Expensive speakers can be very alluring and seductive. Everyone wants to have the best sound they possibly can, and it can be incredibly tempting to throw money towards the goal without thinking twice.
But are expensive speakers worth it? There is not a one-size-fits-all answer. If you are in an average sized, untreated room and listening to music for entertainment, your best bet will be in the $300-$1,200 range. The higher you get within that range, you will generally find better results, but a higher price doesn’t guarantee quality. It’s possible to spend $5,000 on a system that sounds incredible. Unfortunately, it’s also possible to pay $5,000 for a system that sounds terrible.
A cheap system with low-quality components will struggle to play low frequencies or clear high notes regardless of the quality of the media. For example, Spotify can play notes down to 30hz, and if your system can’t produce those notes, you’ll notice. There are more important things than price to consider when judging the quality of a speaker.
The cost of a speaker comes from more than the electronic components themselves. High-End speakers can be more expensive due to the design of the speakers, the quality of materials, the durability and weight, and even the branding. These elements are often much more important than people realize.
The biggest thing to watch out for if you care about quality and value is brand-inflated pricing. Beats headphones, for example, are notorious for being a very low-quality product that gets sold at a high price because of it’s branding alone. You have to be very careful about purchasing expensive headphones or speakers because the brand can play a huge part in the pricing.
Assuming we are not talking about speakers that are expensive because of the brand alone, there are several components where the quality can be seen and felt.
More expensive speakers are typically more robust and substantial. They will have thicker enclosure walls and heavy-duty hardware. Weight is a huge factor when it comes to speaker quality. Good speakers require drivers with heavy coils that can precisely drive the speakers. The more rigid and complicated a speaker is, the heavier it will be.
The added weight also reduces the vibration of the speaker or within the speaker itself. This is dually important. First, the sound will be immediately affected if you can hear the vibration of the speaker's components while it’s producing moderate to high levels of bass. Secondly, a vibrating speaker over time will likely loosen components and start to sound distorted. This means a speaker that isn’t durable might sound great now, but terrible in a year.
Also, the added weight will likely add to the shipping cost as well. This is one reason to avoid buying speakers made in China. Though China does produce some quality products, bulky items like quality speakers become expensive to ship from low-cost countries. High-end speakers usually get built in the US or Europe.
It is common for expensive speakers to use more expensive components, but in some cases, they will design entirely new elements. As an example, some people believe speakers sound better if the audio is all coming from a single point in space. As a result, manufacturers like KEF put one driver inside the middle of another driver. So rather than a tweeter a few inches above the midrange driver, the tweeter will be inside the midrange driver. This requires extra design and engineering and can add to manufacturing costs as well.
Some speakers may be more expensive because they use high-end or exotic material. In some cases, this may be strictly for aesthetic purposes. Wooden enclosures may be constructed out of finished walnut or painted with a red violin finish.
The level of workmanship or intricate visual detail can add significant cost to the speaker. An extreme example of this is the Porsche 911 soundbar, which retails for $3,500. It has great ratings, but more in-depth reviews detail that the sound is just “better than okay.”
While durability, engineering, and high-quality materials are great, they do not guarantee a great sounding speaker. So sure, you can pay more for better visual aesthetic and material quality
You will eventually hit a point of diminishing returns. As you approach the $1,200 mark, the quality increases will become much more subtle. At the lower end of the spectrum, you may spend $500 more for a system that is 5x as good. When you get up to higher end speakers, you may be paying $2,000 more for a mear 5% increase in quality.
Most consumer grade speakers under the $1,200 mark will give you a full range of sound. The quality will be noticeably better the higher you get on that price scale, even if you are only listening to Spotify and watching Youtube videos. In general, the most expensive speakers are only worth it if you are working in audio production and listening to extremely high-quality media. Even then, the space you are in will play a huge role in audio quality. Click here to learn about the key differences between home theater surround sound and
The room your speakers live in is half the battle! The sound quality will vary significantly based on where you place the speakers and how big the room is. You can install $50,000 worth of speakers into your setup, but if the room is echoey, small, or narrow, then the results may be no better than if you had spent $500.
