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8 Best Bookshelf Speakers in 2022 – Reviews and Buyers Guide

Many speakers are available on the market today besides stereo speakers. You can look for a Hi-Fi system, a surround sound system, etc. However, they all demand a lot of space in the room. Having a proper space for big speakers in your room is a blessing, but bookshelf speakers will work just as fine. Most notably, when you do not have the space or the budget for a bigger home theater setup. These speakers are perfect for the small corners in your room, study table, or at the top of a bookshelf.

Best Bookshelf Speakers Under 500 – Reviews & Buyers Guide
Photo by Fernando Arcos from Pexels

Bookshelf speakers are comparatively smaller but provide sound quality equal to high-end speakers. They are great for listening to your favorite great all-around songs while working or studying. Such speakers are pretty handy, and you can move them around your place according to your mood.

Since getting smaller-sized bookshelf speakers is becoming a priority, many companies constantly develop better designs. Yet, this quantity of choice might make things more difficult. So, if you plan to get a bookshelf speaker, we will help you make your decision.

What to Look For in a Bookshelf Speaker?

bookshelf speakers with quality sound
Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

When you go out for bookshelf speaker shopping, expect to spend some time combing through everything. Many similar products are on offer, but that doesn’t mean they are the same. So, you should know how to select the quality ones. Here are some pointers that’ll ease up this process.

●    Sound Quality

Since bookshelf speakers are smaller, it is understandable that they have some limitations. But some companies produce exceptional quality speakers, ensuring excellent sound quality. So, while getting a bookshelf speaker, consider the sound quality and then get the one that matches your requirement and tastes.

●    Durability

Another essential factor is the product’s durability. Speakers are usually a long-term investment. Therefore, they should serve you for at least a few years. So, you should pay close attention to the longevity and durability of the product before making the final purchase.

●    Brand Reputation

Before trusting any brand, you should get familiar with its background. For this, feel free to consult some past users’ opinions. If there’s a history of positive feedback, it might be a trustworthy company.

●    Customer Service

Before settling for a brand, explore the limits of its customer support service first. They should be fast to answer your queries before the panic builds up too high. For this, there should be a dedicated team, preferably available 24/7. Reliable customer service should be your top priority before trusting a brand with your money. Otherwise, you can face technical issues without any solid solution.

●    Material

The material of the speakers should be high quality and shock-resistant to an extent. Also, look for rubber pads beneath the body to prevent slipping when on top of your shelf. At the same time, make sure that the wires of your speaker are strong enough to withstand a sudden minor shock. If you neglect those aspects, things might get dangerous. So, take your time and make your decision after deliberate research.

This article reviews the best overall bookshelf speakers for all budgets. If you have a specific price range in mind, take a look at these other articles below:

The 8 Best Bookshelf Speakers

To help you make the right decision on a good basis, we have jotted down a list of the best eight bookshelf speakers. These products have excellent quality and perform exceptionally in action. The reviews and ratings of these speakers are also amazing, which brought them to our attention. So, without further delay, let’s begin with our list.

1.   Edifier R1280T Powered Bookshelf Speakers – Best Overall

Edifier R1280T Powered Bookshelf Speakers

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Edifier is a prominent name in the speakers and headphones industry. They create great products that satisfy any avid music fan. So, if you are a music lover, you must have already heard about this brand.

Today, we have Edifier Powered bookshelf speakers on the top of our list. It is an excellent addition to your setup due to its attributes. It provides a crisp audio output while taking up a small space on your desk or table. Also, these speakers are quite stylish and add value to the vibe of the whole room. If you want to get a speaker that looks good, then this is the option for you.

It is a versatile speaker that gives fantastic performance by keeping the sound quality as natural as possible. The Edifier bookshelf speakers provide precise control for the user to fine-tune the bass, volume, and treble according to their mood. Since every person has different priorities, Edifier provides customization features for their preferred audio experiences.

The speaker comes with a remote control so you can adjust the volume from a distance without much hassle. It also has a built-in autotune system in the active speaker. Plus, you can connect this speaker to multiple devices at one time with a dual RCA input.

