looking for some (albeit cheaper) bookshelf speakers - to actually go on Billy bookshelves. I wish that (WHF) reviews differentiated more clearly between "stand-mounters" and "bookshelf" speakers - or at least indicated whether a speaker was suitable for Bookshelf/Desk-standing/Wall-mounting/Stand-mounting. There are probably few small speakers that wouldn't sound better on a stand - but some are designed for it. Others are very much designed to be placed well away from walls...

    And a lot of people want speakers to go on walls/shelves as it's the only practical place to put them.
    Reply
  • James Robinson
    I currently have a pair of Dali Mentor Menuets that are designed to go on the wall, which I've been very pleased with; I also have some on the bookshelves in another room, where they also sound good - they were quite pricey, but worth looking out for secondhand. It would be nice to have some upgrade options, though...
    Reply
  • scene
    Due to budget constraints, my (new) bookshelves are the Q3020i - which are excellent for their price (in my opinion :))
    The Menuets look great - and I'd love to try some... if I had the cash.
    Reply
  • jjmcubed
    I to would love to know which speakers need to be stand mounted. Was about to pull the trigger on Revel M105's, but then I saw the rear ports. I only have approx 8 inches behind the speakers and they have to be on top of a dresser. Have a feeling the Revels will need more room.
    Reply
  • nick12
    If you have the cash, the Focal Aria 906 is definitely worth a demo. I have a pair that sit on shelves very close to a wall and I really couldn't be happier with them - a very detailed and spacious sound with a great sense of scale and authority (and Richer Sounds currently have an excellent deal on these speakers in the walnut finish: £749 compared to £899 in black). I agree though with posters above - an article on *true* bookshelf/close-to-wall speakers would be immensely helpful.
    Reply