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7 of the best speakers for those who want crisp, clear audio

7 of the best speakers for those who want crisp, clear audio

Not all speakers are made the same, just like all listeners aren’t the same. Some people are content with something cheap for their audio — as long as they can hear it, it’s a success. And that’s completely fine! You’re not like that though, you’re what they call an “audiophile.” In other words, what comes out of your speakers needs to sound amazing, and if it’s not, the whole thing is a bust. While that is also completely fine, shopping for a new speaker is going to be significantly more work for someone like yourself; there’s going to be a lot more research and paying attention to the nitty-gritty details involved.  

If you fit that description and are looking to finally upgrade your audio setup (or even just get one started), we want to help you out. There are a lot of different speakers to pick from — there are many types of them, with many options within each type, which requires a lot of effort to truly understand. We’re assuming you’re here because you don’t have time for all of that, so let’s get into what you need to know before you buy your new speaker (or speakers), shall we? 

What type of media will you use speakers for?

Will you be using your speakers solely for music? Only for television and movies? Maybe a bit of both? (Or maybe you want something for the great outdoors?) You should decide that now, because it will surely factor into what kind of speaker you end up getting. For instance, if you’re only looking for something to pair with your TV, a soundbar will be a good choice, but if you want something more music-focused, you might want to check out a pair of bookshelf speakers or a portable Bluetooth option. 

In addition, you’ll want to note the kind of sound quality you’re looking for — whether that’s surround sound, Dolby Atmos, or just plain old stereo (which is also great, don’t feel pressured to get something super fancy and expensive if you don’t really need it). Not all speakers produce the same kind of sound quality, so it’s important to know exactly the kind of listening experience you’re looking to get out of it.

How much space do you have?

Speakers can get pretty big, so take stock of how much useable space you want to dedicate to your audio setup both horizontally and vertically. Not everyone has the room for multiple floor standing speakers, so don’t overwhelm yourself with something gigantic if it’s constantly going to be getting in your way or end up scraping the ceiling. There are plenty of speakers that can be easily stored or concealed, some that can be affixed to your walls, and some that are so small that they can rest on a tabletop or shelf. And hey, small speakers can be powerful, too.

Passive or active?

The difference between passive and active (sometimes called “powered”) is pretty simple, yet important to note. Passive speakers don’t have any sort of built-in amplification, which means that they need to be connected to a stereo receiver to work. Active speakers have everything built-in from the start, including preamp, volume controls, and inputs. If convenience is one of your top priorities, go for active speakers, as they’ll require a lot less setup and additional equipment to get them working.

How many speakers do you need to buy? 

We always say that you should choose quality over quantity. Having two amazing speakers is always going to get you better results than having five just-fine speakers. Plus, having too many speakers around is just going to take up an unnecessary amount of space and will eventually become an eyesore. 

If you have the room, we think two speakers maximum is the perfect number. Two speakers are especially ideal if you listen to a lot of music — music is normally recorded for a stereo setting, so having a left and right channel will do you wonders. And if you have a smaller space, even one really good speaker should do you just fine (as long as it sounds great).

What’s the deal with wattage?

When you’re shopping for a new speaker, you’re going to see the word “wattage” a lot. While that might be meaningless gibberish to you when you see it on a product page, it’s actually a pretty simple concept. Basically, wattage defines the limit of how high your speaker can go without distorting the sound. Unless you enjoy really blasting your tunes or you regularly host parties, 50 watts is normally going to be more than enough for the average listener. But if you really like to crank it up to 11, the more (watts) the merrier.

Do you need a subwoofer?

The short answer: No, you don’t actually need one. Should you get one, though? Well, that’s a much different question, to which we would answer “probably yes.” Adding a sub to pretty much any audio setup is going to make it better (not all of them are compatible, though, so make sure you check before buying one first). 

One common misconception about subwoofers is that many think they just add more bass, when that’s not necessarily true. Subs actually help improve the dynamics of said bass, not only boosting its quality overall, but also adding more depth and space to your output. Honestly, sometimes adding a high-quality subwoofer to your speaker setup is more helpful than upgrading the speakers themselves. So, if you’ve already got decent speakers, consider adding on a sub instead of picking out brand-new ones.

(If you need a recommendation, Wirecutter’s top subwoofer pick for 2021 is the Rogersound Labs Speedwoofer 10S, citing its fantastic all-around performance.)

Should you get a smart speaker?

Smart speakers are great in their own right, but they aren’t always the best way to listen to your audio — most of them are too small to get the best audio experience possible (sorry, Alexa). If you really can’t live without having some sort of smart assistant within your speaker setup, we recommend getting something that is Bluetooth-enabled and connecting it to your smartphone. That way, you get the perks of your phone’s built-in smart assistant without having to downgrade the speaker itself. 

So, what are the best speakers?

We’re glad you asked. We picked out a favorite from each of the most popular speaker categories — from bookshelf speakers, to Bluetooth, and everything in between — and came up with six options for your consideration. Some of the gear below can get into pricey territory, but it’s important to think of your speaker setup as a long-term investment, not something you’re going to replace every few years or so. Rather than buying something you’ll eventually want to upgrade, we recommend you buy something you can eventually add-on to without getting rid of your already nice equipment.

will be a great time to score discounts on a good set of speakers. We know that high-quality audio upgrades can be a pricey investment, so taking advantage of Amazon’s shopping holiday deals can potentially save you some serious cash. Take a look at our top speaker picks for 2021, and find out which one is right for you before the Prime Day craziness hits.