This masterpiece is truly worth every penny at such an affordable price. It is an affordable and high-quality product that will enrich your home theater. Or it can be your perfect study or work partner as well.

Ratings

  • Sound quality: 9
  • Brand repo: 9
  • Durability: 9
  • Customer service: 8
  • Material: 9

Product Specs

Dimensions: 6.9 x 9.5 x 5.8 inches
Warranty: 2 years
Material: Wood finish
Device Connection: 2 x AUX inputs
Pros
  • Small and stylish
  • Affordable
  • Speakers sound natural
  • Superb audio quality
  • Great material and finish
Cons
  • Short wires
  • No tech support

2.   Polk Audio T15 Home Theater Bookshelf SpeakersBest Budget Speakers

Polk Audio T15 Home Theater Bookshelf Speakers

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Another brand famous for its quality products, especially when it comes to speakers, is Polk. It is a well-known brand, which earned a reputation within a very short period. Hence, Polk’s Audio T15 bookshelf speakers will be a notable addition to your setup.

Furthermore, adding these speakers will result in a”home theater”-like experience for the listeners. In practice, it is difficult to identify that the music is coming only from bookshelf speakers. The speakers come with a 0.75-inch tweeter and 5.25 inches balance speaker drivers. 

It produces natural and well-balanced sound even at the lower frequencies. By investing in this speaker, you will create enjoyable audio surroundings. You can further enhance the system by adding a few compatible products. For example, feel free to combine it with other speakers from the Polk’s T series.

Since the brand strives to produce affordable products for the customers, these bookshelf speakers come at a reasonable price. Also, they are easy to install practically anywhere in the room.

Thanks to the latest technology, the bookshelf speakers by Polk have excellent audio quality for music, TV, and movies. As such, they provide a lot of bang for your buck. It’s a product you’ll have no trouble implementing or getting used to.

Ratings

  • Sound quality: 9
  • Brand repo: 9
  • Durability: 8
  • Customer service: 9
  • Material: 8

Product Specs

Dimensions: 7.3 x 6.5 x 10.7 inches
Peak power handling: 100 watts
Driver size: 0.75 inches tweeter and 5.25 inches balance driver
Frequency range: 60Hz-24Hz
Pros
  • Clear sound
  • Reasonable price
  • Easy to install
  • Excellent customer service
Cons
  • Not the best choice for larger rooms

3.   Klipsch R-41M Powerful Detailed Bookshelf Home Speaker – Best Value for Money

Klipsch R-41M Powerful Detailed Bookshelf Home Speaker

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Klipsch outdid itself with the R-41 M bookshelf speakers for quality and versatility. The brand is popular for creating innovative products that add value to its users’ lives. They strive to provide great value as affordable as possible, thus earning a place among the best bookshelf speakers.

The speaker’s compact design allows for an effortless setup process. You can even mount these on your wall if you prefer. The speaker weighs only 7 pounds, so you can easily move it around.

Also, this elegant pair of speakers adds to the aesthetics of the whole room. On the other hand, this speaker is also good for high frequencies with the 90 x 90 tractix square horn technology. As a result, the sound will not seem artificial. Due to this technology, the listener can enjoy music with the appropriate clarity and texture.

A one-inch aluminum tweeter ensures no distortion in the sound, making it super smooth and enhanced. At the same time, it has a low-frequency response due to copper IMG woofers.

However, it needs a good quality speaker wire and other parts to shine. If you do not get those with the box, you should buy them separately and quickly connect everything.

In short, if you love music, you’ll love Klipsch’s extremely lightweight speakers. They are reliable if you value excellent sound quality and volume. Also, these speakers provide the option for controlling the bass and treble. By tinkering with those, you can adjust every aspect to sound great.

