The Best Bookshelf Speakers Under $300: RTi A1 By Polk

These RTi A1 speakers from Polk Audio are perhaps the best bookshelf speakers that can be purchased for under $300. They have an excellent sound that rivals speakers costing many times more. Robert J. Reina from Stereophile Magazine had this to say about the speakers:

I enjoyed every minute I spent with the RTi A1. The speaker’s greatest strengths — the natural and detailed midrange, the excellent bass extension — are unheard of at this size and price, and its minor deviations from neutrality have been so carefully thought out and balanced that I wanted to mine my entire record collection, playing more and more different types of music.

A total of 32 reviewers on Amazon rated them an average of 4.9 out of 5 stars.

The RTi A1 speakers from Polk Audio are available from Amazon for about $270.

Another excellent speaker brand is Bower and Wilkins. If your bookshelf speaker budget is around the $500 range, you might want to check out the Bower and Wilkins multimedia speakers.

The Top Rated Home Theater Speakers Of 2011

Energy Take Classic 5.1 ($400)

Top Review Sources:

  • CNET: 4.5/5.0 “Editors’ Choice”
  • Amazon: 5.0/5.0 (125+ reviews)
  • G4TV: 5.0/5.0 “This is one of the best home theatres we’ve ever reviewed, and the low price is just a bonus”

Energy Speaker Systems’ Take Classic 5.1 manages to distinguish itself in the crowded field of affordable 5.1 speaker systems. It’s difficult to find any serious consumer or expert criticism of the Take Classic, which is repeatedly praised for its unexpectedly great sound. Specifically, the system generates expansive audio that belies its size. The output is balanced right out of the box, and music comes across as rich and detailed. For movies and television, the sound is clear and the speakers reveal details that more expensive systems miss.

The Take Classic also pleases the crowd with its compact and handsome looks. The four satellites measure a mere 6 7/8 x 4 1/8 x 4 1/8 inches (H x W x D) and weigh less than three pounds. Wall mounting is effortless, but keep in mind the satellites’ bass reflex ports are in the rear, so wall mounting will result in slightly diminished bass output. The center speaker’s front ports eliminate this minor concern; it weighs just over three pounds and has dimensions of 4 1/8 x 10 1/4 x 4 1/8 inches. The cube-shaped (12 5/8 inches), 20-pound subwoofer also has a front port. All speakers sport a piano black finish and sharp lines.

The Energy Speaker Systems’ Take Classic 5.1 can be purchased on Amazon.

KEF KHT 3005 ($1,700)

 

KEF KHT 3005

Top Review Sources:

  • Home Theater Magazine: 95/100 “A sub/sat set for the gods”
  • CNET: 4.0/5.0 “Editors’ Choice”
  • Amazon: 5.0/5.0 (20+ reviews)

The KHT 3005 by KEF grabs your attention with its egg-shaped design and keeps your attention with its phenomenal sound. It’s impossible to discuss the KHT 3005 without mentioning its cutting-edge style. The cast aluminum, egg-shaped speakers and round subwoofer don’t blend into the background, yet they aren’t over the top. Choose between painted finishes of gloss silver or black. The satellites are small (H x W x D: 9.6 x 4.9 x 5.9 inches) yet solid (4.5 pounds). They can be set on a table, wall mounted, or elevated with optional floor posts. The center speaker has dimensions of 5.1 x 11.8 x 7.3 inches, and the subwoofer measures 15.4 x 17.3 x 7.7 inches when standing. The shape of the speakers isn’t arbitrary; KEF had ultimate audio quality in mind. The sound profile of the KHT 3005 can be summed up in one word: clear. The speakers work together to produce a harmonious, layered soundstage that is punctuated by the 250-watt subwoofer’s tight, powerful bass. The price suggests high-end, and the performance confirms that impression.

Purchase the KHT 3005 on Amazon.

 

Definitive Technology ProCinema 800 ($1,200)

Definitive Technology ProCinema 800

Top Review Sources:

  • Crutchfield: “Staff Pick”
  • CNET: 4.0/5.0 “Redefined our expectations of what a small surround speaker system can do”
  • SOUND+VISION: “If you’ve simply got to have really small and (by serious home theater standards) really inexpensive speakers, I don’t think you can do very much better.”

