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, taking advantage of vertical space and resulting in a smaller footprint. Most of them, especially the pricier ones, will quite happily fill even a large room and create theater-quality sound. Here are some of the best. For more background information on floorstanding speakers, see our comparison table and buying advice below the picks.
Recommended Amp Power: 20-300W/8Ω
Drivers: 3 x 6.5” Woofer, 1 x 5.25” Mid-range, 1” Tweeter
What We Like: Genuinely brilliant sound, terrific design.
What We Don’t: You’ll need a good amp to get the best out of them.
The SVS Prime Pinnacle are appropriately named, because they really are the best floorstanding speakers you can buy right now. In terms of sound, value, and design, they just crush it. We adore the audio quality, which manages to be both breathtakingly powerful and surprisingly articulate, handling heavy dance and hip-hop as easily as they handle delicate folk music. SVS held the previous top spot on this list, with the brilliant but awkwardly shaped Ultra Towers, but we think the Prime Pinnacle fix everything that we didn’t like about those speakers and with some added secret sauce (and have a friendlier and more accommodating shape, making it easy to place them). Other speakers, like the amazing Polk Legend L800s, may have even better sound, but they can’t boast the overall value of the Prime Pinnacles.
We must warn you that the SVS Prime Pinnacle are unforgiving. Powering these with a cheap amplifier will reduce the sound quality, and they need quality components to get the best out of them. At the current price, this may not be an issue for most people – chances are if you can afford them, you’ve got a good amp anyway – but they are significantly less forgiving than a speaker like the Klipsch RP-8000F, below. All the same, we believe these are the best floorstanding speakers you can buy at the moment.
See the SVS Prime Pinnacle
A Close Second (And $400 Less)
Recommended Amp Power: 150-600W/8Ω
Drivers: 2 x 8” Woofer, 1” Tweeter
What We Like: Sumptuous sound and design.
What We Don’t: Crossover issues, quieter than the sensitivity would suggest.
We simply can’t imagine a floorstanding speakers list without Klipsch. Their stuff is too good, and the RP-8000F is a prime example of why they’re so revered. It matches the classic Klipsch design – black cabinets with gold drivers – to epic, sumptuous sound quality. The rich, deep tones and terrific harmonics make these speakers a fantastic investment, especially if you have a slightly larger room.
They do have downsides, however, which make them a second pick to the excellent SVS Ultra Towers. We found there was a slight issue with the crossover between woofer and tweeter, meaning that the sweet spot wasn’t as wide as we would have liked. And despite having one of the highest sensitivities on this list, at 98dB, the RP-8000F never quite had the room-rattling energy we would have liked. Regardless, these are an easy top five pick, and an excellent alternative if the awkward shape of the Ultra Towers makes them a tough sell for you.
See the Klipsch RP-8000F
Best Budget Floorstanding Speakers
Recommended Amp Power: 100-200W/8Ω
Drivers: 2 x 5” Woofer, 1” Tweeter
What We Like: Terrific design, good midrange.
What We Don’t: Sound can be a little rough around the edges.
The Jamo Studio Series S 807 have been around for a couple of years now, but for whatever reason, they hadn’t come onto our radar until recently. Having now heard them, we are confident that they are the best budget floorstanding speakers you can buy right now. For under $500, you get a stellar pair of speakers that are equally comfortable in both home theatre and hi-fi setups, which offer excellent design, and a super-sweet midrange that really makes vocal standout. It makes more expensive speakers, like the $399 Onkyo SKF-4800 (below), look like poor choices.
You should be aware of what you’re getting, however. While the sound of the Studio Series S 807 has its highpoints, it can be a little rough around the edges, especially in the upper treble, and down low in the bass. They are also relatively unforgiving speakers, and require a powerful amp to get the best out of. Regardless, if were talking simply about bang for buck, the Studio Series S 807 just crush it. They are genuinely good.