Ratings

  • Sound quality: 8
  • Brand repo: 8
  • Durability: 9
  • Customer service: 8
  • Material: 7

Product Specs

Dimensions: 7.87 x 5.75 x 11.3 inches
Material: Textured vinyl
Power handling:200 watts
Pros
  • Excellent sound quality
  • Physically beautiful
  • Sturdy build
  • Compact and lightweight
Cons
  • High-quality cables are needed to enhance the sound quality

4.   ELAC Debut 2.0 B5.2 Bookshelf Speakers

ELAC Debut 2.0 B5.2 Bookshelf Speakers

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ELAC is one of the oldest names among the best bookshelf speakers manufacturers. To this end, they’ve always followed suit with the latest tech. Due to never compromising on quality, ELAC remains one of the most lauded brands online. They have a huge line-up of debut 2.0 speakers, so you have a lot of variety when selecting a pair of ELAC bookshelf speakers.

This line-up became popular almost upon launching, as customers were quick to notice. The B5.2 pair has a front-facing port which is super convenient for speaker placement. Hence, you do not have to worry about putting the speaker against the wall. You can also get speaker stands and place this pair of speakers on them.

It has a newly developed one-inch soft-dome tweeter which helps in increasing the frequency response up to 35 kHz. The woofer has a clean and tight pattern that keeps the bass response clean even at high frequencies. Moreover, the speaker cabinet does not vibrate with loud sounds, which is why the sound quality remains top-notch.

ELAC truly fulfills the qualities of a good pair of speakers for the price. This speaker’s clear sound, bass quality, and mid-range are excellent. Since it checks all those boxes, there’s little doubt why it is such a popular product.

As a result, the ELAC bookshelf speakers offer an above-average sound quality. The speakers are also highly durable. Hence, they are easy to acquire, effortless to connect, and serve you for a long time.

Ratings

  • Sound quality: 7
  • Brand repo: 9
  • Durability:  8
  • Customer service: 7
  • Material: 8

Product Specs

Dimensions: 7.09 x 13.43 x 9.21 inches
Frequency range: 46Hz to 35kHz
Material: Vinyl
Tweeter: one-inch soft-dome
Pros
  • Modern design
  • Amazing sound and bass response
  • Natural sound quality
  • No distortion
Cons
  • Tricky to tune
  • It needs an amplifier for the best results

5.   Triangle Borea BR03 Hi-Fi Bookshelf Speakers

Triangle Borea BR03 Hi-Fi Bookshelf Speakers

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Next up, the brand that we are going to discuss is Triangle. Triangle’s Hi-Fi pair of speakers is not inexpensive, but they are worth every penny. They are the kind that keeps you hooked for years and years without feeling the need for upgrades. The Hi-Fi speaker rattled the masses soon after the announcement, but was all the hype worth it? After testing it prudently, we can indeed confirm that question. Overall, it’s a great choice for your room’s physical space.

The fancy-looking pair of speakers looks quite at home whenever you decide to rest them. The color and the build of the speaker are very attractive, and guests are sure to take great interest in them. On a related note, the speaker weighs only one pound, so you can carry it around freely.

These Hi-Fi speakers by Triangle are perfect for any music lover who likes to listen closely. The Hi-Fi system enhances the entire experience via the clear signal output. It comes equipped with a 25mm EFS silk dome tweeter and 16 cm mid-range or bass driver to a great effect. You just have to tune them correctly and relax to your favorite tracks. So, learning how to utilize all options is important. Hence, you should give some adjustment period.

Thanks to the small dimensions, you can reposition the speakers as much as you want, just to find that perfect angle. You can even mount it on any flat surface since it’s so lightweight and compact.

All in all, this is a great pair if you can afford it. Once set, these speakers will change the way you perceive music or even watch TV shows and movies. On the same note, they won’t disappoint when it comes to YouTube videos and podcasts, too. In short, they’ll always be up to the task.

Ratings

  • Sound quality: 8
  • Brand repo: 8
  • Durability: 8
  • Customer service: 9
  • Material: 8

Product Specs

Dimensions: 8.11 x 12.36 x 14.96 inches
Frequency range: 46 Hz to 22 kHz
Power handling: 100 watts
Pros
  • Great sound quality
  • Clear and Irish sound delivery
  • Worth the price
  • Hi-Fi sound system
Cons
  • It lacks a bit of bass response

6.   AmazonBasics Bookshelf Speakers with Active Speakers

AmazonBasics Bookshelf Speakers with Active Speakers

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AmazonBasics is a favorite brand among music lovers and one that is yet to let them down. They create top-notch products with no notable shortcomings. Best of all, they tend to keep the low asking price as well. Throughout the years, Amazon Basics became synonyms with innovative ideas and high-end tech.

