A quality floorstanding speaker can instantly supercharge your sound system. Not only do they look good, drawing focus to a sound system and making it stand out rather than blend in, but they’re known for sounding spectacular. They're designed to slot in next to bookcases and TV cabinets, packing more speaker drivers into a smaller amount of space. They also take advantage of the space itself (or lack thereof). In our homes, much of our space is taken up horizontally by chairs, couches, and tables, but much less is taken up vertically. You don’t need a small apartment to justify buying a pair of them – most of them, especially the more expensive ones, will quite happily fill even a large room and create theater-quality sound. Here are some of the best.
First things first: we are more than aware that there are floorstanding speakers that cost five or even six figures. Although we do include a few of those little further down, as a bonus, you’re not going to find them on this list. Why? Because we think that, for most people, they are total overkill.
A list of the best floorstanding speakers has to take into account things like value for money, and we stand by our picks below. We compare speakers from dozens of different manufacturers, taking into account a wide range of variables from wattage to price and beyond, to construct a loose, numbered list. If you agree with our selections, or disagree, be sure to let us know in the comments. All prices are for a pair of speakers, although some purchase links list the price for one - just click Buy twice!
Recommended Amp Power: 25-150W/8Ω
Drivers: 2 x 5.25” Woofer, 5” Midrange, 1” Tweeter
What We Like: Some of the best value-for-money, despite the sizeable price.
What We Don’t: Needs excellent equipment to really get the best out of it.
Boy. We agonised over this one. KEF make such excellent gear, and have been doing it for so long, that it was hard to pick which of their excellent floorstanders to include. In the end, we had a choice: either make this entire list a rundown of the best KEF speakers around, or pick the one we thought had the best value for money, and would suit most people. In the end, we kept coming back to the R500. It’s our number one pick. We think it offers better sound than the SVS, and better value than the Klipsch.
It’s reasonably-priced, and you get an awful lot of bang for your buck. The sound is effortlessly clear and clean, with superlative dynamics that translate directly from the ultra-high-end KEF BLADE speakers. The design is clever, too, with neat plinth feet that help isolate your sonics. But: you shouldn’t go for these unless you’ve got a really solid amp and DAC combo - maybe even a dedicated pre and power amp. While they’re very good, they work best when the other bits of the signal chain are of similar quality. Still, these are excellent - and as we mentioned, KEF make plenty of other delectable speakers, so do check those out if these aren’t doing it for you.
See the KEF R500
Recommended Amp Power: 20-300W/8Ω
Drivers: 2 x 8” Woofer, 2 x 6.5” Midrange, 1” Tweeter
What We Like: Earth-shattering sound.
What We Don’t: Awkward shape.
This pair is torn straight from Batman’s sound system. No, seriously, they look like something out of the Batcave. And you just cannot understand how powerful they are, and how much punch and depth they have, until you actually have a pair in your living room. The twin midrange drivers and single tweeter do a very able job, but it’s the bass that really sets these apart. Their twin 8” woofers, set low down on either side of the housing, are absolutely thunderous. SVS probably won't like us saying this, but you could quite happily get away with using these without a subwoofer. The bass is that good.
So why aren’t they number one? Because for all their audio goodness, there’s no denying that their shape makes them an awkward proposition. The flared bottom end and woofer placement means that you can’t just tuck these away, as they’ll need to have a bit of space to get the full effect. As such, while they are absolutely fantastic, most people may find them overkill. But if you have the space, and the back strength and muscle them into position, you’re in for one hell of a ride. They are just - just - beaten by the KEF R500 in value, but they are still an extraordinary pair of speakers. Read our in-depth review.
See the SVS Ultra Towers
Recommended Amp Power: 20-300W/8Ω
Drivers: 2 x 8” Woofer, 2 x 6.5” Midrange, 1” Tweeter
What We Like: Unbelievable value for money.
What We Don’t: Not a huge jump from the F5.
Andrew Jones is an almost inevitable name with speaker systems. After moving from his home Pioneer to ELAC in 2015, he set about building some excellent, affordable speaker sets. This is one of them, an upgrade on the F5 (obviously) and one which we think has a lot of merit. If you want a speaker that offer sound quality capable of competing with brands like SVS and KEF, but at a knockdown price, this is the one to go for.
Although it's hardly part of a closed ecosystem, we've always felt that ELAC speakers sound a lot better when paired with other models from the company, such as their excellent home theater speakers. But even if you don't own any of their other products, you're still in for a ride with this model, which offers some superb tonal range in a classy package. These are a pair of speakers that respond well to a little bit of power, so don’t be afraid to connect them to a decent amplifier and turn them all the way up. The F6s aren’t the greatest leap from ELAC’s F5 model - and like that model, they’re only available in black - but we still had a lot of fun with them.