See the Jamo Studio Series S 807
Best High-End Floorstanding Speakers
Recommended Amp Power: 25-300W/4Ω
Drivers: 2 x 10” Woofer, 2 x 5.25” Mid-range, 2 x 1” Tweeter
What We Like: The best soundstage we’ve ever heard.
What We Don’t: Enormous size, enormous price tag.
Were it not for their insane cost, the Polk Audio Legend L800s would be in our number one spot. In terms of sound quality, they absolutely smoke speakers like the SVS Prime Pinnacle – even if they can’t offer the same value. The Legend L800s do this because of one reason: the soundstage. They incorporate Stereo Dimensional Array technology, which is a complicated name for double set of passive drivers that essentially make sure that the sound arrives at both your right and left ears at the correct time. The result is an incredible, stupendous, mind blowing soundstage. You’re enveloped in the music; cocooned in sound. No set of speakers on this list can do what the Polk Audio Legend L800s can - there are designers of multi-speaker surround sound home theater systems that are, at this very moment, howling with outrage.
Having said that, you will certainly have to pay for the luxury of brilliant sound – at $5,998 for the pair, they’re more expensive than even the ultra-high-end KEF R7s. They are also enormous; we recommend having a friend or two to help you unbox them. But good god almighty, if you can afford these, and you have a living room big enough to hold them, you will experience some of the most remarkable sound quality of any pair of floorstanding speakers ever made. They are that good.
See the Polk Audio Legend L800
Best Floorstanding Speakers for Small Spaces
Recommended Amp Power: Up to 140W/6Ω
Drivers: 3 x 6.5" Woofer, 1" Tweeter
What We Like: Huge bang for the buck.
What We Don't: Merciless at exposing low-quality audio.
If you've got a slightly smaller room, and want to maximize the audio quality while not filling the space with awkward design, we've got the perfect speaker for you. ELAC's brand new Debut 2.0 F6.2 may have one hell of a clunky name, but the design and power lend themselves to small spaces. You get not one, not two, but three woofers, which maximize the bass energy. While it does result in slightly less detail than we would have liked, the simple design and effective audio quality mean that these will happily slot into a small hi-fi or home theater system.
You better make sure your source is good though. Put low quality files like MP3s or basic Spotify streaming through these, and you'll be the recipient of some pretty harsh audio. This unforgiving nature makes the ELACs a little harder to love than other speakers, but they still end up as a top choice. This entire line, actually, is terrific – we recently bigged-up their bookshelf speakers in our "Best Of" roundup for this year.
See the ELAC Debut 2.0 F6.2
Best of the Rest
Recommended Amp Power: 30-100W/8Ω
Drivers: 2 x 6.5" Woofer, 6.0" Mid-range, 1" Tweeter
What We Like: Excellent for home theater audio.
What We Don't: A bit overpriced.
Bowers & Wilkins know how to make quality speakers speakers, and their 603s feel like the culmination of everything they've learned in a single package. The 603 floorstanding speakers offer excellent sound quality that's easily on-par with more expensive three-way models, like the MarkAudio-SOTA Cesti Ts. We found that the 603s work better for home theater audio than they do for music - although they performs well in both arenas. The smooth detail and natural response is expressed well, and with a good amplifier or receiver - think Peachtree Audio or Denon - the 603s can truly sing.
Our main complaint is the price. For $1,800, you're paying quite a bit of money here. Yes, they're way more affordable than the absurd Polk Audio Legend L800s, which cost a shade under $6,000, but we think speakers like the Klipsch RP-8000F represent much better value. The sound isn't quite as luxurious, but it's a minor difference, and at a much more respectable price point. As gorgeous as the looks and sound of the 603s are, we'd like to see a price drop before we invest our interest.
See the Bowers & Wilkins 603
Recommended Amp Power: Up to 250W/8Ω
Drivers: 2 x 6.5” Woofer, 1 x 5.25” Mid-range, 1” Tweeter
What We Like: Stunning bass, gorgeous looks.
What We Don’t: Probably a little too traditional.
