|Best overall||Polk Reserve R500||Check Price||
This versatile floorstander incorporates flagship Polk technologies at an accessible price.
|Best stereo smart speaker||Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin||Check Price||
Form meets function in this sleek airship piloted by Alexa.
|Best for home||Bluesound PULSE SOUNDBAR+||Check Price||
With support for both immersive audio and high-res streaming, this soundbar elevates music listening as well as movies.
Choosing the best stereo speakers used to be a pretty straightforward decision: If speakers sounded good, matched your amp, and fit your space, they were a winner. These days, that decision is a little more complicated, taking into account granular music preferences, streaming functionality, and whole-home connectivity.
With a wide range of speaker choices available at every price point, it’s easy to be lured by long feature lists and luxurious stylings. But while all that functionality is important, remember that fidelity comes first: All of the convenience in the world don’t matter if your speakers can’t produce thrilling, room-filling sound that brings all of the nuances of your favorite songs and movies to life, precisely as they were meant to be heard.
Looking for new speakers but not sure where to begin? We’ve done the heavy lifting by rounding up our favorite models in a range of categories, from traditional towers to smart speakers, focusing on models that overperform but can be considered a bargain. And, if you’re new to these technologies, check out our primer on what makes up a speaker to jump-start your quest for the best stereo speakers that prove great sound doesn’t have to be accompanied by greater prices.
- Best overall: Polk Reserve R500
- Best stereo smart speaker: B&W Zeppelin
- Best for home: Bluesound PULSE SOUNDBAR+
- Best wireless: KEF LS50 Wireless II
- Best budget: Elac Debut 2.0 B5.2
How we chose the best stereo speakers
To select the best stereo speakers from hundreds of choices, we narrowed our focus to specific applications, focusing on listening to music in indoor spaces, with the caveat that many listeners enjoy music and movies on the same media system. We concentrated on speakers that best balance proven sonic performance, versatile connectivity features, and universal appeal. Our team of musicians, producers, and gear junkies compared notes about our favorite models, along with input from experts and actual users. We investigated both time-honored classics and the newest developments in each category, putting new speakers through hands-on listening tests whenever possible.
Things to consider before buying the best stereo speakers
Selecting the best stereo speakers is a very personal decision. Many factors determine a speaker’s sound, including build quality, materials, and components; amplification and inputs; and the size and sound of your room also play big roles.
What size speakers should I get?
Picking the right size speakers for your room is important. In general, the larger the speaker, the more powerful its output and the deeper the bass it can produce. But bigger isn’t always better. You want loudspeakers that are large enough to effortlessly fill the room with sound but small enough to perform efficiently in that space. For example, bookshelf speakers might be perfect for your home office, but floor-standing speakers might be a better fit for your living room. Your speakers should be able to effortlessly reproduce your most dynamic content, but if they’re too powerful for the size of the room, you can’t play them at their optimal levels and they can end up sounding boomy.
Should I get active or passive speakers?
Active, or powered, speakers have built-in amplification, while passive speakers need to be powered by an external amplifier, which can take the form of a stereo receiver or dedicated power amp. If you’re a gear minimalist, powered speakers mean fewer components and less cable clutter and you don’t have to worry about matching your speakers to the right amp. Audiophiles tend to prefer passive speakers because, with less circuitry being placed inside the enclosure, they generally allow for designs that sound better than equivalently priced powered speakers and allow more flexibility mixing and matching and upgrading components for their specific sonic characters (or lack thereof, for those that prize neutrality). And because passive speakers don’t have to plug into a power outlet, they allow for more placement options in some spaces, speaker wires allowing.
Do I need a subwoofer?
Sometimes it makes sense to extend the low-end range of your system with a subwoofer. Bass frequencies need big drivers to reproduce them and speakers that are on the smaller side, like bookshelf speakers, can’t always deliver brawny bass by design. Consider a sub if your speakers don’t produce sound that extends to the lowest frequencies or if your speakers produce bass that you can hear, but you want more powerful, intense bass that you can feel—especially if you like bass-heavy music like hip hop or EDM. Subwoofers are also a common choice if you’re using your speaker system for both music and movies because they’ll add that cinematic rumble.
