Our guide to the best stereo speakers aims to reflect the modern world – we've got great active speakers with wireless tech, which make it easy to get the expansive rich sound of a stereo pair, but with all the convenience of streaming. Our entries from KEF and Q Acoustics reflect this.
But we've also got some simply excellent passive speakers, designed to work with your amp or AV receiver. The big Definitive Technology speaker we have at number one might be too large for some people, but when it comes to sumptuous sound, they're simply excellent.
Matt Bolton, Managing Editor – Entertainment
The best stereo speakers will deliver a fully-fledged home music system with the classic expansiveness of stereo, but in many cases with the extra mod-cons of modern tech.
Even casual listeners will be surprised to hear how clear, full and, most importantly, true to the original source the best stereo speakers can sound. Although the principles of stereo might now be decades old, audiophiles will tell you that two hi-fi speakers are a whole lot better than one.
We love the best wireless speakers, but most of them deliver sound from a single box, and it just isn't the same – if you've got the space for a real stereo pair (especially of larger speakers), you get sound that's more natural and comfortable to listen to, yet is also louder and more powerful at the same time.
With a wide range of stereo speakers available to buy, it can be difficult to find the right ones for you. So we've tested the best hi-fi speakers available from the most prominent audio companies, including Definitive Technology, Klipsch, KEF, and Q Acoustics.
In the guide below, we’ve selected a range of options, including compact bookshelf speakers, a few of which make it into our best computer speakers guide, through to room-commanding tower models with built-in subwoofers.
If you’re specifically looking to upgrade the sound on your TV, our best soundbars guide is for you. Or, if you’ve got your eye specifically on the latest Dolby Atmos tech, take a look at our best Dolby Atmos soundbars guide instead.
Otherwise, whether you’re looking for a set of speakers to pair with a record player or you want to build the ultimate hi-fi system, there’s a model here to suit your needs and your budget.
The best stereo speakers 2023: the list
Money isn’t everything but it can be important when it comes to the best stereo speakers. The Definitive Technology BP9080x stereo speaker system is absolutely a luxury item that's made only for the most avid audiophile on the market. But if that's you, these speakers are truly amazing.
From the beginning to the end of the covered frequency range, the BP9080x speakers are crystal clear, articulate, and genuinely moving. The passive design here is aided by an active subwoofer, giving the user independent control of the subwoofer volume on each tower, meaning it can be adjusted to fit any room with any standing waves.
The mid-range is as full and clear as any speakers we’ve ever heard, never getting overworked or muddy no matter what songs and sounds we threw at it. The pitch-perfect mid range blends perfectly into the gorgeous treble frequencies that never got harsh, even when the windows were shaking from the volume. The clarity from the top of the frequency range to the bottom can’t be overstated.
On top of it all (literally) there are two ‘height channel’ speakers that make this a perfect centerpiece in your Dolby Atmos or DTS:X home theater set-up.
All of this audio goodness is wrapped in a tall and slender package made from premium materials that is impossibly discreet, especially considering the amount of volume it can pump out. All we can say is that if you’re looking to spend the money (and it is a lot of money), we can’t recommend Definitive Technology’s BP9080x speakers enough.
The Q Acoustics M20 HD speakers from Q Acoustics are a good value option and also a solid choice if you’re looking to upgrade the audio on your TV but don’t want a soundbar. It’s certainly more versatile. They’re a pair of powered bookshelf speakers — one with a digital amplifier built-in — and they make for an easy-to-use and impressive-sounding audio solution for a living room, games room, bedroom or even a home office.
One drawback here is they’re not ‘wireless’ in the sense you may imagine. You do get Bluetooth streaming, but the M20 HD system involves significant cabling. In the box is a mains cable for the active speaker and a four-meter speaker cable for linking up the active and the passive speakers via binding posts on the reverse of each. The active speaker essentially powers the passive speaker.
However, this sound system is a fantastic all-rounder. As we wrote in our review, "the M20 HD is great at what it does." We also said: "If you’re as much into music as you are TV, the system’s warm digital sound, treble detail and balanced sound delivers an ideal all-round soundstage that’s as adept with Nirvana as it is with Netflix."
Read more: Q Acoustics M20 HD review
These little speakers have a pretty big price tag, but these aren't "just" a pair of speakers. There's HDMI ARC and USB-C, Ethernet, analogue and digital inputs here, and there's a pre-out for a subwoofer and CAT 5 for wiring a pair together. If you do decide to wire them up, you get up to 24-bit/384KHz and DSD256; wireless connection downsamples to 24-bit/48KHz.