We admit that we haven’t experienced too many speakers from KLH before. We are very happy we got to rectify that, because the Kendall floorstanders have a lot to recommend about them. One of the things that surprised us the most was just how powerful the bass was. It quite happily went toe-to-toe with the SVS Ultra Towers – if not in raw power, then certainly in clarity and depth. If you’re a fan of bass-heavy music genres like EDM or hip-hop, you’re going to love the Kendalls. They look great, too, with a thick wooden body that still feels elegant.
However, while listening to the Kendalls, we couldn’t help but feel that they were a little too traditional. They were a solid set of floorstanding speakers, but they didn’t get the pulse racing in the same way that, for example, the ELAC Debut 2.0 F6.2s did. The bass was killer, but there were no other real surprises here. Consider these a pair of very good, but not quite top-five, speakers. They would fit well in a moderately large listening room, and would work especially well for those who can’t stretch to a pair of Ultra Towers.
See the KLH Kendall
Recommended Amp Power: 20-150W/4Ω
Drivers: 2 x 5.25” Mid-range, 1” Tweeter
What We Like: Friendly size, great sound.
What We Don’t: Bass leaves a little to be desired, design is hit or miss.
We honestly look forward to speakers from Aperion Audio, a company based in Oregon who are producing some genuinely good stuff. The Novus Tower is their latest, and if you’re looking for a great speaker that manages to produce solid sound with a very small body, look no further. The Novus Tower is tiny compared to speakers like the SVS Prime Pinnacle or Klipsch RP-8000F, and although they aren’t the most affordable, they offer excellent audio quality. The highs, in particular, are remarkable. Aperion redesigned the tweeters from their old Verus series, and the result is superb.
Unfortunately, the Novus Tower don’t get everything right. We just couldn’t get behind the industrial design - although we recognize this was a personal thing, and that your mileage may vary. We also aren’t fans of the bass, which feels underpowered and occasionally a touch flimsy. However, the Novus Tower are still excellent floorstanding speakers. They particularly excel as part of a home theater system.
See the Aperion Audio Novus Tower
Recommended Amp Power: 15-250W/8Ω
Drivers: 2 x 6.5" Woofer, 5" Mid-range, 1" Tweeter
What We Like: A truly magnificent update to a classic line.
What We Don't: Needs excellent equipment to really get the best out of it.
Boy. We agonized 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 would suit most people. For us, that's the new R7 - a midrange pick in a line that includes the R11 and the R5. This is right between those, and it's superb.
It's reasonably-priced - compare it to some of the monsters lower down - and you get an awful lot of bang for your buck. The sound is effortlessly clear and clean, with superlative dynamics. 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, including that smaller R5, which costs $2,800 per pair. Do check those out if these aren't doing it for you.
See the KEF R7
Recommended Amp Power: N/A
Drivers: 2 x 5.5" Woofer, 1" Tweeter
What We Like: A high-end wireless speaker? We love it.
What We Don't: Doesn't quite match the other high-end models on this list.
Dynaudio are one of those companies that could easily occupy this entire list, so good are their products. But we can't really justify putting something like the $85,000 Platinum Evidence here, and the Xeo 30 is the one speaker from the company that truly impressed us. They are wireless speakers, which are almost unheard of at this price range - you won't need an amp to drive them. While you will need an additional control box, and the sound quality isn't quite up there with Polk and MarkAudio-SOTA, they're still a beast of a set of speakers. That being said: they are an upgrade to the old Xeo 6, with an upgraded DSP and new tuning, so it's not like the sound quality is poor.
The setup and functionality makes us think of far more expensive speakers, like the Kii Audio Three - not on this list, as it costs around $10,000. Getting that functionality into speakers the cost under $4,000 is quite a trick, and these definitely deserve a place on this list.
See the Dynaudio Xeo 30
Recommended Amp Power: 50-100W/6Ω
Drivers: 2 x 4.4” Woofer, 2” Tweeter
What We Like: Terrific design, splendid sound quality, relatively affordable price.
