Welcome to the Best Bookshelf Speakers section of the Part-Time Audiophile Buyers Guide for 2022.
The Guide is more than “We heartily endorse this [fill in the blank ].” This collection represents our enthusiasm. Every product listed in this guide is beloved by at least one team member. These products have elicited responses such as “I was gobsmacked every minute I spent with this” or “The shipping box was wet with the tears of my lost innocence” or, too often, just “Take my money!” In other words, this isn’t about high-end audio products that we merely like. These are the products we love — and we think you will, too.
No list like this can ever be complete since we’re bound to forget something that has duly impressed the heck out of us. We’ve attempted to capture a moment in time — one year — and collect together, in one place, all of those products that we want to have and hold and use in our own systems right now.
If you’re looking for our list of “the best stuff to check out right now” — the best loudspeakers, CD players, amplifiers, turntables, cartridges, preamplifiers, DACs and more — this is it.
The Best Bookshelf Speakers
These entries represent the best bookshelf speakers we’ve heard. They are organized by price in ascending order. Enjoy!
EgglestonWorks Hotel Speakers (price per night varies)
The “Hotel Speakers,” as we shall call them, are part of a larger exhibition of custom EgglestonWorks speakers that grace the lobby, bar, terrace, and guest rooms of the Central Station Hotel located in downtown Memphis, Tennessee. The EgglestonWorks speakers installed at the hotel range from the minuscule “guest room speakers” to the gargantuan speakers that sit above the hotel bar, ones we hope to one day cover more in depth. An audiophile hotel is something we should all visit.
Focal Chora 806 ($990 pr USD w/stands +$290 USD)
The Focal Chora 806 are the embodiment of upstream technology trickling downstream. Few speakers in this price range have as smooth of a treble that is also this detailed. Side-to-side imaging from these little wonders is enormous. Tuning is true audiophile throughout the frequency range, and still they do well for dialog in a two-channel theater. But don’t be fooled, these monitors are ideal for enjoying music–but don’t forget the Focal Chora Speaker Stands. They are optional, but for the correct driver time-alignment and height they are a must for best performance.
Sonus faber Lumina II ($1,200 pr USD)
At first we thought these great-sounding and affordable monitors were $1,200 each, and we were ready to declare them as fantastic bargains that delivered a huge, warm sound with plenty of bass. When we found out they were $1,200 for the pair, we scrambled to make sense of it all. How Sonus faber can continue to deliver this level of performance in their entry-level Lumina line while still making them in Italy is one of the most exciting things to happen in high-end audio in a long time. A Reviewer’s Choice winner.
MartinLogan Motion 35XTi ($1,500 pr USD)
When you think of MartinLogan, you usually think of their big electrostatic panels. But have you heard their affordable, dynamic bookshelf speakers? The 35XTi impressed us with its fast presentation, which reminded us of the famous ESLs, and with the Dynamo 800X subwoofer these small two-ways sounded like very accomplished full-range speakers for just $2,200 for the complete system.
GoldenEar BRX ($1,600 pr USD)
AudioQuest bought GoldenEar a few years ago, but wisely held onto their truly innovative designs because Bill Low believed in the sheer performance and strong value of Sandy Gross’ original products. Such is the case with the BRX (Bookshelf Reference X), which delivers a huge soundstage and impressive bass thanks to its side-mounted passive radiators. Great fit and finish, too.
Falcon Acoustics LS3/5a MoFi Edition ($1,995 pr USD)
MoFi distributes Falcon Acoustics in the US, and they decided to bring out this version of the legendary LS3/5a, in basic black and at a fantastic price, so audiophiles would be re-introduced to its sheer magic. Sure, they only go down to 70 Hz, but that becomes more and more irrelevant when you discover their purpose as near-field monitors. “There is no small monitor we would rather have right now manning an intimate audio system than these ‘uns right here,” we declared, awarding them a Reviewer’s Choice.
Amphion Argon 3S ($2,500 pr USD)
Involving sound, ease of placement and versatility when it comes to amplification, the Amphion Argon 3S really impressed us when it came to tonal vividness. These small bookshelf speakers are made for music lovers–they’re not overtly lush and romantic but they do engage on such an emotional level that you might think they’re “living, breathing entities.”
