Best powered speakers for 2023
How to choose the right pair of amplified speakers for desktop use, stereo listening, or improved TV sound
In this article: I’ll provide shopping tips to help you find the best powered stereo speakers for your home or office listening area. And I’ll recommend six of the best powered stereo speaker models I’ve tried...
- Best desktop computer speakers — Audioengine HD3
- Best value — Kanto YU6
- Best powered speakers for TV — PSB Alpha iQ
- Best bass — KEF LS50 Wireless II
- Best powered speakers for audiophiles — Sony Signature Series SA-Z1
- Best powered speakers for turntable users — Q Acoustics Q Active 200 System
... with a budget-friendly alternative to each pick.
I love powered stereo speakers. They're basically bookshelf speakers with one or more amplifiers built in (also known as active speakers). They don't need to run through a receiver or integrated amp, which is nice in a smaller space.
I've used a pair of Klipsch powered speakers at home for a while now. They give me everything I need to play music from my chosen sources — wired connections for my TV, gaming system, and turntable, plus Bluetooth for music streaming. And they sound excellent, which is really the most important thing!
The Klipsch speakers suit my situation best, but there are plenty of other models that fulfill different needs. This guide will give you an idea of what to look for when shopping for the best active speakers for your home. Then I'll make some recommendations based on my hands-on (or is it ears-on?) experience with various models.
You can plug your computer or another music source directly into a set of powered speakers. It's a simple, space-saving alternative to a traditional home audio component system.
How to choose the best powered speakers
Knowing which features you want will help narrow down your choices. Ask yourself the following questions as you browse.
What sources will you be using?
Most powered speakers feature Bluetooth, and many also offer built-in Wi-Fi for music streaming. Beyond that, the most important thing to confirm is that there are enough inputs for the wired connections you want to make. Consider the following situations you may encounter:
- optical digital inputs are useful for connecting digital components like a CD player, or the optical output of your TV
- If you want to directly connect a turntable, look for powered speakers with a phono input and built-in phono preamp
- A USB or Ethernet connection is great for playing high-resolution music files stored on your computer or network
- A stereo RCA input lets you connect the analog output from a CD player, streamer, or similar device
- Some audiophile components offer balanced XLR inputs, and some of these speakers do, too
- To keep things quiet for privacy or to avoid disturbing others, look for a pair with a headphone output
- Voice control is available, with Amazon Alexa built-in or optional, or Google Assistant built-in or optional
- Speakers with HDMI inputs are very popular for improving sound for movies, TV shows, and gaming
- If you want to add more bass to your system, you'll need speakers with a dedicated subwoofer output
Some systems offer the option to make a wireless subwoofer connection.
How loud do you want them to play?
A pair of smaller speakers may be plenty for your desktop system, but you’ll want something a little larger if you’re using them to enhance TV sound or listening to music in a larger room. A larger woofer diameter can play louder and lower, and more wattage from the built-in amplification gives you more power and clarity to fill out the soundstage in larger spaces.
KEF LS50 Wireless II speakers (background) offer impressive power and bass response, but the smaller KEF LSX speakers (foreground) may suit a smaller space better.
What about sound quality?
All of these speakers sound good, but how and where you intend to use them makes a difference. The largest, most powerful pair may not automatically be best for every situation.
Speakers with single woofers in the 4" to 6" range are what I'd call the average size. The Klipsch speakers I mentioned earlier are a good example. Speakers in this size range are good for general use in just about any room. They have enough power to fill a larger space.
Some manufacturers go all out to create an audiophile-grade experience. I've tested speakers like the KEF LS50 Wireless II and ELAC Navis ARB-51, and enjoyed them as much as any traditional high-end stereo system. Some models have multiple amplifiers built in, advanced digital signal processing to help EQ the speakers to suit your room, and even a dedicated midrange driver to create a more full, accurate sound.
Smaller desktop speakers — like the compact Kanto YU2 — are designed to flank your computer monitor and provide a near-field listening experience that won't translate well if you try to crank them up in your living room. They're really designed for up-close listening.
Compact YU2 speakers create an immersive near-field listening experience that's ideal for desktop use.
What else will I need?
Speaker stands are important for getting the speakers at ear level for a proper soundstage, but they offer other advantages, too. A good set of stands can minimize vibrations that might cause your desk to rattle unpleasantly, or interfere with the smooth operation of your turntable.