Thanks to the policy of thorough research and development, they are one of the pioneers in the industry. Even today, they don’t divert from this path. Hence, the active speakers from AmazonBasics are a classic balance of quality and good appearance.

The physically admirable pair of speakers portray the wooden craftsmanship with hints of black. The sleek design of the speakers looks modern while placed on your study table or display. The build quality is excellent, due to which the speakers do not vibrate even on loud volumes. For that, there is the one-inch tweeter that governs the overall sound.

However, these speakers are comparatively larger speakers. As a result, they are heavier too but provide better audio quality as well. Therefore, ensure to reserve enough space for this product.

These pairs of speakers have wireless connectivity, so you can use Bluetooth to pair them with your phone PC. You can do this even at a distance of up to 33 feet. On the other hand, the active speakers have a maximum power output of 80 watts.

With these speakers comes a remote control that you can use to adjust the settings from a distance. This tool adds to the overall convenience and efficacy of these items. As such, you can easily switch to using them as they become your favorite media peripheral.

Ratings

  • Sound quality: 8
  • Brand repo: 8
  • Durability: 7
  • Customer service: 6
  • Material: 7

Product Specs

Dimensions: 7.66 x 10.59 x 13.46 inches
Weight:23 pounds
Power output: 80 watts
Material: Wood
Pros
  • Sleek and elegant design
  • Great active speakers
  • Wireless connectivity
  • Remote control
Cons
  • No volume level display

7.   Singing Wood T25 Passive Bookshelf Speakers

Singing Wood T25 Passive Bookshelf Speakers

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Next up, we have Singing Wood which has a wide range of audio gear that many enthusiasts search for. This brand doubles down on producing eye (and ear)-catching music devices for a great price. To that end, they always improve upon their previous offering. As a result, they often put up the best bookshelf speakers.

The T25 passive bookshelf speakers by Singing Wood are another great addition. Yet, since these are passive bookshelf speakers, you will need to attach modern amplifiers or receivers to use them. The speakers have a classic outlook that complements any bookshelf in good taste. The audio-grade MDF wood reduces the chances of vibration and cabinet resonance. Thus, you’ll hear every note clearly. Plus, there’s the built-in wall-mount feature, allowing you a ton of options when installing them.

Another noteworthy element is the four-inch bass driver. With it, you can quickly adjust the sound’s texture or experiment to your fancy. So, it is perfect when you put on some bass-heavy music. A high-quality 0.75-inch silk dome tweeter is also present in these speakers, and it helps produce correct frequency responses.

The fantastic customer service by Singing Wood is also a fan-favorite. It’s one of the reasons why people stick with the brand. Moreover, you also get a 24 monthly exchangeable warranty with two years service warranty.

Undoubtedly, these are some of the best bookshelf speakers available on the market. Also, they are compatible with most receivers, amplifiers, and Hi-Fi systems. Because of that, you are certain to find much use in this great product. Finally, you won’t need to break the bank when purchasing them.

Ratings

  • Sound quality: 7
  • Brand repo: 7
  • Durability:  8
  • Customer service: 7
  • Material: 8

Product Specs

Dimensions: 5.2 x 7 x 8.9 inches
Weight:Wood
Warranty:1 year
Frequency response: 55Hz to 20kHz
Pros
  • Detailed and smooth tweeter
  • Natural sound
  • Strong build
  • Decent bass response
Cons
  • It needs an amplifier or receiver to function

8.   Acoustic Audio AA321B Mountable Indoor Speakers Bookshelf

Acoustic Audio AA321B Mountable Indoor Speakers Bookshelf

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Acoustic Audio produces some excellent speakers and related audio gear. It is a well-known brand that consistently evolves with the times. Hence, many cite it as their first choice.

