Classical music offers certain challenges to a stereo system, and especially to speakers, that don’t come up with other types of music.
For one thing, Classical performance is very much about space.
An orchestra needs to stretch out in a realistic space, with violins on the far left, double-basses on the right, brass, and timpani usually in the back row, and everybody else in their correct places in between.
Chamber music is the same, if on a much smaller scale.
A violin or a piano should sound like it physically appears in a room, a singer should seem to be standing in front of you, and a string quartet should fill the space like a tiny orchestra, with the first violin on the left, cello on the right.
But maybe the more difficult thing for a speaker to really capture is the dynamic range and musical energy of Classical music.
Classical music is almost without exception performed acoustically – that is, without amplification – and yet the difference between the loudest and the softest notes is usually much greater than with rock, jazz, hip-hop, country, electronica, or other genres which normally amplify and digitally process their musicians and instruments.
It’s not just the loudest and softest sounds that need to be faithfully captured by a good Classical music speaker – the smallest changes in volume, or “dynamics,” are just as important.
When a great soprano, or a fine Stradivarius violin, changes volume the tiniest amount, it can have an enormous emotional effect – and a speaker should be able to capture these subtle shifts.
There are countless other things a speaker must get right to really do Classical music right – the sounds of so many different instruments, the weight and smooth presence of a fine a capella choir, the stunning grandeur of a pipe organ in an old European church.
The finest audiophile speakers on the market can do very well with most of this, but it seems to take something a little more refined, a little more special, to really get it all just right.
We have assembled a list of the best audiophile speaker systems for playing classical music, from the incredibly expensive to a couple of incredible bargains.
If you love Classical music as much as I do, this buyer’s guide should help you find the right speaker regardless of your budget.
And along the way, I’ll also recommend some of my favorite audiophile Classical music recordings, which offer not only superb sound but incredible performances as well.
Best Speakers for Classical Music – Comparison Chart
|Product Image||Product Name||Shipping Weight||Dimension||Editor's Rating||Price|
|KEF REFERENCE 1 Bookshelf Loudspeaker||96.5 pounds||17.3 x 8.1 x 16.9 inches||5.0||Check Price|
|Focal Aria 906 Bookshelf 2-way loudspeaker||38.6 pounds||16 x 9 x 11inches||4.9||Check Price|
|KEF LS50 Mini Monitor – Titanium Grey||40.4 pounds||10.9 x 7.9 x 11.9 inches||4.9||Check Price|
|Sonus Faber Venere 2.0 Bookshelf Speaker||45.5 pounds||13.2 x 9.7 x 17.7 inches||4.8||Check Price|
|MartinLogan ElectroMotion ESL Hybrid Electrostatic Loudspeaker||45.8 pounds||22 x 12 x 56 inches||4.7||Check Price|
|Polk Audio RTI A9 Floorstanding Speaker||87.8 pounds||21.5 x 9 x 48.5 inches||4.6||Check Price|
|Yamaha NS-333 2-Way Bass Reflex Bookshelf Speakers||26.4 pounds||7 x 8 x 12 inches||4.4||Check Price|
|Pyle PUNP34BT Vintage Retro Classic Style Bluetooth Radio Sound System||7.2 pounds||14 x 8.8 x 10.2 inches||4.0||Check Price|
The KEF Reference 1 stand-mounted monitor speaker is not inexpensive, but offers a level of performance which will satisfy even the most demanding audiophile listener.
KEF has always been known for their extreme quality of construction, the beauty of their materials and products, and for their wonderful sound.
It is a mystery to some how a speaker can be absolutely neutral – reproducing all sounds without changing any of them – and at the same time have a warm, rich and delightfully musical sound.
The KEF Reference 1 is perhaps the very finest example of this mystery I have ever heard.
These brilliant speakers are not just great for Classical music, but offer a kind of neutrality and precision which allows any type of music to come through faithfully, with all of its detail, musical energy and power.
With Classical music, I noticed again and again how open and realistic the sound stage is.
