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Speakers are one of the bedrocks of any audio or home theater system, but that’s especially true if you’re building one that’ll last you years (or even forever).
The word “audiophile” is thrown around a lot, but the speakers in this guide have earned that title based on a couple of core tenants: the first is that they offer incredible performance due to their structural design, engineering, and materials. Second, they must have unique attributes that help them stand out among other speakers in their class. The use of proprietary custom technology also ensures you won’t find another pair of speakers quite like the selections below.
We’ve made sure to select speakers that span the full spectrum of prices. Yes, the gear here is expensive, but in many cases the entry-level speaker in a company’s high-end audio line has inherited features and design tweaks informed by its higher-end siblings. It’s important to think of audiophile gear as an investment instead of something you’ll replace or upgrade after a couple of years. The idea is to get gear you can stick with for years, and allow you to enjoy your music collection in higher fidelity than ever before.
What Are the Best Speakers For Music?
There are many factors to consider when choosing the best audiophile speaker for you; below are the most important ones, which we considered while we were researching this list.
Size: Audiophile speakers come in various shapes and sizes, but generally fit into two categories: bookshelf or floor standing. Bookshelf speakers are generally around one-foot tall and are a great choice if you’re setting up a home theater in a living room or master bedroom. Floor standing speakers can be around three-feet tall, so they’re a better choice if you have a larger space, like an open basement or den.
Drivers: Drivers are the part of the speaker that produce sound; generally, larger drivers are better, but their material and location on the speaker matters, too. All of the speakers we’ve chosen for this guide have multiple drivers, which handle different frequencies, so music will sound clear and accurate.
Passive vs. Active: Audiophile speakers can be active (powered) or passive (unpowered). Passive speakers have no built-in amplification, which means you need to connect them to a stereo receiver for them to work. Active speakers are a more all-in-one solution; they have a preamp, volume controls, and inputs (ports that let you plug devices into them) on the speakers themselves.
This guide features a mix of passive and active speakers to accommodate different space constraints. Passive speakers are the right choice if you have a lot of room, while the all-in-one design of active speakers make them a better bet if you’re short on space. Keep in mind active speakers are heavier than passive ones, and can have smaller drivers because the speaker housing has to accommodate a lot more hardware.
1. Bowers & Wilkins 606 S2 Bookshelf Speakers
This second-generation of Bowers & Wilkins’ 606 speakers was launched as a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the company’s 600 line of speakers.
The passive bookshelf speakers are 13.5 inches tall, 7.5 inches wide and 11.8 inches deep, which is the perfect size for a living room entertainment center. If you’re shopping for speakers for your listening room, or setting up a surround sound homqe theater system, consider raising them on speaker stands to elevate them to the perfect height.
Each speaker has a 6.5 inch woofer to handle bass and midrange frequencies, and a 1 inch tweeter to handle the highs. I’ve spent a lot of time with an earlier generation of these speakers, and they’re still the best passive bookshelf speakers I’ve ever heard. Vocals and live tracks sound especially detailed, and bass-heavy music never sounds overly boomy or distorted. Bowers & Wilkins says it’s improved the crossover components (the tech that separates bass, midrange, and treble, and directs it to the right driver) to achieve a more balanced sound profile.
Bowers & Wilkins also made the cabinets slightly larger this time around to accommodate larger drivers for better sound. The increase in size isn’t dramatic, but the larger audio components inside will make a really big difference.
Because the speakers are passive, you’ll need to supply your own source for amplification. If you need a new preamp, we can’t recommend Marantz’s NR1711 highly enough. It has a slim profile, but doesn’t skimp on features, which include a phono input, support for Bluetooth and Wi-Fi streaming, HDMI passthrough. It’s also ready to work with with Dolby Atmos, the latest generation of surround sound.
If you want a pair of audiophile bookshelf speakers designed to provide the highest level performance at an extremely reasonable price, Bowers & Wilkins’ 606 S2 is the clear winner.
2. Focal Chora 826 Three-Way Floorstanding Loudspeaker
Focal’s Chora 826 Three-Way Floorstanding Loudspeaker (it’s sold on its own, not in pairs), packs incredible audio technology into a modern looking package.
