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Audioholics’ Top Eight $800 Bookshelf Speaker Picks for 2021

Bookshelf Speaker $800 Roundup

Scaling up the pricing ladder
for our series of round-ups on bookshelf speakers, we now hit the $800/pair
ranks. Compared to lower-priced bookshelf speakers, the build quality, spec
set, or appearance can get kicked up a notch. You can get more speaker for your
money but not always. For this round-up, we picked the bookshelf speakers where
there is a clear step up from lower-priced speakers in the $600-700 range,
although perhaps not a huge step up. We feel that these would be a worthwhile
upgrade for those who can spend a little extra without breaking the bank. There
is no doubt that these have a premium look over lower price brackets, but we
think these particular selections have a performance gain as well. So now,
without further ado, let’s go over our top picks for bookshelf speakers in the
$800/pair price range, in no particular order…

Definitive Technology Demand D9

Demand D9 Product Page | Demand D9 Amazon Page

Deftech D9.jpgDefinitive Technology’s
Demand series left a very good impression on us in our review of their
Demand D15 tower speaker
. Given the performance targets that we saw there, we
think that the D9 would make a superb choice for bookshelf speakers in the
$800/pr price range. The Demand D9 used the same 5.25” midrange driver with the unusual phase
plug that was surprisingly effective in the D15 speakers, but instead of bass
drivers, the Demand D9 uses a hidden top-mounted passive radiator to deal with
low-frequencies. With a -3dB point of 64Hz, it could benefit from a sub, but
the good news is that it isn’t trying to push the midrange driver too hard.
That would entail a substantial sacrifice in sensitivity for a negligible level
of low-frequency extension, so not pushing the driver to attempt deep bass
looks to be a good idea. It has an exquisite smooth aluminum front baffle and
gloss black or gloss white side panels, so it is a gorgeous bookshelf speaker,
especially for the pricing. It isn’t a huge loudspeaker, so it isn’t likely to
be the most powerful speaker that can be had for this price range, but as far
as accuracy, build quality, as well as looks, it may be among the best in its
class. If you have an upscale, modernist interior, it will be hard to find a
better aesthetic fit for your home than the D9 for anything in its price
class. 

Dynaudio Emit M10

Emit M10 Product Page | Emit M10 Amazon Page

dynaudio m10.jpgDanish loudspeaker
manufacturer Dynaudio makes a wide range of speakers that range up to their
$45,000 Confidence 60 tower speakers, but the most accessible entry into their
loudspeaker range is the Emit M10 bookshelf speaker. The Emit M10 uses a 5.5”
magnesium silicate polymer woofer along with a 1.1” fabric dome tweeter with a
special coating, and the low-end is produced by a double-flared rear-mounted
port. An interesting aspect of the M10 is the crossover circuit, which uses a
first-order filter on the tweeter set at 3.7kHz; first-order filters do not
filter out much, but the abnormally high crossover frequency helps to alleviate
that. Nonetheless, a beefy tweeter is required to pull this off, but Dynaudio
is famous for their robust driver designs, so the M10 tweeter is very likely up
to the challenge. The advantage of a circuit like this is that the acoustic
phase rotation will be relatively mild compared to most two-way bookshelf
speakers which use second or third-order filters, so those who look for phase
linearity will like what these speakers are doing. Aside from the unusual
crossover design, the Emit M10 benefits from Dynaudio’s slick industrial
design, so these are handsome and not large speakers that could easily find a
place in a home even with a high spousal approval factor. The Emit M10 is sure
to be another solid design from Dynaudio and deserves close consideration at
this price point.