For this list, we have the AA321B speakers from Acoustic Audio as one of the best bookshelf speakers. They pack a lot of power in their compact design and are also easy on the pocket. So, they might be the answer when you need new music devices on a budget.

Furthermore, these mountable wired speakers are an excellent choice for people who listen to music often. They are multipurpose speakers with various setups, great even for surround sound systems.

The build and material of these speakers are durable and long-lasting. Plus, there is the polypropylene full-range woofer that does much of the heavy lifting and also diverts attention. Therefore, you can easily pair these with any stereo system.

To get the maximum output, you need to use a good quality amplifier or receiver with these speakers. Either way, they won’t restrict your space since they are small and cute. In that way, they are a strong candidate for your next upgrade.

Ratings

  • Sound quality: 7
  • Brand repo: 8
  • Durability: 7
  • Customer service: 6
  • Material: 7

Product Specs

Dimensions: 3.5 x 3.5 x 4.5 inches
Frequency response: 150 Hz to 20kHz
Power: 200 watts
Weight: 1.3 pounds
Pros
  • Small size
  • Clear sound
  • Super affordable
  • Great overall performance
Cons
  • No cables included

Buying Guide

white bookshelf speaker
Photo by pure julia on Unsplash

In an expanding market, it might get time-consuming to find just the right product for you. Most notably, when it comes to widely used items like bookshelf speakers. However, there are a few things that you should always keep in mind. In other words, fundamental starting points. Utilizing them correctly is a learned skill, though. So, read on and find out how to stay “in-tune” with the best bookshelf speakers available today.

●    Wired or Wireless

Before going bookshelf speakers shopping, you should consider your requirements and comfort level. Once you understand your priorities, you will be able to decide whether you want wired speakers or wireless. Both speaker types are readily available on the market.

However, in any case, wireless speakers are much easier to operate than wired ones. You have to keep the speakers at a specific distance from the socket if they are wired, but you can put wireless speakers anywhere you like. Moreover, it is a huge plus point if the speakers have wireless connectivity too; they are super convenient to use.

●    Passive or Active Speakers

It depends on personal preference and budget regarding the right speaker type. Generally, if you can afford a separate amplifier, you may want to opt for passive speakers. Otherwise, look for an active type. According to statistics, people often settle for the latter due to its convenience.

●    Size

The size matters a lot when it comes to bookshelf speakers because you want to place them in a small space or corner. So, to get the perfect bookshelf speakers, you should look for small speakers with excellent audio quality. 

●    Audio Tests

Speakers have variable audio qualities, so it is always better to do the audio test in the store. So, take your time there and check a few tracks. While doing so, make sure to follow along and note if any background noise makes an appearance. Also, you should play audio according to your choice to test their real potential.

●    Cost

Though most bookshelf speakers do not cost an arm and a leg, some are quite expensive. When getting small-sized speakers, you do not want to spend too much money on them. So, you should inquire about the general price ranges of these speakers first. Next, set your budget accordingly before going out to purchase them. As evident by this guide, there are several affordable bookshelf speakers that you can go for.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.    Which are better: active or passive speakers?

An active speaker comes with a built-in amplifier, and you can instantly start using it without buying extra audio gear. Most people find it convenient due to this utility. On the other hand, passive speakers require an additional amplifier to really function. However, that setup might provide better results in the end. Yet, it’s the costlier and more time-consuming of the two.

Hence, an active speaker is the better option by itself. Also, it is reliable when it comes to good quality sound, most notably regarding the bass and frequency ranges. So, it is safe to say that you should get a pair of active speakers if you’re looking to save some bucks.

2.   Is a subwoofer necessary for bookshelf speakers?

No, bookshelf speakers will work perfectly fine without a subwoofer. However, adding a subwoofer to your bookshelf speakers will improve their output. Hence, a true audiophile would always look for a compatible subwoofer to bring it all together. So, it all comes down to how much you’re willing to spend.

