What is the most important aspect of the vinyl-listening experience? Many would say it’s the turntable. Others would say the vinyl record album itself.
But the reality is that there are many component parts that make the experience a worthwhile one. Listening to vinyl records is more “analog,” as they say, meaning that it’s more complicated. It doesn’t, however, have to be more primitive, especially when it comes to choosing the right speaker setup—which in my humble opinion is absolutely crucial to your overall enjoyment experience.
Record players with speakers built in are available, but a set of detached stereo surround sound speakers can make all the difference between an average listening experience and one that harnesses the full potential of the format.
In this guide, we will discuss the best detached, powered speakers available, including ones by:
And below, please use our interactive guide to directly compare some of the powered speakers (also known as active speakers) we will be discussing today against a couple of passive speakers:
|Audioengine A2||$$||★★★★||Integrated USB DAC|
|Klipsch R-15M||$$||★★★★||5.25-Inch Woofer|
|Polk Audio T15||$||★★★★||Sensitivity: 89dB|
|Sony SSCS5||$$||★★★★||100 W Maximum Input Power|
|Yamaha HS5||$$||★★★★||54Hz-30kHz frequency response|
What Are Powered Speakers?
Powered speakers have internal preamps built into them, so they do not require an external stereo receiver or preamp to produce sound from the turntable. You can plug them directly into the turntable via RCA outputs and enjoy.
However, not all speaker sets are created equal, and the way in which you set up your speakers is probably just as important as the quality of the speakers themselves. We’ll get into that a little later.
Below, please take a moment to view some of the best-selling bookshelf speakers currently on sale at Amazon, and then see how well they compare to the speakers we will be discussing in this article:
Audioengine has become a standard in quality for modern hi-fi setups, and nowhere is the company’s commitment to that standard more evident than in its A2 line of two-way speakers.
The A2+ setup is the perfect turntable workhorse. The speakers are relatively small and compact and can fit anywhere. And while they’re primarily built for use with computers, the dynamic, high-volume sound packed into this pair is also ideal to plug directly into your turntable in order to access every corner of the vinyl sound.
There’s a mantra with turntable speakers that one should always remember: wood is good. The classic hi-fi speakers of yesteryear were often large and difficult to move around compared to portable ease of use of the A2. The thing that made those speakers better than many modern counterparts, however, was the fact that they were enclosed in wood casing. The theory was that wood provided a more resonant chamber for the sound to roll around in, helping to produce the legendary warmth of vinyl sound.
While many of the more affordable sets of modern speakers often forego such detail for cheaper materials, Audioengine spares no expense, encasing even the smaller A2s in wooden housing that teases out the rich bass of many modern recordings. The “powered” aspect of the A2s is similar to that of many comparable models—the amplification is housed in the left speaker, so the preamplification often provided by a stereo receiver is not required.
The A2s can go anywhere – on a shelf, in the back of the room, or right by the turntable itself.
In fact, right next to the turntable is where many prefer to place their speakers, and the A2s being small and compact makes this easy. But for the best vinyl listening experience, consider going a little further afield with your speakers, a concept which we’ll cover next.
When it comes to high-quality speakers, Klipsch is a name you know. For years the company has a built a reputation on a premium yet affordable audio line coveted by music industry professionals and home sound enthusiasts alike. The R-15Ms are a prime example of that dependability, built with solid materials and a stylish look to boot.
What makes a premium Klipsch set work, though, is not just the speakers themselves. Indeed, you could have the most expensive set of speakers in the world, with solid gold wiring and amplification designed by NASA, and you still might not get the most out of the experience if you don’t know where to put the speakers.
Therefore, it’s important to know that positioning is key.
Music producers place speakers in their studio to maximize audio range as its perceived in stereo – right and left channel. In other words, where both the right and left ears find it in its fullest depth. While many newbie vinyl listeners likely won’t pay such close attention to dynamics of their setup, with a good pair of speakers, it almost becomes essential.
In the end, sound is sound, even in its most pristine form. How the human ear perceives sound is what really matters.
The HS5 is the one to watch from one of music’s best brand names. These are studio quality speakers that can fit just as easily into your home setup. Adjustment features like room control give you optimal leeway to design the sound palette for your space.
Again, you’re the sound engineer. You want to be able to control how the room plays. When you have a set of bookshelf speakers that you can put anywhere and still tweak and adjust to fill the room with sound, you know you’re on the right track. For a little bit more dough, Yamaha can help you harness that control.
And below, check out a couple additional choices that, while they aren’t powered speakers, we still feel are worthy of your consideration if you’re willing to look into other options.
Let’s say you’re new to vinyl. You’ve heard that detached speakers are the best way to go, but you want a version that won’t break the bank. You invest in a pair of Polk T15s, a solid but affordable top audio model for listeners of all breeds. Your apartment isn’t huge, but it’s not tiny either. You want a sound that’s going to fill it up.
So where to put those nice new speakers?
This is a science. There’s some math that can be done here, calculations that can be made to find the optimal range and angles of refraction. But we’re not all sound engineers. Most of us just want to hear great records sound, well, great.
So make the process simple. Take some time to go through a room. See where the sound hits, how it travels from place to place. Then place your speakers accordingly. The wonderful thing about detached powered speakers is that you can move them around, configure them however you want. Be your own sound engineer. Hear your records how you want to hear them.
Of course, no matter how many angles you calculate, you can’t simulate the human ear. No speaker is perfect, and though Polk is a solid brand name, the price point of the T15 inevitably pushes it into the lower range of audio quality. But if you’re on a budget, as many vinyl newbies often are, this is an essential model to get your turntable setup up and running quickly and affordably.
Probably the most well-known name in electronics around the world, Sony knows a thing or two about solid audio. To that end, the SS-CS5 is a workhorse that, much Like the Polk T15, delivers clipless audio at an affordable clip. There’s nothing fancy about this model. The “hi-res sound” designation is a little dubious. You’re not going to find top of the line audio quality here. What you will find is straightforward, clear, voluminous sound, all in a durable box that will last.
That’s another good question to ask yourself about speakers: how good is good enough? Vinyl is known for its depth of sound, but also for its defects. The pops and crackles of vintage vinyl are often part of the artefactual charm of the format. This experience can be enhanced by a pair of hand-me-down speakers, worn but still warm in their performance.
So, when you’re going for a new pair of speakers, sometimes top of the line isn’t necessary. The turntable expresses the personality of the vinyl. The speaker just has to produce sound and get out of the way. A speaker like the Sony SS-CS5 can do exactly that, while the expected Sony craftsmanship will ensure that the sound doesn’t cut in and out like on grandma’s old stacks.
No set of speakers can give you total control, however, no matter well-crafted they are. Detached powered speakers help you maximize the vinyl experience, but they don’t create it.
And that’s why, as with everything vinyl-related, it’s a good idea to spend some time studying how you want your room to sound. Expensive or inexpensive, dynamic or close range, speakers can deliver in any format as long as their positioning is optimized in any given space.
And you’re the master of that space. So find the powered speakers you want and start listening. You never know what you’ll hear.
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