When it comes to choosing the perfect speakers for your home audio setup, one of the most common questions we get from clients and customers in our showroom and online comes down to: do I get floorstanding speakers (aka tower speakers) or bookshelf speakers? There are a few key qualifiers we run through that make navigating a home speaker setup fairly straightforward. In this article we'll dive into the world of wooden-cabinet-passive-loudspeakers and explore the differences between these two types, to help guide you to which one better suits your needs and preferences.
Choosing between bookshelf speakers and floorstanding speakers ultimately depends on your personal preferences, listening environment/room size, and budget. Bookshelf speakers offer space efficiency, versatility, and affordability but may have limitations in bass response and volume capabilities. On the other hand, floorstanding speakers provide immersive sound quality, deep bass response, and higher volume capabilities, but they require more floor space and generally come with a higher price tag. Consider your floor-space limitations, budget, and desired audio experience before making a decision.
Two-Channel Stereo System or Surround Sound Home Theater System?
Floorstanding or Bookshelf? Or Both? It is common in modern surround-sound home theaters to use a combination of bookshelf and floorstanding speakers. Often you will have floorstanding speakers as your front right and front left speakers with bookshelf speakers acting as the “rear” or “surround” channels to a space in the back of the room or behind the listener. When you're considering a simple two-channel stereo system for music listening, however, the setup is generally a single pair of speakers so you're generally choosing between bookshelf or floorstanding options. Both types of speakers can deliver fantastic sound, so choose the one that aligns with your preferences and creates the audio experience you've always dreamed of.
Size and Space Requirements
Floorstanding speakers are well-suited for spacious rooms or home theaters, where their powerful sound and deep bass can fill the area effectively. Since they are large, usually start at around 2 to 4 feet tall, and stand on the floor, sufficient space is needed. Bookshelf speakers are better suited for smaller rooms or setups where space may be a constraint but you're still looking for performance.
Power and Amplification Needs
Floorstanding speakers can handle higher power levels and produce higher volume levels without distortion. Since bookshelf speakers are smaller, their power handling is comparatively more limited. To achieve a fuller range of sound and deeper bass, bookshelf speakers are often paired with a separate subwoofer.
If you're on a tight budget, bookshelf speakers will generally be more affordable when comparing to floorstanders within the same series. If you have the budget and the space and you like the look, floorstanding speakers will deliver the better performance.
Bookshelf speakers, as the name suggests, are compact speakers designed to fit on a raised surface like bookshelves, desks, or stands. These speakers are commonly used as part of a stereo pair or home theater setup, providing quality audio reproduction in small to medium-sized spaces. They are designed to maximize sound performance while taking up minimal space.
Bookshelf speakers typically consist of two drivers: woofers and tweeters. The woofers handle the lower frequency range, producing the bass and midrange sounds, while the tweeters reproduce the high-frequency sounds. Some bookshelf speakers also include a third mid-range driver for improved sound clarity and balance.
Despite their small size, bookshelf speakers can pack a punch when it comes to sound quality. The versatility in installation options makes bookshelf speakers easy to specify for all types of systems. Whether it is a simple two-channel setup for music listening or a full-fledged 5.1 Dolby surround sound system, bookshelf speakers meet the demands of most audio systems. When doing custom installation, I often see bookshelf speakers used as the “rear” or “surround” left and right channels on a 5.1 Dolby surround system, in the back of a room to save space. It is also common to place a pair discreetly on built-in cabinets with shelves to be part of a multi-room distributed audio system.
Compared to tower or floorstanding speakers, bookshelf speakers are generally smaller in size and more compact. They are an ideal choice when space is limited or when a less intrusive speaker presence is desired. Due to their compact design, these speakers are often used in conjunction with a subwoofer to enhance the low-frequency response and overall sound experience.
It's worth noting that the positioning of bookshelf speakers can impact their sound quality. Placing them on a raised surface such as a bookshelf or speaker stands at ear level can help achieve optimal sound dispersion and imaging.
