This article was last updated by Digital Trends staff writer Nick Woodard on 9/4/2020.
The GoldenEar Technology’s Triton Five are the best pair of speakers available today. With fifty years of combined A/V experience at our disposal, trust us when we say that’s not a statement we make lightly.
It’s a bold claim, especially with the sheer amount of speakers in the current market. We stand by it, but we know sound is subjective, and what sounds best to us might be different for others. If you aren’t sure that the Triton Five speakers are right for you, you might be happier with one of our other recommendations.
The best speakers at a glance:
- The best speakers: GoldenEar Technology Triton Five
- The best budget speakers: Klipsch Reference Bookshelf
- The best speakers for home theater: SVS Prime Tower Surround
- The best speakers for music: KEF LS50 Wireless
- The best speakers for music production: JBL 306P MKII
- The best Wi-Fi speaker: Sonos One
- The best speakers for gaming: Logitech G560
- The best computer speakers: Peachtree Audio M24
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’ 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 $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 Triton Five provide the kind of constant satisfaction that more than justifies their price. And, oh yeah, they should last for decades to come.
Read our full GoldenEar Technology Triton Five review
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 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.
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 speakers 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.
Read our full SVS Prime Tower Series review
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:
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 when the company introduced an internally amplified wireless iteration in 2017, we were absolutely awestruck.
Powerful, precise, and nearly as beautiful to look at as they are to listen to, the LS50 Wireless are easily the best cordless speakers we have ever had the pleasure of auditioning. Controlled by a smartphone app, they support Wi-Fi streaming from your device’s library, as well as Tidal and Spotify, and the speakers can even stream network audio at up to 24bit/192kHz resolution. In terms of wired inputs, you can use optical, 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 230 watts per channel. That’s more than enough volume to blast music in all but the largest spaces and makes the LS50 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, though if you’re hoping to save some money, the newer, smaller LSX Wireless are also a fantastic option (especially if you have a subwoofer).
With extreme ease of use, great looks, and even better sound quality, these are the kind of 21st-century speakers that you’ll rave about for a long time to come.
Read our full KEF LS50 Wireless review
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, JBL’s 306P MkII speakers are tough to beat, ranking among the best value propositions in speaker land.
Read our full JBL 306P MkII review
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.
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 G560 may have you reaching once again for your headphones.
Why you should buy them: Outstanding sound quality, great looks, and tons of features.
Who they’re for: Headphone-weary computer listeners, jackless phone owners.
Why we picked the Peachtree Audio M24:
If you’re tired of putting on headphones to jam out to your favorite tunes at your desk, the Peachtree Audio M24 are the perfect companion. A pair of dynamic speakers tucked into attractive enclosures, with all the features to match, the M24s are the total package for computer listeners.
One of the heaviest hitters out there in the world of desktop speakers, Peachtree Audio did not disappoint when the M24s first hit the open market a few years back. Featuring 4-inch fiberglass woofers, 1-inch soft-dome tweeters and a class D amplifier pushing 50 watts to each speaker, the Peachtree Audio M24s pack a serious punch into a compact footprint.
The features are top notch, too. Armed with a subwoofer output, Bluetooth capability, digital and analog inputs and a built-in phono preamp, the Peachtree Audio M24s are well-prepared for virtually anything you throw at them. They’re available in piano black or bamboo (for $50 more) cabinets. And, for those looking for even more thump for their computer setups, the M24’s big brothers, the Peachtree Audio M25, should effectively scratch that itch.
Research and buying tips
- Do speakers support Wi-Fi? Bluetooth?
- Can I buy good speakers with Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri support?
- Do I need a subwoofer with my speaker setup? Will it come with one?
- Do I need an amp with my speakers?
- Will speakers accept USB input?
- Will speakers accept a 3.5mm input?
- Will speakers work with any receiver?
Yes, many powered speakers support Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Just make sure that you check the specs and consider device compatibility before you purchase.
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.
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.
Unless your speakers are powered, you will need some form of amplifier to power them.
Some powered speakers do have USB inputs — just make sure to check the spec list if this is desired.
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 source.
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 sources.
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.
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