While there are some amazing hi-tech and aurally-pure speakers over on my review page with studio monitors and reference speakers, not everyone is looking for that purist sound with the least alteration to the original recording.
Instead, what most people want is that warm hi-fi sound that comes from rich wooden cabinets and warm lounge acoustics. For people who simply want simple listening pleasure, a good pair of bookshelf speakers is the most suitable answer.
What defines a bookshelf speaker? It is a compact speaker that is meant to be placed somewhere other than on the floor – often inside a cabinet or, yes, on shelving.
I like bookshelf speakers because they can integrate nicely into the decor of a room. In the old days you had to sacrifice a lot in terms of quality and power of you opted for speakers of this size. But today the size of a speaker can be deceiving and many modern compact speakers would blow away those giant speakers of decades past.
Here I have briefly reviewed some of the most popular bookshelf speakers you can buy online today. My top picks are listed first, but the rest of the reviews are not in any special order.
Edifier R1700BT Bluetooth Bookshelf Speakers
Another Edifier set, but at a slightly higher price than I’ve seen so far. This is an active speaker set that is billed as a monitor. These are pretty powerful, sporting 66W RMS of power. The big additional feature is the Bluetooth connectivity. That’s actually a very nice thing to have in a bookshelf speaker, since it means you can play music from any number of digital devices without having to mess with fixed wiring to your amp, or turntable in this case.
It’s also nice that it can handle wired input from two auxiliary devices at the same time through the RCA and stereo jack inputs. There’s also a remote control to further remove the need to access the speakers themselves. This means you can really hide them away somewhere high.
You wouldn’t necessarily want to put them out of sight though, since these speakers are very pretty and I love the wooden side-panels. You can have the speaker cover on or off, it seems, and for my money I’d let those cones get some fresh air.
The signal-to-noise ratio of these speakers is a very healthy 85dB, which should be plenty for just about any source.
The audio performance of these speakers is fantastic if you listen to the many satisfied customers. We know the numbers look good, but in the end only the ears of real people can judge. This is one of the best value propositions I have seen and where my own money would go if I were looking for new speakers.
The “All About That Bass” Pick:
Sony SSCS5 3-Way Bookshelf Speaker System
The once mighty Sony is now just a shadow of itself in the AV world. These days they’re pretty much being kept alive as a movie studio and video game console maker. It’s a pity, since they have consistently made some of the best audio gear over the decades, despite some of their distinctively weird “Sony” decisions when it comes to features.
These SSC53 speakers are some of the more expensive ones I’ve seen, and one immediate difference you can see here is that we don’t just have one tweeter and one driver. This is a three-way system more in line with how full-size speakers are built. Dedicating a speaker to the high, mid, and low ranges of the audio spectrum provides better audio separation and makes music less “muddy”, since asking one full range speaker to do everything at once comes with a few sacrifices in overall quality.
I don’t think much of the design here, but I will say that it is as inoffensive as I have seen. You may not want to show these speakers off, but you also wouldn’t bother to hide them away either. Actually, they do a pretty good job of fading into the background without any help from us.
Sony’s approach seems to have paid off. These speakers get around the low-range limitations most bookshelf units suffer from, and they have a high ceiling of 50kHz.
If you don’t care about features like Bluetooth and simply want a pair of audio-focused speakers to connect to your amplifier, then I’d recommend these speakers any day. There are units priced at twice as much that are no better.
Sony clearly still knows how to make a speaker, that’s for sure.
The “No Compromise” Best Pick:
KEF Q100 Bookshelf Loudspeakers
With these KEF speakers we are solidly out of the mid-range and into the higher end of the market. These speakers are not cheap by most people’s standards, so I expect them to be clearly better than the other, more affordable speakers we see here.
These speakers are not pretty in my opinion, but they are handsome, if that makes any sense. You can choose from a handful of finishes and I quite like the rosewood, myself.
The frequency range from these speakers is astonishing at the high end. It ranges from 49Hz to 40kHz. That’s far wider than anyone can actually hear, so let’s consider that issue well-covered.
There is only one speaker unit, with the tweeter integrated into the core of the driver. It’s a pretty awesome design and is the main reason these speakers look so manly, unless you like it with the covers on, which I generally don’t.
You need an amp with between 10w and 100W of power and these speakers will provide up to an ear-destroying 107 dB.
This is the cheapest speaker in the range that uses this unified speaker design, but the price is still hefty. Despite this, owners of these speakers are in love with them. The sound reproduction is simply top-notch.
If money is not a consideration and you simply want the best for your ears in a room-scale environment, these KEF speakers are where you should look first.
Edifier R1280T Powered Bookshelf Speakers
These speakers from Edifier just go to show how far we have come with speaker technology. This is a compact set of speakers billed as studio monitors. Could this be something that gives us the best of both those worlds? Let’s see what shakes out.
