Want true stereo hi-fi sound? Then ditch those old PC speakers and invest in the best bookshelf speaker you can afford
It doesn’t matter how good your headphones are or how loud your Bluetooth speaker goes, there are still times when the best choice is a good old-fashioned set of bookshelf speakers. And we’re not necessarily talking about little desktop speakers that sit next to your computer monitor either. While several of the smaller speakers here would be perfect for a desk, or a PC, you’ll get the most immersive, expansive stereo sound from speakers placed wide apart from each other, either on a bookshelf or on floor stands that enable you to move them as far apart as your living room allows.
Here you’ll find a selection of our very favourite powered (active) and non-powered (passive) speakers. Up top, there’s a list of the best passive bookshelf speakers for connecting to a hi-fi amplifier, and further down the page we’ve collected the best active bookshelf speakers (with their own in-built amplifiers) that money can buy. With prices starting around £100 and stretching up to and beyond the £1,000 mark, there’s something for everyone.
The best passive bookshelf speakers
These are the type to buy if you already have a hi-fi amplifier, or if you’re looking for speakers to use with an AV receiver for surround sound.
1. Q Acoustics 3010i and 3020i: The best bookshelf speakers under £250
Price: £199 (3010i), £249 (3020i) | Buy now from Amazon
Q Acoustics’ 3010i (£199) and 3020i (£249) bookshelf speakers punch way above their weight – the sound quality is seriously impressive for the price. Instruments spread wide and deep, and there’s more punch and impact than the old non ‘i’ models could muster. You just don’t expect such a huge sound to come out of such compact boxes.
The 3010i are the smaller of the two, measuring just over 25cm high and 25cm deep, while the 3020i measure roughly 28cm along both sides. Both deliver a similarly refined, balanced sound, but the larger 3020i delivers deeper bass and just that bit more scale, presence and all-round wallop than the smaller 3010i can muster. We got great results even with very modest partnering equipment, so you don’t need to spend a fortune on amplification to get them sounding good.
Both are happy sitting on a bookshelf or window sill, and the company also sells wall mounts so that you can set them over your TV as part of a home cinema system. And, if you want to go the whole hog, you can also buy a second pair along with a centre speaker and subwoofer, giving you 5.1 surround sound – but just one pair of these mini-marvels will be enough to fill most rooms.
2. Bowers & Wilkins 607: Tiny boxes with a vivid eye for detail
Price: £499 | Buy now from Bowers & Wilkins
Bowers & Wilkins’ has delivered a radical overhaul of its 600 series of speakers. The 607 is the smallest of the family, but despite dainty dimensions this pint-sized bookshelf speaker has a vivid, attacking sound that demands you sit up and listen.
There isn’t the bass weight or slam of the larger speakers here – nor its larger sibling, the 606 (£549), for that matter – but the combination of B&W’s Continuum cone technology with a new, decoupled tweeter design makes for a truly exciting standmount. Not everyone will warm to the bright balance, but for quiet late-night listening the B&W 607 are hard to beat for the money.
|Bowers & Wilkins 607 | Read our in-depth review
|Type: 2.0 stereo passive
|Dimensions: 345 x 190 x 300mm
|Max power: 100W
|Weight per speaker: 4.7kg
|Inputs: 4x binding posts
3. Kef Q350: The best bookshelf speakers under £500
Price: £499 | Buy now from Amazon
Kef’s eye-catching Egg desktop speakers have long been a favourite in our office, but while the Q350s have a far more conventional design, they’re an impressive option if you want a more room-filling sound.
Both sets of speakers share KEF’s Uni-Q driver design, which combines the woofer and tweeter together, with the tweeter sitting right in the centre of the combined driver unit. This creates a ‘single point source’ that more accurately reproduces the original sound from your recordings.
Techno-babble aside, the Q350s sound great, with warmth and detail on the higher frequencies, and a precise and beautifully controlled mid-range and bass. It’s an impressively spacious sound too, and while the chunky speakers – 362mm high and weighing a total of 7.6kg – will need to rest on a fairly sturdy set of shelves, they’ve got more than enough muscle to fill most rooms with music.
|Type: 2.0 stereo passive
|Dimensions: 362 x 210 x 306mm
|Max power: 120W
|Weight per speaker: 3.8kg
|Inputs: 2x binding posts
The best active bookshelf speakers
These are the type to buy if you want to cut down on the clutter and cables of traditional hi-fi – or if you just don’t want to spend extra on a stereo amplifier. Connect them directly to laptops, PCs and smartphones via a 3.5mm audio cable – or, in some cases, do away with wires completely and stream music via Bluetooth.