What We Don’t: We'd like a little more detail.
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.
They aren't the most expensive speakers on this list - that would be the $6,000 Polk Audio Legend L800s. But the best high-end speakers have to juggle a number of balls, including relative value, and these crush it. 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've spent many happy hours listening to these...Read our in-depth review
See the MarkAudio-SOTA Cesti T
Recommended Amp Power: 30-200W/8Ω
Drivers: 2 x 6.5” Woofer, 1 x 2” Mid-range, 1” Tweeter
What We Like: Crystalline sound - especially in the highs.
What We Don’t: Better in larger rooms.
If you’ve got a larger room – anything over 200 square feet – then the Wharfedale Evo 4.4 are the speakers to buy. It’s not that they’re particularly powerful or sensitive – at 89dB, they’re squarely in the middle of the range here. It’s that somehow, the combination of the twin woofers and the Air Motion Transformer tweeter really fills up big spaces. They perform well in smaller rooms, but truly excel if given the space to run and jump.
This does mean that there are better options if you have a smaller room, including the Aperion Audio Novus, or JBL Stage A180. And although the sound quality is terrific, with excellent detail in the highs, the Wharfedale Evo 4.4 may be a little bright for some people. Regardless, they are an excellent set of speakers and a bold new direction for Wharfedale to take.
See the Wharfedale Evo 4.4
Recommended Amp Power: 100-500W/4Ω
Drivers: 2 x 8” Woofers, 1 x 5.25” Midrange, 1” Tweeter
What We Like: Terrific design, good midrange.
What We Don’t: Bass can be dull, lots of money for a simple upgrade.
Emotiva are the Karl-Anthony Townes of the audio world. They have all the gifts, but aren’t quite as successful as they should be. They’re not a household name like Klipsch or Polk, which is crazy because they make great stuff. Case in point: the new Airmotiv T2+. These speakers, with their ribbon tweeters, deliver highly-accurate sound which we’d compare favorably with the SVS Prime Pinnacle, at the top of our list. The bass can be a little weedy sometimes, but overall, the sound is excellent.
These are, as you’d imagine, an upgraded version of the original T2s, with a brand new crossover. And there lies the biggest problem. The original T2s cost $699, so essentially, Emotiva want you to pay $300 more for...well, not much. We do think these deserve a spot on the list, as it must be said that the original T2s are very old now. But they don’t have nearly the value of a pair of speakers like the Klipsch RP-8000F. Right now, the T2+ good second option, but they shouldn’t be your first choice.
See the Emotiva Airmotiv T2+
Recommended Amp Power: 15-250W/8Ω
Drivers: 2 x 6.5" Woofer, 1 x 6.5" Mid-range, 1" Tweeter
What We Like: Punchy, powerful sound quality.
What We Don't: Only an incremental update.
In truth, it doesn't feel like the Paradigm Premier 800F,a new speaker from the Canadian manufacturer, is a giant leap forward. It's an excellent speaker in its own right – as just about every speaker from this company is – but for the price, it doesn't feel like the company is pushing the envelope or making many meaningful upgrades. While that does place the speaker slightly below where it should be, in our view, it still remains one of the best speakers available. It wouldn't be on this list otherwise, would it?
It's a full three-way speaker, with terrific driver design and two 6.5" woofers to really push out the base. The sound is punchy and powerful, with terrific dynamics and speed. Paradigm's Active Ridge Technology reduces distortion to almost nothing, even at high volumes. Compared to a similarly priced model, the SVS Ultra Towers, the 800F isn't quite there yet – it doesn't feel as exciting. But if you can't find those, the 800F speakers are still a very viable alternative.
See the Paradigm Premier 800F
Recommended Amp Power: 25-100W/6Ω
Drivers: 2 x 6.5" Woofer, 1" Tweeter
What We Like: Superb in a surround sound setup.
What We Don't: Weak bass, not great for music.
