Speakers are truly a dime a dozen these days. From every big tech manufacturer under the sun dipping its toes into the audio marketplace to super-boutique Kickstarter endeavors to whatever this is, there are thousands of speakers to choose from, and plenty more on the way. But considering the proliferation of at-home, on-ear, vehicular, and portable audio products, you may be asking yourself: Which speaker companies are truly the best?
- Bowers & Wilkins
- Honorable mentions
We asked ourselves that question too, and after many long hours of research and testing, plus years of experience in the world of AV consumer tech, we’ve come up with this list of the best speaker brands on the market right now. For each name, we’ve provided a brief history, some notable products, and accolades, along with what we consider to be the best singular speaker (or pair of speakers) from each company.
Accessibility meets performance
James B. Lansing Sound (JBL) has seen a number of peaks and valleys in its many decades as a recognizable name in audio. With origins dating back to 1927, James Lansing and his business partner, Ken Decker, started in the radio business, producing drivers for at-home radio hardware. After a series of developmental collaborations with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s sound division, the tragic 1939 death of Decker in a plane crash, and a 1941 buyout from Altec Service Corporation (later changed to Altec Lansing), James Lansing left Altec in 1946 after his contract with the company ended, where he went on to found his own brand once more: Lansing Sound, and later JBL Sound.
Fast-forward 25 years or so to the ’70s, and JBL is bigger than ever. Sold to Harman International in 1969, the following year JBL would hit pay dirt with its legendary JBL L-100 loudspeakers, as well as its prolific line of professional studio monitors. Faltering a bit through the ’80s and ’90s, at least in terms of mass-market appeal, Samsung acquired Harman Kardon in 2017, which brought about a major resurgence for the JBL label.
When it comes to versatility, JBL is truly a jack of all trades and even the master of a few. Whether you’re an aspiring audio engineer, home cinema connoisseur, or the average listener who just wants a durable and weatherproof Bluetooth speaker that sounds great, JBL has reliable audio products that satisfy nearly every niche.
What is JBL’s calling card?
Portable audio, bar none. If you’re looking for a sleek, well-armored, and powerful-sounding Bluetooth speaker, JBL is the way to go. And two of our favorite JBL speakers in the portable category are the Charge 5 and Flip 6.
Engineered to deliver loud, articulate, pulse-pounding sound for both indoor and outdoor environments, the Charge 5 and Flip 6 are also long-lasting in terms of battery life, feature adjustable EQs that can be tweaked using the JBL Portable app, and are available in a number of different shell colors.
Read our full reviews of the JBL Charge 5 and JBL Flip 6
What’s the best JBL speaker?
While “best” is always relative to the listener, we’d like to recommend a JBL speaker that we feel is one of the best-sounding and coolest-looking of the brand’s current lineup, and that’s the JBL L100 Classic.
A design introduced back in the company’s 1970s heyday, the modernized L100 is a faithful homage to the original speaker’s aesthetic, complete with retrofitted cabinetry and the iconic Quadrex foam grille (available in black, burnt orange, and dark blue).
An audiophile’s dream come true, the L100 Classic bookshelves present a mesmerizing soundstage, with robust low frequencies, incredible midrange and high-range performance, and a physical design that is going to draw plenty of jaw-drops from all your hi-fi friends (especially when they figure out how much you spent on them).
Bowers & Wilkins
Speakers tailor-made for audiophiles
The formative years of Bowers & Wilkins, a royal name in the world of hi-fi, can be traced to an electronics shop opened by John Bowers and business partner Roy Wilkins. As the company began designing custom intercom equipment for schools and churches, John Bowers jumped on the audio-development train and never looked back.
Stepping away from consumer tech retail, Bowers founded the official B&W Loudspeakers LTD label in 1966. Operating in a production facility behind the main storefront, the release of the 1967 P1 speaker would place B&W on the map.
