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Audioholics’ Top Eight $800 Bookshelf Speaker Picks for 2021

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Bookshelf Speaker $800 Roundup

Bookshelf Speaker $800 Roundup

Summary

  • Product Name: Demand D9, Emit M10, Uni-Fi BS U5 Slim, Verus III Grand V5B, Sierra-1, Motion 15i, Premier 100B, CG25
  • Manufacturer: Definitive Technology, Dynaudio, Elac, Aperion Audio, Ascend Acoustic, MartinLogan, Paradigm, RSL Sound
  • Review Date: September 22, 2021 00:20
  • MSRP: $749/pair - Demand D9, $639.20/pair - Emit M10, $797/pair - Uni-Fi BS U5 Slim, $799/pair - Verus III Grand V5B, $848/pair - Sierra-1, $425/each - Motion 15i, $399/each - Premier 100B, $425/each - CG25
  • First Impression: Gotta Have It!
  • *For your convenience, we've included a link to Amazon.com to buy this product. As an Amazon Associate, Audioholics.com benefits from qualifying purchases.

Executive Overview

Scaling up the pricing ladder for our series of round-ups on bookshelf speakers, we now hit the $800/pair ranks. Compared to lower-priced bookshelf speakers, the build quality, spec set, or appearance can get kicked up a notch. You can get more speaker for your money but not always. For this round-up, we picked the bookshelf speakers where there is a clear step up from lower-priced speakers in the $600-700 range, although perhaps not a huge step up. We feel that these would be a worthwhile upgrade for those who can spend a little extra without breaking the bank. There is no doubt that these have a premium look over lower price brackets, but we think these particular selections have a performance gain as well. So now, without further ado, let’s go over our top picks for bookshelf speakers in the $800/pair price range, in no particular order...

Definitive Technology Demand D9

Demand D9 Product Page | Demand D9 Amazon Page

Deftech D9.jpgDefinitive Technology’s Demand series left a very good impression on us in our review of their Demand D15 tower speaker. Given the performance targets that we saw there, we think that the D9 would make a superb choice for bookshelf speakers in the $800/pr price range. The Demand D9 used the same 5.25” midrange driver with the unusual phase plug that was surprisingly effective in the D15 speakers, but instead of bass drivers, the Demand D9 uses a hidden top-mounted passive radiator to deal with low-frequencies. With a -3dB point of 64Hz, it could benefit from a sub, but the good news is that it isn’t trying to push the midrange driver too hard. That would entail a substantial sacrifice in sensitivity for a negligible level of low-frequency extension, so not pushing the driver to attempt deep bass looks to be a good idea. It has an exquisite smooth aluminum front baffle and gloss black or gloss white side panels, so it is a gorgeous bookshelf speaker, especially for the pricing. It isn’t a huge loudspeaker, so it isn’t likely to be the most powerful speaker that can be had for this price range, but as far as accuracy, build quality, as well as looks, it may be among the best in its class. If you have an upscale, modernist interior, it will be hard to find a better aesthetic fit for your home than the D9 for anything in its price class. 

Dynaudio Emit M10

Emit M10 Product Page | Emit M10 Amazon Page

dynaudio m10.jpgDanish loudspeaker manufacturer Dynaudio makes a wide range of speakers that range up to their $45,000 Confidence 60 tower speakers, but the most accessible entry into their loudspeaker range is the Emit M10 bookshelf speaker. The Emit M10 uses a 5.5” magnesium silicate polymer woofer along with a 1.1” fabric dome tweeter with a special coating, and the low-end is produced by a double-flared rear-mounted port. An interesting aspect of the M10 is the crossover circuit, which uses a first-order filter on the tweeter set at 3.7kHz; first-order filters do not filter out much, but the abnormally high crossover frequency helps to alleviate that. Nonetheless, a beefy tweeter is required to pull this off, but Dynaudio is famous for their robust driver designs, so the M10 tweeter is very likely up to the challenge. The advantage of a circuit like this is that the acoustic phase rotation will be relatively mild compared to most two-way bookshelf speakers which use second or third-order filters, so those who look for phase linearity will like what these speakers are doing. Aside from the unusual crossover design, the Emit M10 benefits from Dynaudio’s slick industrial design, so these are handsome and not large speakers that could easily find a place in a home even with a high spousal approval factor. The Emit M10 is sure to be another solid design from Dynaudio and deserves close consideration at this price point.