Some speakers come with subwoofers, while others are matched to subwoofers by the same manufacturer. And if you’re not sure if a sub is the right investment, you can always add one down the line if you feel like your current setup isn’t bringing enough thump and thunder.
What kind of connectivity should I look for?
Speaker connections can range from the ultra-minimalist (the B&W Zeppelin, for example, has no physical audio connections) to fully loaded products that offer a range of analog and digital I/Os, including USB audio inputs and HDMI ARC ports for home theater. Your audio sources will dictate which connections you need. To connect a turntable, for example, you’ll need a phono-level analog input.
What about Wi-Fi and Bluetooth support?
Some speakers support Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, or both; these speakers are labeled “wireless speakers” (despite their need for a power cable—you’ll never confuse them for portable party speakers). Bluetooth technology lets you stream music from your mobile devices, while Wi-Fi lets you stream from the internet or a computer on your home network. (Bluetooth links devices directly; Wi-Fi requires a router to connect the devices to and through a local network.) Most speaker manufacturers offer free companion apps to streamline the process.
The best stereo speakers: Reviews & Recommendations
The best brand of speakers is a subjective choice. That said, the companies profiled here are well-known for their groundbreaking speaker technologies and have invested decades in acoustics engineering and materials R&D. Some of the most widely known brands—including Bowers & Wilkins, Bose, Klipsch, KEF, and Polk—have been making top-of-the-line speakers for audiophiles for more than 50 years; others—like JBL, Dynaudio, Focal, and Quested—are market leaders in pro industries and have ported their studio-monitor and touring sound system innovations over into their consumer speakers. All of these companies share a commitment to developing great-sounding, reliable speakers that elevate the listening experience. When shopping, it’s fine to care about recognizable names and a good idea to compare reviews but, since sound is so subjective, the best approach is to set your budget, decide which features are the best fit for your space and lifestyle, and audition models in person whenever you can.
Best stereo speaker overall: Polk Reserve R500
Why it made the cut: This value-priced speaker is packed with flagship acoustic technologies, exemplifying Polk’s goal to offer “great sound for all.”
- Drivers: 3 (one 1”, two 5 ¼”)
- Dimensions: 10 1/8″ x 41 1/8″ x 13 3/4″
- Frequency response: 32 Hz – 50 kHz
- Connectivity: 5-way binding posts
- Pinnacle Ring Radiator smoothes high-end dispersion
- Advanced cabinet bracing minimizes resonances
- Refined cabinet finishes elevate home decor
- Larger Reserve towers offer more sophisticated port technologies
Polk’s Reserve Series, introduced in 2020, aims to offer the ideal combination of fidelity and value, bringing acoustic technologies from the company’s flagship Legend Series to versatile, affordable sound systems for music, movies, and gaming. Nine models are available, including three floor-standing speakers, three center channels, two bookshelf speakers, and a height module. The R500 compact floor-standing speaker, at $649, is an affordable entry into the Reserve tower lineup. While it won’t reach the sonic summit, it also won’t cost the tens of thousands of dollars that achievement costs; what sets this speaker apart is the amount of people it can satisfy overall.
The R500 borrows a lot of innovations from Legend speakers: If you’ve ever seen high-end Polk speakers, you’ve probably noticed the distinctive, Hershey’s Kiss-esque waveguides protruding out of their tweeters. That’s Polk’s Pinnacle Ring Radiator, which disperses high frequencies evenly around the room for a wider sweet spot while squashing resonances for crisper, more detailed highs, and it’s a key feature of the R500.
Dual 5 ¼-inch Turbine Cone midrange woofers features molded ridges that increase stiffness without adding mass, for a clearer, more detailed sound, and the R500’s bass-reflex enclosure with patented Power Port and X-Port technologies is optimized to cut down on air turbulence, minimizing chuffing and other noises that can mask the clarity of midrange sounds. The overall frequency response is 32 Hz – 50 kHz.
Cabinets are finished in black, white, or walnut woodgrain, and have strategically angled bracing for smooth, peak-free response with open, uncolored bass and midrange. The R500 is High-Res Audio certified, as well as Dolby Atmos, DTS:X, IMAX, and Auro 3D certified.
