Speakers in 2017 are kind of awesome


I’ve been cleaning up my office, and I decided to upgrade its sound system. It had a 2003 era Logitech Z680 5.1 system:


My brilliant idea was to replace all the satellites but, as I am a profoundly lazy person, keep the sub and decoder / amplifier (and cables, fortunately these satellites use traditional speaker wire) since that part is working just fine:

The sub has a direct-firing 8-inch driver. Logitech’s subwoofer-based amplifier has plenty of juice, delivering 188 watts to the sub, 62 watts to each sat, and 69 watts to the center.

I checked wirecutter and they had a very strong recommendation for these UK based Q Acoustics 3020 speakers which are now becoming widely available in the US.

After listening to more than two dozen pairs of speakers in a double-blind setup, we’ve determined that the Q Acoustics 3020 speakers are the best bookshelf speakers for most people, because they sound better and are built more sturdily than anything else in their price range. Furthermore, this set’s compact footprint and four different finish options help it fit into almost any living room setup.

There’s also a matching center speaker, the 3090c.

These are much bigger speakers than I thought they would be, at about 10lbs each. I got the official 3000 series wall mount which works on both types and set them up.

The old Z680 sub/driver/decoder seems to work fine with the new satellites. I had kinda forgotten how awesome good, quality speakers can sound. And in speakers (to a point at least) size matters…

Anyway, if you’re looking for a bookshelf sized speaker recommendation at a great 💥 for the 💵 price point, I can heartily concur with Wirecutter and recommend the Q Acoustics 3020 series. They’re really well made and sound excellent. I paid $290 for a pair, so $145 each? (Note that the gloss white and black versions are about $80 more / pair for some reason, I went with plain jane graphite.)

Time to get my jamz on


Nice! I did the same thing last year and got the Wirecutter’s previous top pick, the ELAC Debut B6, which have been amazing. Huge upgrade from even good-quality computer speakers.


Yeah now they say

If the Q Acoustics set is unavailable, the ELAC Debut B6 pair is a close runner-up. The B6 set produces a bit more bass but otherwise sounds very similar to the 3020. However, the larger ELAC speakers take up more space and don’t look as nice. The B6 set is also less sensitive, so a lower-powered receiver or amplifier can’t drive these speakers as easily. Those are minor complaints, but the 3020 still holds a slight edge overall.

These KEF Q150 speakers look neat too as the “upgrade pick” for $550/pair. A little freaky looking though, no?



The only reason I’d ever buy a home is so I can justify buying a hifi system.

Except that would require me to put down more or less permanent roots in a location where my house is far enough away from other buildings that the extreme noise wouldn’t bother anyone, which means I’m living in a rural area, and I will never fucking do that.

Alas, speakers.


Having fun with some of the demo songs linked in the Wirecutter article:

So What – Miles Davis, that’s a given, right? I think it’s required by law to demo this track when reviewing speakers.

Sinnerman – which has always been a fucking amazing track and pure joy to hear at any stage in your life unless you are, like completely dead inside. Go listen to it now!

Carnival – I didn’t know this as well, have heard maybe a few times, but I am a reasonable fan of Natalie Merchant. I support this choice.

Get Lucky – feels a bit too … recent and big-hit-y to be an ideal demo track, but whatevs.

Lost Cause – I absolutely ain’t gonna argue about. One of my favorite Beck tracks of all time and really quite underrated.

Giorgio by Moroder – Yet another daft punk track? Come on.


Any electronic music is going to be produced/mastered to perfection, and Daft Punk are masters at it. Those are good choices, especially the Giorgio one.

EDM mastering is all about spreading everything out across the full frequency spectrum as much as possible. It’s great for testing frequency response. Something like Miles Davis is for listening for harmonics, and EDM for even response across the range.

Just my two cents, and I’m probably wrong.


True. I went through a bunch of “reference tracks reviewers use to test speakers” links and a lot of them boil down to personal preference. There’s probably zero track overlap in any of the links I found! But I did like this list…

… becaust it covers the philosophy of testing, rather than getting into opinion:

  1. Pristine, well recorded tracks. Simply put - if this doesn’t sound good, nothing will. These tracks have been recorded to such a high standard that, excuse the blasphemy, playing them through some Apple Ear pods would verge on acceptable, so pass it through some decent Hi-Fi and they’ll knock your socks off.

  2. Tracks with wide dynamic range and excellent sound stages. Listen out for spatial separation between individual instruments and vocals and feeling like your living room just turned into the Royal Albert Hall and you’re on the right track.

