Bookshelf speakers are the bestselling type of loudspeaker, largely owing to their size and versatility. They can be placed just about anywhere and be used within almost any audio setup.
While soundbars are all the rage these days, a good pair of bookshelf speakers has the potential to sound a lot better and offer much better bang for the buck. Not to mention, they can be used as part of a larger surround sound system setup (typically as the front left and front right speakers).
In this roundup we’ll be taking a look at our top picks in the under $200 price range. At this budget, a compromise will have to be made between audio fidelity and power (loudness), but rest assured there are some seriously decent options available. Here are the categories we’ve separated the speakers into:
- Best for audiophiles (passive speakers with emphasis on sound quality)
- Best for bigger rooms (speakers that can get seriously loud and are great for home theater)
- Best active speakers (plug and play speakers that don’t require an external amp)
Best Bookshelf Speakers Under $200 For Audiophiles
Looking for the best sound you can get from your new pair of speakers? The ELAC Debut 2.0 B5.2 and Polk Signature Series S15 are your best bet within the budget. They aren’t the loudest on the list and therefore have some difficulty filling larger rooms, but their audio fidelity is unrivalled.
Elac have been around since all the way back in 1926 when it was established in Kiel, Germany. In 2018, they impressed everyone during the launch of their Debut 2.0 line which is designed by the legendary Andrew Jones. The B5.2 is the smallest speaker in the line, but its fundamental design and technology is the same.
The B5.2 is the smallest speaker in the line, but its fundamental design and technology is the same. Each speaker features a 5-1/4″ woven aramid fiber bass driver and 1″ soft-dome tweeter which deliver rumbling bass and smooth extended highs for both movies, games and music.
The Debut B5.2’s understated design is very pleasing to the eye, but it’s the sound quality that steals the show. It has a high level of detail resolution and a wide soundstage that you would typically expect from a speaker that costs over $500. With a frequency response that extends to a 35kHz, you get much more top-end sparkle and openness than similarly priced loudspeakers.
Thanks to its front-firing port, you can also worry less about placement issues. Normally, you need the right amount of amount of clearance between the back of each speaker and the wall, but the Debut B5.2s are far more forgiving.
The Elac Debut B5.2 can get plenty loud without distortion, but because they have a low 86db sensitivity, they’ll need to be powered by a fairly powerful amp.
Polk speakers are known for being affordable yet capable of delivering superb audio. The Signature Series S15 is their best sounding loudspeaker in the under $200 price range and one of the top picks for audiophiles alongside the ELACs above.
They come in an MDF enclosure and feature 5.25-inch woofers and 1-inch terylene dome tweeters. These ‘dynamic balance’ drivers were developed with the aid of sound engineers at John Hopkins University and are designed to reduce the impact of vibrations on the speaker cones.
The exclusive ‘Power Port’ makes the S15 different from a traditional rear-ported speaker. Covering the port is a plastic baffle device with fins. This not only increases the bass response by 3dB, but makes the speaker less sensitive to placement issues.
The soundstage is wide and vocals on the S15 sound natural. The mid-range is clear while the higher frequencies are sharp but not unnecessarily bright. Perhaps most surprising for a budget speaker is the excellent low-frequency sound reproduction. Of course, the 5.25-inch mid-range driver can’t replace a subwoofer, but if you’re not planning to add a subwoofer, the S15s still sound awesome.
Read full review: Polk S15
Best Bookshelf Speakers Under $200 For Bigger Rooms
For some, the main purpose of bookshelf speakers will be for the music at house parties or as part of their home theater setup. Sound quality is important, but each speaker also needs some oomph to make the party come alive or make for a true cinema-like experience.
The Klipsch R-15M might be part of Klipsch’s previous generation of Reference series, but they remain one of the bestselling pair of stereo speakers around. They are now discontinued and unavailable on the official Klipsch online store, but are still available at other retailers including Amazon.
Each R-15M bookshelf loudspeaker has a 85/340W continuous/peak power rating and a high sensitivity of 94db-the highest among any of the speakers in the list. That means they can get very loud, far louder than you’d expect from a pair of speakers with 5.25-inch copper-spun woofers and 1-inch aluminum tweeters which feature Klipsch’s exclusive Tractrix® Horn technology. Thanks to the high sensitivity, you also don’t need a super-powerful amp to crank up the volume.
Klipsch audio products all have a signature sound, a sound often described as fun and bright. While the highs are a little more prominent than most speakers, the midrange is still well-represented and the overall sound performance is strong. Some people love it, others not so much. If you get the chance, try listen to a pair before purchasing and see whether or not the sound is to your liking.
The R-15M’s design forfeits a deep bass response to increase its sensitivity. This gives them a fun and dynamic sound, but a slightly lacking low-end. As a result, you greatly benefit from adding a subwoofer to your setup if you want a more powerful bass. If this is for a home theater setup, it goes without saying that you’d want to invest in a subwoofer anyway.