Studio Electric M4 (from $2,850 pr USD)
This sealed two-way monitor may look unassuming, but its sound is marked by “grace and poise,” not to mention its ability to shock people once music starts flowing into the room. We felt the Studio Electric M4s checked off a lot of boxes for us, especially when compared to more expensive floor-standers—especially its clean and uncluttered sound and its ability to project real bass without resorting to ports, transmission lines and passive radiators.
Vandersteen VLR CT (from $3,125 pr USD)
A compact bookshelf or stand-mount loudspeaker that features the same technology tweeter as in the top of the line system NINE, at only 2% of the price. Coaxial drivers, fully time and phase correct, it’s a Vandersteen sound through and through. The difference here is, how much of the Vandersteen sound is present? A lot. Typically paired with an accompanying subwoofer like the SUB THREE (additional $2,490 USD) the combination will give most anything a decent run for its money.
Trenner & Friedl Sun ($3,450 pr USD)
So tiny your grandmother can pick one up in one hand, the Austrian-built Trenner & Friedl Suns might be one of the toughest sells in high-end audio—until you sit down and listen. This might be the reigning king of “little speakers that sound big,” and the secret to this gem is exquisite build quality, the finest materials and a passion for great engineering. This may be the ultimate speaker for small spaces.
Fritz Speakers Carrera Be ($3,500 pr USD)
John “Fritz” Heiler loves making two-way bookshelf speakers, especially ones that are cost-effective and sound completely enjoyable. The Fritz Speakers Carrera Bes are his flagship speaker, and yet they are modest in appearance (they are beautifully built, by the way). Don’t let that fool you—these will compete with far more expensive designs and may be all the speaker you need, even in fairly large rooms. While the use of the excellent ScanSpeak Revelator woofer may be an obvious choice, the beryllium tweeter from Transducer Labs isn’t—it’s fast and detailed, yet incredibly natural.
Bowers & Wilkins Formation Duo ($4,000 pr USD)
This new, “modern” active loudspeaker from Bowers & Wilkins will remind you of a pair of 705s or 805s–the drivers are very similar, except they’re wireless. B&W partnered up with new owners Eva Automation for the powered Duos, threw in some features such as DSP and a crossover in the digital realm (so your speakers can receive updates!), and the result is somewhat dependent upon your preferred media formats. Still, this is a fun and exciting new product.
Rosso Fiorentino Pienza ($4,900 pr USD)
These small yet opulent monitors have that classic Italian sound, with a tonal balance to die for and an expressive and emotionally rich demeanor overall. With carefully-matched amplification, the Pienzas will simply disappear in a room and create vivid and dynamic sonic portraits right there in your listening chair. An intriguing design from a company relatively new to US audiophiles.
Sonner Audio Legato Unum ($4,750 pr USD w/stands +$1,120 USD)
Several bookshelf speakers in and around the $5K+ range of the market have the gift of detail. Special is the clean and sophisticated way in which the Sonner Audio Legato Unum’s present each region of detail across the frequency spectrum. They grab your mind, your attention, your heart; something several speakers in this price range and well above—even the most detail laden ones—often can’t and won’t do. The Sonner Audio Legato Unum speakers breathe honesty and life into the music.
Trenner & Friedl ART ($6,000 pr USD)
These deceptively small 2-way bookshelf speakers have been recently redesigned with new drivers, a new bamboo baffle, premium Mundorf caps and a more substantial enclosure, and yet they still have the same identical “heart of a lion” as their beloved predecessors. The new Trenner & Friedl ART is even more convincing when it comes to sounding like a much bigger speaker, although they can be finicky about amplification. Is the new ART better than the old? “Both ARTs are the same person,” we suggested, “separated by a few years of experience. The new version is older and wiser, with a few more stories to tell.”
Sonus faber Olympica Nova I ($6,500 pr USD)
The Olympica Nova line from this Italian speaker manufacturer signals a new era in Sonus faber sound, one that aims to “recapture the magic” of the earlier designs while upping the technology and innovation with features such as the Damped Apex Dome tweeter and the Stealth Ultraflex porting system. “If you’re a music lover who just wants to add a measure of beauty to your home, Sonus faber has always been a smart choice. With the Olympica Nova I, however, you can be both people, an aesthete and an audiophile.”