The Definitive Technology ProCinema 800 is compact and potent, delivering room-rocking sound with precision. Reviewers describe the audio output as detail-rich; when a soundtrack is filled with simultaneous effects, the ProCinema 800 preserves the fidelity of them all. Part of the reason that sounds are kept distinct is that the ProCinema 800’s 300-watt subwoofer produces deep, taut bass even at high volumes. The ProCinema 800 is a combination of speakers that Definitive Technology once sold only separately. In the box are four ProMonitor 800 satellites (W x D x H: 4 3/4 x 5 x 8 3/8 inches, 4 pounds), one ProCenter 1000 center speaker (W x D x H: 14 3/4 x 5 x 5 inches, 6 pounds), and one ProSub 800 subwoofer (10 5/16 x 15 3/4 x 12 7/8 inches, 26 pounds). All speakers are black and unassuming in design. Each speaker is highly regarded in its own right, and together they represent a great value in high-performance audio. To complement the system, Definitive Technology offers pairs of wall mounts and floor-standing speaker pedestals.

You’ll find the Definitive Technology ProCinema 800 on Amazon.

 

Mirage MX 5.1 ($675)

Top Review Sources:

  • Home Theater Magazine: “Expect big things of the Mirage MX”
  • CNET: 4.0/5.0 “You’ve never heard a 5.1 system this small sound so good”
  • Amazon: 4.5/5.0 (15+ reviews)

The five speakers of the Mirage MX 5.1 measure 3.2 x 4.04 x 3.54 inches (W x H x D) and weigh less than a pound and a half each. The system’s 200-watt subwoofer is an eight-inch cube that tips the scale at just over ten pounds. Room-filling dimensions they are not, but room-filling sound they do produce. Each of the small speakers projects 360-degree sound by aiming audio waves at deflectors. The speakers should be aimed at the listener (where 30% of the sound will go), but most of the sound reflects in all other directions. Mirage employs this unique setup in order to generate expansive sound from small drivers. Given its similarly diminutive size, the subwoofer also delivers remarkable punch. While its output won’t rattle pictures off the walls, the small sub’s deep and balanced range impressively fills in the low end. Though additional satellites and subwoofers can be purchased to expand the soundstage, keep in mind that the MX 5.1 is designed for small- to medium-sized spaces.

The Mirage MX 5.1 is for sale on Amazon.

The Top Rated Bluetooth Speakers Of 2011

Bluetooth technology allows you to wirelessly connect your digital music player, mobile phone, laptop, or tablet to external speakers, giving a big boost to the sound quality and volume of your device. Bluetooth speakers will also work with desktop computers and some home A/V equipment, but they are primarily designed with portability in mind.

Some will fit in your pocket and have batteries that last all day. Once you complete a simple pairing process, any of our recommended Bluetooth speakers is ready to go. By consulting sites such as Macworld, CNET, The New York Times, iLounge, and Phone Arena, we’ve come up with this list of the top rated bluetooth speakers of 2011:

Soundfreaq Sound Platform ($180)

Currently, the Sound Platform by Soundfreaq is the top rated Bluetooth speaker dock, getting good reviews from CNET, iLounge, Pocket Lint and MacLife. CNET gives it a overall rating of “Very Good”, saying:

You’ll have a hard time finding a more stylish and feature-packed speaker choice in this price range. The inclusion of Bluetooth support makes it an attractive buy for iPad and smartphone owners.

Amazon reviewers also liked the  Sound Platform, it received an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars, from over 100 reviewers.

Sound Platform by Soundfreaq is available on Amazon for $180.

 

Soundmatters FoxL v2 Bluetooth ($200)

Top Review Sources:

  • Macworld: 4.0/5.0 “The FoxL’s sound is jaw-droppingly big, in dramatic inverse proportion to its size”
  • CNET: 4.0/5.0 “The fidelity and build quality make it a worthwhile purchase for serious audiophiles on the run”
  • New York Times: “This fascinating, coat-pocketable metal speaker oozes quality”

The Soundmatters FoxL v2 Bluetooth shocks reviewers by generating robust sound despite its small size. This candy bar-shaped wireless speaker includes technology to improve its wireless range and signal quality (two issues that particularly affect Bluetooth speakers), plus a built-in speakerphone for teleconferencing. The FoxL v2’s bass can be forceful enough to overpower its small frame, resulting in the device vibrating its way across a table if you don’t use the included rubber mat. Also available to stabilize the unit are a kickstand and rubber feet. The physical buttons are limited: an on/off switch and volume control. You’ll rely on your music player to switch tracks or pause playback. The FoxL v2 includes a rechargeable battery, AC adapter, mini-USB port (for slower, computer-based charging), and a 3.5mm line-in port. Battery life is estimated at five hours.

The Soundmatters FoxL v2 Bluetooth is available on Amazon.

