The Best Speakers of 2021: Speakers for Every Use and Budget

There’s a number of reasons to invest in a quality pair of speakers. Maybe you’re gearing up for a dedicated audiophile listening room, a lounge space with a record player, CD carousel, and stereo amplifier. Or perhaps you have big plans for a home theatre system. Bigtime PC gamer? Adding a quality set of desktop speakers to your next round of multiplayer can make all the difference.

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Regardless of your intentions, choosing a set of speakers, whether floor-standing, bookshelf, or portable, you’ve got your work cut out for you. Outside of dedicated audio companies, there’s a host of other brands that have jumped on the speaker bandwagon, especially as TV speakers grow increasingly smaller and less powerful. But with how much a set of speakers can cost, choosing the wrong pair could be a high-priced mistake. Not to worry though — that’s where we come in.

As experts and connoisseurs of all things hi-fi, we’ve put together this roundup of the best speakers you can buy right now. Whether you’re on a budget, looking for something to take on vacations, or want the best money can buy, there are options here for everyone.

The best speakers at a glance:

The best overall speakers: GoldenEar Technology’s Triton Five

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Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Why you should buy them: Truly world-class sound at the lowest price-to-performance ratio you’ll find.

Who they’re for: The serious audio enthusiast looking for the best possible sound for the money.

Why we picked the GoldenEar Technology Triton Five:

In terms of getting the highest possible audio quality at non-car prices, there is perhaps no better speaker brand than GoldenEar Technology. Founded by audio legend Sandy Gross, who previously led standout companies Polk and Definitive Technology to the forefront of great sound, GoldenEar is driven by the same passionate love of high-end sound that brought Gross’s previous business ventures success. Speakers in the company’s outstanding Triton range offer superb sound at reasonable prices, competing against staggeringly expensive options from other audiophile companies.

Floor-standing loudspeakers with sleek black covers, the Triton Five are unassuming to look at, but more than make up for their appearance in terms of sound. Normally, if you’re looking to get an audiophile-grade set of speakers of this caliber, you’ll need to spend somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000, but GoldenEar’s Triton Five bring that same sound quality down to around the $2,000 mark (or less) for the pair.

Two 6-inch midrange drivers propel the meat of the sound toward your eardrums, with a custom-designed ribbon tweeter providing superb definition up top. To help with punch, the Triton Five have four 8-inch passive bass radiators, helping the low-end integrate even better into the overall sound signature to give you just the right amount of oomph when listening to hip-hop, funk, and other bass-driven styles.

The speakers have a lively and energetic response overall, helping whatever you’re listening to come through with the same vibrant sound that first hit the microphone in the studio. The GoldenEar Technology’s Triton Five provide the kind of constant satisfaction that more than justifies their price. And, oh yeah, they should last for decades to come.

The best budget speakers: Klipsch Reference Bookshelf

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Why you should buy them: Few speakers balance looks, performance, and budget as deftly as the Klipsch Reference line.

Who they’re for: Those who want a smaller set of speakers without compromising on sound quality or breaking the bank.

Why we picked the Klipsch Reference Bookshelf:

Klipsch has a history of delivering top-notch speakers, and its Reference line has long been seen as the company’s sweet spot: Well-engineered, beautifully designed, and very competitive on price. In 2018, Klipsch’s engineers went back to the drawing board and rebuilt the Reference line from the ground up, instead of opting for some minor tweaks to the existing design.

The result is an improved sound signature across the line, including the bookshelf models. While the Reference Bookshelf speakers come in powered and non-powered flavors, we recommend the non-powered models because, for most people, they pack everything you need for great sound without adding things like amplification at extra expense.

As a compact set of full-range speakers, the Klipsch Reference Bookshelf makes for the perfect upgrade path. You can start using them as the primary stereo pair for a small-to-medium size room — perhaps with a connected amp like the Sonos Amp — and then migrate them as you build out a larger home theater setup. They’re powerful enough to act as your primary front left/right speakers in a basic 5.1 or 5.1.2 home theater, but small enough that they can be assigned the role of rear satellite speakers if you decide to upgrade your front channels with full-size tower speakers.

