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Our Top Five $500 Bookshelf Speaker Picks for 2021

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$500 Bookshelf Speakers

$500 Bookshelf Speakers

Summary

  • Product Name: Prime, Bronze 50, C-1, Demand D7, Diamond 11.2
  • Manufacturer: SVS, Monitor Audio, NHT, Definitive Technology , Wharfedale
  • Review Date: February 04, 2021 08:00
  • MSRP: $499/pr - Prime, $475/pr - Bronze 50, $249/each - C-1, $499 Demand D7, $500 - Diamond 11.2
  • 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

We at Audioholics end up getting a lot of inquiries about the best audio product type to buy within a certain price range. We aren’t ever able to say definitively what the best product is because there are so many, and we don’t get a chance to experience them all. However, we do hear our share of loudspeakers, and we are aware of some of the more reliably good loudspeaker manufacturers, so we have our preferences. This being the case, we have decided to let readers know what we would choose for loudspeaker types within certain price ranges and why in a series of articles. In this article, we look at our picks for bookshelf speakers in the $500/pair range. There are a lot of bookshelf speakers at that price point, so it was not an easy task to narrow down our top picks, nonetheless, we think we came up with a pretty good group of speakers to choose from for $500. There may be better speakers out there for the same money that we aren’t aware of, or we may simply have forgotten about some brand or model that can match these, so please let us know in the comments section what a worthy alternative would be. With that being said, let’s take a look at our picks...

SVS Prime Bookshelf Speakers      $499/pair

SVS Prime.jpg

Prime Bookshelf Product Page | Buy the Prime Bookshelf

SVS has achieved great success by making good looking and good sounding products that don’t try to get very exotic in their design. They keep things simple by following reliable guidelines to good speaker design, and so their market share has grown considerably over the last decade. The Prime Bookshelf speaker is typical of their recipe; it is a straightforward two-way bookshelf speaker that looks great and is sensibly engineered with quality components that one would hope for at this price point. In fact, it is the one speaker that remains from our 2015 bookshelf speaker round-up article. The Prime Bookshelf uses a conventional 6.5” woofer + 1” dome tweeter that is so often seen in this segment. One unusual design feature of the Prime Bookshelf is that is the woofer is sealed off in its own compartment within the loudspeaker. The advantage of this is that reduces the interior surface area where backwave sound pressure can resonate cabinet panels, but the disadvantage is that is less interior volume for the woofer to work with which means reduced low-frequency extension and sensitivity. I don’t know if that is a worthwhile trade-off in terms of performance, but the enduring success that the Prime Bookshelf speaker has been met with indicates that design decision has paid off.            

Monitor Audio Bronze 50      $475/pair

Monitor Bronze 50.jpg

Bronze 50 Product Page | Buy the Bronze 50: Grey, Black  

Monitor Audio has been producing consistently well-reviewed loudspeakers for decades now, and every time I have heard them at a trade show or dealer showroom I have enjoyed the experience. Whenever anyone asks about suggestions for a loudspeaker within a certain price range, I always have to say, “see what Monitor Audio has in that price range.” That is what I would do if I was shopping for loudspeakers. In the $500/pair range, Monitor has the Bronze 50 bookshelf speakers, which uses a 5.5” woofer along with a 1” dome tweeter. The drivers use Monitor’s ‘C-CAM’ cones, which stands for Ceramic-Coated Aluminum/Magnesium, which is mostly a fancy way of saying anodized aluminum, but it has proven to make for a good diaphragm for loudspeaker transducers. The tweeter is mounted in a shallow waveguide that Monitor calls the UD (Uniform Dispersion) waveguide, and that should allow it to have a better transition to the woofer as well as maintaining a wider dispersion at high frequencies vs normal baffle-mounted dome tweeters. In my opinion, the Bronze 50s look the most stylish in our round-up, so if you need something that sounds good as well as looks great for this price range, this may be the bookshelf speaker for you. It even comes in four finish options which will further help to blend into your room decor.