You might be surprised to find a pair of speakers with small 4-inch woofers being recommended for those to fill larger rooms with sound. However, the R-41Ms pack a big punch for their size.
The R-41M is the updated R-14M (the R-51M is the updated R-15M, but goes over budget). These new models have more powerful amps and a dynamic bass EQ feature that scale the low frequencies with volume to improve low volume listening.
Although the newer R-41M is designed to have an improved sound, the sound quality difference compared to the aforementioned R-15M is not that big. In our opinion, the difference in sound isn’t quite big enough to make up for the difference in power. We would therefore personally go with the R-15M, unless you desire the smaller form factor or just like having the newest thing.
Read full review: Klipsch R-41M
The Yamaha NS-6490 are the only pair of 3-way speakers on this list. That means that instead of just featuring a woofer and tweeter, the NS-6490 features a 8-inch woofer, a 4-inch midrange cone and ⅞-inch dome tweeter. Due to space constraints, very few bookshelf speakers are 3-way, a luxury that is usually only afforded for bigger floor standing speakers.
As a result, the NS-6490 enclosures aren’t small. They’re comfortably the biggest cabinets on this list. But you get a more powerful bass and the mids and highs are also well defined. With a high sensitivity of 90db and capable of handling 70W/140W nominal/maximum input power, you can easily fill bigger rooms with these speakers.
What’s more impressive is that all this comes in at a price that is cheaper than most of the smaller speakers on this list. Unfortunately, the audio just doesn’t resolve as nicely as the likes of the Klipsch R-15M/Klipsch R-41Ms. While their immense size will impress guests, it can’t make up for the outdated technology and lacklustre audio quality.
Best Powered Bookshelf Speakers Under $200
The bookshelf speakers mentioned so far have all been passive. That means they need to be powered by an external amplifier. An external amp not only adds to the cost, but makes the whole setup a fair bit more complicated and takes up additional space.
Active speakers, on the other hand, have a built in power amplifier and just need a power source to operate. They can be directly hooked up to your turntable, computer, TV or just about any other device. Many newer ones have bluetooth connectivity so that you can wirelessly pair your audio source and do without a cable connection.
Canadian manufacturer Fluance produce high end Home Audio, Music Systems Turntables. The Ai40 is our favorite pair of active bookshelf speakers that costs less than $200.
Available in black, white/bamboo and walnut, the Ai40 looks seriously good. The speaker doesn’t just win points on looks, though. The 1-inch ferrofluid cooled tweeter and 5-inch woven glass woofer delivers the most balanced sound among sub-$200 active bookshelf speakers, producing a nice and clear midrange–something many other budget speakers struggle with. And with a total output power of 70W (RMS), the Ai40s can get pretty loud, too.
Setting up the Fluance Ai40 bookshelf speakers is a breeze. There are a couple of connectivity options:
- using the RCA inputs (Aux to RCA cable also included)
- via Bluetooth
The Ai40 supports the newer aptX bluetooth, which is capable of a maximum transfer rate of 352kbps for CD-like quality. aptX also has no noticeable lag, unlike the much older bluetooth standards which left the audio lagging behind the picture when watching videos.
A nice bonus is the inclusion of bass and treble controls on the bundled remote. Few other active speaker remotes include this, and it can make a big difference when you want to fine tune the equalization during careful listening.
Read full review: Fluance Ai40
Edifier are a Chinese audio equipment brand who not only dominate their domestic market, but now have numerous best-selling audio products in the States. Thanks to the company’s economies of scale, they are able to offer terrific value for money on their products.
The Edifier 1700BT feature everything you would want from a good pair of active bookshelf speakers. Good quality sound, good looks, decent power and bluetooth connectivity.
Audio-wise, the 1700BT speakers are not quite as detailed as the Fluance Ai40s (especially at the midrange), but the bass packs a bigger punch, almost artificially so. With 66W RMS, they have a similar level of overall loudness. If you want a bit more punch, consider spending a bit more for the Edifier R2000DB which is similar but capable of outputting 120W RMS and features an optical input.
Although the Edifier 1700BT speakers feature bluetooth, they are bluetooth 4.0 and don’t support the faster aptX standard. Bluetooth 4.0 is very fast, but not quite as fast as aptX. Although the difference is very slight, it’s worth noting.
Read full review: Edifier 1700BT
Best Of The Rest
Fluance products don’t come cheap, but the Signature Series HiFi can be had for just $200 and the audio quality doesn’t disappoint.
The brand’s signature black and yellow colorway is instantly recognizable and sets them apart from the typically less daring colorways of other speakers. The cabinets are made from standard MDF (Medium-Density Fibreboard), a type of wood engineered from wood fibers. They look stunning and feel relatively strong and sturdy compared to many other MDF cabinets we’ve come across.
Sound-wise, these speakers have an excellent amount of detail. You simply don’t expect speakers in this budget to be so resolving. Although the Signature Series HiFi do have a level of brightness to them, they don’t feel overly harsh or fatiguing.