The best speakers for home theater: SVS Prime Tower Surround

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Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Why you should buy them: Incredible performance, striking design, excellent stereo and surround performance.

Who they’re for: Home theater enthusiasts who want gorgeous surround sound for their favorite flicks and audiophile-grade stereo for their best-loved tunes.

Why we picked the SVS Prime Tower Surround:

If you’re after the perfect blend of price, performance, and gorgeously detailed sound for your home theater space, there is no better option than the SVS Prime Tower Surround kit. A beautiful set of five speakers that easily ranks among our favorites in their class (and above), the Prime series will take your home audio experience to the next level.

Anchored by a set of audiophile-grade towers — which sound fantastic in stereo when not serving as part of the larger system — the Prime kit offers an immersive listening experience that is second to none at this price. Sound shifts fluidly between front, side, and rear, providing the kind of detail we typically expect to see in speakers that cost much more money. It is worth noting that the standard five-speaker kit doesn’t come with a subwoofer. For the full, rumbling movie theater experience, we recommend adding one of the company’s excellent options, like the PB-1000.

We think 5.1 systems are a perfect starting place for those looking to get into great home theater sound and a nice stepping stone to larger Dolby Atmos systems without the hassle of hanging speakers from the ceiling or investing in fancy up-firing speakers. Best of all, every speaker in the SVS Prime system can last through upgrades, rather than being the kind of thing you’ll mothball when you decide to make the leap to a bigger setup.

And since SVS makes a variety of home theater speakers, finding well-matching sound signatures for eventual expansion won’t be an issue. In fact, those looking to expand to Atmos can grab a set of the company’s Prime Elevation Speakers (designed for the height element of object-based audio), to perfectly complement their traditional surround setup.

If money is tight and you just want excellent sound, the SVS Prime Tower Surround can be had for the lowest cost in simple black ash veneer. Those who really want to impress their friends and relatives can spring for an extra $250 for the piano gloss finish, which shines like a Steinway grand at Carnegie Hall.

The best portable speaker: JBL Flip 5

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Why you should buy them: Rugged and waterproof body with pulse-pounding sound.

Who it’s for: Frequent party hosts, travelers, and those that want big sound with limited real estate.

Why we picked the JBL Flip 5:

While a majority of entries in this roundup are for dedicated wired speaker solutions (save the Sonos One), we’d be negating an entire audience if we didn’t discuss a tremendous wire-free option for listening. Enter the JBL Flip 5.

Delivering a rich mix of deep-thumping bass, balanced mids, and articulate highs, the JBL Flip 5 packs a mighty sound that’s hard to ignore. In terms of volume, we’d put the Flip 5 up against some of the fiercest speakers that taut volume as their ultimate feature. When it comes to listening, Bluetooth streaming is the name of the game. You can easily connect and pair using your phone, tablet, or another cherished mobile device. If you’re hoping to line out to another set of speakers, the JBL Flip 4 may be a better option as the Flip 5 lacks a 3.5mm output. That being said, if you purchase more than one Flip 5, you can pair them together using JBL’s PartyBoost function, allowing you to create wider soundstages for big backyards or larger indoor quarters.

Battery life on a full charge is about 12 hours. While not overly impressive compared to other portable speakers, the USB-C cable can give you a quick blast of additional battery if you’re in a pinch. The icing on the cake? The Flip 5 is IPX-7 rated, meaning you can submerge in a full body of water for up to 30 minutes, making it a perfect speaker for those rowdy pool parties.

Does it stand toe-to-toe with the premium bookshelf options of this roundup? Not quite. But if you’re looking for a mobile speaker that’ll kick hard for every loud family get-together and camping trip, the JBL Flip 5 is the way to go.