Our top picks
I've had the good fortune to hear or use all of the powered stereo speakers we carry at Crutchfield, so I can make some informed recommendations for which speakers work best in specific situations.
Best desktop computer speakers — Audioengine HD3
Audioengine HD3 monitors are compact all-stars. The left speaker offers micro USB, 3.5mm minijack, and stereo RCA inputs. That's plenty for the types of devices we tend to use when seated at a computer — they definitely work best when you sit close and angle them toward your ears to create an immersive near-field listening experience. And the built-in aptX HD Bluetooth makes for high-quality music streaming from compatible devices.
When I borrowed a pair to use at home, they were versatile enough to satisfy two very different computer users. I enjoyed listening to music out loud while working and paying bills. When I let my son use the computer for PC gaming, I had the option of declaring quiet time and asking him to plug a set of headphones into the front of the left speaker. Kind of a lifesaver.
Mackie CR3-XBT speakers are compact and versatile, with built-in Bluetooth. And they offer a 1/4" TRS input, so aspiring musicians and producers can use them as desktop studio monitors, too.
What our customers say about the Audioengine HD3 speakers
Best value — Kanto YU6
Kanto YU6 monitors are really my do-it-all all-stars. They feature a solid 5-1/4" woofer and 1" silk dome tweeter that reveal a warm, inviting sound. The bass is pretty surprising for speakers that don't take up a ton of room, thanks to a rear-firing port on each speaker. I own a pair and have used them at home for years.
These speakers offer all the connections I need on the the left (powered) speaker:
- dual optical digital inputs let me connect to my TV, and another digital component like a CD player
- I'm a turntable owner, so I flip the switch on the RCA inputs to "phono" — they also accept line input
- a 3.5mm aux input lets you make a wired connection to your phone or tablet
- a mono RCA output lets you connect to a powered subwoofer for even more bass
And the built-in aptX HD Bluetooth makes for high-quality music streaming from compatible devices.
I'd recommend these to anyone who's trying to make the best out of a small space — like a bedroom or home office — where you want good sound quality without a bulky setup.
Audioengine A2+ Wireless speakers lack the optical input offered by our main pick in this category, but they're still a big-time customer favorite for music listening. The Aramid fiber woofer and silk dome tweeter offer a slightly warmer tone that some listeners prefer.
What our customers say about Kanto YU6 speakers
Best powered speakers for TV — PSB Alpha iQ
These speakers came to us at the very end of 2022, and made an immediate impression. The PSB Alpha iQ system is relatively compact. Each speaker has a 4" woofer and 3/4" tweeter that don't take up a ton of space. But the built-in DSP allows for powerful low-frequency extension from these space-saving speakers.
The built-in HDMI eARC port is perfect for connecting a TV or gaming console, and they'll fit in as your main living room speakers, or as supplementary speakers in a bedroom or home office. And they're more than adequate for music listening, with Ethernet, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, and flexible BluOS capability on board. And there's a dedicated phono input for turntable fans.
The pair offers flexible placement options, thanks to a wireless stereo connection between the primary and secondary speakers. All you need is AC power for each speaker.
DALI Oberon On-Wall C speakers feature a very TV-friendly HDMI ARC port. They require a hub — much like the Mission CONNECT — but I love that they're designed for low-profile wall mounting, which opens up a lot of options for incorporating them into your home decor.
What our writer says about the PSB Alpha iQ
Best bass — KEF LS50 Wireless II
A lot of clever design and technology go into each pair of these KEF LS50 Wireless II speakers. Most powered stereo speakers put one amplifier in the left speaker and run speaker wire to the passive speaker on the right. The LS50 wireless has two custom-designed amplifiers in each speaker — delivering 280 watts to each woofer, and 100 watts to each tweeter — so each driver gets exactly as much power as it needs.
Now about that bass. The innovative Uni-Q driver configuration, the shape of the cabinet, and the built-in digital signal processing work together to create truly impressive low-end sound that goes down to 45 Hz without a subwoofer. I've heard a pair of the original LS50s fill our cavernous old training room at Crutchfield HQ, and I've heard the original and version II at home in my two-bedroom apartment. Let's just say they both announce their presence with authority, in big rooms or small ones.