Best stereo smart speaker: B&W Zeppelin
Why it made the cut: This audiophile-grade smart speaker borrows drivers from B&W’s top-of-the-line systems. If sound and style are your biggest priorities, Zeppelin is the one to beat.
- Drivers: 5 (two 1”, two 3.5”, one 6”)
- Dimensions: 28 x 12 x 11.6 inches
- Frequency response: 35 Hz – 24 kHz
- Connectivity: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, USB (service only)
- Audiophile-grade speaker array
- Showstopping aesthetics
- Can be updated with new features and services
- Not ideal for bookshelf placement
In 2007, Bowers & Wilkins introduced the Zeppelin iPod dock, which set a new bar for stylish, audiophile-quality personal speakers. Over the past 15 years, Zeppelin has evolved with new technologies, losing the dock and adding wireless connectivity and smart-speaker functionality. The newest Zeppelin, introduced last fall, incorporates advanced streaming features and the Amazon Alexa smart assistant.
Zeppelin is all about simplicity in design and function, packing five drivers and 240 watts of amplification into an elliptical enclosure measuring two feet wide, its grille sheathed in mesh fabric. (Choose from deep, black-ish “midnight grey” or light “pearl grey” finishes.) A hidden LED status indicator shining from Zeppelin’s base onto its pedestal creates a halo effect; it can be dimmed or turned off entirely.
Embossed icons on the back side indicate volume and playback controls, an Alexa voice control/mic mute button, and a multifunction/pairing button. A power plug, reset button, and USB-C service port round out the back. Like many wireless smart speakers, Zeppelin has no HDMI connection or audio I/Os.
Due to its atypical shape, the Zeppelin might not fit with the best bookshelf speakers; it’s more at home taking center stage atop a console or pedestal in an open-sided space. (For more options, a wall bracket is available for $100.)
Most of Zeppelin’s advanced controls are in the B&W Music app, which serves as a hub for setup and streaming. The app supports a range of services including Deezer, Qobuz, TIDAL, Soundcloud, Amazon Music, and Last.fm. Zeppelin can also stream via Apple AirPlay 2, Bluetooth 5.0 (including the AAC, SBC, and aptX Adaptive codecs), and Spotify Connect.
The app currently streams at 24-bit/96 kHz resolution, but since the speaker’s converters are capable of accepting 192 kHz files, you can feed it higher-resolution audio by streaming that content over AirPlay 2 or aptX Adaptive Bluetooth, as I did.
Alexa voice control works like any smart speaker, and like most smart speakers, Zeppelin lets you mute its field microphones if you’re worried about Big Tech listening to you.
To achieve true stereo sound from a single speaker, Zeppelin features a carefully oriented five-driver complement that borrows acoustic technologies from B&W’s flagship speaker families. The array features two 1-inch, decoupled double-dome aluminum tweeters, also used in B&W’s 600 Anniversary Series loudspeakers. Dual 3.5-inch midrange drivers are borrowed from B&W’s $40,000 800 Series Diamond Line, and a 6-inch subwoofer sits in the center. The drivers deliver a frequency range of 35 Hz to 24 kHz; everything is powered by 240 watts of Class D amplification.
When I got an opportunity to spend some hands-on time with Zeppelin, I streamed high-res TIDAL MQA tracks directly. Listening to Diana Krall’s classic “The Look of Love,” Zeppelin revealed every nuance of Krall’s luxurious silk-and-sandpaper vocal stylings in a very direct, lifelike presentation. I was struck by Zeppelin’s tight, defined low-end response; piano notes were defined across the entire register and I could practically feel Christian McBride deftly pulling his fingers across the bass strings.
When it comes to stereo imaging, Zeppelin does an impressive job producing a broad, defined soundstage, with distinct separation at close range. While the lush string arrangements may not have felt as sweeping as they would on a pair of speakers, the soundstage was expansive for a single enclosure, especially inside a distance of about 4 feet.
