Great bookshelf speakers under $500: The $229 Emotiva Airmotiv B1+ and $315 Q Acoustics 3020i (Week 6, 2019)

Sound Advice
By Don Lindich

Week 6, 2020

Q.I have an audio system that features two ADS L570/2 speakers placed on bookshelves. Are there upgrade options under $1,000 that will provide more depth and “presence” but won’t break the bank? The room does not allow for a pair of tower/floor speakers, so the solution will have to be a bookshelf option.

-G.S., Minneapolis, MN

A. After the Polk LSiM column ran I received quite a few questions similar to yours. Your ADS speakers were some of the best of their day, and are still held in high regard by many audiophiles. Their performance will hold its own against many modern speakers, and there are not many vintage speakers that will do that.

When I considered the options I realized that two of the best choices come in well under $500, and produce even more beautiful sound than your ADS speakers. The ADS speakers are larger than the two sub-$500 recommendations and the bass may be slightly deeper as a result, but in all other respects the new speakers come out on top.

Some online vendors are selling the Polk LSiM703 for $569/pair instead of $749/pair. The LSiM703 originally retailed for $1499/pair and nothing under $1,000 is going to be able to compete with them in looks or sound quality. They should be your first choice if you can still find a pair.

My first sub-$500 recommendation is Emotiva’s Airmotiv B1+ bookshelf speakers for $229. They use the same technology as the T-Zero speakers that won my 2019 Sound Advice Product of the Year award, but in a much smaller, more affordable package. If depth and presence are what you are after, these speakers deliver like no other budget speaker with precise, airy sound, outstanding stereo imaging and a palpable sense of space that really puts you in to the performance. Despite the small size the bass impact and fullness of sound is surprisingly good, so good you won’t need a subwoofer in a small room. The B1+ speakers are priced at an impossibly low $229/pair, and on the day I wrote this column Emotiva was offering a $30 off coupon to anyone who signed up for text alerts. I suggest anyone interested in worldbeating small speakers for under $200 visit on their smartphone, sign up for text alerts and get a pair for only $199. No matter how strongly I praise them here, you are still not going to be prepared for what you hear the first time you play them.

Another award-winning small speaker I dearly love is the $315/pair Q Acoustics 3020i. The 3020i uses a special hybrid tweeter that combines a ring radiator tweeter (as found on Polk LSiM speakers) with a conventional soft dome tweeter. Compared to the Emotiva B1+, the 3020i has a richer tone that really excels with vocals, similar stereo imaging and more bass, though the sound is not quite as spacious and the treble is slightly less detailed. The wood-grain finish and smooth, rounded styling also has a decidedly upscale look compared to the B1+ and its plain black box.

One thing both of these fine speakers have in common is that no matter which one you buy, you are going to be astounded at how very good they sound for comparatively little money. It’s kind of nice to know that I can recommend affordable products that give readers a taste of the high end without the high price.