Speakers

Best Bookshelf Speakers Under $500: Speaker Of Your House

Technology has made it possible to enjoy the kind of audio at home that in olden days you would only experience at a theatre. And you don’t even have to spend so much money!

These days you can find great speakers that fit right on your bookshelf at an accessible price with very little hassle. But it’s often on the internet and with no pushy salesmen to assist you, how do you discern the speakers that are right for you, making sure you’re getting the most bass for your buck? And treble, too.

That’s why this article is going to school you into an audiophile who knows what to look for and will have no trouble picking the right speakers for their spot, whether large or small. And for less than $500 dollars!

First up, a little crash course in audionomics followed by a list of the ten best bookshelf speakers for under $500. Sit up and pay attention, school is in session!

Ten Best Bookshelf Speakers Under $500

All specs taken directly from manufacturers website except where otherwise noted. Also included are pros and cons for each unit. 

Uni-Fi UB5 

The first system on our list hails from ELAC and is the result of a design by Andrew Jones. Who is Andrew Jones? A legend. He is considered by many audiophiles to have developed the greatest speakers ever, the TAD Reference One speakers. But those cost way more than $500!

PROS: Budget price, compact, sound that is focused and balanced

CONS: Placement requirements, needs some breaking in

  • Speaker type: 3-way, bass reflex
  • Tweeter: 1 x 1-inch soft dome, concentrically mounted
  • Midrange: 1 x 4-inch aluminum cone
  • Woofer: 1 x 5.25-inch aluminum cone
  • Crossover frequency: 270 / 2,700 Hz
  • Frequency response: 46 to 25,000 Hz
  • Sensitivity: 85 dB at 2.83 v/1m
  • Recommended amplifier power: 40 to 140 wpc
  • Peak power handling: 140 wpc
  • Nominal impedance: 4 Ω; minimum 3.4 Ω
  • Binding posts: 5-way custom
  • Magnetic shielding: No
  • Cabinet finishes: Black brushed vinyl
  • Accessories included: Magnetic fabric grille
  • Height: 12.75 in / 324 mm
  • Width: 7.87 in / 200 mm
  • Depth: 10.75 in / 273 mm

Pioneer SP-BS22-LR

The second selection on the list is the result of a collaboration with – guess who – Andrew Jones! This model features a complex six component crossover system.

PROS: complex crossover system, exceptional bass

CONS: Design

  • Enclosure: Bass-reflex Bookshelf 
  • Configuration: 2-way 
  • Frequency Range:55 Hz-20 kHz 
  • Nominal Impedance: 6 Ohms
  • Sensitivity (2.83 V): 5 dB 
  • Maximum Input Power: 80 W 
  • Cross-Over Frequency: 3 kHz
  • Magnetically Shielded: No
  • Dimensions (W x H x D) 7-1/8” x 12-9/16” x 8-7/16”
  • Weight (each): 9 lbs 2 oz 
  • Woofer: 4” 
  • Tweeter: 1”

Polk Audio T15 100 Watt Home Theater

This model is best for Dolby or any kind of Digital Theater System. 

PROS: High performance, low price

CONS: Bass lacks punch, designed to be front and rear speakers for surround

  • Detachable Grilles: Yes 
  • System Components: 2 speakers 
  • Amplification Type: passive 
  • Crossover Channel Qty: 2-way 
  • Max (RMS) Output Power: 150 Watt 
  • Frequency Response: 45 – 24000 Hz -3dB 
  • Frequency Response: 65 Hz 
  • Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohm 
  • Recommended Amplifier Power: 20 Watt 
  • Sensitivity: 89 dB 
  • Output Features: vented 
  • Magnetic Shield: Yes 
  • Connectivity Technology: wired 
  • Width: 6.5 in 
  • Depth: 7.3 in Height: 10.6 in

Q-Acoustics 3020i

The QAcoustics 3020i excels whether you are playing tunes on a turntable or enjoying home cinema. They are quite popular.