The 3050i from Q Acoustics is packed with technology. It has the company's Helmholtz Pressure Equalizer - a dampening tube inside the cabinet, designed to tackle resonance. The cabinet itself is specially braced, to help with clarity. These are excellent innovations, but we just can't help but feel that the result over the original 3050 – still available at $100 less – isn't quite enough to justify the extra cash. Compared to other speakers in this range, like the Jamo speakers, above, we just don't feel there's enough being done here. The deficiencies in the bass are exposed when listening to music - although when paired with a subwoofer and surround speakers for home theater, they crush it. They're an ideal supporting player.
Ultimately, the 3050i only suffer in comparison to the speakers above them. They're still an excellent set of floorstanders, with very solid sound quality. While we do wish Q Acoustics had brought a little more to the table here, there's still plenty of good sound quality, design, and technology to make a meal out of...Read our in-depth review
See the Q Acoustics 3050i
Recommended Amp Power: 20-225W/6Ω
Drivers: 2 x 6.5" Mid-range, 1" Tweeter
What We Like: Terrific high-end, excellent isolation feet (outriggers) as standard.
What We Don't: Dated design.
JBL's new Stage A180 don't quite go far enough to compete with speakers from the likes of Jamo - sometimes it feels like the company are focusing too much on portable and smart speakers to pay attention to the floorstanding crowd. Nevertheless, there's plenty to recommend the A180s, starting with the high-end detail. The 1" tweeter delivers crisp reproduction, with lovely texture. We also appreciated the inclusion of outriggers as standard. If you aren't familiar, outriggers are those little extended feet on the underside of the speaker, which help with isolation, and are better at it than standard feet. You don't often see outriggers on speakers in this price range, so it's a good look.
We don't love the design though. In an era where almost every speaker manufacturer opts for magnetic grilles, JBL go for the old pop-and-lock. And overall, the looks just feel very 1990s, the tweeters reminding us of early Klipsch designs. Get past the design issue, though, and you'll find a steady, reliable speaker that is great for hi-fi setups.
See the JBL Stage A180
Recommended Amp Power: 130W/8Ω (Peak)
Drivers: 2 x 6.25” Woofer, 1” Tweeter
What We Like: The value on these is just nuts.
What We Don’t: Not as loud as the others, boring looks.
Wait, what? A pair of $300 speakers up against some of the monsters on this list? You've gotta be kidding. But we aren't – and if hear the SKF-4800, you'll probably agree with us. For while these aren't super loud (at 86dB sensitivity, they are dwarfed by models like the Paradigm Premier 800F) and look dull as ditch water, they offer a huge amount for the money.
The sound quality for the price is excellent, and these strip out just about all the extraneous features, giving you a simple pair of speakers that ideal for those who don't want to smash the piggy bank when building a home theater system, or pairing speakers with a stereo amp. It's true that large woofers don't always equal massive bass, but that's definitely not the case here: it might not be the most subtle of effects, but these speakers kick like a mule down low. The best on this list? No way. But they definitely deserve to be here.
See the Onkyo SKF-4800
Recommended Amp Power: 20-150W/8Ω
Drivers: 1 x 5.25” Woofer, 1” Tweeter
What We Like: Easygoing speakers with a welcoming price.
What We Don’t: A little quiet for our tastes.
If you have a small room and want a pair of floorstanding speakers that will operate with minimal fuss, and are a breeze to set up, then we recommend the Polk Signature S50. Despite their ported design, they’re remarkably unfussy regarding their positioning, and will give you a wide sweet spot to play with. The sound is effective, if unremarkable, with smooth mids and surprisingly crisp highs. We like the price, too - $498 maybe a little more expensive than the Onkyo SKF-4800, but the S50s are worth it.
That’s not to say they don’t have their downsides. While 89dB sensitivity isn’t the lowest on this list, we couldn’t escape the fact that the S50s felt too quiet at times. They didn’t have the power and authority of other speakers, like the excellent ELAC Debut 2.0 F6.2s. They should be just fine for small rooms, but if you have a large space to fill, it’s worth exploring other options.