These days, B&W is the go-to brand for developmental reference, meaning all the other big hi-fi names are designing their products against the high standards already set by B&W. With professional studio monitors set up at both Abbey Road Studios and Skywalker Sound, and partnerships with major European car companies including Jaguar, Volvo, McLaren, Maserati, and BMW, B&W delivers flagship designs and performance for residential, commercial, and vehicular listening spaces.
Oh, and let’s not forget to mention that B&W also produces some pretty awesome soundbars and headphones, too.
What is Bowers & Wilkins’ calling card?
B&W is best known for incredible lifestyle designs, backed up by true, high-end audiophile performance. From the company’s 600 Series up to the formidable 800 Series Diamond lineup, B&W puts painstaking detail into every single one of its cabinets, drivers, and tweeters, resulting in loudspeakers that deliver un-compromised home audio.
Arguably, the 700 series is one of the brand’s more price-accessible speaker families (ranging from the low $1,000s to $4,000), touting such features as a solid body housing for the Carbon Dome tweeter, dynamic soundstaging for home cinema, and dedicated music sessions, and a multitude of floor standing and bookshelf designs in brilliant finishes.
What’s the best Bowers & Wilkins speaker?
For the best in B&W, look no further than the industry-lauded 801 D4 tower speakers.
Available in four alluring finishes and backed up by 40 years of developmental genius, the 801 D4 employs Matrix bracing and armored Turbine Heads for the midrange cones, all in the name of decreased resonance, which means accurate soundstaging beyond your wildest dreams.
And at $35,000 a pair, you can either buy the greatest pair of speakers ever made or matriculate at a four-year university for a semester or two. The choice is yours, dear listeners.
Decades of intuitive engineering meet the wireless age
KEF is another British brand that delivers an arresting blend of style, performance, and versatility, netting plenty of industry recognition and a dedicated following of fans the world over. With roots dating back to 1961, company founder Raymond Cook, an electrical engineer, started KEF on the campus of Kent Engineering & Foundry (where KEF gets its moniker).
Aspiring to bring generation after generation of innovations to the world of speaker technology, KEF has spent just as much time researching and testing new ways to improve upon existing loudspeaker peripherals as they have on actual production.
With breakthroughs and other noteworthy finds being published in some of the most revered audio publications, including the Institute of Acoustics and the Audio Engineering Society, KEF’s analytic backbone is a driving force across all its product categories, from wireless hi-fi to groundbreaking flagship tower and bookshelf designs.
What is KEF’s calling card?
Effectively bridging the gap between ultra-high-end performance and accessible pricing, KEF is a dominant force in both the passive and powered speaker markets, but it’s the latter where the brand truly dials in its gravitas. Their innovative Uni-Q speaker design and frequency-absorbing MAT metamaterial technology deliver beautifully accurate sound.
Have you heard of the KEF LS50 Wireless II? Available in black, red, gray, and white, these wireless bookshelf speakers deliver one of the best-sounding and most flexible streaming-audio experiences you’ll ever come across.
Featuring AirPlay 2 and Google Chromecast compatibility, as well as wired connections for TVs, turntables, and other A/V components, along with 24bit/384kHz, Room Ready, DSD256, and MQA file support for all the richest listening sessions, the KEF LS50 Wireless II is the wireless hi-fi option we all wish we had.
What’s the best KEF speaker?
That’s a tough call. Seeing as we’re pressed for an answer, we’re going to put our money on the showstopping KEF LS60 Wireless, another amazing pair of wireless hi-fi speakers.
Sold in dark blue, white, and black finishes, these beautiful tower speakers take everything we already know and love about the LS50 Wireless II and expand each set of amazing features. The LS60 Wireless tower speakers are capable of connecting to Wi-Fi, AirPlay 2, Chromecast, and Bluetooth, and the KEF Connect app gets you additional access to Spotify, Tidal, Deezer, Amazon Music, and other top-notch streaming platforms. You’ll also be able to decode PCM files up to 24bit/384kHz, along with the ability to listen to MQA and DSD formats.
Yes, KEF makes bigger and more powerful (and more expensive) passive loudspeakers for home cinema and wired audio applications, but it’s the wireless category where KEF shines brighter than most — at least in our humble opinion. Thus, we’ll call the LS60 Wireless the best KEF speaker in our books.
