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 - when you do your research, see what fits your space.
Here are our favourite bookshelf-friendly speakers.
The KEF LS50 Metas don’t look any different from the LS50s, 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 ripe for improvement 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 LS50s have improved significantly. While the basic sonic character is instantly familiar, the new ones have gained a level of clarity and finesse the originals only hinted at.
Read the full review: KEF LS50 Meta
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 one of the company’s finest efforts.
The Elac Debut B5.2s are 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 review: Elac Debut B5.2
The Bowers & Wilkins 600 range is now 25 years old. On paper, the low-key nature of the revisions to the 606 S2s 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 Editions prove significantly more capable than their predecessors.
Read the full review: B&W 606 S2 Anniversary Edition
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 review: Dali Spektor 2
ProAc has long offered the choice of a ribbon tweeter instead of a dome unit in its pricier Response floorstanders, but this is the first time buyers of the standmounters have had such a choice.
You’ll need to put a little bit of work into installing these speakers if you want to get the best out of them. Our review samples took around three days of continuous use to sound their best, after initially sounding constricted and lacking in tonal warmth. So don’t be quick to judge if you’re hearing factory-fresh samples.
But despite their obvious transparency, these ProAcs never strike us as analytical tools. Given suitably talented partners, these speakers excel at giving the music the limelight. We can’t ask any more than that.
Read the full review: ProAc Response D2R
Try finding a better-sounding pair of speakers for less than half a grand – 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 review: Bowers & Wilkins 607 S2 Anniversary Edition
We loved the first Ruark Audio MR1 desktop speakers when they emerged in 2013. The retro looks, the intuitive design, the superb Bluetooth sound – it was a winning combination that earned two successive What Hi-Fi? Awards. But for a while the MR1s were toppled from their perch by the lovely KEF Eggs.
But it was only a matter of time before Ruark Audio unveiled the MR1 Mk2. And sure enough, Ruark Audio is back with a vengeance, having regained its crown for the last couple of years. The step up in performance in impressive, and the Ruark MR1 Mk2s manage to be even more appealing than before. Quite simply, these are superb speakers if you're short of space.
Read the full review: Ruark Audio MR1 Mk2
The B&W 606 speakers feature a typically smart design, come in the perfect medium-sized speaker form, and ultimately deliver an exciting, engaging and perfectly-poised sound. Building on the all-conquering B&W 685 S2 speakers, the 606s could be an even bigger success.
A great size and price for anyone with more than a passing interest in music, the 606s will breathe new life into your favourite tracks. They’re upbeat and energetic, deliver punchy, solid bass and offer class-leading levels of detail and dynamics.
Read the full review: B&W 606
We’re surprised that a brand like Revel hasn’t made a bigger impact on the UK speaker market. All the ingredients for success seem to be in place; the products are well made, solidly engineered and, in our experience, tend to sound good. The brand even has the might of parent company Harman behind it to provide extra reassurance.
The results speak for themselves: the M16s are a bundle of fun. Sure, they may not be the most refined choice around, but they entertain in a way few price rivals can match. Well worth every penny.
Read the full review: Revel Concerta2 MI6
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 607s. 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 review: Triangle Borea BR03
It’s difficult to think of an amplifier/passive speakers combo that could better these Acoustic Energy active speakers at the price. They do everything with a flourish.
And that's not only by the standards of directly competing active speaker alternatives, but also by what we've been able to achieve in any price-comparable amp/speakers combination.
You owe it to yourself to track down a pair to discover that for yourself.
Read the full review: Acoustic Energy AE1 Active
Part of the company’s premium R series, the R3s offer a large chunk of the pricier Reference 1’s engineering content and sonic performance at a fraction of the cost.
And that's a winning combination. The R3s 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 review: KEF R3
The Q Acoustics 3030is 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 1s or B&W’s 607s 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 review: Q Acoustics 3030i
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.
Read the full review: Elac Debut 2.0 B6.2
These might be oldies, but - as their inclusion on this list attests - they're certainly goodies. A soft-dome tweeter with carbon fibre and ceramic-coated paper mid/bass combine to give surprisingly effective bass, especially for such a small speaker. They display equally impressive dynamic verve and clarity throughout the frequency range, with an articulate yet subtle presentation. But it's the transparency that really stands out, meaning they manage to stay composed even when really tested. To hear them at their best, you'll need the dedicated stands, which don't come cheap. Still, one listen and you'll know it's worth every penny.
Read the full review: Q Acoustics Concept 20
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 review: Wharfedale Linton
We’ve long been fans of Dynaudio’s Contour 20 standmounters. Their combination of a muscular and expressive sound coupled with fine build made them a firm recommendation at the price. This latest Contour 20i version builds on those solid foundations without altering the fundamentals of a great product.
Look past the impressive sonic authority and scale and you’ll find that these Dynaudios dig up a lot of detail, more than we remember for the first-generation model. They offer class-leading insight, tracking delicate instrumental strands with ease and rendering sonic textures superbly. Dynamic nuances are also resolved with considerable skill.
Read the full review: Dynaudio Contour 20i
Talk about lookers - these speakers have an exquisite woodwork exterior that's reminiscent of a fine dining table. They'll provide a fine soundtrack to any dinner party too, with the vocal performance being particularly impressive - it has an intimate quality that'll have you falling in love with your music collection all over again. Elsewhere, there's tons of subtle detail and lots of clarity, while the tonal balance is very good indeed. They're not quite as authoritative as some bigger rivals, but if it's an intimate, cosy sound you're after, these are about a lot more than just looks.
Read the full review: Quad S-1
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 review: KEF Q350
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 M20s 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 review: Dynaudio Emit M20
For those who are tight on space, the choice of speakers is pretty limited. One of our favourite options in this situation is the long-running Dali Menuet range. We originally reviewed them around a decade ago and they have remained essentially unchanged since then.
Rather than replace them, Dali has now added this SE model. It’s clear that the company didn’t want to mess with a winning recipe, so the changes are relatively subtle.
These Dalis are tiny speakers, and that means bigger alternatives will invariably give more when it comes to low-end muscle, sonic authority and dynamic reach. But, when it comes to detail, agility and dynamic expression, particularly in the midrange, these are as good as it gets for the price.
Read the full review: Dali Menuet SE
Essentially, the Rubicon 2 Cs are an amalgamation of Dali’s five-star Rubicon 2 passive speakers (they borrow the drivers and cabinet construction) and the 2018 Callisto active speakers, from which they take the company’s capable Class D amplifier technology as well as the third box in the set-up, the Dali Sound Hub.
The result is a hugely entertaining and conveniently proportioned wireless system with all the talents to slot into or replace your traditional hi-fi set-up. Just make sure you've saved enough pennies.
Read the full review: Dali Rubicon 2 C