With most people feeling the pinch more than ever right now, it's a great time to remember the serious value that's on offer from the best affordable speakers on the market.
The best budget speakers deliver good sound for not a lot of money. Whether you want to upgrade from a wireless speaker, boost the performance of an all-in-one system or record player, or just get started building a separates audio system, there are some great budget speaker options on the market. Cheap speakers don't have to mean bad sound.
We've selected the best cheap speakers from our back catalogue of expert reviews to create this selection of our favorite performers that don't break the bank. And there are plenty of What Hi-Fi? Award winners among them, with our list spanning specialist brands such as KEF, Dali, Triangle and Wharfedale.
A tight budget may rule out flagship technologies and expensive materials, but it's amazing how good sound quality can be at this level. So whether you're building a hi-fi system based on separates or simply need a new pair of speakers to accompany a micro system, you're sure to find something suitable on this list.
How to buy the best budget speakers for you
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.
So, we're here to find a bargain - these are affordable speakers after all - so you've already settled on a budget, which is a good first decision. Pick your upper limit and stick to it otherwise you'll never make a decision.
But what else should you be considering before you settle on a pair of speakers? We suggest measuring your room or the area for your system, at least roughly, so you can narrow you search to speakers that are the right size and not too large for the space.
Then, decide whether you want bookshelf or standmount speakers. As a general rule of thumb, bigger speakers tend to be capable of delivering higher volumes, better dynamics and more bass.
Passive, active or powered? Passive speakers require a separate amplifier. Powered and active speakers have integrated amplification, so you don't need an external amp. As a rule, more boxes means better sound, though the appeal of integrated units is convenience. Separates are also easier to upgrade one step at a time.
Want more advice? Check out our guide on how to choose the right speakers and get the best sound. But for now, let's get on with the budget speakers...
There's no shortage of talented budget speakers on the market, so it takes something really special to top our list. Needless to say, these Elacs sound sensational for the money.
At 34cm tall, they're a relatively compact single-wired design and use a 5.25cm aramid fibre mid/bass driver partnered with a 2.5cm cloth dome tweeter. The only downside is you've only got one vinyl finish (black ash) to choose from. But we're pretty certain you can live with that.
The Elacs are unfussy about placement but we'd definitely partner them with quality entry-level separates to let their rhythmic talents shine through. Anything less and you're doing them a disservice. They're dynamic and expressive performers capable of dealing with any genre you throw their way – dense instrumentation and complex rhythms pose no problems for these Elacs.
Overall, they deliver sound with a precision and cohesion that’s rare for this level. Buy with confidence.
Read the full Elac Debut B5.2 review
These previous Award-winners are excellent budget speakers, combining Dali's traditional strengths (agility, articulation and good insight) with a generous dose of entertainment.
They're built with a great attention to detail that filters down to every aspect of these speakers. They're not huge, but would benefit from stand mounting.
Sonically, they're a cut above. Vocals drip with nuance and passion, while instruments come through with finesse, precision and energy. They even stay composed when pushed to high volumes, keeping tracks organized into an involving and musical whole.
Dynamic shifts are handled with aplomb, with both large-scale swings and low-level subtleties dealt with equally skillfully.
That makes them sound ever so serious, but actually, they're entertaining to listen to. In fact, they deserve a spot high on this list for offering a level of fun even their most talented rivals struggle to match. And at this price, they're virtually impossible to fault.
Read the full Dali Spektor 2 review
The Wharfedale Diamond range of speakers has an almost unrivalled reputation, predominantly forged on the performance of the standmount speakers. But now, thanks to the the Diamond 12.3, we have a superb entry in the range in floorstanding form. We think they're the best cheap speakers you can buy if you want a pair of tower speakers.
Smartly finished, these speakers are available in black, walnut, white and a rather classy light oak. They are a 2.5-way design where the upper 13cm driver covers everything from midrange downwards, leaving the second one to reinforce the lows. The tweeter is the 25mm coated woven polyester soft dome model seen across the range.
We found they performed best around 50cm away from a wall and with a slight angle but they're pretty unfussy and will play nicely with any price-compatible amplifier. They deliver a lovely layered sound that’s brimming with detail and dynamic nuance. The Wharfedale’s chief rival is the multiple Award-winning Fyne Audio F302 (below), which sound more enthusiastic but are notably less refined at high frequencies and lack the Diamond’s sophistication.
