Bookshelf speakers are a great way to "buy into" a particular speaker line without spending the big bucks on towers. In many cases, the difference between a company's bookshelf offerings, and their tower speaker offerings, is just a matter of a couple woofers and a lot more furniture/cabinetry. And you can pay dearly for choosing a tower over a bookshelf, money that could easily go into a quality subwoofer instead. With the bookshelf model within any given speaker line, you are still getting the same overall sound as the larger floor-standing siblings.

Modern bookshelf speakers are surprisingly capable and manage to eek out some respectable bass on their own. Depending on the music genres you enjoy, that could be enough bass on its own. But, it is also true that a 2.1 system that pairs good bookshelf speakers with a competent subwoofer can match or beat the performance of towers from the same speaker line.

Because bookshelf models are the comparatively affordable component in any given speaker line, you can get a lot of performance for under $1000/pair. Indeed, there is a lot of competition around the $500 per pair price point, and a tremendous selection of models to choose from in the range between $500 per pair and $1000/pair, which is the range this list focuses on.

Flexible Placement

The term bookshelf speaker is really a nod to the notion that you get flexibility in placement when dealing with a compact enclosure. Of course, you can use these speakers on an actual bookshelf, but they are also known as stand mount speakers precisely because you can opt to put them on speaker stands, so that they sit at the right height for listening.

But, you can do even more with bookshelf speakers than just put 'em on stands or shelves. They are usable as satellites in multichannel surroundsound systems, because they are easy to mount on a wall. Furthermore, bookshelf speakers are usable as desktop speakers. What's key is you can put a bookshelf speaker in many places that a tower speaker will simply not fit.

2-Way vs. 3-Way

Although you will find bookshelf speakers that use a single full range driver, and it is theoretically possible that somebody out there has created a 4-way bookshelf design, as a rule bookshelf speakers are either 2-way or 3-way designs. But the three-way designs often include this twist: the tweeter is integrated with the midrange in what's known as a concentric driver, wherein the tweeter is located in the center of the midrange. This has the dual benefit of space savings, and allowing the bookshelf to perform better when used for near-field/mid-field listening.

The main thing here is, there's no right answer. There are good 2-way and good 3-way designs, but what is rare is a good 3-way bookshelf speaker design that does not feature a concentric driver, so if that's what you seek your options will surely be limited.

Active versus Passive

One of the cool things about bookshelf speakers, is there's a sizeable selection of active (self-powered) options, in addition to the myriad passive models out there (passive = speakers that require an amplifier). Indeed, there are far more options in the bookshelf form factor then there are active towers. And, there is the whole subcategory of studio monitors, which by and large are simply active bookshelf speakers that come equipped with the sort of connections used in studios (balanced XLR).

But, active speakers are another category. In this list, we're focusing on passive models.

Subwoofer Integration

When building out a system using bookshelf speakers, a subwoofer is a common addition. For surround-sound systems, what you'll want is bookshelf speakers that easily handle playback down to 80 Hz. This way you can use the standard 80 Hz crossover and achieve seamless surround-sound and full range frequency response coverage.

The trick is getting the integration right, which involves matching the subwoofer's output levels to the speakers, and also accounting for timing/distance differences. But, in terms of audio science, it is axiomatic that the best place for a driver that's creating deep bass is not necessarily the same spot that's optimal for the rest of the audible spectrum. So, finding a good spot for a sub is key to assembling a sub/satellite system using bookshelf speakers.

A Matter of Taste

There is a "science of good sound" and today's speakers are better off for it. Thanks to easily available measurement gear and computer modeling, a lot of guesswork has been eliminated from the speaker design process. And yet, of all the components in your sound system, it is the speaker that is going to have the most profound impact on what you actually hear. And at the end of the day, "preference is reference" meaning there is at least some room for personal preference in choosing a speaker.

The other thing about speakers is that if you're listening to them, chances are you're also looking at them. So not only are you making a decision based on how speakers sound, chances are you are also factoring in how they look, and that's OK. If you're going to put something in your living room, you probably want it to meet an aesthetic standard that you set... because it is a matter of taste. This extends to the finish, some speakers only come in black, others are available in a rainbow of colors.