PROS: Speakers can be upright or on their side, reproduces textures nicely

CONS: Not so hot with bass, not super cheap

  • Enclosure type: 2-way reflex
  • Bass Unit: 125 mm (5 in)
  • Treble Unit: 22 mm (0.9 in)
  • Frequency Response (+3 dB, -6 dB): 64 Hz – 30 kHz
  • Nominal Impedance: 6 Ω
  • Minimum Impedance: 4 Ω
  • Sensitivity (2.83 Vrms@1 m): 88 dB
  • Stereo Amplifier Power: 25 – 75w
  • AV Receiver (2 ch. driven): 50 – 75w
  • Crossover Frequency: 2.4kHz
  • Effective Volume: 6.1 L (372 cu in)
  • Dimensions H/W/D: 278 x 170 x 282 mm (11.0 x 6.7 x 11.1 in)
  • Weight (per speaker): 10.59 lbs / (4.8 kg) per speaker

Micca PB42

The Micca PB42 is one of the most well fit for surround sound capabilities. It is also the smallest and lightest set of speakers on the list.

PROS: Small, light, comes with RCA, auxiliary inputs and binding posts

CONS: No Bluetooth, minimalist design, not so loud

  • Woofer: 4″ Carbon Fiber, Rubber Surround
  • Tweeter: 0.75″ Silk Dome
  • Crossover: 12dB/Octave
  • Enclosure: Ported
  • Frequency Response: 60Hz-20kHz
  • Inputs: 3.5mm Stereo Mini Jack and Stereo RCA
  • Power: 15W x 2 <1% THD+N
  • Dimensions: 9.5″ (H) x 5.8″ (W) x 6.5″ (D)

Edifier S1000DB

The Edifier S1000DD has the most inputs of any speaker on this list. They are for the active audiophile.

PROS: Five input types, well constructed, frequency performance and clarity

CONS: Comes with a lame remote control, higher price tag

  • Power output:RMS 25W×2(Treble) +35W×2(Mid-range and bass) = 120W)
  • Signal to noise ratio:≥ 85dBA.
  • Frequency response:48Hz~20KHz (±4dB)
  • Input sensitivity: PC: 900 ± 50mV | AUX: 700 ± 50mV. …
  • Dimenson: 8in x 13.5in x 10.5in (WxHxD)
  • Input type : PC/Auxiliary/Optical/Coaxial/Bluetooth

Edifier R2000DB

The R2000DB also sports a wide array of input capabilities, plus smooth connectivity.

PROS: Bluetooth, remote control, balanced audio

CONS: Sounds thin and flat occasionally, design flaws.

  • Total Power Output: RMS 24W × 2 + 36 W × 2
  • SNR: ≥85dBA
  • Frequency Response: 55Hz-20KHz(±3db)
  • Channel Separation: 
≥45dB
  • Tweeter Unit: Φ25mm Ru-Fe-B silk dome, 6Ω
  • Full Range Unit: 
5″ alloy, 4Ω
  • Dimension: 174×289×252mm

Klipsch RP 600M

The Klipsch RP is probably the most stylish on the list and the price is not too steep for the quality. More expensive, but a better value. 

PROS: Powerful output, well-manufactured, stylish

CONS: Grilles are ugly – take ‘em off!

  • Detachable Grilles: Yes 
  • Amplification Type: passive 
  • Crossover Channel Qty: 2-way 
  • Nominal Output Power: 100 Watt 
  • Max (RMS) Output Power: 400 Watt 
  • Frequency Response: 45 – 25000 Hz 
  • Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohm 
  • Sensitivity: 96 dB 
  • Crossover Frequency: 1500 Hz 
  • Output Features: Tractrix port 
  • Bi-Amping: Yes 
  • Connectivity Technology: wired 
  • Width: 8 in Depth: 11.9 in 
  • Height: 15.7 in 
  • Weight: 16.09 lbs

Sony SSC55

The Sony SSC55’s claim to fame is that it features a 3-way, 3-driver system. So besides the tweeter and woofer, there is a mid-range driver.

PROS: Good price point, extended warranty

CONS: lacking in construction, not exceptionally loud

  • System Components: 2 speakers 
  • Amplification Type: passive 
  • Crossover Channel Qty: 3-way 
  • Max (RMS) Output Power: 100 Watt 
  • Frequency Response: 53 – 50000 Hz 
  • Nominal Impedance: 6 Ohm 
  • Sensitivity: 87 dB 
  • Connectivity Technology: wired 
  • Width: 7 in Depth: 8.7 in 
  • Height: 13.2 in 
  • Weight: 9.92 lbs

Yamaha NS 6490 

The Yamaha NS 6490 speakers are the 7.1 model on the list.

