Ever since the glory days, when hi-fi systems were integrated and even color-matched to the furniture, bookshelf speakers have been the beating heart of the party. They still offer the best balance between audio quality and size, and deliver huge bang-for-the-buck. Here are this year's best bookshelf speakers - they're suitable for just about any music setup, and any budget. Worth noting: the prices below are always quoted for a pair of speakers unless noted otherwise. And to complete your system, check out our list of the Best Stereo Amps.
 


Table of Contents


 

Best Overall Bookshelf Speakers

1. ELAC Uni-Fi 2.0 ($600)

ELAC Uni-Fi 2.0Suggested Amplifier Wattage: 40W-140W Per Channel
Impedance:
Driver Sizes: 5.25" Woofer, 4” Midrange, 1" Tweeter
Sensitivity: 85dB
What We Like: Terrific in both hi-fi and home theater systems.
What We Don't: May be a little intimidating for beginners.

We don’t think you’ll find a better or more versatile speaker than the new ELAC Uni-Fi 2.0. The second version of designer Andrew Jones’ speakers is just immense, offering one of the biggest, punchiest, and most enjoyable soundscapes we’ve ever come across. Whether we were listening in our oversized home theater testing room, or a small office, these speakers performed brilliantly. We were also particularly impressed with how easily they moved between hi-fi and home theater systems; they sound just as good with a stereo amp as they do with an A/V receiver. Jones completely redesigned these speakers from the original, and it really shows.

Our previous titleholder, the Bowers & Wilkins 606s, would need a truly special challenger to unseat them. ELAC and the Uni-Fi 2.0s managed to do it, producing what we think is one of the best speakers around. We would say that one downside of these speakers is that they aren’t really suitable for beginners: with their big sound and sizeable price, they may not be ideal for those just dipping a toe into the world of hi-fi. Fortunately, there are plenty of less expensive alternatives, including the excellent Fluance Signature Series, below. But honestly? We adored the ELAC Uni-Fi 2.0s, and we think they are an easy choice for the top spot.
See the ELAC Uni-Fi 2.0
 

Best Budget Bookshelf Speakers Under $300

2. Fluance Signature Series HiFi ($200)

Fluance Signature Series HiFiSuggested Amplifier Wattage: 30-120W Per Channel
Impedance:
Driver Sizes: 5" Woofer 1" Tweeter
Sensitivity: 85dB
What We Like: Great looks, wide sweet spot.
What We Don't: Perhaps a little too bright.

Very few bookshelf speakers look as good as those offered by Canadian manufacturer Fluance. They also don't usually cost $200 a pair, which these do. With their black-and-yellow colorway and robust cabinets, these speakers are eye-catching and fun. But they are no lightweights, delivering one of the best audio experiences we can think of for under $300. We tested several speakers in this price range, and none impressed us more than the Signature Series HiFi. Compared to inexpensive options like the Edifier R1280T, they really shine.

We did sometimes feel like the sound was overly bright – not to the point of harshness, just with a little bit too much emphasis in the high-end. It meant that they were slightly fatiguing after a few hours. But that’s a common problem with inexpensive speakers, and it’s something that can be mitigated by treating your room with soft surfaces, like couches and curtains (which you probably have anyway). It's also worth mentioning that they have what feels like a very wide sweet spot, meaning you can position them just about anywhere in the room, and still get good sound. This makes them perfect if you are pressed for space ...Read our in-depth review
See the Fluance Signature Series HiFi
 

Best High-End Bookshelf Speakers

3. MartinLogan Motion 35XTi ($1,050)

Martin Logan Motion 35XTiSuggested Amplifier Wattage: 20-250W Per Channel
Impedance:
Driver Sizes: 6.5" Woofer, 4.5" Tweeter
Sensitivity: 92dB
What We Like: Elegant and unusual design, with a tweeter that produces stellar detail.
What We Don't: Slightly fatiguing midrange.

The MartinLogan Motion 35XTi is a significant improvement on the original 35XT. There’s an AMT tweeter on each speaker, and the result is exquisite detail and realism. These are among the most elegant speakers we’ve tested, with distinctly more style than big bruisers like the Polk Legend L200s and SVS Ultras, below. The design is elegant, with the distinctive MartinLogan base plate and a sloped cabinet. High-end speakers need to look and sound the part, and these MartinLogans hit both.

We first heard the Motion 35XTi at an audio show and loved them instantly. Getting a pair into our testing room a few weeks later reinforced why we think they're the best high-end bookshelves right now, but it also showed us a few flaws. The midrange can be a little harsh at times, especially in the upper reaches. It doesn’t have the power or punch of something like the Elac speaker, above. That’s a shame, but it certainly doesn’t remove these speakers from competing. If you like beautiful things, and appreciate detail and clarity, then the MartinLogan Motion 35XTi are a natural choice...Read our in-depth review
See the MartinLogan Motion 35XTi


Best Wireless/Bluetooth Bookshelf Speakers

4. Kanto TUK ($800)

KantoTUKSuggested Amplifier Wattage: N/A
Impedance: Unavailable
Driver Sizes: 5" Full Range, 1" Tweeter
Sensitivity: Unavailable
What We Like: A genuine evolution for Bluetooth speakers.
What We Don't: Volume issues, Bluetooth 4.2 only.

