Best Speakers Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best speakers you can buy in 2021.
Whether you're looking for your first pair of speakers as you build a music system, upgrading an old pair of budget speakers or splashing the cash on a premium pair, we're here to help.
One-box wireless speakers might take up less space and mean less clutter, but for the best possible sound there's no substitute for a quality pair of stereo speakers.
That's why we've created a comprehensive list of the best speakers below. All of these pairs will help get the best possible sound quality from your source kit.
We've got all kinds of speakers in the mix: floorstanding, bookshelf, desktop, active and even all-in-one stereo speaker systems all vie for supremacy. Read on for our round-up of the best hi-fi speakers on the market right now.
How we choose the best speakers
Here at What Hi-Fi? we review hundreds of products every year, including plenty of speakers of all shapes, sizes and types. So how do we come to our review verdicts? And why can you trust them?
The What Hi-Fi? team has more than 100 years experience of reviewing, testing and writing about consumer electronics. We have state-of-the-art testing facilities in London and Bath, where our team of expert reviewers do all our in-house testing. This gives us complete control over the testing process, ensuring consistency. We always ensure we spend plenty of time with the speakers, trying them with different electronics, in different positions and with different music.
All products are tested in comparison with rival products in the same category, and all review verdicts are agreed upon by the team as a whole rather than a single reviewer, helping to ensure consistency and avoid individual subjectivity.
From all of our reviews, we choose the top products to feature in our Best Buys, such as this one. That's why if you take the plunge and buy one of the products recommended below, or on any of our other Best Buy pages, you can be confident you're getting a What Hi-Fi?-approved product.
The original LS50 speakers had little wrong with them but after eight years, KEF figured they deserved a fresh look. And with the LS50 Meta they have delivered a worthy upgrade.
The LS50’s Uni-Q driver array, where the tweeter sits in the throat of the mid/bass unit, 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). MAT is KEF’s way of coping with the sound that comes off the back of the tweeter dome; a plastic circular maze of tubes on the back promising greater absorption for cleaner, less distorted highs.
While the basic sonic character is instantly familiar, the Meta speakers have gained a level of clarity and finesse the originals only hinted at, sounding clean while still offering muscle and dynamics.
We’ve loved the originals and the LS50 Meta takes the performance to a notably higher level.
Read the full review: KEF LS50 Meta
If it's standmounted speakers you want, Elac's affordable B5.2s perform superbly for the money. They have the dynamic expression, detail and tonal sophistication to handle anything you can throw at them. Plus they sound wicked good whether they're hooked up to a standard or high-end system.
They're not too precious when it comes to placement either. So unlike some speakers, you won't have to build your room around them.
Inside is a 5.25cm mid/bass unit which uses a new blend of aramid fibres for the cone. And it uses a different shape to improve stiffness and damping, reducing resonance. With a top-end response of 35kHz, the tweeter should do justice to those soaring highs.
In the midrange, they're a little lacking in warmth, but on the flip side, they're very well balanced and can make the best of any recording, regardless of audio quality.
Elac has been making speakers since the 1980s, with a fine heritage of products to its name. These are some of its finest, and for this money, they're nothing short of exceptional.
Read the full review: Elac Debut B5.2
The original Bowers & Wilkins 606 speakers walked off with What Hi-Fi?’s top speaker award in 2019 but it seems there's always room for improvement. To mark the 25-year anniversary of the 600 range (in 2020), B&W decided to upgrade the 606 (and the rest of the range) – and it proved to be a wise move.
Cosmetically, there's not much new, but for an inscription on the tweeter surround and a new oak finish option. On the inside, there's an upgraded crossover that now features better-quality capacitors.
While retaining a broadly similar sonic character, the 606 S2 Anniversary Editions prove significantly more capable than their predecessors. The biggest differences are heard in the bass. The new version is so much more precise and controlled. There are improvements in clarity too, with voices offering extra subtlety, while the overall presentation is more natural and transparent.
Don't be fooled by the apparent minor upgrades, the B&W 606 S2 Anniversary Edition speakers deliver an impressive step up in performance.