For our at-home concerts and blockbusters
Klipsch is a decades-vetted audio titan that kills it year after year, especially when it comes to rock-solid speakers designed for decibel-heavy music and cinematic tentpole flicks. If you’re a Metallica diehard or an action movie fanatic, whether you opt for a stereo setup or a full-surround package, Klipsch is going to be your best friend.
Founder Paul W. Klipsch was a locomotive engineer who enjoyed tinkering with speakers on the side. During his graduate studies at Stanford University in the 1930s, one of Paul’s peers suggested that speakers sound better when positioned in the corner of a room. Building upon this inspiring proclamation, Paul went to work designing the revered Klipschorn (an iconic Klipsch driver staple to this day) that was officially patented in 1945.
Only one year later, Mr. Klipsch went into the audio business under the Klipsch & Associates moniker, manufacturing the first wave of Klipschorn speakers in Hope, Arkansas, with assistance from a nearby cabinetmaker and the helping hands of Baldwin Piano Company. Teamwork makes the dream work, kids!
Fast-forward nearly 80 years and Klipsch is still thriving in the audio marketplace. Revitalizing some of the brand’s classic designs for the modern age, a Klipsch system can handle any sound challenge you throw at it, and at prices that our wallets and purses can handle, too.
What is Klipsch’s calling card?
With Dolby Atmos as the mightiest surround sound codec, especially in terms of floor-to-ceiling immersion, speaker companies have been at war to see who can deliver the greatest Atmos experience.
And whether that’s by way of towers and bookshelves with top-firing drivers or a complete surround sound kit to check off all your Atmos needs, Klipsch offers some of the most powerful, accessible, and versatile Atmos-ready speakers and systems on the market.
Billed as the Reference Dolby Atmos lineup, buyers have their pick of multiple speaker configurations, from the bite-sized 5.1.4 satellite package to one of the biggest and hardest-hitting 7.2.4 arrangements you’ll find on digital and brick-and-mortar shelves today.
What is the best Klipsch speaker?
We were geared up to feature a Reference series tower or pair of bookshelves for our best Klipsch laurel, but that’s when we remembered the perfect rating we gave the Klipsch’s The Fives when we reviewed them. Representing a unique and excellent-sounding alternative to the modern soundbar, The Fives connect to your TV through either HDMI ARC, digital optical, or analog outputs, but there are also phono, USB, and 3.5mm auxiliary connections.
And in terms of sound quality, the results are through the roof. The Fives offer up one of the richest and most pulse-pounding stereo soundstages you’re going to find, totally negating any Dolby or DTS surround codecs that a soundbar may try its best to decipher, while ultimately delivering only two-thirds or less of the intended sound experience.
Yes, we were just championing the unbelievable pairing of Klipsch speakers and Dolby Atmos, but trust us — Klipsch’s The Fives are the soundbar surrogates your TV, game systems, and Netflix subscription wish you would buy. But if those aren’t big enough for you, stay tuned for our reviews on the latest versions of their similar The Sevens and The Nines.
Read our full review of Klipsch’s The Fives
The audiophile’s best-kept secret
Fluance has only been around for 20 years or so, but in just two decades, the Canadian company has produced some of the greatest turntables and speakers for prices that may make you ask yourself, “Is this too good to be true?” (Hint: The answer is no).
When founder Deepak Jain launched Fluance in 1999, the man had one goal: to design audio peripherals that would deliver the kind of sounds normally relegated to live performances alone. You see, Deepak loved live music and would frequently go out of his way to see whatever local artists were rocking the dive bars and other noteworthy venues of Niagara Falls, Canada.
So when you buy a Fluance product, whether that’s a record player or a wireless system, you’re getting audio that’s tailor-made to get you as close to the onstage artist as possible, minus the sweaty mosh pits and many a buzzed uncle.
What is Fluance’s calling card?
Outside of masterful turntables, Fluance is perhaps best known for its Signature Series, the top-shelf choice for the company’s bookshelf, bipolar, and tower speakers, with an array of color options for each.