We fully anticipate some grousing in the comments about how traditional passive speakers will always be better than active, wireless models, but our response to those folks is simple: you haven’t heard the Kanto TUK. Their Air Motion Transformer Tweeters (previously used on high-end models from the likes of ELAC and MartinLogan) result in absolutely extraordinary detail. We couldn’t believe just how rich and sumptuous the sound quality was, and for once, a set of speakers more than lived up to the considerable hype.

The TUK aren’t perfect. They offer a slightly dated Bluetooth version (the Audio Pro A26 below offers Bluetooth 5.0, for less money) and we found it difficult to get a precise volume. But the sheer range of features, including a phono input for a turntable, makes up for it. The glorious design, along with the brilliant sound quality, make these even more of a winner. You could argue that they’re expensive for the casual listener. If that’s you, we recommend checking out something like the ELAC Uni-Fi 2.0, which cost $200 less. For the rest of us? We’ll be rocking out with Canada’s finest...Read our in-depth review
See the Kanto TUK


Smallest Bookshelf Speakers for PC Gaming

5. Q Acoustics 3020i ($315)

Q Acoustics 3020i

Suggested Amplifier Wattage: 25-75W Per Channel
Impedance:
Driver Sizes: 5" Woofer, 0.9" Tweeter
Sensitivity: 88dB
What We Like: Great looks, excellent treble, compact build.
What We Don't: Sound quality can be fatiguing at high volumes.

We weren't huge fans of the original Q Acoustics 3020 speakers, which we felt were over-hyped. The 3020i speakers fare better, And crucially, they are small and compact enough to work exceptionally well as a pair of speakers for PC gaming. The sound is refined and clean, with crisp detail and improved bass – despite the small size of the speakers, you get some decent low-end here. Their size makes them a compelling option, better than similar models from the likes of Edifier and Fluance.

One of the biggest problems with the Q Acoustics 3020i speakers was that at high volumes, the sound became brittle and harsh. We wouldn’t recommend listening to these on high for long periods. They don’t have the finesse or clarity of something like the ELAC Uni-Fi 2.0. Worth noting: there is a newer version of the speakers, the 3030i, but they shouldn’t really be an option here. They are very good, but are designed to be mounted on stands, without the versatility to sit on either side of a monitor or laptop.
See the Q Acoustics 3020i
 

Terrific and Powerful Bass

6. Polk Audio Legend L200 ($1,799)

Polk Legend L200Suggested Amplifier Wattage: 20-200W Per Channel
Impedance:
Driver Sizes: 6.5" Full Range, 1" Tweeter
Sensitivity: 85.5dB
What We Like: The best bass we’ve ever heard on a pair of bookshelf speakers.
What We Don't: High price, enormous size.

Were it not for their hefty price and even heftier weight, the Polk Legend L200s would beat the Elac Uni-Fi 2.0s to the number one spot. They are, in a word, incredible. We have never – not with any other bookshelf speakers – heard bass as deep, dark, and powerful as what came out of the L200s. Polk have released some very middling gear over the years, but the new Legend series is jaw-dropping - a stunning return to form. The L200s provide significantly better sound than more expensive speakers, and if you have money to spend, they’re an outstanding investment. Audiophiles will tell you that $1,799 is too little for a great pair of speakers. Those people just haven't heard the L200s.

One thing that may turn away potential buyers is their absolutely enormous size. The L200s are significantly larger than every other speaker on this list, making otherwise sizeable speakers, like the MartinLogan Motion 35XTi, look positively puny. The styling is also unique with a vibe of something you’d find in Darth Vader’s private office. These are minor issues for some, but may be a bonus to others. The L200s may not be for everyone, but if you can afford them, they will provide one of the most incredible audio experiences money can buy.
See the Polk Audio Legend L200
 

Great with Vinyl and Turntables

7. Bowers & Wilkins 607 S2 ($899)

Bowers & Wilkins 607Suggested Amplifier Wattage: 30-100W Per Channel
Impedance:
Driver Sizes: 5" Full Range, 1" Tweeter
Sensitivity: 84dB
What We Like: Great looks, excellent treble, compact build.
What We Don't: Sound quality can be fatiguing at high volumes.

The second version of the famed Bowers & Wilkins 607s truly excels when paired with a good turntable and hi-fi setup. The sweet, natural sound and warm detail really lend themselves to good quality vinyl recordings. If you value your audio, and you want to extract the absolute best from your turntable setup (without spending staggering amounts of money) then the Bowers & Wilkins 607 S2s are probably the best way to do it.

