It should be obvious that loudspeakers are the most important part of any audio system. They are, after all, the things through which you actually hear the sound of music. Even the best high end turntable won’t be worth its salt without quality, complementary equipment – especially speakers.
There are, of course, low-cost turntables that have speakers built in, but the quality is generally unbearably low-fi and tinny, and these units never seem to play loudly enough. Fortunately, though, there are plenty of solutions to these issues that won’t break the bank for music lovers just getting the hang of vinyl.
So spend a few minutes with us and we’ll provide some info along with recommendations for speakers that will work well with your turntable without disrupting your retirement plan.
Below, please use the interactive table to easily compare and contrast many of the speakers we will discuss in today’s article:
$ = 99 and under | $$ = $100 to $399 | $$$ = $400 and up
|Dayton Audio B652-AIR||$||4.6/5||6-1/2" woofer|
|Pioneer SP-BS22||$$||4.6/5||4" Structured Surface Woofer|
|PSB Imagine Mini||$$$||5.0/5||Sensitivity: 87 dB; 8-ohm impedance|
|Wharfedale Diamond 10.2||$$||4.5/5||6.5" Kevlar bass driver|
|ELAC Debut B5||$$||4.9/5||Woven Aramid-Fiber Woofer|
|Klipsch RP-160M||$$||4.6/5||Redesigned Tactrix\xae Horn|
|ELAC Debut F5||$$||4.9/5||Braced Sectioned MDF Cabinet|
|Infinity Primus 363||$$||4.6/5||Dual 6.5" MMD low-frequency drivers|
|Pioneer SP-FS52-LR||$||4.6/5||Three 5.25" Structured Surface Woofers|
|Polk Audio TSx440T||$$||4.3/5||Gold Plated 5-way binding posts|
Notable Speakers Terms to Note
First, let’s take a quick look at a few key terms that you’ll run across when speaker shopping:
- Bass: The lower portion of the frequency spectrum.
- Bass reflex: A style of speaker that features a “tuned” port designed to improve bass.
- Crossover: A circuit that splits the frequency spectrum into different parts.
- Driver: A name for any of the speakers within the speaker “box” or enclosure.
- Midrange: The “midlevel” section of the frequency array. Also the name for a driver/speaker that reproduces those tones.
- Sensitivity/Efficiency: A measurement of how well a speaker turns amplifier power into volume.
- Soundstage: How well a pair of stereo speakers replicate where instruments and voices are, as if they were on a stage.
- Treble: The higher end of the frequency spectrum.
- Tweeter: A small driver that reproduces the higher frequencies.
- Woofer: A driver that produces the lower frequencies.
Below, please take a moment to view some of the best-selling record players currently available on Amazon:
The English language is a colorful beast, and audiophiles (especially equipment reviewers) tend to take full advantage of it.
Unfortunately, how one hears music through a given loudspeaker is an extremely subjective thing. One man’s “lively presentation” can be “overly bright” to another. A speaker that’s “warm” to one listener might be “polite” or “laid back” to another.
See what we mean?
If you’re using reviews to shop, here are a few terms and typical definitions you should look out for. First, “good” and “bad” don’t suffice, and an entire lexicon has sadly been born. Some of the adjectives are, well, just a bit silly.
Do you need paper towels if a speaker produces “liquid” midrange? Nope. It means “textureless,” whatever THAT means!
Are you in danger of bumping into a speaker that’s “transparent”? Not quite. It’s means a speaker’s ability to let the listener “hear into” the music.
Our favorite has got to be the “musical” speaker, one that provides “a sense of cohesion and subjective ‘rightness’ in the sound.”
We thought they were all musical, but what do we know?
There are plenty more of these terms, courtesy of a poster at headfi.org. Some might actually be viewed as instructive. For instance, a “detailed” speaker will convey nuances of sound that are less-evident (or even totally absent) on other models.
This is generally a good thing, but if you’re going to listen to most of your music on vinyl LP records, those annoying ticks and pops might just become a little more annoying.
Sound is measured in hertz, usually from 20 to 20,000. A “two-way” speaker box has (no surprise!) two speakers in it (a woofer and tweeter), each reproducing a specified portion of that frequency range. A three-way design adds a third speaker, principally to deliver the middle portion of the spectrum, also known as the midrange.
Is one design “better” than the other? Not really. Most experts agree that a great speaker isn’t great because of its design, but because of how its design was executed. A poorly designed three-way with inferior materials will absolutely sound less pleasing and realistic than a more thoughtfully reproduced two-way.
Also, loudspeakers come in two other categories – floor-standing (aka tower) and bookshelf/stand-mount/desktop. Speakers designed to rest on the floor are, of course, larger, and tend to have bigger woofers. They’re able to put out adequate bass without the use of a subwoofer. Bookshelf models, whether placed on stands or actually on a shelf, are smaller and easier to place but might not fulfill the demands of bass-heavy music or movies.
Desktop speakers (also called computer speakers or monitors) are most often quite compact and self-powered.
There are scads of speakers out there in the marketplace, from extreme low-end budget models to units that cost $100,000 or more. If you’ve got that kind of coin, then go for it, but be prepared to spend at least that much – if not more – on related equipment.
