I recently published a guide for picking out your first turntable. My intent was to provide a true novice with all the basic knowledge they would need to confidently take that first step into the world of vinyl. While writing, I realized a speaker guide had to follow. I could NOT let a beginner make the mistake of purchasing a turntable with built in speakers. Other than mentioning how terrible the turntable itself is in those systems, it was important to point out how terrible the speakers are. They’re garbage. Worse than a bluetooth pocket speaker. Which is just a step down from TV speakers. And those hang just below a sound bar. Honestly, if sound is something you care about (and if you get a turntable I assume you care about sound), anything less than stereo should be ignored. I’m not trying to be elitist, it’s science. There’s a reason your car doesn’t have a single speaker coming from the dash. Speaker placement matters.
In the turntable guide, I recommended some affordable Edifier monitor speakers, which could be set up to have a basic stereo sound. Stereo, at its root level, refers to a multi-speaker sound system. The number of speakers in a stereo system is typically dependent on the room in which they reside and the purpose for which they will be used. For just music, a two speaker system, perhaps with a subwoofer, is plenty. If you’re going to use it for TV or movies, then you may want to add a center speaker, referred to as the center channel. The center channel will be the focus of the dialogue. So now we’re up to three. Will this be a home theater? You’ll want to add a couple surround sound speakers bringing the total to either five or seven. If the room is pretty big, you may want to add another subwoofer to ensure the bass is evenly distributed.
All of the recommendations listed here are for bookshelf speakers that can be used as standalone speakers in a classic 2 speaker setup or as the towers or surrounds in a home theater setup. Their manufacturer also produces a center channel and subs to match the model I recommended, should you intend to start with a 3 speaker home theater setup or higher. One of the best parts of upgrading your system is being able to continue to use your older equipment. Should you choose to upgrade your first purchase of bookshelves to floorstanding speakers, you’ll be able to move those old speakers into a smaller room or use them as surrounds.
My recommendations start around $300 and will build up to $2000. There are countless choices that didn’t make the list, but I wanted to stick to speakers with which I have experience. Some solid entry level choices that get consistently raving reviews are the Elac debut series, particularly the B5.2. They pack plenty of power and can take over a room like speakers twice their size. Around the same price point are the Wharfedale Diamond 11’s. If you are interested in clarity over power, or perhaps have plans to upgrade into a home theater system, these are your pick. They make fantastic surrounds, but still have the power to appease any music listener. The sub $500 speaker world contains a plethora of brands and styles. I give you only two here, but they fully represent different ends of the spectrum. The Elac’s give the boom for a party, and the Wharfedale provide clarity for the picky ear.
Jumping up a level, if your budget allows, are the KEF Q350s. The KEF’s come with the Uni-Q driver which contains the tweeter directly in the center of the midrange cone. It provides exemplary sound. Should your speaker placement be accurate, you’ll be able to fully immerse yourself into the music. Note, the Q150s are a step down in size, but when they go on sale they can be had for the same price as the Wharfedale or Elac’s and should definitely be considered. If you can wait till Christmas, they’ll be had for $300. I found them totally worth the wait.
No list of speaker’s should be without a Bowers & Wiklins’ representative. B&W are known to take design as seriously as they do sound. The quality in the manufacturing is astounding. The 800 D3 is the most beautiful speaker I’ve ever seen in person. The Nautilus, at $60k, is more fine art than speaker. Back down to reality, you can still get a taste of their quality for just over $1,000. The B&W 606 is a great do-it-all bookshelf, and if you want the “big brand” to show off, this is you. For my money though, I’d recommend starting a little smaller with the Elac or the Wharfedale and saving up for something really special.
If you want to jump straight to the end game and not worry yourself with upgrades in the future, it’ll cost you $2,000. The KEF R3 is perfect in every way. I heard these in a hi-fi shop in Nashville last summer. They were played on the same amp as a pair of $12k B&Ws, $30k KEF blades, and I swear to you the R3 outperformed them. If you want the nicest speakers on the block, but don’t want to pay more than a used car for them, this is the best buy.