The sound quality on offer from the KEF LSX II is spectacular, with rich mids, detailed highs and surprisingly punchy bass for speakers so small — and you can always use that subwoofer out if you need more low-end thump. Unless your source material is pretty poorly recorded or very low bitrate the sound here is immersive and incredibly enjoyable.
These aren't for filling massive rooms with sound, but if you want to turn a workstation into a high quality listening station these speakers will excite and delight no matter what kind of music you're listening to — and with five very distinct finishes they'll look great with any kind of décor too.
Since 1985, the Forte floorstanding speakers from Klipsch have been the gold standard for home entertainment. The Forte III speakers hope to build on the success of the ones that came before it.
These stereo speakers sound fantastic. Klipsch’s attention to detail on the fine tuning of the speakers is second to none, making way for a clear and intricate mid-high range. They’re also phenomenally designed and built, making a great addition to basically any living room. They are also very heavy, which can be a blessing and a curse. Once you figure out their place in the living room, these speakers aren’t going anywhere.
These speakers are built for bass, with a 12-inch subwoofer and a massive 15-inch passive radiator in the back of the speaker to help disperse the low frequencies. To get the most out of the bass speakers on these towers, you need to run two separate amps, or a single amp with multiple outs that is strong enough to get the subwoofer moving. Having separated or bi-amp control allows the user to control the power sent to the high and low channels, allowing them to get the exact balance they want.
The downside to these stereo speakers is that they are even more expensive than the Definitive Technology BP9080x speakers and don’t have the powered subs or high-firing speakers that our number one pick has. Part of that premium is paying for the Klipsch name, but there is quality to back it up — just not enough value or pure sound power to topple the Definitive Technology BP9080x.
If you’re not in the market for full-on entertainment behemoths, like the Definitive Technology towers, the Klipsch RP-150M speakers are a surprisingly affordable bookshelf speaker option with a mid-range and high frequency clarity that rivals our top pick.
These light and passive reference speakers are beautifully designed and are a continuation of what Klipsch does best: honest and clear replication without over-coloring the sound. While the 5-inch woofer doesn’t do much in the way of bass, not coming audibly close to the 48 Hz promise on the frequency response, these speakers have a surprising amount of low-mid thump.
The mid range in these Klipsch stereo speakers is completely clear and open, allowing for subtle articulation to come through that would be lost on lesser systems. The upper range never gets shrill and has a natural air under it that seems to be a signature in Klipsch products.
Overall, if you’re looking for a solid pair of stereo speakers for casual listening, studio work, or piecing together an entertainment system, these Klipsch RP-150M speakers are just about as good as they come, especially for the price.
Yes, the Apple HomePod mini is just one speaker. However, we think it deserves a place on our best stereo speakers list because pairing two of these compact devices can be an excellent alternative to buying a pricey home audio system.
It's worth mentioning here that the Apple HomePod Mini is optimized for use within the Apple ecosystem, so you'll need an Apple Music subscription to get the most out of this speaker. But we found that the sound you get for the price is pretty exceptional, even if it doesn't rival the larger speakers in this guide.
During our testing, we loved the sound of the Apple HomePod Mini. We wrote: "The audio performance is the key reason to buy the HomePod mini. It's excellent for a speaker that's so small, and it really feels like the right mix of value for money and sound quality. The bass isn't too heavy, vocals aren't lost in the mix, and when you pair two minis, the stereo experience is really immersive."
Overall, this is a great alternative if you're looking for a smart speaker and stereo speaker option that's a little more affordable than some of the luxury, audiophile-grade options on this list. Just be sure to get two for the most impact.
Read more: Apple HomePod Mini review
If you’re an audiophile and in the market for compact bookshelf speakers but don't want to sacrifice on sound quality, take a look at the Q Acoustics Concept 20 speakers.
These extremely low-profile bookshelf speakers are rich in sound from the low-mids to the crispy highs. Even with the amplifier cranked (to safe power levels) the sound never broke up into distortion and remained clear, not shrill. Of course, with any speakers this size, there wasn’t much bass below the low-mid range to speak of, but what was there was full without being muddy.
What could be seen as a pro for some and a con for others, the Q Acoustics Concept 20 speakers are passive and require an external amplifier.
For audiophiles, this is a great excuse to drop even more coin on a high fidelity amplifier to get the best possible sound out these already great speakers. For casual listeners, however, it can be an inconvenience to worry about amplification with what should be small and discreet bookshelf speakers.
