Best Powered Bookshelf Speakers – Desktop, Wireless Streaming and Audiophile Choices

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Best Powered Bookshelf Speakers – Desktop, Wireless Streaming and Audiophile Choices

Powered bookshelf speakers are an increasingly popular solution for many audio enthusiasts. But what are they and which ones are right for you?

Less is sometimes more, and that’s especially true for people who want the benefits of a component stereo system without the actual components cluttering up their homes. Having a speaker system with built-in amplifiers makes a lot of sense for these people. But the advantages of such speakers isn’t purely aesthetic or a function of spaces-saving; having amplifiers designed to precisely match the performance capabilities of your speakers can provide performance advantages as well.

We will look at three main categories, speakers that have it all and include wireless streaming, models that are ideal for up close use on a desktop or pc gaming, and cost-no-object audiophile powered speakers. Up first is the wireless streaming category…

Powered Bookshelf Speakers - What is Best for You?

Best for Wireless Streaming

SVS Prime Wireless Bookshelf Speakers
$1099.98 $530.09


If you’re interested in wireless music streaming, chances are good that you’re looking for good Wi-Fi connectivity, as well as perhaps multi-zone audio support and compatibility with digital voice assistants like Amazon Alexa. The SVS Prime Wireless Speaker System has you covered on all counts. These active speakers can even be part of your whole-home audio system via DTS Play-Fi

Each SVS Prime Wireless speaker features dual Class-D amps with a total system output of 200 Watts — 50 watts to each woofer and 50 watts to each tweeter — which should be plenty enough power for most mid-sized rooms. The 4.5-inch woofer and 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter deliver stated frequency response of 52Hz to 25kHz, and there’s a subwoofer output with an auto-detecting 80Hz crossover if you need deeper bass. 

We absolutely adore the sound of these speakers (you can read Dennis Burger’s review of them here). Part of that is probably owing to the high-resolution 192kHz/24-bit DAC and  precisely tuned digitally controlled crossover. 

Another thing we love is the six front-panel presets for instant access to music services and playlists with no smartphone or tablet required. That convenience, combined with the performance and shockingly compact size of this system makes it a real standout.


Other models we liked:


Another great option in this category is the PSB Alpha AM5, priced at the same $599.99 per pair as the SVS system. The sonic signature of the PSB system is nicely balanced and natural sounding, but just a bit less dynamic than the SVS system, which is able to energize mid-size to larger rooms with power to spare. In smaller rooms however, that disparity almost disappears. The PSB utilizes Bluetooth AptX for wireless connectivity, the SVS is the clear winner for accessing a streaming services directly.  If you are a vinyl spinner, the PSB Alpha AM5’s built-in phono preamp will save you from adding an additional box unless your turntable has the preamp on-board.

What Else To Consider When Buying Powered Bookshelf Speakers


The amplifier and crossover section (and in many cases the integrated DSP) can be matched to the tweeter and woofer, and even take into account the sonic characteristics of the enclosure, resulting in a speaker system with less distortion, more useable dynamic range, and better power consumption. 

You may have heard such speakers referred to by two different labels: “powered” and “active.” There is some overlap in the use of these terms, and not all manufacturers make a distinction between them. But technically speaking, a powered speaker is simply a speaker with an amplifier built in, likely with a passive crossover after the amplification stage. In other words, a powered speaker is functionally little different from having a separate amp and speaker cabinet, with the exception of the fact that they’re contained in one box. 

An active speaker, by contrast, relies on an active crossover and, in most cases, discrete amps for each driver, along with digital signal processing that might serve as a limiter or serve some other function.  

Powered and active bookshelf speakers come in a variety of sizes. Larger offerings, like the JBL 308P MKII, can measures as much as 16.5 inches tall by 10 inches wide and 12 inches deep, which may put them out of the running for those looking for a more compact solution. 

At the other end of the size spectrum, you’ll find diminutive active speakers like the SVS Prime, which measures just 10.25 tall by 6 inches wide and 7.25 inches deep. There are even smaller powered speakers on the market, but none deliver the high-impact performance we’ve heard from the SVS Prime. 

No matter their size, a good pair of powered or active bookshelf speakers can serve as the heart of anything from a desktop audio system for gaming, music, movies, and teleconferencing all the way up to a full-blown audiophile system in a dedicated two-channel listening room. 

Supported by the recent additions of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity along with RCA, Phono, HDMI eARC, optical and digital inputs, these systems make for a wide range of use cases while being super easy to setup and operate. Some powered or active bookshelf speakers are packed with all manner of tweakability, but at the cost of ease of use. Some lean hard on plug-and-play functionality, but at the expense of connectivity. 

There’s no right or wrong approach, of course; it’s all about finding the right active or powered speakers for your needs, which can be tough given the variety across this category. Hopefully, this guide will cut through some of the clutter. We’ve broken our picks out into four distinct categories—the best powered speakers for desktop systems, the best for wireless streaming, the best for audiophiles, and the best for content creators—but, of course, there is a lot of overlap. So be sure to read the entire guide to figure out which of these systems best fits your needs and preferences.

