The Best Speaker Systems You Can Get on a Budget

·8 min read

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Investing in speaker systems has always been as much of an art as it is a science. Purchasing a sound system can feel like a series of arbitrary preferences rather than a performance-based decision. Still, as we march deeper into the work-from-home era, choosing a great set of speakers is more relevant than ever. You’re spending all your time at home, so you might as well enjoy it, right?

Purchasing a speaker system can feel daunting, especially when you don’t have an audiophile’s budget. Luckily, we’ve got you covered. Read on to learn about some of the best speakers you can buy without emptying your wallet. You can thank us later.

What do you want to use your speakers for?

So, you’re in the market for a crisp new pair of speakers. But before you smash that “buy now” button, ask yourself: what do I want to use these speakers for? Which of the speaker systems on the market works for you?

Different jobs require different tools. Speaker systems are no different. Components that are essential in one kind of speaker system might be irrelevant in another kind of system. It’s important to determine what purpose your speakers will serve before buying.

For this article, we’ll be classifying speakers into three different groups. They include home theater, casual listening and active listening. Each grouping has a few key, unique features. The end goal remains the same: speakers that sound good, look good and don’t break the bank.

Home Theatre Speaker Systems

Creative Stage V2 2.1 Soundbar with Subwoofer
Credit: Creative

The home theater systems often utilizes a number of components and gadgets to bring the big screen experience to a consumer’s home. Home theatre systems can range from low-cost soundbars to multi-speaker, surround sound behemoths.

When researching home theatre systems, it’s important to consider the dynamic range of the speakers, rather than whether or not frequencies are perfectly balanced. Are you getting the low end needed for a booming action movie? Do the speakers produce mid-range frequencies that create clear and audible dialogue? Is surround sound important to you? Do you feel immersed when watching your favorite TV shows?

Meanwhile, consider how your system will actually look within your home. Since your speaker system will likely complement a space in your household where guests are entertained, you want to make sure they look the part. Will you be satisfied with looking at the speakers you purchased every day, for years to come? Are the speakers made of quality materials that can withstand the wear-and-tear of children and pets? Of course, an audiophile’s priority will always be sound quality, but it’s important to ask yourself these questions; your system might sound great, but it will be hard to enjoy if you hate the way it looks and feels in your living room.

Home Theatre Recommendations

If you’re ready to improve your movie watching experience at home, but aren’t really committed to dealing with a complete sound system, consider purchasing a soundbar. They’re a great way to complement your home theater without much setup time.

A quality, budget soundbar can be found in Sony’s S100F 2.0ch Soundbar. With a built-in Bass Reflex subwoofer that provides a solid low end, easy Bluetooth setup and a sleek, understated design, the S100F is a great entry point for at-home entertainment.

However, if you’d like to step up your game even further, we’d recommend purchasing a surround sound system. An excellent choice is the Klipsch Black Reference Theater Pack 5.1 Surround Sound System. Sporting Klipsch’s patented Tractrix Horn technology that promises to deliver the “cleanest, most natural sound possible and a substantial, downward firing subwoofer,” Klpisch’s surround sound system is a great bargain for any newbie home theater enthusiast.

Recommended Soundbars

Recommended Surround Sound Systems

Active Listening/Music Production Speakers

Mackie CR4-X 4 inch Multimedia Monitors_
Credit: Mackie

Active listening speakers are the tools of choice for audiophiles and music makers. They offer a more comprehensive sound than what might be found in a pair of speakers built for casual listening. The biggest differences between active listening speakers and casual listening speakers are really just size and price: casual listening usually looks like small ‘satellite’ speakers (think portable bluetooth speakers), or sometimes larger bookshelf speakers.

A basic active listening system typically consists of either bookshelf speakers, usually with drivers between 5 and 6.5 inches in diameter and a tweeter, or a pair of monitors, a more substantial option that might have drivers up to 8 inches and size. The bigger the driver, the more bass that can be produced. Active listening systems can also include an additional subwoofer for more bass output.

When you’re looking to purchase active listening speakers, consider what role they’ll play. If you’re someone who is simply a music enthusiast and isn’t too concerned with speakers being “accurate,” you’ll want to buy a system that emphasizes an enjoyable listening experience rather than being true to sound. Speakers in this vein typically favor certain frequencies, like a louder bass output, but aren’t the best for sound engineering or music production. Meanwhile, musicians, producers and engineers, professional and amateur alike, will want speakers that produce a balanced sound output and don’t overcompensate in any one frequency range. Speakers of this nature are great for mixing, mastering and composing, but usually aren’t the best for just listening to music.

Active Listening Speaker Recommendations

KRK is a reliable, well-loved brand that produces solid monitors for their price point. The KRK Classic 5 5 inch Powered Studio Monitor is a strong entry for those looking to get their hands on their first pair of studio grade speakers. Though we’ve found that monitors in KRK’s flagship Rokit series tend to overcompensate a bit in the bass frequencies, the Classic 5 has a much “flatter” frequency output that makes critical listening, mixing and mastering much easier for users. With simple frequency controls to tune to your room, excellent build quality and KRK’s iconic style, the Classic 5 is a no-brainer at a current sale price of $134.50.

More Active Listening Speaker Recommendations

Casual Listening Home Speaker Systems

GET TOGETHER DUO BLUETOOTH® SPEAKERS
Credit: House of Marley

If you enjoy music, but don’t often sit and actively listen, casual speakers are the category for you. These are speakers that produce adequate and enjoyable sound quality. However, they lack the superior balance of studio monitors or the beefy dynamic range of speaker systems. Casual listening speakers provide a soundtrack to your work day, the anthems for a small house party or the sonic backdrop for your household chores.

Unlike a home theatre system, or even active listening speakers, a casual listening system will likely leave a considerably smaller footprint within your home. Since these are speakers that don’t demand much space or attention, aesthetics will likely be of less consequence to the average listener. In addition, accurate sound reproduction is not necessarily of importance either; while a pair of speakers might be more balanced and true to sound, that doesn’t always equate to a more enjoyable listening experience.

When buying speakers for casual listening, consider what kind of music you like to listen to. Are you a fan of hip-hop and dance music, genres that require heavier bass? Or could you be a classical enthusiast that needs every string pluck to be crisp and clear?

Casual Listening Speaker System Recommendations

If you’re hoping to go the “portable” route for casual listening, JBL leads the industry by a mile, and for good reason. The JBL Flip 5, the latest entry in JBL’s Flip series, is a popular choice for listeners ready to rock out at home or on the go. Durable build quality and easy pairing with multiple speakers are key features of the Flip 5, and great sound for the price point doesn’t hurt either. The Flip 5 typically retails for $129.95, but you can grab one for $79.07 at Walmart.

The T15 Bookshelf Speakers from Polk Audio are another excellent choice for casual listeners. Coming in at a humble $99, the T15 provides an impressive dynamic range that’s great for listening to music or watching movies.

More Casual Listening Sound System Recommendations

More to consider:

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