It stands 41.5 inches tall, and weighs 52.9 pounds, so be sure to map out where you’d like to place your pair (seriously, get two), before they arrive. The Chora 826 had a pair of 6.5-inch bass woofers, one 6.5-inch midrange woofer, and a one-inch inverted dome tweeter. The use of dedicated drivers for bass, midrange, and treble frequencies is why this is considered a “Three-Way” speaker.
Focal’s use of materials is what makes the 826 an easy audiophile speaker to recommend. The company used a memory foam called Poron around the tweeter to reduce distortion at frequencies in the human ear’s high sensitivity range. Additionally, the tweeter’s dome shape allows it to disperse sound evenly, so you’ll have no problem hearing treble from wherever you are in the room.
All of the woofers on the Chora 826 are made out of Slatefiber, a non-woven carbon fiber compacted between two layers of thermoplastic polymer. Focal says this material makes its drivers more rigid and improves its dampening (resistance to movement) to improve their accuracy without making them heavy.
As a final touch, Focal designed the Chora 826 to be tilted upward when placed on its stand, which can improve its soundstage by directing audio directly toward your ears. Focal’s attention to details that actually make a material difference when listening to your music is why the Chora 826 made our list.
3. ELAC Navis Powered Bookshelf Speakers
ELAC’s Navis Powered Speakers are an all-in-one audio system that’s optimized to sound fantastic right out of the box.
Each speaker has a 5.25-inch woofer, four-inch midrange driver, and a one-inch soft-dome tweeter, which is in the middle of the midrange driver. These are smaller drivers than the ones found in the other speakers we’re recommending, but ELAC makes up for that deficit in a big way. Most pairs of active speakers have one amplifier; the Navis have six.
Each speaker has a 160W (watt) amplifier that powers its woofer, a 100W amplifier that powers its midrange driver, and a 40W amplifier that powers its tweeter. All of the amps have been specifically tuned to power the drivers and eliminate clipping and distortion while greatly reducing unwanted noise. Yes, the drivers are smaller, but they’re being powered by, quite literally, the perfect amplification system. Instead of mixing and matching comparable stereo components, you can plug them into an outlet and hit play.
The Navis don’t have a lot of inputs, but the ones ELAC included make a lot of sense. There’s a balanced line input used to connect the speakers together, a standard 3.5mm line input if you’d like to connect your computer, TV, phone, or other device, and a wireless setting that enables Bluetooth and AirPlay (an Apple designed format).
Above the inputs you’ll find a series of switches that allow you to adjust the EQ (equalization) of low, midrange, and high frequencies a little more finely. You can also enable a high pass filter, which lets you designate which frequencies should be handled by the treble and woofer. Finally, there’s a switch that allows you to switch between inputs, and another which lets you switch between high and low gain (amplification).
It’s hard to argue with the convenience of an audiophile stereo system contained within a pair of speakers that are 13.58-inches tall and weigh 35.7 pounds.
4. McIntosh XR100 Floorstanding Speaker
McIntosh equipment is known for its sonic excellence, and if you want a speaker with no compromises, consider the XR100.
The floorstanding speaker (this one is sold solo, so you’ll need to get two for a pair), stands 51 inches tall, and weights 68.5 pounds. The first thing you’ll notice is the speaker’s unique design, which features 22 drivers.
There are four six-inch woofers for the bass and 10 two-inch woofers for the midrange (eight are dedicated to covering the 300Hz to 2kHz audio spectrum, while two are midrange tweeters that cover 2kHZ to 8kHz audio range). There is also one .75-inch tweeter to handle the rest of the highs. This assortment of drivers has earned the McIntosh XR100 the distinction of being a four-way speaker.
The audio hardware inside this speaker all but guarantees the music you listen to will sound better than you’ve ever heard it before. By breaking up the spectrum of audio frequencies into smaller chunks, the XR100 can accurately recreate each element of the song you’re listening to so you can pick it apart.
To further improve performance, McIntosh includes a stand with a set of “spikes,” which are metal posts that keep the speaker from touching the ground. Vibrations from music (especially at loud volumes) are sent through the spikes, and won’t shake the speaker, which can cause distortion. The speaker’s binding posts are gold-plated, and use McIntosh’s Solid Cinch technology, which keeps them in place and prevents shorts.
If you’re chasing the illusive “perfect sound,” McIntosh’s XR Floorstanding Speaker has the hardware to get you there, or at the very least, a lot closer.