The Best Powered Budget Speakers – In-depth Comparison

In recent years powered speakers have made great progress in terms of sound and build quality giving even picky audiophiles an extra option in their audio setups. The obvious advantage is they are easy to hook up to almost all devices without the need of an amplifier or receiver in between. Nowadays you don’t have to spend a fortune and can even save a lot money going for a pair of powered speakers instead of buying a pair of passive speakers and a separate amplifier.

After in-depth research we think the best powered budget speakers in todays market are the PreSonus Eris 3.5 because of their neutral sound, slick design and above all, great price. They can be a great addition to any existing setup and be a centerpiece in any room.

Our Top Pick

PreSonus Eris 3.5

For just under 100 dollars these speakers deliver a great neutral and dynamic sound. At same time the sturdy build quality, premium finishing and surplus of connectivity ports make these speakers the one to beat in this low pricerange.

Of course there are things to improve in this speakerset such a limited frequency response and an even tighter bass but that is a given in this price range. Overall we rate the PreSonus Eris 3.5 so highly because they simply offer bang for your buck with audio quality and build quality that can match that of speakers in the 200 dollar range. Other standout features are the proven trackrecord and the additional front input and output.

Runner Up

Fluance Ai40

For just under 200 dollar the Ai40’s by Fluance offer a little bit more compared to the PreSonus ones. The most stand out feature is the addition of bluetooth opening up a whole new way of connecting your speakers. The other

The Ai40’s are a little step up from the PreSonus speakers as they offer a wider frequency response with a deeper bass. This speakerset shines in connectivity as it not only features RCA inputs and 3,5mm output but it also features bluetooth so you can easily set it up with most devices. A solid MDF build provides a decent soundscape that can fill most rooms. We do feel like the bass could be more clear and that at this price range and a line out for the subwoofer would have been nice. If those factors are not an issue for you than the Fluance Ai40 is a decent pick for you.

When should you go for Powered Speakers? 

Powered speakers simply have built-in power amplifiers. This means you don’t need to connect an external amplifier. It also means you don’t have two power two device as you simply only need to plugin the powered speakers into the outlet. This simpler setup and ease of use is often why people choose powered speakers.

This simplicity is the same reason more experienced audiophiles will often go with unpowered (passive) speakers instead. They like to choose every part of their audio setup and might want to extend beyond one audio device as input, an external amplifier/receiver is the best choice in this case.

The reason there need to be an amplifier (external or internal) in any audio setup is because the audio signal in audio devices such as your computer, turntable and tv is  simply be to weak to hear it properly. Just for clarity, “powered speakers” are often also referred to as “active speakers” and without complicating too much this statement is true in most cases. Speakers that are not powered are called “passive speakers”.

If you want to know more on what to look for when buying a powered speakerset or what some use cases are, read the paragraphs at the bottom of this article.

Why you should trust us

Having reviewed dozens of turntables, speakers, receivers and other audio gear, from what started as a fun hobby now has become much more than that. Using actual data, expert opinions, track records and hands on experience we try to be as objective as possible and think of every possible user. Ranging from beginners with a small budget to the Hifi expert that seeks new gear. We hope to guide you through the wonderful world of audio hardware and let you have the best music experience there is.

How we picked and reviewed

Powered speakers range from about 20 dollars to more than 1000 dollars price wise, so it can be hard to choose. And not to mention all the different features, tweeters, ports and materials available it can be a real challenge to narrow down your list. Therefore in this list we will only focus on speakers sets between 50 tot 200 dollars as we feel that in general these speakers can be a great buy for most people.

We feel that going lower than 50 dollar will result in  a level of sound and build quality and in almost all cases will be the bottleneck in any audio setup. Going higher than 200 dollars will definitely improve audio quality and add features but in most cases these improvements are not really adding value to the experience for most people.

We selected and reviewed speaker sets on the following aspects:

  • Design
  • Sound quality
  • Build quality

Design

A great design is important as powered speakers are often in plain sight. Of course you can hide them away in a corner of the room but most speakers will often have a harder time filling that room with sound.Now taste can be very personal but we often feel that a neutral and simple design is the way to go, it can fit most interiors and won’t seem old fashioned after a while.

At the same time we feel that the use of decent materials and a great finishing can lift the design to a premium feel. We tried to take these factors into consideration when picking our favorites, at the same time we feel that the sound quality and build quality have a slightly higher priority.

Sound Quality

The most obvious aspect to look for in a speakerset is the sound quality. We pay attention to the following aspects: balance, sound stage and detail.