PROS: 3-way speakers, magnetically shielded, professional level

CONS: Not ported, inferior design, awkward size

  • Detachable Grilles: Yes 
  • System Components: 2 x Bookshelf speakers 
  • Amplification Type: passive 
  • Crossover Channel Qty: 3-way Nominal Output 
  • Power: 70 Watt Max (RMS) 
  • Output Power: 140 Watt 
  • Frequency Response: 45 – 23000 Hz 
  • Nominal Impedance: 6 
  • Ohm Sensitivity: 90 dB 
  • Crossover Frequency: 2500Hz, 8000Hz 
  • Magnetic Shield: Yes C
  • Connectivity Technology: wired 
  • Nominal (RMS) Output Power: 70 Watt 

How Speakers Work 

Basically, speakers turn electronic signals into sound. In a way, they are no more than just a simple electric motor. It’s converting the electrical energy into mechanical energy.

The parts of a speaker are the cone, dust cap, voice coil, bobbin, permanent magnet, spider, speaker basket, speaker terminals and braided wire.

Electric current flows through the voice coil, creating a magnetic field that makes the cone move, and the movement of air then produces sound.

The Different Kinds Of Speakers

Speakers are also known as “drivers”, which refers to the different types of systems. There are six main kinds of systems found in homes and offices. The driver is set in specific frequencies so as to reduce distortion.

Commonly, three different drivers are installed in a speaker to handle all variations from high to mid to low range frequencies. 

The first of the six types of drivers is a tweeter – better known as treble. It reproduces the upper limit of the humanly audible frequency range, such as the high-toned “tweeting” of birds. Hence the name. That’s right, a tweeter is not just someone who spends too much time on twitter. It is also the smallest speaker of the drivers.

Then you have mid-range and low range. Low range is to bass what a tweeter is to treble. 

You’ve probably heard of a woofer or more likely, a sub-woofer. They are often combined into one unit, but technically count as two drivers. They reproduce low-frequency sounds – the opposite of a tweeter.

Finally, you have the full range driver, which is designed to reproduce the full audio spectrum. But full range speakers tend to sacrifice quality for quantity and do not excel in any of the audio ranges, sometimes even producing inaccurate sound reproduction.

FUN FACT! Did you know? Higher frequencies move more directly than bassier, lower ones, which tend to bounce around.

Considering Your Options

There are a lot of options for speakers and it is essential to decide what are the most important factors for you. Is it the size of the speaker? Is it the size of the room? Maybe you want them to be easily moveable for those bumpin’ backyard summer bashes?

Is it value? Or is it sound quality? Is it design or practicality? You will find a big jump in sound quality when you move from the $300 range to $500 dollars, for example. But this improvement in the quality of the audio components is offset by cuts in design materials for the cabinet. 

Where will it be placed in the room? What kind of system is your sound coming from? Is it a turntable? A home cinema? Spotify? A receiver? Maybe you will want an integrated amp. 

Sound and design both matter so make sure you prep yourself. For example, take measurements. Do whatever you can to think about it first. 

Things You Need To Know And Think About

As noted above, there are a lot of things you need to think about. Portability and practicality might be one of them. Budget might be another. Then there is the look. 

If you’re listening to mono on a turntable, be aware that most speakers work for 2.1 stereo audio or more. Some might not be made for 5.1 surround mixes. And only a few offer 7.1 capabilities.

What’s the frequency, Kenneth? If you’re an R.E.M. fan it’s a song you will want to play on your new speakers. But even if your name isn’t Kenneth, it’s helpful to know the frequency at which your speakers operate. 

This is where things like KHz come in. In scientific terms, it is the range of frequency your speaker can accurately reproduce. Crossover frequency is how the different frequencies noted in the previous section are split amongst the different drivers. 

A more common way to identify the intensity of sound coming from your speakers is by the number of “watts”. Watt the heck does that mean? Watts are actually a measure of electrical power. So to equate watts with volume is not correct. Don’t make this mistake. There are a number of variables that affect sound quality. 

