Best bookshelf speakers Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best standmount speakers you can buy in 2023.
Big speakers might give you the meatiest sound, but not everyone has the space, budget or inclination for a set of floorstanders. Thankfully, a more compact set of bookshelf (or standmount) speakers can give you a pretty amazing listening experience, if you a) know which ones to get, and b) you have the right kit to drive them.
How to choose the best bookshelf speakers
Why you can trust What Hi-Fi? Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.
While bookshelf speakers have a name that suggests they fit on a bookshelf, this isn't always the case, 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, whether that be passive ones that require an amplifier, or active ones with amplification built in, you've come to the right place. If you just need some quality wireless stereo speakers for your office, however, our best computer speakers guide is worth checking out instead.
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, highly-technical products out there, so if that's what you're doing, check out our ultimate guide to building the perfect hi-fi system.
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 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
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 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
Wharfedale started with a clean sheet here, and it shows. Pretty much everything is new, from the drive units to the cabinet construction. The result is a pair of compact, 31cm-tall boxes that have the ability to make the most of price-compatible hi-fi components.
Sound is organised, cohesive and musical. They deliver a good soundstage that, for the price, is expansive and stays stable even when recordings become layered and demanding. We like the reassuring way the Diamonds handle larger-scale dynamics too, delivering more authority and scale than one might expect for speakers of a modest size and price.
This is a tough area of the market, however, and Wharfedale's superb standmounters find themselves besieged by talented rivals (such as brilliant Elac Debut B5.2, above). Still, impressive Diamond 12.1 deserve a place high on anyone's shortlist.
Read the full Wharfdale Diamond 12.1 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 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
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
Part of KEF's premium R series, the R3s offer a large chunk of the pricier Reference 1’s engineering and sonic performance at a fraction of the cost, making these speakers an excellent value.
It's a winning combination, no doubt. The R3s are brilliant all-rounders and arguably the most complete standmounters available at this price. That's partly down to KEF’s Uni-Q driver array, which sits at the heart of the speakers. It might look like a single drive unit, but it's actually a two-way arrangement with the tweeter set into the midrange driver to improve dispersion and integration.
Combined with the high degree of detail and insight these speakers provide – not to mention their even-handed delivery with excellent balance – it makes for an overall great listening experience, regardless of what you're playing.
Build quality is second to none with the R3s, and they work with a wide range of systems from budget to blow-the-budget. Hook them up to a premium feed though, and they'll pump out a sound to worry much pricier rivals. One to buy with confidence.
Read the full review: KEF R3
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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