So, you just purchased a new desktop PC or TV, but feel like the audio output is a little too low, or maybe it plain simply lacks clarity. Or perhaps, you are a college student and you want some speakers to boost the musical experience in your dorm room. Some bookshelf speakers are supposed to be “one box” solutions, while others are intended to be used as standalone speakers in a 2.1 speaker configuration by combining two bookshelf speakers with a powerful subwoofer.
Things you need to keep in mind before purchasing a bookshelf speaker
Basically, you need to pay attention to things such as- the frequency range of the speakers, the enclosure type (ported/non-ported), the number of channels in the speaker, its connectivity options, etc. Note that we did not include the wattage of the speakers in there.
Not because it is not important, but because you are going to get a similar experience in terms of audio output no matter which speaker you choose based on its power input rating. If two speakers are rated at 100 and 150 watts respectively, and if we assume that they are using the same driver design as well as impedance levels, then the extra 50W will hardly bring about any change in terms of actual audio output in decibels.
In fact, to double the audio output you need to increase a speaker’s power by 10 times. So yeah, 50 W is not that big of a deal. Also, manufacturers tend to be really shady when it comes to actual power handling characteristics. One manufacturers 150 may be the same as the 200 of another manufacturer. Always look for the continuous power rating of a speaker (RMS power), instead of maximum power handling ability.
Below, we have listed some of the best bookshelf speakers that you’ll find for less than 1000 bucks on the market. Look at the number of channels in each speaker (2-way, mono, 3-way, etc.), whether it is mounted in a ported or non-ported enclosure, and the I/O options. Having wireless connectivity is great, but it’s all about whether YOU need it or not for your particular audio setup.
KEF Q350 Bookshelf Speakers
• The baffle is seamlessly integrated into the shell, which also makes it easy to mount optional magnetic grills
• Features a built-in damped tweeter that greatly increases lower treble register performance
• Computational fluid dynamic port design reduces mid-range leakage, thus improving resonance and sound clarity
• Requires users to place the speakers perfectly because of where the sound cones are on the shells
• Might start to vibrate when playing bass-heavy tracks if they’re placed on top of certain types of shelves
• While the fit and finish is very good, this also means some users find it takes a while to break them in
KEF Q350 speakers are the latest in a relatively long line of similar models. They feature several improvements over their predecessors, which includes an enhanced Uni-Q driver array that smooths out mid-range audio frequencies that lie somewhere between the treble and bass clefs. Users have noted that this feature is particularly noticeable when using them to listen to any kind of electronic or synthesizer-heavy music. It also helps to eliminate some of the harsh tones caused by poor mastering. This has helped to promote these speakers to audiophiles who also plan to use them with a television set or a game console. They only support standard impedance, though, so you’ll need to use them with a receiver if you plan on deploying them in this fashion.
When KEF’s engineers unveiled this new design last year, they showcased how the completely redesigned internal architecture works to improve audio clarity. This redesign also attracted some attention from industrial designers, who remarked that the sleek new cabinet should fit with any decor. Most speakers at this comparatively low price point have unsightly holes and protrusions meant to accommodate grilles and other extras.
The speaker shells are instead made from a single solid piece of material. Many reviewers have found that this keeps them from vibrating, though they shouldn’t be installed on metal shelves. The high bass response can produce a tinny noise if they’re mounted to the wrong type of material.
While these are passive speakers, they’re designed to support amplifiers with power outputs between 15-120 watts. At nearly 17 pounds, they’re some of the heavier units on the market and this probably has an influence on the impressive 87dB sensitivity rating. This value is even more impressive when you consider the fact that sound like this is coming out of a 6 ½-inch. driver cone.
Dynaudio Xeo 2 Wireless Bookshelf Speakers
• Supports connectivity via Bluetooth, but this in no way compromises how they sound with traditional analog hookups
• Active speakers, which means you won’t have to have a receiver to use them as both speakers in a set are amplified
• Xeo 2 speakers can resonate fairly very even when they don’t have much space behind them
• As with many speakers in the bookshelf category, Xeo 2 units have a series of rivets around the edges of both elements
• Relatively expensive compared to some of the competition, though they’re still much less than several other options
• Suffered from some quality control issues when they introduced around a year ago, though the company has since solved all of the problems
At a weight of 8.82 pounds or so, Dynaudio’s Xeo 2 speakers won’t move very easily. This is one of the reasons that the vendor doesn’t shy away from showing them mounted to walls in the marketing literature. In spite of this unusually beefy design, they don’t suffer in terms of impedance or sensitivity. A 27mm soft dome tweeter coupled with a healthy 14cm bass driver works to provide excellent sound quality when driving a 38mm pure aluminum voice coil.
Feeding 65 watts to each transducer should make these uncomfortably loud, but they don’t suffer from any problems related to the relatively powerful amplifiers. That gives users the freedom to crank up the volume without suffering from buzzing noises. It’s particularly rare to see a set of wireless speakers that perform so well in spite of their small package, but the excellent performance might be due to the aptX and AAC support coupled with phase-linear FIR filters. Dynaudio is one of the largest custom voice coil manufacturers, and it’s clear that their engineers applied some previous experience to this design.
