Q: I am helping my son put together a stereo system that will have speakers placed on shelves that are somewhat high on a wall. He has a budget of up to $750 and wants a Bluetooth-capable amp with wired speakers. What do you recommend in this price range?
A: The speakers are the key to great sound, and that leads to my favorite sub-$500 bookshelf speaker, the 3020i from British manufacturer Q Acoustics. The 3020i has racked up an impressive collection of awards, including a speaker shootout win in Wirecutter, where it defeated two dozen other speakers.
One of the keys to its great sound is the tweeter, which combines a concentric ring radiator tweeter with a conventional dome tweeter. Ring radiator tweeters are typically found only in expensive speaker designs. The 3020i speakers also are quite compact, much more than one would expect given the overall sonic output, and the small footprint is perfect for shelf mounting.
The 3020i bookshelf speakers list for $314.99. For the next few days, you can save 15% with the code SA15, bringing the price down to only $267.74. The code works only until Tuesday and only on qacoustics.com. Shipping is free.
If you're looking to upgrade slightly, you can pair the speakers with the Yamaha R-S202B stereo receiver. It lists for $179, but you often are able to find it for $149, which would bring the total to just a tad over $400. Yamaha lists the power as "140 watts/channel at 10% distortion," but I don't take that at face value because 10% distortion is completely unlistenable. Although the true amount of power the receiver produces is a mystery and certainly is less than 140 watts per channel, the Yamaha will do the job for those on a tight budget. (usa.yamaha.com)
The next step up would be the Cambridge Audio AXR85 stereo receiver, which is $399, leading to a total of $667. If the Yamaha is akin to a Toyota Corolla or Honda Civic that provides basic transportation, the AXR85 is more like a BMW or Mercedes that combines performance, style and luxury. The AXR85 is rated at 85 watts per channel, sounds great, feels solid, is beautifully finished and has a wonderful tactile feel. The AXR85 and the 3020i make an excellent combination. (cambridgeaudio.com)
Lastly, you should check out the $499 SVS Prime Soundbase. When combined with the speakers, you'll be within $20 of your son's $750 budget. It produces a potent 150 watts per channel and has advanced digital capabilities, all combined in a compact component with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity. It works with the DTS Play-Fi app to connect with your favorite music and streaming sources. (svsound.com)
My industry contacts report that there have been parts shortages related to disruptions in the supply chain, an ongoing effect of the pandemic. If there are electronics on your holiday gift list, I recommend doing your shopping early. And if you see something you really want in stock, get it now. It might not be available later.
Send questions to Don Lindich at firstname.lastname@example.org. Get recommendations and read past columns at soundadvicenews.com.