Altec Lansing InMotion SoundBlade ($190)

Altec Lansing InMotion SoundBlade

Altec Lansing InMotion SoundBlade

Top Review Sources:

  • Macworld: 4.0/5.0 “There’s none of the tinniness found in many speakers of this size”
  • Amazon: 4.0/5.0 (90+ reviews)
  • LAPTOP Magazine: 3.5/5.0 “The SoundBlade’s strongest asset is its sound separation”

The tablet-like Altec Lansing InMotion SoundBlade is on the larger side of Bluetooth speakers, but it makes the most of its size with expansive sound. Bass response is excellent for a Bluetooth speaker. Aside from its top-notch sound quality, the SoundBlade impresses with great ergonomics: the black buttons on the top edge are clearly labeled and include all the necessary functions (volume, play, pause, seek, and accept call). When not plugged in, the SoundBlade can operate for 24 continuous hours on six AA batteries. There is also a 3.5mm jack for wired sources, plus a pop-out stand in the back.

The Altec Lansing InMotion SoundBlade is available on Amazon.

Creative D100 ($65)

Creative D100

Creative D100

Top Review Sources:

  • CNET: 4.0/5.0 “Impressive low-end range…[makes] it a worthwhile addition to your next outdoor get-together”
  • iLounge: B+ (Recommended) “Sonically, the D100 is surprisingly robust for its price”
  • Amazon: 4.0/5.0 (70+ reviews)

The Creative D100 is a compelling value. It is capable of filling a room with undistorted music at high volume, delivering sound quality that is a few notches above what reviewers expect at this price point. The D100 operates on AC power or on four AA batteries for up to 25 hours. The D100 matches the wireless range of much more expensive models, and its pairing procedure is among the easiest out there. There is a 3.5mm auxiliary port for wired connections. While more expensive models offer smaller and sturdier housings, the D100 is tough enough to move around frequently and comes in your choice of four color schemes: black/black, green/white, blue/white, and pink/white.

You can purchase Creative’s D100 on Amazon.

SuperTooth Disco ($122)

SuperTooth Disco

SuperTooth Disco

Top Review Sources:

  • CNET: 4.0/5.0 “A solid alternative to the classic three-piece computer speaker set”
  • Amazon: 4.5/5.0 (20+ reviews)
  • Phone Arena: “We’re actually surprised to hear such rich tones being pumped out…but even more [surprised] when it’s able to powerfully echo throughout a room”

Reviewers like the SuperTooth Disco because its sound quality, battery life, and design make it seem like a bargain for its relatively low price. At a foot long and about 2.5 pounds, the Disco is less portable than many other Bluetooth speakers, yet its responsive bass and room-filling volume make listeners forget about its form factor. Reviewers also appreciate the rechargeable battery, which allows the Disco anywhere between three and ten hours of continuous playback (depending on volume). Like all the speakers reviewed here, the Disco includes a 3.5mm jack for wired inputs, plus a selection of physical buttons you can use to control playback directly from the speaker. Pairing is straightforward, though keep in mind that you can’t use the Disco as a speakerphone.

The SuperTooth Disco is available on Amazon.

The Top Rated Portable iPod Speakers Of 2011

Logitech S715i Rechargeable Speaker for iPod and iPhone

The Logitech S715i is a portable speaker system that incorporates a rechargeable lithium-ion battery into its design. It’s approved by Apple, and will run for about eight hours on a charge.

CNET rates the Logitech S715i as “Excellent” and awards this product their Editor’s Choice, saying “The Logitech S715i portable speaker for iPhone and iPod uses eight drivers to deliver audio performance that is far beyond its price range.” Reviewers on Amazon agree, rating the product an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars in 635 reviews.

The Logitech S715i Rechargeable Speaker for iPod and iPhone is available from Amazon for about $100.

 

JBL On Stage Micro Speakers

JBL On Stage Micro

The JBL On Stage Micro provides solid sound quality with a tiny footprint. It features an iPod dock in the center as well as a 3.5mm plug for connecting other inputs, plus a clever touch button system and a remote control that make track selection and volume adjustments easy. Aluminum transducers driven by neodymium magnets are paired with digital amplifiers to provide rich sound while extending battery life. Four AAA batteries provide 24 hours of play. The On Stage Micro is compatible with rechargeable NiMH and lithium cells, and it features a low battery indicator LED. Plus, the On Stage Micro speaker system comes in a range of color options to match your iPod: white, black, blue, green, and red.

