Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to spend a fortune to get great speakers. While premium equipment such as professional studio monitors certainly has its perks, a bookshelf speaker that costs less than $500 can still provide you with that audiophile experience you’re after.
In the long search, I have found great options for both Passive and Active bookshelf speakers. And on the list, you can find them organized under these parameters.
Passive speakers have usually higher-quality drivers thus producing a richer sound. They also need an external amplifier in order to use it, so keep that in mind.
Active speakers, on the other hand, have already the amplifier build-in and are simply plug-and-play. Easier to use and less cable to connect. Check out what we got below!
- What Exactly Are Bookshelf Speakers?
- What Are Bookshelf Speakers for?
- Are Speakers in This Price Range Worth It?
- The Best Bookshelf Speakers Under $500 Reviewed
- How to Choose Bookshelf Speakers for under $500
- Final Verdict
What Exactly Are Bookshelf Speakers?
As the name would suggest, these speakers are designed to be set on a shelf or on an isolated stand. Unlike chunkier gadgets that rest on the floor, bookshelf speakers are moderately sized.
They were popularized in the 1950s and 1960s when listening to music was more of an event than it is today. Prior to these speakers coming into the market, audiophiles were delegated to massive setups that could take up an entire wall!
Then, Edgar Villchur burst onto the scene and invented the first acoustic suspension speaker. This technology is what paved the way for bookshelf speakers.
You see, acoustic suspension involves mounting tweeters and woofers in a single sealed box. The loudspeakers are connected to drivers, keeping the entire footprint relatively small.
That’s not all, though. Acoustic suspension technology also improved frequency response. Without getting into the technical weeds, the revolutionary new technology made Hi-Fi audio possible in a much smaller package.
Much of the manufacturing techniques and technology used remains unchanged. Of course, technology has come a long way since the 1950s, so modern bookshelf speakers are more capable than ever before.
What Are Bookshelf Speakers for?
Thanks to their small footprint, these speakers are used in many different ways. For music lovers out there, they are the perfect equipment for jamming out. They’re an important piece of the home theater setup.
They produce solid sound quality and are versatile enough to be placed just about anywhere. However, they tend to do best in small to medium-sized rooms.
Bookshelf speakers also make great additions to a home cinema. Many use them as part of a 5.1 surround sound system. There are some limitations to what these speakers can do. We’ll get into that a bit later.
However, surround sound systems make up for their shortcomings. They work well with compatible equipment and add a new dimension to the soundscape.
Is There Anything Bookshelf Speakers Aren’t Good for?
One common mistake we see music lovers make is using bookshelf speakers for studio monitors. While they look very similar, bookshelf speakers are not the same as studio monitors. In fact, the audio produced by a bookshelf model is not suitable for studio work at all.
Let me explain…
The goal in a studio is to reproduce audio as close to the original recording as possible. This is done to fix imperfections and fine-tune the dynamic range of a piece.
The best bookshelf speakers under $500 do a pretty good job of making music come to life as it was originally meant to be heard. But, like all commercially-available sound equipment, these speakers are designed to make the music sound as pleasant to the listener as possible.
To achieve this, most speakers are tuned to have that signature “smile curve.” Essentially, the bass and treble ends of the sound spectrum are boosted while the midrange is scooped. This decreases the muddiness that too much midrange creates.
Studio monitors aren’t about subjectiveness. Mixing, recording, and mastering are about hard facts, so speakers made for entertaining just won’t do.
Another key difference is the lack of built-in amplifiers. Most studio monitors contain individual amplifiers for the woofer, tweeter, and midrange speaker. This improves the overall dynamic response of the audio.
When you’re shopping for bookshelf speakers, you’ll find that most are passive and don’t have any internal amplifiers at all.
Are Speakers in This Price Range Worth It?
Absolutely! As we said earlier, you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars to get superior sound. Truth is, audio technology has advanced so much in the last few decades that creating high-quality speakers doesn’t take much.
