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Bookshelf speakers might be small, but our favorites deliver big, high-quality sound

Bookshelf speakers might be small, but our favorites deliver big, high-quality sound

Whether you’re setting up a home audio system to relish in the pristine perfection of your record collection or you want to create an epic home cinema experience, bookshelf speakers are a great choice for delivering the impressive sound quality that’ll take your entertainment to the next level. Bookshelf speakers serve up far better sound quality than portable speakers, but they take up less space than floor speakers. (However, they are also sometimes referred to as standmount speakers as they can be placed atop a stand that essentially turns them into a modified floor speaker if that better fits your needs.) But in short, bookshelf speakers hit that sweet spot between form and function that’s so necessary when you want big sound, but you’re short on space.

That said, truly great bookshelf speakers — like all speakers — can get pricey quickly. But you don’t actually need to drop thousands to set up a solid sound system at home. All it comes down to is a few deciding factors to help determine what you need to drench your particle space in a veritable audio dream.

Should I get active speakers or passive speakers? 

On your hunt for the best bookshelf speakers for your needs, you’ve probably encountered passive speakers, active speakers, and powered speakers, and wondered what the heck it all meant. Well, despite the very official-sounding terminology, it’s actually quite simple, and it all comes down to the way the speaker gets its power and how involved you want to be in that process.

First and foremost, a powered bookshelf speaker is a speaker that gets plugged directly into a wall socket to gain its electrical power. A passive speaker, on the other hand, is one that does not plug into the wall, but is connected via speaker wires to a receiver or amplifier. This amplifier — or amp — gets plugged into the wall to gain electricity, then delivers power to the speakers that are connected to it via speaker wire. Sound systems with passive speakers are not necessarily difficult to set up, but they do involve a little more work as there are several moving parts to consider. You’ll also need to have or purchase a separate receiver or amp to get them working properly. 

On the flipside, active speakers require amps as well, but they’re built into the speaker, making setting up your sound system a lot easier.

How much space do I need for my bookshelf speakers?

First, consider how you intend to use your speakers. Will they be used to bring life to a home theater or entertainment system? Are you an audiophile with a large record collection who wants to relish in crisp, clean sound quality from all your favorite artists? Or are you into video games and want to be immersed in a full audio and visual gaming experience? Considering what you’re going to use the speakers for will help guide your search as their necessary placement (and your subsequent space restrictions) will often determine how big you can go. Also, keep in mind that bookshelf speakers are often — if not always — sold in pairs. This is because one is intended to go on the right side of the room or viewing area while the other goes on the left, creating a stereo speaker system.

As their name suggests, bookshelf speakers are often designed to be compact enough and lightweight enough to sit comfortably and securely on a bookshelf, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be placed or mounted elsewhere. For example, shelf speakers make a great choice for setting up surround sound in your home theater without bulky freestanding speakers taking up a ton of space, but you’ll need to mount them carefully around the room for the best effect. In a home office or bedroom, bookshelf speakers can also serve as an elevated audio experience for your computer, particularly if you do a lot of gaming, work in an audio-visual field, or use your computer for media streaming. Just be aware that while smaller shelf speakers may be more suited for use with a computer, they may not put out enough volume for larger rooms and home theater setups.

While bookshelf speakers don’t necessarily need to live on a bookshelf, you’ll still want to be cognizant of their size no matter where you plan to place them. Whether you are placing them on a shelf, a desk, or a tabletop, consider their dimensions — particularly their height and depth — to ensure that there’s enough space for them to fit on the surface while also allowing ample space around them to let the sound escape into the rest of your room. A tight fit won’t do you any good as the audio will likely get muffled by all the obstructions and sound barriers around it.

Weight is also an important consideration for bookshelf speakers, particularly those that will be living on a shelf or mounted on some sort of similar, shelf-like platform. You’ll need to ensure that they won’t be too heavy to be supported by your existing shelving, because after all, the last thing you need is your expensive new speaker setup tumbling to the ground and crashing to pieces.