  3. Tracks with The Big One – Bass. Irritating if there’s too much, crushingly disappointing if there’s too little.

  4. Dense tracks. Songs that pack a lot in to each track and without capable audio equipment can sound, quite frankly, a mess. So when you get them right, that’s a whole heap of audio satisfaction (and a few smug engineers).

TL;DR crank some Bohemian Rhapsody. Otherwise try to select some tracks you prefer that fit in those above buckets?

My votes would look like

  1. Anything Steely Dan, or similar. Studio wonk bands.
  2. Sinnerman - Nina Simone
  3. Edgar Winter - Frankenstein
  4. Pretty Vacant - Sex Pistols / Motley Crue - Kickstart My Heart


Dynamic range is super important and music where you had the most anal audio engineer producing it are the best. I would go with the recommendations.

I put in a hi-end audio system about 17 years ago and I was amazed at how many of my CD’s sounded like shit and when I started looking into it, I found that a lot of the “popular” music in the 80’s, 90’s and early 2000 were produced to sound good in your car - which has a really flat & narrow range.

Bad music actually makes a system sound like shit, so follow the advice & get the tracks they recommend.

And FLAC is the best digital format, although they take gobs of space, so if you can snag them in that format, you will notice a difference. Otherwise stick with CD’s.


Which ones? They are all different. That’s my point. Feel free to browse around a google search of “speaker test audio tracks” to see what I mean.

Also my selections in each numbered area, above, were copied from a few of those articles, so…


I reckon just focus on listening to music you know really, really well. As a base, hearing things you have not noticed before in music you know intimately is the test of a decent hifi system, even if the source isn’t actually amazing.


I used to love cranking up Pink Floyd The Wall on nice sounding speakers.


Blind Guardian’s A Night at the Opera is great for it. So many layers, especially in the final track, “And Then There Was Silence” about the Trojan War.


Waaay too big for computer speakers.

I’m still using my Klipsch Promedia 2.1s from like, 1996. They work great. Speakers have an incredible lifetime.


Well yeah, but bigger (to a point) is better when it comes to speakers. If you have a sub you can get away with smaller satellites but below a certain size you are still losing aural range with tiny satellites. That’s what happened to me with the Z-680 and it was fairly highly rated!

I think the sweet spot for most folks is “really good bookshelf size”.

I agree that ginormo floor standing speakers aren’t for everyone.


A great version of this song was featured on the Miami Vice movie, the 'Felix da Housecat Heavenly Remix" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0hcEiEyylEA

Actually I just spotified the Miami Vice soundtrack and it’s good - check it out.


@Scott123 a couple audio reviewers recommended Axel F, and one I think recommended the Miami Vice theme. I’m wid’ it.

An an example of how eclectic and personal and opinion-based these “tracks to review speakers by professional audiophiles” can be:

Oh yeah, Lincoln Mayorga, that guy is a musical TITAN! Everyone listens to his stuff to validate speaker quality. Jesus man.

This was an interesting bit of wankery, though:

Direct-to-disc (or as some refer to them, “direct disc”) records were very popular with audiophiles in the early ‘80s, and they were considered to be the finest quality vine-yule. After the musicians were ready, they would cut an entire side of an album, without stopping. The signal from the control room wouldn’t go to tape (other than a tape backup), but it would go directly to the cutting lathe, and the master lacquer was cut in real time. The record stampers were then made from the master. Because of this there could be no do-overs and no editing or overdubs, and on occasion you can hear a clinker, a bumped microphone, rustling sheet music, or shuffling feet. But the fidelity of a properly executed direct-to-disc record is the apex of vinyl reproduction.

Mostly, I think audiophiles and wine reviewers are similarly full of shit. And their fields are … fertile.


A couple of years ago, I picked up the Wirecutter’s previous Computer Speaker pick, the M-Audio AV-40’s.

Excellent desktop speakers.

Granted, unless it’s a rare moment when I’m alone in the house, I tend to use the Sennheiser Game One headset I bought earlier this year. Shockingly, after years of using integrated, or USB audio, I even bought the Soundblaster X AE-5 w integrated DAC. Good stuff!


haha, I cranked the shit out of that a few times just the other day!


MB42x and PB42X for budget PC speakers. ~$90/$120 for the pair. MB will need an amp, PB is powered, no amp needed.

MB is nice if you want a hardwired volume button, or add a miniamp with microphone plug in.

There’s a dedicated PC speaker thread somewhere, can’t find thought.


If you want really budget speakers that still sound good I’d recommend the Dayton B652s. I got them for $40 a pair and then also bought Dayton’s SUB-1200 powered 12" subwoofer for $90 shipped factory refurb. Everything sounds fantastic and gets very loud without distortion.