The components are all readily available. All it takes is some good design and application.
There are tons of great speakers with a price tag of 500 dollars or less. Some of them are so good that they can stand toe-to-toe with those premium brands.
The Best Bookshelf Speakers Under $500 Reviewed
Here goes our review for the best bookshelf speakers under $500. I divided all that I found between passive and active speakers to help you choose.
The passive speakers have usually better drivers and deliver higher-quality sound than the active ones, but you need to buy an external amplifier to work. Active speakers, instead have a built-in amplifier inside and are simpler to use and connect.
1. Elac Uni-fi UB5 (Best Passive)
- Good frequency response
- Punchy bass
- Dedicated drivers
- Sleek design
- Might be too bright for some tastes
- Tends to cause distortion with high volume
ELAC has been in business for quite some time, so the company knows how to make some top-notch gear. The Uni-Fi UB5 speakers are one of the best bookshelf speakers for under $500.
Despite their small size, these bookshelf speakers pack a powerful punch. This is due to the three separate drivers. There’s an individual driver assigned to the bass frequencies, midrange, and high frequencies. Not only that but there’s a concentric driver.
Don’t let the appearance of the speaker fool you, there are three separate cones. The top speaker is made up of a 1-inch dome tweeter that’s placed inside a larger 4-inch midrange cone. Below that, you have a dedicated woofer to create some punchy bass.
These three components work together to achieve a great frequency response. The speakers can produce tones as low as 46 Hz and as high as 20 kHz!
Overall, the unique construction of these speakers makes them perform well across the board. They can fill your room with sound without taking up a ton of room.
2. Bose 301-V (Best Passive)
- Works well with other Bose equipment
- High-impact bass
- Compatible with 4 or 8 ohm receivers
- Built-in overload protection
- Overwhelming midrange
- Weak bass
Bose is one of the biggest audio brands in the country. While they’re often associated with expensive gear, the 301-V speakers are an affordable alternative with the same technology that has made Bose famous.
They have a unique horizontal shape that makes finding a spot on your shelf easy. If you have existing Bose home cinema gear, these speakers will fit right in. They’re compatible with a wide range of receivers and amps.
The shape of the speakers isn’t just for looks. It also helps to improve the dispersion of sound. The slight curve ensures that sound can spread across the room evenly. You can enjoy solid sound quality regardless of where you are in the space.
The speakers also have a cool direct/reflect system. Basically, this technology mimics the way that sound travels in a concert hall. So, your live music collection will sound as if you’re right there in the front row.
3. Klipsch RP-600M (Best Passive)
- Punchy bass
- Produces crystal-clear sound
- Great dynamic response
- Sleek and lightweight
- May sound too bright for some
Klipsch is another well-known brand. The RP-600M speakers have a lot to offer. These aren’t your average bookshelf speakers. Klipsch has included some innovative design elements that work wonders to improve sound.
The first is the tweeter. It’s a small 1-inch tweeter that’s completely vented. The vented design reduces standing waves, producing a smooth response from the higher frequencies. The tweeter works alongside a horn, which Klipsch calls the “Hybrid Tractrix” horn. Its job is to reduce resonance.
That’s not all. The speakers also have a large open port that runs from the front through to the back. It’s strategically engineered to work with the shape of the box and its materials. This careful design ensures that the speakers can create optimal airflow without causing any distortion.
In terms of sound quality, these speakers are top-notch. When paired with the right amplifier, they can produce an impressive wave of sound that’s crisp and free of distortion.
4. Edifier S2000pro (Best Active)
- Built-in amplifiers and EQ
- Can be used as studio monitors
- Flat and clear frequency response
- Multiple input options
- Weak Bluetooth connection
- Bass and treble controls are limited
Looking for something easy and quick to set up? Take a look at these bookshelf speakers from Edifier. The cool thing about the speakers is that they can be used in many different ways.
Because they have built-in amplifiers, you can set them up anywhere as standalone speakers. Or, you could use the multiple connections on the back to add them to a larger sound system. The choice is yours.