After testing songs of every conceivable genre, it’s clear that the Q Acoustics Concept 20 speakers are up to just about any challenge. For those looking to fill out the living room with clear, crisp, Hi-Fi sound, these stereo speakers from Q Acoustics are a no-brainer.
Polk Audio makes quality stereo speakers that compete with the biggest name brands while keeping a lower price tag. Do these beautiful full range Polk Signature S60 towers stand up to the prowess of the Definite Technology BP9060x towers? Not exactly, but these are stellar speakers in their own right.
Polk’s passive signature series speakers for home entertainment are designed to provide full and immersive sound and, for the most part, they hit the mark. The mid-range, which is the easiest to muddy up, is crystal clear and articulate no matter what sound is blasting through these almost four-foot tall towers.
The high frequency range is certainly lively, occasionally to the point of shrillness when the volume is really pushed, but never gets too harsh for comfort. As for bass frequencies, the packaging advertises a unique porting system that allows more low frequencies to travel more easily. However, to hear the bass really cutting through, the volume needs to be cranked quite a bit. Still, overall the sound quality is excellent in these Polk Audio speakers, the frequencies might could just use a little tweak with an external equalizer.
If you’re looking for a more affordable alternative to the Definite Technology towers, the Polk Audio Signature S60 speakers are a solid option that will likely outshine just about any other run-of-the-mill home entertainment system you’ll encounter. While they don’t handle the highs or the lows as well as our premium pick, we have no doubts that even the most critical ears will be happy with the signal these bad boys pump out.
The Sonus Faber Lumina I bookshelf speakers ooze Italian style, with neat, compact builds and luxurious wood veneer panels.
These passive stereo speakers require an external amplifier to work, but once you get going you'll be struck by their tightly controlled bass frequencies, smooth mids, and detailed trebles.
The Lumina I aren't the most dramatic-sounding speakers on this list; everything from the design down to the way they make your music sound is understated, and well-suited for casual listening (albeit with a sense of opulence).
At $899 / £799 / AU$1595, they aren't extortionately expensive, despite their high-end looks, though cheaper bookshelf speakers are available.
The Edifier R1280T speakers are a popular choice on Amazon, and for good reason. These compact desk/bookshelf style speakers back an impressive sonic punch and look good doing it, all while keeping the price tag under $100 for the pair.
The standout features here include its active design, rich mid-range response, and surprisingly competent bass. Because of the small woofer size, these guys obviously don’t push much low-end, and because of the tweeter design, the highs aren’t as clear as the competition we tested. But other than that, the frequency response and clarity holds its own pretty well.
While they don’t compare to the encompassing power of the Definitive Technology BP9080x at the top of our list or even the clarity of the Klipsch RT-150Ms, these compact speakers certainly serve a purpose. If you’re looking for an affordable set of computer speakers, or better yet a warm stereo set up for your turntable, the Edifier R1280T speakers are a fantastic option for the money.
Smart and stylish, compact and manageable, ergonomically excellent and with as perky a sound as it’s possible to imagine, the Audio Pro A36 floorstanding stereo speakers may not be perfect, but they’ll be perfect for some.
There's wireless connectivity, as well as physical inputs that include HDMI ARC so you can easily involve your TV in the Audio Pro ecosystem.
During our testing, we loved the sound on offer from these speakers. In our review we wrote: "They reveal themselves to be straightforward and competent. Dynamic headroom is sufficient to allow the peaks and troughs of Metronomy’s Love Letters worthwhile expression while still picking up on the more subtle harmonic variations throughout the same song. "
However, these stereo speakers aren’t the last word in fidelity. They're constantly this close to getting carried away where the lower frequencies are concerned. But if it’s excitement and entertainment you crave along with a big serving of convenience, the Audio Pro A36 are a solid option that we enjoyed testing.
Read more: Audio Pro A36 review
Best stereo speakers FAQ
How we tested the best stereo speakers
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In testing these hi-fi speakers, we compared each stereo set at a comparable power level and tested the same tunes, plucked from a variety of music genres.
Our test songs spanned the dynamic range of music and artists, from John Mayer to Tom Petty, and from U.K. prog-metal band TesseracT to the likes of John Williams and Hans Zimmer. Each song was chosen to test the dynamics offered by each set of speakers with some speakers reacting better to certain genre’s than others, depending on their design.
Of course, not all speakers are created equal in function. The Definitive Technology BP9080x towers, for example, are obviously made to cover a more broad frequency range than say the Edifier bookshelf speakers with a 4-inch woofer. We used our best judgement in testing these speakers according to their individual purpose and affordability, and graded them with that in mind.