The best speakers for music: KEF LS50 Wireless II

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Why you should buy them: Gorgeous looks, impressive sound, and no amplifier required.

Who they’re for: The streaming music enthusiast who wants the best possible wireless sound.

Why we picked the KEF LS50 Wireless II:

Known for their gorgeous detail and flat response, the wired iteration of KEF’s LS50 bookshelf speakers have long ranked among the most beloved compact speakers in the audiophile world. But since then, the company introduced an internally amplified wireless iteration in 2017 that now has a successor all its own.

KEF didn’t have to go back to any drawing board because this new iteration carries over the power, precision, and beauty that made the LS50 Wireless a joy to look at and listen to. To make the LS50 Wireless II even more compelling, KEF chose to not just make corrective improvements, but also give the speakers a nice jolt for good measure. At the core of this update is a technology called Metamaterial Absorption Technology (MAT), which is a clever way of saying the speakers can absorb unwanted sound in the tweeter’s rear so that it doesn’t affect the forward output.

Controlled by a smartphone app, they support Wi-Fi streaming from your device’s library, as well as Tidal, Spotify, Amazon Music, and Deezer. The Connect app can access Internet radio stations, and the speakers can play network audio at up to 24bit/192kHz resolution, including built-in support for both AirPlay 2 and Chromecast. There’s even Bluetooth, plus a slew of wired inputs, including HDMI, optical, coaxial, USB-A, and RCA.

Each speaker contains two built-in amplifiers — one for the woofer, one for the concentric tweeter — that combine for up to 280 watts per channel. That’s more than enough volume to blast music in all but the largest spaces and makes the LS50 II versatile enough to function well where some may have considered placing floor-standing speakers.

If you’re looking for big sound without the hassle of outboard amplifiers, preamps, and other gear, there is no better option than the KEF LS50 Wireless II, though you can easily fill a room even further through their two subwoofer outputs. If you’re hoping to save some money, the newer, smaller LS50 Meta is also a fantastic option (especially if you have a subwoofer).

With easier use cases, new colors to choose from, and even better sound quality, the KEF LS50 Wireless II are the kind of 21st-century speakers that you’ll rave about for a long time to come.

The best speakers for music production: JBL 306P MKII

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Why you should buy them: Flat, studio-style sound at a very reasonable price.

Who they’re for: Musicians, podcasters, videographers, and other creative hobbyists who regularly work with audio.

Why we picked the JBL 306P MkII:

If you’re a content creator who works with audio, be it editing a podcast, recording demos in your bedroom, or producing YouTube videos, you need a revealing set of speakers with very flat frequency response to make sure your sound will translate well anywhere your listeners will hear it. While we’d have previously said JBL’s LSR305s were the ticket, we’ll be darned if the company didn’t come out with something even better to get your studio gears churning.

Like their predecessor, the JBL 306P MkII offer the kind of sound signature you’d expect in a professional studio, but at a shockingly affordable price. This makes them an extremely useful tool with which to create. In fact, we like the second coming even better thanks to a fuller 6-inch woofer, which offers a bigger bass response for even more accurate mixing than the previous 5-inch woofer.

That new 6-inch woofer (the middle size in the new line) combines with a 1-inch silk dome tweeter to provide a remarkable full-spectrum response on each side. And with improved waveguide technology, you’ll get an even wider stereo image that allows you to pan your mixes with impressive detail. Volume isn’t a problem either, with plenty of amplification onboard providing enough power to fill the vast majority of spaces, and certainly enough for near-field listening — which is what these speakers were designed for.

It’s worth noting that, like the LSR305, the 306P MkII only have balanced XLR and TRS inputs, meaning you’ll probably want an audio interface — an outboard component that typically has these outputs, as well as microphone inputs — to get your sound to them. Those interested in using the powered JBLs outside of home studios can do so with some RCA adapters, but an interface is still the best route.