How do I determine a bookshelf speaker’s sound quality?

Once you’ve decided which type of speaker setup is good for you and where you’re going to place everything, you’ll want to consider the bookshelf speaker’s sound quality. For this, we recommend looking at what kind of drivers it has, such as tweeters, woofers, and midrange. This will help give you an idea about what kind of sound it is capable of producing. 

In the simplest terms, woofers produce low-frequency sounds while tweeters produce the highest frequencies. Then, as its name suggests, a midrange driver fills out the frequencies in the middle. Not all speakers have all three, so you might want to consider the types of audio you’ll be listening to as you consider your best bookshelf speakers. For example, if you like a lot of bass, you’ll want your speaker to have a great woofer. But also keep in mind that you could always add a subwoofer to your speaker setup to really get those bass tones booming.

With the above considerations in mind, these are some of our favorite bookshelf speakers on the market right now: 


Impressive bass • Great clarity • Well-built design

Sound less clear at loudest volumes

These speakers deliver excellent audio quality and impressive aesthetics, especially considering their price point.

Q. Acoustics 3020i

These beautiful speakers deliver impressive audio, especially for their price.

  • Drivers:
    5 inch mid/bass. 22mm tweeter
  • Size:
    10.9 x 11.1 x 6.7 inches
  • Weight:
    14.1 lbs
  • Color:
    White, Carbon Black, English Walnut, or Graphite

If you’re looking for quality and looks, you’ll be impressed by these attractive speakers’ ability to produce a rich, crisp sound with minimal distortion and impressive bass thanks to their drivers. Sold as a pair, each passive speaker also boasts a modern design, and they’re available in multiple finishes to suit your interior decor. Their durable, rounded corners won’t chip if you bump into them, or if your shelf sees a lot of traffic with books and other knick-knacks being moved around. But you don’t buy your speakers just for their looks or how well they fit on your shelf; it’s the sound that matters most, and you can be sure that they definitely deliver on that front, too.


Acoustic tuning knobs • Undistorted bass

Loss of clarity at higher frequencies

If you need professional-quality sound without shelling out pro-level cash, these modest speakers deliver far more than their price would suggest.

This pair of budget bookshelf speakers is ideal for anyone seeking great audio on a budget. They’re marketed toward more professional applications so their sound quality is worthy of a music studio, but they’re equally awesome for gaming, entertainment, and any old casual listening scenarios. Their clean industrial design would look great on any shelf as they deliver undistorted bass, and they even boast acoustic tuning knobs. Though somewhat rare for a speaker in this price range, these knobs allow you to make adjustments to obtain the most pristine sound quality for whatever audio usage needs you might require. 


Crystal clear sound • Great for home theaters • Minimal distortion

Heavy • Not the most attractive • Pricey

If they fit your budget and your bookshelf, you’ll be pleased to find that these speakers can deliver crystal clear sound to your entertainment setup.

KEF Q150

This pair of passive speakers delivers incredibly balanced sound, especially for entertainment systems.

  • Drivers:
    5.25 inch Uni-Q Driver Array
  • Size:
    21 x 16 x 17 inches
  • Weight:
    25 lbs
  • Color:
    Black and white

If you’re willing to splurge a bit, these beefy bookshelf speakers will not disappoint thanks to their enhanced audio technology that smooths out treble frequencies and boosts more accurate bass. They provide sound that is crystal clear with minimal distortion, making them ideal for any room of your home. And though their sharp edges and sleek, yet simplistic design may not suit everyone’s taste, they are available in multiple finishes to help you match the design of your interiors. They are also a little larger than some competitors’ bookshelf speakers, so you’ll want to make sure they’re a good fit for your space — literally.


Incredibly well-balanced sound • Modern design • Durable construction

Large and heavy • Need an amplifier to optimize

These large speakers are an excellent choice if you’re setting up a home theater.