Featuring everything from Neodymium tweeters for articulate high-frequency reproduction to expertly crafted cabinetry for decreased resonance and acoustic precision, when you buy a Signature speaker from Fluance, you’re taking home an audio product built for an enduring sonic experience like no other — and the prices are seriously affordable.
What is the best Fluance speaker?
This was another tough call, because, on the one hand, the Fluance Fi70 is one of the coolest wireless speakers we’ve ever seen, but it’s a pretty niche product that might only appeal to a certain range of audiophiles and style-mongers.
In keeping with Fluance’s thing for quality and affordability, we’d like to put Fluance’s HFSW Signature HiFi Bookshelf speakers at the top of the heap.
Whether you plan to use them as front or rear speakers for a Fluance surround system or as a dedicated set of hi-fi stereo speakers for your lauded vinyl listening room, you’ll have all of the amazing engineering that goes into the Signature series at your disposal. We’re talking Neodymium tweeters, rigid glass fibers for the midrange cones, and a sonic profile more akin to the deliverables of a tower speaker than a 12.8-inch-tall bookshelf, and they come in at an affordable $200.
Come for the subs, stay for everything else
What isn’t there to say about SVS? Founded in 1998 by a group of audio engineers in their garage (technical innovation has an uncanny knack for emerging in garages), the SVS team was initially intent on designing subwoofers and loudspeakers that delivered the kind of performance and value that wasn’t effectively being captured by the audio marketplace at the time (at least in SVS’ opinion).
Jumping ahead two-plus decades, SVS is still kicking down our doors and rocking our LFE dreams with a sonically superior plethora of bookshelf and tower speakers, wireless audio, and, you guessed it, gloriously seismic subwoofers. And you’re getting all of these options (and more) at undeniably aggressive prices.
To drive it all home, let us lean on the million-dollar words of Digital Trends Editor at Large, Caleb Denison: “How am I getting sound this good at this price?”
What is the SVS calling card?
Subwoofers, baby. All day, every day.
It’s the first major tab on the SVS site, and it’s the speaker niche the brand has always been renowned for. SVS subs are designed for precision, profound output, and sleek and modern finishes, as well as seamless handshaking with your other speakers. While we’re sure SVS would be happy with you buying all SVS gear, these are subwoofers that will sound great with pretty much any other brand on this list.
Starting with the 1000 Pro Series and climbing all the way to the top of the hierarchy for the 16-Ultra Series, nothing screams SVS like the royal rumblings of a pulse-pounding sub.
What is the best SVS speaker?
SVS is going to take home the gold for one of its wireless products — specifically, the SVS Prime Wireless Powered Speaker System.
Sometimes the “smart speaker” label is enough to turn an audiophile away, but we implore you to give the SVS Prime Wireless the benefit of the doubt. With its 200-watt Class D amplifier, 24-bit/192kHz DAC for the finest audio streaming you’ve ever heard, and a medley of wire-free and cabled connections, this is a smart speaker built like a passive hi-fi workhorse.
Give it a go — you won’t be disappointed. Well, maybe except for the DTS Play-Fi app’s small list of limitations, although we’re betting this is something everyone can look past.
Read our full review of the SVS Prime Wireless Powered Speaker System
Laying down the red carpet for whole-home audio
And last, but certainly not least, we come to Sonos — user-friendly, lovely sounding, competitively priced, ever-expandable, and infinitely customizable Sonos.
With a success story that will bring a tear to any entrepreneur’s eye, Sonos’ four founders — John MacFarlane, Tom Cullen, Trung Mai, and Craig Shelburne — placed their bets on four major insights based on the groundbreaking rollout of the Internet as we know it, a tetrad of principles that spelled success for the Santa Barbara collective:
- The internet is a moldable tool.
- Computer circuitry and other hardware peripherals were becoming evermore cost-friendly.
- Based on what developers were buying, digitization was reaching a new zenith.
- Networking protocols at the highest levels would trickle down to the zip-coded broadband of today.
