When I bought my first turntable, I had to keep two things in mind when building my set-up: keep it cost-friendly (college budget equates to nearly no budget), and keep it space-conscious.
I didn’t want to break the bank, but everything I researched said that you had to put money in to get a quality vinyl experience. A blog much like this one pointed me in the right direction, and I settled on a starter pair of bookshelf speakers.
Every article I turned to said that bookshelf speakers would be ideal for a few reasons. To be honest, the name (“bookshelf” made me think somehow these speakers were lesser, but that’s far from the case. Bookshelf speakers are literally named for their intended location and placement.
These speakers are often in contained cabinets that could fit on a bookshelf. They come in pairs, but be warned, some companies do not sell them that way. You might think $100 for a pair of highly rated speakers is great, but sometimes they are sold separately. Most reputable brands don’t do this, so that’s not a concern for the JBL’s and Klipsch’s of the world.
Therefore, in this article, I’m going to walk you through the process of selecting quality bookshelf speakers priced under $500. And, to better help you with this process, I’ve created a table below that will help you easily compare some of the more popular budget bookshelf speakers to one another.
|Cambridge Audio SX-50||$||★★★★||10-100 Watts|
|Edifier P12||$||★★★★||4-Inch Bass Drivers|
|Edifier R1010BT||$||★★★★||13mm silk dome tweeter|
|Edifier R1280T||$||★★★★||Active Speakers with Retro Look|
|ELAC Uni-fi UB5||$||★★★★||5 ¼” aluminum woofer|
|JBL Arena 120||$||★★★★||1-inch (25mm) soft dome tweeter|
|Klipsch RB-51 II||$||★★★★||1" titanium horn-loaded tweeter|
|Klipsch R-15M||$||★★★★||Sensitivity 94 db at 2.83 volt per 1 minute|
|Klipsch RP-600M||$$$||★★★★★||1” Titanium LTS Vented Tweeter with Hybrid Tractrix Horn|
|Micca PB42X||$||★★★★||Silk Dome Tweeter|
|Polk T15||$||★★★★||Sensitivity: 89dB|
|Polk Audio TSi100||$||★★★★||20-100 (watts/ch)|
|ELAC Debut 2.0 B6.2||$$||★★★★||Max Power Input- 120 Watts|
Why Buy Bookshelf Speakers?
So if you’re in the market for bookshelf speakers, there’s a chance that at one time or another, you were considering tower speakers too. Tower speakers have a set of advantages to them, but they do not own a monopoly on quality over their smaller bookshelf counterparts.
Bookshelf speakers are a favorite of mine mostly because of their versatility. They fit in a small space, like a bookshelf, but can also be spread out to corners of a room in order to maximize the reach of your sound. Here’s a rule of thumb: when placing bookshelf speakers, they can either go a little ways apart from one another, or in corners of a room angled to make an ‘X’ at the center of the space.
Another plus to bookshelf speakers is the aesthetic or look of them in your vinyl set-up. If you look up the most popular turntable configurations, you’ll see many people utilize bookshelf speakers for the decoration.
My first pair of bookshelf speakers were in fact my favorite and most coveted because the clean black finish on the wood made my bedroom look very mid-century. Audiophiles will tell you nothing matters more than the sound, but let’s be realistic: bookshelf speakers look great, and there’s nothing wrong with the design of the speaker being a factor in the decision.
With a $500 threshold and our hearts set on a pair of bookshelf speakers, let’s take a look at 5 with which you literally cannot go wrong. These speakers span the $500 price limit, so there’s something here for everyone! Let’s start with a pair near and dear to my heart. There are a few things to keep in mind as we go through the speakers, and they’ll guide my critique:
- Sound quality
- Ease of Use
The Yamaha NS-6490 as they’re technically known were my first pair of bookshelf speakers, and currently still hang in my possession. I’m such a big fan of these, I usually recommend them to anyone looking for their first pair of name-brand bookshelf speakers. The Yamaha brand is synonymous with quality, but some will say it’s a lower end name brand. I don’t buy that for a second; for $130 these are a steal for the quality-to-price ratio.
This particular pair of Yamaha speakers were meant as a hybrid for professional and home use, so you know that they’re perfect for quieter nights in as well as times where you need to crank out the jams. A max 140W output blew me away when I bought them, and although I stay much closer to the 70W minimum, it’s nice to know its there.
On an average evening of listening, these speakers output high fidelity sound backed by an 8” high power woofer and a 4” midrange driver. With roomy space within the speakers for all ranges of sound, I find that listening to records of any genre works well with they dynamic space these Yamaha 3-Ways create.
The speakers tout the ability to be placed closely to a power or input source without any sort of distortion or interference, but I always kept them on a different surface than my turntable. For bookshelf speakers, a little distance between your sound and your table is good to ensure that things are getting jumbled. Plus, spreading out the speaker helps to spread the sound range as discussed previously. The Yamaha 3-Ways sound like high quality speakers, and friends or family are always impressed to hear that they only carry a $130 price tag. For the price, these are the way to go for under $200.
The JBL Arena 120s are a great choice if you think you may want to use your bookshelf speakers for things other than a turntable down the road. These are classified as loudspeakers that can function in both a bookshelf capacity as well as a larger surround sound system configuration.
JBL has a patented High Definition Imaging technology implemented into the Arena 120s that uses computer-optimized drivers to position and network for lifelike stage-worthy performance. JBL is known to translate real-world sounds into speaker output, and are a trusted brand in all forms of audio needs.