If you’re a creative type who wants to get the most out of your projects, the JBL 306P MKII speakers are tough to beat, ranking among the best value propositions in speaker land.

The best Wi-Fi speaker: Sonos One

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Why you should buy it: The Sonos One is an affordable, great-sounding way to start building your whole-home Wi-Fi audio system.

Who it’s for: Those who want the convenience of wireless sound with the benefits of a smart speaker.

Why we picked the Sonos One:

Followers of this list will know we’ve gone back and forth on this one. For a while, the Riva Concert claimed this title, but as we often do, we’ve revised that selection. As much as we love the Riva Concert’s sound and excellent connectivity options, the company has failed to deliver on a whole-home multiroom experience for its buyers. If we were contemplating using a Wi-Fi speaker on its own, maybe that wouldn’t bother us so much. But whole-home audio is a big reason to go Wi-Fi in the first place. And no one does multiroom better than Sonos.

The Sonos One sounds terrific and pumps out the kind of room-filling audio that still turns heads. You also get your pick of Alexa or Google Assistant if you want to use it as a smart speaker (or keep the mic turned off — it’s up to you). It also has AirPlay 2, which while not quite as flexible as Bluetooth, is nonetheless a huge win for Apple users who want to get better sound from their iOS devices. In fact, its lack of Bluetooth is our only real beef with the One.

The Sonos app is the key to this system. Always improving, Sonos sees itself just as much (or more) of a software company as a maker of impressive hardware. Through the app, you not only have full control of every speaker in your house individually or grouped together, but you also have access to just about every streaming service on the planet — more than any other wireless speaker system we’ve come across.

In addition, Sonos has introduced a recycling program for people who nonetheless want to upgrade some of these older products — offering to take them back in exchange for a 30% discount on a new product, regardless of the age of the older device.

We expect that an investment in a Sonos One will last far longer than money spent on other Wi-Fi speakers.

The best speakers for gaming: Logitech G560

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Why you should buy them: Impressively loud, these speakers also rock a highly customizable lighting system that will add to the mood of any gaming session.

Who they’re for: Gamers who want a desktop sound system that lets them feel every gunshot and explosion.

Why we picked the Logitech G560:

Headphones will always be a popular choice for gamers, thanks to the built-in mics that let you talk to your teammates in online multiplayer titles. But there are times when you want to put down the headset and let the sound surround you. At times like this, few desktop speaker systems can compete with the Logitech G560. As a 2.1 speaker setup with a potent subwoofer, most gamers will be taken by how a truly powerful bass response can alter the gaming experience. It may be a cliché, but games become far more cinematic when you can feel the on-screen action as well as hearing it. And with the G560’s amazing loudness, you really will feel every bump, boom, and blast.

But we can’t talk about the Logitech G560 without mentioning its unique built-in LED lighting. A fusion of old-school disco and leading-edge screen bias lighting, you can make the G560 set your room aglow with preset single colors and variable patterns, or even synchronize the lights to what’s happening on screen for a gaming experience that, depending on your tastes, can go from sublime to retina-searing overkill.

Thankfully, all of this can be tuned in the speakers’ software settings. The one thing you can’t fully alter is the presence of the subwoofer. Because the audio signal is piped through the sub, it’s always engaged, even when you drop the bass settings to zero. If you need the ability to run your games at very low volume and bass levels, the Logitech G560 may have you reaching once again for your headphones.

The best computer speakers: Audioengine A2+

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Why you should buy them: Excellent sound quality, spiffy looks, and a solid set of features.

Who they’re for: Headphone-weary computer listeners, jackless phone owners, stereo speaker choosers.

Why we picked the Audioengine A2+:

You may not always want to put on a pair of headphones to jam out to your favorite tunes at your desk, and that’s where the Audioengine A2+ come in. These are pretty dynamic speakers tucked into attractive enclosures, including a feature set that makes them a solid package for computer listeners.