The 607 S2s were released to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the original 607s, and while there are some definite improvements over the original, including a refined crossover, you could argue that you could just buy the first version and save around $300. Both versions will perform equally well with turntable setups. Another strike against the 607 S2s is that the ELAC Uni-Fi 2.0s are arguably better overall, while still costing less. Ultimately, the Bowers & Wilkins 607 S2s great set of speakers, and superb with vinyl and turntables, but they aren’t the best.
See the Bowers & Wilkins 607 S2
 

Best of the Rest

8. Edifier R1280T ($100)

Edifier R1280TSuggested Amplifier Wattage: N/A
Impedance: N/A
Driver Sizes: 4” Woofer, 0.5” Tweeter
Sensitivity: 85dB
What We Like: One of the best powered speakers around.
What We Don't: Lacks volume and subtlety.

Edifier (which we've also seen written, confusingly, as Edifer, with no second 'i') aren't regarded as a particularly high-end manufacturer – something we don't mean as a criticism. They produce excellent, affordable speakers and headphones, and in our opinion, the R1280T is one of the best they put out. It combines affordability and value with decent sound, and for smaller spaces, it is absolutely ideal.

Unlike many of the speakers on this list, the R1280T are powered set of speakers, in that each one contains its own amplifier. That makes it easy to connect up to the playback source using a simple RCA cable with no separate amplifier, similar to the Audioengine HD6 – although of course, these aren't wireless, and the audio quality of the HD6s is markedly superior. But you do get a hell of a lot for your money here, including remote, and the ability to fine-tune the sound using built-in EQ knobs. Audio quality is good, if not mind blowing. While not super-loud – the speakers max out at 21 watts per channel – the definition and detail should be more than enough to satisfy most people.
See the Edifier R1280T


9. Wharfedale Diamond 12.1 ($399)

Wharfedale Diamond 12.1Suggested Amplifier Wattage: 20-100W Per Channel
Impedance:
Driver Sizes: 5" Full Range, 1" Tweeter
Sensitivity: 88dB
What We Like: Forgiving, surprisingly premium sound at an attractive price.
What We Don't: Don’t quite do enough to excel against heavy competition.

Wharfedale have been making speakers for over eight decades. The Diamond 12.1s are their newest model, a completely redesigned version of the storied Diamond line. The 12.1s are a sophisticated, classy set of speakers with rich and engaging sound quality, far better than we’d expect at this price point. They are also surprisingly forgiving with low quality sources, meaning you don’t need to spend the earth on an accompanying amp to get the best out of them. They are bright and lively, with huge detail in the highs, and they really excel when playing music with a high dynamic range, like film soundtracks.

The most glaring downside is that the Diamond 12.1s don’t quite do enough to push past the competition. When put head on against speakers from Q Acoustics, Audio Pro, and Fluance, it’s clear that they lack that special something to elevate them. You could arguably spend less on, for example, the Q Acoustics 3020i speakers, and still get an excellent result. Ultimately, the Diamond 12.1s are worth consideration, but they have a long way to go before they become the top pick.
See the Wharfedale Diamond 12.1
 

10. Audio Pro A26 ($499)

Audio Pro A26Suggested Amplifier Wattage: N/A
Impedance: Unavailable
Driver Sizes: 4.5" Full Range, 1" Tweeter
Sensitivity: Unavailable
What We Like: A surprisingly competent multiroom option, with great connectivity.
What We Don't: Expensive compared to other wireless options.

There are surprisingly few bookshelf speakers that integrate into a multiroom system, which makes the Audio Pro A26 easy choice if that’s what you want to do. The Swedish company aren’t especially well-known at the moment, but they make an excellent range of wireless speakers, all of which can talk to each other through Bluetooth and Spotify Connect. We think the Kanto TUK are a much better overall option, but they are more expensive. The A26 are arguably among the most affordable wireless bookshelf speakers available— certainly the most affordable on this list.

The problem is the sound. While the A26s deliver good volume and energy, they never feel quite in control of the material. In our opinion the audio, especially in the mid range, feels loose and fluffy, without the precision you get from the Kanto TUK or the Totem KIN Play speakers. We still think the A26s are a good option, however, especially if you plan on integrating them with some of the company’s other excellent wireless speakers
See the Audio Pro A26
 

11. PSB Alpha P5 ($399)

PSB Alpha P5Suggested Amplifier Wattage: 10-90W Per Channel
Impedance:
Driver Sizes: 5.25" Full Range, 0.75" Tweeter
Sensitivity: 89dB
What We Like: Ridiculously good audio quality for the price.
What We Don't: Requires careful pairing to get the best sound.

PSB’s Alpha P5 are pretty popular, and for good reason. The unusual design, which places the full-range driver on top, and the eyebrow raising technology inside them solidifies Alpha P5s ingenuity against the competition. We think they sound superb, easily comparable to the smooth Wharfedale Diamond 12.1. They have a relatively small footprint, a wide soundstage, and are a breeze to set up and use. For under $500, there are very few speakers that could beat them.

