Which bookshelf speakers are the best?
So you’ve set up your new turntable and put your favorite record on deck, but now what? You might be wondering where to turn when it comes to your speaker setup. Thankfully, even if you’re short on space, bookshelf speakers are a great solution and can sound surprisingly loud and clear for their size.
This guide has all you need to know to choose the right bookshelf speakers for your listening style and needs. The Q Acoustics 3030i Bookshelf Speakers is our top pick. With their compact and stylish appearance and their warm, full sound, they’re an excellent choice for listeners who want quality at an affordable price and a small footprint.
What to know before you buy bookshelf speakers
Some speakers are referred to as having a “transparent” sound, meaning that their sound is very “true” to the room and is not colored or emphasized by a boost in bass or in loudness. This means that if your speakers are transparent, their sound will be very much influenced by the space you put them in. Some listeners prefer this characteristic and others want the ability to refine and sculpt their sound with custom EQ curves or additional bass.
Wattage and impedance
In general, speakers will be rated as having a certain wattage and impedance, which is essentially the amount of power they draw and how loud they will be. If you connect your speakers to a preamp, you need to make sure that your speakers have enough impedance to handle the preamp’s wattage, so that they have enough power to create an audio signal. However, bookshelf speakers don’t typically require a separate amplifier or preamp, so the only specification you need to really consider is the wattage, which is how loud the speaker can get.
Cabinet size and material
The speaker components are housed in a cabinet, which is the speaker’s exterior. Sometimes the cabinet is made of plastic and sometimes it’s made of wood. To a degree, this is purely an aesthetic decision, but different materials conduct sound in different ways and some listeners feel that wood cabinets make for a “warmer” sound. Bookshelf speakers range in size from about 4 inches up to 18 inches, with the average being between 7 to 12 inches. The speaker size is not always an indicator of its loudness, but in general, bigger speakers do tend to be capable of more loudness without being turned all the way up.
What to look for in quality bookshelf speakers
Bass and treble drivers
Most bookshelf speakers actually contain two separate smaller speakers, or drivers, for bass and treble. Sometimes these drivers are user-replaceable or interchangeable with other models. There may also be a separate option for a subwoofer for additional, lower bass.
Inputs and outputs
Some bookshelf speakers can be connected to a computer via USB. All bookshelf speakers generally connect with simple speaker wires, which involves the left and right speakers being connected to each other and then another wire connecting the set of speakers to your preamp or listening device of choice. This connection might be a 1/8-inch headphone jack, RCA, or optical digital. Some also have wireless capabilities via Bluetooth.
Volume and frequency response
Decibels are a measure of loudness, or volume. In a professional audio setting, the average listening level is considered to be around 85 to 90 decibels, which is also the safest listening level without potentially hurting your ears. Most speakers can go above this level to about 110 decibels, though caution is advised if you’re listening for too long. Frequency response, measured in hertz, is a measure of the range of frequency, or pitch, that the speakers can playback. The human ear can hear from 20 to 20,000Hz. Most speakers are rated between 45Hz and 20,000Hz.
How much you can expect to spend on bookshelf speakers
Bookshelf speakers range anywhere from about $100-$2,000, with the upper price range being more typical of hi-fi or professional audio setups.
Bookshelf speakers FAQ
Can I put my bookshelf speakers in the corners of my living room instead?
A. Many bookshelf speakers can also be mounted on speaker stands, which are sometimes included. Sometimes you’ll want to be able to hear your speakers throughout the whole room rather than in a smaller area when you’re at your desk or right in front of them. Speaker stands can be a great solution in this case.
What is hi-fi audio?
A. Hi-fi, short for “high-fidelity” audio, simply refers to the most accurate representation of a sound, without being degraded by file format or recording equipment. Some speakers are rated as hi-fi and some are not. Even if your speakers are not hi-fi, however, they are still capable of producing great sound. Hi-fi audio is an option and a preference, but not necessarily a requirement for a good listening experience.
What bookshelf speakers are best to buy?
Top bookshelf speakers
Our take: These speakers are compatible with floor stands and deliver full and accurate sound at a comfortable listening volume.
What we like: Robust low end at 46 Hz. These are relatively light and compact. They are easy to set up on stands or on a shelf, with low-profile connectors in the back so they can sit closer to the wall.
What you should consider: They require an amp and preamp rather than being self-powering. Some users report that the midtones are slightly harsh, and there’s no Bluetooth option.
Where to buy: Sold at Amazon.
Top bookshelf speakers for the money
Our take: These compact and affordable speakers are easy to connect via auxiliary port or RCA and have a remote control to adjust your volume, as well as separate bass and treble controls on the side of the main speaker.
What we like: You can connect to two different devices via auxiliary ports at the same time, without the need for a switcher. They include a 3.5-millimeter jack to connect to your smartphone or tablet. It’s an affordable price for the quality you get.
What you should consider: These need a Bluetooth receiver to be wireless. Some users report that the bass and treble adjustment knobs are awkward to reach.
Where to buy: Sold at Amazon.
Worth checking out
Our take: These speakers can be connected to an optional center speaker for home theater listening and stay clear even when they’re turned up loud.
What we like: The tweeter has been redesigned from their last model to sit closer to the front of the cabinet, carry further and create a wide and full treble sound. A front-firing port allows you to place the speakers away from the wall and still get plenty of low end.
What you should consider: These can be slightly pricey once you add the center speaker, preamp, and amp. Some users report that at lower listening volumes, the sound is not as clear and full.
Where to buy: Sold at Amazon.
Sign up here to receive the BestReviews weekly newsletter for useful advice on new products and noteworthy deals.
Adrian Wengenroth writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.
Copyright 2021 BestReviews, a Nexstar company. All rights reserved.