ELAC Uni-fi UB5 Bookshelf Speaker

These large speakers are an excellent choice if you’re setting up an epic entertainment system.

  • Drivers:
    5 1/4 -inch woofer, 4 inch midrange cone, 1 inch tweeter
  • Size:
    10.8 x 7.9 x 12.8 inches
  • Weight:
    35.9 lbs
  • Color:
    Black

These passive speakers are large and heavy, which means they’re definitely not ideal if space is at a premium in your home. However, that size lends itself well to a truly immersive sound experience, especially for home theaters. You will need an amplifier to get your setup going, though, and you’ll also need to consider your speaker placement carefully to optimize your listening experience. Fortunately, this pair of speakers has a modern design, and they’re available in your choice of two colors to help match your home’s aesthetic. They are also quite durable and made out of solid material. 


Cables included • Great sound • Easy to set up • Bass knob

Large footprint • No Bluetooth connectivity • Heavier

These speakers make a great addition to your work-from-home office setup without breaking the bank.

Edifier R980T 4” Active Bookshelf Speakers

These speakers will deliver great sound from your computer, making them a great choice for your home office.

  • Drivers:
    4 inch bass driver and 13mm tweeter
  • Size:
    5.5 x 8.9 x 7.5 inch
  • Weight:
    7.77 lbs
  • Color:
    Black

If high-end computer speakers aren’t necessarily in your budget, but you have a little extra desk space to house some active speakers, this pair can provide amazing sound. They’re not just made for business, however; they’re also ideal for watching movies, playing music, and gaming. Even better, these speakers are well made and easy to set up. Plus, they each feature a wooden enclosure to minimize acoustic resonance and a flared bass reflex port to provide extra depth and bass quality. You’d be hard-pressed to find better or more impressive sound quality in this price range.


Attractive build • Crisp sound quality • Smaller size

If you’re looking for a set of speakers that look as good as they sound, these are a great pick.

KEF LS50 Meta

Attractive and more than capable, this pair of aesthetic bookshelf speakers is well worth the splurge.

  • Driver:
    12th Generation Uni-Q Driver and 25mm aluminum tweeter dome
  • Size:
    12 x 7.9 x 12.2 inches
  • Weight:
    15.87 pounds
  • Colors:
    Black, Blue, Grey, or White

Many bookshelf speakers put out great sound, but they often look pretty plain at best, and stick out like a sore thumb at worst. This pair of truly stunning speakers, on the other hand, are so attractive that they almost double as an art piece for your shelf, proudly showing off the curved front panels of their enclosures. But, don’t worry, these passive speakers are not all about looks; they sound fantastic, too, with a sense of elevated clarity and cutting-edge Metamaterial Absorption Technology to eliminate distortion and deliver a clean, refined sound quality.


Bluetooth connectivity • No receiver required • Dynamic volume

Need a subwoofer for better bass

If you’re searching for fantastic sound quality with the convenience of wireless playlist selection, you won’t want to look past these Bluetooth bookshelf speakers.

Klipsch R-51PM Powered Bluetooth Speaker

With incredible sound quality and connectivity convenience, these Bluetooth speakers really deliver.

  • Drivers:
    LTS aluminum tweeter and IMG woofer cones
  • Size:
    8.5 x 7 x 13.3 inches
  • Weight:
    10.6 pounds
  • Color:
    Black

This sleek and professional pair of speakers feature built-in amplifiers to maximize their audio output and overall sound quality. This also means you don’t require a receiver for your setup, which is great news if you’re short on space. Each also houses the brand’s exclusive Linear Travel Suspension aluminum tweeter which cuts down on distortion, while ultra-lightweight Injection Molded Graphite woofer cones serve up an impressively low-frequency response. Best of all, they boast dynamic volume technology to match the ear’s ability to hear lower frequencies, which is a luxury usually only afforded to audio/video receivers. And they’re Bluetooth-enabled so you can connect them seamlessly (and wirelessly) to playlists and other audio content on your mobile devices, television, computer, and more.

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