The JBL On Stage Micro is available at Amazon. Prices start at $72.50, depending on color.

iHome iHM77 Portable Multimedia Speakers


These rubberized mini speakers from iHome each measure just 2” x 2” x 2” when collapsed for transport, then pop open when in use with a clever accordion design. Vacuum bass design enhances low frequency tones, and the iHome speakers magnetically attach to one another to form a super-portable capsule. Power comes from internal lithium-ion batteries that can be recharged using the included USB cord, and a carry case and cord wrap are included with the speakers.

The iHome iHM77 Portable Multimedia Speakers are available in black, silver, and red from Amazon, starting at $46.80.

 

Harmon/Kardon Go + Play

The Go + Play from Harmon/Kardon may not be the smallest or cheapest option for a portable speaker system, but it delivers serious sound quality thanks to its 30-watt tweeters and 30-watt Atlas woofers. Its 9” x 9.5” x 20” dimensions are substantial, but a stainless steel carry handle and battery power keep it portable. It features the universal iPod dock system that is compatible with most dockable iPods (see note below) plus a 3.5mm jack for other connections. The Go + Play comes with an AC power adapter for indoor use, and a full-featured RF remote with a 20-foot range. And although eight D batteries add bulk to the system, they provide approximately 20 hours of power.

You can find the Harmon/Kardon Go + Play at Amazon for $216.90.

 

Bose SoundDock Portable

Bose SoundDock Portable

Bose SoundDock Portable

Would you be willing to sacrifice compact size to literally bring your home stereo system with you wherever you go? If so, check out the Bose SoundDock Portable. This mobile variation of their popular SoundDock system features a carry handle, a rechargeable lithium-ion battery, and a retractable iPod connection/charging dock (in addition to a 3.5mm plug for other devices). The SoundDock is over 12” wide and weighs over five pounds, so it’s not as compact or portable as some of its competitors, and it doesn’t come cheap – but it offers legendary Bose sound quality and an iPod-specific design. Battery life is roughly three hours at maximum volume (longer at lower levels); an AC adapter is included for battery charging and using the SoundDock at home, and a remote control gives added convenience.

You can find the Bose SoundDock Portable in black or white for $399 at Amazon, as well as a SoundDock travel bag for $40.19.

 

The Top Rated Computer Speakers Of 2011

After surveying reviews at PCMag, CNET, CrunchGear and Amazon, we’ve created this list of top rated computer speakers:

 

Harman Kardon Soundsticks III Computer Speakers

 

The Harman Kardon Soundsticks received editor’s choice on both PCMag and CNET for excellent sound performance and unique, aesthetic design. The frequency response range of 44Hz to 20KHz offers crisp definition for all forums: music, movies, and gaming. Power switch built in to the volume control on the subwoofer makes for energy efficiency. Satellite speakers can be angled to personal preference. You can own a piece of art and pop culture.

On the negative side, missing from this system is a remote control and a headphone jack.

The Harman Kardon Soundsticks III  is on permanent exhibit at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art. The third generation system was redesigned for 2010.

Features on this 2.1 sound system include 8 full-range transducers powered by a 10-watt amplifier in each speaker and 1 low-frequency, down-firing subwoofer powered by a 20-watt amplifier for bass. The system connects to 3.5 mm stereo devices such as computers and Mp3s.

The Harman Kardon Soundsticks III are on sale at Amazon for $145.81 or you can buy them direct from the Harman Kardon site.

 

Audioengine 2 Multi-Media Computer Speakers

Pros: Compact design fits well for a computer set-up. Superior sound clarity as reviewed by CNETPCMag and Amazon customers who have given these computer speakers an average 4.5 star rating. Music and movies can be played at high volumes with no buzzing or distortion. Speakers are housed in hand-built wood cabinets to help amplify the bass.

Cons: The volume control is inconveniently located on the back of the speaker and doesn’t come with a remote control. PCMag thought the bass was slightly lacking compared with a subwoofer system.

Audioengine has successfully married compact size with superior sound and convenient features for a high quality computer speaker. Perfect for those who want a comparable subwoofer sound without the subwoofer, features on the Audioengine 2 include 2 audio inputs for both RCA and mini-jack, AC adapter, 15 watts of power per speaker with the left speaker housing power amps, Kevlar woofers and silk tweeters, and an auto-sleep power saving mode.

The Audioengine 2 computer speakers are on sale at Amazon for $199.00.

 

M-Audio Studiophile AV 40 Powered Computer Speakers


Pros: Excellent sound quality and ample low end bass levels for those who listen to music or watch movies on their computer. The editor’s review at CNET says “they sounded bigger, delivered more bass, and played louder than the other PC speakers we had on hand”.