We do, however, think that they require careful pairing in order to get the best sound. They have a relatively narrow power range compared to other speakers on this list. We found that Class D amplifiers – the nomenclature refers to the type of amp circuitry, and you’ll find it listed in your amp’s spec sheet – gave the best results. Funnily enough, one of the best combos we came across was the Alpha P5s and the NAD D 3045 amp, both of which come from companies under the same parent. Also worth noting: there is an active version of this loudspeaker available, newly released. It’s called the AM5, and retails for $599. We think that’s way too much of a price increase. For now, stick to the passive P5.
See the PSB Alpha P5
 

12. KEF LS50 Wireless 2 ($2,499)

KEF LS50 Wireless 2Suggested Amplifier Wattage: N/A
Impedance: N/A
Driver Sizes: 5.25" Full Range, 1" Tweeter
Sensitivity: Unavailable.
What We Like: A genuine improvement on a classic.
What We Don't: Still massively pricey, outperformed in some areas by more affordable models.

The KEF LS50 Wireless 2s are, almost without argument, the best-sounding wireless bookshelf speakers ever made. The originals were terrific, but the new version takes things a step further by adding in Metamaterial Absorption Technology (MAT), a new type of technology which dramatically reduces distortion and resonance. The result? Silky, delicious sound quality. And in terms of functionality, there have been dramatic improvements too. KEF used to rely on not one but two apps for control; that’s been simplified to just one. And with a range of wireless connectivity from Spotify Connect to Chromecast, Apple AirPlay 2 and Roon, you’ll be playing music in moments no matter what your source is.

While we do applaud the KEF LS50 Wireless 2s full retailing at the same price as their predecessor, there’s no denying that they are still massively pricey. That becomes even more of a problem when you consider that they are outperformed by less expensive speakers, like the Polk Audio Legend L200s. Those speakers smoke the LS50s, particularly on the low end. While we do admire the new version of the LS50s, they definitely aren’t for everyone.
See the KEF LS50 Wireless 2
 

13. Aperion Audio Novus ($599)

Aperion Audio NovusSuggested Amplifier Wattage: 20-100W Per Channel
Impedance:
Driver Sizes: 5.25" Full Range, 1" Tweeter
Sensitivity: 85dB
What We Like: Crisp, clean sound that competes with better-known brands.
What We Don't: Design is a step back from previous models.

Aperion Audio Have been making great gear for years. The Novus are their latest creation: a pair of affordable bookshelf speakers that go toe-to-toe with other models in this price range. While they don’t quite have the flair and capability of the identically priced ELAC Uni-Fi 2.0, our top pick, they’re an excellent alternative if the ELACs are sold out. The audio quality they provide is crisp and powerful, with excellent detail on the highs. They particularly excel as part of a home theater setup, and conveniently, Aperion offer them both as stand-alones and as part of a surround sound package.

However, we aren’t wild about the design. Compare the Novus to a previous set of speakers from Aperion, the Verus III Grand Bookshelves. Those oozed class and style with their burnished wooden cabinets; the Novus look muddled by comparison. That aside, we think the Novus are a superior choice over more expensive speakers. You’ll get an excellent pair of speakers if you choose the Aperion Audio Novus.
See the Aperion Audio Novus
 

14. SVS Ultra ($999)

SVS UltraSuggested Amplifier Wattage: 20W-150W Per Channel
Impedance:
Driver Sizes: 6.5” Woofer, 1” Tweeter
Sensitivity: 87dB
What We Like: Superb clarity, classy looks.
What We Don't: Don't offer the value of the B&W 607s or Kanto TUKs.

We adore the SVS Ultras, which were previously number one on this list. Their demotion is only because of the excellence of the Bowers & Wilkins 607 and Kanto TUK, both of which offer sound that is just as good at a more affordable price. The SVS Ultras are a little louder (87dB sensitivity versus 84dB for the B&Ws) and more powerful, but still can't avoid the drop into second place. However, they are still an exquisitely-tuned pair of reference monitors - better, we think, than more expensive models like the MartinLogan Motion 35XTis. Those are superb, but we prefer the SVS speakers.

The company's approach to cabinet design and material choice has resulted in a super-transparent sound reproduction - especially in the critical mid-range spectrum. They have a wide soundstage, and an unbelievable low end for the 6.5" driver size. Featuring a 1.7" acoustic port obviously aids the bass content, but it's impressive that the low frequencies don't sound over-cooked or woolly. Instead, there's a tremendous sense of definition - a good amp will make them sing. It's also worth noting that the company make several other fantastic monitors, like the much-loved Primes, but we still prefer the Ultras.
See the SVS Ultra
 

15. Klipsch The Fives ($799)

Klipsch The FivesSuggested Amplifier Wattage: N/A
Impedance: N/A
Driver Sizes: 4.5" Full Range, 1" Tweeter
Sensitivity: Unavailable.
What We Like: One of the simplest ways to create a combined TV/hi-fi system.
What We Don't: Uncontrolled bass and hit-and-miss mids.

“The Fives are the most versatile speakers on Earth,” Klipsch claim. We’re not sure if that’s true, but there’s no question that the new Fives active bookshelf speakers pack a hell of a lot of technology into. The best part is the HDMI ARC input. That means you can connect these directly to your TV, completing a system that is both fantastic for home theater (there’s a subwoofer output) and hi-fi. There are very few other bookshelf speakers with this feature; not even the super pricey KEF LS50 Wireless 2 have it. That makes The Fives pretty unique, and if you like the idea of a simple two speaker system for all your home audio and entertainment needs, you should take a close look at them. And by the way: the design is outstanding. These are a joy to control, and look at.