Read the full review: B&W 606 S2 Anniversary Edition
On paper, there’s little to differentiate Dali’s new Spektor 2s from any of their main rivals: the speakers stick to the classic budget standmounter formula like Superglue sticks to fingers. They offer everything we would expect from a typical budget speaker here, from two-way driver configuration and ported bass tuning right the way through to the 25mm dome tweeter and 13cm mid/bass driver.
But these Dalis are much more than simply the sum of their parts: they ooze sophistication and offer a degree of entertainment that even their most talented rivals struggle to match. Powerful vocals are delivered with nuance and passion, grabbing the listener's attention, and dynamics are handled with subtlety and class. They're particularly composed at high volume, too, which is always an encouraging sign.
Mission and Q Acoustics offer similarly good options, and both have their relative strengths and flaws. But if the Spektor 2 match your budget, these affordable standmounters deserve an audition.
Read the full review: Dali Spektor 2
These speakers' smaller siblings (in the number one slot in this list) won a What Hi-Fi? Award at the end of 2019. As you can imagine, we were pumped to hear what their bigger brothers could do. And we're glad to say we weren't disappointed.
So what's the difference between the two models? These have a larger driver, as well as some changes to the tweeter design and port placement. The cabinet has more bracing for increased rigidity, aiming to reduce resonance, making for less distortion. While they might look similar to their smaller siblings, they do feel more solidly put together.
Sonically speaking, they're mature, transparent performers that tell you exactly what the rest of your system is doing. It's hi-fi mentality at a price that only just nudges into the midrange.
Suffice to say, we’re big fans of this new Debut series. The B6.2 speakers take what we loved about their Award-winning siblings and build on it with an even fuller-bodied and more mature presentation. Elac has hit it out of the park.
Read the full review: Elac Debut 2.0 B6.2
For much of the last decade, our go-to "affordable" floorstander was a Q Acoustics model, which in the company’s current range, is the 3050i speakers. But not anymore.
Because the Dali Oberon 5 blows it out of the water. What makes these speakers all the more impressive is that they're still the better buy, despite being a little pricier and noticeably smaller.
How has Dali done it? Not with any trickery or hi-fi voodoo. It's not even come up with any notable technological breakthroughs to change the game. Instead, it's focused on what it does best: skilful engineering, with granular refinements in each new instalment over the course of many years.
The result is breathtaking. They sound a lot bigger than their 83cm height would suggest, and they showcase lots of dynamic subtlety and rhythmic precision. They're musical, fun, and small enough to fit most rooms with ease. If your space is on the larger side you might want to consider bigger speakers, but for most living areas the Dalis will do the job.
Read the full review: Dali Oberon 5
The biggest, most premium models in Wharfedale's Evo range are packed with a lot of tech. So much so, we did a double take on the price.
It's impressive stuff, too. The Air Motion Transformer tweeter is normally reserved for more expensive speakers, while the dome midrange and twin Kevlar bass drivers set these floorstanders apart from the crowd.
They're big, so it's hardly surprising that they produce a loud sound with plenty of authority. But they're not all about the grunt. There's also plenty of transparency and subtlety on show, aided by their natural, easy-going presentation.
Three finishes – black, white and walnut – mean they'll fit into most interiors, while their build quality impresses, especially for the price. Inside, there's no shortage of bracing and damping to minimise resonance.
Rivals like the excellent Fyne Audio F501 might sound a little more exciting, but over a longer listen the Evo 4.4’s easier-going presentation is more natural and convincing. A superb pair of premium floorstanders that get better with every listen.
Read the full review: Wharfedale Evo 4.4
The largest of the three standmounters in the 3000i range, the Q Acoustics 3030is produce a sound that's familiar to anyone who's dabbled with Q Acoustics speakers before. Though you might not be expecting this level of muscle on show.
This strength translates into an impressive weight at the low-end, but it never threatens to dominate 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.