An orchestra appears in three-dimensional reality in front of me, and I can easily hear the concert hall itself, as it stretches out in front of, behind and above me.
With an extraordinary audiophile recording like the Bruckner 9th symphony on Reference Recordings, not only is there a perfect representation of the symphony in space, but the dynamic power and energy are amazing as well – not just for a smaller speaker, but for a loudspeaker of any size.
Volume from the very softest to the very loudest is captured accurately, and even with more complex passages, no detail is lost.
And the bass response is deep, fast and powerful – again, much better than many even high-end full-sized audiophile speakers with much larger cabinets and woofers.
With chamber music, I was amazed at how these speakers present a small space and a small ensemble with just as much accuracy. Mozart’s Violin Sonatas, on a wonderful sounding Hyperion set, made me feel like I was sitting in the room with these two great musicians. Every nuance of the violin’s sound was perfectly captured, and the piano had weight and delicacy in equal measures.
The KEF Reference 1 speakers are quite flexible as well.
Unlike most expensive audiophile monitors, they work will with lots of different equipment (as long as your amp has at least 100 watts a channel), and they also work well in many different rooms and positions, thanks to their Uni-Q driver array, tunable port and small size.
Yes, they are expensive, and even more expensive with their dedicated stands (which are pretty much required to really get everything out of these extraordinary speakers), but they offer absolutely best-in-class sound, with a presentation of symphonic, choral, chamber and solo instrument music that is maybe as realistic and physically present as I have ever heard.
Recommended without reservation!
Pros & Cons of KEF REFERENCE 1 Bookshelf Loudspeaker
|✅ Pros||❌ Cons|
|Brilliant all-around sound||None|
|Clarity, warmth and musicality|
|Perfect accuracy of tone, space, dynamics and more|
|Incredible representation of three-dimensional space|
|Flexible with associated equipment|
|Flexible with room placement (tunable port, Uni-Q driver array, small size)|
It is easy to completely forget about sound quality, Classical music and everything else when I look at the Sonus Faber Venere 2.0 bookshelf loudspeakers – one of the most gorgeous audio products I have ever seen.
That is, until they start playing.
Then it is, once again, all about the music, and everything else just falls away.
No, they are not as good as the KEF (above), but the Sonus Faber Venere 2.0 speakers are only around a half of the price, and they offer perhaps the lowest priced entry into that indescribable highest level of audiophile sound, where there is suddenly nothing but music, and the possibility of actually believing that you are in a concert hall.
With the wonderful BIS recording of Sibelius Symphonies, these small speakers offer an almost unbelievable amount of weight, representing the full impact and force of a large symphony orchestra in a good concert hall.
The sound of the Venere 2.0 with a superior recording like this is absolutely thrilling.
There are speakers in this price range – especially floor-standing speakers – with bigger woofers and deeper bass response, but somehow they don’t offer the same kind of bass impact, or the same kind of orchestral weight and power, as these smaller Sonus Faber Venere 2.0 monitors.
Reviewers sometimes mention that Sonus loudspeakers have a bit of coloration – that is, they have a warm romantic sound of their own, which can slightly change the sound of whatever music they are playing, but it must be remembered that this is a relative comment.
These speakers are, by all standards, remarkably accurate and neutral, and many competitors can actually sound a bit bright and aggressive in comparison.
For myself, I will always choose musical over analytical.
With choral music, like Arvo Part’s beautiful Te Deum on ECM, the tone of the choir is stunning.
With the Sonus Faber Venere 2.0s, the power of louder singing is fully there, and the soft passages as so accurately represented that I got goosebumps listening to them.
Chamber music and solo instruments have a kind of intimacy many larger speakers don’t quite capture.
Listening to the Shostakovich quartets, on an amazingly lifelike Cedille disc, all of the tonal, dynamic and spatial characteristics come through with startling vitality, and the music just sounds right.
Still not an inexpensive speaker, the Sonus Faber Venere 2.0 bookshelf monitors have to stand as one of the great bargains in truly hi-end audio, and a truly fine speaker for all kinds of Classical music.
