Bookshelf speakers under $300: What to expect?
You might be surprised at just how much audio quality you can get for under $300. Although these bookshelf speakers come at a budget price, they often use much of the same hardware as more expensive speakers. Plus, competition in the low-cost bookshelf speaker market is fierce. So, manufacturers have a lot of incentive to pack their speakers with features without raising prices.
The biggest difference between bookshelf speakers under $300 and more expensive models is in output power. Generally, cheap bookshelf speakers come with 200 watts of power or less. If you have a massive room to fill, spending more money for more powerful speakers might be necessary. But most people are using bookshelf speakers in smaller rooms where power isn’t a major concern anyway.
Features to consider before you buy a pair of bookshelf speakers under $300
There are dozens of bookshelf speakers priced under $300, but not all speakers in this price range are made equally. Before you settle on a set of speakers, make sure you know what features to look for and how they can affect your sound quality. Here, we’ll cover all the key features you should know.
Speaker type – 2-way vs 3-way
One key difference you should know about when considering bookshelf speakers is that there are two different types. Two-way speakers have just a woofer and a tweeter, while three-way speakers have a woofer, a tweeter, and a mid-range unit.
Three-way speakers offer somewhat better sound quality, since that extra unit allows the speaker to get the mid-tones of your audio just right.
However, three-way speakers also tend to be much more expensive than their two-way counterparts. As a result, there aren’t many high-quality three-way bookshelf speakers under $300. Our Editor’s Choice, the Sony SSCS5 speaker set, is one of the few three-way bookshelf speaker sets that sneaks under this price point without sacrificing quality elsewhere.
After speaker type, power is one of the most important things you want to consider. The higher your speakers’ power, the greater volume they’ll be able to sustain without distorting your sound quality. If you need to fill a large room or your whole house with sound, more power is critical.
Bookshelf speakers are by definition compact, so they tend to be light on power – especially if you’re on a budget. 100 watts, which you’ll find on the Sony and Polk Audio speaker sets, is generally enough for most medium-sized rooms. If you want to crank the volume, you can find speakers up to 200 watts like the Klipsch R-41M speakers.
The bass unit on your bookshelf speakers will determine whether a bass line comes out clearly or just as a muddled rumble. The main factor to look for is the size of the woofer itself. A four-inch woofer is standard on bookshelf speakers, since this size does a nice job of balancing bass and compactness. However, on larger bookshelf speakers like the Sony and Polk Audio speakers, you’ll find woofers that are over five inches in diameter.
The tweeter unit controls the high-frequency sound output from your speakers. Once again, the diameter of the unit is the main factor that differs among speakers. A 0.75-inch diameter is most common, but some speakers like the Edifier R1280T speakers have a smaller tweeter unit that can handle very high frequency sounds without tinniness. Also look for soft speaker domes, which help to smooth the output coming from the tweeter unit.
The overall frequency range of a speaker set describes the total range, from bass to treble, that it can produce without distortion. In theory, a wider frequency range is better.
But in reality, it’s hard to compare frequency ranges from one brand to another – or even between speakers from the same brand. That’s because the volume of sounds produced at different frequencies can vary widely. So, don’t worry too much about frequency ranges when choosing a set of bookshelf speakers.
Speaker sensitivity is a measure of how well a speaker converts power into sound. Although a speaker might boast 100 watts of power, that doesn’t necessarily mean it can turn 100% of that power into sound.
Generally, speakers with a sensitivity of at least 88 dB are considered good enough for most audiophiles. High-end speakers may have a sensitivity of 92 dB or more.
Impedance is another factor that can impact the sound quality of your bookshelf speakers. The lower your speakers’ impedance, the more easily an electrical signal passes through the wiring and components. That electrical signal is essentially sound – so a lower impedance means better sound quality, all other things being equal.
Before you buy a set of speakers, it’s important to consider how you plan to play music and other audio through them. If your devices use Bluetooth, for example, you may want to look for Bluetooth-enabled bookshelf speakers like the Edifier R1700BT speakers.
If you’ve already picked out an audio receiver, make sure that your speakers will be compatible with it.
Dimensions and weight
Bookshelf speakers are generally best for situations in which you don’t have room for a larger set of floor speakers. So, size often matters a lot. Larger speakers like the Klipsch speaker set may offer more power, but of course you need more room to house them. Compact bookshelf speakers give up some power and may have a smaller woofer unit.
Most manufacturers provide a warranty for their speakers. This is important – even if you’re spending under $300, you want to be sure that you’re covered in case you get a defective set of speakers. Warranty terms range from just two years to as many as five years (in the case of the Klipsch speakers), so make sure to check what your manufacturer offers.
Some bookshelf speakers come with extra features to give you a more seamless audio experience. The most common extra is a wireless controller, which you can use to adjust the volume and tone of your speakers without going through your audio receiver. Some speakers, like the Sony and Klipsch speakers, also have extra features around the woofer unit to offer a more resounding bass sound.
All of the speakers we reviewed are under $150, and even at that price point you don’t give up much in terms of quality. However, if you’re on a very tight budget, you can find quality bookshelf speakers like the Polk Audio speakers for less than $70.