Bookshelf Speakers Under $1K
February 26, 2008
Bookshelf Speakers Under $1K
It’s getting better all the time
“Heard any great speakers for less than a grand?” It seems like I’ve been asked that one a million times, and while I can always come up with a couple of winners, I haven’t heard everything that’s out there. Well, I still haven’t, but this cherry-picked group of 10 moderately priced bookshelf speakers covers most of the serious contenders. AS soon as I started listening, it quickly became apparent just how consistently good they all were and that the best of them are on par with speakers that retailed for at least double their MSRPs a decade ago. To keep my impressions reality based, I used Onkyo’s superb TX-SR805 receiver with my trusty Pioneer Elite DV-45A universal player for all my listening sessions.
Playback Speaker Tests:
What We Look For
HIGHS: We listen for a treble range that is clear, well-defined, extended, and properly balanced (neither overly bright no rolled-off and dark). Ideally you should be able to hear the highest harmonic overtone of treble instruments (violins, piccolos, cymbals, etc), and have a sense of the high-frequency “air” surrounding nor recessed).
MIDS: We listen for midrange that is pure, clear, richly detailed, faithful to the sound of real instruments and voices, and properly balanced (neither over forward-sounding nor recessed). We listen for transient speed, too – the ability to capture fast-breaking notes accurately, without sluggishness or exaggerated “overshoot.”
BASS: We listen for bass that is clear, powerful, well defined, and deeply extended. More than just an adequate amount of bass, were also looking for the elusive combination of bass punch (as in a concert bass drum being struck), texture (the growl of an acoustic bass), and depth (the subterranean shudder of a low pipe organ note).
IMAGING AND SOUNDSTAGING: We listen for speakers than can create a well-focused and almost holographic image of performers onstage. Ideally, you should be able to tell where performers are positioned from left to right and front to back, and you should also be able to hear the acoustics and approximated dimensions of the recording space.
DYNAMICS: We listen for speakers that can play loudly (rock, symphonic music), softly (chamber music or delicate solos), and everywhere in between. We don’t just seek speakers that can “crank it up,” but ones that can reveal subtle points of dynamic emphasis and shading as well.
VALUE: In simple terms, we think of value as “performance divided by price.” So, a speaker can achieve great value ratings by performing exceptionally well, by being very well priced, or – in the best cases of all – both.
ABOUT THIS BUYER’S GUIDE: This series of 10 speaker reviews is not a “shootout.” Instead, we picked 10 of the best affordable bookshelf speakers we know of, ranging in price from about $350/pair to just under $1000/pair. Our hope was to give you a sense for the range of options available, and to show the strengths and tradeoffs you can expect to find at each price point.
We do single out three models that distinguished themselves within our already very competitive field, labeling each with a hard-won “Playback Recommended” logo. But because the field is so close, we suggest you consider all models carefully, including those found on a list of four more noteworthy bookshelf speakers reviewed in earlier issues of Playback or its sister magazine The Absolute Sound.
PSB Image B25 Monitor
FEATURES: Departing form the standard box shape the Image B25s front, top and side panels all sport gentle curves. The B25 uses a 1-inch aluminum dome tweeter and a sleek looking 6.5-inch metalized polypropylene woofer.
Paul Barton, founder and chief designer of PSB Speakers has probably logged more hours at the Canadian National Research Council’s facilities in Ottawa, Ontario, than any other designer. There he conducts extensive “blind” tests, where panels of listeners compare old PSB models and competitors speakers to Barton’s current project. The process of refining a new speaker can stretch out for years. Barton designs individual drive units and complete speakers.
Tip: Barton designs his speakers to sound best with their grilles in place, better to leave them on.
All of that testing paid off, the B25 is a very neutral sounding speaker. Bass goes fairly deep while maintaining excellent definition, the midrange is quite clear, and the treble is extended, though a trifle bright. The speaker handles power well and can play loud.
Pumping up the White Stripes’ Icky Thump CD [Waner Bros.] proved the Canadian speakers weren’t afraid to rock and roll. Jack White’s raunchy guitar riffage plastered a big smile on my face and Meg White’s drums packed a seriously powerful wallop. The Stripes’ tunes are rhythmic, hard and loud, but the B25s low-distortion, highly transparent sound also flattered all kinds of music.
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