Elac Uni-Fi BS U5 Slim

Uni-Fi BS U5 Slim Product
Page
| Uni-Fi BS U5 Slim
Amazon Page

Elac UniFi Slim U5.jpgElac’s Uni-Fi Slim BS U5 is
unique in our round-up in that it is the only three-way speaker. It uses a
coaxial design for the tweeter and midrange, but that is not too surprising
coming from a speaker from renowned loudspeaker designer Andrew Jones who has
often turned to coaxial drivers in his designs. The midrange takes over from
270Hz to 2,700Hz, and this allows the Uni-Fi U5 Slim to have an actual bass
driver focus on the low frequencies instead of having a midrange driver
reproduce bass along with the rest of its range. This benefits the speaker by
having an extraordinarily low extension for a bookshelf speaker with solid bass
extension down to the low 40’s. Nesting the tweeter inside of the midrange
allows the tweeter to use it as a waveguide which further assists in
directivity matching between the drivers’ dispersion thereby creating a more
uniform off-axis sound. It also enlarges the dispersion on the vertical axis,
so these speakers do not have to be aimed directly at the listener to provide a
good sound; many two-way non-coaxial speakers require the listener to be within
a 10-degree vertical angle to avoid crossover nulls. This makes it an excellent
candidate for situations where perfect speaker positioning is not possible.
Andrew Jones and Elac have created a very compelling option with the Uni-Fi
Slim U5, and it is worth taking a hard look at for those shopping for bookshelf
speakers around its price point. This speaker has a particular advantage if seating placement is within the nearfield due to the coaxial design.

Aperion Audio Verus III Grand V5B

Verus III Grand V5B
Product Page | Verus III Grand V5B
Amazon Page

Aperion Verus III V5B.jpgStalwart loudspeaker
manufacturer Aperion Audio has been around for over two decades now which is an
enormous span of time for an internet direct seller. This kind of longevity
stems from good reviews and good word of mouth due to exceptional products. Aperion’s
entry at the $800/pair price range, the Verus III Grand V5B, looks to be
another well-engineered bookshelf speaker from them which further solidifies
their reputation. This luxurious-looking speaker boasts a high-gloss cherry
wood or piano black finish in a curved enclosure with a slight arching at the
top as well as magnetically attached grilles. That kind of cabinetry is rare at
this pricing and nearly impossible to get from any other manufacturer until
much higher price points are reached. The Verus III Grand V5B uses a kevlar
midrange cone with an aluminum phase plug along with a silk dome tweeter. It is
a rear-ported speaker with bi-ampable/bi-wirable capability, and one unusual
feature it has is a jumper that can reduce treble frequencies by 3dB, so if you
find the default flat response a bit bright, it is easily tapered. The Verus
III Grand V5B also has a remarkable low-frequency extension, digging down to
45Hz within a +/-3dB window. That should make these bookshelf speakers have
decent bass without needing to add a subwoofer which makes them all the better
of a choice for simpler two-channel systems. Altogether, the Verus III Grand
V5B looks to be a terrific choice for its asking price.

Ascend Acoustic Sierra-1

Sierra-1 Product Page

Ascend Sierra 1.jpgAscend Acoustics has been
around for almost as long as Aperion Audio and has built a similarly solid
reputation as a high-value, high-fidelity internet-direct loudspeaker manufacturer.
One of their most successful loudspeakers is the Sierra-1 which has been around
for many years now yet still is available in much the same form as it was when
it was initially launched. The reason for its longevity is that it is difficult
to improve upon something which was so well executed to begin with. We found
this out for ourselves having reviewed the Sierra-1 way back in 2007 and found it to be a superb loudspeaker in our subjective listening and
objective testing. Among the many features of the Sierra-1 is the use of bamboo
as a cabinet material instead of the usual MDF. Another unusual attribute is
that they are assembled in the USA instead of China which is a very difficult
aspect of any loudspeaker priced at less than multiple thousands of dollars.
What is more, every single Sierra-1 speaker ships with its individually
measured frequency response which is an uncommon level of transparency at this
price point. Its 5.25” woofer has a beast of a motor attached and must make a
substantial contribution to its hefty 20 lbs weight. Along with a beefy bass
driver is a beefy crossover circuit using a host of hulking air-core inductors
and polypropylene capacitors. The Sierra-1 has often been favorably compared to
much more expensive speakers, and it is easy enough to see for yourself since
they offer a 30-day trial period where the buyer is eligible for a full refund
if they do not want to keep them for any reason. We urge shoppers in this range
to find out for themselves what we discovered years ago; these speakers are
keepers!

