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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello All,

I have been trying to better understand the benefits and negative aspects of tower and bookshelf speakers. I have read several of the existing threads but still have questions.


I understand that tower speakers have larger cabinets and can have in many cases a 3 way design as opposed to the more standard 2 way design of most bookshelf's. In three way designs with correct crossovers it allows each of the components to function at its best frequency range. But isn't this also accomplished by a 2 way bookshelf and subwoofer? Looking at some bookshelf specs from different companies it seems that average range is somewhere in the range of 50 hz to 20 khz and 30 - 180 hz for the subwoofer resulting in a 30hz to 20 khz for the two. The towers I reviewed are in the 30 hz - 20khz range effectively covering the same range. Is the subwoofer location identification the issue here?


What would some of the other pro/cons be if driven by a sufficiently powerful receiver and both are using the same quality components. I know that the bookshelf's would need to be on stands as well.


Part of the reason I am looking into this is that I have a basement that I am turning into a media room (If I ever get done) and have been thinking about some of the audio options. The room is approx 15 w X 22 l X 7 h and will be used primarily for HT but also some music ranging from rock to jazz/blues to classical. Space really isn't a constraint.


Thanks in advance for any guidance or information you can share. This way I can be better prepared as I go and review different setups.
 

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I may not know much but I think the general consesus is that bookshelfs are equal in midrange sounds but severely lack bass compared to towers so if you want bookshelf speakers a subwoofer is a must. I believe towers are mostly for 2.0 builds and bookshelfs are for 5.1(though this only applies for lower to mid end systems). The choice between bookshelfs and towers is yours.
 

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I never believed in a full range 3-way speaker for movie watching (except the center channel, which needs to do some heavy lifting and needs to push a lot of air). If you set your crossover frequency to 80 hz, nothing below 80hz goes to the main speakers.


Now for music, I'm currently running into a problem with "too small" bookshelf speaker, but that's because 5.5" woofers/midrange are too small for my room. If you want to listen to pure 2.0 music, then I would strongly suggest a full range speaker (doesn't have to be 3-way). Bookshelf speakers cost less, but some speaker stands cost so much, it would cost the same to get the floor standing models.
 

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Whether you get bookshelf or tower speakers, you still need a sub for full-range performance. For movies in particular, no towers that I am aware of (within reason) reach as deep as a decent subwoofer. And the best location for the main speakers is often not the best location for a sub in terms of room interaction. No matter what main speakers you get, you will still want a separate sub. I have large tower mains with built-in powered woofers (AV123 RS1000), and I still have subs. Plan to get a sub, no matter what. And plan to spend a fairly significant portion of your budget on the sub. Also look into a sub EQ system: research your receiver first to see if it's built-in equalization can help in the bass area, and if not consider SMS-1, Anti-Mode 8033, Behringer BFD, etc. I'm not really a bass-head (honest! -- I EQ my sub to be flat), but making good bass is hard and costs money. The payoff is worth it, though, IMO.


I have heard a lot of bookshelf speakers (more than a dozen) in the same room that I have my towers in. I have read that bookshelf speakers plus a sub should be able to deliver an equivalent performance to towers (or towers plus a sub). But that has not been my experience so far. The towers just play "bigger" with more power and authority. They are more "dynamic". I suspect it has something to do with cone area since that would just make sense, and my towers have more cone area than any of the bookshelf speakers I have tried. Or maybe it is because they are tall, or the drivers are spread out over a longer vertical distance, but I really think cone area is the cause. The difference is quite noticeable. It isn't true of all tower speakers -- I have heard the AV123 x-ls (bookshelf) and x-sls (tower with same drivers as x-ls) in my room, and they sounded about the same as each other. So I guess it is that the tower format allows the speaker to have more cone area than a bookshelf, but not all do. I really like my towers.


Another factor to consider in towers versus bookshelf speakers is that you will need stands with bookshelf speakers. You can DIY (cement pillars, etc.) or buy some. But it does add cost. And despite the fact that bookshelf speakers are "smaller", when you consider that stands will also be needed, towers may actually be more acceptable to spouses (show them pictures). A nice tower speaker is often more attractive than a bookshelf speaker on a stand, IMO. And for kids and pets, towers can be less tippy due to the lower center of gravity.


-Max
 

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Towers have the woofers engineered to work with your middle and tweeter elements. The cabinet and circuitry are optimized to help the 3 elements complement each other to achieve the best fidelity or sound reproduction. A bookshelf lacks the woofer for mere lack of space to encase it, and must be complemented by an external subwoofer.