Angled sides and top panels offer a great look to the Arena 120s, but also work well for wall mounting and configuration within smaller spaces. The speakers are painted with a soft-touch finish that comes in black and white, accentuated with grilles and trims that are highlighted by minimalistic brushed metal. In terms of sound, the speakers sound impeccable.
The JBL brand is one I know well, and the Arena series is a favorite among audiophiles. The $200 price tag is great because you can always add on to it, or put that extra money you had allocated for speakers towards new records or other add-ons you may need.
If the Yamaha’s seem as if they might not do enough, or more specifically you’re looking for speakers to possibly keep as extra power for a home surround sound system, the Arena 120s are for you. For a little extra cash than the Yamaha’s, you get two bookshelf speakers that features a 5.5” woofer and soft dome tweeter that projects the clearest, cleanest “highs” you can find for the price.
As mentioned, Yamaha is sometimes contested as being a budget name brand, but you don’t have that problem with JBL. I’ve owned everything from the company from bluetooth speakers for my iPod to headphones to these speakers. They’re a favorite of mine, and I encourage you to give them a look.
The Fluance Ai40Bs have a clear marketing statement behind the speaker’s’ ability: name it and it sounds good. I listen to a wide variety of music, and in a lot of different formats. That’s why I was drawn to the Fluance speakers; I bought these for their versatility. Something a lot of reviewers look for in bookshelf speakers, because they’re so small, is the wide variety of things with which they can connect.
The Fluance Ai40Bs not only connect to a turntable, but also to bluetooth devices. This is a feature you see a lot in all-in-one turntables, and sometimes clues turntable or vinyl consumers into a lesser quality product. That’s not the case, and in fact, it’s ironic that added features can sometimes convince you that there’s a possibility that more means less.
Considered as a class D amplifier, a full, robust sound comes out of these speakers that deceives their size. A wood cabinet holding together a woofer and tweeter that combine to make a robust, nearly crystal clear sound, often depicting sounds as if they were being played in the room live by your favorite band or artist. Precise, warm, distortion free sound is effortless with the Fluance Ai40Bs plug-and-play design. Essentially, speaker wiring is eliminated here to allow these bookshelf speakers to be easily inserted into a turntable or computer for flawless playback.
A glass fiber driver here is key. Woven within the silk soft-dome tweeters and woofer, mids are on parade here, meaning music leaning less bass heavy or treble heavy won’t sound just “okay”. The active nature of the Fluance Ai40Bs means these speakers play the music you love in a true-to-life way, and there aren’t many speakers that have made me feel like I was listening to a live band. Not to mention, I can easily connect my phone and play videos or music on the same speakers spinning my favorite records. The versatility of the Fluance Ai40Bs is unmatched at the $200 price point. Take note if you’re looking for something more than turntable speakers for your media playback.
The sheer power of the Klipsch References are unmatchable at the sub $300 level. The References handle up to 340W of power with 85 watts staying continuous. The copper-spun injection molded graphite woofer is over 5”, meaning lows are incredibly deep and full. The tweeter, on the other hand, features a 1” aluminum compression suspension that travels linearly, meaning a direct drive of highs.
The speaker’s horn is a 90 degree by 90 degree road to clear, dynamic sounds utilizing both of the impressive parts of the speaker aforementioned, all behind a removable grille that keeps the sound acoustically vibrant.
As I mentioned in the intro, the design of a bookshelf speaker can be a major influencer in a purchase. When looking head-on at the Klipsch Reference speakers, they gleem. A black, wood finish encompasses all of the cabinet, with the woofer a bronzed gold, and the tweeter a deep black, appearing to cave in endlessly. The modern design is impeccable, and yet, if paired with a retro turntable, would appear to be timeless. The versatility of a speaker is important in terms of audio, but a design is sometimes what makes or break a memorable pair of speakers.
Overall, the Klipsch are what I would consider to be a great choice of bookshelf speakers if you plan on your turntable setup being visible to visitors in your home. They’ll sound great, producing clear sounds that could accommodate any listener’s tastes and genre preferences, but also look great. They serve as a great example of good taste, both in listening expectations and home decor.
For an article about bookshelf speakers under $500, it probably seems strange that all my choices so far haven’t even broken $300. That speaks to their power and precision, but this last pair, my most expensive recommendation, has been saved for last for a few reasons. One, you won’t find a better pair of speakers under $500 for a turntable setup.
Second, this list is great, and there are many wonderful options, but the D7s take the cake. Lastly, I think there is a great argument behind jumping the $300 up from the other options in this list to buy these, and I want to take the time to make it.
The D7s are a pair of high-performance bookshelf speakers that many use for home theaters, but quite a few people use for music as well, whether it be turntables or stereos. A 1” dome tweeter constructed with aluminum tout a 20/20 wave alignment lens that manages high frequency and translates it into high fidelity.
A centered sound is the end result thanks to the tweeter’s assembly. The 4 ½ balanced double surround system woofer is designed with polypropylene and helps the D7s achieve a punchy bass and great midrange. Much of this is thanks to a linear waveguide that helps take off-axis frequencies that music may produce in production techniques like distortion or electronic instruments and disperses the sound evenly.
A 5 layer piano black finish encompasses the cabinet and are supplemented with gold plated 5-way binding and a magnetic removable grill. These speakers look like they cost $500 at least, and sound as if you paid double. There is a D9 series of the Definitive Technology Demand Series, but in terms of money-to-quality, the D7s are the best deal you’ll find under $500.
So there’s the list! All options are great, and I’m sure there are others out there that would suffice, but in my experience, these 5 are the best options you have under $500 if you’re looking to buy bookshelf speakers for your vinyl setup. If you just picked up a new record player or are looking to upgrade your current speakers, I hope this list helps!
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