And their absolutely beautiful tone is matched by their absolutely beautiful appearance.
Pros & Cons of Sonus Faber Venere 2.0 Bookshelf Speaker
|✅ Pros||❌ Cons|
|Great power and impact for their size||Still relatively expensive|
|Beautiful tone, warm and musical yet still highly accurate||Should be used with stands|
|Easy to place in a room||For ultimate bass extension, you might want a subwoofer|
|A substantial bargain – even given their price|
One of the most respected and best reviewed speakers on our list, the KEF LS50 Mini Monitor is different from any speaker I have ever heard.
They look different too, with their gorgeous high gloss finish, their small size, their curved fronts and their unusual looking single speaker driver.
At only 30 cm high, I would never have expected these little speakers to have such a big sound.
But the quality of the drivers and cabinets, the superb Uni-Q design and the highly effective port at the back of the cabinet offer incredibly big sound.
The imaging and depiction of space is maybe as good with the KEF LS50 bookshelf speakers as I have heard, which offers as much of an advantage with an orchestra in a concert hall (like the powerful recording of Beethoven’s fifth symphony on BIS, as it does with a solo piano perfectly recorded, like the highly acclaimed complete survey of Debussy’s piano music on Chandos.
The unique design of the KEF LS50s make them super easy to place in a room, and their incredible styling makes them compatible with almost any décor.
The KEF LS50 Mini Monitor has won more awards and gotten more favorable reviews than maybe any other speaker on our survey of best speakers for Classical music, and in listening to them I could immediately hear why.
And the more I listened the more I loved them – highly recommended.
Pros & Cons of KEF LS50 Mini Monitor
|✅ Pros||❌ Cons|
|Perfect phase coherence, which provides incredibly high levels of detail and micro-detail and a perfect representation of space and time|
|Deep bass and high impact, especially for their size|
|Sound quality which is better than many far more expensive audiophile speakers|
|Equally good for all kinds of Classical music|
A wholly different kind of speaker, the Martin Logan Electro Motion ESL is a hybrid Electrostatic loudspeaker, which means it has a normal “dynamic” subwoofer built in for deep bass, but all the higher notes are handled by an incredibly thin and nearly transparent “electrostatic” panel which reproduces sound in a completely different way.
And many believe these speakers sound completely different too. I certainly noticed a few things right away:
They have among the lowest distortion of any speaker I have ever auditioned.
They reproduce music with a kind of ease and a relaxed quality
They reproduce absolutely everything with incredible detail, to the point that I began hearing things on recordings which I had never before noticed
They produce absolutely no “listening fatigue” – that is, I could listen to them for hours and hours with no sense of harshness and without getting tired or distracted
The Martin Logan Electro Motion ESL’s electrostatic panel allows these wonderful speakers to present a nearly perfect, solid and realistic soundstage, and the excellent woofer brings all of the low end energy of a whole orchestra (like in the powerful Chesky recording of Franz Schmidt’s lush and powerful 4th symphony).
Pipe organs are also presented with an almost spooky coherence, space and physical impact, with the whole church echoing around you.
Try Oliver Laitry’s incredible recording of Bach, which sounds almost overwhelmingly good on the Martin Logans.
The Martin Logan Electro Motion ESL floor standing speakers also reproduce chamber music and solo instruments with a clear, incredibly accurate and detailed sound, to the point that, as one example, the difference between a Stradivarius and an Amati violin is obvious.
Some might feel that the sound-stage for these more intimate recordings feels a little too big, but that is subjective, and the Martin Logans certainly provide a lot of impact and excitement when appropriate, like with Prokofiev’s piano sonatas on Hyperion – a wonderful recording on all counts!
Off-topic, these Motion ESL speakers are also a fine choice for home theater and play other genres of music just as well as they handle Classical.