The most glaring downside with The Fives is the sound quality. It’s...well, fine, for the most part, but there are issues with particular parts of it. We felt that the bass was uncontrolled and woolly, without the control we’ve come to expect from Klipsch. We also felt the same about the mids. We never got the sense that we were getting all the information and clarity we wanted. The sound quality issue is a shame, and it does mean that we can’t recommend The Fives over other active speakers like the Kanto TUK. They are worth it for the HDMI port, but exercise caution.
See the Klipsch The Fives
 

16. Totem Acoustic KIN Play ($1,250)

Totem Acoustic KIN Play Suggested Amplifier Wattage: N/A
Impedance: Unavailable
Driver Sizes: 5.25" Full Range, 1" Tweeter
Sensitivity: Unavailable
What We Like: Truly unbelievable sound quality, incredibly realistic soundstage.
What We Don't: Dull and overly functional design.

The Totem Acoustic KIN Play tick all the boxes. These wireless bookshelf speakers may have a slightly clunky name, but you’ll forget all about it once you hear just how amazing they sound. They deliver incredible realism, particularly in the stereo image. You’ll believe that the sound is coming from all around you, not just in front, and the level of detail is ridiculous. The audio is tuned to perfection, and you get full access to aptX Bluetooth. We’d put these up against the likes of the Polk Legend L200s - the Polks would win, but it’s a very close competition.

We aren’t wild about the design, which is a little dull for our tastes. Compared to the Kanto TUK or the Martin Logan Motion 35XTi, the Totem Acoustic KIN Play look underdressed. Despite the boring design, the speakers offer incredible sound for the price. In terms of value, this is the high-end speaker we’d go for. Totem, a company from Montreal, aren’t well known outside the world of high-end audio, but perhaps it’s time for that to change. The KIN Play are truly special. By the way, Totem recently released the KIN Play Mini, a smaller version that goes for around $850. Having heard both, we don’t think the money you save is worth the sacrifice - the original KIN Play are far superior.
See the Totem Acoustic KIN Play
 

17. JBL L82 Classic ($2,500)

L82 ClassicSuggested Amplifier Wattage: 25-150W Per Channel
Impedance:
Driver Sizes: 8” Woofer, 1” Tweeter
Sensitivity: 88dB
What We Like: Hugely powerful sound and slick retro design.
What We Don't: Outperformed by other, less-expensive speakers.

Everybody always forgets about JBL. We did, for a while, especially in the world of bookshelf speakers where they haven’t been relevant for ages. Then they released an updated version of the L100 from the 1970s— they’re called the L82 Classics, and if you’re looking for a pair of high-end bookshelves, they are seriously worth considering. The eight inch woofer puts out stupendously powerful sound, with real weight and presence, and we love the design. This is perhaps one of the only speakers where we advocate keeping the grille on. Just look at it.

The problem: when you have speakers like the Polk Legend L200s available, which cost around $800 less and sound even better, there’s not a huge reason to go for the L82 Classics. On their own, they are exceptional speakers, but against the competition— which not only include the Polks but also speakers like the MartinLogan Motion 35XTi— they have real trouble. We like them, but they are not the first option.
See the JBL L82 Classic
 

18. Audioengine HD6 ($699)

Audioengine HD6Suggested Amplifier Wattage: N/A 
Impedance: N/A
Driver Sizes: 5.5” Full Range, 1” Tweeter
Sensitivity: Unavailable
What We Like: Big sound, classic looks, wireless music streaming.
What We Don't: Top frequencies slightly subdued.

Audioengine have a huge lineup of fantastic speakers, and although we still prefer the models above for clarity, you have to work quite hard to make speakers as fun as these. Audioengine describe their HD6 powered speakers as 'retro-forward' in design, and we can see that the retro element probably comes from the wood finishes. The 'forward' bit is clearly about the fact that this pair features built-in monoblock power amps (75 watts each), audio inputs (RCA, Minijack, Optical) and wireless Bluetooth streaming, which is great. In our opinion, these aren't as much fun as the Kanto TUKs, above, but they definitely offer more power, and an improved bass response.