MartinLogan Motion 15i

Motion 15i Product Page | Motion 15i Amazon Page: (available in White, Black, Red Walnut)

ML 15i.jpgIn the ultra-competitive
market of home audio loudspeakers, MartinLogan has thrived by setting
themselves apart by their use of curved electrostatic speakers rather than the
traditional cones and domes of most other brands. However, an electrostatic
panel isn’t feasible in a bookshelf speaker, so MartinLogan has resorted to
another ultra-lightweight transducer technology: AMTs. AMT tweeters function
differently than electrostatic panels, but their low mass enables them to have
a similarly extended response out to ultrasonic frequencies. This is
implemented in their $800/pair Motion 15i bookshelf speakers which pair an AMT
tweeter with a 5.25” aluminum woofer. The Motion loudspeakers are voiced
through the crossover to have a similar sonic character to their electrostatic
panels, so they may be the next best thing to a classic MartinLogan
electrostat. We quite enjoyed the sound in our review of the 15i’s bigger
brother, the Motion 35XTi
, which proved to have finesse as well as punch in our listening and
quasi-anechoic testing. One of the nifty things about AMTs is they can have
significantly more dynamic range than typical dome tweeters as well as a higher
extension in frequency response, so the Motion 15i could make as good of a
choice for home theater as it would simple two-channel music speakers. In
addition to its audio performance, the 15i looks slick in a modern minimalist
styling and modest size, so these are speakers that should be easy to
incorporate into a room with strict aesthetic standards.

Paradigm Premier 100B

Premier 100B Product
Page

Paradigm Premier 100B.jpgThe famed Canadian
loudspeaker manufacturer Paradigm has had a surprise hit on their hands with
the Premier series, and we saw why in our review of the 800F and 500C. These speakers looked nice and sounded even better with an
outstanding frequency response and excellent dynamic range. We liked them so
much that we included them in the Audioholics Smarthome (Audioholics Youtube Paradigm Premier Review). The Premier series is an
overachiever at their price range, so the Premier 100B definitely deserves
close consideration for bookshelf speaker shoppers at the $800/pair price
point. The 100B uses much of the same technology as the upper end of the
premier line-up such as Paradigm’s signature PPA lens which resembles a grille
with a sunflower cutout design. It also has Paradigms ART ribbed surround on
the woofer which lessens nonlinearities in the tension of the surround. The
tweeter should maintain good directivity matching with the 5.25” woofer using a
2kHz crossover which is a relatively low crossover point, but Paradigm’s
high-powered tweeter is definitely up to the task of digging that low without
running into distortion. The 100B may be the baby of the Premier series, but it
would be a formidable bookshelf speaker among similarly spec’d and similarly
priced peers, and we think it is a rock-solid choice at its $800/pair
pricing. 

RSL Sound CG25

CG25 Product Page

RSL CG25 pair.jpgFor those who are looking for
some pretty serious dynamic range in their bookshelf speaker in this price
range, RSL has a terrific option in the CG25 Monitors. These are stand-mount
speakers so they still count as bookshelf speakers in my book, although for
some reason a lot of manufacturers like to refer to vertical MTM speakers by
the category of ‘Monitors.’ As MTM speakers, where there are two woofers
flanking a tweeter, they are significantly larger than normal bookshelf
speakers in the height dimension, but the addition of the extra woofer gives
the CG25s headroom significantly above that of normal bookshelf speakers. The
dynamic range of most bookshelf speakers is usually limited by the woofer, not
the tweeter, so the inclusion of the extra woofer as well as the extra
enclosure space will enable these to get louder for the same wattage. In
Audioholics own sensitivity testing of the CG25 vs the single-woofer CG5, the
extra woofer and enclosure volume brought about a 3dB increase, thereby making
it twice as efficient as its little brother. And if you don’t need the extra
headroom, the basic sound quality was also quite good as we found in our full
review on the CG5s
.
In our review, we found them to have punchy bass as well as a smooth midrange
and treble, and we quite enjoyed our time with them. What is more, with a
beautiful gloss finish, they manage to have a sense of style as well as
performance which makes them a bargain at their pricing. Anyone can find out
for themselves at no cost since the CG25s have a 30-day risk-free trial with
shipping paid both ways if you wish to return them for any reason. Those who
take advantage of that offer are sure to find out what we did; these are
terrific speakers for the money!

Conclusion

$800 is a healthy budget for
a bookshelf speaker pair as is evidenced by the length of our list, and these
are by no means all of the great speakers in this price range, merely the ones
that we have review and listening experiences with. You can’t go wrong with any of these, although the
differences between them may make them better for some situations over others.
We have only given shoppers a starting point in seeing what the best fit for
their situation is, and all of these speakers have enough public data available
to make a very informed decision. We urge shoppers to dig a bit deeper to find
the best speaker for their own situation because those who do are sure to net a
terrific sound system that will be a source of pleasure for many years to come.

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