For desktop speakers, Audioengine covers some key bases. The 2.75-inch aramid fiber woofers, 3/4-inch silk-dome tweeters and dual-class AB amplifier pushing 30 watts to each speaker, the A2+ speakers may come off a little modest, but they are more than capable of producing booming sound. You also have the option to plug in an external subwoofer if you feel the need to give the low-end a boost.

There is room for flexibility otherwise, too. Beyond the subwoofer output, you get analog and USB inputs, along with Bluetooth capability, the latter of which offers great codec support. With support for aptX and aptX Low Latency, you can stream music and games wirelessly with less lag. That makes the Audioengine A2+ prepared for virtually anything you throw at them. They’re available in satin black, gloss red or gloss white cabinets. For those seeking a little more size and power for their computer setups, the Audioengine A5+ should effectively scratch that itch.

The best speakers for your TV (soundbar alternative): Klipsch The Fives

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Why you should buy them: Classic retro looks and plenty of tech delivering smooth sound.

Who they’re for: Stereo speaker choosers, retro lovers, audio purists.

Why we picked the Klipsch The Fives:

You probably want to upgrade those weak TV speakers, but you don’t have to always do it by way of a soundbar. A stereo speaker setup, like the Klipsch The Fives, are made to be just that alternative, courtesy of a stellar set of features and options. With dedicated left and right channel speakers made with attractive materials means you can be pretty open in setting them up to fit your home theater decor.

Measuring 12-inches high, The Fives can fit in any TV layout, be it on a stand or wall-mounted. Since they use a different DIN cable, rather than standard speaker wire, you have 15-feet of slack to work with, though Klipsch says it may offer an extension sometime should that be too short. Inside, there are 4.5-inch woofers, 1-inch titanium dome tweeters, and custom amps pumping out up to 160 watts of power at full blast. You can plug in an external sub, if you like, but you may not need it.

Connectivity options abound, starting with a phono pre-amp, along with HDMI-ARC for easy pass-through to a TV. Digital optical, analog and USB inputs are also available. And on the wireless side, you get Bluetooth to go with all that, including support for aptX, aptX HD, AAC and SBC. Klipsch’s Connect app for iOS and Android includes a path to firmware updates and an EQ to tweak the audio. There’s a lot to work with on these speakers, and that makes Klipsch’s The Fives worth a serious look for TV speaker upgrades.

The best powered speakers under $150: Edifier R1280DB

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Why you should buy them: Good sound coming at a price you can afford.

Who they’re for: Those who want to upgrade their TV or computer speakers without breaking the bank.

Why we picked the Edifier R1280DB:

When budget is a factor, it’s always worth looking for the best possible value for the money. Edifier does its best to answer that call with the R1280DB, a more powerful iteration of the R1280T. These stereo speakers were built to keep things simple, but not too simple to miss out on some custom connectivity choices. It will matter if you want to set them up with a TV or computer because of their size.

Given their 9.5-inch height and 7-inch depth, they may be harder to pack into a tight desktop arrangement, but if you have a big monitor the speakers will look better flanking it. Next a big TV, on the other hand, they won’t stand out like sore thumbs. Each speaker has one 4-inch woofer and 13 mm silk-dome tweeter, making for a modest array underneath, but at least there are some ports to work with, including analog, digital optical, and phono inputs. You also get Bluetooth for wireless audio playback should you want to do that at some point.

Without HDMI, you won’t get an ARC connection, but that’s not shocking at this price. With digital optical, at least, you do have an easy way to plug these into your TV. You can also take advantage of the included remote to control the speakers separately whenever you need it to. For what you get, the Edifier R1208DB should serve you well.

Research and buying tips

What is the best brand of speakers?

That’s hard to say, as sound can be highly subjective. That being said, brands like Bose, Klipsch, JBL, Bowers and Wilkins, and KEF tend to be recognized as some of the best names in audio. It also depends on what you’ll be using your speakers for. The best home theatre speakers may not show off a fine collection of jazz vinyl. On the other side of the token, you wouldn’t blast superhero films through a record connoisseur’s bookshelf set.