Zeppelin is equally satisfying for those seeking room-filling sound. Going full-bore with Rage Against the Machine’s “Bulls On Parade,” the speaker delivered every gut punch with authority and clarity. The speaker never distorted, delivering clean, clear sound even at levels loud enough for my neighbors to stop by and ask me what the heck was going on.
No matter what I listened to, I found Zeppelin’s tonal balance to be pleasing and natural, with muscular yet controlled bass; a warm, detailed midrange; and crisp highs. Zeppelin may be pricey, clocking in at $800, but it’s the best-sounding smart speaker I’ve heard. If superior sound and showstopping style are your top priorities in a smart speaker, let your search begin and end here.
Best home stereo speaker: Bluesound PULSE SOUNDBAR+
Why it made the cut: Home theatre meets hi-fi in this audiophile-grade soundbar that can serve as the hub of a wireless connected home entertainment ecosystem.
- Drivers: 6 (two 1”, two 2”, two 4”), 2 4” passive radiators
- Dimensions: 42 1/4″ x 5 5/8″ x 3 3/4″
- Frequency response: 70 Hz – 20 kHz
- Connectivity: HDMI eARC in, USB Type A in, Toslink in, 3.5mm analog in, RCA mono subwoofer out, Ethernet, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
- Supports high-res audio up to 24-bit/192 kHz
- Can serve as the hub of a connected home ecosystem
- Movie, Music, and Late Night modes optimize sound for a range of scenarios
- Wall mount is somewhat flimsy
The Bluesound PULSE SOUNDBAR+, made “by audiophiles for audiophiles,” is one of the most versatile systems on our list, despite taking a far-from-typical shape for a “stereo speaker.” Bluesound, like Sonos, offers an ecosystem of wireless products that can be used to build a multiroom audio system. Bluesound launched the first wireless multiroom system to support MQA Music technology, which “folds” digital data to allow efficient streaming of high-res audio without taking up a mountain of bandwidth. A broad range of inputs and outputs, including HDMI eARC, Ethernet, and 3.5mm analog in, make Pulse Soundbar+ an ideal home-entertainment hub. The soundbar can be managed through Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant voice control, an existing TV remote, or the BluOS Controller app for iOS, Android, Kindle Fire, and Windows and Mac operating systems.
If you’re considering a soundbar for your speaker(s), you’re probably also a movie lover who will appreciate that the PULSE SOUNDBAR+ can expand Dolby Atmos-encoded content and virtualize two-channel to 7.1 audio into an immersive soundstage. But this soundbar’s features go way beyond screen soundtracks, with support for TIDAL, Amazon Music, Pandora, Spotify Connect, iHeart Radio, Deezer, aptX HD and AirPlay 2; in addition, files can be played back via USB drive and supported hi-res audio formats include FLAC, MQA, WAV, AIFF, and MPEG-4 SLS.
The updated PULSE SOUNDBAR+ underscores Bluesound’s commitment to superior sound quality and performance, packing audiophile-grade drivers, a high-performance digital-to-analog converter, and clean, powerful amplification behind its tall aluminum grill. Inside, a six-speaker front-facing array features two 1-inch drivers, two 2-inch inch drivers, and two 4-inch drivers, with two passive radiators beefing up the bass; built-in digital amps supply 120 watts of power. An all-new quad-core processor features a chipset optimized for music streaming, delivering high-quality audio at ultra-fast speeds.
According to our associate managing editor, who has auditioned the PULSE SOUNDBAR+, it is authoritative, throaty even, in a good way when playing vocal material recorded in standard stereo. The presentation overall is balanced, never sacrificing texture for artificial excitement. Lows and mids have warmth but don’t get fuzzy, while treble is precise without being harsh. It’s not the sparkliest response, but it projects a clean, clear atmosphere. There is limited EQ available in the app and bass extends naturally, but you’ll want to add the Pulse Sub+ wireless powered subwoofer to achieve full slam. Up-converting audio (which requires two toggles in the app) results in perceivable spaciousness, though engaging more in its width than its height given the lack of up-firing drivers. Depth does mean sacrificing some immediacy, however, so unless playing around with audio encoded specifically for Atmos (tested through TIDAL and Apple Music) the PULSE SOUNDBAR+ is most compelling musically without any processing and staged within a small- to medium-sized room.