In terms of frequency response, the Edifier speakers are great. They can reach up to 20 kHz. Plus, you can easily make adjustments with the equalizer knobs on the back. The bass and treble settings are a bit limited, but the speakers do have a handful of presets to try out if you’re having trouble.
The speakers do a particularly good job with higher frequencies. They have a flat diaphragm tweeter, which speeds up response and produces a crisp sound.
5. Audioengine A5 Plus (Best Active)
- Active speakers
- 50 watts of power per channel
- Powerful sound
- Many rear inputs
- High-quality components
- Poor shielding causes interference
- Only one amp
These Audioengine speakers are more than capable of filling up a room with sound. They’re active speakers with 50 watts of power per channel. In total, they can use 150 watts, making them very loud and powerful.
It should be noted that these aren’t the best for studio monitoring. While they have a built-in amp, it works to power all of the drivers. This may cause some frequency response issues during the mixing process.
With that said, the speakers perform well when listening to music from a wide range of sources. The high-quality components all work to improve clarity. For example, the tweeters utilize silk for suspension. Meanwhile, the woofers have tough Kevlar for durability and punchiness.
One of the first things you’ll notice about the speakers is the heat sink in the back of the main unit. It’s designed to manage heat efficiently. Not only does this help prevent distortion, but it keeps your investment protected.
6. Kanto YU6 (Best Active)
- Active speakers
- 200 watts of power
- Integrated power conservation features
- Qualcomm aptX streaming technology
- Available in several colors
- Good frequency response
- Bass tends to sound muddy
- Distortion occurs on higher frequencies
The Kanto speakers sound just as good as they look. These are flexible pieces of sound equipment that can cater to modern and old-school listeners alike.
On the analog front, the speakers use a built-in phono preamp. It’s perfect for connecting the devices to a record player. The preamp provides enough juice to improve sound quality no matter how old your vinyl is.
Digital options are available, too. There are optical outputs that can be used for sound systems, home cinemas, and more. Bluetooth is available as well.
The speakers have aptX technology. This improves the sound quality by decompressing the audio signal from your device before it is output by the speakers. The process results in virtually lossless audio.
All in all, these best bookshelf speakers under $500 are good because they offer the flexibility you need to listen to music how you want. Whether you’re connecting to your smartphone or listening to classic records, the speakers can do it all.
7. Edifier S1000DB (Best Active)
- Active speakers
- 120 watts of sound
- Can be used with multiple devices
- Traditional design
- Good for high-fidelity streaming
- Short cord
- Midrange may be too overbearing for some
- Bass isn’t as strong
The S1000DB speakers are another great option from Edifier. These are active speakers that are catered to audiophiles who want crisp and clear sound.
The frequency response is pretty good. They can produce sounds as low as 48 Hz and as high as 20 kHz. The bass and midrange driver are quite large, emphasizing the lower end of the sound spectrum.
However, the 1-inch tweeter does a decent job of replicating high frequencies. There are even some built-in equalizers to help you fine-tune what you hear.
These can be connected to a wide range of devices. There are several connection options, including optical, coaxial, and traditional AUX. When it comes to streaming digital music, the speakers have a lot to offer.
Not only can you connect with Bluetooth, but they use aptX codecs to maintain the quality of your audio files as you listen.
How to Choose Bookshelf Speakers for under $500
Before you choose the first set of speakers with an attractive price tag, you need to know what to look for. Build quality and audio capabilities vary across the board, so it’s important to do your due diligence! Here are some things to consider as you shop.
Passive vs. Active Equipment
The first decision you need to make is whether or not you want to go with active speakers or passive speakers. Most of the options you’ll find on the market are passive. This means that there are no integrated amplifiers within the body.
Passive speakers rely on power from an external amplifier to work properly. Meanwhile, active speakers have everything built-in and ready to go.