I disagree that a tower set of speakers must have a sub to complete them, it all depends on the speakers. If your towers have 12" woofer elements an 8" external sub would do nothing to help them (again, depends which towers, depends which subwoofers). Also depends on the application, in a theater setup the sub is essential no matter what your satellite speakers are, to enable the reproduction of the LFE channel coming out of your sound processor (receiver/amplifier)

So unless the room will be used exclusively for stereo listening I would recommend using bookshelf speakers and a subwoofer (or two
) and have it all properly balanced and EQ'd.

Now if it is feasible and within your budget, get a pair of towers and B channel them for music listening, then use the bookshelves for HT
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by SimpleTheater /forum/post/15591264


If you set your crossover frequency to 80 hz, nothing below 80hz goes to the main speakers.

what happens with 79.9hz or 79.999hz? both only go to sub ?
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by StphNieuw /forum/post/15591092


Hello All,

I have been trying to better understand the benefits and negative aspects of tower and bookshelf speakers.

With book shelf speakers you have to buy stands. Towers may or may not be tall enough to avoid that. Beyond that you can't generalize.


WIth a 3-way tower you can put the woofer low enough to avoid the floor bounce notch (occuring at hundreds of hertz, so a sub-woofer won't work around it).


Efficiency is proportional to cabinet volume; so you can gain 3dB with a cabinet that's twice the size. It's easier to get there if you can go all the way to the floor.


Most speakers you buy at stores aren't braced well-enough to avoid audible cabinet resonances and bigger enclosures (as with floor-standing speakers) make this worse. Most speakers you buy at stores with only four digits in the price tag for a pair have compromised on driver quality for cost reasons, and in some cases you'll do better with fewer more expensive drivers in a 2-way than a 3-way although the real answer is to not buy speakers sold through high-overhead sales channels.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by maxcooper /forum/post/15591725


Whether you get bookshelf or tower speakers, you still need a sub for full-range performance. For movies in particular, no towers that I am aware of (within reason) reach as deep as a decent subwoofer. And the best location for the main speakers is often not the best location for a sub in terms of room interaction. No matter what main speakers you get, you will still want a separate sub. I have large tower mains with built-in powered woofers (AV123 RS1000), and I still have subs. Plan to get a sub, no matter what. And plan to spend a fairly significant portion of your budget on the sub. Also look into a sub EQ system: research your receiver first to see if it's built-in equalization can help in the bass area, and if not consider SMS-1, Anti-Mode 8033, Behringer BFD, etc. I'm not really a bass-head (honest! -- I EQ my sub to be flat), but making good bass is hard and costs money. The payoff is worth it, though, IMO.


I have heard a lot of bookshelf speakers (more than a dozen) in the same room that I have my towers in. I have read that bookshelf speakers plus a sub should be able to deliver an equivalent performance to towers (or towers plus a sub). But that has not been my experience so far. The towers just play "bigger" with more power and authority. They are more "dynamic". I suspect it has something to do with cone area since that would just make sense, and my towers have more cone area than any of the bookshelf speakers I have tried. Or maybe it is because they are tall, or the drivers are spread out over a longer vertical distance, but I really think cone area is the cause. The difference is quite noticeable. It isn't true of all tower speakers -- I have heard the AV123 x-ls (bookshelf) and x-sls (tower with same drivers as x-ls) in my room, and they sounded about the same as each other. So I guess it is that the tower format allows the speaker to have more cone area than a bookshelf, but not all do. I really like my towers.


Another factor to consider in towers versus bookshelf speakers is that you will need stands with bookshelf speakers. You can DIY (cement pillars, etc.) or buy some. But it does add cost. And despite the fact that bookshelf speakers are "smaller", when you consider that stands will also be needed, towers may actually be more acceptable to spouses (show them pictures). A nice tower speaker is often more attractive than a bookshelf speaker on a stand, IMO. And for kids and pets, towers can be less tippy due to the lower center of gravity.


-Max

Totally agree with you. I have a bookshelf speaker sitting on a Foundation stand that cost more than $500 15 years ago.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Thank you all for your informative information. What do you mean with


"tower format allows the speaker to have more cone area than a bookshelf"


Does that mean the manufacturer can have larger speaker cones in it? So from what I have read it sounds like the main issues are:


1. Bass response and how low the speakers can go. I would get a large sub woofer with either option so that doesn't sound like it would be a issue.


2. Bookshelf speakers would need to go on a stand to be at the correct height (the tweeter at ear high?) So I would either need to make stands or purchase them.



