Enjoying great sounding music is not a pleasure restricted to high income brackets, but lots of people believe that the best stereo speakers—loudspeakers that can be appreciated by people who identify as audiophiles—cost an arm and a leg. Many do, but a great audio system is not dictated by price alone.
There are several (more than what I list here) high quality tower speakers worthy of critical listening, but will cost you a lot less than you might believe.
How do some of these speakers achieve such good sound while costing so little? Part of it is physics. Sound is just waves after all, and good audio engineers know how to manipulate those waves without overly expensive materials or extravagant industrial design. Let’s face it, basic speaker technology hasn’t changed much in the last 50 years, so a person or company with experience can apply sound design principles to moderately priced materials, match it with efficient manufacturing (usually outsourced to factories in China) and produce something wonderful.
Another money-saving tactic is in the business model. One of the brands here sells primarily directly to consumers online, which saves a lot of middle-man costs. Another is very careful of what kind of dealer it works with, ensuring that you (the consumer) is guided by people who know their stuff.
The speakers in this roundup run from a few hundred dollars a pair to just over $1,000.
Let’s take a look at some of my favorite, less-expensive lower speakers. I have heard all of these models in person, some in dealer showrooms and some in demo suites at trade shows or conferences.
The Pioneer SP-FS52 speakers and the name Andrew Jones are often spoken of together, because Jones, a well-respected speaker designer for the very expensive TAD line, put his energy into making these remarkable budget speakers, and the results are outstanding. At only $130 each, a pair of these: makes probably the best sub-$300 stereo speakers available (though you probably want to add a subwoofer). They’re not housed in the prettiest cabinets, but for this price, you can forgive that. Each speaker features three 5.25-inch woofers and a 1-inch soft dome tweeter all with an 8-element crossover. $129 each. Available on Amazon.
Moving up the price line a little bit (well, a lot, actually) we find a Polk Audio monitor series tower–the Polk Monitor 75T. The cherry finish here is especially nice looking, though they’re also available in black or silver. Each speaker sports a 1-inch silk/polymer dome tweeter and four 6.24 inch composite drivers, which Polk says balance high efficiency, strong bass and low distortion. A specially tuned flared port prevents port noise. These can be bi-wired, if you’re amped up that way. $499 each. Available on Amazon.
You may know SVS as a great maker of direct-to-consumer subwoofers (and they do make awesome subwoofers), but a few years ago SVS started offering affordable, high-performing speaker systems. These SVS Prime speakers clock in at the same price as the Polk speakers above (a full home theater package is also available). In the Prime you get a 3.5-way crossover with aluminum dome tweeters (with special diffusers for an “open, airy presentation”), a dedicated 4.5-inch midrange driver and dual 6.5-inch long-throw woofers. $499 each
The most expensive among this selection of affordable speakers for home stereo systems still will only cost you $1,400 for the pair. : The Golden Ear Triton Seven speakers sport an acoustically tuned cabinet, a D-Appolito driver array with two 5.25-inch mid/bass long-throw drivers, a High Velocity Folded Ribbon Tweeter and two side-mounted planar sub-bass radiators.: Also, read our review of this speaker’s bigger brother (or sister) the Golden Ear Triton Two. $699 each
These aren’t the only good affordable speakers. If I had time I’d also include some from Paradigm (especially the Monitor 9 and Monitor 7 speakers) Klipsch, Aperion Intimus towers,Warfedale, Infinity, JBL, Boston Acoustics and others, all worth checking out.
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This article was originally published on February 18, 2015 and was updated on September 30, 2015.