Collectively, all of the above means that the dawning of the Internet era meant software developers could have a field day with web-connected tech. The world just wasn’t expecting these four horsemen to be audio pioneers, too.
What is the Sonos calling card?
All together now: Wireless. Whole. Home. Audio.
From its fully portable devices to its dedicated Class-D amplifiers and chest-thumping subs, Sonos harnesses the power of your Wi-Fi network as the lifeblood of its arsenal of audio. Once connected and paired, Sonos creates a mesh network for its hardware that allows you to tie all of your TV sound, music, radio, and podcasts together into one easy-to-use platform.
With the Sonos app at the helm of the operation, you can create custom groups for all your speakers, play the same song on all of your networked speakers at once, adjust bass and treble for individual components, listen to Sonos’ excellent curation of Internet radio services, and so much more.
And with amazing technology like Sonos Trueplay, your speaker or soundbar will calibrate itself based on the listening environment you’ve placed it in.
Here’s another inspiring tidbit from our very own Caleb Denison: “Sonos did for audio what Apple did for iPhones.” Yeah, that about sums things up.
What is the best Sonos speaker?
We haven’t called out an excellent soundbar yet, and what better way to award the category than through the Dolby Atmos-inspired engineering of the loud and mighty Sonos Arc?
Yes, Sonos makes much less expensive soundbars that do a great job of making your TV sound better than it has in years, but the Arc is built for so much more. Compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant (and its own new Sonos Voice Control), the Arc doubles not only as a smart home controller for all of your home’s web-connected cameras, lights, and window blinds, but also as a standout replicator of a full Dolby Atmos system.
Does it sound exactly like a full Dolby Atmos configuration? No, but it’s damn close. Simulating Atmos sound is no walk in the park, and compared to other soundbars that take a stab at the feat, the Sonos Arc comes out on top. That’s not to mention that you can combine the Arc with a Sonos Sub and a set of rear surrounds, such as the game-changing new Era 100 or Era 300 speakers, for an immersive spatial audio experience.
The only other thing we could possibly ask for is HDMI-switching (only an HDMI output), but that’s because we love the convenience of wiring all of our devices into one A/V brain, and perhaps we’ll see this addition on a new generation of the hardware.
Read our full review of the Sonos Arc
The king of the electrostatic driver, MartinLogan has built up a prestigious reputation over the years. Touting an iconic look, the brand’s ElectroMotion series harnesses the power of the electrostatic transducer, as opposed to the traditional cone design utilized by most speaker companies. But what does this unique technology actually do?
For one, the transducer allows the ElectronMotion series to achieve accurate high-frequency distribution without cutting out other parts of the soundstage. In a way, you can think of the transducer as a midrange driver and tweeter as a single package. And in terms of bass, the ElectroMotions are also equipped with dual 8-inch woofers, filling out the sound spectrum in rich and exciting new ways, and additional speakers can be added for a full surround system. But these futuristic-looking speakers will cost you, ranging from $2,500 to $4,000.
Similar to a JBL or Klipsch, Polk has a big presence in the audio marketplace, across multiple product categories. Looking to outfit your car with a dynamic audio system? There’s a Polk solution for that. Looking for an awesome set of home theater speakers or dedicated hi-fi bookshelves? There’s a Polk solution for that, too.
And with Polk, not only are you getting expertly made speakers, soundbars, and other sound peripherals, but you’ll be paying some affordable prices for these items, too.
And for our “money is no object” pick, there’s Sonus Faber. Owned by the prestigious McIntosh Group, if Italian-styled hi-fi is what you’re after the ultra high-end, multi-award-winning Sonus Faber family is the speaker brand for you. Ultra-boutique and divinely engineered, Sonus speakers look amazing and sound simply unbelievable.
Whether you’re shopping for their much more affordable wireless all-in-one system, at roughly $2,000, or want to net yourself a set of the beautifully crafted Il Cremonese floor standers at a gasp-worthy $62,000, you’re guaranteed the best with every Sonus Faber purchase.
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