Now can somebody help me understand the "bounce notch" and "audible cabinet resonances " What are they and what should I be listenting for?



Overall I like the suggestion about a pair of towers and bookshevles for HT but something tells me the WAF will come into play.


Thanks again.
 

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The *key* to this discussion is whether or not you are willing to use Bass Management to optimize a speaker/subwoofer system, and how good the Bass Management system is in your receiver/pre/pro. If you have a good BM system and you know how to optimize it, there is no downside to bookshelf speakers and a subwoofer, (provided the bookshelf's have bass extension to below the crossover point.)


The first issue is what happens to "full range" content when you use speakers not capable of full range reproduction? If you send 20 Hz to a tower with only 30 Hz extension, that lowest 10 Hz is lost. If you re-direct it to a subwoofer capable of 20 Hz output, (and there are now lots of options for those), then you will get to hear "full range" output. That lowest 10 Hz is very worthwhile, but the same principle holds as you go up in frequency. Many towers are "spec'd" to 30 Hz, but without a -3 dB point, which describes their "usable" output. Their -3 dB point is usually well above their spec'd lowest extension. Those speakers will benefit from a higher crossover.


The second issue is distortion and headroom in the entire *system* of amps and speakers. Deep bass consumes much more power than does midrange and treble. It is also harder for the speakers to reproduce and, unless the woofers are in a separate, sealed cabinet, the backwaves of the woofers can impact the sound of the other driver(s). Cross those speakers over at 80 Hz to the subwoofer and you reduce distortion and strain in the speakers AND you reduce the demands on the amplifiers. This free up amplifier headroom and allows the mains to play louder with less distortion. It also ensures that the speaker best capable of reproducing the deepest bass gets that bass to reproduce.


The third issue is optimizing speaker and subwoofer placement for their respective ares of reproduction. Rarely is the optimal speaker placement for imaging and soundstage also the best placement for bass reproduction. Redirecting the bass to the subwoofer, and optimizing subwoofer placement, allows the bass to interact as optimally as possible with the room and listening position. It also allows optimal placement of the speakers for imaging and soundstage.


There are several key design considerations to make such a system work properly. First, you need speakers, (whether bookshelf's or towers), with bass extension to well below the crossover point. If you're using an 80 Hz crossover, you want speakers with extension to at least 60 Hz, preferably 40 Hz, to allow a good blend at the crossover. Small satellite speakers that only extend to 150 Hz won't work. You'll either end up with a "hole" in your bass response, or you'll have subs that are distractingly localizable.


Second, you need a BM system that is flexible enough to optimally accommodate the speakers and sub you are using. You need the ability to select different crossover points and independently set speakers to "large"/"full range", or "small"/"crossover invoked". A receiver with a fixed crossover may or may not have the *correct* crossover for your particular speakers.


Third, you need some method for optimizing the in-room response of the system. This could be an SPL meter and test tones or some other, more sophisticated measuring system such as REW or the like. Or, it could be one of the automatic room correction software programs such as Yamaha's YPAO, Pioneer's MCACC or Audyssey MultEQ. None of these systems are perfect, and they all require some user understanding of their limitations for optimal integration. For example Audyssey has a thread that is currently 340 pages long with over 10,000 posts from users and experts, all people trying to optimize Audyssey results:
http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?t=795421


Bass Management can also be used with tower speakers. However, if you are going to use a subwoofer and invoke a crossover anyway, why spend the money for towers? You'll be paying for bass extension you won't be using. Either buy "better" bookshelf's, or buy a better subwoofer. Either way, you end up with "better".


Craig
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by craig john /forum/post/15593623


Bass Management can also be used with tower speakers. However, if you are going to use a subwoofer and invoke a crossover anyway, why spend the money for towers? You'll be paying for bass extension you won't be using. Either buy "better" bookshelf's, or buy a better subwoofer. Either way, you end up with "better".


Craig

+1......


My system is:


Front: Polk Audio RTiA3

Center: CSiA4

Rear: RTiA1

Sub: Tannoy TS12

AVR: Onkyo TX-NR906


All speakers at 80Hz (THX)


The sound for music is AMAZING......


Thanks to Ron Temple ans Craig for all the advices and comments in this forum.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by craig john /forum/post/15593623


Bass Management can also be used with tower speakers. However, if you are going to use a subwoofer and invoke a crossover anyway, why spend the money for towers? You'll be paying for bass extension you won't be using. Either buy "better" bookshelf's, or buy a better subwoofer. Either way, you end up with "better".