Generally speaking, if you don’t have a decent sized room that is acoustically treated, then it doesn’t make sense spending more than $1,500. The quality increase will get drowned out by reverb, vibration and other environmental factors. Check out our article on home theater room dimensions, it goes into detail about the importance of the size and shape of a room for acoustics.
When you get out of consumer-grade equipment and into production-level audio gear, you start looking at equipment designed for an entirely different purpose. Consumer grade equipment is made to be versatile, to sound pretty in a variety of settings no matter what is playing. This is the personality of the speaker itself and is often referred to as color.
Color can be great and can make small systems sound a lot bigger than they are, or make cheap systems sound impressive. The problem with color when working in a professional environment is precision. The sound might be rich, but it’s not accurate.
Think about it like Instagram filters. Instagram filters can be fun, and add exciting colors and tones to any photo. However, imagine you are a professional photographer, and your camera’s preview screen has a permanent Instagram filter installed. Your photos might look great on your camera - but completely different on someone else’s computer, or tv screen.
The same is true of audio. The speakers are the window through which producers can ‘see’ and judge their work. Because of this, they need incredibly accurate speakers with as little distortion as possible. They need
It’s not uncommon for speakers at this level to be priced at well over $5,000. However, not all producers use the most expensive equipment around. I know producers who use speakers that cost less than the equipment in my living room. I've even met one producer who built his own speakers from scratch.
If you are trying to convince musicians to record their albums, or authors to record their audiobooks at your studio, then you want your studio to look impressive. Which means you may want to invest more for speakers that look better. It’s counterintuitive, but adding $1,000 to your speaker budget for something that looks better might pay off much more than adding $1,000 to your speaker budget for something that sounds better.
Bose speakers are hotly debated in regards to their quality. The honest answer is: Yes, Bose speakers are great speakers. The trickier question is whether or not they are worth the money. Think of it like shopping for a home, and you have a $200,000 budget.
Person one may have construction experience and want to buy a house for $125,000, and spend $50,000 installing mosaic tile walls, hardwood floors, and state-of-the-art appliances. They will have gotten more for less money, but there will be a lot of research and labor and skill involved.
Person two may want a house that’s furnished and ready to move in. They will spend more money on a house that looks great, functions well, and has no issues. The doors might be hollow, the appliances might be cheap, and the floor might be linoleum- but it’s all done and ready right now. They are willing to pay this premium because they may not have the time, know-how, or skills to make it better themselves. They may also know nothing about building materials and quality floors either, so it makes no difference to them. This is Bose.
If you want an audio setup that will sound pretty good with very little time and effort, then Bose may be an excellent choice for you. There are strong warranties, good customer service, and a trusted consumer brand.
Audiophiles and hobbyists often dislike Bose because it is entirely possible to build a system that sounds much better than any Bose system for a fraction of the cost.
Another reason Bose gets criticized often is that competitors who used to be far behind have caught up. There are plenty of competitors to Bose who sound just as great and cost much less. Check out our more in-depth look into Bose and if their products are worth it!
Adding more speakers can sound better in certain situations. However, adding speakers all around your living room to create surround sound is not a good solution for getting better audio quality out of your music.
For the most part, to correctly add more speakers to your system will you need an amplifier with additional channels. Additionally, if you merely jump the speaker cables to other speakers, you will get sound coming from more places, but it won’t necessarily sound better. If the speakers are a different distance from the listener, you may get an echoing effect, which can be disorienting and unpleasant.
If you do choose to use an amplifier to add additional channels to your audio setup, you will only want to use them for media designed for surround sound. Movies and films are created this way, but music typically is not. To learn more about surround sound and stereo systems, check out our article on using a Home Theatre Bypass.
It’s impossible to give you a sense of how any specific speaker will sound through writing about it. The only way to know what sounds good to you is to listen to it yourself!