Vinyl has been on a resurgence for some time, and the pandemic somehow only accelerated that. It’s got many out there looking to upgrade from a cheap Crosley turntable and build out their first HiFi system. Of course, there are multiple pieces that go into building a decent stereo, but perhaps the most important is the speakers. If your speakers don’t sound good, it basically doesn’t matter what you connect them to.
This is understandably the part of their setup that people likely spend the most time researching. And you have to make a number of choices. One of the biggest is: active or passive? Both have their advantages, but for the sake of this guide we’re going to focus on passive speakers, which require a separate amplifier.
Active speakers have an amplifier built in. Usually, the two things are specifically designed to work together, which means you're getting a more faithful version of the manufacturer’s aural vision. And since you don’t need an external amplifier, active speakers also take up less room. While active speakers are more expensive than passive, the fact that you need to buy an amplifier to power passive speakers means the savings aren’t as great as they might initially seem. The primary benefit of passive is greater flexibility. You can’t go out and buy a new high-end amplifier and connect your active speakers to it; you’re stuck with what’s built in. Also, since active speakers require power, you’ll have to make sure they’re near an outlet.
We’re also putting a cap on our spending for this guide: a somewhat arbitrary $600. Anything over that and you’re starting to get into budget audiophile territory. It also basically limits us to bookshelf speakers between five and six inches. While you can certainly get floorstanding speakers for that much, the quality of the drivers will likely be better on bookshelf speakers at the same price point.
A note about testing
Obviously, I could not test every set of five to six inch bookshelf speakers under $600, but I’ve tried enough and done enough research to feel confident in my recommendations. I’m sure there are other good speakers out there, but I don’t think anyone is going to regret buying the sets here.
Additionally, speaker preference is largely subjective. But I did my best to be as objective as possible. All of the speakers were connected to a Pyle PSS6 switcher with the same wire for quick side-by-side comparisons. After I’d tested them all myself I enlisted multiple people to listen blindly and then rank them based on their preference to see if their opinions lined up with my own. Testing included playing new and vintage vinyl, as well as streaming songs from Spotify.
Also worth noting: I am not an audiophile. This is not a guide for audiophiles. I want my music to sound good, but I’m not about to drop the price of a used sedan on my stereo. My setup includes an Audio Technica Audio-Technica AT-LP120 and a Chromecast Audio running through a Technics SA-EX110. This is not fancy stuff, but it is certainly an upgrade from a Crosley Suitcase turntable or even a higher-end Sonos system.