If you're short on space or prefer a minimalist setup, bookshelf speakers are an excellent choice. Their compact design allows them to be easily accommodated in smaller rooms, apartments, or offices without overwhelming the space. They can be easily mounted on bookshelves or placed on a desk. It often amazes me when doing custom installation of audio equipment, the nooks and crannies where we can fit bookshelf speakers so that they don’t take up much space.
One of the major advantages of bookshelf speakers is their versatility in placement. You can position them on shelves, stands, or even mount them on walls, giving you the flexibility to integrate them seamlessly into your existing decor. This also often let's them be positioned closer to the listener, which can result in more accurate and detailed sound reproduction.
For those on a tight budget, bookshelf speakers often offer a more affordable and cost-effective option compared to their larger counterparts. You can find high-quality bookshelf speakers at reasonable price points, making them an attractive choice for budget-conscious audiophiles.
Limited Bass Response
Due to their smaller size, bookshelf speakers have smaller drivers and cabinets which may not reproduce deep bass frequencies as accurately as larger speakers. If you enjoy bass-heavy music genres or want a more cinematic experience with explosive movie soundtracks, you might find the bass lacking in bookshelf speakers. Or, we recommend you add a separate subwoofer.
Lower Power Handling
Because of their smaller size, bookshelf speakers typically have lower power handling, which means they may not be able to handle high volumes or deliver the same level of power as floorstanding speakers. This can be a drawback if you prefer to crank up the volume for a truly immersive audio experience. That said, there are plenty of incredible sounding options and we're here to help guide you to the best possible options for your space and budget.
It’s difficult to pick a favorite with so many options for bookshelf speakers out there. I have broken down my top picks by categories: budget friendly, style, and best of the best. I say "best of the best", because we really don't carry anything in our showroom or on our website that we wouldn't recommend to a customer or client in their home. Everything is carefully tested and vetted by our team before we order it and then demo'd again (and again) and showcased in our showroom.
My top pick for best budget friendly bookshelf speakers is the Klipsch RP-500M II Premiere Bookshelf Speakers. With an MSRP under $600 for the pair and how deeply discounted they are when they go on sale, this entry-level model is a great bang for your buck.
You might think if I was picking a favorite Bowers & Wilkins speaker it would be one of the extravagant models such as the 805 D4’s. And yes, they are stunning. However, the winner for best style in my book, I must go to the M-1 satellite speaker. Not everyone's cup of tea, but I have personally used this speaker in a variety of installations. The ingenious design of its rotating base-plate and how it can easily become either a shelf-standing or wall-mount speaker with a few simple adjustments makes it a standout product among custom installations.
For best of the best, it’s an easy choice to pick the Focal Aria 906 pair of bookshelf speakers. One of the best systems I’ve listened to recently was a pair of these speakers driven off a McIntosh MA252 Integrated Amplifier. The sound quality was so good that you would think you were listening to a set of full-sized floor-standing speakers rather than the bookshelf speakers they really are.
Floorstanding speakers, also known as tower speakers, are the powerhouses of audio systems. What's the difference between "tower speakers" and floorstanding speakers? Tower speakers and floorstanding speakers are essentially the same type of speaker. The terms "tower speakers" and "floorstanding speakers" are often used interchangeably. Both refer to speakers that are designed to be standalone units, placed on the floor without the need for additional support, such as bookshelves or speaker stands.
Tower/floorstanding speakers can vary in size, with heights typically ranging from two to three feet or taller, and widths ranging from seven inches to two feet. Floorstanding speakers feature multiple drivers, including dedicated bass drivers (woofers), midrange drivers, and tweeters. The multiple driver setup allows for a wider frequency range, resulting in a more immersive and dynamic sound experience. They can be described as two-way, three-way, four-way, etc., depending on the number of driver units handling different audio frequencies.
If you're seeking a more immersive sound experience, there simply is no substitute for the options found in floorstanding speakers. Bigger cabinets mean more room for more individual drivers. Also, their height off the floor often puts the tweeters right at ear-level when listening in a seated position. Overall, it can very easily be argued with floorstanding speakers that bigger is better if you have the space to house them.
