Best cheap speakers Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best budget hi-fi speakers you can buy in 2021.
Cheap speakers don't have to mean bad sound. Far from it. 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.
We've selected the best cheap speakers from our extensive reviews to create this selection of our favourite 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. In fact, we're often shocked by the arrival of new speakers that manage to squeeze out even more performance for the money.
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.
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 organised 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.
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
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
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 couple of 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 criticise.
Read the full Wharfedale D310 review