See the ELAC Debut F6
Recommended Amp Power: 250-1,000W/8Ω
Drivers: 2 x 6.5” Woofer, 6.5” Midrange, 1” Tweeter
What We Like: Huge power, huge value for money, very sensitive.
What We Don’t: Needs a monster amp.
Before we start, a quick note: Klipsch introduced the newer version of these speakers, the RF-7 IIIs, at CES 2017. At the time of writing, they aren't yet available to buy (as far as we can tell), so after much deliberation, we've decided to keep the IIs in this list for now - with an asterisk that the IIIs will probably replace them soon.
Anyway: Klipsch is, predictably, high on the list, and their RF-7 II is adding to its stellar reputation. A titanium tweeter packaged with two monstrous 10-inch woofers gives you plenty of power - and they can handle huge amps, too, with a 1000 watt peak capacity. Klipsch use what they call Tractrix Horn technology, which is essentially a speaker component designed to reduce distortion and increase detail. The RF-7 II is so good that we consider it the best overall speaker in this category, showcased by how well it handles the lower frequency ranges. It’s finished in black wood, which is a touch of class we've come to expect from Klipsch. We initially had this above the KEF, but on reflection, we think that speaker offers better value - high end sound in an affordable package. Still: these are magic.
See the Klipsch RF-7 II
Recommended Amp Power: 20-650W/8Ω (Partly powered)
Drivers: 3 x 9” Woofer, Various Midrange, 1” Tweeter
What We Like: Unbelievable sound.
What We Don’t: Very expensive for what you get.
GoldenEar have smashed their way into the home theater conversation with an absolutely stellar set of powered speakers, of which the Triton One is the prime example. A big, bolshy bruiser of a speaker, it packs a phenomenal 56-bit digital signal processing engine, to ensure smooth, clean sound, as well as a built-in subwoofer section paired with a 1,600W digital amplifier - this is the reason behind only needing 20W per channel in order to drive, making it easy to run with a wide range of amps. This is a relatively rare bit of tech, certainly compared with most other home theater speakers, and we think it’s brilliant.
Ultimately, even a shallow dive into this speaker will see you drowning in technological terms like open-cell polyurethane foam damping pads and proprietary Multi-Vaned Phase Plug design. No, we don’t know either. What we do know is that it sounds bloody good, and more importantly, feels good - like each unit has been carefully made. GoldenEar offer plenty of other flavors of this speaker, so don't be afraid to shop around - although we do think they're currently a little overpriced, for what you get, hence their position on this list - they certainly can’t beat the Debut F6 for value. Top five though? Hanging with the KEF, ELAC and SVS? Easily.
See the GoldenEar Triton One
Recommended Amp Power: 40-250W/8Ω
Drivers: 2 x 6.5” Woofer, 6.5” Midrange, 1” Tweeter
What We Like: One of the more affordable Focal speakers.
What We Don’t: Slightly anaemic bass.
Focal, as a manufacturer, make some absolutely stellar speakers – with stellar pricetags. If there were no price limit on this list, they would absolutely get a starring role. We heard their new Kanta No. 2 a recent audio show, and it blew our minds…but for $11,000 they (along with many other speakers from the brand) are simply out of reach of most people.
However, it must be said that while the Chorus 726 doesn’t do quite enough to put itself above models like the SVS Ultra Towers – which offer phenomenal value for money – it still remains a perfect example of the design thought that the French company put into their speakers. With soaring, detail highs and a gorgeous mid range, not to mention a spectacular soundstage, a pair of these for under $2,000 is a very good look. If you’re interested in experiencing Focal’s balanced, even sound quality, give these a try.
See the Focal Chorus 726
Recommended Amp Power: 15-450W/8Ω
Drivers: 2 x 8” Woofer, 8” Midrange, 1” Tweeter
What We Like: Great sound, gobbles up power.
What We Don’t: Not a lot!
With Paradigm, we face a similar problem to KEF. Namely: of all the fantastic speakers, which ones do we include in this list, and how do we arrange things so they don’t end up dominating? Again, it comes down to value for money, and which floorstander will suit the most people, and we think that the Prestige 95F fits the bill here.
Unless you’re going for something like the (frankly, a little bit absurd) $15,000 Persona 9H speakers, these will more than satisfy most audiophiles. For starters, the twin woofers put out an excellent low end that is defined and clear, without losing any of its punch. The unusually large midrange driver gives warmth and clarity to things like vocals, too. But one of the biggest draws of the set of speakers is just how compatible it is with other amps. With a range of between 15 and 450 watts, you have to look very hard to find a home stereo amp that could bust these drivers open. Even at top volume, things will be smooth and easy. Ideal if you have a big room, or you like things crazy loud.
See the Paradigm Prestige 95F
Recommended Amp Power: Unknown
Drivers: 5.5” Midrange, 1” Tweeter
What We Like: Incredible sound.
What We Don’t: Tough to find unless you go direct.
