Best Speakers Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?'s round-up of the best stereo speakers you can buy in 2022.
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 audio performance there's still no substitute for a quality pair of stereo speakers.
That's why we've created this comprehensive list of the best speakers. 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 to choose the right speakers
First things first, decide on a budget. Your components should be evenly matched, both tonally and in terms of price, so consider this before breaking the bank on a new pair of speakers that the rest of your kit can't do justice.
You also need to make sure your speakers fit your room. Most speakers require a degree of space to sound their best, so be sure not to buy speakers that are too big for your listening area. This is also a good time to consider whether you want bookshelf or floorstanding speakers. Bigger speakers mean higher volumes but, again, you need the space.
There's also the choice between passive and active speakers. Most speakers are passive - they have no amplification inside, so require a separate amplifier to work. Active speakers with amplification (and sometimes DAC and streaming smarts) are increasingly popular and can connect straight to your source, no amp required, though they do require a connection to mains power. Check out our pick of the best active speakers if you're curious.
For a more detailed explanation of everything you should consider, check out our complete guide to choosing the right speakers.
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
Wharfedale's Diamond range now features a truly outstanding (and affordable) floorstander. Indeed, we were so impressed by the Wharfedale Diamond 12.3's musical performance we handed it a What Hi-Fi? Award 2021.
At 98cm tall, the Diamond 12.3 aren't a particularly imposing pair of floorstanders, so they'll fit into most spaces. Sonically, they're smooth, even-handed and wonderfully refined for the money. Feed them a poor signal and they’ll round off rough edges and downplay unwanted aggression without sounding like they’re smothering the life out of the music.
As for build quality, the cabinets are carefully crafted with a traditional straight-edge design and a tidy feet arrangement. The 12.3 are available in four finishes – black, walnut, white and a classy light oak – all of which bely their relatively modest price tag.
If you're looking for reasonably-priced floorstanders, the talented Wharfdale 12.3 are a superb buy and sound even better than the company's renowned 12.1 standmounters.
Read our full Wharfedale Diamond 12.3 review
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
The Q Acoustics M20 are a pair of powered speakers designed to work wherever you feel like putting them. They also have a lot of useful connections on the back – TVs, CD players, turntables and laptops can also be wired to the M20 through optical, RCA line-level, aux and USB Type B connections. And there's wireless Bluetooth streaming, too. One speaker in the pair is the mains-powered 'master' and feeds the other through a supplied piece of speaker cable.
Versatile, simple to use and nicely put together, crucially, they also sound the part. The M20 speakers sound full, loud, spacious and energetic. For relatively affordable speakers that pack in quite so much, we're impressed how refined and detailed they manage to sound.
Q Acoustics has released an unfussy, just-add-source set of powered speakers that we find impossible to dislike. With all of the amplification squirrelled away in the master speaker and the plethora of connectivity and placement options covered, the M20 is far more likely to become your entire music system than it is simply your new desktop speakers – and for this money, you’ll be hard pushed to better the sound quality with hi-fi separates.
Read the full Q Acoustics M20 review
These speakers' smaller siblings (B5.2, above) are a current What Hi-Fi? Award winner. 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
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
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 Bower & Wilkins 805 D4 are easy speakers to recommend. They’re beautifully made and packed with technology. We get the impression that the engineering team behind their design really delved into the details to eke out every ounce of performance they could.
The result is arguably the most insightful and detailed sounding pair of speakers at this level. They deliver a sound that's balanced, wide open and packed to bursting with detail. Outright clarity is class-leading and vocals sound focused and refined.
We wouldn’t be doing our job if we didn’t mention that there are a number of excellent alternatives – KEF Reference 1, ProAc K1, Fyne Audio F1-8 – all of which are larger and able to dig deeper with more authority, but these remain extremely accomplished speakers.
If you’re lucky enough to be buying at this level, make sure the 805 D4 are on your shortlist.
Read our Bowers & Wilkins 805 D4 review
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
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
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
How we test 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, Reading 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.
You can read more about how we test and review products on What Hi-Fi? here.