Classical music can be especially hard to recreate effectively with a home audio system. The genre’s wide dynamic range means you need a speaker that will produce delicate pianissimos and powerful fortissimos, while the frequency range runs from the deep bass of low brass to the bright treble of a piccolo—and everything in between. Add in the number of voices that play at once in an orchestra, and you’re putting a clarity demand on the speakers that most home models can’t handle.
Electrostatic speakers work especially well for classical music, though cone and ribbon speakers can also do the trick. What you’re really looking for is a decently large dynamic system with a sophisticated crossover circuit, good phase control, and concentric drivers for a smooth, complete sound.
Having said all this (it’s a mouthful, we know), we’ll now give you our recommendations for the 4 best speakers for classical music:
JBL L830 3-Way Bookshelf Loudspeaker
If you don’t have a grand to drop on speakers (some of these speakers will get expensive, we warn you ahead of time), the JBL L830 delivers quality sound for less than five hundred dollars. The cabinets are large, weighing about twenty pounds each, and are best served by a decent-sized room where the big sound from the 6” bass driver can have some room to breathe. And it’ll have no trouble filling the room with sound, with a waveguide designed to eliminate sweet spots in the listening area. Its excellent frequency response makes it capable of producing the full range of an orchestra’s diverse sounds, smoothly and evenly from bottom to top.
KEF LS50 Mini Monitor
The innovative housing of the LS50 allows it to deliver a multi-dimensional sound out of proportion to its size, defying the conventional audio wisdom that a big sound needs a big driver to produce it. The speakers use what’s known as a tangerine waveguide to produce spherical sound waves, raising the first resonance and extending the frequency response. The drivers use a resonance dampening mechanism to prevent peaks in midrange response. All of this combined gives the output equal strength in all frequencies. The sound that comes out of these speakers is spacious and authentic, and the compact design makes the LS50 ideal for apartment dwellers or anyone working under space limitations. These should be on anyone’s list of the best speakers for classic music.
The proprietary Direct/Reflecting technology in these Bose speakers produces an exceptionally realistic, lifelike sound. Rather than aiming the sound directly at the listener, it directs some of it around the room, reflecting it back to your ears off of the walls in the same way you receive the sound from a live orchestra in a concert hall. This eliminates sweet spots and dead spots, making the music sound equally good throughout the room. Each speaker has nine full-range drivers that perform especially well in the bass end and give the sound a huge presence with a stable stereo image.
Cerwin Vega XD5
Cerwin Vega speakers have long been renowned for their high quality. With the XD5, they deliver that sound quality in a compact package that’s perfect for the classical music aficionado whose listening room has limited space—these speakers will easily fit on your desk or bookshelf. They feature a 1” treated silk dome tweeter for the treble and a 5” polypropylene woofer cone for the bass, with a crossover set at 80 Hz to prevent bass localization and a ported design to extend the bass response. At under $200 for a pair, these are undoubtedly among the best speakers for classical music.
Getting the Most Out of Your Speakers
You’ve probably heard that a speaker plays the room it’s in, but you might not have thought about what that means for the sound. By rearranging the set-up of your listening room and being careful in your placement of the speakers, you can make a decent speaker sound great, and a great speaker live up to its full potential. When you’re deciding how to arrange your listening room, you’ll first want to note the location of your outlets—from a practical standpoint, this will determine the easiest place to put your speakers. Once you’ve picked out the wall where your speakers will go, set up your listening position across the room, facing the speakers.
Sound reflects off of hard, flat surfaces, and you want to cut down on that when setting up your listening room. Glass is especially harmful to a good sound, and any windows in the room should be covered with heavy curtains when you’re listening. Flat walls can be broken up with bookshelves, or softened by hanging tapestries. When picking the furniture for the room, favor things made from wood over metal, glass, or marble. The pores of the wood help absorb some of the reflected sounds, while harder surfaces will only reflect it more. Similarly, using couches and armchairs with lots of pillows or throws will help dampen the sound. A thick rug on the floor about midway between your chair and your speakers is a good idea, even if your listening room is carpeted. If the room is especially large, an extra armchair or folding screen in a corner can help to make it sound more intimate. Basically, favor soft over hard, avoiding glass and metal when possible.
The direction and spacing of your cabinets will have a lot to do with the size of your room and your particular model of speakers. Designs like the Bose 901 (see full specs) mentioned above—which produce sound from both the front and the back of the speaker—should be placed close to the wall but not right up against it. Electrostatic speakers, on the other hand, need a lot more space behind them, and may be better placed almost in the center of the room. A general rule of thumb is to angle the speakers inward, toward the listener, when you’re using a conventional stereo speaker pair.
What works well for one person in one room might not be the right sound for everybody, though, so use the advice here and the recommendations of your speaker’s manufacturer as a starting point, and then try a few different configurations until you’ve found the one that brings the best music to your ears. Combine these tips with our recommended best speakers for classical music, and you’ll be enjoying the masters’ works to your heart’s content!