Best Budget Hi-Fi Speakers

You can still enjoy excellent performance even if money’s too tight to mention

by Ed Selley Oct 27, 2017 at 7:10 AM

  • Not so long ago, affordable stereo speakers were almost an afterthought.
    It often felt that they were largely there to become part of a multichannel package – and in the case of standmount speakers in particular – that meant that they were realistically set to become a pair or rears. This in turn, steered their design toward risk free and somewhat derivative practices. Happily, stereo is back in vogue and with it, affordable speakers are showing some more imagination and sheer quality than was previously the case.

    This means that if you are looking for a pair of speakers on a reasonably constrained budget in 2017, there are some excellent options from £200 and up. This part of the market doesn’t see quite so many material choices and technical innovations as the more expensive points but there is still no shortage of imaginative thinking and impressive engineering going on. The good news for any first time buyer is that few speakers at this price – and none on this list – are difficult to drive with similarly priced equipment. Like our roundup of turntables, this list includes models that were reviewed prior to 2017, they’re still on sale and they are still excellent.

    Mission LX-2
    Reviewed 25th of January 2017 at £160 (now £190)

    Our Rating: 9/10 – Best Buy

    Features: After a quiet few years, Mission is back and the LX-2 is the embodiment of this new found mojo. The basic ingredients are conventional enough – a soft dome tweeter and doped paper mid-range driver supported by a rear mounted port. The details are significant though. As well as having a design that can really only be made by a company with the technical resources of parent firm IAG, the mid-range driver is mounted above the tweeter in classic Mission fashion. The result of this hard work is a speaker that is great good fun to listen to and capable of truly exceptional performance given the asking price.

    Full Specifications

    Ease of use and positioning: The Mission is simple to drive and the basic presentation should work well with a wide selection of partnering electronics. Mission supplies some foam bungs which can be used to control the bass response if you are placing them in constrained space. They’ll do their best work on stands but the LX-2 should be OK on most surfaces.

    • Superb sound quality
    • Solid build
    • Outstanding value
    • Not terribly attractive
    • Quite large
    • Sight lack of fun at times
    Read the full review

    Q Acoustics 3020
    Reviewed 10th of August 2015 £190

    Our Rating: 9/10 – Highly Recommended

    Features: Q Acoustics is not so much a company as a well-oiled machine that spits out seriously capable loudspeakers. The 3020 is the larger of two standmounts in the third generation of the Q Acoustics affordable range of speakers and like its predecessors, there are few clues in the spec sheet that it is capable of greatness. The devil is in the detail though, from the cleverly assembled and surprisingly inert cabinet to the clever rolled surround to the tweeter. The end result is a speaker that balances accuracy and composure with the ability to have fun. It is a few years old now but the Q Acoustics can still more than hold its own.

    Full Specifications

    Ease of use and positioning: The 3020 should work happily with amps of ten watts and up and thanks to the provision of foam bungs for the bass ports, it is also fairly unfussy about where you place it. This is a speaker that will do its best work on stands though and the Mission might be your better choice if you know that isn’t going to be possible in your own setup.

    • Refined, energetic and detailed performance
    • Well built
    • Easy to Drive
    • Odd terminal layout
    • Require decent stands to deliver their best
    • Still not especially bassy
    Read the full review

    Acoustic Energy AE100
    Reviewed 5th of September 2017 at £200

    Our Rating: 8/10 – Recommended

    Features: Acoustic Energy has been a company that has been active in the affordable sector for most of its trading life and the AE100 represents a reaffirmation of some of their greatest hits. It might be a little different to some of the older models – the metal drivers are no more – and although there are nods to the past like the pointed dustcap, this is a rather modern speaker with some clever touches like the slot loaded bass port designed to reduce the audibility of air moving through it. The payoff is a speaker that is not quite as lively as its forebears but offers a refined and accurate presentation that has wonderful fluency and cohesion in the mid-range where the bulk of musical information resides. The result is one of the more involving speakers available at the price if not always the punchiest one.

