Upgrade Your Speakers

The Best Active Speakers of 2019 (And Which Pair You Should Buy)


August 9, 2019 Tech By Photo by Hunter D. Kelley

Active speakers combine all of the traditional components of a stereo system into a pair of speakers. The amplifier is built inside the speaker and it’s optimized to provide the best possible sound quality for that specific speaker. Most active speakers have a sufficient number of inputs for all of your playback devices and, in most scenarios, a pair of powered or active speakers require only a power source and a minimal number (if any) of cable connections.

The two biggest advantages of modern active speakers are 1) sound quality and 2) ease of use. An active speaker pair is able to deliver stereo sound in a way that popular Wi-Fi speakers, such as a single Sonos Play:5, simply cannot. The speaker-and-amp combo means that active loudspeakers have less moving parts; there’s no need for a separate receiver or an external amplifier, like you would need with passive bookshelf speaker system. And since most active speakers support both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth streaming, you can easily stream music using the service (Spotify, Tidal, Qobuz and Apple Music) you already use. Simply open your preferred music app, select the music and the source (your loudspeakers), and then press play.

Essentially, active speakers generally sound superior to traditional Wi-Fi speakers, and they’re just as simple and easy to control (there are a few active speakers, however, that don’t support wireless streaming). And with a multitude of inputs and connectivity options, they’ve way more versatile. In addition to streaming from your smartphone or laptop, it’s easy to connect most modern active speakers to your television or to your turntable, too.

Active loudspeakers won’t be perfect for everybody. They’re powered speakers, meaning they do require a power source, and aren’t portable. They’re notoriously powerful, so maybe not great for small rooms; and they’re more expensive thanks to there being more components inside each speaker. Active or powered loudspeakers also lock you into a “sound” that was selected by the designer based on all of the internal components (amplifier, DAC); unlike a passive loudspeaker system whose sonic flavor can be altered by changing the other components.

Vanatoo Transparent Zero

Best Budget: Vanatoo has flown under the radar for a number of years with its Transparent One Encore active speakers; which are one of the best sounding active loudspeakers below-$1,000, but if you’re operating on a limited budget youo need to pay close attention to their Transparent Zero desktop speakers which offer a lot more sound quality than you would expect for the price. The Transparent Zero support Bluetooth aptX, include USB, optical, and analog inputs, and 4 x 48-watt per channel class D digital amplifier. The 4-inch aluminum woofer, 4-inch passive radiator, and 1-inch soft dome tweeter offer a full-range presentation with surprisingly deep bass response considering the size of the cabinet. The angled-baffle makes them work well on desktops and bookshelves and that should appeal to students or people who work remotely.

Key Specs

Drivers: 4-inch aluminum cone woofer, 4-inch long-throw passive radiator, 1-inch soft dome tweeter
Frequency Range: 56Hz – 20kHz
Power: 48-watts per channel
Resolution: up to 24-bit/96kHz
Connectivity: Bluetooth (aptX)
Inputs: USB, Toslink Optical, and analog inputs
Weight: 4.5 pounds (master) and 4.0 pounds (slave)

Kanto Audio TUK

Best Under $1,000: Kanto is well known for its affordable active loudspeakers, and the TUK might just be its best. It has ribbon tweeters, which many higher-priced speakers have utilized for years, allowing them to deliver a superior level of detail and airiness. Each speaker has an AMT tweeter and a 5.25-inch aluminum midrange woofer, so in addition to playing rich, detailed audio – they also get loud; the TUK are particularly adept with electronic music, pop, and hip-hop. Kanto has wisely chosen to integrate a MM phono stage, USB DAC, headphone amplifier, and support for Bluetooth aptX HD making the TUK one of the most complete active loudspeaker packages available at any price. Pro tip: the optional stands should be considered mandatory. The TUK will appeal to anyone looking for a complete home or desktop system that comes with everything you need in the box to begin enjoying right away.

