Best active speakers for listening to music
Chris Haslam chooses the best active speakers for all your music listening
What are active speakers?
Essentially, they are speakers you may stream music directly to, thanks to their built-in powered amplifiers and wireless capabilities. In short, they offer high-resolution streaming and audiophile sound quality in a space-saving package.
What's the difference between active speakers and stereo Bluetooth speakers?
Most active speakers include Bluetooth streaming, but quality active speakers also offer inputs such as 3.5mm, RCA and optical – found either on the back of one ‘master’ speaker, or in a separate ‘hub’ which streams to the speakers – so you can connect a CD player, turntable etc.
Do active speakers sound good?
With designs that include multiple amplifiers tuned specifically for each speaker driver, active speakers from leading brands such as KEF, Bowers & Wilkins plus brands you’ll find mentioned in the reviews below, can revolutionise your enjoyment of wireless streaming.
Best active speakers 2022
Best hi-fi alternative
Q Active 200
- £1,499 per pair
The Q Active 200’s control hub (Wi-Fi and Ethernet) takes audio from a plethora of digital, analogue and streaming inputs and sends it wirelessly to each speaker in 24-bit/96kHz hi-res. But what’s brilliant about the 100W (280W peak) speakers is the fact that each pair of offset 2.25" Balanced Mode Radiator drivers virtually eliminate the hi-fi sweet spot, so no matter where you’re positioned you enjoy an impressively wide soundstage.
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Best active speaker for the office
Ruark Audio MR1 Mk2
- £329 per pair
Ruark Audio’s stereo streaming compact bookshelf active speakers are multi-award winning, and for very good reason. They’re attractive yet understated, and the combination of 20mm tweeter, 75mm woofer and Class AB amplifier sounds splendid whatever the music. A recent upgrade means you can now stream in CD quality via aptX Bluetooth, connect wirelessly to a compatible turntable and also plug in streaming devices such as Google Chromecast. ruarkaudio.com
Best all-round active speaker
Cabasse Pearl Akoya
- £1,600 per speaker
These 22cm diameter, 6kg Wi-Fi connected orbs can be used as a single speaker, or paired for traditional stereo, or – for those with a big budget – invested in as a luxurious multi-room system. At £1,600 each, they’re not cheap, but they are beautifully made and feature technology borrowed from the brand’s £200,000 La Sphere speakers, and the StreamCONTROL app (Android/iOS) makes set-up intuitively simple. The coaxial speaker design, where the 13cm tweeter is held inside the 17cm woofer, helps reduce the size without impacting on sound.
Qobuz, Deezer, Spotify, Napster and Tidal are all catered for, you can plug-in multiple sources, and they play most music formats up to 32bit/768khz hi-res recordings. And with a total amplification of 1050W, they are astonishingly loud for the size. Listening to a MQA Master Tidal hi-res version of Brahms’s Symphony No. 2 (New York Philharmonic/Kurt Masur), I’m bowled over by the sheer volume available, but thankfully the energy is controlled wonderfully. Vivid, detailed and emphatically live, it’s as close to the orchestra pit as I could hope for without leaving my office. cabasse.com
Chris Haslam is a freelance consumer technology journalist, specialising in tech, audio, lifestyle, health and interiors. He is the monthly audio columnist for BBC Music Magazine, rounding up the best audio equipment on the market for classical music lovers. He is also a contributing editor for Wired UK.