The British company PMC swing more towards the ultra-high-end side of things, and we think that their speakers are arguably a little bit too much for most people. That being said: their Twenty5 series is legendary, and although you have to be prepared to part with a startling amount of cash – yes, audiophiles in the back, we know you can pay ten times as much for a good set of speakers – what you will get some of the best speakers available.
Although they only offer two drivers each, and aren’t all that sensitive compared to models like the Focal Chorus 726, they offer absolutely superlative sound quality. The slim build and slightly tilted design make them an eye-catching addition to any hifi or home theater setup. It must be said that you are going to find these on Amazon, and you will almost certainly need to go direct, or via your local audio shop. But trust us: these are worth the wait, and the extra effort. And if you’re prepared to spend a little more, you will find an embarrassment of riches on the company’s site.
See the PMC Twenty5.23
Recommended Amp Power: 30-120W/6Ω
Drivers: 5.5” Woofer, 1” Tweeter
What We Like: Stellar sound and design.
What We Don’t: Similar problem to the PMC model - dealer sales only!
There is a model from Totem Acoustic that we badly want to include on this list – the pint-size Tribe Tower, which we heard demoed at TAVES 2017, and which blew us away. But the time of writing, it isn't yet available, so unfortunately we couldn’t include it here. However, it did motivate us to go and check out other speakers from the company, and after much deliberation, we are going to include this model on the list. For our money, it matches excellent value with extraordinary sound.
Although it has a similar problem to manufacturers like PMC, in that you will need to do a little bit of work to track a pair down (no one-click Amazon buying here!) You’ll find that it’s well worth it. Totem are one of the most intriguing speaker companies around, folks who are really pushing the boundaries, and although this particular model exceptional dynamics and imaging. You could argue that a dedicated midrange driver might have kicked up even further, but you’d have to argue very hard. As it is, this is an extraordinary speaker that everybody needs to hear.
See the Totem Acoustic Hawk
Recommended Amp Power: 30-275W/8Ω
Drivers: 2 x 5.5” Woofer, 1” Tweeter
What We Like: Ideal for those who want to upgrade later.
What We Don’t: Definitely lacks subtlety!
Now here’s something interesting. We are often used to upgrading hi-fi systems by adding in things like preamps or new power supplies, but it’s quite hard to do the same with speakers. While you’re not going to be swapping drivers in and out here, the Danish audio company have made it easy to upgrade speakers to more powerful models. Buy one, and you can upgrade for the difference in the retail price; Audiovector will ship you an upgraded model.
It’s definitely something you’ll spend money on – affordable these aren’t – but you do get what you pay for. While we do wish these speakers had a touch more subtlety – when it comes to audio quality, they are more battering ram than sniper rifle – they do deliver excellent sound. They are among the most affordable Audiovector speakers available, if you can believe that, and we think they are worth going for if you can see yourself getting serious about your hifi at any point.
See the Audiovector SR3 Signature
Recommended Amp Power: 50-100W/6Ω
Drivers: 2 x 4.4” Woofer, 2” Tweeter
What We Like: Terrific design, splendid high-end detail.
What We Don’t: Overall sound quality doesn’t beat other models on this list.
What a pleasant surprise. We’ll admit: we had never heard of MarkAudio-SOTA before their press agency contacted us, asking us if we’d review a pair of their Cesti T floorstanding speakers. They are sitting in our testing room as we write this, and we keep finding our gaze drawn back to them.
Perhaps it’s the design, which has enough subtle touches and carefully placed elements to really stand out. Or the color: candy-apple red, if you please (the speakers are available in black or white, as well, if that doesn’t appeal). Either way: we really, really like them, and will be doing a full, in-depth write up soon. Our early impressions are good: while we do think the sound isn’t quite as pinpoint precise as we’d like for $3,495, it’s still solid, and we spent many happy hours listening to these. They aren’t the best models out there - we think the Goldenear Tritons deliver a slightly better audio experience - but they are damn good.
See the MarkAudio-SOTA Cesti T
Recommended Amp Power: Unknown
Drivers: 10” Woofer, 2 x 5.25” Midrange, 1” Tweeter
What We Like: Crisp, detailed sound, distinctive design, built-in sub.
What We Don’t: Definitely not for everyone.
Everybody stay calm. We know Def Tech has its fans, and we’d very much appreciate it if they didn’t eat us alive. But in our opinion, the spectacularly named Mythos ST-L SuperTower (seriously, it's like they're trying to name something that Thanos would use to destroy the Marvel universe), doesn’t do quite enough to differentiate itself from the competition. We can’t see a reason why you would pick this speaker over, say, the Triton One. It’s also got a couple of puzzling design choices, like recessed binding posts that make wire attachment tricky, and a powered subwoofer. Don’t get us wrong, we love powered subwoofers, but it does mean you have to connect the speakers to the mains as well as your amplifier.