Working well at low and high volume, you really shouldn't buy another pair of speakers at this size and price without hearing the Diamond 12.3 speakers.
Read the full review: Wharfedale Diamond 12.3
On the face of it, the changes that have been made in the transition from the 607 standmounts to these 607 S2 Anniversary Edition versions might appear minimal. Nevertheless, they're are a huge step forward – and the best bookshelf speakers we’ve heard at this price.
Aesthetically, these 30cm-tall speakers remain dominated by the 13cm silver Continuum drive units. Placed above them is still the same 25mm decoupled dome tweeter, too. The change, however, lies in the improved bypass capacitors that have been used across the Anniversary series.
Sonically, there is no great difference in character, dealing out a performance with immense gusto. This is a cleaner, more insightful and overall more engaging performance, though, 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.
Read the full review: Bowers & Wilkins 607 Anniversary Edition
The F302s feature a two-way, rear-ported design, housing a 25mm polyester dome tweeter and 15cm multi-fibre mid/bass driver in each of their relatively sturdy cabinets.
Looks-wise, it's an uncomplicated design, but simplicity is often a sign of quality in hi-fi. And so it proves with these.
Run them in and you'll be treated to a class-leading sound. This is a confident, forward presentation, with all the detail and refinement we might expect from the best standmounters at this price.
There's acres of space to let the instruments do their thing, so things never sound too busy, while the bass is taut and well restrained, though still ample. It’s a more mature performance than we were expecting, even having heard what Fyne is capable of further up the food chain.
It’s rare to find such capable floorstanders in this price bracket. Their blend of awesome dynamics and accurate timing makes them a pleasure to listen to. Only the Wharfedales (above) are worth considering as an alternative.
Read the full review: Fyne Audio F302
The Q Acoustics 3030i are the largest of the three standmounters in the 3000i range and latest to receive a glowing five-star review.
Give these boxes a few days to settle and they produce a sound that’s familiar yet surprisingly muscular compared to other Q Acoustics speakers. Like the other speakers in this 3000 range, these are impressively cohesive performers with a smooth tonal balance and easy-going nature.
There's impressive weight at the low-end, but bass remains well integrated and controlled. Dynamics are impressive and they stay composed when asked to work hard at high volume. Detailed, rhythmic and ultimately rewarding, they're a great addition to the speaker market at this price.
Read the full Q Acoustics 3030i review
About the size of a shoebox, these Dalis keep strictly to convention as far as design is concerned; they are a two-way, rear ported design, just like all their closest rivals. And to look at, you might think they're nothing special. But you couldn't be more wrong.
For they're actually quite exceptional. They're wonderfully articulate performers that marry a bold, forthright nature with the kind of refinement and insight that’s rare at this level. They're particularly stunning with vocals, delivering them in a solid and expressive manner that really enhances the listening experience. You'd need to spend around three times as much to better the vocal performance – it really is that good.
Admittedly some rivals are able to dig up a tad more detail, but few deliver it with such a sense of passion and enthusiasm.
Tonally they tread a fine line, with a smooth treble that's not short of bite. And the full-bodied presentation always sounds impressively confident and composed, no matter what it has on its plate. Although be aware that speakers this small are never going to produce loads of bass.
Read the full Dali Oberon 1 review
Pretty much everything here is new for this generation of Diamonds, from the drive units to the cabinet construction. It's a neat and compact box – standing just 31cm tall, it won’t dominate any room. The polypropylene/mica composite 'Klarity' mid/bass cone is tuned by a rear-firing reflex port, rather than the elaborate downward facing design used in previous models.
Tonally they’re smooth and forgiving but remain nicely balanced, with enough in the way of bite. They have a surprisingly bold and full-bodied presentation and sound confident and composed in a way that evades most budget rivals, and top that with a good degree of refinement. They deliver more authority and scale than their modest price and size suggest too.
Lastly, they're good and flexible no matter their task. They sound balanced wherever placed and are both forgiving and transparent enough whether used as part of a micro system or put with dedicated separates – well worth your shortlist.
