Q It appears that Best Buy doesn't carry the Insignia NS-B2111 bookshelf speakers anymore. Do you have any replacement recommendations?
A Although the NS-B2111 has been discontinued for over a year now, I still get asked this question a great deal. Unfortunately, I am still looking for a great-sounding bookshelf speaker for under $100 and I hope the NS-B2111 doesn't turn out to be a once-in-a-lifetime product.
Speakers are the most important part of a sound system and are worthy of a significant investment; a high-quality pair of speakers will last 20 years or more. The sweet spot for high-quality bookshelf speakers is around $250 to $350, so I will start at the rock bottom and go up to there. The direct sales brands all have money-back guarantees.
Monoprice: This speaker is a conditional recommendation meant for those on a tight budget. Monoprice sells bookshelf speakers with 6-inch and 8-inch woofers for $28.03 and $54.33 a pair, respectively. I heard them at the Consumer Electronics Show last year and they sounded a bit shrill at high volumes, but some treble adjustment could tame that. www.monoprice.com
Pioneer: The SP-BS41LR is the closest thing to an Insignia successor I have yet to find. These speakers sound a bit better than the Insignia NS-B2111 and can play at louder volumes without resonating, so I would rate their performance as superior, though I preferred the look of the Insignias. The SP-BS41LR lists for $179 a pair but can be found online for under $115 if you shop around. The Pioneer SP-FS51LR towers are an even better buy at $199, and you won't need stands. www.pioneer electronics.com
Arx from the Audio Insider: If you want a taste of the GoldenEar Technology Aon 3 speakers I've raved about in the past (and now own) but don't want to spend $1,000, check out the $299 Arx A1b speakers. Arx speakers use exotic driver technology for both the woofers and the planar magnetic tweeters and yield a very detailed, natural sound with just the right touch of warmth. They do not produce the bass impact or incredible, airy detail of the GoldenEar speakers, but when you hear them and know you only spent $299, you'll feel like you got away with something. www.theaudioinsider.com
Axiom Audio: The $328 M2v3 from Axiom is the latest update of one of my favorite bookshelf speakers. Axiom devotes a lot of engineering resources to its products, and you can tell by the precise, accurate sound and the perfectly formed notes the speakers produce. The custom finish shop allows you to create your own look. www.axiomaudio.com
Wharfedale: This storied British manufacturer is focusing on the North American market, spearheaded with their acclaimed Diamond 10 series. I recently tested the Diamond 10.1 and loved the looks, the warm, very British sound and solid bass impact from a very compact speaker. www.soundimport.com