See the Polk Audio Signature S50
New Floorstanding Speakers Coming Soon
Right now, there’s a very large package heading for The Master Switch offices. It contains two brand-new Definitive Technology Demand Series D17 speakers. These monstrous beasts have twin bass radiators (like the old SVS Ultra Towers) and boast a staggering amount of technology, R&D, and tuning – at least, if the press release is to be believed. We can’t wait to see if they dominate this list, although it must be said, the $2,999 pricetag may put them out of reach for most people.
|SVS Prime Pinnacle||$1,598||20-300W/8Ω||88dB||3 x 6.5", 1 x 5.25", 1 x 1"||29Hz||25kHz|
|Klipsch RP-8000F||$1,198||150-600W/8Ω||98dB||2 x 8", 1 x 1"||32Hz||25kHz|
|Jamo Studio Series S 807||$332||100-200W/8Ω||90dB||2 x 5", 1 x 1"||46Hz||26kHz|
|Polk Audio Legend L800||$5,998||25-300W/8Ω||87dB||2 x 10", 1 x 5.25", 2 x 1"||25Hz||50kHz|
|ELAC Debut 2.0 F6.2||$920||Up to 140W/6Ω||87dB||3 x 6.5", 1 x 1"||29Hz||35kHz|
|Bowers & Wilkins 603||$1,800||30-100W/8Ω||88.5dB||2 x 6.5”, 1 x 6”, 1 x 1”||48Hz||28kHz|
|KLH Kendall||$1,300||Up to 250W/8Ω||96dB||2 x 6.5", 1 x 5.25", 1 x 1"||33Hz||23kHz|
|Aperion Novus Tower||$1,398||20-150W/4Ω||88dB||2 x 5.25", 1 x 1"||26Hz||30kHz|
|KEF R7||$3,998||15-250W/8Ω||88dB||2 x 6.5", 1 x 5", 1 x 1"||48Hz||28kHz|
|Dynaudio Xeo 30||$3,599||N/A||Unknown||2 x 5.5", 1 x 1"||26Hz||21kHz|
|MarkAudio-SOTA Cesti T||$2,995||50-100W/6Ω||87dB||2 x 4.4", 1 x 2"||40Hz||25kHz|
|Wharfedale Evo 4.4||$1,998||30-200W/8Ω||89dB||2 x 6.5", 1 x 2", 1 x 1"||44Hz||22kHz|
|Emotiva Airmotiv T2+||$999||100-500W/4Ω||91dB||2 x 8", 1 x 5.25", 1 x 1"||35Hz||28kHz|
|Paradigm Premier 800F||$1,895||15-250W/8Ω||92dB||2 x 6.5", 1 x 6.5", 1 x 1"||50Hz||22kHz|
|Q Acoustics 3050i||$840||25-100W/6Ω||91dB||2 x 6.5", 1 x 1"||44Hz||30kHz|
|JBL Stage A180||$800||20-225/6Ω||90dB||2 x 6.5", 1 x 1"||40Hz||40kHz|
|Onkyo SKF-4800||$350||130W/8Ω||86dB||2 x 6.25", 1 x 1"||55Hz||35kHz|
|Polk Audio Signature S50||$178||20-150W/6Ω||89dB||1 x 5.25", 1 x 1"||33Hz||40kHz|
*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
- Hi-Fi 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 hi-fi 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 (they cost $2,000 per pair if you're interested). 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. Some speakers, like the $999 Emotiva Airmotiv T2+ 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 Bowers & Wilkins 603, with a recommended amp power of 30-100 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 impedance, 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 RP-8000F at 98dB.
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, 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 your speakers 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 hi-fi music system.
We are here to say that’s nonsense. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with using floorstanding speakers in a hi-fi 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 KLH Kendall, which are known for being very musical.
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 $3,495 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).
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 Klipsch, for example, easily beats the three-way Polk Audio Signature S50.