Headphones are appropriate for public transit and late-night studying, but when looking to blast some tunes, earbuds might not cut it.
Whether you’re a movie buff, music lover, or casual party host, no audio setup is complete without a decent pair of speakers. When portability isn’t a priority, you can’t beat the sound you get from stationary bookshelf speakers.
Considering the wide variety of designs, sizes, features, and prices, shopping for the best bookshelf speakers for your needs can be overwhelming. Read on to learn more about what to look for when shopping for the best bookshelf speakers on the market.
- BEST OVERALL: Presonus Eris Near Field Studio Monitor (Pair)
- UPGRADE PICK: Klipsch The Sixes Powered Monitor (Pair)
- BEST AUDIO QUALITY: Klipsch RP-600M Reference Premiere Bookshelf Speakers
- BEST COMPACT: Sonos One SL Microphone-Free Smart Speaker
- BEST FOR GAMING: Audioengine A2+ Plus Desktop Monitor Speakers
- BEST FOR HOME THEATER: Fluance Bipolar Surround Sound Speakers
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Bookshelf Speakers
In a speaker system, most people want quality and power, but they don’t want to splurge on fancy features they won’t use. Before making a final purchase, consider the following.
Bookshelf speakers derive their name from their shelf-friendly size. That’s not to say, however, that all models measure or weigh the same.
Larger speakers often provide a louder and more immersive sound, but the size of the room matters, too. Bulky speakers in cramped rooms can drown higher frequencies with excessive bass tones. Tiny speakers in wide-open spaces, on the other hand, distribute the sound unevenly around the room.
Always check the manufacturer’s recommendations before buying. Some speakers perform better on stands; others require an amplifier. Make sure you have the space for any additional hardware needed.
Wired vs. Wireless
Some speakers must be physically connected to an audio source, while others connect wirelessly. Wired models offer better sound consistency, but they may be more of a hassle to set up. Many models, however, still require a cable to connect the left and right channels and to a power source.
Home Theater vs. Hi-Fi
Home theaters and high-fidelity (hi-fi) audio systems serve different purposes. A home theater includes several speakers to create an immersive movie sound experience, whereas hi-fi focuses on simulating the audio experience of a recording studio.
To achieve an immersive surround sound experience, home theaters require more equipment than hi-fi speakers. A hi-fi system consists of one pair of stereo speakers and an amplifier, while a home theater requires a display unit, an A/V receiver, and a subwoofer in addition to several speakers. The most common arrangements are 5.1, 7.1, or 9.1, which means one subwoofer and five, seven, or nine speakers.
An audio system’s power output is measured in watts. The amount of power needed depends on the desired volume, the size of the room, and the speakers’ intended use.
Those who throw parties or host movie nights may need more power than classical music lovers who listen at a moderate volume. For most people, 50 watts is more than enough.
Impedance, measured in ohms, is another useful consideration when shopping for an amplifier. It measures the speakers’ resistance to the amplifier’s current. In compatibility, 8-ohm speakers are the safest bet. Anything less than 8 ohms may provide better sound, but only with a matching amp.
Volume and Sensitivity
The speaker system’s maximum acoustic output is how loud it can get in decibels. Sensitivity, on the other hand, refers to how efficiently a speaker converts the amplifier’s power into sound. It’s a measure of how loud the volume can get with 1 watt of power. Higher sensitivity equals higher volume with less power.
In product descriptions, shorthand descriptions like this may appear: “90 dB SPL 1W/1M.” In this example, the speaker creates a sound pressure level (SPL) of 90 decibels with 1 watt of power when measured at a 1-meter distance from the speaker. Sometimes, sensitivity, or SPL, is measured in 2.83 volts instead of a watt. For an 8-ohm speaker, it makes no difference. With a 4-ohm speaker, however, 2.83 volts equals roughly 2 watts. In that case, subtract 3 decibels to approximate the sensitivity rating of 1 watt.
A sensitivity of 85 to 88 dB is good, while 89 to 100 dB is a higher grade. A maximum acoustic output of over 100 dB is also more than sufficient. For comparison purposes, 110 dB is the equivalent of the sound at a rock concert.
For speakers, quality means accurate audio reproduction. To that end, frequency response is a measurement in hertz (Hz) of the range of frequencies a speaker can re-create. A figure of 80 Hz to 20 kHz means that the speakers can cover any frequency between 80 hertz and 20,000 hertz. The wider the range, the better.
However, just because speakers can cover a frequency doesn’t mean they do it well. That’s where Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) comes in handy. It measures how faithfully a speaker translates input into sound. A lower figure means less distortion, which is what most people want. As a rule of thumb, the ideal figure is between 0.05 and 0.08 percent, but anything below 0.1 percent is adequate. Unfortunately, manufacturers rarely list that specification.
Be sure to pay attention to any information about the drivers, which are referred to as “woofers” and “tweeters.” Multiple drivers distribute frequencies better, while larger drivers create a louder sound. On the other hand, rigid materials, such as polypropylene, aluminum, titanium, or glass fiber polymer, produce less distortion.
An amplifier draws from the connected power source and amplifies it to an adequate amount of volume. In an active or powered speaker, the amp is already built into the design. Passive speakers, however, need a separate amplifier, which must be compatible with them. While built-in amps are the simplest solution, many audiophiles prefer being able to choose their own hardware.
When matching your amp, the wattage of the speakers and amplifier needs to match. Speakers hooked to an underpowered amp may cause overdrive and lasting damage. An amp can be more powerful than the speakers, but even then, manipulate the volume cautiously.
As for impedance, mismatched ohm ratings between the speakers and amplifiers can lead to overheating. The amplifier needs an equal or lower impedance figure than that of the speakers. This means the speaker’s impedance figure should not be lower than that of the amp. Consequently, 8-ohm speakers are easier to match than 4- or 2-ohm alternatives.