Elac Uni-Fi BS U5 Slim

Uni-Fi BS U5 Slim Product Page | Uni-Fi BS U5 Slim Amazon Page

Elac UniFi Slim U5.jpgElac’s Uni-Fi Slim BS U5 is unique in our round-up in that it is the only three-way speaker. It uses a coaxial design for the tweeter and midrange, but that is not too surprising coming from a speaker from renowned loudspeaker designer Andrew Jones who has often turned to coaxial drivers in his designs. The midrange takes over from 270Hz to 2,700Hz, and this allows the Uni-Fi U5 Slim to have an actual bass driver focus on the low frequencies instead of having a midrange driver reproduce bass along with the rest of its range. This benefits the speaker by having an extraordinarily low extension for a bookshelf speaker with solid bass extension down to the low 40’s. Nesting the tweeter inside of the midrange allows the tweeter to use it as a waveguide which further assists in directivity matching between the drivers’ dispersion thereby creating a more uniform off-axis sound. It also enlarges the dispersion on the vertical axis, so these speakers do not have to be aimed directly at the listener to provide a good sound; many two-way non-coaxial speakers require the listener to be within a 10-degree vertical angle to avoid crossover nulls. This makes it an excellent candidate for situations where perfect speaker positioning is not possible. Andrew Jones and Elac have created a very compelling option with the Uni-Fi Slim U5, and it is worth taking a hard look at for those shopping for bookshelf speakers around its price point. This speaker has a particular advantage if seating placement is within the nearfield due to the coaxial design.

Aperion Audio Verus III Grand V5B

Verus III Grand V5B Product Page | Verus III Grand V5B Amazon Page

Aperion Verus III V5B.jpgStalwart loudspeaker manufacturer Aperion Audio has been around for over two decades now which is an enormous span of time for an internet direct seller. This kind of longevity stems from good reviews and good word of mouth due to exceptional products. Aperion’s entry at the $800/pair price range, the Verus III Grand V5B, looks to be another well-engineered bookshelf speaker from them which further solidifies their reputation. This luxurious-looking speaker boasts a high-gloss cherry wood or piano black finish in a curved enclosure with a slight arching at the top as well as magnetically attached grilles. That kind of cabinetry is rare at this pricing and nearly impossible to get from any other manufacturer until much higher price points are reached. The Verus III Grand V5B uses a kevlar midrange cone with an aluminum phase plug along with a silk dome tweeter. It is a rear-ported speaker with bi-ampable/bi-wirable capability, and one unusual feature it has is a jumper that can reduce treble frequencies by 3dB, so if you find the default flat response a bit bright, it is easily tapered. The Verus III Grand V5B also has a remarkable low-frequency extension, digging down to 45Hz within a +/-3dB window. That should make these bookshelf speakers have decent bass without needing to add a subwoofer which makes them all the better of a choice for simpler two-channel systems. Altogether, the Verus III Grand V5B looks to be a terrific choice for its asking price.

Ascend Acoustic Sierra-1

Sierra-1 Product Page

Ascend Sierra 1.jpgAscend Acoustics has been around for almost as long as Aperion Audio and has built a similarly solid reputation as a high-value, high-fidelity internet-direct loudspeaker manufacturer. One of their most successful loudspeakers is the Sierra-1 which has been around for many years now yet still is available in much the same form as it was when it was initially launched. The reason for its longevity is that it is difficult to improve upon something which was so well executed to begin with. We found this out for ourselves having reviewed the Sierra-1 way back in 2007 and found it to be a superb loudspeaker in our subjective listening and objective testing. Among the many features of the Sierra-1 is the use of bamboo as a cabinet material instead of the usual MDF. Another unusual attribute is that they are assembled in the USA instead of China which is a very difficult aspect of any loudspeaker priced at less than multiple thousands of dollars. What is more, every single Sierra-1 speaker ships with its individually measured frequency response which is an uncommon level of transparency at this price point. Its 5.25” woofer has a beast of a motor attached and must make a substantial contribution to its hefty 20 lbs weight. Along with a beefy bass driver is a beefy crossover circuit using a host of hulking air-core inductors and polypropylene capacitors. The Sierra-1 has often been favorably compared to much more expensive speakers, and it is easy enough to see for yourself since they offer a 30-day trial period where the buyer is eligible for a full refund if they do not want to keep them for any reason. We urge shoppers in this range to find out for themselves what we discovered years ago; these speakers are keepers!

