Best speakers 2020: budget to premium stereo speakers

Upgrade your home music system with our selection of the best speakers you can buy

Best Speakers Buying Guide: Welcome to What Hi-Fi?’s round-up of the best speakers you can buy in 2020.

The best possible stereo sound quality still comes from a pair of speakers – no matter how good one-box wireless speakers might have become. Our round-up of the best stereo speakers you can buy, will ensure you get the best possible sound from your home audio system.

Whether you’re on a tight budget or ready to splash the cash, take your pick from our selection of the best stereo speakers for music. We have both floorstanding and bookshelf speakers to recommend, as well as desktopactive and wireless stereo speakers.

So whether you’re looking for your first pair of speakers as you build a music system, upgrading an old pair of budget speakers or going for broke with the best speakers your system, room and finances can accommodate, we’re here to help. Read on for our round-up of the best hi-fi speakers on the market right now.

How we choose the best speakers

Here at What Hi-Fi? we review hundreds of products every year, including no small amount of speakers of all shapes, sizes and types. So how do we come to our review verdicts? And why can you trust them?

The What Hi-Fi? team has more than 100 years experience of reviewing, testing and writing about consumer electronics. We have state-of-the-art testing facilities in London and Bath, where our team of expert reviewers do all our in-house testing. This gives us complete control over the testing process, ensuring consistency. We always ensure we spend plenty of time with the speakers, trying them with different electronics, in different positions and with different music.

All products are tested in comparison with rival products in the same category, and all review verdicts are agreed upon by the team as a whole rather than a single reviewer, helping to ensure consistency and avoid individual subjectivity.

From all of our reviews, we choose the top products to feature in our Best Buys, such as this one. That’s why if you take the plunge and buy one of the products recommended below, or on any of our other Best Buy pages, you can rest assured you’re getting a What Hi-Fi?-approved product.

  1. Elac Debut B5.2

Arguably the most capable standmounters we’ve heard at the money.

SPECIFICATIONS

Speaker terminals: Single | Mid/bass driver: 5.25cm | Tweeter: 25mm | Sensitivity: 86dB/W/m | Dimensions: 34 x 18 x 23cm (HxWxD) |

Reasons to Buy

Detailed and organised sound

Solid build

Unfussy nature

Reasons to Avoid

Tough competition

Elac’s affordable standmounters are brilliant performers for the money. Solid and unfussy about placement, the Debut B5.2s have the dynamic expression, detail and tonal sophistication to handle anything you throw at them – not to mention enough stretch in their abilities to improve even further when hooked up to a high-end system.

The revised 5.25cm mid/bass unit uses a new blend of aramid fibres for the cone, combined with a different shape to improve stiffness and damping, while the tweeter claims a top-end response of 35kHz, adding plenty of sparkle to proceedings.

Tonally, they don’t have the luscious midrange warmth of the comparable Dalis (below), but they’re admirably balanced and capable of making the best of any recording – even those of poor quality.

Elac has been in the speaker business since the 1980s and has made many fine products in that time. It’s fair to say that these new Debut B5.2 speakers should be considered one of the company’s finest efforts. For this sort of money, they’re exceptional.

  1. B&W 606 S2 Anniversary Edition

B&W hones its 606 speakers to great effect

SPECIFICATIONS

Type: 2-way bookshelf speakers | Impedance: 8ohm | Sensitivity: 88dB | Frequency response: 52Hz to 28kHz | Dimensions (hwd): 35 x 19 x 30cm | Weight: 6.9kg

Reasons to Buy

Excellent clarity

Agile and articulate bass

Impressive dynamic punch

 

Reasons to Avoid

Nothing at this price

The original Bowers & Wilkins 606 speakers walked off with What Hi-Fi?’s top speaker award in 2019 but it seems there’s always room for improvement. To mark the 25-year anniversary of the 600 range, B&W has decided to upgrade the 606s (and the rest of the range) – and it proved to be a wise move.

Cosmetically, there’s not much new, but for an inscription on the tweeter surround and a new oak finish option. On the inside, there’s an upgraded crossover that now features better-quality capacitors.

While retaining a broadly similar sonic character, the 606 S2 Anniversary Editions prove significantly more capable than their predecessors. The biggest differences are heard in the bass. The new version is so much more precise and controlled. There are improvements in clarity too, with voices offering extra subtlety, while the overall presentation is more natural and transparent.

Don’t be fooled by the apparent minor upgrades, the B&W 606 S2 Anniversary Edition speakers deliver an impressive step up in performance.

  1. Fyne Audio F302

Fyne Audio has done a sterling job with these mouth-watering floorstanders.

SPECIFICATIONS

Sensitivity: 90dB/w/m | Impedance: 8ohms | Type: Two-way, rear ported | Max power handling: 120W | Mid/bass driver: 15cm | Tweeter: 25mm | Dimensions: 93 x 19 x 27cm (HXWXD)

Reasons to Buy

Full-bodied, entertaining sound

Fantastic timing and dynamic range

Plenty of low-end presence

Reasons to Avoid

Need some care in system-matching

Although in its infancy as a brand, Fyne’s seven-strong management team represents a kind of supergroup of industry minds. It has more than 200 years of experience – and delivers results that total the sum of its parts, if the first of its loudspeakers to arrive in our test rooms are anything to go by.

