Audiophile Speakers - The Ultimate Listening Experience

Here's a review of audiophile speakers by price bracket. These are ALL high-quality designs, with solid engineering and construction...

You can't go wrong with ANY of them - just choose between desk-top and floor-standing models, the type of music you listen to, and of course the price point!

Below $1000

Audio Engine:
Audio Engine have two powered audiophile speakers that are worth looking at: the A2 and the A5. These are really designed for MP3 players and computers, but they have an astonishing sound quality for the price.

The A2 is around $200, and the bigger A5 is around $350. The amplifier is built in to one of the speaker boxes, making it heavier than the other, but they are both surprisingly hefty!

Construction quality and finishing is first class. Both the A2 and the bigger A5 give a surprisingly solid performance for the price. Probably the best price/performance deal for your MP3 player or computer.

Paradigm Atoms:
The Paradigm Atoms are from a Canadian company. They're small enough to go on a desk, but are intended for mounting on stands, so they're sort of "desktop speakers that are floor-standing"!

They are around the same price at the Audio Engine units, but designed to be used as home theater front speakers or outright audio main speakers.

Unlike the Audio Engines, they don't have a built-in amplifier, and are fully passive. But given a good quality source and amplifier, they sound amazing!

At this price level, you can put your cash into your source material and amplification, and the Paradigms will give you a fantastic bang-for-your-buck at the back end of your system. The Atoms are the smallest in the Paradigm line-up, so it's easy to upgrade later on.

BG Corporation build the Z1 bookshelf speaker with a ribbon tweeter rather than the normal small high-frequency cone driver. This is unusual in a speaker of this size and price, and gives the Z1 an "airy" feeling a bit like electrostatic speakers.

But the Z1 is much smaller! At around $500, these are a clear step up from the Audio Engines and Paradigms, but at twice the price!

This is definitely a more "grown up" loudspeaker, with more authority and greater detail than the less expensive units. (Which is what you'd expect!) They are well-suited to classical music, especially quiet passages where the ribbon tweeter really comes into its own.

From $1000 to $5000

NAIM logo

Naim n-SAT:
English audiophile company NAIM produce these small desktop speakers at a full-sized price of just under $1500. They look a little unusual due to slight curvature of the front baffle and also the side walls.

However, the n-SATs can deal with high power levels just as well as low power levels, with no obvious distortion. This means you can run them all day, flat out, and not get listening fatigue that you get with some other speakers.

They are a sealed-box design, (no ports, unlike the BG-Z1, which is a ported box). This means the n-SATs will work well with a subwoofer.

This is a very strongly-engineered speaker enclosure, which accounts for the high price, but quality never goes out of fashion! They'll last for years.

Salk Songtowers
The floor-standing Salk Songtowers are sort-of the "budget" model from Jim Salk, who started his company with much more expensive products. The Songtower sneaks into this price bracket at just under $2000.

This is a slim design with a small footprint, but being a full floor-standing model it has a significantly bigger internal volume than all the speakers above, and you hear the difference.

The Songtower has a very neutral, clear sound, with a rich texture and fine detail. You can upgrade to a ribbon tweeter (extra cost) which brings an added level of detail to the top end. To get any clearer than this, you probably have to make the move to electrostatic speakers.

Construction quality is gorgeous, with excellent wood finish. A great performance at the price!

Klipsch Reference 7
The Reference 7 is a full-sized, floor-standing tower from Klipsch, with the horn-loading that they are famous for being applied to the tweeter.

These are very powerful audiophile speakers, but are very sensitive to positioning and room acoustics. It pays to spend some time on this!

The Klipsch speakers are probably more suited to listening to full orchestra, whereas the Songtowers will do greater justice to solo instruments and small acoustic ensembles.

Above $5000

Quad logo

Quad is another english company with a long history in electrostatic speakers. The current top model is the 2905, at around the $8,000 mark.

This is a full-range electrostatic, which means you don't need a subwoofer unless you want artificially loud bass. These speakers are tall, wide, but only a few inches front-to-back.

However they DO need several feet of fresh air behind them, so you can't cram them into corners. They need a big room, and can take almost all the power you can throw at them.

They work particularly well with Quad's own 909 amplifier, or any valve amp from Macintosh. A lot of audiophile reviewers feel that the Quad 2905 is close to "as good as it gets" under $20,000. A relative bargain!

Magnepan is an American company specializing in flat planar speakers with a twist... they use ribbon drivers, so look similar in size and shape to electrostatic speakers.

They're tall, wide, but very thin front-to-back. The ribbon technology they use gives similar results to electrostatic speakers, but if anything a more dynamic sound.

The differences are a matter of personal taste, and you'd have to compare the two side-by-side. The top model from Magnepan is the Magneplanar MG20.1, at around $10,000. Like the Quad 2905, Magneplanars work particularly well with Macintosh amplifiers.

These are just a few of the great audiophile speakers available. They are all well-constructed, and all of them offer great sound for the price level.

As always, to get the best from any of these audiophile speakers you'll need a great quality sound source. The more expensive the speaker, the more it will reveal poor-quality recordings. Also, don't forget the importance of speaker positioning and listening room design.

You may find that you can achieve similar levels of audio quality for a much lower price by using high-end headphones. See our short guide to audiophile headphones for more on this.

If you like my site, please click "Like"... thanks!