That being said: this is by far from a bad speaker. Quite the opposite. It offers an excellent combination of both crisp, clear sound with some of the best speaker design we’ve come across yet. If you can stomach the price, and aren’t too worried about the design quirks, then this offers some excellent sound and design that will fit right at home in any room, and in any setup. It must be said we prefer the MarkAudio-SOTA model, despite it being a little tougher to track down, but these are still excellent.
See the Definitive Technology Mythos ST-L SuperTower
Recommended Amp Power: 25-200W/8Ω
Drivers: 2 x 7.9” Woofer, 4” Midrange, 1” Tweeter
What We Like: A genuine future classic, with killer sound.
What We Don’t: Can be very tough to track down.
The biggest argument for not putting these higher in the list: outside of the UK, Wharfedale models can be a little hard to find. Last time we checked, this one was definitely not on Amazon, and although the price for a pair was relatively consistent at other outlets, we can’t vouch for its accuracy going forward. All the same, if you can find the pair, you should definitely pick them up, because they are fantastic. Truly.
It’s hardly surprising given the company’s reputation, but the Diamond 11.5 put out some wondrous audio quality. We particularly liked the dynamics, and how crisp the top end sounded. And while the low end doesn’t quite match the heights of something like the SVS Ultras, the twin 7.9” woofers do a very capable job. These are the most showy of speakers, design-wise - we think the Def Tech and the MarkAudio-SOTA have beaten for looks, hands down - but they’ll slot nicely into any setup, and they definitely deserve a place on this list. If you can find them, of course.
See the Wharfedale Diamond 11.5
Recommended Amp Power: 20-300W/4Ω
Drivers: 2 x 6.5” Woofer, 5.5” Midrange, 1” Tweeter
What We Like: Probably the most musical speaker here.
What We Don’t: Slightly old-school design.
One of the best things about floorstanding speakers is that they can pull double duty – showcasing not only the explosions and punches of an action movie, but also playing music. The Motion 40s from MartinLogan definitely lend themselves to the latter category. In our opinion, these are by far the most musical speakers on this list, with a sound signature that really brings songs to life. As such, if you want to pair a set of speakers with a stereo amp, or stream some music through your home theater receiver, then these are the ones to go for.
The somewhat old-school design, with the two-tone finish, may turn some people off – we can definitely see these slotting into a 1970s hifi setup. But ultimately, if you care about the sound, and want to experience just what electric guitars, thumping kick drums, or sultry vocals can sound like through a pair of really good tower speakers, then you should absolutely give these a try. They also come in slightly smaller variants if you want to spend less, like the Motion 20, so don’t let budget get in the way of this particular brand of audio goodness.
See the MartinLogan Motion 40
Recommended Amp Power: 20-300W/4Ω
Drivers: 2 x 8” Woofer, 5” Midrange, 1” Tweeter
What We Like: Solid sound and build, huge bass.
What We Don’t: A touch expensive for what you get?
These don’t offer the highest value for money of all the speakers on this list - we much prefer the ELAC Debut F6s for that particular area - but we’ve been remiss in the past for not including Fluance, and that’s something we want to rectify here. For the record, the company makes some superb speakers, and we’d say the Signature Series is a very good look to invest in if your budget for this price range (sub-$1,000). It’ll last you forever.
The chief draw is not just the glossy design and the signature yellow drivers, but also the sound. With twin 8” woofers, these do a very good passing impression of a subwoofer, with rich and mellow bass that will fit right into any surround sound setup, whether you have a sub or not. They also come with fantastic (albeit hard to install) speaker spikes for the base, which help isolate the speakers from vibrations. Be warned: these are both big and heavy, not the kind of speaker you slot into a corner somewhere and hope no one will notice. They are authoritative both in looks and sound. But as midrange floorstanding speakers go, these are a very, very good choice, and are absolutely ideal for bass heads.
See the Fluance Signature Series
Recommended Amp Power: 25-100W/6Ω
Drivers: 2 x 6.5” Woofer, 1” Tweeter
What We Like: Great sound for the price, overall.
What We Don’t: Lacks bass. Dull design.
Q Acoustics is a company that has just been getting better and better. They've steadily produced some excellent models, and with their 3050, have really smashed their way into our roundup. We dig this speaker, and not just because it’s sold in a pair, which is terrific value.
For around $700, you get a wonderfully-built cabinet with curved corners and a variety of finishes, housing a great set of components. Well, we say wonderfully-built - it’s true, but we’d caution that the design feels like an acquired taste, so make sure you take a close look before you buy. As for the sound, the word we'd use to describe it is 'controlled': there's minimal distortion, fantastic clarity (particularly in the mid range) and some great detail. We do however feel there could be a little more oomph in the bass, although that problem vanishes if you pair these with a good subwoofer. All told, maybe we’re just being picky - these are a pair of floorstanders that will do you proud, should you buy them. We strongly recommend these, even if Q Acoustics isn't quite the household name it should be.