Since comparing bookshelf speakers to high performance towers is an obvious case of apples and oranges, we try to make it clear which speaker is an apple and which is an orange.
Which speaker type is best for you?
There are lots of speaker styles to choose from – that's why we've put together lots of guides on the best speakers you can buy.
If you need a speaker you can take everywhere, make sure you look at the best waterproof speakers and best Bluetooth speakers. Or, if you want to fill your entire home with sound, check out the best wireless speakers and the best Sonos speakers for high-end sound performance.
Want to boost your TV's audio? Check out the best soundbars and best Dolby Atmos speakers.
For total control of your smart home, invest in one of the best smart speakers, which come with Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, or Siri built-in.
If you have an iPhone or an iPad, you might also want to consider one of the best AirPlay speakers. These allow you to stream music from your Apple devices directly to your speaker. That means no complex entertainment set-up necessary.
What are stereo speakers?
Stereo speakers play sound from two distinct audio channels: a left channel, and a right one. That enables you to hear instruments as if they're coming from different places, so for example a guitar might sound like it's coming from the far left of the room while a vocal sounds like it's in the middle.
The difference between stereo speakers and mono ones, where every speaker gets the same audio, is dramatic. It makes music in particular sound much bigger and more detailed, and if you're watching a TV programme the sound is more realistic because it appears to be coming from both sides of the room.
What are the advantages of stereo speakers?
Almost all music is recorded with stereo playback in mind, and has been for many decades now: The Beatles' first stereo album, Abbey Road, was released in 1969 and stereo became the standard for most music in the 1970s and beyond.
The 1970s also saw movies move to stereo, primarily with Dolby Stereo in the mid-70s, and that became the default until the dawn of surround sound – but even today's multi-channel surround movies are also designed to be listened to in stereo if you don't have a full-on surround system.
The biggest single advantage of stereo, then, is that you're hearing music as the artists intended it to be heard. What they listened to in the studio was mixed and played back in stereo, mastered in stereo and then produced in stereo formats. As a result, listening on a single speaker, or on a multi-speaker system where every speaker plays the same thing, means you don't get the full experience.
The best way to describe stereo is that it's bigger. Instead of having everything come from a single place, stereo creates a sound field or sound stage where different things – musical instruments, effects, dialogue – can appear to be coming from different places. So gunshots may shoot from left to right, or AC/DC's Malcolm Young is to your left while Angus Young solos towards your right, or the rap may be dead centre while all kinds of sonic sculpting is going on either side of them.
Because you don't have everything stuffed into the same sonic space stereo gives music and other audio more room to breathe, and the result is a much clearer, more vivid, more lifelike sound.
Can a single speaker be stereo?
Yes, you can. In fact, some single speakers can deliver 360-degree audio. That's because inside the case there are multiple speaker drivers, which are the vibrating domes you probably think of when you hear the word "speaker". If a speaker has more than one set of drivers inside it, it can be configured so that one driver plays sound from the left audio channel and another plays the sound from the right audio channel.
The problem with that is that the drivers are still very close together, and that means you don't get the impression of room-filling sound that you get from standard stereo speaker pairs.
There are some quite clever ways to get around this – some phones and tablets use clever audio processing to make their audio sound much wider than you'd expect from such small devices – but ultimately there's only so much you can do when your speaker drivers are right next to each other. We much prefer the sound of dedicated, separate stereo speakers and we're sure you will too.
Can you use stereo speakers with a TV?
Yes, and we'd heartily recommend it: having a good quality pair of stereo speakers with your TV in the middle can make pretty much anything you watch feel more immersive. Whether it's the double bass of the Narcos title music or the horrible sounds of the clickers in The Last of Us, stereo speakers give you a much wider sound field and a more engaging (or frightening) audio experience than most TVs can deliver.
In the vast majority of cases you'll need to connect your TV to an AV receiver unless your speakers are wireless, and that connection is usually done via an optical cable or more commonly, an HDMI cable to the ARC (Audio Return Channel) or eARC (enhanced Audio Return Channel). ARC/eARC means that everything on your TV is passed to your speakers, including streaming TV apps, games on your console, and content from set-top boxes or streaming sticks.
An additional benefit to going down the AV receiver route is that you can add more speakers later to make your audio even better. We did that with our setup: what started as a simple but great-sounding stereo system is now a less simple but even greater-sounding system with a subwoofer, two rear surround speakers and two upwards-firing Dolby Atmos speakers.