How many watts is a good speaker?

Wattage doesn’t necessarily translate to “quality.” Wattage is merely a measure of how much power a speaker is capable of outputting. While a 1,000-watt speaker may be louder than a 100 watt speaker, what tends to matter most is the engineering that goes into the speaker as a whole, accounting for everything from cabinet to drivers, woofers, and tweeter(s).

Do higher watt speakers sound better?

Not necessarily. Yes, there are high-wattage speakers that pack quite a punch in terms of volume and sound incredible, but most folks will be more than happy with a 50 watt set of high-quality bookshelf speakers that focus more on design and engineering rather than pure power.

How can you improve speaker quality?

There are a number of things you can do to bolster the sound quality of your speakers. For starters, take a look at your listening space. Would moving a couch or chair benefit your experience? What about the speakers themselves? Typically, you’ll want to try and triangulate your seating to place you in the center of the listening space, with your speaker drivers aimed towards you.

If your speakers are placed on the floor, try and place them on shelves or speaker stands. Bookshelf speakers will often sound better when matched to your height when seated.

There are also a number of EQ options you can probably play with on your A/V receiver or stereo amplifier. Open these menus up and tweak things like speaker size, decibel output, and sound formats to see if it makes a difference in the final sound.

How can you tell speaker quality?

Everything from size, cabinet/driver design, power handling, and frequency response goes into what makes a top-tier speaker a top-tier. Typically, offerings from dedicated audio companies will be the better choices, but there’s a host of incredible speakers produced by TV companies and other electronics umbrellas. Ultimately, the final word comes down to what you think. Wire up, sit back, and soak in the sound.

Do speakers support Wi-Fi? Bluetooth?

Yes, many powered speakers support Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Just make sure that you check the specs and consider device compatibility before you purchase.

Can I buy good speakers with Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri support?

Yes, absolutely. Google Assistant and Alexa are supported by a growing collection of smart speakers, portable speakers, soundbars, and receivers. The only speaker that supports Siri that we know of is the Apple HomePod.

Do I need a subwoofer with my speaker setup? Will it come with one?

That depends. If you are in a small space, we don’t recommend it, but if you’re looking to make a small pair of speakers perform better with hip-hop, dance music, or for more cinematic sound, we recommend considering a good subwoofer to reach the lowest end of the frequency spectrum. Most pairs of speakers do not come with a subwoofer unless indicated, but most soundbars do.

Do I need an amp with my speakers?

Unless your speakers are powered, you will need some form of amplifier to power them.

Will speakers accept USB input?

Some powered speakers do have USB inputs — just make sure to check the spec list if this is desired.

Will speakers accept a 3.5mm input?

Most powered speakers do offer a 3.5mm input. Most amplifiers and receivers offer an RCA input, but you can use an adapter to easily connect a 3.5mm .

Will speakers work with any receiver?

Technically yes, but you’ll want to make sure that the impedance matches, and you might want to consider a larger, more powerful amplifier for larger speakers. As a general rule, it is usually better to have too much power than not enough (although you’ll want to be careful to make sure you don’t damage your speakers).

How we test

We test speakers the way normal people live.

We run every speaker through a rigorous process over the course of several days or weeks. That includes playing them in all sorts of scenarios, be it in the listening room, computer room, or at the office, and playing back from our device library, CDs, vinyl, and streaming services like Spotify.

For wireless speakers, we also test range, connection stability, and interference in areas with a lot of radio frequency interference (i.e. the Digital Trends offices). For non-powered speaker models, we listen via a variety of amplifiers, ensuring we have a good idea of what each model is doing given different power and s.

Finally, we compare each speaker to some of our go-to models, both in their class and price point, as well as a level or two above to find out if they can punch above their weight. This ensures that we are putting them in perspective with the larger industry, and also cements the way that we think about the price-to-performance ratio of each speaker we test.