    Full Specifications

    Ease of use and positioning: With that clever slotted bass port, the AE100 is largely unaffected by what you place it on but it does its best work with some attention being paid to the positioning. With some toe in and a reasonably sized room, this is a fine performer and like its key competition, this is not a hard speaker to drive with comparably priced electronics.

    • Lovely mid-range coherence and tonality
    • Attractive
    • Easy to drive
    • Slightly soft at the frequency extremes
    • Won’t flatter poor equipment
    • Limited finish options
    Read the full review

    Q Acoustics Concept 20
    Reviewed 30th of March 2013 at £350 (now £379)

    Our Rating: 9/10 – Highly Recommended

    Features: Let’s clear something up right at the beginning. This is the speaker that has been around the longest of any on this list but in some ways it’s still the most technically interesting speaker here and one of the most significant at the price point. The Concept 20 is a pair of conventional drivers in a special ‘Gelcore’ cabinet (that has since evolved into the incredible Concept 500). It uses this rigid and inert enclosure to deliver a performance that is neutral, composed and exceptionally detailed. As a welcome byproduct, it also looks and feels extremely smart as well.

    Full Specifications

    Ease of use and compatibility: The Concept 20 is a slightly different proposition to the more affordable speakers on this list. It is no harder to drive in sensitivity terms but it will show up failings in poorer equipment in a way that many similarly priced speakers don’t. To really hear what it can do though, the Q Acoustics needs to be on a decent pair of speaker stands and placed with a little bit of thought and care. The dedicated stands are very effective but rather pricey but more cost effective options are available.

    • Incredible transparency and detail
    • Superb build quality
    • Attractive Design
    • Slight lack of bass extension
    • Won’t flatter poor electronics
    • Dedicated stand is pretty pricey
    Read the full review

    KEF Q350
    Reviewed of October 2017 at £550

    Our Rating: 8/10 – Recommended

    Features: The Q Series has been with us for nearly thirty years and the latest iteration takes much of what distinguished the previous iteration and refines it further. The Q350 uses the latest and greatest version of the Uni Q driver and places it centrally in a cabinet that has been further refined for the process and now features a bass port modelled with computational flow dynamics. It isn’t the prettiest speaker to hit the market in recent years but it’s one of the best at the price with a spaciousness and three dimensionality that is extremely impressive.

    Full Specifications

    Ease of use and compatibility: The KEF is not a hard speaker to drive but it will show up limitations in your partnering equipment in a way that means it will do its best work with carefully selected partners and ones that might well cost more than it does. The bass response also needs to be carefully handled as this is a very potent speaker, but one that can sound a little boomy if not carefully placed and set up, and using the supplied bungs can be a bit of a blunt instrument. These quirks are worth dealing with though as the Q350 is a stellar performer.

    • Outstanding stereo imaging
    • Potent performance
    • Very well made
    • Bass can be slightly unruly
    • Won't flatter poor equipment
    • Looks a matter of opinion
    Read the full review here

    Wharfedale Reva 2
    Reviewed 11th of November 2016 at £600

    Our Rating: 8/10 – Recommended

    Features: The Reva 2 is similar in ethos to the Q Acoustics Concept 20. Rather than being a completely new model, it is a highly evolved version of the more affordable Diamond range and the changes are sufficiently extensive that they have resulted in a very different speaker. Some unusual aspects of the design such as the integrated plinth that acts as the lower edge of the slotted bass port make for a very distinctive speaker. It is also a superbly refined and tonally sweet one that provides a sophisticated and considered take on music without tipping over into sounding dull or slow.

    Full specifications

    Ease of use and compatibility: The Wharfedale is a very benign performer indeed and should work well with a wide selection of equipment. The integral plinth also means that it is happy to sit on surfaces that many rivals will struggle with. Compared to many other speakers at the price, the Reva 2 will do what it does well under almost any conditions.

    • Refined and accurate presentation
    • Lovely build
    • Handsome and understated appearance
    • Lacks a little excitement
    • Quite large compared to some rivals
    Read the full review

    To comment on what you've read here, click the Discussion tab and post a reply.

    Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.
    Dismiss Notice