These are active speakers so they have built-in amplification. You can directly connect your pre-amp via the RCA connectors or a source that makes use of the 3.5mm socket standard.
These nicely wood-finished speakers each have a silk-dome tweeter and a four-inch full-range driver. So there is no separate bass unit, which is of course normal for bookshelf speakers.
It also comes with a remote control, which is a really good feature for something that’s designed to be put out of reach, and it solves the problem of having active bookshelf speakers.
These speakers are very popular and a large part of that has to do with their rather low price. However, the majority opinion seems to be that their sound is pretty good. Are they really up to the standards of studio monitors? For this price the answer has to be “no”, but apart from a bit of weakness in the bass area and distortion at very high volumes, this is an attractive and generally competent set of speakers.
Micca MB42 Bookshelf Speakers
It is very hard to go wrong with an all-black design. While many people are stuck on that wood-finish look, especially when it comes to bookshelf speakers, I will never say no to a stylish pair of black loudspeakers.
These units from Micca are another relatively inexpensive items. Despite this, they look like a quality product from a design point of view. They’ve also given more attention to bass than many bookshelf speaker brands end up doing. The woofer is in a ported enclosure and made from woven carbon fiber, with the apparent goal of deepening the frequency range.
Micca also claims a neutral sound from these speakers with improved vocal clarity.
It’s nice that these speakers have multiple ways of connecting to the amp. The binding post lets you use anything from bare wire to banana plugs. Each speaker can handle 75W, for a total of 150 – a serious amount of power for the average home room.
The general consensus is that these speakers, coupled with a good amp, sound great, but for all the extra effort they put into the bass it’s still generally disappointing in that area. If you want to invest in a better amp now and need decent speakers to tide you over, these seem to be just the ticket.
Klipsch R-14M Reference
Klipsch is a brand I really respect and I have been ears-on many of their products over the years. These bookshelf units are labeled as reference monitor speakers, which is essentially a claim on their quality and adherence to the hi-fi frequency model.
This set of two passive speakers looks very good indeed; I’m a big fan of the coppery, almost bronze, speaker cone coloration. In fact, I very much like exposed speaker cones, since these speakers are likely to be out of reach anyway even if you don’t have kids or pets that could poke a hole in them.
These come with 100ft of wire and connectors, so you should be good to go if your amp has the right outputs.
There are a lot of technical terms Klipsch will throw at you here, but the most important aspect is that these small speakers are claimed to be “room-filling”, so we have to evaluate if that’s true.
Reports from happy customers confirm that these speakers sound absolutely amazing. Although a separate woofer may advisable, depending on the type of music that you listen to.
For the price these RM-14 speakers really do fill a room with sound and are amazing value for money.
Polk Audio TSi100
These affordable speakers from Polk are the most retro-looking speakers on this page. With the covers on, these would not have looked out of place on a shelf back in the 1970s. For once I actually prefer the covers on, since I don’t think the look of the naked speaker is very appealing.
These come equipped with a hefty 5.25-inch subwoofer and so I expect this to be a bit of a rumbler. In terms of the amp requirements, you’re looking at a healthy 20-100W per channel, which promises a fair bit of volume.
The sound is imperfect, but still a cut above your average OEM compact speaker. Owners are pretty happy with with the clarity and overall audio experience, but I do know that some people are taking the sub out and replacing it with something a little tighter and less boomy.
Would I recommend the Polk? Well, they are not bad speakers, but at this price I think we can do better, to be honest.
Klipsch R-12SW 12-Inch Front-Firing 400W Max Subwoofer
Without a doubt the number one complaint from people who buy bookshelf speakers is that the bass just isn’t there. This is not as true as it once was, but since these speakers do not stand on the ground they are limited in what they can do for us when it comes to bass without also shaking those shelves to pieces.
So after a while you may feel the need to add some low-end ability to your existing setup. That is where a floor sub like this R-12SW comes in. This is not a cheap unit, but it will transform the overall sound of your system. Clearly this is not a bookshelf speaker, but a rather large 12-inch subwoofer.
However, hiding these speakers away is not hard and it doesn’t matter where you put it, since our perception of bass is not directional. That means this is a great way to add bass to your listening setup without destroying the elegance of your shelf speakers.
This 400W unit can be precisely tuned to the perfect bass crossover point for your specific bookshelf speakers and turn good music into house-shaking great music.
Vinyl Vintage Audio System Reviews
If you’re completely new to the world of vinyl and vintage audio, I’d recommend to start with the reviews on Turntables, Phone Preamps, Record Cleaners and Speakers. Once you’ve got this covered, make sure to check the menu for more of my reviews.