Pros & Cons of Martin Logan Electro Motion ESL Hybrid Loudspeaker
|✅ Pros||❌ Cons|
|Great price for a truly audiophile quality speaker||Not as easy to place in a room|
|Excellent for larger rooms||Their style and appearance won’t be to everybody’s taste|
|Deep bass extension|
|Absolutely the lowest levels of distortion|
|Superb resolution of detail and micro-detail|
|Instrumental and vocal tone always perfectly reproduced|
|Also great for home theater and for different kinds of music|
At this point in our buyer’s guide to the best speakers for Classical music, we are getting into a more affordable price range, so naturally a couple of questions arise:
Can an affordable speaker still offer true audiophile sound quality?
Can a loudspeaker in this price range still capture the special qualities of Classical music?
With the Polk Audio RTI A9 floor standing loudspeaker, we can certainly answer yes on both counts!
In fact, given the relatively low price of these big and impressive looking speakers, I was really impressed with what they can do, and equally impressed by the quality of construction and the technology involved in their design.
The Polk Audio RTI A9 towers have six different drivers up and down their front – three 7 inch polymer subwoofers, two 5.25 inch bass/midrange drivers and a soft dome silk/polymer tweeter. Along with a tuned port, this driver array gives these speakers a tight, punchy sound which really represents the energy and excitement of well-recorded Classical music. And they will play really loud with the right amplifier!
Take the Telarc recording of the Mozart symphonies. Long known for its clear, open and weighty sound and the way it accurately captures the space around the orchestra, this recording sounds awesome on the Polk speakers – full, rich, energetic and spacious.
And, despite their size, the RTI A9s really captured the more intimate sound and environment of chamber music as well, like the weird and wonderful Quasi una Sonata by Alfred Schnittke, in a BIS recording of almost unbelievable artistic and technical quality.
There is ultimately not the absolute refinement of the KEF loudspeakers, the stunning musical tone of the Sonus Faber or the astoundingly low distortion of the Martin Logans, but to me these Polk RTI A9 floor-standers still rated exceptionally high in all of these categories.
Listen to the incredible sound of the harpsichord, and the room around it, in Trevor Pinnock’s unparalleled traversal of Bach’s Partitas as one good example.
For the most discerning audiophile, the sometimes slight and subtle improvements one gets by spending thousands of dollars more are unquestionably worth it, but not everyone has such a driving obsession, or such a budget.
If you want a speaker which offers maybe 95 percent of the performance at maybe 5 percent of the price, the KE RTI A9 loudspeaker is a perfect choice.
Pros & Cons of Polk Audio RTI A9 Floorstanding Speaker
|✅ Pros||❌ Cons|
|Extremely affordable, yet still audiophile quality||Not the extreme levels of refinement offered in much more expensive speakers|
|Big sound, and yet still capture small details and small ensembles well|
|Punch, bass extension and weight, volume and musical energy|
|Beautiful musical tone|
Even more affordable are the Yamaha NS-333 bookshelf speakers, and yet they have developed somewhat of a cult following among budget audiophiles.
Certainly I noticed right away that they have a very engaging sound, bright and attractive.
They pulled me in with their detail and energy in a way that few, if any, other speakers at this low price could.
They handle the sound of strings remarkably well.
The complete symphonies and string symphonies of Mendelssohn, in a great bargain set on Warner Classics, really represents this strength of the Yamaha NS333 speakers.
The string symphonies, in particular, have a silky, rich, and almost liquid sound, with so much detail and dynamic shading.
At the same time, this beautifully recorded boxed set can show some slight deficiencies in this lower-priced speaker system.
The full symphonies also have a wonderful string sound – and indeed all the instruments have a nice, rich and detailed sound – but the overall impact of a full orchestra is just not there.
Deep bass, volume and dynamics, and the large space of an orchestra in a concert hall don’t quite come across with the Yamaha NS-333. Still impressive, mind you, but not at the highest level…
With chamber and solo instrument recordings, though, the magic returns in full force.
Marc-Andre Hamelin’s big piano and even bigger sound, on Hyperion’s superlative set of Scriabin sonatas, are captured with real impact on the Yamaha NS-333 bookshelf two-way speakers, and the eerie and beautiful sound world of Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time can realize its full effect on these little speakers – try the superb Deutsche Grammophon disk.