Key Specs

Drivers: 5.25-inch aluminum concave cone (woofer), 28 x 35 mm air motion transformer (tweeter)
Frequency Range: 50 Hz – 20 kHz
Power: 130-watts per channel
Resolution: up to 24-bit/96kHz
Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.2 (aptX) with Qualcomm aptXTM HD and AAC codec
Inputs: USB, Optical (TOSLINK), RCA, RCA with Dedicated Phone Pre-amp
Weight: 11.1 pounds (master) and 9.9 pounds (slave)

KEF LSX

Most Versatile: KEF introduced the LSX as a more affordable alternative to the award-winning LS50 Wireless, and for many music listeners, the smaller design may be a smarter buy. The LSX feature KEF’s signature Uni-Q driver array with a 4.5-inch midrange driver, and .75-inch aluminum dome tweeter which is powered by a 100-watt power amplifier inside each loudspeaker. What sets the KEF apart from almost all of its rivals is support for Roon, Tidal, Apple AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, and one of the most intuitive control apps for iOS and Android devices. The LSX can be set-up as a completely wireless system – meaning the two speakers don’t need to be wired together, like the LS50 Wireless, giving you more freedom to place them wherever you want around your room – but they can achieve higher resolution audio (up to 24-bit/192kHz) when tethered together. One aspect of the LSX that is somewhat glaring is the omission of an internal phono pre-amplifier, so be prepared to add your own if you want to listen to vinyl.

Key Specs

Drivers: 4-inch Uni-Q driver
Frequency Range: 49Hz – 47kHz
Power: 100-watts per channel
Resolution: up to 24-bit/192kHz (wired); up to 48kHz/24-bit (wireless)
Connectivity: wi-fi, Bluetooth
Inputs: 3.5mm jack, Toslink Optical, ethernet
Weight: 7.7 pounds (slave) and 7.9 pounds (master)

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Acoustic Energy AE1 Active

The Analog Solution: The AE1 are the one active speaker pair on this list that don’t support Wi-Fi and Bluetooth sources – you can’t stream music to them – but they have a huge sonic edge. They feature a full-range two-way design, with a rather robust 50-watt class A/B power amplifier in each loudspeaker. The AE1’s 5-inch woofer, and 1-inch metal dome tweeter have a directness about them that makes them sound far more authoritative than comparably priced systems. The AE1 offer transparency, detail, and impressive soundstage depth in a package that does not take up a lot of space. While you can connect sources to the AE1 directly and use its awkwardly-placed rear volume control, the better route is to connect the loudspeakers to an inexpensive pre-amplifier like the Schiit Audio Freya which will provide greater flexibility and more inputs. The AE1 may not offer the wireless flexibility of its rivals – but it beats almost all of them if sound quality is your biggest priority and don’t mind having to connect them to your playback sources.

Key Specs

Drivers: 125mm ceramic aluminium sandwich cone (driver), 25mm aluminium dome (tweeter)
Frequency Range: 40Hz – 25kHz
Power: 100-watts per channel
Resolution: 42Hz – 28kHz
Connectivity: None
Inputs: RCA or balanced XLR connections
Weight: 35 pounds total

Dali Callisto 2C

Go Big: With the Callisto 2C, Dali enters the active arena with a three-piece system (2 loudspeakers and Sound Hub) designed for stands or placed on a sturdy media credenza. Powered by a 250-watt class D power amplifier, the Callisto 2C’s 6.5-inch woofer, and unique tweeter array which consists of a 1-inch soft dome tweeter, and hybrid ribbon module can fill a large listening space with ease. The system produces an enormous soundstage with one of the smoothest sounding tweeters you’ll likely to hear. The Sound Hub – which is upgradeable, making this system somewhat format-proof for the foreseeable future– accepts digital and analog sources and transmits to the loudspeakers supporting up to 24-bit/96kHz playback. The system is also MQA-certified if you enjoy streaming from Tidal in that format. If you are looking for a full-range wireless active loudspeaker that can work with both music and movies, and you have a relatively large space to fill, the Callisto 2C might just be what you’re looking for.

Key Specs

Drivers: 6.5-inch low-loss wood fibre woofer, hybrid tweeter
Frequency Range: 47Hz – 30kHz
Power: 250-watts (total)
Resolution: up to 24-bit/96kHz
Connectivity: Bluetooth (AAC/AptX HD) or Wi-Fi
Inputs: RCA
Weight: 10.1 per speaker

The Best Bookshelf Speakers for Every Budget

These are the best bookshelf speakers in several different price ranges: under $300, under $500 and under $1,000. Read the Story

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