Q: I'm helping a buddy who is looking for new speakers. He has a built-in entertainment center and, per his wife, the speakers need to fit into the existing cabinets (not more than about 2 feet high) and sound good in an enclosed space. He is looking to spend $500 on the pair but probably would go a little higher if needed. What do you suggest?
A: You said, "a little higher if needed." If you can get him to part with another $99, I have a recommendation that looks especially promising. I've been singing the praises of the Polk Audio Legend series for over a year, specifically the Legend L100 bookshelf speaker. At $999, the Legend L100 is twice his budget, but his timing is good, because now he can get much of the experience for a lot closer to $500 than $1,000.
The recently introduced Polk Audio Reserve Series (polkaudio.com) takes the same drivers and design concepts of the Legend speakers and brings them down to a more attainable price point. The speakers look almost exactly like the Legends, and the specifications are similar, which is to be expected, because they use the same woofers and tweeters.
I'll confess that I haven't heard the $599 Reserve R100, but it is analogous to the Legend L100, and if the performance is anywhere in the same ballpark, it will be very hard to beat.
Going back to the "a little higher if needed," it is not necessary to spend $500 or more to get great-sounding bookshelf speakers. The Q Acoustics 3020i (qacoustics.com) has won multiple awards. At $315, they are about half the price of the Reserve R100, a very meaningful difference. Because of parts shortages tied to the worldwide pandemic, they are sold out at present, but they likely will be available again soon. They are a perfect choice for situations where space is at a premium.
For even less, Cambridge Audio (cambridgeaudio.com) has a real sleeper of a small speaker that has somehow been flying under the radar of everyone but their satisfied owners. The $199 Cambridge Audio SX-50 bookshelf speakers are very plain-looking black boxes with very good sound.
They were sent to me by accident — or so the company claimed, although after hearing them, I wondered if there was some trickery afoot. Naturally curious, I said I would like to give them a listen before I returned them. I was surprised by the amount of bass that came out of the tiny boxes, and by how smooth, detailed and natural they sounded. A subwoofer would be needed in a bigger room, but if you're not trying to shake the walls, you'll be fine. They lose a bit of refinement at high volumes, but for $199, I'm not complaining.
The small size and low price of the SX-50 open up some neat system-building opportunities, especially when paired with some of the tiny digital amps you can buy for under $50. I will be highlighting some of these system-building ideas soon.
Send questions to Don Lindich at firstname.lastname@example.org. Get recommendations and read past columns at soundadvicenews.com.