It’s rare to find a pair of sub-£500 floorstanders able to compete in every respect with the wealth of quality standmount speakers available at the same price, but the F302s manage to tick all the boxes and more.

Superb all-rounders, they feature a two-way, rear-ported design that houses a 25mm polyester dome tweeter and 15cm multi-fibre mid/bass driver in each cabinets. Build quality is impressive for the money, with a choice of understated wood-effect finishes – described by Fyne as ‘superior vinyl’.

Overall, the company has done a sterling job of balancing sound quality with affordability. If you want a pair of floorstanders that won’t break the bank, look no further.

 

  1. KEF LS50 Meta

These standmounters set new standards at the price

SPECIFICATIONS

Max power: 106dB | Sensitivity: 85dB | Frequency response: 79Hz – 28kHz | Impedance: 8ohms | Dimensions: 30.2 x 20 x 27.8cm
 | Weight: 7.2kg

Reasons to Buy

Exceptional sonic transparency

Subtle and precise presentation

Innovative technology

Reasons to Avoid

Nothing at this price

The original LS50 speakers had little wrong with them but after eight years, KEF figured they deserved a fresh look. And with the LS50 Meta they have delivered a worthy upgrade.

The LS50’s Uni-Q driver array, where the tweeter sits in the throat of the mid/bass unit, has been thoroughly reworked, taking in all the refinements that KEF has developed over the past eight years and adding something new in the form of Metamaterial Absorption Technology (MAT). MAT is KEF’s way of coping with the sound that comes off the back of the tweeter dome; a plastic circular maze of tubes on the back promising greater absorption for cleaner, less distorted highs.

While the basic sonic character is instantly familiar, the Meta speakers have gained a level of clarity and finesse the originals only hinted at, sounding clean while still offering muscle and dynamics.

We’ve loved the originals and the LS50 Meta takes the performance to a notably higher level.

 

 

  1. Ruark Audio MR1 Mk2

Fantastic desktop speakers blessed with a gorgeous design and superb audio.

SPECIFICATIONS

aptX Bluetooth: Yes | Inputs: Optical, line in | Output: Subwoofer | Dimensions: 17 × 13 × 13.5cm (HxWxD)

Reasons to Buy

Stunningly musical sound

Subtle dynamics

Stylish, compact design

Reasons to Avoid

No USB input

We loved the first Ruark Audio MR1 wireless desktop speakers when they emerged in 2013. The retro looks, the intuitive design, the superb Bluetooth sound – it was a winning combination that earned two successive What Hi-Fi? Awards.

For a while the MR1s were toppled from their perch by the gorgeous KEF Eggs. But it was only a matter of time before Ruark Audio unveiled the MR1 Mk2. And sure enough, Ruark Audio is back with a vengeance, having regained its crown for the last couple of years.

These compact bookshelf speakers are packed with features and hugely versatile. Bluetooth apt-X active  allows you to stream music to the speakers in CD-like sound quality, an optical inpt means they’re easily connected to a TV. Prefer analogue?  You can always use the AUX input to partner them with a turntable or plug in some headphones.

The step up in performance in impressive, and the Ruark MR1 Mk2s manage to be even more appealing than their predecessors. Quite simply, these are superb speakers if you’re short of space.

  1. Q Acoustics 3030i

An excellent addition to the 3000i series of speakers.

SPECIFICATIONS

Bi-wire: No | Driver: 16.5cm mid/bass, 22mm tweeter | Sensitivity: 88dB/w/m | Impedance: 6ohms | Dimensions: 32.5 x 20 x 33cm

Reasons to Buy

Insightful and expressive

Impressive, well-integrated bass

Fine build

Reasons to Avoid

Tough competition

The Q Acoustics 3030is are the largest of the three standmounters in the 3000i range and latest to receive a glowing five-star review.

Give these boxes a few days to settle and they produce a sound that’s familiar yet surprisingly muscular compared to other Q Acoustics speakers. Like the other speakers in this 3000 range, these are impressively cohesive performers with a smooth tonal balance and easy-going nature.

There’s impressive weight at the low-end, but bass remains well integrated and controlled. Dynamics are impressive and they stay composed when asked to work hard at high volume. Detailed, rhythmic and ultimately rewarding, they’re a great addition to the speaker market at this price.

  1. Elac Debut 2.0 B6.2

A mature and understated pair of speakers

SPECIFICATIONS

Speaker terminals: Single | Mid/bass driver: 16.5cm | Tweeter: 2.5cm | Sensitivity: 87dB/W/m | Dimensions: 37.4 x 19.5 x 26.8cm (HWD) |

Reasons to Buy

Hugely transparent

Don’t force their own character

Rhythmic and dynamic

Reasons to Avoid

Unforgiving of poor sources

Having given these speakers’ smaller siblings a What Hi-Fi? Award at the end of 2019 (you’ll see those at the top of the page), we were eager to hear the bigger brothers. And we weren’t disappointed.

