Help me find a stereo speaker
October 11, 2018 1:08 PM   Subscribe

This is such a simple question. I need a pair of low priced stereo speakers, under $400 the pair, for home use with an amplifier/reciever. It's impossible to sort through the (non)information on line to try to find what I want. I listen to classical music, not loud. I want clear natural sound. Does anyone have any suggestions? I sure would appreciate it. Remember the old days when you could go into a stereo store and actually listen to the different equipment that was available? Thanks.
posted by charlesminus to Shopping (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'd probably reach for the NHT SuperOnes at that price point, absent any other information about your room (which is the most important factor in good sound next to your speakers). Get them from somewhere that won't give you a lot of grief if you want to return them (Amazon carries them).

You're going to get a LOT of answers. Really it's about how they sound to you.
posted by seanmpuckett at 1:24 PM on October 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

The Wirecutter is supposed to be made for this type of situation, and the do have a few guides that might help: bookshelf speakers (is that what you want?), surround sound speakers, computer speakers. Unfortunately those seem to be some of their more outdated guides so some of the recommendations are no longer in stock but the information may at least be a good jumping-off point.
posted by mosst at 1:24 PM on October 11, 2018

The Edifier R1280DB speakers provide remarkable value for money for a pair of small, clear and responsive speakers that will hook up to just about anything. I have eclectic musical tastes, and I'm never disappointed.

I bought a pair when moving houses, wanting to have music in both places during the transition but not wanting to spend much money, expecting to set up my very nice Paradigm Atoms in the new house once fully moved. The Edifiers vastly surpassed expectations, and the Paradigms remain in their moving box.
posted by I EAT TAPAS at 1:27 PM on October 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

This may be a little out there, but we've got this older Bose boombox (ours is black), that we inherited, and we use that for our TV and music, and the sound is pretty awesome.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 1:27 PM on October 11, 2018

I bought the Wirecutter runner-ups (ELAC Debut) and they're fantastic. They exceeded every expectations and we still remark on how great they sound and how puzzlingly affordable they were. They were highly-rated and loved in all of the reviews I read in various places.
posted by quince at 1:29 PM on October 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

You're going to get a LOT of answers. Really it's about how they sound to you.


I would go with a brand with which you are familiar, and has a good track record; and purchase them from a place with a good return policy.

Personally I am a huge fan of Cambridge Audio.
posted by terrapin at 1:40 PM on October 11, 2018

I bought the Wirecutter runner-ups (ELAC Debut) and they're fantastic.

I too bought these, playing streaming audio and a turntable through a Sonos Connect:Amp. They're excellent.
posted by schoolgirl report at 1:58 PM on October 11, 2018

I am yet another person who has the ELAC debuts, and am a fan of them. I *also* have a pair of NHT SuperOnes. (The ELACs are miles ahead of the NHTs in my opinion, and there are enough used ones that you shouldn't pay more than $100 for those anyway.) I absolutely agree with the "many opinions and yours is the one that matters" advice, and have bought more than my share of speakers off of Craigslist and eBay over the years. If you're more in the mind of ordering something and being done with it, ELAC or KEF seem to have the consensus on bang-for-your-buck among speakers being made right now. But if you want to shop around and have $400 to spend, you can find some great stuff on Craigslist if you know what to look for. If you have a hi-fi shop nearby, see if you can go in and listen to a few brands. Otherwise, searching for the brands mentioned here as well as ones like PSB, Energy, Focal, B&W, Wharfdale, Klipsch, or just straight up "audiophile" can turn up some real deals. And any friendly seller will let you listen to them first. Hope you find something great!
posted by nímwunnan at 3:14 PM on October 11, 2018

The ELACs have been replaced with a new model and by all accounts are now an even better speaker.
posted by Twinge at 3:25 PM on October 11, 2018

My recommendation at that price point would be a pair of Wharfdale diamonds (model 10 or 11). They are big sellers and I think that results in certain economies of scale - they sound more expensive than they are. Also budget for a good pair of stands, that makes a big difference to the sound.
posted by Lanark at 3:45 PM on October 11, 2018