3.  Do I need to place bookshelf speakers on the bookshelf only?

No, you are not bound to place your bookshelf speakers at any specific place. It depends on your mood and preference; position them wherever there’s enough space for it.

4.  Should I get a stand for my bookshelf speakers?

You can place your speakers on a stand if they have their design allows it in the first place. However, most speakers cannot be placed on any stand due to lack of support, meaning they might fall off. So, you should confirm this aspect before settling for a choice.

5.  Do bookshelf speakers have good bass?

It depends on the quality of the speakers in question. Every pair has a different bass level, so you should inquire about the bass range. This is yet another point you should focus on promptly.

Conclusion

Bookshelf speakers are an innovative product that combines quality and portability. Even if you have a small room, you can install them and enjoy some good hip hop or any other genre of your liking. Thus, not having much choice in that manner is not a handicap since there’s always a ton of options. When one has limited space, getting bookshelf speakers might be the only substitute to surround speakers.

This guide points to some of the best choices around. We’ve included trustworthy brands who like to improve and provide for their customers. So, by opting for any of these eight best bookshelf speakers, you can improve the vibe of your room.

To accommodate all tastes, this list holds items with various asking prices. In that way, you can easily select the one that matches your budget. Then, let us know which one comes up on top for you. We’d love to hear your feedback, so feel free to sound off in the comments!

Expert Tip

Do not go for the most expensive bookshelf speakers because you can get a proper sound system for that same price instead. Instead, look for affordable and compact items that you can easily accommodate even in the kids’ room.

Did You Know?

Bookshelf speakers were first manufactured in 1975 by Spencer Hughes and Dudley Harwood. Since then, we have seen better and improved versions every day. However, the industry will not forget their contributions any time soon.

Amazon Recommends:

Bestseller No. 1
Edifier R1280T Powered Bookshelf Speakers - 2.0 Stereo Active Near Field Monitors - Studio Monitor Speaker - Wooden Enclosure - 42 Watts RMS
  • 2 x AUX INPUT - Convenient connection to any device that has a 3.5mm...
  • STUDIO SOUND QUALITY - Natural sound reproduction from 13mm silk dome...
SaleBestseller No. 2
Polk Audio T15 100 Watt Home Theater Bookshelf Speakers – Hi-Res Audio with Deep Bass Response | Dolby and DTS Surround | Wall-Mountable| Pair, Black
  • GET SUPERIOR HOME THEATER EXPERIENCE WITH IMMERSIVE SURROUND SOUND –...
  • Use these wall-mountable bookshelf speakers as FRONT, LEFT-RIGHT...
SaleBestseller No. 3
Klipsch R-41M Powerful Detailed Bookshelf Home Speaker Set of 2 Black
  • Single 4" spun-copper IMG woofer
  • 1" aluminum LTS tweeter mated to a 90x90 square Tractrix Horn

How To Pick The Best Bookshelf Speakers For Your Budget

Good bookshelf speakers are a must for every music lover. They’re timeless and classic, but they’re still the life of the party. Nobody can deny their functionality, yet we all kind of take them for granted. But first, let’s go back to the basics.

In this article, we’ll tell you all about bookshelf speakers, what to look for when buying them, as well as what the best speakers available are at the moment.

Bookshelf speakers

Why bookshelf speakers?

Firstly, what makes bookshelf speakers… well, bookshelf speakers?

Their name suggests it already. They’re loudspeakers designed to be placed on an elevated surface area, such as a bookshelf. These speakers aren’t known for their excruciating loudness, but they are known for having crisp, high-quality sound and being great value for money. Their elevated position allows them to deliver great sound quality throughout your room.

That, of course, requires the speakers to actually be good. That’s what we’re here for, though, to tell you what makes a speaker good and help you cut through the noise and shortlist.

A bit of history

The Kenwood LS-407B - early bookshelf speaker from the 70's
The Kenwood LS-407B – early bookshelf speaker from the 70’s via Nesster

Bookshelf speakers started their journey in the 1950s with the advent of home sound systems and have been popular with audiophiles ever since. Originally, speakers would have been sizeable floor-standing beasts, relying on their mass and size to produce quality sound. It wasn’t until the 1960’s and really the 1970’s that smaller “bookshelf speakers” became popular, although in fairness these were pretty damn big too. Although they were much more expensive back then, their demand was high and boomed as modern techologies and mass production reduced their size even further in the 90’s.