NHT C-1 Bookshelf Speaker      $500/pair

NHT-C1.jpg

C-1 Product Page | Buy the C-1

As a loudspeaker manufacturer, NHT has always done a few things to distinguish themselves from other brands. Most notably, they have adhered to a very flat frequency response profile in their products which assures buyers that when they are getting a NHT loudspeaker, they are getting a very accurate sound reproducer. Second, NHT speakers tend to use sealed cabinets, so there are no ports to contribute some extra low-end to the bass response. An advantage of this is there is no phase rotation going to port generated output and thus none of the deleterious consequences of that, such as more difficulty integrating the sub with the speaker. With the exclusion of a port, the NHT speakers tended to be somewhat small, but so long as they sound good, that is hardly a disadvantage. The C-1 bookshelf speakers adhere to all of these NHT traditions. It uses a 5.25” polypropylene woofer and 1” aluminum dome tweeter. It is not a large or heavy speaker, and you will probably want to mate it with a sub for a full sound, but I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if this were one of the most accurate if not the most accurate consumer audio loudspeakers of its type in this price range. If you are after high-fidelity first and foremost and also intend to add a subwoofer, I would urge you to keep a close eye on the C-1 if you are shopping for bookshelf speakers in this price range.  

Definitive Technology Demand D7      $499/pair

Deftech D7.jpg

Demand D7 Product Page | Buy the Demand D7

We were mightily impressed with Definitive Technology’s Demand D15 floor-standing speakers when we had them in for review recently, so while we didn’t have an opportunity to review the D7 speakers, we think they are very likely to make for a great bookshelf speaker, coming from the same team behind the D15s. The D15s use an aluminum dome tweeter mounted in a shallow waveguide along with a polypropylene woofer that uses Definitive Technology’s BDSS ‘double surround roll’ system where the woofer is attached to the pole piece with a surround as well as the driver frame. The D7 is the smallest speaker in our round-up but also the most luxurious with its 5-layer high-gloss paint finish as well as a thick aluminum front baffle. The woofer only uses a 4.5” driver so it isn’t likely to be an output monster, but given what we have seen from the Demand series thus far, it should make up for in quantity with quality. They would probably best be paired with a subwoofer for a true full-range sound, and the same is true for any of the speakers in this round-up - but the D7s a bit more so. If you need a petite bookshelf speaker that isn’t out of place in a classier surrounding, I doubt you will do better for $500/pair than the Definitive Technology Demand D7.  

Wharfedale Diamond 11.2    $500/pair

Whaferdale 12.2

Diamond 12.2 Product Page | Diamond 12.2 Amazon Page

I will admit to not being a big fan of every speaker that British loudspeaker manufacturer Wharfedale has made. Some of them have sounded terrific, but others seemed to exhibit some characteristics that were, in my opinion, problems. I was a big fan of their past Jade series of higher-end speakers, but I found their new retro Denton speakers to have a harsh sound. I am always up to listen to a new product of theirs since they have proven that they can make a great speaker. Their Diamond 11 series proved to have a very pleasing sound when I sat down to give them a listen, and I think the new 12 series isn't likely to depart from that nice sound. At $500/pair, Wharfedale offers the new Diamond 12.2 bookshelf speakers. The Diamond 12.2 is a very elegant looking speaker that uses a 6.5” Polypropylene/Mica woofer with a 1” soft dome tweeter mounted in a shallow waveguide. The Diamond 12.2 uses multi-layered paneling and spot bracing design optimized by computer simulation for the highest efficiency. With a gloss black front panel, the Diamond 12.2 looks a lot more expensive than it actually is, and it promises great performance to compliment its looks in its price range. This appears to be a great choice for bookshelf speaker shoppers for the $500/pair price point.