DALI ZENSOR 3 Audiophile Speakers
• Largest-in-class seven-inch woofer works with a one-inch soft dome tweeter to provide clear and sharp sound that’s bigger than an approximately 14-pound set could usually make
• Offers listeners a massive frequency range of 50-26,500 Hz at a sensitivity of 87dB for excellent recording reproduction
• The sound curve is rather smooth, which gives the ZENSOR 3 the ability to recreate a full spectrum of different tones
• Prices tend to be higher for North American consumers than European ones, though the ZENSOR 3 is still relatively affordable
• Only includes single wiring terminals, which can make it difficult to use them with some types of recently released stereo devices
• While the four-layer voice coil magnet motor system is among the best currently on the market, the ZENSOR 3 has been available for several years and some audiophiles say innovation could soon pass it by
For now, the ZENSOR 3 remains the latest member of the award-winning ZENSOR family. While they’ve been around for a few years, the company continues to promote them as the most recent set of bookshelf speakers that they sell. Perhaps the one thing that keeps people coming back to it time and time again is the fact that a seven-inch woofer is 15 percent larger in terms of surface area than a more common 6 ½-inch one.
This makes ZENSOR 3 loudspeakers sound much larger than they really are. A comparatively massive voice coil and several other niceties ensure optimal reproduction in the mid-range of the sound curve. Many users have also noted that since DALI’s engineers insisted on using quality copper-clad aluminum wires, they don’t have to worry very much about any kind of electrical noise.
While other companies have relied on DSP and other related technologies to deal with these issues, DALI insists on using only the best wiring in all of their designs. Consumers interested in opting for the ZENSOR 3 will want to make sure there’s some extra headroom on their bookshelf, however, since they’re nearly a foot high in order to accompany thick wires and the beefy voice coil.
SVS Ultra Audiophile Speakers
• Seems to support both 8Ω as well as 4Ω impedance lines without suffering any physical damage
• Wide response range from 45 Hz-32 kHz at a sensitivity of 87 dB
• Tweeters are tuned to reproduce speech as well as music perfectly, which makes them ideal for home theater installations
• At nearly 20 pounds in weight, these speakers might strain some lighter shelving units
• Needs amplified signals of at least 20 watts to function properly, so they tend to be rather power hungry
• Tends to lean toward the more expensive end of the market
Like the ZENSOR 3, SVS Ultra speakers have been in production for quite some time now. However, SVS still considers them the latest model they sell as far as bookshelf units go. Fortunately, this has helped to somewhat drastically reduce the price they command. You can usually find them somewhere around $800, but this is still quite expensive compared to the competition.
Those who don’t mind paying the premium are rewarded with a product that’s worth it, however. These are designed to mimic home theater loudspeakers. Even though they use a standard 6 ½-inch woofer connected to a smaller tweeter, they don’t sound like it. This is because of the fact that the aluminum dome construction provides much better resonance than devices made from almost any other type of material.
No other speaker in its class has a lower level of cabinet resonance either. Technicians designed a special FEA-optimized brace to almost completely eliminate this problem. You’d need laboratory-grade equipment to detect cabinet noise from SVS Ultra loudspeakers. Proprietary SVS SoundMatch 2–way crossover technology makes the most of this unique geometry to deliver surprisingly crisp audio.
Audioengine HD6 Wireless Bookshelf Speakers
• Puts out 150 watts of power without a receiver
• Greater than 95 dB SNR with a respectable 50 Hz – 22 kHz frequency response
• Works with mini-jack and RCA analog inputs at 48KΩ
• Purists might balk at how they’re not designed to work with traditional stereo receivers
• The left speaker weighs nearly 18 pounds while the right is considerably lighter as a result of onboard stereo equipment
• Still eats about four watts when in sleep mode
Audioengine HD6 loudspeakers are another rare example of a wireless speaker that also interfaces with traditional IO ports like RCA plugs to let audiophiles enjoy a traditional experience. They’re small and potentially light enough to fit on most bookshelves without any difficulty. Since the aptX HD audio codec is built into the device, you can use it with encrypted streaming audio if you’re not a total purist.
This kind of technical sophistication does come at a cost, which puts the HD6 somewhere in the middle of the pack as far as budget speakers go. Nevertheless, they can take a fair amount of abuse. HD6 units can operate at temperatures as high as 95°F before they power off. They’re good for nearly any sized room as well. You shouldn’t notice much of a difference whether you use them in a private study or a larger home theater.
Purists who don’t mind spending a little for a great experience will definitely get a lot of use out the SVS Ultra bookshelf units. Their frequency response rivals most larger professional floor speakers as does their sensitivity. Several music fans have quipped that SVS could charge twice as much for them and they’d still buy Ultra speakers. Those who are looking for an all-around good performer that doesn’t cost quite as much might want to look into a pair of KEF Q350 speakers. They’re very forgiving, which might be attractive to audiophiles with a large collection of lo-fi albums. Keep in mind that any of the speakers on this list is an excellent performer for at least some use cases, so it wouldn’t hurt to look into any of them.