Compared to the more expensive entries on this buyer’s guide to the best speakers for Classical music, the Yamaha NS-333 bookshelf loudspeakers are clearly not on the same level.
But to me such comparisons don’t make sense, and when you put them next to other speakers in their price range they emerge as superb performers and a great choice for the discerning listener.
No wonder they have developed such a following!
Pros & Cons of Yamaha NS-333 2-Way Bass Reflex Bookshelf Speakers
|✅ Pros||❌ Cons|
|A captivating, bright and rich sound quality||Lacking deep bass extension and weight|
|Very high sensitivity, so they play loud with even smaller amplifiers||Not as convincing with large orchestras and halls|
|High quality construction|
|Superb reproduction of the sound of most instruments – with especially striking string sound|
The Focal Aria 906 bookshelf speakers really surprised me. In fact, when I first heard symphonic music through them I literally got up and made sure I had hooked them up properly and wasn’t instead listening to the much bigger speakers they were sitting next to.
With the full force of Shostakovich’s 7th Symphony, in a thrilling live performance led by Andris Nelsons, the Focal Arias never once sounded small or lacking in dynamic power, and offered not only a beautiful presentation of space around the orchestra but also surprisingly deep bass response.
And when the same symphony got quiet, the little Focals didn’t miss a beat, maintaining their dynamic accuracy and spatial presence. In fact, with the Aria 906 stand-mounted monitors I kept thinking that the speakers themselves disappeared, and in their place was a holographic representation of whatever I was listening to, lifelike and wholly convincing.
The Heath Quartet’s survey of the complete string quartets of Bela Bartok on Harmonia Mundi is already a legendary recording among audiophiles. On the Focal Aria 906 loudspeakers, the sounds of each of the stringed instruments were represented beautifully, the dynamics and excitement of the playing was palpable, and the spatial accuracy was so great that I had the feeling the players were in my room.
Not an inexpensive speaker, the Focal Aria 906 mini-monitors must stand up against some really great competitors, but even at its price, these speakers kept striking me as an incredible value.
Truly top-notch audiophile performance which brings me closer to the music than almost any other speaker on this list.
Pros & Cons of Focal Aria 906 Bookshelf 2-way loudspeaker
|✅ Pros||❌ Cons|
|Though expensive, a truly great bargain||None at this price|
|Incredible power, spatial presentation and impact with symphonic music|
|Equally impressive with medium or small ensembles and solo instruments|
|They disappear, and only the music remains!|
I once had a little desktop stereo system which cost around 30 Euros, looked as cheap as it was, and yet had just unbelievable sound. For some unknown reason, it was so musical, so sweet and rich sounding, and had so much energy that for a while I was listening to it more than my expensive audiophile system.
Enter the Pyle Vintage Radio Music System. I won’t get into detailed description of its sound quality – and, to be fair, it can’t stand up against anything else on our list of best speakers for Classical music – but I will say that it sounds great, and for the money it would be hard to find anything with a more musical or engaging sound.
This isn’t just a speaker system, but a full feature desktop sound system, with plenty of flexibility, and includes:
- MP3 Player
- USB Input
- SD Card Slot
- Aux Input (for CD players, etc)
- Built-in Stereo Speakers
- Bluetooth Connectivity
And did I mention that it looks really cool?
Again, not a real contender compared to the awesome speakers listed above, but for an office or nightstand, a birthday or Christmas present, or an audiophile’s secret guilty pleasure, this little stereo is a personal favorite.
It sounds a million times better than it has a right to, and somehow is especially pleasing with Classical music.
Pros & Cons of Pyle PUNP34BT Retro Classic Bluetooth Radio Sound System
|✅ Pros||❌ Cons|
|Good sound – great, in fact, for the money||No real refinement of sound|
|Incredibly flexible||Stereo imaging, dynamics, deep bass and extended highs not on the same level as “real” hi-fi equipment|
Buying Guide of Best Speakers for Classical Music
I have been around stereo equipment for years, and so I sometimes forget that not everybody understands all the terms and technical jargon which to me might come so naturally.