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
Having given these speakers’ smaller siblings a What Hi-Fi? Award at the end of 2019 (you'll see those nearer the top of this page), we were eager to hear the bigger brothers. And we weren't disappointed.
There's a larger driver here, as well as some changes to the tweeter design and port placement. Inside the cabinet has been further braced for a more rigid structure - reduced resonance and distortion is the aim. They do feel solid as a result, though the style remains simple.
While their looks are understated, and even sonically they refuse to beg for your affection, the Elac B6.2s are mature, transparent performers that confidently outline just what the rest of your system is doing. It is hi-fi mentality at a price that only just nudges into the midrange.
We’re big fans of this new Debut series. The B6.2 speakers take what we loved about their Award-winning siblings and build on it with an even fuller-bodied and more mature presentation.
Read the full review: Elac Debut 2.0 B6.2
It’s difficult to think of an amplifier/passive speakers combo that could better these Acoustic Energys for the money – 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.
Each drive unit is driven by a dedicated 50W class A/B power amplifier module, while dials at the back of each cabinet allow for treble adjustment and bass cut up or down by 2dB.
Unlike some rivals, there's no built-in Bluetooth. If you want to stream music to them wirelessly, you'll need to attach a separate module – such as a pre-amp or streamer with wireless capability – post-purchase.
It’s rare to find a pair of active speakers at this price that leave us struggling to come up with alternative separates that can match their talents. 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.
It's a winning combination. 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 a great audio experience.
Build quality is second to none, 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
These are the smaller, more affordable siblings to the 606s higher up in this list. They're still part of the same affordable 600 Series, but, standing just 30cm tall, these are the shortest and most wallet-friendly stereo pair in the range.
That's not to say they're lacking in quality. Far from it. They're energetic, brimming with insight and riotously entertaining – like a frontman let loose in Vegas.
Like others in the 600 Series, the 607s feature B&W's Continuum drivers first seen in the high-end 800 Series. This translates to spot-on timing, a powerful punch and lots of detail and textural insight. They're not short of bass either, which is surprising, given their diminutive dimensions.
The larger 606s (above) sound predictably bolder and richer, but for those on a tighter budget, the 607s offer many of the same positives at a more accessible price. Add them to your shortlist now.
Read the full review: B&W 607
Wharfedale may have won plaudits for its Diamond range of speakers, but it has plenty to offer at the higher-end, too. Like the Elysian 4.
These speakers are big, and unusually broad by current standards. But they're beautiful to behold, with a wonderfully deep and luxurious gloss that's unmatched at this price. The enclosure sits on widely spaced floor spikes, giving the Elysian 4 a solid and stable stance on a level surface, though oddly they can’t be adjusted and locked into position – something to note if you have uneven hard floors.
These floorstanders deliver a combination of scale, authority and dynamic punch that most (invariably smaller) price rivals can’t match. Large-scale crescendos are dispatched with confidence, the Elysians punching out sound with real venom. They can play at high volume levels without stress too, but also have the less common attribute of still sounding interesting at whisper levels. This is something to take note of if you listen late at night and don’t want to disturb the neighbours.
So if you're starting a party, or just want to enjoy your vinyl on the quiet, the Elysian 4 are a great option for those with slightly deeper pockets.
Read the full Wharfedale Elysian 4 review
Wilson Benesch has never followed the herd. Its first products – a turntable and tonearm – were made using carbon fibre, something considered exceptionally high-tech back then in 1989.
The Wilson Benesch Precision P2.0 can trace their lineage right back to the company's first speakers, the A.C.T. One, using the same hybrid construction principles but instead of carbon it's aluminium and wood. Drive units are designed in-house and feature elaborate faceplates cleverly-shaped to reduce distortion.
Of course, these are very expensive speakers (£9495, $14,000, AU$18,990), so you need serious amplification to even contemplate them, but if your system allows for them, they really are top of their class. In terms of clarity and transparency, they're unrivalled, while there's also a level of authority and dynamic punch that smaller speakers just can't match.
Read the full review: Wilson Benesch Precision P2.0