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Best speakers 2020: stereo speakers for every budget

Best Speakers Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best speakers you can buy in 2020.

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 wireless stereo speakers all vie for supremacy. 

So 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. Read on for our round-up of the best hi-fi speakers on the market right now.

What about Black Friday?
Black Friday is always a good time to buy something new and that includes speakers. While you may not see the very latest, top-rated hi-fi speakers reduced (though you never know), there are sure to be some discounts on slightly older models. So if you want to buy a five-star pair of B&W or KEF speakers from a previous generation, our speaker deals page is well worth keeping an eye on.

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.

Best speakers 2020: budget to premium stereo speakers

1. Elac Debut B5.2

Arguably the most capable standmounters we’ve heard at the money.

SPECIFICATIONS

Speaker terminals: Single | Mid/bass driver: 5.25cm | Tweeter: 25mm | Sensitivity: 86dB/W/m | Dimensions: 34 x 18 x 23cm (HxWxD) |

Reasons to Buy

Detailed and organised sound
Solid build
Unfussy nature

Reasons to Avoid

Tough competition

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

best speakers

(Image credit: Bowers & Wilkins)

2. B&W 606 S2 Anniversary Edition

B&W hones its 606 speakers to great effect

SPECIFICATIONS

Type: 2-way bookshelf speakers | Impedance: 8ohm | Sensitivity: 88dB | Frequency response: 52Hz to 28kHz | Dimensions (hwd): 35 x 19 x 30cm | Weight: 6.9kg

Reasons to Buy

Excellent clarity
Agile and articulate bass
Impressive dynamic punch

Reasons to Avoid

Nothing at this price

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, B&W has decided to upgrade the 606s (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

(Image credit: KEF)

3. KEF LS50 Meta

These standmounters set new standards at the price

SPECIFICATIONS

Max power: 106dB | Sensitivity: 85dB | Frequency response: 79Hz - 28kHz | Impedance: 8ohms | Dimensions: 30.2 x 20 x 27.8cm
 | Weight: 7.2kg

Reasons to Buy

Exceptional sonic transparency
Subtle and precise presentation
Innovative technology

Reasons to Avoid

Nothing at this price

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

Best speakers 2020: best stereo speakers

4. Dali Spektor 2

An excellent pair of entry-level speakers.

SPECIFICATIONS

Impedance: 6ohms | Sensitivity: 85dB/w/m | Speaker terminals: Single wire | Dimensions: 29 x 17 x 24cm (HxWcD) | Tweeter: 25mm soft dome | Woofer: 13cm wood fibre

Reasons to Buy

Agile, articulate and expressive sound
Good detail resolution
Unfussy nature

Reasons to Avoid

Nothing of note

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 £200/$200 box 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 Spektor 2s match your budget, these affordable standmounters deserve an audition.

Read the full review: Dali Spektor 2

Best speakers 2020: budget to premium stereo speakers

(Image credit: Future)

5. Elac Debut 2.0 B6.2

A mature and understated pair of stereo speakers.

SPECIFICATIONS

Speaker terminals: Single | Mid/bass driver: 16.5cm | Tweeter: 2.5cm | Sensitivity: 87dB/W/m | Dimensions: 37.4 x 19.5 x 26.8cm (HWD)

Reasons to Buy

Hugely transparent
Don’t force their own character
Rhythmic and dynamic

Reasons to Avoid

Unforgiving of poor sources

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

Best speakers 2020: budget to premium stereo speakers

6. Dali Oberon 5

Superb Award-winning floorstanders, right up there with the best.

SPECIFICATIONS

Sensitivity: 88 dB/w/wm | Impedance: 6ohms | Biwire: No | Max power handling: 150W | Dimensions: 83 x 16 x 28cm (HxWxD)

Reasons to Buy

Entertaining and informative
Expressive dynamics
Unfussy nature

Reasons to Avoid

Tough competition

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

Best speakers 2020: budget to premium stereo speakers

(Image credit: Wharfedale)

7. Wharfedale Evo 4.4

Wharfedale shows it can mix with the best premium speakers.

SPECIFICATIONS

Sensitivity: 90 dB/w/m | Driver: 3-way bass reflex, AMT tweeter, Kevlar bass drivers | Impedance: 4ohms | Max power handling: 200W | Speaker terminals: single | Dimensions: 105.9 x 25.7 x 35.6cm (hwd)

Reasons to Buy

Natural, easy-going presentation
Excitement and rhythmic drive
Fine build and finish

Reasons to Avoid

Need a large room to shine

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 F501s 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

Best speakers 2020: budget to premium stereo speakers

(Image credit: Q Acoustics)

8. Q Acoustics 3030i

Excellent all-rounders that don't cost the earth.

SPECIFICATIONS

Bi-wire: No | Driver: 16.5cm mid/bass, 22mm tweeter | Sensitivity: 88dB/w/m | Impedance: 6ohms | Dimensions: 32.5 x 20 x 33cm

Reasons to Buy

Insightful and expressive
Impressive, well-integrated bass
Fine build

Reasons to Avoid

Tough competition

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

Best speakers 2020: budget to premium stereo speakers

(Image credit: Future)

9. Elac Debut 2.0 B6.2

A mature and understated pair of speakers

SPECIFICATIONS

Speaker terminals: Single | Mid/bass driver: 16.5cm | Tweeter: 2.5cm | Sensitivity: 87dB/W/m | Dimensions: 37.4 x 19.5 x 26.8cm (HWD) |

Reasons to Buy

Hugely transparent
Don’t force their own character
Rhythmic and dynamic

Reasons to Avoid

Unforgiving of poor sources

Having given these speakers’ smaller siblings a What Hi-Fi? Award at the end of 2019 (you'll see those at the top of the 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

Best speakers 2020: budget to premium stereo speakers

10. Acoustic Energy AE1 Active

Fantastic stereo speakers with amplification built-in.

SPECIFICATIONS

Power: 2 x 50W | Tweeter: 27mm | Mid/bass driver: 12.5cm | Sensitivity: 104dB | Dimensions: 30 x 18.5 x 25cm (HxWxD) | Inputs: RCA & balanced XLR

Reasons to Buy

Clear, balanced and detailed
Rhythmically exciting
Impressive dynamic range

Reasons to Avoid

Nothing of note

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

Best speakers 2020: budget to premium stereo speakers

11. KEF R3

These superb standmounters set the standard at this price.

SPECIFICATIONS

Sensitivity: 87 dB/w/m | Impedance: 8ohms | Max power handling: 180W | Biwire: Yes | Dimensions: 42 x 20 x 34cm (HXWXD)

Reasons to Buy

Exceptional insight and resolution
Balanced and entertaining sound
Excellent build and finish

Reasons to Avoid

Nothing at this price

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

Best speakers 2020: budget to premium stereo speakers

12. B&W 607

A stunning pair of stereo speakers.

SPECIFICATIONS

Speaker terminals: Bi-wire | Driver: Continuum 13cm mid/bass, 25mm tweeter | Sensitivity: 84dB/w/m | Impedance: 8ohms | Dimensions: 30 x 16.5 x 23cm

Reasons to Buy

Dynamic and punchy
Well detailed, with fine balance
Versatile with positioning

Reasons to Avoid

Nothing at this price

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

  • F8lee
    What? No Magnepans on the list at all??
    Reply
  • psalvet
    What? No Focals on the list at all? The list does not have credibility.
    Reply