A balanced sound means a flat frequency response where the bass and treble are equally as prominent and every audio layer will have the volume that it was intended  to have, making it suitable for every genre. 

Soundstage is important as the speakers really need to fill the room with a “live” sound. It is linked to having good dynamics making the audio breath instead of feeling squashed.

This is also linked to the last aspect of detail. Detail is how precise and clear you can hear each audio layer or instrument. And at the same time hearing smaller bits and details come forward. This is the most difficult in the bass region so a good bass is often a good indication of a great bookshelf speakerset.

Build Quality

In terms of build quality the use of good materials and way of construction are really important aspects. The cabinet has to be a certain thickness to avoid any resonance. The same goes for the amount of pieces the speakers were build upon, more components mean a higher chance of resonance. Therefore the most simple designs will often be the best performing ones.

List some good materials

In terms of design we also found some slight differences. For example, two bookshelf speakers in this list feature a three way design which jas the tweeter, midrange and bass as seperated drivers. This can produce a more detailed sound for each frequency range although in this price range the differences seem neglectable. Also the connecters for each can differ from spring-clip connectors to binding posts, this comes down to personal preference. 

The process

We first narrowed down the list of candidates base on price, launch date, user reviews trackrecord and our own experience. Often consumer will go with the best selling models without knowing that there are newer models on the market that have some nice improvements. We try to tackle this by keeping this list updated.

When reviewing we always try to use the same audio setup and play different styles to get the most equal and broad overview of the sound quality. We listened to some audio streams via Spotify on the high quality setting and tested a few vinyl records on the U-Turn Orbit Special which is our top turntable pick

When comparing price was a big factor since some models are twice the price of others. The benefit of is that there should be something for everyone in this list.

We think these are the Best Powered Speakers on a Budget

Name Buy Option
PreSonus Eris 3.5 PreSonus Eris 3.5

TOP PICK
Fluance AI40 transparent Fluance Ai40

RUNNER UP
Elac Debut B6.2 ELAC Debut 2.0 B6.2

3 TWEETER OPTION
Micca PB42x Micca PB42x

LOW BUDGET PICK
JBL 305P MKII JBL 305p MKII

UPGRADE PICK

PreSonus Eris 3.5

Our top pick

Design & Build Quality

The design is simple, with solid black exteriors. However, instead of wood, the enclosure is made from plastic. This may impact vibrations and sound resonance.

The back panel of the right speaker has RCA unbalanced inputs and balanced inputs. It also has speaker wire connectors for connecting the left speaker. In the upper left corner of the panel is a two-band equalizer with knobs for adjusting bass and treble.

The front panel of the right speaker has the on/off button and volume control. It even has a headphone jack and an audio input jack.

These speakers are also compact. They each measure 5.6 x 6.4 x 8.3 inches, which is useful for those with limited shelf space.

Sound

While the sound may not compare well to higher-priced options, it is still satisfactory for a budget pair of bookshelf speakers. The real value comes from a wide variety of controls and inputs.

The pair of two-way speakers have 3.5-inch woofers and 1-inch silk-dome tweeters with a frequency response of 80 Hz to 20 kHz. Due to the slightly limited frequency response range, the sound is less dynamic and crisp.

The sound is supplied by an onboard amplifier. Each speaker receives up to 25W of power. For a mid-sized room, this may not be a problem. However, when using these speakers in large rooms, you are going to notice the limited soundstage. Increasing the volume to compensate only creates additional distortion.

Our Verdict

Pros

» Multiple inputs and outputs, even audio input and headphone output on the front
» Includes an EQ for adjusting the bass and treble
» Powered speakers with 25W per channel

Cons

» Has a limited frequency response

Fluance Ai40

Runner up

Design & Build Quality

The Fluance Ai40 powered speakers are designed to provide a simple solution for your home audio setup, thanks to the combination of RCA inputs and Bluetooth connectivity. You can instantly connect the speakers to your TV, PC, or any audio device.

The design of the speakers is simple, featuring a matte black exterior on top of MDF cabinets.

The speakers come with speaker wires for connecting the child speaker to the parent speaker along with a power adapter and a 3.5mm headphone jack-to-RCA adapter. The volume knob is located on the front, bottom-right corner of the parent speaker. A front-facing volume knob is more convenient compared to a back-facing knob that you may not be able to easily reach. However, the Fluance Ai40 speakers also come with a remote control.

Inside the cabinets are a set of five-inch drivers and one-inch silk dome tweeters. The speakers also feature a class D amplifier that provides 70 watts of total power.