While you may be tempted to stick with active options, think about how you plan to use your speakers. If you’re just using them for casual listening, go for it! However, if you need more control, passive is the way to go.
You see, passive speakers can be hooked up to any compatible amplifier. This means that you can create a powerful system that rocks your entire home or you can take advantage of a surround sound system. Passive technology gives you the flexibility to make those choices.
Plus, many audiophiles believe that active bookshelf speakers are hampered by the technology they house. Acoustic suspension speakers are all about the space of the cabinet and the air inside. With so many electronic components crammed into one box, audio quality is bound to suffer.
If music is your main game, it’s important to choose speakers that are capable of being configured in a studio setup. Stereo speakers have separate left and right channels.
Most modern songs take advantage of panning during the mixing phase, so there’s different information coming out of both sides of the stereo signal.
Best bookshelf speakers come in a pair for easy stereo setups. However, you might also want to create a 2.1 setup. With a 2.1 arrangement, you’re adding a subwoofer into the mix to provide a good boost to the bass. The woofer is the “.1” in “2.1.” In this type of setup, you’ll need to connect the speakers to an independently powered woofer.
The frequency response is an important specification you want to pay attention to. Humans can usually hear between tones that are between 20 Hz and 20 kHz. However, the upper end of that range tends to dip significantly as we get older.
When it comes to frequency response, music is incredibly complex. Those deeper tones add a layer of depth that’s not always easy for speakers to replicate. The same goes for the highs, even if we can’t always hear them.
Not all equipment can cover the entire spectrum of human hearing. When you’re looking at bookshelf speaker specs, the frequency response will refer to what frequencies the product can reasonably replicate. Stick to a wide range, as this will make your music sound more true to life.
Power and Impedance Ratings
Now, let’s talk about power. Remember how we said that most bookshelf speakers are passive and need power from an amplifier to operate? Well, you need to match your speakers up with your amp’s power ratings.
Amps produce a set number of watts. The maximum wattage should coincide with your speaker’s capabilities. Say, for example, that you have a 600-watt amp. Going with a 600-watt speaker will ensure that you don’t damage your investment once you turn the tunes up.
The loudness of your music plays a role, too. Higher decibel levels require more power. You can get a speaker that’s lower than the max wattage rating of your amplifier. Just make sure that you don’t turn the volume up too much and blow the speaker!
Another measurement you’ll need to match is impedance. Impedance refers to how the speaker restricts the flow of electrical current. It’s measured in Ohms and uses the “Ω” symbol.
Typically, bookshelf speakers have a rating of 8 ohms. Though, you can also find some that are 16 ohms or 4 ohms. Always go with the same number of ohms as your receiver.
Finally, what music source do you plan on using most? Traditionally, bookshelf speakers are wired to provide you with the best audio signal possible. Information tends to get lost over a wireless connection, resulting in a slight dip in quality.
With that said, Bluetooth and wireless streaming are getting a lot better. Many manufacturers provide wireless connectivity as an option.
That way, you can use the speakers when you just want some background noise. When you want to really listen and take everything in, you can switch to a wired connection.
There you have it! A collection of some of the best bookshelf speakers under $500 dollars! Any of these devices can improve the listening experience and provide you with audiophile-quality audio. However, we have to give a special shoutout to the model from Elac. It’s the clear winner of this roundup.
The Elac Uni-Fi speakers have a lot to offer in terms of performance. While they may not be active speakers with a built-in amp like the options from Edifier, Audioengine, or Kanto, they do have better drivers.
They’re the only speakers on this list with individual drivers for the bass, mid, and high frequencies. That alone can have a drastic effect on audio quality. Plus, the speakers have an impressive frequency response and the flexibility you need to set it up how you want.
Whether you’re going to create a standard stereo setup or you want your speakers to be a part of a larger audio system, the Elac bookshelf speakers can help you do it.
These best bookshelf speakers under $500 are a worthy investment that will breathe new life into your music collection. And feel free to keep on exploring other options in our bookshelf speakers under $300 guide.