See the Q Acoustics 3050
Recommended Amp Power: 20-100W/6Ω
Drivers: 2 x 6.5” Woofer, 6.5” Midrange, 1” Tweeter
What We Like: Extended throw driver (Read: powerful sound).
What We Don’t: Distortion at high volumes.
We’ll end the main list with a budget pick – one we feel still competes with the big boys. One of the more recent entries into this particular area is Polk Audio’s T-50, from their T-series line. It’s become an instant favorite - and with technology drawn from Polk’s Monitor series, it isn’t hard to see why. It’s rare for us to recommend speakers in the sub-$150 price range, but we’d be crazy not to include both this and the Pioneer above. For small rooms and slim budgets, they are absolutely worth your time.
While it’s not as heavy-duty as, say, the ELAC or Q Acoustic models above, it’s got a lot to recommend it. Chiefly, an extended-throw driver that really pushes the sound out, as well as Polk’s very good Dynamic Balance tech. The latter really improves the sound, making these a fantastic choice if you’re looking for great audio at a low budget. Be aware that if you want clarity at high volumes, you may want to look at a midrange speaker (as in, price, not frequency).
See the Polk Audio T-50
And For When You Want Some Ultra-High-End Gear:
Recommended Amp Power: 50-200W/8Ω
Drivers: 2 x 6.5” Woofer, 5” Midrange, 1” Tweeter
What We Like: Extraordinary sound and design.
What We Don’t: That price tag tho.
Good God Almighty. A glance at the specifications doesn’t raise any eyebrows (50W into 8Ω is practically feeble, compared to some of the beasts on this list) and they don’t look all that different from other models. But they are. If the the horn on top didn’t give it away, the names for the various pieces of technology that Bowers & Wilkins have sunk into this thing will.
Diamond Dome Tweeters. Continuum and Aerofoil Cones. No expense on the R&D front has been spared here, and what you get for your thirteen grand (or thereabouts) some of the best floorstanding sound on the entire planet. Sadly, we’ve never had a pair of these in for review, but we have heard them, and they are just jawdropping. If you have the cash, in the various other components needed to do them justice, then give the 800 Series a go. By the way: $13,000 is the price at the time of writing, but it'll probably be cheaper if you hunt around.
See the Bowers & Wilkins 804 D3
Recommended Amp Power: Unknown
What We Like: Are you kidding?
What We Don’t: We don't know. We've never heard them. Neither has almost anyone else.
Oh, you know, just spending over half a million dollars on a pair of speakers. No biggie. The Goldmund Apologue Anniversary pair has spent some time in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and is so exclusive that even if specifications (including mundane things like its footprint) are a closely guarded secret.
We’d love to say that we've extensively tested them, but we haven't yet been able to infiltrate Goldfinger's volcano lair. Meantime, there are plenty of images available online for you to perv over.
See the Goldmund Apologue Anniversary. Also, can you loan us some cash?
|KEF R500||$2,600||25-150W/8Ω||88dB||2 x 5.25”, 1 x 5”, 1 x 1”||39Hz||45kHz|
|SVS Ultra Towers||$1,999||20-300W/8Ω||88dB||2 x 8”, 2 x 6.5”, 1 x 1”||28Hz||32kHz|
|ELAC Debut F6||$760||20-300W/8Ω||87dB||2 x 8”, 2 x 6.5”, 1 x 1”||39Hz||20kHz|
|Klipsch RF-7 II||$2,558||250-1,000W/8Ω||101dB||2 x 6.5”, 1 x 6.5”, 1 x 1”||30Hz||24kHz|
|GoldenEar Triton One||$4,976||20-650W/8Ω||Unknown||3 x 9", Various, 1 x 1"||14Hz||35kHz|
|Focal Chorus 726||$1,899||40-250W/8Ω||91.5dB||2 x 6.5”, 1 x 6.5”, 1 x 1”||49Hz||28kHz|
|Paradigm Prestige 95F||$4,276||15-450W/8Ω||94dB||2 x 6.5”, 1 x 6.5”, 1 x 1"||37Hz||20kHz|
|PMC Twenty5.23||$4,000||Unknown||86.5dB||2 x 8”, 1 x 8”, 1 x 1"||28Hz||25kHz|
|Totem Acoustic Hawk||$2,295||30-120W/6Ω||91 dB||1 x 5.5", 1 x 1"||32Hz||21kHz|
|Audiovector SR3 Signature||$4,480||30-275W/8Ω||91dB||2 x 5.5", 1 x 1"||27Hz||27kHz|
|MarkAudio-SOTA Cesti T||$3,495||50-100W/6Ω||87dB||2 x 4.4", 1 x 2"||40Hz||25kHz|
|Def. Tech. Mythos ST-L||$3,930||Unknown||93dB||1 x 10”, 2 x 5.25”, 1 x 1"||14Hz||30kHz|
|Wharfedale Diamond 11.5||$1,300||25-200W/8Ω||90dB||2 x 7.9”, 1 x 4”, 1 x 1"||35Hz||20kHz|
|MartinLogan Motion 40||$1,900||20-300W/4Ω||92dB||2 x 6.5”, 1 x 5.5”, 1 x 1"||40Hz||25kHz|
|Fluance Signature Series||$700||20-300W/4Ω||89dB||2 x 8”, 1 x 5”, 1 x 1"||35Hz||20kHz|
|Q Acoustics 3050||$700||25-100W/6Ω||92dB||2 x 6.5”, 1 x 1"||44Hz||22kHz|
|Polk Audio T-50||$350||20-100W/6Ω||90dB||2 x 6.5”,1 x 6.5”, 1 x 1"||38Hz||24kHz|
|Bowers & Wilkins 804 D3||$13,000||50-200W/8Ω||89dB||2 x 6.5", 1 x 5", 1 x 1"||24Hz||28kHz|