Luckily, now bookshelf speakers are more accessible, as well as affordable. Pretty much every typical household can afford to own a pair; believe it or not, you can even get a fairly decent set complete with built-in amplifier for less than $100. Now don’t get me wrong – those sub-$100 speakers won’t please the ears of a true audiophile, nor anyone who’s seriously into their music, but we are fortunate enough to be living in an era where relatively excellent sound is no longer only for the elitists – you can even afford to buy your mum a decent set so you don’t have to suffer the tinny sounds when you visit for dinner.

The Main Features of Bookshelf Speakers

Before you actually go out and buy any speakers, even if they seem like the best buy speakers, you should learn what their main features are and what some of the specifications mean.

Most bookshelf speakers have similar features, but there are some differences that you should be aware of. We’ll discuss this in the next couple of paragraphs.

Passive or Active?

Passive speakers require a power amplifier in order to work. Classic bookshelf speakers are usually passive, which means that they won’t work on their own and require an amp. Most bookshelf speakers are passive, although we are starting to find more quality “active” speakers entering the market, which are ideal for those who have little space or, for whatever reason, like to move their speakers from place to place such as for parties.

Passive bookshelf speakers require an amp
Passive speakers require an amp (most quality bookshelf speakers are passive)

Active bookshelf speakers are self-powered. They don’t require a power amplifier (or receiver), because they already have one built-in. The only thing you need to do is connect the speakers to the audio feed, typically with an RCA or a standard jack or even wirelessly.

Edifier-R1280T-book-shelf-speaker-connectivity
The Edifier R1280T is an active speaker with an inbuilt amplifier/receiver.

Wired or Wireless?

There’s a certain stigma surrounding wireless speakers. Many people say that their sound quality is poor and that it could never reach the quality level of wired or analog speakers. However, whilst they might not be suitable yet for the needs of a fussy audiophile, this kind of thinking is quite outdated. Nowadays, technology is so advanced that almost anything imaginable is possible, including decent wireless speakers.

Much as these wireless speakers are incredibly popular, we’ll not be covering them in this piece as there are not many budget wireless bookshelf speaker systems on the market that can compare to wired (there are however great wireless soundbar speakers which we will cover in another guide).

Understanding bookshelf speaker specifications

Speaker specifications can be confusing. If you’re a budget audiophile the main two sound specs you should be looking at are sensitivity and wattage.

Speaker Wattage

Wattage is the operating electrical power of the speaker. We start with it first, because it is the most commonly cited spec (however not necessarily the most important!). While browsing through different models of speakers and their specs, you’ve probably come across the ‘wattage’ section. Every speaker has its own wattage and wattage range. But what does that mean for you, the buyer and user?

Wattage is not the only factor when it comes to volume. Sensitivity (dB) is actually more important.

Assuming it is a passive speaker, that means that you’ll need an amplifier that puts out a wattage range suitable those speakers. If you don’t, you run the risk of blowing out your speakers or ruining your drivers. And believe us, you don’t want that (see impedance for more details).

Always look at the RMS or “Continuous Power” value – if a manufacturer only provides “peak power” a good ballpark is that RMS is around 30%; so 150W peak power is approximately 50W RMS. To get an idea of how loud your speaker will go, you’ll need to consider the sensitivity value which we’ll look at next.

Speaker Sensitivity

Sensitivity of the speaker drivers basically tells us how loud a speaker can go with a unit of wattage. The measure is given out in decibels (dB). This feature enables you to compare speakers according to their loudness, however it is also related to Wattage; the dB rating is what can be delivered with 1 Watt of power – that’s why some brands also use the term “efficiency” to describe dB.

The higher the sensitivity, generally, the louder the speaker is. When looking for speakers, 88dB is about average, below 84dB is poor and above 92dB is excellent.