MartinLogan Motion 15i

Motion 15i Product Page | Motion 15i Amazon Page: (available in White, Black, Red Walnut)

ML 15i.jpgIn the ultra-competitive market of home audio loudspeakers, MartinLogan has thrived by setting themselves apart by their use of curved electrostatic speakers rather than the traditional cones and domes of most other brands. However, an electrostatic panel isn’t feasible in a bookshelf speaker, so MartinLogan has resorted to another ultra-lightweight transducer technology: AMTs. AMT tweeters function differently than electrostatic panels, but their low mass enables them to have a similarly extended response out to ultrasonic frequencies. This is implemented in their $800/pair Motion 15i bookshelf speakers which pair an AMT tweeter with a 5.25” aluminum woofer. The Motion loudspeakers are voiced through the crossover to have a similar sonic character to their electrostatic panels, so they may be the next best thing to a classic MartinLogan electrostat. We quite enjoyed the sound in our review of the 15i’s bigger brother, the Motion 35XTi, which proved to have finesse as well as punch in our listening and quasi-anechoic testing. One of the nifty things about AMTs is they can have significantly more dynamic range than typical dome tweeters as well as a higher extension in frequency response, so the Motion 15i could make as good of a choice for home theater as it would simple two-channel music speakers. In addition to its audio performance, the 15i looks slick in a modern minimalist styling and modest size, so these are speakers that should be easy to incorporate into a room with strict aesthetic standards.

Paradigm Premier 100B

Premier 100B Product Page

Paradigm Premier 100B.jpgThe famed Canadian loudspeaker manufacturer Paradigm has had a surprise hit on their hands with the Premier series, and we saw why in our review of the 800F and 500C. These speakers looked nice and sounded even better with an outstanding frequency response and excellent dynamic range. We liked them so much that we included them in the Audioholics Smarthome (Audioholics Youtube Paradigm Premier Review). The Premier series is an overachiever at their price range, so the Premier 100B definitely deserves close consideration for bookshelf speaker shoppers at the $800/pair price point. The 100B uses much of the same technology as the upper end of the premier line-up such as Paradigm’s signature PPA lens which resembles a grille with a sunflower cutout design. It also has Paradigms ART ribbed surround on the woofer which lessens nonlinearities in the tension of the surround. The tweeter should maintain good directivity matching with the 5.25” woofer using a 2kHz crossover which is a relatively low crossover point, but Paradigm’s high-powered tweeter is definitely up to the task of digging that low without running into distortion. The 100B may be the baby of the Premier series, but it would be a formidable bookshelf speaker among similarly spec’d and similarly priced peers, and we think it is a rock-solid choice at its $800/pair pricing. 

RSL Speakers CG25

CG25 Product Page

RSL CG25 pair.jpgFor those who are looking for some pretty serious dynamic range in their bookshelf speaker in this price range, RSL has a terrific option in the CG25 Monitors. These are stand-mount speakers so they still count as bookshelf speakers in my book, although for some reason a lot of manufacturers like to refer to vertical MTM speakers by the category of ‘Monitors.’ As MTM speakers, where there are two woofers flanking a tweeter, they are significantly larger than normal bookshelf speakers in the height dimension, but the addition of the extra woofer gives the CG25s headroom significantly above that of normal bookshelf speakers. The dynamic range of most bookshelf speakers is usually limited by the woofer, not the tweeter, so the inclusion of the extra woofer as well as the extra enclosure space will enable these to get louder for the same wattage. In Audioholics own sensitivity testing of the CG25 vs the single-woofer CG5, the extra woofer and enclosure volume brought about a 3dB increase, thereby making it twice as efficient as its little brother. And if you don’t need the extra headroom, the basic sound quality was also quite good as we found in our full review on the CG5s. In our review, we found them to have punchy bass as well as a smooth midrange and treble, and we quite enjoyed our time with them. What is more, with a beautiful gloss finish, they manage to have a sense of style as well as performance which makes them a bargain at their pricing. Anyone can find out for themselves at no cost since the CG25s have a 30-day risk-free trial with shipping paid both ways if you wish to return them for any reason. Those who take advantage of that offer are sure to find out what we did; these are terrific speakers for the money!

