What speakers to buy?
May 25, 2013 11:44 PM   Subscribe

I have $500. I am in the market for speakers. I don't know anything about speakers. What do I buy?

When I lie sprawled on my bed at nights, I'd like to close my eyes and listen to music or podcasts or the news playing from my iPad or my iPhone or my iPod or my laptop.

For a purchase like this, I don't really know what the right questions to be asking are. I am tired of my desktop speakers (forgettable brand, vintage 2000) and just want sound quality to be as high as possible.

What's the best product out there for under $500? I've heard of Bose, of course, but I keep getting told it is vastly overpriced.

posted by rahulrg to Technology (18 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
For that much money, if you don't mind the wires, I'd spend just under half on an amplifier and the rest on speakers. A lot of the amplified speakers have small cones, which I think makes it impossible for them to have good bass.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 11:50 PM on May 25, 2013

Ah, I see. I should add though that I do have a constraint on space, and would prefer to not have too many distinct units if they are going to take up too much space.
posted by rahulrg at 11:53 PM on May 25, 2013

I would just go for a speaker dock for simplicity. This one is PC Mag's choice right at your budget.
posted by supercres at 11:54 PM on May 25, 2013

I bought a Klipsch G-17 wirleless Airplay speaker a few weeks ago to listen to music and audiobooks. The sound is very crisp and clear. They are on sale for $179 on Woot today. It has a small footprint and pretty good bass considering its size. It won't play loud enough to shake a large room but it's ideal for a bedroom and won't disturb the neighbors.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 12:03 AM on May 26, 2013

Airmotive powered monitors have very sweet tweeters that are very similar to the motion 4 that need seperate amplification.
posted by hortense at 12:29 AM on May 26, 2013

Get something used at Audiogon.

For instance, these Snell speakers are terrific.

Google around to find reviews of the cheaper speakers there. You can't go wrong with Vandersteen, Thiel, or B+W, all of which are there for less than $500.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 1:10 AM on May 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

There are amps there, too--looks like you need one.
posted by professor plum with a rope at 1:11 AM on May 26, 2013

I 2nd the Klipsch G-17 recommend. I bought one off Woot a few months back and it works great with the iPhone. Might get a couple more. You can send audio (wirelessly of course) to several of them at a time from one source. Sounds like you just need one, but "I'm just say'n", I like it.
posted by Fortnight Bender at 1:24 AM on May 26, 2013

We recently purchased the Audioengine 5+ speakers ($399.00/$469.00) for our TV/Apple TV/iPod system. The sound and base are really phenomenal, especially based on their relatively small size. We ended up getting the bamboo case and they look fantastic in our living room. They even come with a nice, small, remote control for volume, mute, and sleep. Highly recommend.
posted by qwip at 3:58 AM on May 26, 2013

I love AudioEngine. I've got 2 pair of their P4s and one of the 2s. The 5+ is probably the right pair for you. And the best thing is that you can try them out and if you don't like them, send them back with no hassle. I auditioned a second set of the 2s and they weren't the right fit for my room.
posted by reddot at 5:42 AM on May 26, 2013

Don't forget that placement and room treatment will affect sound more than increasing your budget from $300 to $500 (which is why I just use nice headphones and a headphone amp).
posted by Brian Puccio at 8:20 AM on May 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do you already have an amplifier? If not, a Sonos Play:3 ($300) or Play:5 ($400) would fit your bill. You also want a Sonos Bridge ($50) to stream music off of your PC/Mac, and you use your existing iPhone/Android device to control it. (Right now they're offering a deal; Play:3 + Bridge for $299.) The sound is quite good and I like Sonos' approach to a home music network. Works great with online streaming services, too.
posted by Nelson at 8:46 AM on May 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

What's your home setup like?

I have a Mac Mini that's running 24/7 - mostly because I have it set up to do backups, etc, overnight. I have THIS as my amp. Don't let the price fool you. This thing has cleaner sound than the $200 pro amp I had before it (a fact which blew my mind, frankly). I leave that tiny amp on 24/7 too since it uses almost no power. It's amazingly energy efficient. I also never touch the volume knob on it. Instead, I have it set and I use the volume on my Mac to control the system volume.

These are my speakers.

For me, this system rocks because it sounds phenomenal, and it's all easily controlled via my Mac, iPad or iPhone. In fact, here's a great iPhone app that serves as a remote for anything on my Mac.

So... when I wake up in the morning, I reach for my iPhone and fire up some music with the click of a button. Maybe some tunes on my iTunes, or maybe Indie 103.1 via the Radium Mac app.
posted by 2oh1 at 11:32 AM on May 26, 2013

I spent a similar amount of money, and have an amazing setup.

I would never buy a prebuilt dock for this. Those are for hanging out outdoors or picnics, or zip tying to your bike while riding in a group.

What I did was start looking at vintage(small!) Harmon/kardon, mcintosh, and other high end brands on Craigslist. Every time I found one that wasn't too large, and seemed interesting I'd google it and read threads on audiokarma and stuff. I ended up with a very, very well regarded HK integrated amp for $150.

Then I went through several sets of speakers. The original "advent loudspeaker" is amazing, and I've yet to hear anything that sounds quite as awesome, especially in bass clarity and definition. It just always sounds tight and fluid and effortless... But I had to find a set that had been serviced, since they're very old(1970ish). And they're also physically and visually large, chunky, and old looking... And just imposing.

So after I moved in to a place with a living room and bedroom about 2/3 the size of my old place, I ended up with a set of these. Which I found through "what's not too expensive vs not crap on Craigslist?" And then "what of that is well liked in stereophile and on forums?". That series has rave reviews everywhere, for an example.

Spend the rest of the money on solid, heavy gauge audio specific wires. I like the monster cable stuff if you can find it on sale online because yes, even though that brand is a ripoff, that specific product is actually fairly cheap while also being decently thick and properly made.

I've owned stuff like the audio engines. They're ok, but there's this smoothness and clarity that the kind of solid vintage amp+decent speakers setup you can get for a similar price just blows them away on.

And you can get a physically small amp, and physically small speakers that still rule. Just look around for specifically that. For instance my friends HK-430 is tiny and sounds amazing. The small klipsch speakers are the same, as are small advents, etc.

I just implore you to look around at vintage stereo stuff, rather than new integrated speaker+amp stuff.
posted by emptythought at 1:49 PM on May 26, 2013

Thirding the AudioEngine A5+. Get the $399 pair and spend the other hundred bucks on an Airport Express, and you can stream audio wirelessly from iTunes on your PC or Mac, and from any app on your iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch.

(As well as plugging them directly into whatever source you want, of course – I also have mine connected to my TV as well as my turntable, great speakers all-around.)

I sold speakers (among other electronics) for years and this setup is what I use myself at home, and I love it.
posted by churl at 5:04 PM on May 26, 2013

I don't have a specific recommendation but if you are limited in space I'd take a look at soundbars.
posted by Orchestra at 1:17 AM on May 27, 2013

Michael Fremer recently reviewed these Pioneers and had great things to say. I've read a few nice things about that A-20 amp as well.
posted by mintcake! at 10:54 AM on May 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Monoprice has good speakers at ridiculous prices...
posted by stenseng at 12:52 PM on May 28, 2013

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