But, that's the beauty of the bookshelf category.... the incredible array of options available to shoppers. If you shop carefully, you can find speakers that have both visual and aural qualities that appeal to you.

In terms of actually shopping for a bookshelf speaker, the "matter of taste" issue centers around demoing a number of speakers, ideally in your own home and in the system where you plan to use them. To this end, it is helpful when the retailer has a generous return policy, or even better a risk-free in-home trial of the speakers.

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1. SVS Ultra Bookshelf

This is a speaker that does not need an introduction here on AVS Forum: The SVS Ultra bookshelf. I'll keep this short because there's not much to say about near perfection.


SVS Ultras come in right at the top of the budget at $999.98 per pair. But, they are worth every penny. While SVS is a company best known for subwoofers, don't be deterred from considering its speakers. These speakers have a wide soundstage and offer excellent bass output for a bookshelf model (45 Hz anechoic).

If you have never heard a pair and are looking for speakers that will blow you away, this is a top choice. Not only that, SVS makes it easy to determine if these are the right speakers for you with its 45 day in-home trial that includes free shipping both ways.


2. Polk Legend L100

Polk's Legend Series speakers are the company's premium, high-performance offering. They feature newly designed drivers, namely the pinnacle tweeter (which utilizes a ring radiator design) and the Turbine cone woofer. Published specifications are 57 Hz to 38,000 Hz (-3 dB limit) with 85.5 dB sensitivity and a nominal impedance that ranges between 3 ohms and 4 ohms.

Low impedance and low sensitivity, combined with high power handling, put these squarely in the "audiophile design philosophy" category. You'll want to use a good amplifier if you pick these up.


3. Klipsch RP-600M

Here's a speaker that has consistently impressed critics and owners alike. It's a Klipsch, so of course there is a horn on the tweeter, but in this application it primarily acts as a waveguide that controls the dispersion of the titanium dome. This powerful bookshelf model also features a 6.5 inch wooferwith the signature Klipsch cerametallic spun copper finish.

Key specifications include a frequency response of 45 Hz to 25 kHz +/-3 dB. Power handling is rated 100 W continuous.


4. Definitive Technology Demand Series D11

Good looks and high performance are what make these Definitive Technology D11 speakers attractive to audio enthusiasts and home theater afficionados alike. The 1 aluminum tweeters are offset and rest inside custom waveguides. Instead of the more common ported design, the D11 utilizes a passive radiator to enhance bass output.

These speakers are well suited to both music reproduction and home theater applications. According to Definitive Technology, the speaker offers a frequency response of 61 Hz to 22 kHz (-3 dB limit) with a "total frequency response" of 44 Hz to 24 kHz. Impedance is listed as 4 ohms and sensitivity is rated at 90 dB. Power handling is up to 200 Watts.


5. ELAC Uni-fi UB5 Standard/Slim

Here we have the Uni-Fi UB5, an excellent concentric-driver, three-way bookshelf speaker design from Andrew Jones, who is unquestionably a master at designing speakers using concentric drivers. By combining the Tweeter and midrange into one concentric driver, this speaker can maintain time alignment, for precise sound. Indeed, if you are looking for a speaker that packs surprising performance considering its price and its size, it's hard to beat the UB5.

ELAC published specifications claim a frequency response of 46 Hz to 25 kHz (no range given) with a sensitivity of 85 dB. Power handling is listed at up to 140 W, with an optimal range being between 40 W and 140 W per channel. impedance is rated at 4 ohms nominal with a minimum of 3.4 ohms. this speaker is available in either a standard cabinet door a slim cabinet, offering the same performance just a little bit different shape. The slim cabinet is available in a white finish, as well as black. And if you're so inclined, the standard cabinet is also available in Walnut finish.


6. KEF Q350

Here is another option featuring a concentric driver, but in this case a two-way design. This speaker therefore acts as a "point source" for the entire audio spectrum it reproduces. One benefit is that you can listen to it from any distance and it will maintain focus, even if you put a pair on your desk and use them as monitors.


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