If you’re just getting into hi-fi, or you’re on a tight budget, it’s a great time to be alive.
Affordable audio gear has never been better, especially when it comes to speakers. Current technology allows master speaker designers like ELAC’s Andrew Jones and PSB Audio’s Paul Barton to wring amazingly great sound out of lower-cost configurations.
That means a $300 speaker purchased today may sound better than a $500 or even a $1000 speaker from ten years ago.
Keep this in mind when putting together a hi-fi system.
I hear a lot of people saying you need to spend more of your budget on speakers than electronics, but I disagree with this, especially in the realm of budget gear.
For example, if you have a budget of $1000 to spend on a system, I recommend you grab one of the speakers on this list for around $300, then pick up the highest quality integrated amp you can afford.
These $300 speaker boxes are so good right now; you need to spend more on electronics to hear what they’re truly capable of. If you buy a receiver that’s too cheap, you run the risk of falling into the “upgrade-itis” trap.
With an unrefined, underpowered amp, you’ll most likely feel like you’re missing something after a while, and go looking for “better” speakers 4 or 5 months down the road. All while you probably haven’t heard the best of what you already have.
Here are our picks for the Best Bookshelf Speakers Under $500. All are excellent options to anchor your low-cost, high-performance hi-fi system, and they all have been tested in our listening room.
Best Value: ELAC Debut 2.0 B5.2 Bookshelf Speakers ($289)
What we love: If you are looking for a low-cost do it all hi-fi speaker, the ELAC Debut is one to get. Designed by master speaker designer Andrew Jones, they have smooth treble and midrange, along with a nice punchy bass that plays nice with any genre of music.
It’s a speaker that’s easy to listen to and matches up well with a variety of electronics. If you want to get acquainted with audiophile stuff like soundstage, imaging, and perspective without spending a ton of money, this is an excellent speaker to get. The list price is around $300, but you can find them on sale for much lower than that.
Look out for: They aren’t as detailed as some of the other speakers listed here. If you pair them with too warm a receiver/amp, the bass can be boomy. If you like a lot of bass, then check the price of their bigger brother, the Debut 2.0 B6.2. They also go on sale a lot.
Matches well with: Cambridge Audio AXA35 Integrated Amplifier ($349.99)
- Enclosure Type : 2- Way Bass Reflex
- Frequency Response: 46Hz – 35000Hz
- Nominal Impedance: 6 Ohms
- Sensitivity: 86db @2.83v/1m
- Crossover Frequency: 2200Hz
- Max Power Input: 120 Watts
- Tweeter: 1″ Cloth Dome
- Woofer: 5-1/4″ Aramid Fiber
- Cabinet: CARB2 Rated MDF
- Cabinet Finish: Black Ash Vinyl
- Port: Dual Flared
- Binding Posts: 5 – Way Metal
- Dimensions (WxHxD) : 7.09″ x 13.43″ x 9.21″
The Best Under $500: PSB Alpha P5 Bookshelf Speakers ($399)
What we love: We consider the PSB Alpha P5 the best bookshelf speaker under $500. It does everything the ELAC Debut does in terms of smooth treble and punchy bass but then adds more refinement in the midrange. Additional clarity in the midrange brings more focus to the imaging.
Also, like the ELAC, this speaker sounds good with just about any genre, but it will provide deeper, more articulate bass, and just overall more detail. It’s also easy to match with electronics; they sound good with just about any amp out there. They also scale up very well with better gear, don’t be afraid to hook them up to a $1000 integrated. You will be rewarded. (Check out our full review)
Look out for: Plain design. They sound best with a more neutral amp.
Matches well with: Audiolab 6000A 2-Channel Integrated Amplifier ($999)
- frequency response: 55-21,000 Hz (±3dB)
- sensitivity: 89 dB -nominal impedance: 8 ohms
- recommended power: 10-90 watts
- 3/4″ anodized aluminum dome tweeter with front waveguide
- 5-1/4″ textured polypropylene woofer with rubber surround
- bass-reflex (ported) design
- magnetically attached grilles
- gold-plated five-way binding posts
- dual threaded inserts for optional wall mounting
- 6-3/4″W x 11-3/8″H x 9-1/2″D (each)
- weight: 10.15 lbs. (each) -warranty: 5 years
For the Jazz/Acoustic Lover: Paradigm Monitor SE Atom Bookshelf Speakers ($318.00)
What we love: Most speakers in this price range tend to be warm sounding, and it makes sense because that’s what most people like. However, if you listen primarily to Jazz/Acoustic music, then you probably want a speaker that’s a little more balanced, with a super-wide soundstage and quality imaging.
Well, with the Monitor SE Atom, that’s precisely what you’ll get. These speakers have more transparent mids than the other two, and more detail on the high-end. They are good at recreating a performance right in your living room! Fantastic for the price. If you get these, I recommend getting the gloss white color, which looks classy.
Look out for: They don’t have a ton of bass. We don’t recommend paring with brighter amps.
Matches well with: PS Audio Sprout100 Complete HiFi DAC Amp ($699.00)
- Design: 2-driver, 2-way bass reflex bookshelf
- Crossover: 2nd-order electro-acoustic at 2.3kHz
- High-Frequency Driver: 1” (25mm) S-PAL dome, ferrofluid damped / cooled, Perforated Phase-Aligning (PPA) Lens
- Bass/Midrange Driver: Two 5-1/2” (140mm) mineral-filled polypropylene cones / inverted dust cap / downroll surround
- Low Frequency Extension: 45Hz
- Frequency Response (On Axis): +/- 3dB from 55Hz – 21kHz
- Frequency Response (30°): +/- 3dB from 55Hz – 17kHz
- Sensitivity – Room: 89 dB
- Sensitivity – Anechoic: 86 dB
- Suitable Amplifier Power Range: 15-100W
- Maximum Input Power: 50 Watts
- Impedance: Compatible with 8 ohms
- Overall Dimensions (h x w x d): 12-3/4” x 7-1/8” x 11”, (32cm x 18cm x 27cm)
- Weight: 12lb (5.4kg) each
For a Few Dollars More: Triangle Borea BR03 Bookshelf Speakers ($549.00)
What we love: For fifty bucks above our $500 cut off, you can get these excellent speakers from French speaker manufacturer Triangle. We made it our 2019 Product Of The Year For Loudspeakers because, as I said in our review “Their design, clarity, and range are head and shoulders above anything at their price point”.
Actually, they’re probably head and shoulders above any speaker under $1000.
All the audio reviewers are going crazy for these speakers because they are so tonally balanced, yet engaging! People love these so much; they are having a hard time keeping up with demand. The best thing about these speakers is that they are so enjoyable. They give you exactly what you need when you need it.
Need dynamics for an EDM track? They got it. Need focused imaging and wide soundstage for that church choir recording? They got it. They are an amazing speaker for $550, and they will scale up if you upgrade your electronics. Check them out if you can.
Watch out for: They are hard to find!!
Matches well with: Cambridge Audio CXA81 Stereo Two-Channel Amplifier ($1299)
Number of drivers: 3
Number of ways: 2
Sensitivity: 90 dB/W/m
Frequency range: 46 Hz – 22 KHz (+/- 3 dB)
Power handling: 100 W
Impedance: Nominal: 8 Ohm-Minimum: 4,2 Ohm
Dimensions: 8.11 x 12.36 x 12.12″ (206 x 314 x 380mm)
Weight: 15.4 lb (7kg)
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I’m an audio writer who started as a young audio salesman/consumer electronics professional back in the late 90s. That’s where I discovered the magic of 2-Channel sound. My thirst for great sound has led me on a delightful music quest that continues today.