Fern & Roby Raven II ($6,750 pr USD)
Similar to the Fern & Roby Ravens–it has same full-range SEAS Exotic driver, same cabinet structure, albeit in a smaller enclosure–the Raven IIs will work well on stands, in actual bookshelves or on the nifty new Klipsch Heritage-like wedges that are now included. Like the Ravens, these heirloom quality loudspeakers are all about long-term relationships, and how these unique and beautiful creations become a part of your life and an extension of your personality.
Qln Prestige One ($6,800 pr USD)
This two-way stand-mounted bookshelf speaker from this extraordinary Swedish company competes with many of the finest monitors we’ve heard, and it comes at a price that makes us wonder why haven’t we purchased a pair for ourselves yet. Outstanding, balanced low frequencies in all but the largest rooms. “If you’ve heard the larger Prestige Threes playing at an audio show and you’ve fallen under their spell, you’ll be thrilled to know that much of that magic is present in the Prestige One.” Reviewer’s Choice winner.
Marten Oscar Duo ($6,999 pr USD)
An understated little beauty with custom ceramic drivers, the Marten Oscar Duo throws out an amazing soundstage for its size. Even more noteworthy is the speed and precision of these two-way bookshelf speakers–they might just remind you of your favorite big panel. There’s only one small difference: the Martens are also superb when it comes to disappearing in a room, just like a small monitor should, and they are unusually holographic as well.
Joseph Audio Pulsar2 Graphene ($8,995 pr USD)
Part-Time Audiophile has been crushing on Joseph Audio’s premium two-way bookshelf speakers for quite some time, but the latest version with the Graphene driver has propelled the Pulsars into legendary status. The Pulsar2s have deep, textured bass and a beguiling warmth that makes us feel like we don’t need any bigger speakers than this. The audiophile term “it sounds like a much larger speaker!” was invented for the Pulsar line, and this is by far the finest one yet. An Editor’s Choice winner, of course.
Stenheim Alumine 2 ($12,490 pr USD)
We’ve been waiting to get our hands on Stenheim speakers from Switzerland for many years based upon their incredible performances at high-end audio shows. Now we’ve spent time with the small Alumine 2–and those exquisite aluminum enclosures–we found a 2-way monitor with extraordinary balance and precision while still forging emotional bonds with the listener. And it’s high-efficiency, too! An Editor’s Choice winner.
Vimberg Amea (from $16,000 pr USD)
If you close your eyes while listening to the Vimberg Amea, you will no longer think you’re listening to a small speaker, or a two-way, or even a stand-mount monitor that “punches above this weight.” This is, for all intents and purposes, a state-of-the-art design with very few limitations other than the fact the Amea only goes down to 35Hz (it sounds a lot lower to us). Incredible detail, resolution and speed will allow you to heard deep into your favorite recordings, but there’s a well-defined connection to a humanist approach to sound. Diamond tweeters cost an extra $10K, so we’re all obsessed with how it gets any better than the stock pair. An Editor’s Choice winner and our 2020 Product of the Year.
The “entry-level” two-way granite speakers from Acora Acoustics in Canada look small with their 5.9″ woofers and 11″ by 9″ by 13″ dimensions, but when paired with the massive Acora Acoustics SRS-G stands they weigh as much as a grown man. The SRBs offer an incredibly large, see-through soundstage and a tremendous amount of inner detail–plus, they’re made with tremendous care by “people who might cry when they play music for you.” A Reviewer’s Choice Award winner.
Harbeth 40.3 XD ($22,500 pr USD)
Not quite bookshelf speakers and not quite floorstanders, this classic BBC monitor looks like a rather conventional big box. It doesn’t sound like one. The Harbeth 40.3 XD has such a distinctive way of rendering musical cues in a relaxed, natural manner—so much so that its unique warmth does not come at the cost of inner detail. The 40.3 is one of those great designs that remains timeless.