1. Adam Audio T5V: The best-value active bookshelf speakers
Price: £138 (sold singly) | Buy now from Amazon
Adam Audio has a reputation for delivering high-end studio monitors at a similarly high-end price, but the T5V prove that you can have your affordable cake and eat it. They’re not the smallest, lightest or most stylish bookshelf speakers around, but they deliver a superb sound for the price.
The bass is rich and, while the treble isn’t quite as impressive, it was still pleasant to listen to in our tests. The T5V are loud too, with a volume that will easily fill most medium-sized rooms. That’s partly due to a scooped-out waveguide that helps the sound reflected off of the ceilings and walls stay true to what’s directly coming out of the speaker. They even sounded great in our echoey, wooden-floored living room.
The all-black design might not appeal to those who prefer a wooden effect, but there’s no denying the sheer amount of quality you’re getting here for under £150. The Adam Audio T5V go toe-to-toe with hi-fi systems that cost two or even three times more. They’re a brilliant achievement.
2. Wharfedale DS-2: The best active wireless bookshelf speakers under £200
Price: £173 | Buy now from Amazon
Wharfedale invented the modern two-way speaker, with its separate woofer and tweeter for high and low frequencies. It miraculously compresses its decades of experience down into the compact DS-2 speakers, which, at just 190mm high, are perfect for bookshelf or desktop use.
Boasting ‘hi-fi sound in miniature form’, a pair of DS-2s sound great, with a warm, detailed tone that works particularly well for classical music or laid-back acoustic sounds. The sturdy little cabinets are solidly built – weighing 1.5kg each – and that helps to reduce vibration and distortion, as well as providing a surprisingly firm bass sound.
The price tag is a bargain, particularly when you consider the built-in amplification and Bluetooth/AptX wireless connectivity, but there are some compromises. Firstly, physical connectivity is basic, with just a 3.5mm auxiliary input on the side. The 30W output isn’t spectacularly loud either, so if you want something beefy for party-time then you should look elsewhere. But if you need a compact, high-quality set of speakers for a bedroom or study then the DS-2 is terrific value for money.
|Type: 2.0 stereo active
|Dimensions: 190 x 120 x 140mm
|Max power: 30W
|Weight per speaker: 1.5kg
|Inputs: 3.5mm line-in, Bluetooth/AptX
3. KEF LSX: The best active wireless speakers you can buy
Price: £999 | Buy now from Amazon
No, you didn’t read the price incorrectly. The KEF LSX really are £1 short of a grand. However, unlike the more affordable active speakers listed below, they’re about as close as you can come to the perfect wireless speaker.
As you can see from the picture above, the LSX are simply gorgeous speakers. Put together with assistance from designer Michael Young, they are modern, elegant, and available in a variety of colours. Textured cloth surrounds KEF’s signature Uni-Q driver to give a truly pleasing aesthetic.
The LSX’s sound quality belies their tiny size, too. We’ve never heard a pair of speakers this small sound so powerful and muscular. The level of detail they’re capable of reproducing, married to a rich mid-range and a tight bass delivery is truly something to behold.
They’re not quite perfect: place the LSX just a few metres apart and you’ll notice that the connection between the two does begin to suffer, compromising the audio quality. If that causes issues, then you can use the supplied Ethernet cable to link the two speakers instead. solve this issue, although the wireless experience is still far from terrible.
Put simply, if you can afford them, the KEF LSX are the active wireless speakers to buy right now.
|Kef LSX | Read our in-depth review
|Type: 2.0 stereo active
|Dimensions: 240 x 155 x 180mm
|Max power: 70W
|Weight per speaker: 3.6kg
|Inputs: 2.4GHz/5GHz Dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.2, TOSLINK optical, 3.5mm AUX cable
4. Edifier S3000 Pro: Speakers with an incredible soundstage
Price: £699 | Buy now from Amazon
Edifier’s S3000 Pro sits among top-tier active speakers. Housed within each of the beautiful wooden enclosures, you’ll find a 6.5in aluminium mid-to-low end driver and above it, a 107mm planar tweeter. Combined, these deliver a seriously powerful sound – this speaker is loud enough to fill a large living room and better still, won’t distort at deafening volumes.
Sonically, these impress: the S3000 Pro deliver bass that extends down to 38Hz, provide plenty of energy in the highs and deliver an exquisite soundstage; the latter trait shines in both music and games – at times, you’ll think you have a 5.1 setup.