Floor-standing speakers excel in delivering superior sound quality. With their larger cabinet size and dedicated drivers for different frequency ranges, they can produce a fuller, more dynamic soundstage. This means you'll experience a more detailed and immersive audio performance, whether you're listening to music or watching movies.
Deep Bass Response
If you crave that thunderous bass that you can feel in your chest, floor-standing speakers are the way to go. Their larger cabinets and dedicated woofers allow them to reproduce low-frequency content with precision, delivering deep and powerful bass that can bring your music and movies to life. Floorstanding speakers typically house multiple drivers, including woofers, midrange, and tweeters, allowing them to produce a wider range of frequencies and provide better bass response.
Floorstanding speakers are known for their ability to create a more immersive soundstage. They provide a spacious and three-dimensional audio experience, making them great for movie enthusiasts and audiophiles.
Higher Power Capabilities
Floorstanding speakers often boast higher power handling capabilities. Due to their larger size and multiple drivers, floorstanding speakers can handle higher power levels and reach higher volume levels without distortion. This makes them them ideal for larger rooms or home theater setups where you want to fill the space with sound.
Because of all of the above, floorstanding speakers often offer higher-end audio performance, delivering a more immersive and dynamic listening experience.
Cons of Floorstanding Speakers
Due to their larger size, floor-standing speakers demand more floor space. If you have a compact room or limited space availability, these speakers might not be the best fit for your setup. It is most common in a surround-sound home-theater setup that only the front left and front right speakers are floor-standing speakers due to space constraints.
As expected, the enhanced sound quality and features of floor-standing speakers come at a higher price. If you're on a tighter budget, investing in floorstanding speakers might require more research and waiting for the right models to go on sale.
Aesthetics (for some)
Floorstanding speakers aren’t easy to hide in most indoor living spaces. Their size and positioning in a room often draw attention, making them a focal point in a room. That is why you find many tower speakers come in a variety of finishes in hopes the manufacturers can blend these luxury listening boxes into the décor around them. Different grades of wood; gloss and matte; black and white; picking a floorstanding speaker can sometimes be as much about what style finish it comes in as the overall sound quality it can produce.
Continuing with the same theme to the recommended bookshelf speakers above, here are my favorite floorstanding speakers from these categories: budget friendly, style, and best of the best.
My choice for budget friendly floor-standing speakers gets another nod to Klipsch with their Reference Premier RP-5000F II. For the price, this pair of speakers is hard to beat.
The retro-inspired style of the KLH Model Fives not only look cool but sound great too. Taking a different approach to the typical vertical “tower” you find in the floor-standing category, these speakers prove that style-points are still worth something in today’s market.
The Focal Vestia No.3 are my pick for best of the best floorstanding speakers and are my go-to speakers when giving demonstrations at our showroom. They are just phenomenal in every way, which in my opinion earns them best of the best in the floor-standing speaker category. The clarity and bass response in this speaker are truly amazing.
In the end, the choice between tower speakers and bookshelf speakers depends on your personal preferences, room size, and budget. If you have a larger room, enjoy powerful and immersive sound, and are willing to invest in higher-end speakers, then floorstanding/tower speakers might be the right fit for you. On the other hand, if space is limited, you're on a budget, and you prioritize versatility and placement options, then bookshelf speakers can be a great choice.
It's always a good idea to listen to both types of speakers before making your decision. Visit your friendly neighborhood local audio store - our PA showroom would be a great start - to compare and test different models. Or contact one of our expert system designers to work with you on the home audio system of your dreams.
Remember: once you get your system set up, give it plenty of time to "break in" before you make the final call as to whether your speakers are a good fit. No, this doesn't mean turning them all the way and ultimately blowing them out. Simply set your new speakers up with your system and use them normally. Usually the speakers will be sufficiently broken in after a total of 20-30 hours of normal use and they will often continue to develop and improve for the first hundred or so hours. Our 60-day return period should provide you with the buffer you need for a proper at-home audition. Ultimately, your ears should be the final judge in selecting the speakers that best meet your audio needs and preferences.
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