On the low-end, the 5-inch woofer and two small bass ports don’t produce a whole lot of bass. They are capable of producing frequencies as low as 60Hz, which is decent but not quite as low as Polk RTi S15 (50Hz) or Elac Debut 2.0 B5.2 (46Hz). Those who want more detail at the low-end will therefore benefit a lot from hooking up a subwoofer.
Polk blew me away with the sub-$200 Signature Series S15 which made it on this list, but I was also impressed with the RTi A1.
I am not sure why Polk has such a crowded sub-$200 bookshelf speaker selection, but it will certainly leave consumers scratching their heads as to which one they should purchase. Luckily, the RTi A1 are a fantastic pair of bookshelf speakers so you wouldn’t really be making a mistake if you picked these up.
A big unique selling point of the RTi A1 is their beautiful real-wood enclosure. The sides of the RTi A1s are slightly curved, which not only adds a touch of class to their look, but also makes them acoustically inert and reduces panel resonance.
Compared to the S15, the RTi A1 is ever so slightly more powerful. It has a max input power of 125W (compared to the S15’s 100W) and a slightly higher sensitivity. However, the frequency range ‘only’ goes up to 27kHz, as opposed to the S15’s 40kHz, meaning detail at higher frequencies is much more present on the S15.
The sound stage is wide and vocals on the RTi A1 sound natural. The mid-range is clear while the 1-inch silk dome tweeter delivers higher frequencies with sharpness and precision. Perhaps most surprising for a pair of budget speakers is the excellent low-frequency sound reproduction. Of course, the 5.25-inch woofers can’t replace a subwoofer, but if you’re not planning to add a subwoofer, the A1s still sound awesome.
Despite sounding fantastic, I found the sound on the RTi A1 to be inferior to that of the S15. This also appears to be the general consensus among the audiophile community. I would therefore go with the S15 if possible, but if you can snag the RTi A1s at a discounted price, don’t hesitate.
It’s also worth noting that Polk also offer the TSi200 bookshelf speakers for a similar price. These speakers don’t sound quite as rich or accurate as the S15/RTi A1s and lack the real wood enclosure, but have higher continuous and peak power handling. In other words, they are worth considering if you’re after something much louder.
Read full review: Polk RTi A1
BIC, originally an abbreviation for British Industry Corporation, has a long history dating back to the 1960s when they started out distributing British audio products from the likes of Wharfedale and Luxman across the USA. The BIC America DV62si received immense praise upon its release in 1999. It had an original MSRP of $275, and when you take inflation into account, they certainly weren’t considered ‘budget’ bookshelf speakers back in the day.
Currently, the speakers are available at a big discount. People raved about its sound back then, and the same great sound they had back then continues today.
Furthermore, their technical specs are very impressive. A 43Hz – 21kHz frequency response range means you can get a high amount of detail at the lower end and can get away without using a subwoofer even if you listen to a lot of deep-bass music. The 175W max input power per channel means these are among the most powerful bookshelf speakers on this entire list, and with a high 90dB sensitivity, they can get seriously loud.
However, released all the way back in 1999, these speakers are old. The outdated and rather ugly mock-wood MDF cabinets aside, what sounded great back then just doesn’t quite cut it today. While the bass is good, the tonal balance feels off and the detail is lacking in mid and bass frequencies. In some songs, entire layers of music seem to be missing.
The BIC DV62si have a lot of power and sound ok for the highly discounted price today, but personally I would recommend getting a newer passive bookshelf speaker.
Bookshelf Speakers Buying FAQ
What else do I need to buy along with my new bookshelf speakers?
If you’re purchasing a pair of active speakers (a.k.a. powered speakers) it’s simply a matter of plug and play.
If you purchase passive speakers, you’ll need to make sure you have an amplifier if you don’t already have one. The necessary cables are included in the box, so you won’t have to worry about them.
Where should I place each speaker?
You want to make sure each speaker is placed on an elevated, sturdy surface. This could be a table or dedicated speaker stands.
There should be some clearance between the back of each speaker and the wall (ideally over 6 inches). Also, rotate each speaker inwards slightly towards the central listening position.
Do bookshelf speakers make good computer speakers?
Bookshelf speakers make great computer speakers because they can easily be placed on each side of the monitor and have sound quality that beats a lot of ‘computer speakers’ you see on the market today.
However, they might go wasted if solely used as computer speakers. These speakers are designed to fill the room and don’t get the opportunity to shine at low volume listening (which is probably what you’ll be doing when you’re sitting right in front of the computer).
Why do only powered (active) speakers feature bluetooth connectivity?
This can be a confusing point for people purchasing their first pair of passive speakers. You have to remember that passive speakers simply connect up to your amplifier/receiver and produce sound. Therefore, it depends on whether your amplifier/receiver can pair over bluetooth.
That concludes my under $200 bookshelf speaker buying guide. If you have some extra money to spare, why not take a look at my recommended bookshelf speakers for under $300?