Conclusion

$800 is a healthy budget for a bookshelf speaker pair as is evidenced by the length of our list, and these are by no means all of the great speakers in this price range, merely the ones that we have review and listening experiences with. You can’t go wrong with any of these, although the differences between them may make them better for some situations over others. We have only given shoppers a starting point in seeing what the best fit for their situation is, and all of these speakers have enough public data available to make a very informed decision. We urge shoppers to dig a bit deeper to find the best speaker for their own situation because those who do are sure to net a terrific sound system that will be a source of pleasure for many years to come.

About the author:

James Larson is Audioholics' primary loudspeaker and subwoofer reviewer on account of his deep knowledge of loudspeaker functioning and performance and also his overall enthusiasm toward moving the state of audio science forward.

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Recent Forum Posts:

Kingnoob posts on October 24, 2021 15:33
Jack N, post: 1506151, member: 3241
I’m not trying to start something here, just want people to understand where I’m coming from.

I agree. The chances of getting a bad speaker are fairly remote. However for me personally, even if I disregard the one time that it did happen to me, I’m still not going to buy something with a poor warranty for 2 reasons – 1) Why should I foot the bill for something that’s not my fault? and 2) A poor warranty tells me the manufacturer knows there’s a weak spot(s) in the product. If the manufacturer doesn’t have faith in their own product, why would I? I'm sure there are others that have the same reasoning I do so I’ve got to think Martin Logans’ poor warranty has cost them sales, and it’s damaged their reputation. Unfortunate. Not a wise move in my opinion.
This thread has a great list of speakers !!
Even Klipch comes with a five year warranty usually , but these better brands should do at least something close 3 years minimum otherwise your quality control must be terrible ..


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
panteragstk posts on September 29, 2021 13:58
slipperybidness, post: 1506157, member: 56559
I agree. I love the companies that “warranty the product”, and don't just “warranty the original buyer”.

So, if a product breaks under warranty, they will replace it with no questions asked. There are even some companies that honor lifetime warranties in that manner. Now that is what you want.

I'll always buy from companies known to stand behind their products over ones that don't.
slipperybidness posts on September 23, 2021 14:38
Jack N, post: 1506151, member: 3241
I’m not trying to start something here, just want people to understand where I’m coming from.

I agree. The chances of getting a bad speaker are fairly remote. However for me personally, even if I disregard the one time that it did happen to me, I’m still not going to buy something with a poor warranty for 2 reasons – 1) Why should I foot the bill for something that’s not my fault? and 2) A poor warranty tells me the manufacturer knows there’s a weak spot(s) in the product. If the manufacturer doesn’t have faith in their own product, why would I? I'm sure there are others that have the same reasoning I do so I’ve got to think Martin Logans’ poor warranty has cost them sales, and it’s damaged their reputation. Unfortunate. Not a wise move in my opinion.
I agree. I love the companies that “warranty the product”, and don't just “warranty the original buyer”.

So, if a product breaks under warranty, they will replace it with no questions asked. There are even some companies that honor lifetime warranties in that manner. Now that is what you want.
Jack N posts on September 23, 2021 13:44
highfigh, post: 1506105, member: 36433
As long as a manufacturer has decent QC, poorly made drivers in the wild should be very rare and they should be testing them at some interval that assures a low number of ‘out of the box’ failures. In the almost 50 years of opening speakers and setting them up for demo as well as selling & installing them, I have yet to see one with a bad driver out of the box or that failed in seconds after connection and that means the amplifiers didn't fail so soon, either.

I also haven't spoken to a manufacturer who was unwilling to cover a bad driver UNLESS it was one of several that failed in the same cabinet and when that happens, it's considered ‘abuse’. There's no reason a speaker should fail in a well-designed and well set up system- the system should be set up so that the speaker's power handling limits can't be exceeded.


I’m not trying to start something here, just want people to understand where I’m coming from.

I agree. The chances of getting a bad speaker are fairly remote. However for me personally, even if I disregard the one time that it did happen to me, I’m still not going to buy something with a poor warranty for 2 reasons – 1) Why should I foot the bill for something that’s not my fault? and 2) A poor warranty tells me the manufacturer knows there’s a weak spot(s) in the product. If the manufacturer doesn’t have faith in their own product, why would I? I'm sure there are others that have the same reasoning I do so I’ve got to think Martin Logans’ poor warranty has cost them sales, and it’s damaged their reputation. Unfortunate. Not a wise move in my opinion.
highfigh posts on September 23, 2021 07:54
Verdinut, post: 1505941, member: 80194
Ah yeah! With a lifetime warranty, if the product fails, the manufacturer has you shot!

It's all in the fine print.
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