I've got a set of Ascend Acoustics HTM-200 speakers, and they're very nice. Good value. Not obtrusively big.
posted by adamrice at 4:25 PM on October 11, 2018

I live with someone who has vintage speakers, and they beat the pants off the Sonos and other new speakers that cost 2-3x as much at the store. The highs are crisper, there actually are mids, and the bass sounds rich and balanced (vs artificially boosted). I can check the brands (there are two sets) if you’d like, but I think it’d be cheaper and more expedient for you to see what’s available locally in your price range (Facebook marketplace, eBay, Craigslist, whatever’s most popular near you) and then google to see what people on vintage gear forums say about those speakers, than to hunt for these particular ones. (Actually one pair was custom refurbished, so that wouldn’t be of much help. Also, something else might work better with your amplifier.) Would take more digging but I think you could probably find something old that sounds fantastic for $400 , vs something new that just sounds alright.
posted by cotton dress sock at 4:30 PM on October 11, 2018

I have a pair of Pioneer SP-BS22-LR speakers in my living room and they do quite well.

Definitely seconding the recommendations to go with a more standard pair of old-fashioned bookshelf speakers over the slicker-looking but often lower-quality bose/sonos/etc. dealies.
posted by cwill at 4:38 PM on October 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

The best non-biased reviews online I think are from a guy named zeospantara. He has a subreddit /r/zeos.

I have his recommended pair of Micca MB42x for about $100 and I think they are just wonderful. Very well made.

A lot of other speakers make his list but he has tried them and has notes. Hope this helps!
posted by bbqturtle at 5:54 PM on October 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Do you live in a land with decent thrift stores? If so, for a tiny monetary risk, you could go to one and buy a receiver and two speakers and just try them .. If you like them, you probably only will have spent 10-40 bucks, if you don't like them, you wont have lost much money and you will have saved time not trying to make a perfect decision. Most receivers have an aux in if your audio source is a mini audio cable coming out of a server/mp3 player/etc. I know this answer might be overly simple, but as someone who frets too much over some purchasing decisions myself from time to time, sometimes it can be good just to go buy and try something, especially when the cost can be as cheap as some used hifi components ..
posted by elgee at 11:10 PM on October 11, 2018

Indeed, speaker technology hasn't really changed that much, and the bang for your buck factor is huge.

I scored a pair of KEF Celestes (III I think, not sure the model number) at the local thrift store for $20 recently, and with a decent amp pushing them they sound better than any newer speaker I've owned.

If you're going the powered speaker direction you could do worse than actual studio monitors like the Yamaha HS5s - that's about as clear and natural as you're going to get in that price range.
posted by aspersioncast at 7:17 AM on October 12, 2018

Like you, I miss the old stereo shop "listening rooms" where you could A/B different speakers.

As others have said, and is obvious, sound is all about your particular taste, musical choices, room acoustics, and hearing. So it's impossible to say "these are the best speakers for everyone." And as you've already noted, you can really go down a rabbit hole of research which sucks up valuable time you could be listening to music instead!

Aside from a Homepod and various computer and bluetooth speakers, I have 3 pairs of "regular" speakers. Two are vintage (Allison Six Cubes, and Acoustic Research bookshelf TSW-110s) and one pair was purchased new a few years ago (Sony SS-F5000 floor-standing speakers.) Guess what? They all sound great! But they all sound different.

So, I'm going to encourage you to not overthink it. If I were in your shoes, with your budget, and without the ability to test-listen, I'd look into these three floor-standing speaker options, none of which I have heard:

Pioneer SP-FS52 Andrew Jones Designed speakers ($128.95 each)
Polk Audio Monitor 70 Series II ($199.99 each)
Onkyo SKF-4800 2-Way Bass Reflex Floor-standing Speakers ($399.99 / pair)

Why those? Simply because they have great reviews and are within the budget. I'd lean toward the Polks because: more drivers! Viewing those speakers will also show you other recommended similar options. There are too many to choose from! I'm the king of overthinking, these look like a solid bet, and speaker technology, as it concerns "drivers in a box" has not really changed significantly for decades. Take the plunge on the ones you feel best about. Worst case scenario: you can return them.

Good luck!
posted by The Deej at 8:55 AM on October 12, 2018

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