*RAP = Recommended Amp Power
**Sens = Sensitivity
***LF = Lowest Frequency
****HF = Highest Frequency
- Floorstanding vs. Bookshelf Speakers
- Floorstanding Speaker Placement Explained
- Drivers Explained
- Wattage Explained
- Sensitivity Explained
- Frequencies Explained
- Passive vs. Powered Floorstanding Speakers
- HiFi vs. Home Theater
- Toe-In And Sweet Spot Explained
- Burn-In Explained
- Three-Way vs. Two-way Floorstanding Speakers
The differences between these two product types should be immediately obvious. Speakers are tall and thin. Bookshelf speakers are short and fat. Capiche?
OK– we’ve simplified it a little. But there are definitely situations in which you could use both floorstanding and bookshelf speakers. The most obvious of these is in home hifi use, with a stereo amp, for playing music. Floorstanding speakers are fantastic for this, in that they deliver a much more powerful and wider sound than bookshelf speakers do. While we do love bookshelf models, they often don’t have the raw power that bigger floorstanders can put out.
That being said: this isn’t always the case – we’ve come across some bookshelf speakers that can leave their bigger brothers in the dust – in the smaller speakers do have some advantages, such as their size and weight. You’d have to be pretty daring to put a pair of tower speakers on a bookshelf!
As always, we recommend evaluating the amount of space you have, as well as what you’re likely to be using the speakers for, before you choose between bookshelf and floorstanding speakers. If you’re more interested in home theater use, then we’d argue that you should go for floorstanding, and we explore this in a little more detail in a section below. If you do decide to go for bookshelf speakers, we have a list of the best available right here.
The placement of your floorstanding speaker is less important than something like, for example, a subwoofer. Generally, you should avoid putting them in corners, which could decrease the detail of the bass you get. The most common place to put them is the sides of your TV or stereo system with some room behind, although it depends on the size of your room and the furniture placement. Most importantly, be prepared to experiment, moves things around, and sit in different locations around the room to make sure you’re getting optimal sound.
Also, be aware that the stuff in your room can have a massive effect on how things sound. Got a lot of bookshelves, soft couches, a few cushions? You'll probably be OK. Bare walls, glass coffee tables and lots of right angles? You may need to be a little more careful.
A rookie error is to stick them right against the wall in the corners of the room - makes sense, you'd think, right? Nope. Putting them against the wall destroys the bass energy, turning a mighty oomph into a tiny, muddy squeak. They need to be at least six inches from all walls, and preferably further than that. Obviously this is something that you may have to compromise on, depending on the sound and shape of your room, but as we said, make sure you play around with positioning.
You also need to be aware of the position of the various speaker drivers. The last thing you want as to actually block any of them, or to put something in their path that could interfere with the sound. This can get particularly tricky when speakers have an awkward shape, like the SVS Ultra Towers, which have twin bass drivers on either side at the very bottom. You’ll need to be quite careful not to obstruct things like these, which can be a little bit difficult if you have limited space.
The good news is, floorstanding speakers are rarely nailed down. Although they may be heavy, you shouldn’t find moving them all that difficult. In addition, many of them come with screw-on feet that isolate the cabinet from the floor, eliminating vibrations and helping smooth out the sound, which is always welcome.
The individual engines that produce sound. They combine the electronic components needed to convert the audio signal into something you can actually hear.
Drivers can only be so powerful individually, so the more a manufacturer packs into a floorstanding speaker, the richer and more detailed the sound likely will be. As a rough guideline, you should never see less than three drivers in a single unit – anything less, and you're not going to get the sound you deserve. At the top ranges, you can see up to six and sometimes even seven individual drivers in a unit. Drivers are split into tweeters (high sounds, like violins), mid-range (human voice) and woofers (low sounds, like basslines).