Decoding Dolby Atmos films, the PULSE SOUNDBAR+ is both direct and nuanced, casting dynamic, detailed imaging that separates dialogue and action deftly but not distractingly. And not only does the PULSE SOUNDBAR+ work well on its own, but it can also be a part of a whole-house high-res music system by combining with other Bluesound components, such as the Pulse Mini 2i all-in-one bookshelf/desktop speaker and the Pulse 2i wireless smart speaker. These can either pair and expand the soundbar’s soundstage, or you can pass your music off to their various zones effortlessly if they are situated around the house, allowing you to have multiple stereo systems without needing separate sources.
Best wireless stereo speaker: KEF LS50 Wireless II
Why it made the cut: High-res audio support, extensive acoustic upgrades, and future-proof connectivity enhance this audiophile-grade wireless bookshelf speaker update.
- Drivers: 2 (one 1”, one 5 ¼”)
- Dimensions: 12 x 7.9 x 12.2 in.
- Frequency response: 45 Hz – 28 kHz
- Connectivity: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, HDMI eARC, Ethernet, coaxial and optical ins, subwoofer out, 3.5mm aux ins
- Robust amplification delivers clean sound at any volume
- Tons of connectivity options
- Future-proof app tech
- Speakers and stand are both pricey
In 2016, KEF introduced the LS50 Wireless, a version of its iconic LS50 bookshelf speaker with built-in amplification and streaming features. KEF’s new LS50 Wireless II takes that evolution further, refining acoustics, expanding connectivity, and improving the KEF Connect control app.
Available in signature KEF Carbon Black, Titanium Grey, and Mineral White, and Crimson Red finishes (with available matching stands), the LS50 Wireless II is a stylish addition to any space. The cabinet is offset by KEF’s iconic, copper-hued Uni-Q driver, which places a 1-inch vented aluminum-dome tweeter in the acoustic center of a 5 ¼-inch magnesium-aluminum alloy woofer cone to create a wider sweet spot; Metamaterial Absorption Technology (MAT) minimizes distortion in the tweeter assembly. A bass-reflex cabinet with elliptical rear ports is engineered for more accurate, musical low end.
Each speaker houses two custom amps that deliver 280 watts to each woofer and 100 watts to each tweeter, for plenty of room-rocking power and clean, distortion-free sound at any volume. Built-in digital signal processing lets you tweak sound to fit your space. Start with the easy Beginner mode and take more control in Expert mode; and make adjustments on-speaker or in the free KEF Connect app.
It all adds up to clean, detailed sound with an expansive soundstage; support for Hi-Res Audio further elevates audio quality. (Network file support is 24-bit/384 kHz; a wireless setup supports 24-bit/96 kHz audio resolution, or connect the speakers with the supplied CAT 6 cable for 24-bit/192 kHz support.)
The LS50 Wireless II is ready to connect with just about any device: Wired connections include an HDMI eARC, Ethernet, coaxial and optical inputs, a subwoofer output, and 3.5mm aux ins; stream music directly over Bluetooth or Wi-F, AirPlay 2, and Google Chromecast, or through the KEF Connect app, which supports Spotify, Tidal, Qobuz, Amazon Music, or Deezer. Use Chromecast to create a multiroom audio setup with compatible speakers; KEF says that Roon support is coming.
At $2,799/pair (plus $449 for optional S2 floor stands), the LS50 Wireless II is pricier than the other speakers on our list, but its versatile connectivity makes it an ideal all-in-one listening system. You might be able to save a few hundred dollars on older-version LS50 Wireless speakers, but if your budget supports it, we recommend going with the most recent generation for its improved acoustics and future-proof format support. As for KEF’s passive options, the LS50 Meta, successor of the original LS50, remains one of the best compact speakers for music lovers that prefer to build their own signal chain.
Best inexpensive stereo speaker: Elac Debut 2.0 B5.2
Why it made the cut: Significant acoustic enhancements elevate this revamped bookshelf speaker to new, high-res-ready heights.
