Great Sound on a Student Budget

Study up on these stereo recommendations and you won’t have to settle for bad sound quality during your school years

Edifier R2000DB
Edifier R2000DB

The Best Option: A Real Stereo

All-in-one wireless speakers have become the audio system of choice for average listeners. But anyone who’s serious enough about music to be reading this magazine will appreciate a real stereo system with separate left and right speakers. A stereo system can create a convincing illusion that the musicians are right there in the room with you, and it’ll also produce more realistic sound than most all-in-one audio systems can. And by the way, it doesn’t necessarily cost more than an all-in-one.

The first thing to consider in a stereo system is the speakers, and the best-known designer of great budget speakers is Andrew Jones. When he worked for Pioneer, Jones designed the SP-BS22-LR speaker, which any audio critic will tell you is the best sound you can get for less than $150. Jones has since moved on to a company called Elac, where he has designed more advanced speakers, including the Debut B4. While I’m hesitant to make blanket recommendations in audio, I haven’t yet heard an Andrew Jones-designed speaker that didn’t impress me, and the models listed above are compact enough to fit into a small room. If you do have more to spend, consider stepping up to Jones’ Elac Uni-Fi B6, which has an even more natural sound than the Debut B4, in part because of an extra driver dedicated only to the midrange.

Some students can’t spend even $100 for speakers, and for them, I recommend the Dayton Audio B652. At its price, it can’t work sonic miracles, but it has a clearer midrange and a lot more bass than most all-in-one wireless systems do. That’s because it has a separate woofer for low frequencies and tweeter for high frequencies, a feature many wireless speakers lack.

You may also want to consider a pair of powered speakers, which have amplifiers (and often Bluetooth) built in. What’s great for music students is that most of these are designed at least partially for use as recording monitors, so they’re suitable tools for mixdowns. One great example is the Edifier R2000DB, a smooth-sounding set of powered speakers that has analog and digital inputs in addition to Bluetooth. A less expensive alternative is Samson’s MediaOne BT4, a Bluetooth-equipped set that doesn’t perform quite as well as the Edifier but still delivers satisfying sound.