Read the full review: Wharfedale Diamond 12.1
These speakers are very savvy musical performers with a great sense of scale and an even greater appetite for presenting music in a transparent and mature manner. There’s a nice tonal balance to the delivery, which is careful and considerate, and the Boreas also demonstrate an excellent sense of timing.
There's detail and insight across the frequency range and, given their size, plenty of weight to the bass too. Some might lust after a more musclebound delivery, but it’s the texture and quality that give the Triangles an edge. Think of them as a very nimble gymnast, as opposed to a meatheaded bodybuilder.
It’s not often we stumble across a pair of speakers at this price that sound as sophisticated as the Triangle Borea BR03. They look pretty punchy too, thanks to the contrasting colour of the mid-bass cone, the silver trim that runs through the driver’s surround, plus that eye-catching diffuser. And if the fronts look a bit crowded to you, just cover them up with the magnetic speaker grilles. Simple.
Read the full Triangle Borea BR3 review
These budget Elac speakers' smaller siblings picked up a What Hi-Fi? Award a few years ago, so we were very keen indeed to see what their larger stablemates could do. Suffice to say, we weren't disappointed.
They feature a more rigid and better braced cabinet to reduce resonance and distortion. And they sound pretty much how they look – unassuming and understated are two words that leap to mind.
They boast an open and well-balanced frequency range, free to reach high into the treble and deliver ample bass without forcing any more than is comfortable. If you want more low-end, you’ll need a bigger cabinet; these Elacs aren’t going to pretend they’re bigger than they actually are at the expense of transparency.
There's plenty of punch and rhythm on show, and they even perform well at low volumes, which shows a maturity sorely lacking from some rivals. A great buy, at a price only just approaching mid-range.
Read the full Elac Debut 2.0 B6.2 review
The first thing you'll notice about these affordable KEF speakers is how clean and modern the design is compared with their predecessors, the Q300. Gone is the strip of chrome across the front baffle, as well as any holes for attaching the grilles (which now snap on magnetically).
It's a sleek, minimal look that's matched by their sonic performance. They display a level of clarity and subtlety that’s unheard of at this price. Previously unheard levels of detail are exposed, as these speakers unearth nuances with composure and precision.
Theirs is a well-timed presentation that goes surprisingly deep into the bass notes, too. Yet they never sound too clinical. It's an impressive feat that few at this price can pull off.
If your budget can stretch as high as this, these standmounts are no brainers. They offer stunning sound and elegant looks at a competitive price that see them taking the trophy at the top of their class. Another triumph for KEF.
Read the full KEF Q350 review
There's a lot to like about the Wharfedale D310. They're packed full of neat engineering tricks including downward-firing ports and woven Kevlar cones. The design is appealing too, with nicely rounded edges and a choice of black or white finishes.
And they're unfussy when it comes to placement: if you're tight on space, the Wharfedales work perfectly well placed close to a wall, maintaining a good balance and stereo image. Such versatility is rare.
But for all these strengths, it's the sound that really made us fall in love. You get plenty of bass for the money, and the way they handle vocals is a particular highlight, displaying clarity and emotion in spades. They're bold and clear, but retain a comforting warmth and refinement that ensures the boldness isn’t overbearing and that clarity isn’t too cutting.
They might sound too laid-back for some. But at this price, if you want a pair of cheap speakers for a small space, there's really very little to criticize.
Read the full Wharfedale D310 review
How we test speakers
We have state-of-the-art testing facilities in London, Reading and Bath, where our team of experienced, in-house reviewers, test all of the speakers we review.
What Hi-Fi? is all about comparative testing, listening to one set of speakers up against the next, to figure out exactly how they differ and what each one does best. We keep class-leading products in our stockrooms so we can compare new products to ones we know and love.
We are always impartial and do our best to make sure we're hearing every product - including budget speakers - at their very best. So we'll use different partnering products, experiment with speaker positioning, try plenty of different types of music, and give them plenty of listening time (and time to run in).
All review verdicts are agreed upon by the team as a whole rather than an individual reviewer to eliminate any personal preference and to make sure we're being as thorough as possible. There's no input from PR companies or our sales team when it comes to the verdict, with What Hi-Fi? having decades of delivering honest, unbiased reviews.
You can read more about how we test and review products on What Hi-Fi? here.