As for connectivity, there are numerous ways of using the speakers through a wired input, while Bluetooth – with the aid of aptX HD codec – adds some useful wireless connectivity. The left and right speakers communicate wirelessly, too, which is a nice touch. A bundled IR remote provides handy media controls and EQ profiles to choose from; treble, bass and a volume knobs can be found behind the right driver, too.
|Edifier S3000 Pro
|Type: 2.0 stereo active
|Dimensions: 356 x 232 x 268mm
|Max power: 256W
|Weight per speaker: 10.35kg (left) 10.45kg (right)
|Inputs: Bluetooth 5.0, USB, RCA, Balanced XLR (3-pin), Coaxial, Optical
5. Edifier S880DB: The best compact active speakers under £300
Price: £260 | Buy now from Amazon
They may not have the outlandish design of some of Edifier’s other speakers, but the new S880DB speakers provide good sound and lots of useful features at a competitive price.
Standing 235mm high, 140mm wide and 170mm deep, the two speakers are small enough to fit easily onto a shelf or sit on a desk alongside a computer. However, they can still squeeze in two sets of RCA inputs for analogue audio (with a 3.5mm adaptor included for computers and mobile devices), while the digital features include USB-Audio, optical and coaxial inputs with support for hi-res audio up to 24-bit/192kHz. And, of course, there’s Bluetooth for wireless streaming too.
Thee Edifiers aren’t slouches, either, when it comes to sound quality, producing nicely detailed higher frequencies and a respectably rock-solid bass. But it’s the high-res support and connectivity that really stand out, making the S880Db a great choice for high-res streaming services such as Tidal or Qobuz, or as part of a wider home entertainment system.
|Type: 2.0 stereo active
|Dimensions: 235 x 140 x 170mm
|Max power: 88W
|Weight per speaker: 3.2kg
|Inputs: 2x RCA (with 3.5mm adaptor), optical, coaxial, USB-Audio, Bluetooth
How to buy the best bookshelf speakers for you
A recent report found that the size of the average living room in the UK has shrunk by almost a third since the 1970s, so many bookshelf speakers focus on compact designs that can sit easily on a bookshelf or window sill. And, of course, many bookshelf speakers are designed for use in smaller rooms, such as bedrooms or student accommodation, where space really is at a premium. Bookshelf speakers tend to be the most affordable route into ‘real’ hi-fi, with decent models starting around £150/pair.
What’s the difference between passive and active speakers?
Traditional hi-fi speakers are also known as passive or non-powered speakers as they require a separate amplifier to power them. You can use any stereo amplifier or AV receiver, and you connect the speakers to the amplifier with dedicated speaker cable. Passive speakers do not require their own power supply.
Active speakers, however, have their own integrated amplifiers so can be plugged directly into a laptop, phone or any other music source without the need for a separate amplifier. They may support wireless streaming via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, but they’re rarely physically wireless – you’ll need to plug at least one speaker in to the mains to provide power for the amplifier and electronics within, and the master speaker (usually the one with all the volume controls and buttons on it) will connect to the second speaker via an audio cable.
More expensive, high-end active speakers will often have a dedicated amplifier in each of the speakers, and sometimes two in each – one for the high-frequency drive unit, the ‘tweeter’, and one for the low-frequency drive unit or ‘woofer’. This means that you’ll need a mains power cable for each speaker, and separate audio cables to supply music to each of the two speakers.
What should I look for – and listen for – in the speakers?
You don’t have to spend hundreds to get good quality sound, but you might want to avoid the cheapest options. The challenge for the manufacturers, of course, is to coax decent sound quality from smaller boxes. This makes it crucial to look for speakers that feel well-built, with cabinets made of wood, MDF or another sturdy, inflexible material that helps reduce the vibration and distortion that can spoil your sound. If you tap the speaker cabinet and hear the rattling sound of cheap and cheerful plastic, just move on…
Many of the latest compact bookshelf speakers can provide an impressive combination of both power and clarity, but the inevitable weak spot for many compact speakers is their bass output. You’re never going to get big, booming bass from a set of speakers that only stands six inches high, so if you want a more powerful low-end for dance music or Max Richter’s epic electro-ambient noises, then it’s worth rearranging the bookshelves to free up a bit of space for some larger speakers. Or, if you have enough room and cash, you can spend a bit extra on a set of floor stands – or even add a subwoofer to fill in the really deep bass registers.
Is there anything else I need to think about?
Connectivity is always a key issue – in fact, it can be a genuine deal-breaker for some speaker systems. That said, even old-school hi-fi companies are now embracing digital tech and connectivity, producing compact bookshelf speakers that include Bluetooth and Wi-Fi for wireless streaming, as well as optical, coaxial and USB connectors for connecting to DACs, computers, games consoles and other devices. Unless you’re dead set on buying a whole new Hi-Fi separates setup, make sure that the speakers you intend to buy will connect to the source or amplifier you’ve already got, and check which connections and cables are required – you’ll want to make sure you can connect them up properly when they’re delivered.