PSB Image 25 got a rave review in Stereophile (from a writer seemingly incapable of giving less than a rave review, however, so take it with a grain of salt). B&W 601s are highly regarded. Also check out the Paradigm Monitor line. You probably can't go too far wrong with any of them.
There's a lot to be said for starting small and working your way up, if and when you really have a reason to.
There is something of an embarrassment of riches in this category; tasty small monitors retailing at under $500.
One that I heard recently was the Epos ELS 3; delicious. I haven't directly compared the Epos side by side with others, but if memory serves it is great in its class. Also bought and still very much like the KEF Cresta 1 in that category. I thought the Monitor Bronze very good, with a little more throw weight, perhaps not quite the delicacy of the KEF. By all accounts there are lots of other excellent choices. Based on other Totem models I've heard, the Mites should stand up well too.
What are your listening taste? I'll throw the Omega Super 3s
in the pot.
I've owned Soliloquy 5.0's and Ruark Epilogues, both available for under $500 used, and both are excellent monitors.
There is a fellow selling Silverline SR-11's used on Audiogon. Asking $675, retail new is $1500. Buy these and you will never look back - although at some point you'll probably add a REL sub, as you would for any high quality minimonitor.
If you're talking about buying new, the KEF Q1 stand mounts would offer a smooth and somewhat warm sound, which is what you want in a budget speaker (to protect your ears from any fatigue associated with budget tradeoffs.)
It's been a while since I've heard them, but many years ago I owned a pair of Phase Tech PC-80's that were excellent. Since then, the PC-80 has been replaced by the PC1.1 and PC3.1. I believe the PC1.1 is around $500...
I loved my Totem Ones so the Dreamcatchers might be good. I would recommend the Quad 11L or Dynaudio Audience 42 in your price range (used). Pony up another $100 and look at Quad 12L, Dynaudio Audience 52, Green Mountain Europa or Von Scheikert vr1. These seem to be the most popular at this price point, well reviewed and hold resale value. This again is based on used price. The extra money should possibly buy you a little more bass extention and scale. Lots of nice little speakers out there that dont cost crazy money these days.
I have both the PSB Image 2's and B&W 601's. I have nothing but praise for both of these and they are well under $500.
Paradigm Titans are excellent for around $200. Their drivers are better than some speakers over a grand.
Omega Super 3. I've heard most of the speakers on this list and/or their more expensive bretheren, and the Omegas are really something special. I far prefer the Super 3 to the more expensive Grande 6 and Grande 8. At this price point they are very very unusual. For instance, in some aspects of transparency they reminded me of the $16,000 Avantgarde Duo. The Omega Super 3 is so interesting that I could never recommend them to a random stranger without audition. But I would strongly suggest trying to hear them if you possibly can.
These are somewhat large for bookshelves, and $100 over the budget, but these Morel 403.5's are awesome for $600 shipped:
You can pay an extra $40 and get Dennis Murphy's custom
crossover, which REALLY takes them to a whole new level:
I have the PSB Image 2B for $300 and the PSB Stratus Mini(lists for $1100, but bought used here for $480). Both are great speakers. Not sure which I like the best. The Image B25 is a slightly upgraded Image 2B and did get a rave review from Stereophile as the best speaker under$500.
I love my Epos ELS-3s. They're terrific in my 12x12 room.
I know it's a cliche, but the Epos ELS-3s really are one of those 'Why pay more?' breakthroughs. Delightful.
Shop for a primo condition pair that have the original parts. Watch out for parts mismatches and poor surround refoaming, etc. These speakers will deliver great bass, very good midrange, decent highs, very accurate sound, and will play almost any type of music well from classical to jazz to rock and roll with instrumentals, voice, you name it. If you outgrow them you will be able to sell them for within 10% of what you paid except for the shipping. Try Agon and eBay. One caveat: although they are considered bookshelf speakers, they want to be on small stands a half foot to a foot off the floor. While you are at it, find a vintage Marantz (2275, etc.) receiver in good shape. You might get both the speakers and the receiver for just your speaker budget.
my circumstances are a bit off the beaten path.. but an example of what can be done with older loudspeakers & a loudspeaker manufavturer that is consumer friendly... I got a pair of 6.5 Phase Techs from a friend for very little money... shortly afterwards one of the surrounds blew... I contacted PT in Jacksonville, Fl. and asked about them fixing the problem... they did. Actually, I had them completely redo both of the speakers... both drivers and both crossovers. For $250 incld. shipping, I've now got what is in my estimation a pair of loudspeakers that far surpass most of the units I've heard upwards of about a grand. If the maker is still alive, and the parts are still available, speakers can be had for a song... and I mean real good speakers too. With two ways, or monitors, the compettition is fierce. I'd not pass by a set, were I incleind to get some, just because they had an issue regarding driver or network... just a thought.