The HD6s support the higher quality aptX audio formats, which sound more detailed. If you decide to use the HD6s with a receiver, remember that the speakers are already powered, so use the receiver's RCA outputs. Of course, the Audioengines can also be connected to your receiver via their digital connection for an even better audio quality.
See the Audioengine HD6
 

Bookshelf Speaker Comparison Table

Speaker Price SAW* Imp.** Drivers Sens.*** Wt****
ELAC Uni-Fi 2.0 $600 40-140W 1 x 5.25", 1 x 4". 1 x 1" 85dB 18.25lbs
Fluance Signature Series $200 30-120W 1 x 5", 1 x 1" 85dB 9.7lbs
MartinLogan Motion 35XTi $1,050 20W-250W 1 x 6.5", 1 x 4.5" 92dB 18.5lbs
Kanto TUK $800 N/A Unavailable 1 x 5", 1 x 1" Unavailable 11lbs
Q Acoustics 3020i $315 25W-75W 1 x 5", 1 x 0.9" 88dB 6lbs
Polk Audio Legend L200 $1,799 20W-200W 1 x 6.5", 1 x 1" 85.5dB 22lbs
Bowers & Wilkins 607 S2 $899 30-100W 1 x 5", 1 x 1" 84dB 10.4lbs
Edifier R1280T $100 N/A N/A 1 x 4", 1 x 0.5" 85dB 10.8lbs
Wharfedale Diamond 12.1 $399 20-100W 1 x 5", 1 x 1" 88dB 15lbs
Audio Pro A26 $499 N/A Unavailable 1 x 4.5", 1 x 1" Unavailable 18.23lbs
PSB Alpha P5 $399 10-90W 1 x 5.25", 1 x 0.75" 89dB 10.15lbs
KEF LS50 Wireless 2 $2,499 N/A N/A 1 x 5.25", 1 x 1" Unavailable 44.3lbs
Aperion Audio Novus $599 20W-100W 1 x 5.25", 1 x 1" 85dB 10.1lbs
SVS Ultra $999 20W-150W 1 x 6.5", 1 x 1"  87dB 19lbs
Klipsch The Fives $799 N/A N/A 1 x 4.5", 1 x 1"  Unavailable 11.5lbs
Totem Acoustic KIN Play $1,250 N/A Unavailable 1 x 5.25", 1 x 1" Unavailable 15.85lbs
JBL L82 Classic $2,500 25W-100W 1 x 8", 1 x 1" 88dB 27.9lbs
Audioengine HD6 $699 N/A N/A 1 x 5.5", 1 x 1"  Unavailable 37.9lbs

*SAW = Suggested Amplifier Wattage
**Imp. = Impedance
***Sens. = Sensitivity
***Wt. = Weight (Each)

The Audioengine HD6 is a capable wireless bookshelf speaker | The Master Switch

Bookshelf Speaker Buying Advice


What Are Bookshelf Speakers?

Prior to the 1960s, home audio entertainment was mostly in the shape of integrated radio or record player units sporting built-in amps and speakers. Standalone 'high fidelity' speakers were, at the time, pretty much floorstanding models – huge, bulky and very expensive. Bookshelf speakers are different. They are designed to be used as part of a discrete audio system. You shouldn't be connecting them to your surround sound system - although, you probably could with a little tinkering. Instead, what you're doing is pairing them with an amplifier, or a dedicated player, in order to create a single, self-contained system. Hence the use of the word bookshelf; they're meant to be off on their own, away from everything else. Typically, they are easy to spot. They're big, boxy, and usually have one small driver (the tweeter) and one big driver (the woofer). You can usually cover these with a mesh grille, which makes them a little easier on the eye.

This was until bookshelf speakers were invented and popularized by Edgar Villchur at Acoustic Research, and their name came about from the speaker enclosures' size – they were big enough to live on a bookshelf and yet reproduce a full range of frequencies, often matching the frequency response of larger floorstanding units. It's easier said than than done to manage such a trick – up to that point in time, smaller speakers were famed for their thin and brittle sound that couldn't match the sonic oomph of ported - also known as bass-reflex - floorstanding speaker designs.

The invention of air suspension - also known as acoustic suspension - speaker enclosures was the real game changer. Instead of using ported design, the boffins at Acoustic Research came up with a sealed cabinet design. Those being nearly airtight, helped the air inside the cabinet act as a sort of a cushion, or even a spring behind the woofer, aiding its retraction. This significantly reduced excursion of the bass woofer and delivered a tighter, richer and more controlled sounding bass, and in turn that gave bookshelf speakers the much flatter frequency response they are famed for. They certainly sounded awesome. So, the name bookshelf speakers stuck around and countless music lovers living in small apartments created a huge demand for this compact speaker format – a trend continuing until today. The key thing to remember is there's a subtle difference between bookshelf speakers and computer speakers. Bookshelf speakers are more geared towards hi-fi sound - in other words, with separate amps and subwoofers. Computer speakers, or desktop speakers, are more likely to be made for use with computers and laptops, despite the similar size and design.

Fluance's Signature Series HiFi is a cheap, affordable option | The Master Switch

Wired vs. Wireless Speakers

With the ever-growing world of wireless technology, it's archaic to believe that a wireless speaker will never sound as good as its analog source. Some of the wireless speakers on this list - the Audioengine HD6, for example - have a powerful sound that could have us convinced they were wired. We even have many examples of high-end Bluetooth and wireless speakers, complete with aptX Bluetooth - the leading Bluetooth technology at the moment - which cost thousands of dollars and could knock any of these out of the park. Many wireless speakers are fully capable of producing a sound that you will love, and bookshelf speakers are no exception. Wired or not, you can get a great sound out of your bookshelf speakers, and shouldn't correlate wireless with lesser-quality.