There’s a larger driver here, as well as some changes to the tweeter design and port placement. Inside the cabinet has been further braced for a more rigid structure – reduced resonance and distortion is the aim. They do feel solid as a result, though the style remains simple.

While their looks are understated, and even sonically they refuse to beg for your affection, the Elac B6.2s are mature, transparent performers that confidently outline just what the rest of your system is doing. It is hi-fi mentality at a price that only just nudges into the midrange.

We’re big fans of this new Debut series. The B6.2 speakers take what we loved about their Award-winning siblings and build on it with an even fuller-bodied and more mature presentation.

 

  1. Dali Spektor 2

An excellent pair of entry-level speakers.

SPECIFICATIONS

Impedance: 6ohms | Sensitivity: 85dB/w/m | Speaker terminals: Single wire | Dimensions: 29 x 17 x 24cm (HxWcD) | Tweeter: 25mm soft dome | Woofer: 13cm wood fibre

Reasons to Buy

Agile, articulate and expressive sound

Good detail resolution

Unfussy nature

Reasons to Avoid

Nothing of note

 

On paper, there’s little to differentiate Dali’s new Spektor 2s from any of their main rivals: the speakers stick to the classic budget standmounter formula like Superglue sticks to fingers. They offer everything we would expect from a typical £200/$200 box here, from two-way driver configuration and ported bass tuning right the way through to the 25mm dome tweeter and 13cm mid/bass driver.

But these Dalis are much more than simply the sum of their parts: they ooze sophistication and offer a degree of entertainment that even their most talented rivals struggle to match. Powerful vocals are delivered with nuance and passion, grabbing the listener’s attention, and dynamics are handled with subtlety and class. They’re particularly composed at high volume, too, which is always an encouraging sign.

Mission and Q Acoustics offer similarly-good options, and both have their relative strengths and

 

  1. Dynaudio Contour 20i

The 20is build on the solid foundations of the previous version and remain one of the best at the price

Reasons to Buy

Composed and muscular sound

Excellent detail resolution

Pleasing rhythm and dynamics

Reasons to Avoid

Needs care in positioning

Amp must have some grunt

We’ve long been fans of Dynaudio’s Contour 20 range and the Contour 20i speaker successfully raise the bar. On the surface, little seems to have changed, but start to look closer and the improvements emerge.

There’s a revised 28mm Esotar tweeter, which aims to reduce distortion and give the tweeter a smoother, flatter frequency response, and a new suspension for the 18cm mid/bass driver. Dynaudio has also been able to deliver a simpler crossover network.

Now these speakers aren’t cheap and you should only be considering them if you have a system with components of similar quality (and, as a result, similar price). But if you do have such a hi-fi set-up, then you can enjoy what the Contour 20i speakers have to offer.

Perhaps what you’ll notice first, is impressively powerful bass, with a sense of weight and punch that seems out of keeping with a box of this size. Yet, despite this rich and full-bodied approach to lows, these boxes still have enough in the way of agility and tunefulness to satisfy. There’s authority, scale and class-leading insight, whether dealing with subtle, delicate moments or songs requiring soaring dynamics.

It’s a competitive price-point, with a number of supremely capable contenders, but when it comes to delivering music that sounds rhythmical and cohesive, these Dynaudio speakers are very hard to beat.

  1. WharfedaleEvo 4.4

Wharfedale shows it can mix with the best premium speakers

SPECIFICATIONS

Sensitivity: 90 dB/w/m | Driver: 3-way bass reflex, AMT tweeter, Kevlar bass drivers | Impedance: 4ohms | Max power handling: 200W | Speaker terminals: single | Dimensions: 105.9 x 25.7 x 35.6cm (hwd)

 

Reasons to Buy

Natural, easy-going presentation

Excitement and rhythmic drive

Fine build and finish

Reasons to Avoid

Need a large room to shine

These are the biggest and priciest offerings in the Wharfedale’sEvo range and are packed full of so much technology that we had to double-check the price. The Air Motion Transformer tweeter is normally reserved for much more expensive speakers, while the dome midrange and twin Kevlar bass drivers also set these floorstanders apart from the crowd.

It won’t come as a surprise that these relatively big speakers produce a large-scale sound with plenty of authority that’s capable of going nice and loud. But they also deliver transparency and subtlety, helping to ensure a natural, easy-going presentation.

There are three finish options – black, white and walnut. Build quality is good for the price, and the elegant curves of the cabinet add a touch of class. Some clever bracing and damping minimise resonance.

Rivals such as the excellent Fyne Audio F501s might sound a little more exciting, but over a longer listen the Evo 4.4’s easier-going presentation is more natural and convincing. A superb pair of premium floorstanders that get better with every listen.

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