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If you’re setting up your home audio system and floor space is at a premium, consider picking up a pair of bookshelf speakers. Larger than a portable speaker but more compact than floor speakers, bookshelf speakers deliver loud amplification and solid, stereo sound for small to medium-sized rooms.
They won’t get you the same room-shaking power or rumbling bass that a full-sized set will provide, but for your office, den, or bedroom, they’ll be more than enough. If you’re setting up a home theater system, pair the speakers with a subwoofer to really amp up your listening experience.
What Are Bookshelf Speakers?
There are many factors to consider when choosing the right bookshelf speakers for you; below are the most important ones, which we considered while we were researching this list.
Size: Bookshelf speakers got their namesake for being small enough to literally fit on the shelf of a bookcase, but they can still vary in size and weight. We included those measurements with each pick, so you’ll know what to expect. This is especially important to consider if you want to move the speakers around to find the “sweet spot” in your room.
Drivers: Drivers are the part of the speaker that produce sound; generally, larger drivers are better, but their material and location on the speaker matters, too. Our picks all have multiple drivers, which handle different frequencies, so music will sound clear and smooth.
Passive vs Active: Bookshelf speakers come in two different styles: passive and active. Passive speakers, like the one on this list, have no built-in amplification, which means you need to connect them to a stereo receiver for them to work. Active speakers are a more all-in-one solution; they have a preamp, volume controls, and inputs (ports that let you plug devices into them) on the speakers themselves.
We chose passive speakers for this guide because you get to choose the other hardware they’re connected to rather than relying on what the speaker company chose. Active speakers are also heavier than passive ones, and can have smaller drivers because the speaker housing has to accommodate a lot more hardware.
BEST OVERALL: Edifier P12 Passive Bookshelf Speakers
Edifier has earned a reputation for making well-built, good looking speakers, and the P12 is no exception. At 6.6 x 5 x 9.4 inches and 11.33 pounds, the P12 is a mid-sized bookshelf speaker, which makes it best-suited for an office or living room. The outside frame also comes with a hinge that lets you mount them to a wall.
Each speaker in this pair has two drivers: A four-inch bass driver, and a 3/4-inch silk dome tweeter. A hole beneath the bass driver, which Edifier calls the “bass reflex port” enhances low frequencies. This three-piece array should produce clear audio, with a fair balance of bass, midrange, and treble frequencies.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the P12’s classy, wooden frame, and silver speaker grates, which create a timeless look that will fit in with any furniture.
BEST AUDIO QUALITY: Pioneer SP-BS22-LR Speakers
Pioneer tapped Andrew Jones, a designer whose work usually costs several thousand dollars, with creating a pair of bookshelf speakers for entry-level audiophiles. The result was the SP-BS22-LR, a pair of bookshelf speakers with the power and audio quality of much more luxe pairs.
I’ve heard this pair of speakers for myself, and I’ve been really impressed. The SP-BS22-LR feature a four-inch woofer with a structured surface and vented pole piece, which improves bass response, and a one-inch soft dome tweeter designed with a custom wave guide to smooth out higher frequencies.
In my experience, the sound has always been well-balanced, whether I was listening to records, digital music, or a movie. I’ve been particularly taken by the fact that audio doesn’t distort at high volume, which is a sign of high-quality materials, and a good acoustic design.
The one thing to consider about these speakers is that they’re designed for home theater systems, so they’re a little big: 8.4 inches x 7.1 x 12.6 inches to be exact. Despite the size, they’re actually on the lighter side at 9.13 pounds, which is a plus if you want to move them around.
If you’re setting up a living room or basement audio system, this won’t be a problem, but these speakers will stick out in a bedroom, or smaller living space.
Note: These bookshelf speakers were designed as part of a 5.1 surround sound home theater set. You can get the subwoofer ($159.99) and center channel speaker ($116.99) to complete the set.
BEST DESIGN: Q Acoustics 3020i Bookshelf Speaker
Q Acoustics’ 3020i is a modern take on the bookshelf speaker that strikes a balance between audio hardware, computer technology, and aesthetics.
The core of any speaker is its drivers, and Q Acoustics didn’t skimp out. The 3020i has a five-inch bass and midrange driver that’s made out of coated paper and a low-hysteresis rubber surround that reduces unwanted movement, which can distort sound. Its 0.9 inch tweeter is suspended to avoid distortion caused by vibration from the woofer.
This level of precision is something you’ll never see, but you’ll be able to hear the difference. If you’ve ever heard a speaker rattle, or distort at high frequencies, you’ll appreciate this setup.
To improve the bass, Q Acoustics increased the cabinet size by 25%, but that’s a double-edged sword. Yes, better bass is good, but this additional depth makes the 3020i a little deep.
At 11.1 x 67 x 10.9 inches, you’ll need a decent-sized shelf or desk to hold these speakers. They’re also heavy, weighing in at 21.16 pounds, so you probably won’t want to move them around too much.
That said, you might forgive those size setbacks when you see the speakers. Their glossy black and white frame, and four miniature legs make the 3020i look incredibly modern and minimalist. They definitely buck the trend of high-end stereo equipment looking imposing and complicated.
BEST FOR HOME THEATER SYSTEM: ELAC Uni-fi UB5 Bookshelf Speaker
We mentioned speaker designer Andrew Jones earlier, and his work is on full display with ELAC’s UB5. The speaker displays what he’s capable of when creating speakers for more serious audiophiles.
The UB5s have a 5 1/4-inch woofer made out of aluminum with a four-inch midrange cone inside of it, and a one-inch soft dome tweeter. The two drivers are positioned concentrically (overlapping on top of one another),to create a better balance between bass, midrange, and treble frequencies.
This concentric design was custom made for these ELAC speakers, so their sound will stand out against the other options in this guide.
If there’s one commonality between this pair of speakers and the ones Andrew Jones designed for Pioneer, it’s its bigger size. The UB5s measure 10.8 x 7.9 x 12.8 inches, and weigh 35.9 pounds. These speakers are a serious piece of audio equipment, so you’ll really need the right space to take advantage of them.