Great speakers are the key to a great sounding audio system. Truly good ones will sound great no matter what you play through them… classical or rock music, action movies, sports on TV, vinyl records or CDs. This is by far the most important part of your sound system and worthy of serious investment, if you have the means.
There are many good speakers out there, but the ones listed here offer some of the best value and best sound that you will find.
Last update January 20, 2010
Recommended Speaker Manufactuers
www.theaudioinsider.com (more coming soon)
Axiom Audio Epic Midi 125 Home Theater System
$300/pair and up, home theaters from $1286.30
Based in Dwight, Ontario, Canada, Axiom Audio produces exceptionally fine speakers, sells them direct to the customer and backs them with some of the best service in the business. Over the years I’ve become very familiar with the company, its products, and its people and have the absolute highest opinion of them, from owner and founder Ian Colquhoun to the people who answer the phones and provide free advice to customers or those considering Axiom speakers. They really care- from making a great product, providing honest, expert advice (no snake oil sold or promoted here) and making their customers happy. What’s more, Axiom has a custom shop with a wide variety of finishes available, perhaps the widest variety available in the industry.
I am especially fond of Axiom Audio’s M2 and M22 bookshelf speakers and their complete home theater systems, which use some of the best surround speakers I have encountered. Axiom’s QS4 and QS8 surround speakers have very wide radiation that combines spaciousness with effective imaging- great stuff! All Axiom speakers have a full and natural sound that is very detailed, some say is a bit bright. I have found the Onkyo receivers to be a great match with them. Axiom’s Custom Design Shop allows you to design speakers to match your decor. The Epic Midi system provides a true high-end listening experience with both music and movies and is a steal at its price.
The Mythos series is the way to go if you have the funds. The Mythos SSA is the best surroundbar available and the Mythos ST and STS Supertowers have high-end sound combined with tremendous bass response, courtesy of the built-in powered subwoofers. The ProCinema speakers are unique in that they offer full-range sound from very small cabinets. The new XTR speakers (coming soon) look extremely promising as well.
Ohm MicroWalsh Tall Speakers
$1,000/pair and up, home theaters from $1,970
If you have the budget for Ohm Walsh speakers, you won’t be disappointed. Besides their incredible clarity and natural sound, Ohm Walsh speakers use a unique, patented driver that reproduces a 3D soundfield that can be experienced anywhere you sit in the room- true reach-out-and-touch-it realism. Readers have bought these on my recommendation for years and invariably I get an email thanking me for the tip. They all sound great, but the big speakers from the Walsh 200 and up are standouts that completely blow away most speakers selling for far, far more. They are my overall favorites and have been my #1 recommendation for many years.
Ohm’s service is legendary, offering both personal attention and repair service and upgrades available for every product they have ever made, so you can consider these a long-term investment that will pay off for many years. Though they are not inexpensive, you will own what I consider to be some of the very finest speakers in the world and you will be getting a product that is handcrafted just for you right here in America.
See Ohm’s website for more or search the blog under Ohm Walsh to see my past comments on this wonderful product. You can also read more about Ohm Speakers on my Recommended Direct Sales Companies page.
http://www.paradigm.com (more coming soon)
The Polk LSi series has an exceptionally sweet sound, especially the LSi9 bookshelf speakers. Other models tend to be good values but the LSi models are a standout. See more about the LSi9 below.
See more about some other recommended models, below.
Insignia NS-B2111 $87.98/pair
Insignia NS-B2111 Bookshelf Speakers
Sold exclusively at Best Buy, these speakers have crisp, clean sound that is also warm and full-sounding. I never thought I would recommend a speaker selling for under $100 per pair as suitable for use in a quality sound system… yet here I am doing exactly that. Two pairs of these and an entry-level Onkyo receiver make for an excellent-sounding four channel surround system that will blow the doors off of most any home-theater in-a-box system. They are not magnetically shielded so you can’t put them too close to a tube-type TV. Listing for $87.98, they are often on sale for $75 or less.