The greatest advantage to having wireless speakers is lack of clutter. If you've ever tried to set up a 5.1 system, you certainly understand where we're coming from. While wireless bookshelf speakers aren't usually truly wireless - they often require a cable to connect the right and left channel - they seriously reduce the amount of cabling running across your desk, or below. Another serious advantage to wireless speakers is not having to plug into them via an analog input. Wireless speakers are equipped with Bluetooth or Wi-Fi (sometimes both), meaning you can pair to them via your smart phone or laptop. We found this very handy during our office testing, making switching between multiple sources effortless. In cases like the $315 Q Acoustics 3020i, they were perfect for boosting our laptop sound, and creating a wide soundstage that could have seriously had us fooled. Now, those speakers are worth their value!

Aperion Audio Novus bookshelf speaker | The Master Switch

Passive vs. Active Speakers

Bookshelf speakers are traditionally Passive, meaning that they need to be powered by an external amplifier. A classic hi-fi component system featuring bookshelf speakers would normally consist of your source media players (CD, MP3, DVD, BluRay, etc) connected to a receiver/power amp which itself feeds the speakers in stereo (one channel per speaker). Increasingly, you might run all their media off a PC or laptop. If this is the case, instead of a full receiver, you might opt for a simple stereo amp (receiving audio directly from your computer’s soundcard) to power your pair of bookshelf speakers.

Active (self-powered) bookshelf speakers are becoming increasingly popular too. In this case, each will have its own built-in power amps (two actually, one for the woofer, one for the tweeter), and all they need is an audio feed - a mini-jack from your smartphone or a tablet, or if you are using an A/V receiver, the main Line Out  (normally RCA) connected directly to the powered speakers’ input. Perfect example: the Audioengine HD6, one of the few active speakers on this list. No amp matching needed here. Note: you really don’t want to connect power amp outs (from a receiver) to active speakers! Things may get a little…smoky.

MartinLogan Motion 35XTi bookshelf speaker | The Master Switch

Impedance and Wattage: How to Match Amps and Speakers

You might be a little confused with the wattage/impedance/sensitivity figures in the table above - that's the suggested amplifier wattage thing. Not to worry - we've got an entire explainer on those specs here. Here's a shorter version, if you don't want to click through.

Wattage is important – and that's before you've even bought your bookshelf speakers. We'll ignore active pairs here – they are all internally matched, wattage-wise. Things may get a little less clear-cut when matching passive speakers to an external amp, as you'd ideally have to know whether they are compatible. Fortunately, the first part of that is easy. Let's take the ELAC Uni-Fi 2.0 , which have a suggested amplifier wattage of between 40 and 140 watts per channel. That means that all you need to do is find an amplifier that puts out a wattage in that range, and you'll be good to go. A common problem when (mis)matching speakers to an amp is when the amp is too powerful for your speakers – when this is the case you will find your optimum volume level on the amp dial reduced. You will find that turning the volume higher than a certain level (say halfway) results in a flabby, tearing sound known as speaker distortion. Prolonged playback in such conditions may result in blown drivers. The other way round is equally problematic – when an amp is too under-powered for your speakers. This scenario normally involves the amp clipping and going into the 'red' as it struggles to deliver the wattage - if you keep pushing it, it would just go 'boom'.

Impedance is something you also need to pay attention to. You'd need to make sure that your amp or A/V receiver has an equal or lower impedance figure than that of the speakers. Here's a good place to note that amps utilize their full potential wattage at their lowest impedance. For instance, if an amp is rated at 100 watts at four ohms, the rule goes that when the amp is working at eight ohms (powering a pair of eight ohm speakers like the SVS Ultra), it can only deliver half the wattage of its four ohm potential – which in this case would be 50 watts. This might sound too much like a math lesson, but many people use this rule to their advantage – to get the amp's full power working, they simply would add another pair of eight ohm speakers, as the combined impedance of the four eight ohm speakers to four ohms, thus matching the amp's impedance figure!

Polk Legend L200 bookshelf speaker | The Master Switch

Sensitivity Explained

This is a measure, quite simply, of how loud a pair of speakers will go at a given volume. Really, that’s all there is to it. Measured in decibels, sensitivity (sometimes referred to as efficiency) is a good way of working out the volume that a pair of speakers can deliver. It’s measured in decibels, and as the amount of sound produced when a certain amount of power is put into the speakers – usually one milliwatt.

Using these, you can compare different speakers and see how they measure up in terms of loudness. A speaker with a lower sensitivity may struggle to fill anything beyond a small room, whereas one with a higher sensitivity – such as the 92dB MartinLogan Motion 35XTi – will put out significant volume for the same amount of power, making them ideal for large rooms.  However: be careful of putting too much emphasis on sensitivity. Although almost all manufacturers listed, what they don’t do is list the amount of power they are applying. This is an standardised across the industry, so there are variances between manufacturers. If you’re choosing a pair of speakers based on sensitivity, keep this in mind. The specs can be fudged.