- Drivers: 2 (one 1”, one 5 ¼”)
- Dimensions: 13.5 x 9.3 x 7.1 inches
- Frequency response: 46 Hz–35 kHz
- Connectivity: 5-way binding posts
- Extended high-frequency response
- Forgiving of placement
- Robust build quality
- Tons of worthy competition at this price point
Elac’s Debut 2.0 Series, a refresh of the company’s iconic Debut Series speaker family, incorporates new drivers, waveguides, cabinets, and networks, for significant performance improvements and easier setup.
We’re partial to the Debut 2.0 B5.2 entry-level two-way passive bookshelf speakers, which represent an incredible value in an acoustically advanced line. Driver updates include new silk-dome tweeters that extend high-frequency response to 35 kHz, and a redesigned, woven-aramid-fiber woofer that boasts improved stiffness and damping, for tight, defined bass. Thick MDF cabinets, finished in black ash vinyl, are internally braced to reduce vibrations, and a dual-flared bass port has been moved to the speaker’s front for more flexible speaker placement against walls or in bookshelves. (Ideally, place on rigid stands for the best performance.)
The Debut 2.0 B5.2s requires power; an amp offering a minimum of around 40W/6 ohms is adequate for smaller rooms; move up to about 140W/6 ohms for larger rooms and higher listening levels.
It’s no surprise that the Debut 2.0 B5.2s is a continual best seller: This speaker is solidly built, forgiving in setup, and most importantly, delivers robust, balanced, defined sound, all for a mere $279/pair. And its extended high-frequency range helps make the most of high-res audio formats.
There are tons of worthy contenders in the sub-$1,000 speaker market. But if you’re looking for a versatile bookshelf model that’s easy to configure, easy to listen to, and easy on the wallet, the Debut 2.0 B5.2 is the one to beat.
Q: How much do stereo speakers cost?
Stereo speakers cost anywhere from less than $100 to tens of thousands of dollars per pair; the great news is, most leading speaker brands offer fantastic-sounding options for a range of budgets. When you get into premium brands and models, you’ll see more advanced acoustic engineering and meticulous attention to materials and build quality, showcasing features like gold-plated terminals and furniture-grade finishes. As a general rule, more expensive speakers sound better than cheaper models, but paying a higher price doesn’t guarantee better sound quality.
Q: Do I need an amp with my speakers?
You need an amp with passive speakers, which don’t have built-in amplification. There are a few different ways to power passive speakers: on the less-expensive end, consider a stereo receiver, which combines amplification, an AM/FM tuner, and control features. For better sound, consider investing in a good-quality dedicated power amplifier or integrated amplifier. If you’re looking to bring new functionality to passive speakers, consider something like the Marantz Model 40n integrated amplifier, which offers built-in music streaming via its HEOS system, Spotify Connect, Apple AirPlay, and Bluetooth, and covers all of your components with a full range of analog and digital I/Os, including phono in and HDMI ARC.
Be sure to check your speaker specs to determine how much wattage it can handle. Powered, or active, stereo speakers have built-in amplification, meaning you won’t have to worry about matching components or adding extra gear and cables to your space.
Q: How many watts is a good speaker?
The answer to the question “How many watts is a good speaker?” depends. A speaker’s wattage rating indicates its power potential, not its sound quality, and a lot of factors influence the power relationship, from the speakers’ sensitivity to the number of connected speakers. That said, whether you choose active or passive speakers, it’s important to supply the right amount of power for the speaker to operate efficiently for the best sound quality. The higher the wattage, the louder your speakers can play without distorting; but for safe, clean operation, don’t let your amp output exceed your speakers’ capacity. In general, for small rooms, look for 20 to 40 watts per channel; for home theatres and entertainment spaces, aim closer to 100 watts per channel.
A final word on the best stereo speakers
The “best” stereo speakers mean different things to different people, and the products we’ve profiled here support a range of home music-listening scenarios. First and foremost, speakers should sound incredible, reproducing every nuance of your favorite music and movies with depth and detail, effortlessly filling the room and delivering power and impact without coloring or distorting sound. Then, it’s all about prioritizing the factors that are important to you, like smart-speaker functions, connectivity features, and style. By any of these measures, choosing one of the models here will not leave you disappointed.