Cons: Though there’s no subwoofer to make room for, these speakers will still take up considerable space on your desktop. They also weigh 14 pounds each so if you’re looking for portability, say in conjunction with a laptop or switching between devices, then these are not the ones.

M-Audios are larger than other computer speakers and pack a powerful punch with 20 watts per speaker, 4-inch polypropylene-coated woofers and 3/4-inch tweeters. Other features include RCA inputs on both speakers, a 3.5 mm jack, a headphone jack, and an integrated bass boost switch.

The M-Audio Studiophile AV 40 computer speakers are currently on sale at Amazon for $149.00.

 

Logitech Z623 Computer Speakers

Logitech has a long-standing reputation for making mid-range, quality computer speakers at an affordable price. The Logitech Z623 computer speaker system was one of PCMag’s Best of the Year products for 2010. It features a sleek, efficient design ideal for desktop listening. THX-certified, the 2.1 system offers 200 total watts of power with a 130 watt subwoofer and 2 35W satellite speakers as well as convenient inputs for multiple devices including computers, iPods, DVD players, and gaming consoles.

Sound quality is commended by reviewers at PCMagCrunchGear, and Amazon. Clarity and power are unrivaled at this price range. Subwoofer presents a powerful bass that can be easily adjusted by the on-speaker nob. No buzzing at high volume. RCA and 3.5 mm inputs provide simple transfer between devices. THX certified.

The LogitechZ632 computer speaker system retails for $149.99, but is currently on sale at Amazon for $136.99

 

Klipsch ProMedia 2.1 Wireless Computer Speakers

Klipsch ProMedia 2.1 Wireless Computer Speakers

The Klipsch ProMedia has a USB wireless transmitter that can stream audio from your computer to the speaker system from up to 30 feet away. Features a 2.4 GHz wireless signal and a total wattage of 120 watts between the 2 satellite speakers and subwoofer.

Pros: No pesky wires to clutter up the space. According to the review by PCMag, this system “packs so much power you’ll rarely raise the volume beyond half-way”. Using Apple’s Remote Application, iPhone customers can wirelessly access iTunes on their computer. Black cloth grilles are removable. It’s also THX certified.

Cons: No remote control. Power switch is inconveniently located on the subwoofer.

The Klipsch ProMedia 2.1 wireless computer speakers are only available through Klipsch on their website or via Amazon for $199.99

 

Cyber Acoustics CA-3602 Computer Speakers

Cyber Acoustics CA-3602 Computer Speakers

Cyber Acoustics CA-3602 Computer Speakers

This 2.1, 3-piece speaker system from Cyber Acoustics is our budget pick for a computer speaker set-up. There aren’t many tech reviews on this model, but the user reviews are outstanding with 109 5 star reviews on Amazon and 168 5 star reviews on Wize. Cyber Acoustics has been putting out quality, affordable audio equipment since the 80s. This system includes 2 satellite speakers, a subwoofer, a separate desktop control pod for volume, power, and bass, and a cradle for your Mp3.

Pros: The price: with an MSRP of $54.99, the CA-3602 may not be the cheapest computer speaker, but it will deliver a more powerful sound than other discount speaker systems. The low-end bass sound has been rated as excellent. The desktop control is convenient and features an LED light when turned on and also contains a headphone jack. A good choice as a basic computer speaker.

Cons: Speakers aren’t protected by a covering.

The Cyber Acoustics CA-3602 is currently on sale on Amazon for $37.23.

 

JBL Duet III Computer Speakers

JBL Duet III Computer Speakers

JBL Duet III Computer Speakers

Tight on space? The JBL Duet III computer speakers are perfect for a small desktop setting or for your laptop. They are simple to set up and offer versatility with an AC adapter and a 3.5mm jack to plug into a Mac, Mp3, PC, or CD player. The 2 satellite speakers put out 10 watts each of power. There’s no subwoofer here, but the Duet IIIs are slightly larger than the predecessor, the Duet II, and therefore provide a bit more bass, though still not as powerful as a 2.1 system.

Pros: The design is both aesthetically pleasing and convenient for work space. Both CNET and PCMag recommend these computer speakers for decent sound quality at modest volume levels. These would be good in a work environment. Speakers connect to each other with a standard RCA plug. The price is reasonable at the Amazon sale price of around $100.00.

Cons: Not for bass lovers or those who are looking for loads of power. There isn’t an auxiliary input to plug in a second device as most of the other computer speakers offer.

The JBL Duet III computer speakers are currently on sale at Amazon for $107.98.