Magnepan MMG $550/pair
Magnepan MMG Planar-Magnetic Speakers
A bargain at the regular price of $599, the Magnepan MMG allows music lovers to experience exotic speaker technology without breaking the bank. The Magnepan speakers are four-foot high flat panels that stand in your room and create a wonderful sense of ambiance, combined with a transparent, detailed, and musical sound.
The Magnepans are quite power hungry and require a receiver that can drive a 4-ohm load. Few moderately priced receivers can do this. I have been tested the Magnepans with the fully digital Panasonic receiver and in two-speaker stereo mode, the out-of-production Panasonic SA-XR25 can drive the Magnepans easily. The currently available SA-XR700 should do so as well, though I have not tried it. A vintage PE series receiver from NAD, such as the 7140PE or 7175PE, would be an ideal match for the MMGs and can be found on ebay for under $200. For surround sound and wall-mount applications, check out Magnepan’s MMGW and MMGC models.
I have a pair of Magnepan MMGs on hand for testing and will have a thorough review soon. Available factory-direct only at www.magnepan.com.
Canton Movie 6-CX System $699/system
Canton Movie 80 CX Surround System
Anyone who reads my column regularly knows I don’t recommend using tiny speakers if it can be avoided. If you must have very small, unobtrusive speakers, these sound very good, MUCH MUCH better than the disgraceful Bose Acoustimass cubes that sell for far, far more. Unlike most cube speakers, these incorporate a tweeter so highs are crisp and clean, not rolled off. The midrange is not as full as you will get with a bookshelf speaker, but that is a given with any tiny cube speaker, even very good ones such as these. They need some power to make them sing so budget a bit more for a good receiver.
Polk Audio LSi9 $1149/pair
Polk LSi9: High-End Sound, Mass-Market Price
Polk runs fantastic promotions so this speaker can frequently be purchased for less than its list price, sometimes significantly less, or you may get a free subwoofer thrown in the deal. In terms of pure sound quality this speaker is very hard to beat. The LSi9 is smooth, refined, full, and natural with bass that goes fairly deep and is very defined. I can’t say enough good things about the way they sound. Quality of construction and finish is outstanding, as well. At 33 pounds this speaker should definitely be used on heavy-duty stands and with a strong receiver and amplifier. In return you will get sound that will make you swoon and which outperforms many speakers costing many times the LSi9′s price. At the 2004 Consumer Electronics Show I heard a $100,000 home theater speaker system that did not sound nearly as good as five LSi9s and a subwoofer being demonstrated in a nearby suite. This is a testament to both the LSi9′s incredible sound quality and the fact that you can spend a lot of money in high-end audio and get hosed.
LSiC Center Channel
LSiFX Surround Speakers
The LSi9′s stablemates, the LSi7 and LSi15, also sound great but I think the LSi9 with stands is the way to go. The LSiC Center Channel and LSiFX Surround Speakers match the quality of the LSi9 for a stupendous-sounding surround system.
Usually you can simply get a subwoofer from your speaker’s manufacturer and use them together for good results. If this isn’t possible or you are looking for other options, the choices below will work well.
Dayton Subwoofers from Parts Express $90 and up
Dayton Sub-100: An Unbeatable Value at Under $125
For the money, you can’t beat these! Parts Express, the dealer, is also a great source of reasonably priced, high quality connection cables from Dayton and speaker wire from Sound King. Selling for $90 (Sub-80), $125 (Sub-100) and $150 (Sub-120) these subwoofers are a good match for budget systems, or to allow you to maximize the dollars spent on the main speakers, the most critical component.
Outlaw Audio Subwoofers $299 and up
Outlaw Audio LFM-1 and LFM-2 Subwoofers
These outstanding subwoofers have tight, controlled bass that makes them a great choice for use in music systems or as a higher performance alternative to the manufacturer’s subwoofer. Service from Outlaw Audio is outstanding, as well. Be sure to check out their excellent receiver and amplifiers if you visit the Outlaw Audio website.
The Speaker Company
The Speaker Company has excellent subwoofers starting at $99. See my separate entry, above.
Check back for more recommended speakers and send me an email if you have questions or need a system recommendation!