Without going into too much detail, you need to know both wattage and sensitivity to know how loud your speaker will go – very often, the speaker with the largest wattage is not the loudest due to poor sensitivity 😉

Speaker Impedance

The impedance of a speaker is also something that’s important at the high end, though it’s kind of complicated to explain and not overly important for us due to the type of speakers we review which are generally a bit more budget-friendly. Impedance is resistance to power and the lower the impedance, the less resistance the speaker gives to electricity. Lower impedance allows electricity to flow through the speaker more easily.

Although that may be true, you need to be careful about matching the speaker impedance with the amplifier. For example, a 4-ohm speaker is insanely powerful and therefore requires a much more powerful amplifier. Standard bookshelf speakers usually have 6 or 8 ohms and most amplifiers within your price range will suffice. Still, you need to make sure that the amplifier matches, to avoid blowing everything out.

If you connect a speaker to an amp that is too powerful, you risk blowing it almost immediately. If you connect a speaker to an amp that is too weak, you risk blowing it by demanding too much from the amp, turning it up and sending distortion to the speaker. We don’t want either! So always look at the recommended amplifier power for your speaker.

The main other audio specification of interest is frequency range – the larger, the better. The lower the number of Hz, the deeper the bass and the higher, the higher the highs. However bear in mind range of audible frequencies for humans is 20Hz to 20,000 Hz. More or less than that and it won’t really matter!

And finally, look at feature specifications such as connectivity – if you’re using your speakers in a standard bookshelf setup, whereby the speakers are connected to an amplifier/receiver then this is not an issue, however if you’re looking at active speakers you’ll want to check if it’s a good fit for your needs. Does it have the connections you need? Do they have bluetooth connectivity?

A final note on speaker specifications

Sadly, not all speaker manufacturer provide the spec’s we’d like to know for “easy” comparison – and even if we do have all the specs, they don’t necessarily equate to quality.

Your listening habits and home environment

The problem with specifications is that they can only tell you so much, and they are often unreliable and differ from manufacturer to manufacturer. They can only provide limited insight as to their quality, definition and how suitable they might be for your use case.

One of the first things you need to consider when buying speakers is the environment in which you are going to use them. Is it a large or small space? Are you listening to EDM or classical? Or do you plan on integrating them into a home cinema system for watching movies?

Bookshelf speakers buying guide room considerations

Hard and glossy surfaces are bad news for sound. So if you’re in a tiled room with wall to wall windows consider a rug and set of curtains or drapes to calm that echo.

Size (and weight) matters: For great sound, you need to make sure your speakers are positioned correctly and securely – is your bookshelf big enough? Is it strong enough? Or do you need speaker stands? Have you got space for speaker stands? Do you need speakers that can be wall-mounted? Are your walls strong enough? These are all things you should consider from the get-go as squeezing your speaker into an unsuitable space is never desirable.

Best bookshelf speakers under $200
Remember to look at the physical size and weight of the speaker you are considering purchasing.

If your room is large and spacious, you’re going to want larger, beefier speakers to fill that space. Possibly even consider floor-standing speakers. However, remember that speakers which are too large will perform poorly in a small space and sound muddy.

Usage matters: For listening to classical music you will be seeking clarity and detail (the Bose 201 speakers are good for those on a budget), whilst EDM listeners will likely give heavier weighting to bass and volume (most likely adding a subwoofer). Do you plan to move your speakers regularly? Then you might want to consider the all-in-one active speakers or even a bluetooth soundbar.

Conclusion

So, what makes the best bookshelf speakers? Is it the wirelessness, the price, or the sensitivity? That’s your call.

There are so many different bookshelf speakers on the market right now, and they all vary when it comes to cost and specifications. One thing is for sure, though — you need to do your research before purchasing the speakers. Here’s some advice — it’s easier if you know what you want; is space or volume important? Clarity or cost?

So, if you’re in the mood to buy yourself a pair of these (g)oldies, you’re in luck. We’ve got lists of the top speakers on the market under $200 and reviewed the best bookshelf speakers under $500.

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