CELEBRATING
50 YEARS

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

Sony SRS-XB31
Sony SRS-XB31

The Most Affordable Option: Bluetooth Speakers

Although wireless speakers generally have a bad rep for sound quality, they’re often the only option if space and budget are tight. And there are some that sound pretty good.

Students living in dorms are best off sticking with Bluetooth speakers. Speakers that rely on a WiFi connection, such as Sonos speakers and the smart speakers from Amazon and Google, are often impossible to get working with the WiFi network in a dorm. Because Bluetooth is a direct wireless connection to your phone or tablet, it’ll work with no hassle.

For the last year, my personal favorite Bluetooth speaker has been the Sony SRS-XB30, which has amazingly good bass for a speaker measuring 9 by 3.2 by 3.4 inches. It’s been recently replaced by the very similar, slightly improved SRS-XB31. The SRS-XB31 won’t give you real stereo sound, but it has a natural tonality that’ll let you enjoy your downloaded music and streams from Spotify and YouTube at a volume loud enough to fill a dorm room.

If you like the convenience of a Bluetooth speaker but want to step up in sound quality, try the Marshall Stanmore. Like Marshall’s legendary guitar amps, the Stanmore plays loud, but unlike the guitar amps, it has a full, natural sound with all instruments and voices. Top-mounted tone controls make it easy to tune the sound to your taste. RCA analog inputs let you connect a turntable, provided you use a phono preamp or a turntable with a built-in preamp.

Whether you’re living in a (literally) closet-size individual dorm room, sharing a larger space with multiple roommates, or looking for the audio system that’ll nurture your passion for jazz through your high-school years, you can definitely get very good audio gear even with severe budget restrictions. But when you upgrade someday, don’t sell that old gear. Take it from me: Just as people often love the music of their youth the best, they also develop a strong nostalgia for the audio equipment they used in college. No matter how much you might eventually spend on a nice system, you’ll never love it as much as you loved your first decent stereo.

Originally Published