So I thought it might be helpful to include here a little glossary of some of the terms mentioned in this article.
This is in no way complete, but maybe it will be of some help.
A small speaker which can sit on a bookshelf or other surface. These are also called stand-mounted speakers, and work equally well (and sometimes much better) sitting on a good, rigid stand.
An electronic circuit, usually built into a speaker, directs high-frequency music or sound to the high-frequency drivers (tweeters and midranges) and low frequencies to the low-frequency drivers (woofers and sub-woofers). If you want more details we have an in-depth article on how speaker crossover works.
The part of the speaker that actually creates and projects sound – usually a cone or dome of paper, fiber, or some hi-tech material. These are usually seen on the front of the speaker, and generally, the small drivers (tweeters and midranges) handle higher frequencies, while the larger drivers (woofers and sub-woofers) handle the bass notes.
Dynamics, or Dynamic Range
Dynamics refers to the relative sound level, or volume, of music, and how it changes from softer to louder or louder to softer. Dynamic range is a measure of the range from the very softest, or quietest, notes to the very loudest.
A special kind of speaker driver, which uses a high voltage static electric field to move a very light and thin membrane, which creates sound. Electrostatic speakers often have very low distortion and very open, clear sound.
Enclosure (or Cabinet)
The speaker’s box, in which the crossover and wires sit, and on which the drivers are mounted. As a rule, the thicker, heavier and more damped the cabinet, the better the sound.
Just as it sounds, this is a speaker which sits directly on your floor, without stands. These speakers are usually larger than bookshelf or stand-mounted speakers, and can often (though not always) provide better deep bass because of their larger woofer drivers.
The range of sound, from high notes to low notes, that a speaker can reproduce. Generally, but not always, larger speakers, with larger woofers, have better low end (bass) frequency response, and more expensive speakers with better tweeters will go higher and have more high frequency detail.
Small to medium sized speaker drivers which reproduce the notes in the middle of the musical range – like vocals, guitars and much of the piano’s range. These notes fall between what the tweeter and the woofer would normally handle.
A specially tuned hole in a speaker’s cabinet which can help extend the speaker’s bass response deeper – especially useful for smaller speakers that have smaller woofers and limited bass response.
The maximum amount of power (wattage – from the amplifier) that a speaker can handle. It is important not to overload a speaker with too much power, but many experts say that it is even more dangerous to have too small of an amplifier – if an amp has to work too hard to drive a speaker, it will start “clipping” and the resulting distortion is more likely to hurt a speaker than too much power.
The space in which a musical performance, and the people and instruments performing, are found. A sound stage can be very large, as for a whole symphony orchestra, or very small, as for a solo violinist, but a great speaker should be able to reproduce any size soundstage equally well.
Three way speaker
A speaker with three different drivers – a tweeter, a midrange, and a woofer – handles high notes, middle notes, and bass notes respectively. Check out the difference between 2-way and 3-way speakers here.
Two way speaker
A speaker with two drivers – a tweeter and a woofer – handles high notes and low (bass) notes respectively.
A small speaker driver which handles high notes. This might include a soprano voice, a flute, the high notes of a piano or violin, and more.
A unique (get it?) technology found exclusively on KEF loudspeakers, in which the tweeter and woofer are mounted together in one single unit, and sit perfectly on the same axis. This allows all sounds to arrive at the listening position at the same moment, which provides superb reproduction of soundstage and space, and also dramatically improves dynamics and detail.
A larger speaker driver designed to reproduce bass music. Larger woofers, often in separate enclosures, are called subwoofers and handle deeper bass.
Of all the musical genres, including rock and roll, country, rap, hip-hop, soul, R&B, electronica, and dance music, jazz, and world music, Classical music is the most difficult to reproduce and offers the most challenges for speakers.
The speaker systems listed above have all been selected especially for their special ability to reproduce this most challenging – and most rewarding – type of music.
They are all excellent choices, and you can’t go far wrong with any of them, but we hope that this guide will help you narrow down this already select list, and choose the very best speakers for your listening tastes, system, room, and budget.