Best for Desktop Systems

Klipsch R-41PM Powered Bookshelf Speakers
$439 $279


At first glance, these may seem a bit under-powered, with just 70 watts total output for the pair.  Two things you should keep in mind when you read that specification, though: Firstly, Klipsch speakers are quite sensitive, rarely needing as much power as other speakers to reach the same output; and secondly, you aren’t meant to fill a room with the sound from a desktop system, only your immediate area. 

Inputs include Bluetooth, Phono, USB Audio, Optical, and 3.5mm Aux. 

The package includes a wireless remote and a four-meter speaker wire with soldered tips, two-meter power cord, two-meter USB Type A to Type B cable, detachable grilles, and rubber feet. Rated frequency response is 76Hz to 21kHz, but if you want deeper low-frequency extension, there is an RCA subwoofer out. If you would like to stay in the Klipsch family, the R-100SW Subwoofer ($199) will extend the low frequency range down to 32Hz. 

What we like most about these Klipsch speakers and what sets them apart from other desktop system contenders are the crystal-clear highs and solid mid-range definition, owing to the 1-inch Aluminum LTS Tweeters guided by the unique-to-Klipsch 90-degree x 90-degree Square Tactrix Horn. For listening to music or gaming or streaming video, the R-41PM truly shines. 


Other Options to Consider:


If a bit more bass without a subwoofer is your thing, the Kali Audio IN-8 2nd Wave is a compelling option. It is a 3-way studio monitor with an 8-inch woofer, a 4-Inch midrange with a coaxial 1-inch tweeter, and a new, 12db quieter(than version 1) amp section pushing out 140 watts. Really setting it apart are the configurable boundary EQ tunings  – you can select which orientation the speakers are in and optimize the DSP for extra precise imaging whatever your speaker placement. These speakers will get loud and give you bass down to 45hz – stay tuned for John Higgins upcoming in-depth review.

Our Pick for Audiophiles

KEF LS50 Wireless II
$2799.99 $2603.99


KEF’s LS50 Wireless II is not only the most expensive active speaker in our roundup; it’s also by far the best-sounding. Listening to this setup is like looking through what you think is a clear window and then peeling off a layer film to reveal levels of clarity you didn’t think possible for a speaker with a form factor like this. 

Unsurprisingly, the LS50 Wireless II relies on KEFs Uni-Q Driver Array. The mid and low frequencies are handled by a pair of 5.25-inch aluminum cone woofers, while the high frequencies are reproduced by a pair of 1-inch vented aluminum domes with Metamaterial Absorption Technology. That’s a mouthful, for sure, but the proof of the gobbledygook-sounding jargon is in the listening. 

Powering the system is an amplifier section with 760 total watts of output. Each tweeter is driven by a 100W class A/B amplifier, while a pair of dedicated 280W class D amplifiers power the mid/bass drivers for room-filling, controlled sound up to 108db. 

 

The LS50 Wireless II system also has an embarrassment of riches in terms of connectivity, including HDMI eARC, optical and coaxial digital, 3.5mm Auxiliary, and two RJ45 Ethernet ports — one for internet connectivity and one for connecting the speakers. When using LS50 Wireless II with Airplay 2, Chromecast, or Tidal Connect, you can stream to multiple speakers around your home at the same time. By using multiple LS50 Wireless II speakers, you can have a simple, high-performance multi-room system. The KEF Connect app supports playback of music files up to 24bit/384kHz, as well as MQA, DSD256, and the system is Roon Ready. 

The rear-ported enclosure is available in three matte finishes: carbon black, titanium grey, and mineral white, as well as a Crimson Red Special Edition. All the color options are mirrored on both the drive units and the rear-facing port. The top-mounted control panel both stylish and ergonomic. To add a subwoofer, you can either use the RCA sub out or KEF’s KW1 Wireless Subwoofer Adapter Kit ($199.99)

Many active speakers can claim to go toe-to-toe with the LS50 Wireless II system in terms of connectivity and options, but few can claim to be its equal in terms of pure sound quality. So, if that’s your primary consideration, this one is a no-brainer.


Other Options to Consider


A great alternative to the KEF LS50 Wireless II  — if you’re looking for something a little less traditional — is the Naim Mu-So 2 at $1,690. This one falls more into territory occupied by Sonos, at least in its form factor, but sets itself apart with 450 watts of onboard amplification and drivers developed expressly for this product by Focal. At almost $900 more. with essentially the same features and benefits, it will come down to a side-by-side sonic comparison and aesthetic choice. The KEF system looks a bit more like traditional bookshelf speakers while the Naim is a low-profile affair more aesthetically akin to a center channel speaker, with grilles available in black, olive, terracotta (orangish-red) and peacock (azure blue). Both the KEF and the Naim sound incredible — in fact, I only gave the nod to the KEF because it technically fits the category of this guide better, at least in its form factor.

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