I'm sort of cheating with this pick. Each individual, spherical Syng Cell Alpha goes beyond stereo sound into triphonic sound, thanks to three horn-loaded midrange drivers with concentrically mounted horn-loaded tweeters. But the similarly unconventional dual 6-1/2" force-canceling subwoofers absolutely deliver room-filling bass that few other powered speakers can match.
What our customers say about the KEF LS50 Wireless II speakers
Best powered speakers for audiophiles — Sony Signature Series SA-Z1
There are so many options for this category, but the Sony Signature Series SA-Z1 is so clearly the cream of the crop. Their unique driver layout and custom digital processing deliver top-notch sonic realism with a wide soundstage.
They obviously look like nothing else in our warehouse, and they've got it where it counts when it comes to sound quality. Each speaker has two 4" woofers placed back-to-back in a layout inspired by the Japanese Tsuzumi drum, with each woofer powered by a 35-watt amplifier. And each speaker combines a primary 3/4" soft dome tweeter with two smaller "assist" tweeters for expanded off-axis response and increased acoustic realism.
Audiophiles will definitely appreciate the plethora of connections, which include balanced XLR input, a proprietary port for high-res Sony Walkman® or Xperia devices, and a USB Type-B port that's connected to a 32-bit/768kHz DAC that adds richness, warmth, and depth to high-resolution digital files.
The upshot: they sound amazing.
Proper amplification is a key element any time you're trying to get great sound out of a pair of speakers. JBL 4305P Studio Monitors are bi-amped, meaning each woofer and tweeter has its own dedicated amplifier for greater headroom and lower distortion. They also sport a truly impressive array of inputs, including a pair of combo XLR/TRS inputs for a high-quality analog connection.
What our customers say about the Sony Signature Series SA-Z1 speakers
Best powered speakers for turntable users — Q Acoustics Q Active 200 System
This was one of the harder choices for me to make. There are plenty of powered speakers with built-in phono preamps, and they all sound pretty darn good. But the Q Acoustics Q Active 200 system gets my vote for sound quality plus versatility. The moving magnet phono input is on a separate hub, which most powered speakers don't have, but the hub connects wirelessly to the DSP-enabled speakers, which gives you expanded placement options to suit your unique listening space. That ability to effectively customize their output for your listening needs gives them the edge.
I love the signature combo of a rigid aluminum woofer with the highly responsive air motion transformer (AMT) tweeter on the Kanto TUK speakers. AMT "tweeters" are prized for their fidelity and ability to produce a wide soundstage, and that's something I really want when I'm listening to vinyl. When I hooked them up at home, they even revealed a fair amount of subtle detail in favorite recordings I'd listened to numerous times before.
What our expert says about the Q Acoustics Q Active System
A good pair of powered stereo speakers can let you connect all of your music sources, and save tons of space.
Need help choosing?
If you've narrowed down your options, but need a little help deciding between two strong contenders, we're here to help. Contact us, and we'll make sure you end up with everything you need.
Popular questions customers ask
Traditional "passive" stereo speakers need to be connected to an external amplifier with speaker wire. Powered, or "active," speakers have built-in amplifiers so you can plug or stream your sources directly into the speakers. Some powered speakers even have built-in Wi-Fi and/or Bluetooth, so all you need to play music is your phone, tablet, or computer.
No. Since the amplifier and preamplifier are built into powered speakers, you won’t need an external amplifier or receiver. That’s one of the most common reasons people buy powered speakers.
Depending on what type of inputs your powered speakers have, you can use pretty much any source — TV, turntable, CD player, tape deck, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and more. Some of the different wired inputs commonly found on powered speakers include RCA, XLR, 3.5mm aux, optical and coaxial digital, HDMI, and USB.
It depends. Powered speakers' internal amplifiers are built to match their power needs. Passive speakers require an external amp, but that also means you can upgrade your amplifier to get even better sound. If you’re working with limited space, and/or want to reduce clutter, powered speakers might be a better choice.
Some powered stereo speaker pairs connect to each other wirelessly, but each still needs to be plugged into an AC power outlet. Other powered speaker pairs share one internal amplifier that is built into the primary (active) speaker, which connects to the secondary (passive) speaker with speaker wire. The only completely wireless powered speakers use batteries, so even they will eventually need to be plugged in to recharge.