Sound

The frequency response is 40Hz to 20KHz. Out of the box, the speakers should deliver a neutral, balanced sound. However, the bass sound is a little muddled while the treble lacks clarity. If you play around with the EQ settings using the provided remote, you can emphasize the high or low notes to suit your preferences and achieve more detail. The hard part is keeping track of the settings, as the Fluance Ai40 has a single LED that flashes while you adjust the bass and treble settings.

One potential problem is the lack of a line out for connecting a subwoofer. However, the two speakers still deliver powerful sound with the right EQ tweaks.

Our Verdict

Pros

» Includes Bluetooth connectivity
» Fills a medium-sized room with sound
» Provides EQ settings on the remote

Cons

» They do not include a line out for a subwoofer
» The EQ needs to be adjusted for optimal sound

 

ELAC Debut 2.0 B6.2

A great 3 tweeter option

Design & Build Quality

The sound comes from two speakers, including a 4-inch fiber woofer and a 1-inch soft-dome tweeter. The drivers are housed in a sleek box with straight lines. It does not feature tapered edges or rounded corners. The design does not stand out, but it provides a solid enclosure for the speakers.

The box is made with thick wood boards and has a clean look, with a matte black ash vinyl covering. It also has a front-facing port to reduce vibrations and allow for easier sound placement, including against the back of a wall or shelf.

The backs of the speakers include a standard set of audio ports with gold connectors. The manufacturer recommends using bare speaker wire, but you should be able to use banana plugs if you prefer.

Sound

The ELAC Debut 2.0 B6.2 bookshelf speakers deliver solid bass and decent vocals until you push it to its limits. With a max input of 120 watts and a nominal impedance of 6 Ohms, you can crank these speakers beyond reasonable levels. However, you will likely start to notice distortion before reaching the highest volume.

The speakers have a sensitivity rating of 87 db. Distortion is most noticeable when playing audio from inferior sources. If you use quality equipment and avoid blasting the music, you should be treated to full, transparent sound.

The unit has a maximum power input of 120 watts and a nominal impedance of 6 Ohms, suitable for 4 to 8 Ohm receivers. The frequency response is 44Hz to 35kHz. With a slightly extended range, the speakers deliver crisp high notes and vocals. The bass is also surprisingly detailed.

Our Verdict

Pros

» The sound is clear and balanced
» Offers an extended frequency response
» Includes a front-facing port

Cons

» The design may not appeal to everyone
» The sound becomes distorted at high audio levels

Micca PB42x

Low budget option

The Micca PB42x speakers provide an affordable option for those who want the best budget powered speakers and accurate sound reproduction. These speakers offer clear audio with low distortion across the frequency spectrum.

Design & Build Quality

The compact bookshelf speakers have a basic, no-frills design with rounded corners and matte black finishing on MDF boards. The front cover is secured with magnets instead of snapping on and off, which is a nice touch.

The back of the parent speaker includes the ports for connecting the child speaker, along with RCA inputs, a 3.5mm headphone jack, a volume knob, and an on/off switch. There is no EQ. If you want to boost the bass or tweak the treble, you need to do it from an external source, such as a receiver or an audio device.

Sound

Luckily, the audio is preconfigured for optimal results. The sound is detailed and accurate throughout most of the spectrum. However, you are likely to notice that the bass drops off at the lower end.

The frequency response is 60Hz to 20Khz while most powered speakers offer a lower response. Bass-heavy music is likely to lack some punch.

The drivers include a four-inch woofer with a carbon fiber cone and rubber surround and a 0.75-inch silk dome tweeter. The built-in class D amplifier delivers 15W maximum power to each speaker. In a large room, the sound begins to thin out. Cranking up the volume too high emphasizes the limitations of the speakers, including the limited bass response.

If you set the Micca PB42x bookshelf speakers in a small or medium-sized room, you should get decent clarity and not have to crank up the volume.

Our Verdict

Pros

» Accurate sound at moderate to low volume
» TRS and RCA inputs
» Incredibly lightweight (just four pounds) design

Cons

» Does not include EQ settings
» May not be loud enough for a large room

JBL 305P MkII

A great upgrade pick

JBL is one of the top manufacturers of speakers and the first to produce powered speakers in the 1960s. The company continues to make some of the best budget powered speakers, including the JBL 305P MkII.

Design & Build Quality

The 305P MkII is a set of powered bookshelf speakers with a sleek, modern design. The appearance of the speakers may not appeal to everyone. Instead of a grille, the front is open and features a molded plastic enclosure for the tweeter.