Terms And Conditions 

The previous paragraphs prove that there can be a lot of confusing words and terminology. You are probably going to read ahead and think: What’s that? What’s that? Well, here’s a useful list of some of the unfamiliar or just downright weird terms you will come across so you can feel well-informed. In alphabetical order, of course. 

  1. Coaxial – Coaxial speakers are 2-way speakers where the components – the drivers such as the tweeter or the woofer – are all combined on to a single axis.
  2. dB – is short for DeciBels and refers to the sensitivity of the components. Basically it is a sensitivity rating and the higher the rating, the louder your speaker is. Signal – to – Noise ratio is also measured in dBs. The higher the number, the better. 
  3. Distortion – is what happens when you try to play the sound at a higher volume than the power, or wattage, allows. Distortion often happens when the components suffer heat damage from pushing too hard. 
  4. Horn Technology – or horn-loaded speakers. Remember learning earlier that sound is produced through the movement of air? Well, a horn amplifies the air flow, greatly boosting the transfer of mechanical energy to acoustical energy. 
  5. Impedance – this is simply the level of “resistance” to the audio signal, aka electric current, flowing through the speakers. Speakers can have high or low impedance, but you want something somewhere in the middle.
  6. kHz – This is how the frequency response is measured. Hz stands for Hertz, while K stands for the numerical measurement “kilo”. It represents how high or low the speaker can play. Fun Fact! – Humans cannot hear below 20Hz and the deepest bass, around 30Hz, tends to be felt not heard.
  7. Ohms – the measurement of impedance. 6-8 “ohms” is considered optimum.
  8. Planar Radiators – Bass drivers, put simply. 

Don’t Forget The Features

Many speaker brands will try to lure with all kinds of special features, so it is also integral to know what you want when it comes to features. Some of them are just extra bells and whistles, while others are practical and useful. 

Dynamic balance! What is it? You should know, you should know! Many of the speakers will brag about “dynamic balance” or “dynamic range control”. They mean pretty much the same thing. The sound will be cleaner because it regulates the ratio between minimum and maximum peak output to reduce distortion. Is it worth it? That’s up to you.

Most speakers today have “connectivity” but they don’t all have bluetooth. It is nice but not necessary to be able to have your speakers communicate with your player remotely.

Speaking of remotely, some speakers come with remote controls, just like your TV. This way you can chill on the couch and still blast that favorite tune or turn it down when your guests arrive. Other speakers have front panel volume control, which is convenient. Often, you can forget this factor, but don’t.

Finally, not all speakers come with wall mount brackets! Technically, they are “bookshelf” speakers but depending on your space, you might want to elevate them or you might not have a bookcase! If that’s the case, choose one with wall brackets, since they will already be designed suitably to hold the speakers weight and size. 

Best Of The Brands

There are a number of reliable, specialized brands out there which offer diverse options for consumers, audiophile and non-audiophile alike, which appear repeatedly on best of lists.

You have familiar electronics masters like Sony and Pioneer, the latter known for car and mobile audio systems. These brands you probably know and already have their products in your living room or office. But there are also a few worth mentioning that aren’t such bonafide household names.

Edifier has been pitching their wares for over two decades now. Their specialty is elegant design and innovative technology. 

On the other hand, ELAC recently celebrated nine decades on the market. ELAC is a company based in germany that has helped to advance the quality of audio technology in their near century time in the business. They are dedicated to craftsmanship and superior performance.

Finally, Polk Audio is an American manufacturer with their headquarters in San Diego. They have shown pride and passion for audio quality since 1972, striving to offer a valuable intersection between performance, design and price.

All of the companies mentioned will be found on the top ten list below.

A Quick Recap

The things to consider when picking out your bookshelf speakers are a multitude, so take a minute to remind yourself before you check out the top ten. Let’s review!

Things to think about include but are not limited to: Look, Sound, Portability, Practicality, Space, Measurements, Construction, Frequency, Tweeter and Woofer.

One last thing: Do not overlook what parts the units or components are made from. It can affect the sound. For example, if the cabinets are made of certain materials, they will shake with bass. 

Components inside the unit like cones, grills and woofers can also be more susceptible to wear and tear or conversely, transmit sound more clearly and efficiently, depending on what materials are used for construction.

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