For millions of music listeners, the smartphone has become their primary source component; digital music streaming services now represent close to 80% of the market with more than 50 million subscribers in the United States alone. Consumers put greater value on convenience vs sound quality and that shift has been a rude wake-up call for the high-end audio industry that has marketed expensive separates, loudspeakers, cables, and accessories for decades.
The reality is that consumers no longer see a need for so many expensive boxes; wireless active loudspeakers and one-box integrated amplifiers which include both wired and wireless digital streaming connectivity have made them unnecessary. The good news for consumers is that while prices at the top end have escalated beyond the cost of a luxury automobile for some audio components, there have never been as many affordable high-end components than what is available right now and that makes it a great time to assemble a system.
Q Acoustics 3021i ($314.99/pair)
The updated 3020i is larger than its predecessor, featuring a new crossover, reinforced internal bracing, as well as recessed binding posts for those who may want to wall-mount or set-up close to the wall. Q Acoustics have gone the extra mile with the finish options as well; the glossy walnut and Arctic White give the 3020i a modern look that belies its price. The 3020i are not particularly difficult to drive but they benefit from some power; its 5-inch mid/bass driver is capable of respectable bass extension with the right amplifier. The 1” soft-dome tweeter balances out the warm tonal balance, and slightly recessed presentation of the speaker with some needed bite. BUY NOW
PSB Alpha P5 ($399.00/pair)
For almost forty years, Paul Barton has been engineering high-performance loudspeakers with a focus on value/performance. The Alpha P5 are small two-way bookshelf loudspeakers at a price point with a lot of competition – a scenario that makes it hard for products to differentiate themselves enough to be considered category leaders. Make no mistake, the Alpha P5 are remarkable loudspeakers with even modest amplification, but they blow past anything in their price range with a better amplifier with wonderful resolution, tonal accuracy, and a very dynamic presentation that makes them a solid long-term purchase for anyone who loves music. BUY NOW
Klipsch RP-600M ($629.00/pair)
The RP-600M have been a huge success story for Klipsch and helped renew interest in their more expensive Heritage-series loudspeakers at the same time. Despite their reputation for being forward/bright sounding, the RP-600M’s 1-inch titanium-dome tweeter with hybrid cross-section Tractrix horn never crosses a line that makes them sound etched or bright. Horns have ample detail, and it is their overall presence and strong dynamic capabilities that makes these speakers such an engaging listen. The RP-600M are a large set of bookshelf loudspeakers that require proper stands. While not bass monsters, the RP-600M are incredibly easy to drive and benefit from warmer sounding amplifiers. BUY NOW
Bowers & Wilkins 606 ($898.98/pair)
B&W prolonged the lifespan of the award-winning 685 S2 bookshelf loudspeakers before introducing the 606, but the wait was certainly worth it. A truly engaging pair of loudspeakers designed for both stand or media console placement, the 606 deliver a taste of B&W’s more expensive Continuum cone technology which is usually reserved for its more expensive models. Its 6.5” midrange/bass driver can deliver deep, tight bass that is well balanced against the rest of the sonic spectrum. The lively sounding tweeter will never fail to retain your attention, but don’t get the impression that these loudspeakers are bright sounding. They are engaging and very balanced sounding. BUY NOW
KEF Q350 ($699.99/pair)
The KEF Q350 bookshelf loudspeaker looks and sounds very little like its predecessor; thanks to the next generation of its Uni-Q driver technology with its tangerine waveguide on the tweeter which helps the concentric driver direct sound more evenly. The sleek minimalist design dispenses with everything but a clean looking baffle and is only available in either satin white or black. The Q350 are rear ported and require some space between them and the wall to retain their open presentation, while benefiting from boundary reinforcement. They are slightly more reserved sounding than some of their competitors, but they reproduce music with a greater sense of scale and coherency that is hard to resist. BUY NOW