The tweeters are a good indication of where a speaker falls on the budget scale. Cheaper speakers will use cone tweeters - yes, it's in a cone shape. This doesn't spread sound as well as other shapes, and in addition, the materials don't often measure up (paper is most common - effective, to be sure, but not exactly high-grade). Better models will use dome tweeters, which treat the sound more effectively and spread it more evenly. Perfect example: the PMC Twenty5 23, which not only use dome tweeters but which cool them with ferrofluid, a liquid that can become magnetized, and which (obviously) has excellent cooling properties.
Super-expensive speakers actually use something known as a ribbon tweeter, which is a super-light, super-strong, super-efficient tweeter that can do some really amazing things to the sound. You won't see these very often, but they're great.
By the way, drivers also include woofers – the oversized ones which produce bass frequencies. We think these are worthy of a little bit more explanation, and we’ve included them in their own section below.
Wattage refers to the power that can be pushed through each speaker. You should look at watts per channel in particular, as this is a broad measure of how much oomph each driver will have.
Wattage is further divided into Peak and Continuous. Peak wattage is how much power the speaker can handle at absolute maximum capacity. Unless you’re planning to live on the edge, you can ignore. Continuous is the average wattage the speaker puts out on any given Sunday – in other words, what it will put out when played at what most people would consider an average volume.
You’ll notice that in the list of specs for each speaker, we give a recommended amplifier power. This is because any amplifier will need to not only be able to provide sufficient power to the speaker to satisfy its continuous wattage needs – the last thing you want is a speaker that isn’t getting quite enough power – but also because you’ll need to know where the breaking point is. In other words, what's the absolute peak power your speaker can take? Not just because you want to drive at maximum volume, but because music has loud parts and soft parts, and you need to know that both your amplifiers and speakers can handle them.
Let’s say you’ve got a set of speakers, like the KEF R500, with a recommended amp power of 25-150 watts. That means that any amp that generates continuous and peak power within that range is a good match. Something like the Rega Brio, which has continuous power of 50 watts, would be ideal.
You’ll also need to take into account impedance. This refers to the electrical resistance a speaker has, and it's ability to… We lost you already, didn't we?
Not to worry. The good news is that impedence, and how it relates to wattage, is relatively easy to explain, although it does take a little more space and time than we have here. For short reference: the output power of your amplifier and the recommended range of your speakers should, in theory, be at the same impedance. Amp impedance can be lower than speaker impedance, but speaker impedance should never be lower than amp impedance.
If you're curious about what the Ω symbol is in our stats table, and how it can help you get the absolute best out of your setup, then you should check out our full guide to matching speakers and amps, which will clue you in.
This one is easy. For sensitivity, read: loudness.
Sometimes called efficiency, this as a measure of how loud a set of speakers will go when a certain amount of power (usually one miliwatt) is put through them. All things being equal, you should be able to line up a set of speakers in a row, put exactly the same amount of power through them, and get a general idea of how loud they all are at the same power level, by measuring the decibels (dB).
In practice, it’s a little less simple than that. Manufacturers don’t have an independent testing standard, so you have to take sensitivity ratings with a grain of salt. Regardless, they are generally accepted way of determining how much sound speaker will put out. If you have a smaller space, you can quite happily go for speakers with a sensitivity below, say, 88dB. A larger space will require a higher sensitivity rating. For reference, the loudest speakers on our list are the Klipsch RF-7 IIs, at 101dB.
On the surface, this is simple. Frequencies measure how low and how high sounds are. It's measured in Hertz - or, if we're talking about really high sounds, kiloHertz (literally, thousands of Hertz.) Speakers that have the widest frequency range would, in theory, be able to present more detailed sound - even if, in practice, humans can only hear up to around 17,000 Hertz (17 kiloHertz/kHz).
When it comes to floorstanding speakers, the bass is worth spending a little time on. Work with us here.
Woofers are specialised drivers that are used to create bass frequencies. Almost all floorstanding speakers contain at least one – some of them may even have a lone woofer and a single tweeter – and they often produce very good low-end. They are likely to be oversized, and gobble up the bulk of the power that is fed into the speaker.
But here’s an interesting question: are they enough?
What we mean is this. To get truly impactful bass, you need to reach really low in the frequency spectrum – down to the place where we are no longer able to hear sound, but only to feel it. To get these frequencies pumping, you need absolutely tremendous power – often more than a floorstanding speaker can generate, even the really big ones.
While you’re certainly able to get away with relying on the woofers in your floorstanding speakers – especially in the case of models like the GoldenEar Triton One, which have three huge 9” woofers (!) – we would always recommend buying an additional subwoofer. It will do the job that even the best floorstanding speakers can’t.