360 Reality Audio • Seven drivers for a balanced experience • Smart speaker support • Easy Bluetooth and WiFi funtionality

Port on the bottom is a bit hard to access

If you want ambient, room-filling sound without having to buy a multi-piece sound setup, the Sony SRS-RA5000 is the way to go.

Sony SRS-RA5000

The Sony SRS-RA5000, with its room-filling 360 Reality Audio and balanced set of drivers, is one of the best ambient experiences you can have with a Bluetooth speaker right now.

The SRS-RA5000 is the latest offering from Sony audio, and puts 360 Reality audio at the forefront of the speaker’s features. Equipped with Sony’s unique spatial sound technologies, the SRS-RA5000 is able to create an ambient, room-filling sound that is more immersive than your run-of-the-mill audio experience. 
That enhanced experience comes in a relatively compact speaker, and boasts more than just great sound. You’ll get three total up-firing speakers, three side speakers, and a woofer for rich, well-rounded end product, as well as smart and easy-to-use Bluetooth, WiFi, Chromecast, and Spotify functionality. It’s also compatible with most smart speakers, so voice controls can be used to control the device.

High-res, full sound • Affordable • Dynamic balancing

Poll Audio’s floorstanding speakers bring full, high-quality audio to the mix with dynamic acoustic balance, and are pretty affordable compared to other speakers of their size.

If you have the room and want something versatile for all types of media, a pair of floorstanding speakers are the way to go. This one from Polk Audio will get you big sound (they’re big speakers, after all), and won’t cost you all that much. Note that if you want a pair, you’ll have to add two to your cart. 

Can be mounted • Nice size balance in between the big and small category • Two-way speaker system

If you want lots of placement options but don’t want to get a small, portable speaker, the Klipsch R-51M set is a solid choice.

Klipsch Reference R-51M

This set of speakers strikes a great balance between size and sound quality, all for a relatively affordable price.

The Klipsch R-51M are our favorite passive bookshelf speakers, and cost under $300 for a set of two. They can handle up to 340W of power, and sound fantastic (plus, they look really sleek). They can also be mounted on stands, so you have a lot of options for placement. 

Durable — able to take it most places • Effortless Bluetooth pairing • Amazing sound for a relatively small speaker

Pricey for a Bluetooth speaker

If you like taking your tunes on the go but don’t want to sacrifice sound quality, look no further than the Sonos Move.

Sonos Move

Take your tunes on the go without compromising on how they sound.

Many of us like to take our music on the go, which makes portability a necessity for a large portion of audiophiles. The Sonos Move is pretty top-of-the-line when it comes to Bluetooth speakers, with rich sound quality, effortless pairing, and 11-hour battery life, and much more. It’s also surprisingly durable, so you can take it almost anywhere. 

Active speakers • Convenient and easy to set up • Customizable EQ

Klipsch version has better sound quality (although they are passive)

This pair of bookshelf speakers are simple to set up and use compared to passive speakers, making them worth checking out.

Elac Navis ARB-51

These active speakers are easier to set up and use compared to passive ones (although they don’t sound as good as the Klipsch), so if you’re looking for a more convenient option, check out the Elac Navis ARB-51.

Another pair of bookshelf speakers, but active ones, meaning they don’t need a stereo receiver to hook up to. The Elac Navis ARB-51 offer simplicity, convenience, and a no-fuss way to enjoy your audio (including Bluetooth compatibility). If you want something that’s more “all-in-one” over the Klipsch speakers, these are the way to go. 

Dolby-Atmos-enabled • Blends in • Smart EQ adjustments • No extras needed — sounds great on its own

Mounting it requires a lot more work

More interested in movies over music streaming? The Sonos Arc will get you full, Dolby Atmos sound that’s made for immersing you in your favorite films and TV shows.

Sonos Arc

Fully immersive Dolby Atmos sound in a sleek speaker — it doesn’t get any better for your mini home theater setup.

Just need a solid sound setup for your TV? The Sonos Arc is what you want. They’re Dolby-Atmos-enabled — meaning you’re in for some truly immersive sound — and includes nice perks like voice controls, internet connectivity, and a sleek design that’ll blend into your home theater. 

Great value for what you get • Subwoofer included • Doesn’t take up too much desk space • Wireless and wired connection

Sound quality isn’t perfect, but on a budget, it’s pretty good

Those who are glued to their computers for both work and play will appreciate what the Logitech Z407 set brings to the table (or desk).

Logitech Z407

If your built-in computer speakers aren’t cutting it anymore, the Logitech Z407 is a great option (and it won’t break the bank).

Of course, we couldn’t forget about those of us who only consume media from our computers. This Logitech bundle comes with two speakers as well as a subwoofer and will get you rich, dynamic sound whether your gaming or going down another YouTube rabbit hole. Plus, it’s budget-friendly. 

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