The molded enclosure is part of an updated design called the “waveguide” that helps disperse sound waves created by the tweeter. This helps deliver a cleaner sound and crisper high notes. The controls and inputs are found on the back. The JBL 305P MkII has XLR and 1/4-inch TRS inputs. The back panel also has a variety of controls for tweaking the sound. Along with the volume knob, the speakers have an input-sensitivity switch, a three-position HF trim switch, and a new boundary EQ.

The boundary EQ is designed to improve the low-frequency response when placing the speakers against a wall. If the bass sounds undecipherable due to resonance, you can simply adjust the boundary EQ settings.

Sound

The sound is provided by a set of five-inch drivers and one-inch tweeters. The JBL 305P MkII bookshelf speakers deliver surprisingly loud, clear audio for this price range. From the lowest bass sounds to the highest treble, the audio remains clear and balanced. The bass produces a low rumble while the treble and mid-range notes are bright.

With 82-total watts of power and a switch for boosting the wattage up to 127, the JBL 305P MkII speakers can easily fill a medium-sized room with sound.

Our Verdict

Pros

» Comes with an XLR input
» Includes HF trim settings
» Produces clear, full sound across the frequency range

Cons

» The unique design may not appeal to everyone
» They do not include RCA inputs

What you should know about powered speakers

What Are Powered Speakers?

Powered speakers have built-in power amplifiers. Unlike unpowered speakers, you do not need to connect an external amplifier. Every speaker requires some type of amplification to amplify the audio signal. The audio sources, including receivers, sound mixers, instruments, and TV equipment, use low voltage signals that would sound incredibly quiet without amplification.

One of the most common home audio setups includes an amplifier/receiver that features inputs for connecting multiple sources and outputs for connecting passive (unpowered) speakers. Powered speakers eliminate the need for the amplifier/receiver.

You can connect powered speakers directly to the audio source, such as a mixer, a CD player, or your TV. Some powered speakers even have Bluetooth connectivity. It should be noted that not all powered speakers are “active speakers”. An active speaker features an active crossover circuit placed between the pre-amp and power amp. This allows for greater precision and cleaner sound.

While most powered speakers feature an active crossover circuit, some options include a passive circuit. All unpowered speakers are also passive, as the active crossover circuit requires a built-in power amp. A passive crossover circuit splits the sound after it passes through the power amp, which is typically used for two-way or three-way speakers.

What to Look for in a Pair of Powered Speakers

Make sure that the speakers can connect to your devices. Most powered speakers have balanced and unbalanced line connections with TRS or XLR jacks. They also typically include RCA inputs, which are the red and white connections found on most video equipment such as your TV or Blu Ray player.

TSR jacks are the standard audio jacks found on most consumer audio devices such as CD players, smartphones, and tablets. XLR connectors are primarily used for professional audio equipment and feature three pins.

The next consideration is the maximum output of the built-in amplifier. Computer speakers often have 10W of total power. However, to fill a small to medium-sized room with sound, you may need closer to 70W or more.

Quality construction is also important as design features such as tapered edges and extra support for the drivers can help minimize vibrations. Thick, durable speaker cases also help dampen unwanted noise and deliver a fuller sound.

Along with these details, pay attention to the overall sound reproduction of the speakers. If you listen to heavy music, you may prefer speakers that can deliver powerful bass. For those that mostly use their speakers for watching movies and TV, look for speakers with a balanced sound profile and clear vocals.

What Are the usecases for Powered Speakers?

As powered speakers already have an amplifier, they provide a streamlined audio setup. This makes them useful for a variety of scenarios. Powered speakers, which are also called powered monitors, are commonly used in professional settings, such as live performances and studio recording. Professionals prefer using powered speakers due to their ease of setup and operation. You only need to connect the speakers to a power source and an audio source, such as the sound mixer or an audio switch.

Eliminating the need for an amplifier also makes powered speakers popular for home use. Many portable Bluetooth speakers and compact computer speakers are technically powered speakers. They often include small amplifiers to power two five-watt speakers.

You can also find powered speakers intended for home theater setups, including powered bookshelf speakers. Many of these options include the latest features, including digital inputs and Bluetooth connectivity.

A pair of powered bookshelf or floor speakers provides an efficient solution for a home theater system. Some speaker sets even include a line out for connecting a powered subwoofer. With this setup, you simply need to connect your TV or audio switch to the input on the speaker along with plugging the speaker into an electrical outlet.

Looking for something else?

If you are looking for a turntable with a specific feature or within a certain budget you can take look at one of guides below.

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