I agree here. I never understood why everyone gets tower speakers just to cut off their lower frequencies, when they could've gotten higher-end bookshelves. (On a side note, I'd be willing to bet that any decent sub will handle 20-60 Hz better than most any tower speakers out there.)


For example, the MSRP on Paradigm Studio 60 and 100 towers is $1900 and $2400 respectively, from a quick Google search. However, the MSRP on the higher-end Signature S2 bookshelves is $2200, and accompanying J-29 stands are $400. Alternatively, you could just get the Studio 20 bookshelves and stands for $1400, and put the extra $500-$1000 toward a nice sub, and still have arguably better frequency response than if you'd gotten the towers (you'd gain vs. the towers from 20-40 Hz, give or take, but you may lose where the sub crosses over to the bookshelves if it doesn't integrate well). BTW, I only use Paradigm as an example because I'm familiar with their lineup. The same rule applies across the board I'm sure.


Someone did make an interesting point about tower speakers' larger cone area providing for increased dynamics. I honestly hadn't thought of that before, but it makes a lot of sense. I may have to go listen to some tower speakers now and see for myself. The only problem I see with this point is you have to remember the crossover network that's involved between the drivers. At a given frequency, not all the cone area from all the drivers is available.


Back to the Paradigm example, the Studio 100's have the same midbass and tweeter as the Studio 20's, but they add three 7" woofers to each tower that take over below 300 Hz. That means, compared to the 20's, the 100's have 3x the cone area from 300 Hz to wherever the sub takes over, let's say at 60 Hz (assuming you aren't running them full-range; I say you'd probably still want a sub for movies at least; I'm sure this point has been brought up already). Yeah, the crossovers aren't infinitely sharp, so there's some roll-off into the higher midrange. (BTW, the surface area on those 7" woofers is 10 square inches more than a 12" sub...per tower. You'd also have to take woofer excursion into account though when determining bass SPL levels, and I'm sure the sub would win there. However, I'd bet it's easier to make a 7" cone rigid vs. a 12" cone. Plus there are still cone resonances, though I'm sure the manufacturers do a lot to suppress them. Don't forget that speaker placement is critical to the lower frequencies too.)


Anyway, it's a question of whether or not the added dynamics in the midbass to low midrange are worth the extra $1000. There are other factors at play as well here, as others have mentioned. (Cabinet resonances, speaker placement flexibility, floor bounce, WAF, etc.) How much of an issue each of those will play depends on the particualar speakers in question, the room dimensions and flooring material (carpet vs. hardwood), and your significant other.
 

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You can also use Double Bass which allows the fronts to go full range and the center and satellites to be cut off at 80 hz.


I went with towers because I really prefer 2.0 for music. My speakers go to 32 hz and that is fine for almost all of my music listening. A sub is definitely needed with surround listening. I have tried to like 2.1 for music and it just to hard to balance the sub with HT and Music taste.
 

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Nice topic and great replies. One of the posters made a good point, if you have a sub why get towers to only "limit" them, but then another poster said you get better dynamics with towers. So I guess the debate goes on... Back to the Paradigm example, I am considering the Studio 60's but I have an SVS PC13-Ultra so would it serve me better to get the bookshelves in this range or maybe now I can afford the bookshelves in the next range up... Let me guess it depends =) Buying speakers should be fun but too many decisions and choices
 

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So much is made of how low and loud a sub can play, but what should not be overlooked, when integrating a subwoofer with any system, is the upper bass performance of the subwoofer. This upper bass performance and transient response is critical for good integration, and often overlooked while being impressed for "low and loud" during listening.


craig john's post above should be made a sticky.
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by mdLCD /forum/post/15594638


Why everyone is saying that the sub is needed for bookshelf speakers?

Most bookshelf's are "bass-limited", (although some bookshelf's can get down to about 40 Hz, which is probably adequate for most music.) However, the deepest bass cannot be reproduced by any bookshelf speakers that I am familiar with. For sound effects in movies, and music with really deep bass, (i.e., pipe organ music), a subwoofer is required to get the deepest bass out of the system.


Craig
 

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The main reasons I have for going floorstander over bookshelf are aesthetics & stability (I have 2 dogs that love to rough house). For me, those two things were worth ... perhaps a 25% price increase.



That said, I'm looking at bookshelfs + stands as we speak - go figure.



P.S. Not all floorstanders are big bass heavy monsters that end up with their bass "cut off". There are plenty of 2 way floorstander designs with 5.25-7" drivers.
 
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