Totem Acoustic Kin Play | The Master Switch

Speaker Connections Explained

We're assuming that you already have an amplifier - and of course, a media source such as a laptop or a wireless streamer. What you need to look for to get them connected to your amp are the binding posts on the rear of the speakers, which are normally red and black rotaries that can be screwed up and down. Occasionally, they'll take the form of little squares you can insert wires into, labelled plus/minus.

Next up, buy some speaker wire - this is relatively cheap. If you are wondering what to choose, you should normally go for a 16-gauge, which is perfect for regular bookshelf speaker impedance (the majority is rated at 8 ohms). If you're going to be positioning things over 50 feet away, you might be better off with a ticker wire at 12 or 14 gauge, which is also recommended for speakers of 4 or 6 ohms. Once you cut off a decent length of wire, use a boxcutter to strip the insulation off either end. You should be left with a short length of copper wire, which you should twist into a tight coil. You can then insert this into the binding posts on either end, separating speakers right and left, and being sure to screw red into red and black into black. Please take care doing this - and make sure the amplifier is unplugged. If you don't, things might not work right at best, or go bang at worst. This system works for the bookshelf speaker model type known as passive – they don't have amplifiers or internal power included, and so need to draw their power from an external amp.

Kanto TUK bookshelf speakers | The Master Switch

Bookshelf Speakers vs. 2.1

Bookshelf speakers are famed for their flat response – they are quite fair to the music content (as intended by the music producer), reproducing the recorded material ‘as it is’ and  not ‘blanketing’ the audio with their own specific character. That said, they are universally small- to medium-sized (with the exception of things like the Magico Q1, which are insane-to-ridiculous-sized, and cost $25,000 - small wonder they aren't on our list!). Their sealed design and internal woofers can only manage certain bass frequencies.

Adding a subwoofer makes a bookshelf speaker speaker into a 2.1 system and everything starts to sound seriously impressive, as the crucial mid and upper frequency detail is backed up by a fully extended low bass. How do you add a sub to a pair of bookshelf speakers? Let us start by saying that most subwoofers are self powered. You don’t need separate amplification for them. Adding a subwoofer is therefore really straightforward if you are using a receiver, as most current models have a dedicated and clearly-labeled subwoofer audio output. Just connect to the sub, turn up the level (at the back of the sub) to your liking and you’re set. Things may get a bit blurry if you aren’t using a receiver. Say you’re running just a stereo power amp. How would you patch that sub in this more spartan approach? Quite simple, really. Subs come with audio inputs and outputs, so the approach here is to plug your source into the subwoofer first and feed the audio outs from the sub into your amp’s inputs (or powered bookshelf speakers audio ins). 
 

Bookshelf Speakers vs. Surround Sound

These two setups work well together. There's nothing to say you can't incorporate your bookshelf speakers into a multi-speaker 5.1 or 7.1 setup. You would, of course, need a capable surround A/V receiver with ideally enough power to match your speakers. As always, it's OK (and sometimes even recommended) if your amp/receiver has a little more wattage than your speakers. Each speaker needs to connect to its own power outlet (black to black, red to red, as explained above). The only catch is that most bookshelf speakers are sold in pairs – for a classic 5.1 setup, you might have to buy three pairs and a sub, and leave one speaker in storage. Or just make it a novelty coffee table ornament. We don't know. Whatever. If you decide to go this route, then we suggest you use the bookshelf speakers as your front left and front right speakers in the surround setup.

MartinLogan Motion 35XTi bookshelf speakers | The Master Switch [Click and drag to move] ​

Bookshelf Speaker Placement Explained

More often than not, bookshelf models are aimed at a particular sweet spot – it may be your seat in front of your computer, or the sofa. Manufacturers strive to optimize this sweet spot, and some models are naturally better at this than others. What you could do to improve your listening experience, though, is to try and level your speakers so the tweeters are at the same level as your ears. The best listening spots are roughly where you form a triangle with the speakers, and they are at an equal distance from your left and right ear.

Speaking of 'tuning', as noted in our list, some cheaper models may have issues with frequency 'holes' or even worse: over-emphasized frequencies. Most receivers have very capable EQ processors built in, or even self-calibrating frequency modes. These can really do wonders and can 'cure' such little imperfections. Bookshelf speakers used in surround modes, would have to be placed in the now established traditional way – front center, front left and right, rear left and right and so on, depending on the size of the format – 5.1, 7.1 etc.

Polk Audio Legend L200 bookshelf speakers | The Master Switch

Speaker Stands Explained

Not surprisingly, many hi-fi stores demo their products on speaker stands. These improve the stereo imaging and the frequency response. At The Master Switch, we use Sanus stands to mount our speakers; they are both practical and affordable, and isolate well.

The opposite scenario - of placing your brand new pair on a large oak table, for instance - might make things sounding quite boomy, as furniture tends to vibrate with the music, enhancing certain frequencies. Speaker wall brackets are another good option – they can be a little more discreet, though not invisible. If these choices spoil the vibe and the look of your music room, they'll at least make the music sound a tiny bit better!

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