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The best passive bookshelf speakers for most people

Five to six-inch speakers for under $600 were tested, and we selected our favorite.

Vinyl has been experiencing a revival for some time, and the epidemic somehow made it worse. Many people are now wanting to create their first HiFi system and upgrade from an inexpensive Crosley turntable as a result. Of course, there are many components that go into making a good stereo, but the speakers may be the most crucial. It hardly matters what you connect your speakers to if they don’t sound well.

Active vs. Passive Speakers

It makes sense that people would spend the greatest time examining this aspect of their setup. You also have a lot of decisions to make. The most important is: Am I active or passive? Both have advantages, but for the purposes of this article, we’re going to concentrate on passive speakers because they need their own amplifier.

An amplifier is already present in active speakers. Normally, the two components are made to complement one another, giving you a more accurate representation of the manufacturer’s aural vision. Active speakers also take up less space because you don’t need an extra amplifier for them. Although active speakers cost more than passive ones, the savings aren’t worth it because you need an amplifier to power passive speakers.

We’re also setting a slightly arbitrary $600 spending limit for this tutorial. Any price above that is considered to be in the realm of budget audiophiles. Also, it essentially restricts us to bookshelf speakers that measure between five and six inches. While floor standing speakers are absolutely available for that price, bookshelf speakers at the same price point will probably have drivers of higher quality.

A note about testing

Naturally, I was unable to test every pair of five to six inch bookshelf speakers priced around $600, but I did enough testing and research to feel comfortable with my suggestions. Although I’m sure there are other excellent speakers available, I don’t believe anyone will regret purchasing the sets presented here.

Furthermore, one’s liking for a speaker is mostly arbitrary. But I tried to be as impartial as I could be. For rapid side-by-side comparisons, each speaker was connected to a Pyle PSS6 switcher using the same wire. Once I tested them all personally, I asked a number of individuals to listen without revealing their identities, rank them according to their preferences, and then compare their responses to mine. Playing both new and antique music while testing Spotify song streaming and vinyl are both acceptable.

I’ll also add that I’m not an audiophile. This is not an audiophile’s manual. I want my music to sound well, but I’m not going to spend as much money on a stereo as I would on a used sedan. I have an Audio Technical AT-LP120 and a Chromecast Audio connected to a Technics SA-EX110 in my setup. Although this is not particularly sophisticated, it is unquestionably an improvement over a Crosley Suitcase turntable or even a more expensive Osnos sound system.

The best for most people: Audioengine HDP6

In all honesty, a number of the speakers I examined had a startling resemblance in sound. not the $399 Audioengines, though. With the exception of a pair of KEF headphones that were substantially more expensive, they had a sound that was significantly brighter and had more clarity. In addition, the specific pair I tried had a stunning “walnut” enclosure that made them stand out amid a sea of practical black.

When it comes to singing and guitars, the HDP6s’ robust mids really stand out. Yet, they have a very even tone throughout the board. Towering compositions, like as Nine Inch Nails’ “The Day the Entire World Went Away,” came to life and highlighted subtleties that, to be honest, I had never noticed previously, not even while listening through headphones. I wanted to toss away my present floor standing speakers after listening to Floating Points’ most recent album, And Promises, which included Pharaoh Sanders and the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

The HDP6 worked wonderfully with bass-heavy tracks, even though bookshelf speakers can’t produce the same kind of reverberant boom that floor standing speakers or a subwoofer can. Although they didn’t offer the deepest bass of my test equipment, the drums and bass were nonetheless sharp and distinct.

For those who want the best sound: KEF Q150

Check out the Q150s if sound quality is your first priority, independent of anything else. The only speakers that outperformed the Audioengines in all of my blind taste testing were these entry-level models from renowned audiophile company KEF. Although they didn’t win every contest and several people had problems choosing between the two, I believe the KEFs had a tiny advantage in terms of sound quality in general. The extreme lower and upper ends of the range had a little bit more loudness. Songs like the Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t it Be Good” had a particular shine to them, and Run the Jewels’ “JU$T” hit a little harder than it did on the HDP6s.

The KEF’s audio profile is comparable to the Audioengines’. Compared to the other speakers in this comparison, they are both significantly brighter and have higher treble and midrange. They will provide the exact frequency response you’re searching for if you enjoy listening to jazz or classical music on high-quality vinyl.

The Q150’s list price prevents it from being at the top of this list. These are practically tied for the priciest speakers I tested at $600. (The Polk R100s, which were $599, weren’t chosen in the end.) My ears felt that the HDP6s sounded somewhat better, but the Q150s weren’t necessarily $200 better. Yet, the Q150s were $400 at the time of this writing.

For the bargain hunter: JBL A130

When it came to listener preference, the JBLs were generally in the middle of the pack. They lack the KEF and Audioengines’ brightness but don’t sound quite as muddy at the low end as the Polk S15s do. If you can find them on sale, they are a wonderful alternative if you’re just looking for a nice set of speakers and don’t care about specs, or if you primarily listen to streaming music and only sometimes put on vinyl.

For those that need more bass: ELAC Debut 2.0 DB6.2

Okay, so these speakers defy a few of our criteria, but if you choose the slightly larger 6.5-inch DB6.2s than the DB5.2s, you get a lot more bass. When it comes to clarity, the Debuts can’t quite compete with the Audioengine or KEFs, but you’ll feel every 808 hit a lot more. I Lay Here Buried with my Rings and my Dresses, the latest album from Backxwash, raged more on the ELACs than it did on the Polks, JBLs, or even the KEFs. Furthermore, they only cost $350, which is not at all awful.

Consider the Debut 2.0 DB6.2s if you listen to electronic music and contemporary hip-hop mostly.

For those who want to ignore my advice:

If the JBL A130s aren’t on sale and you’re determined to save as much money as you can, you might choose the Polk S15s. Although the JBLs are unquestionably better, the S15s don’t sound terrible either. They don’t have a soundstage that is as expansive as the other speakers I tested, and the low end can sometimes sound a touch muddy. They would probably fit in a home entertainment system more so than a stereo. Although they have a list price of $229, I recommend holding onto your money a little longer and spending more on something better.

The Polk R100s have respectable audio quality. Possibly somewhat superior to the JBLs, but with a sound signature more akin to the Polk S15. The issue is that they are $600, making them the priciest item I evaluated. These may be a good option if they were half the price, but every reviewer gave the $400 Audioengines and $600 KEFs a higher rating than the R100s.

They are without a doubt excellent speakers because they are now the top pick of Wire cutter. Nevertheless, I was unable to test them, therefore I am unable to vouch for them.