Conclusion

It should be said at this point that we limited this list to traditional passive speakers since many shoppers already have a receiver or amplifier. However, those shoppers who are looking to build an inexpensive two-channel system from the ground up might think about going the studio monitor route if they are shopping for a bookshelf speaker type speaker. Most studio monitors have the amps built-in, so all the user needs to get is a pre-amplifier section, and there are lots of good, affordable DACs that can serve that purpose. Some monitors look fairly nice too, such as the recently reviewed ADAM Audio T7V or PreSonus Eris E8 XT, both of which are also in the $500/pair range. However, those who are looking for passive bookshelf speakers have a good starting point with the list of choices that we have compiled here, and we think that anyone who ends up with any of the listed speakers will be quite happy with them.

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:

XDM posts on February 13, 2021 23:18
James did you listen to the Monitor Audio Bronze (6th gen) series you are recommending?

After listening to it, I wouldn't recommend the Monitor Audio Bronze 50 (Monitor Audio Bronze 6th generation). There's something wrong with the tuning of the Monitor Audio Bronze 6th gen.

The midrange is recessed and the treble is shrill/aggressive/harsh. I'm not the only one with that experience. Check out this YouTuber's comments under his video on the MA Bronze 100 it's bigger brother: q2OFisqWtG8 (he calls them bright, sharp, shouty) .

EDIT:
I'll quote some of his comments which he left below the video review to clarify, which aligns perfectly with my own experience:

-When I said these were bright and sharp I really meant it guys, they're shouty for sure.


If you don't believe me buy them for yourself and experience the disappointment first hand. I believe in break in but no amount of break-in can fix these. I had them connected to $7500 worth of what is otherwise smooth/neutral sounding gear and another few hundred dollars in room treatment. I gave these 30 hours, that should have gotten them most of the way there.


The Bronze 100 does a few things really well like imaging and soundstage but the presentation within is terribly unbalanced.

I'm still trying to understand who loves these, I honestly think it might be good for guys who have been to too many concerts and maybe lost a bit of hearing.

EDIT 2 (What HiFi also mentions the ‘crude high frequencies’: https://www.whathifi.com/reviews/monitor-audio-bronze-100 ): “It doesn’t help that the updated tweeter lacks the refinement we’ve come to expect from the brand and can sound a little crude and harsh if provoked. ” and only awards it 3/5 stars.
shadyJ posts on February 05, 2021 16:48
norge43, post: 1457582, member: 87515
I own a 5.1 system made up of RSL CG23s and their Speedwoofer. I have been very impressed with their performance, both for music and movies. Audioholics has given great reviews on all of RSL's products. At $400.00 a pair, I would argue the CG23s are perhaps the best performance to price ratio out there, and worthy of inclusion in your “Best Speakets” category.
Hetfield, post: 1457585, member: 80792
I can agree with that as I have RSL CG23 LCR. Excellent, excellent speakers period. The little brother CG3s are no slouch either.

Sent from my Pixel 4 XL using Tapatalk
I wasn't a big fan of the CG23s. You need a lot of EQ to tame the mid-bass bump on those. The CG5s are so much better. I really enjoyed the CG5s and wish I still had them.
Hetfield posts on February 05, 2021 15:42
norge43, post: 1457582, member: 87515
I own a 5.1 system made up of RSL CG23s and their Speedwoofer. I have been very impressed with their performance, both for music and movies. Audioholics has given great reviews on all of RSL's products. At $400.00 a pair, I would argue the CG23s are perhaps the best performance to price ratio out there, and worthy of inclusion in your “Best Speakets” category.
I can agree with that as I have RSL CG23 LCR. Excellent, excellent speakers period. The little brother CG3s are no slouch either.

Sent from my Pixel 4 XL using Tapatalk
norge43 posts on February 05, 2021 15:28
I own a 5.1 system made up of RSL CG23s and their Speedwoofer. I have been very impressed with their performance, both for music and movies. Audioholics has given great reviews on all of RSL's products. At $400.00 a pair, I would argue the CG23s are perhaps the best performance to price ratio out there, and worthy of inclusion in your “Best Speakets” category.
Mikado463 posts on February 04, 2021 16:31
Thanks for the write up ! My bro-inlaw is looking to put together a small living room set around bookshelf / sub combo, I'll pass this along to him.
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