This bit’s actually quite simple. A passive speaker doesn’t have a built-in amplifier. It needs external amplification, which is why you usually plug yourspeakers into a separate amp or receiver. Powered (or Active) speakers contain their own amplifier.
Usually? You don’t have to worry about this very much. Almost all home theater speakers are passive. It is worth checking, however, as if you plug an active speaker into an amplifier using anything but a dedicated cable known as a line-level cable, there can sometimes be a bang. Again: you’re unlikely to run into this, but do try and keep an eye out.
You will also probably be needing a home theater system to hook these up to. Don't worry, we've got you covered.
Here’s a question for you. What is more appropriate: to use a pair of floorstanding speakers as part of a home theater system, or to simply use them for playing music through a stereo amp?
The traditional response is to go with the former. Floorstanding speakers, if you believe the vast body of knowledge on the subject, are best when used for home theater applications. The way they’ve been tuned and designed has been to slot into an existing system with other speakers. The orthodoxy says that bookshelf speakers are the ones to go for if you’re building a simple hifi music system.
We are here to say that’s nonsense. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with using floorstanding speakers in a hifi setup. While it might be overkill for some people, particularly if space is an issue, as long as you’re pairing them with a suitable amp, they can do wonders for your music – particularly something like the MartinLogan Motion 40s, which are known for being very musical.
They also have the added advantage in that they may, in some cases, negate the need for additional subwoofer. We realise this is controversial – and, if we’re being honest, will always advocate getting a traditional subwoofer to handle the low frequencies. But if you’re pressed for space, and want to have a simple two-speaker setup that doesn’t compromise on the bass, then you’ll get far more bang for your buck with a pair of floorstanding speakers than you will with a pair of bookshelf speakers.
Ultimately, you should let your budgets and your space needs be your guide. It may also be perfectly possible to simply play music through your home theater system, making it more of an all in one solution. In other words: don’t let accepted orthodoxy tell you what to do with your speakers. Floorstanders are often far more versatile than they are given credit for.
Like all speakers, the sound that floorstanding models generate isn’t equal wherever you’re able to hear it. There will be certain positions in relation to the speaker where things sound ‘right’: whether bass is more full, the highs more detailed, the mids deeper. This, ladies and gentlemen and other, is known as the sweet spot, and it’s a goddamn miracle. Get in the sweet spot, and every cent you spend on your new speakers will be worth it.
However, this can take a little bit of work to achieve. Ultimately, you need to set up your speakers in your preferred position, and quite literally move around until you found the listening spot you like. We love to suggest a more scientific way of finding this, but so much is dependent on the environment you place your speakers in, and what’s inside it, that it would be a fool’s errand to try.
However, there is a particular trick that you can use to help narrow down the sweet spot: toe-in. Imagine you are sitting in front of your speakers, parallel to the direction of the drivers. Now, imagine angling those drivers in between 10° and 15°. Obviously, you do this by turning the speakers themselves, and you don't have to worry too much about accurately measuring the angle. Even a little bit of a turn can work wonders.
Not every set of speakers needs to be toed-in, and different manufacturers will provide different advice. The MarkAudio-SOTA Cesti T speakers, for example, are known to have a little bit of a boost in the high frequencies when toed-in, while being a little bit more flat and neutral when faced dead on. Again: you need to play around to find the configuration you like.
No subject has caused more ruin friendships, more personal vendettas, than speaker burn-in. Even now, we are a little bit hesitant to write about it.
The idea is this: brand-new speakers (and headphones), fresh from the factory, will have drivers that are stiff. Stiff drivers mean sound that isn’t going to be quite its best, and – the devotees say – the best way to remedy this is to spend up to a hundred hours playing audio through them, which will help give some flexibility back to the material. Only then can the speakers be truly evaluated.
The counterargument? Simply that any burn-in effect that may have been witnessed by testers in the past is simply the result of our ears getting used to the sound of a particular set of speakers or headphones. While it’s true that driver structure does change over time, the changes are absolutely tiny – far too small to make a real difference in the auditory quality.
Our take? At the risk of pissing off just about everybody, we don’t think burn-in makes a huge difference. Or at least, we’ve certainly never noticed it in any dramatic fashion. Ultimately, you should buy your speakers, then simply enjoy them. At the worst, the sound won’t change at all, and at the best, it will improve!
You'll often see these terms thrown around on product pages. They are a needlessly-complicated way of saying something very simple.
Two-way speakers separate the frequencies they produce into lows and highs. To do this, they have two different types of drivers: woofers (for the lows) and tweeters (for the highs). The Totem Acoustic Hawk are two-ways.
Three-way speakers - you guessed it - separate the frequencies into three: mids, lows, highs. That means they need midrange drivers as well. Traditionally, three-ways are better than two-ways, producing more detailed sound. BUT: this isn't always the case, and a good two-way can often beat a three-way, especially on vocals. The Totem, for example, easily beats the three-way Wharfedale Diamond 11.5s