Most speakers come in dark colors, wooden tones, or metallic tints, although some feature vibrant designs. When in doubt, choose a color or tone to match the surrounding furniture. Factor in the design of any additional hardware, too, such as the amps, A/V receivers, and subwoofers.
Also determine whether the speakers will stand on a shelf unobtrusively or be showcased in the space. Some models are not optimally shaped or sized for shelves, while others perform best on stands.
Our Top Picks
Even with these shopping considerations in mind, comparing quality products can be a tedious process. To help provide a head start, here are some of the best bookshelf speakers available online. Read on to find out what makes them special.
From PreSonus, this pair of bookshelf speakers is a versatile standout. These speakers are suitable for music, movies, gaming, and home video production. The black, streamlined design looks sleek but is also discreet enough to blend into any style of decor.
With a built-in 25-watt amplifier, this active model is hassle-free—no amp matching needed. The wattage is fairly low, but the 100 dB sensitivity is notably high, allowing for more volume with less power. Its range is also good, with a frequency response of 80 Hz to 20 kHz. The 3.5-inch woven composite drivers are on the smaller end of the spectrum, but they’re still large enough to provide powerful bass and accurate sound throughout a room. These speakers include three different types of audio inputs (TRS, RCA, and stereo) to connect to nearly any device.
This Klipsch pair blends elegance and power in one sophisticated design. The speakers are made of quality materials, with genuine walnut veneer or ebony for the cabinet and tactile spun copper for the switches and knobs. At 100 watts, they’re among the most powerful speakers on the market. They have a frequency response of 40 Hz to 20 kHz. With their 6.5-inch long-throw woofers, 1-inch titanium tweeters, and maximum acoustic output of 106 dB, you can really rock the house!
These speakers are big enough to provide immersive sound. Thanks to Bluetooth wireless technology, analog RCA inputs, and USB ports, they are versatile in terms of the devices they can pair with. The set comes with a speaker cable, USB cables, a wireless remote control, and a power cord.
With a frequency response of 45 Hz to 25 kHz and a sensitivity rating of 96 dB with 2.83 volts at 1 meter, these speakers cover a wide range of frequencies and efficiently convert power into sound, allowing for high volume at a low total harmonic distortion. Their 6.5-inch spun copper cerametallic woofers and 1-inch titanium tweeters also contribute to a clear, interference-free sound.
At 100 watts, these speakers are powerful, which calls for caution with amp matching. Thankfully, their ohm-rating makes them compatible with most amps. To further increase the power, dual input terminals on the rear panel allow for bi-amping.
Choose between three scratch-resistant finish options: ebony, piano black, and walnut.
The Sonos One SL is among the most compact speakers in their category. It fits any space, and at 4.08 pounds, it easily goes wherever you go. Its resistance to humidity means it can be used in the bathroom.
This speaker uses wireless technology to connect to any smart device. For an instant stereo effect, connect it to a second Sonos speaker. The most compelling part, however, may be the Sonos app, which allows volume control via a phone as well as access to a wide range of music, radio broadcasts, podcasts, and audiobooks. The One SL comes in black or white, and with a built-in class-D amplifier, it sets up in minutes.
The Audioengine A2+ wireless powered speakers include dual analog audio inputs, a USB audio input, and a subwoofer connection, but Bluetooth technology is the fastest way to connect other devices.
Their built-in amplifiers make for an easy setup. With a power of 60 watts, a sensitivity rating of 88 dB, a frequency response ranging from 64 Hz to 22 kHz, and a total harmonic distortion of 0.05 percent, they perform remarkably well for their compact size. However, their 2¾-inch custom aramid fiber woofers and ¾-inch silk dome tweeters are on the smaller side.
They include a headphone jack and are available in three colors: black, red, or white. They come with a 2-meter speaker wire, a power cord, USB cable, mini-jack audio cable, microfiber transport bags, and two lithium batteries.
Fluance Bipolar Surround Sound Speakers stand out not only for their immersive bipolar sound, but also for their unusual design. Their trapezoidal configuration creates a radiation pattern that simulates the surround sound of a theater. Their medium-density fiberboard cabinetry reduces resonance, and their four-driver design—including two 1-inch neodymium tweeters and two 4-inch polymer-treated woofers—makes for better dispersion of sound.
Their sensitivity rating is 88 dB at 2.83 volts at 1 meter, which is more than enough for 100-watt speakers. With a frequency response ranging from 130 Hz to 20 kHz, however, they don’t cover lower frequencies as well as a traditional subwoofer might.
These speakers are available in three different finish options: natural walnut, black ash, or white. They’re not battery-powered, which means they require an amplifier compatible with 100-watt and 8-ohm speakers.
FAQs About Bookshelf Speakers
Still have questions? Here are some of the most frequently asked questions (and their answers) about bookshelf speakers.
Q. What are bookshelf speakers good for?
Bookshelf speakers are very versatile. You can use them for watching movies, listening to music, gaming, hosting parties, and producing music or videos at home. They generate better and louder sound than most portable alternatives, without taking up an excessive amount of space.
Q. Do bookshelf speakers come wired?
Many passive speakers require speaker wire to connect to an amplifier. The buyer sometimes must select the right gauge (thickness) of wire and connect it to the right terminals.
Q. What’s the difference between wireless and Bluetooth speakers?
Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are both wireless technologies. Wi-Fi allows you to connect to the internet, whereas Bluetooth connects devices with one another.
Q. What bookshelf speakers should I buy?
When choosing bookshelf speakers, consider the space available, the volume and power desired, your design aesthetic, and whether you prefer wireless or wired, home theater or hi-fi, and passive or active.