For those on a more beer-type budget, there are extremely competent speakers that play way above their price points. Here are a few:
And here are some of my favorite bookshelf speakers that you can use to great satisfaction with most turntables:
Pioneer SP-BS22 ($125 a pair):
Speaker guru Andrew Jones has designed some of the audio world’s most dazzling (and expensive) speakers, but turned his attention to budget offerings a few years ago. These little two-way speakers were among is first masterworks, causing jaws to drop among critics and consumers alike. Remarkably faithful over the sound spectrum, they put out a surprising amount of bass.
PSB Imagine Mini ($759.99 a pair):
Definitely the most expensive on our bookshelf list, but man, do I love these little speakers. They come in a variety of colors—glossy white and glossy black…but my favorite is cherry. It just looks great, as it has a cherry wood-looking veneer. But not only that, these babies sound wonderful. For being small bookshelf speakers, they have some serious kick to them. They won’t knock you out with their bass of course, but the sound—both treble and bass—is truly excellent for the price. The only frustration comes in connecting the wires, as you’ll have to thread your speaker cable through two holes on the bottom to connect your wires to these speakers. So if you’re used to speakers that can easily be connected from the back, the PSB Imagine Mini’s require a bit more work.
ELAC Debut B5 ($230 a pair):
Jones has moved on to the California-based ELAC company and come up with another two-way, diminutive winner that many say sounds even more lifelike than the Pioneer.
Dayton Audio B652-AIR ($149 a pair):
Can a speaker produce near-audiophile quality sound for a hundred and fifty bucks? These guys can. They won’t win any beauty contests, but they’ll play loud and gallantly, easily outclassing anything else at this ridiculous price.
Wharfedale Diamond 10.2 ($380 a pair):
This venerable British speaker maker is in a period of resurgence, particularly in the budget-priced speaker arena. The 10.2s are particularly nice-looking speakers, and they manage to reproduce all types of music without “coloring” the sound or calling much attention to themselves.
Klipsch Reference Premiere RP-160M ($440 a pair):
Moving up in price, these Klipsch speakers are known for having “horns” instead of traditional tweeters. Without getting too wonky, horn technology allows for significantly greater efficiency, which means that they’ll play louder with less power and might be a good fit for direct connection to some turntables. The “horn sound” isn’t to everyone’s taste, but true devotees wouldn’t live without it.
And now, here are some of my favorite floor-standing speakers currently available on the market:
Pioneer SP-FS52-LR ($127 each):
The floor-standing version of the above Pioneers, these amazing speakers are being sold at bargain-basement prices. Three woofers and a tweeter combine for stark realism and plenty of satisfying bass.
ELAC Debut F5 ($280):
The big brother of the above-mentioned stand-mounts, these new towers are already turning heads with their beefy, room-filling performance. They’ll play loud and lifelike all day and night long.
Infinity Primus 363 ($200 each):
Infinity has long been a big player in the speaker game, and these three-way entries are exceedingly lifelike, especially in the delicate upper end of the frequency spectrum.
Polk Audio TSx440T ($200 each):
The folks at Polk are known as the “Speaker Specialists,” and they’ve been putting out quality, budget-conscious products for many years. No less than three woofers in these babies will do justice to any movie or hip-hop music.
PSB Imagine X1T ($450 each):
A notch up in appearance and sound quality, these PSBs (named for esteemed designer Paul Barton and his wife) are particularly revered by lovers of the delicacies of classical music. But their robust, three-way design will convey any sort of music with aplomb and oomph.
With so many modern vinyl record players coming packed with their own internal amplifiers, some people have decided to get into vinyl without having to purchase additional equipment, like an integrated amplifier or receiver. However, very few (if any) turntables can make traditional “passive” speakers fill a room with sound. A solution can lie in the increasingly popular array of powered speakers.
There are dozens of brands in this booming market niche, but we’ll point out a good place to start: speakers by M-Audio. The company’s lineup features highly rated entries like the AV42 ($149 a pair), whose 20-watt amplifier should power small-to-medium sized rooms or offices with plenty of sound.
Moving up the food chain, the BX6 Carbon ($313 a pair) ups the amplifier ante to 130 watts.
Also, keep in mind that some turntables have Bluetooth connectivity, so they can be mated with similarly equipped powered speakers. Look, Ma, no wires!
With a spreading dearth of what we used to call “hi-fi stores,” it’s getting harder and harder to actually audition the components we’re interested in buying. And, even if we could, the display space we hear them in (especially at big box retailers) might not even faintly resemble what they’ll sound like in our living rooms.
This is very important – your listening space is actually a component of your audio system. Lots of drapes or glass, hardwood floors, heavily upholstered furniture, and placement of the speakers themselves can have an extremely significant impact on how they’ll sound. Simply moving speakers a foot farther from a rear wall can drastically improve (or certainly change) the sound, particularly in the bass department. Having them pointing directly at your listening chair versus a more “triangular” pattern can also make a profound difference – for better or worse.
Fortunately, most reputable online dealers allow returns (often prepaid) during a 30-day or even longer period, so you’re not taking much risk. Our advice is to read professional and consumer reviews of the speakers you’re considering before making a choice. Obviously, budget is a strong consideration, but placement also must be kept in mind, not to mention how they’ll meld with your existing décor.
The absolute bottom line is this: Speakers that make your favorite music sound good to you are the ones you should own.
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