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Best bookshelf speakers
If you’ve been following tech at all in recent years, it seems like all of the cool advancements have been in portable audio. Bluetooth speakers and headphones have come a long way, but that’s not the only way to experience audio. Sometimes you just want to come home, pour yourself a glass of your favorite drink (you know, like hot chocolate…), and sit back to truly enjoy your favorite tunes. Now whether you use a high-quality streaming service, your own personal digital library, or have a collection of vinyl you haven’t dusted off in a while, you’ll need a good pair of bookshelf speakers to get the most out of the experience.
Don’t get me wrong, some Bluetooth speakers sound truly great, but for the most part, they’re designed for portability. Bookshelf speakers don’t have to be portable, and therefore they aren’t limited by things like battery life or size. You can go as big or as small as you want, and in this article, we’re going to go over a few of the best consumer bookshelf speakers available.
Editor’s note: this article was updated on June 15, 2023, to update picks, links, and formatting.
Why is the PreSonus Eris 3.5 the best pair of bookshelf speakers for most people?
As the youngest sibling in its product lineup, the PreSonus Eris 3.5 is a pair of budget studio monitors that pack a punch — perfect for the casual listener, or for the budding music producer. These speakers deliver near-studio sound quality at a consumer-friendly price tag.
The Eris 3.5 is surprisingly well-built, considering its low cost. Equipped with 3.5-inch woven composite drivers and 1-inch silk dome tweeters, these speakers provide you with punchy, undistorted bass and mids. Songs may lack some clarity in the higher frequencies when compared to listening on more expensive monitors. However, the Eris 3.5 features acoustic tuning knobs that can help you fine-tune your speaker according to your listening environment, helping you avoid exaggerated bass amplification and treble under-emphasis.
At the front of the left speaker, you will find a 3.5mm aux input, next to the 3.5mm headphone out jack. At the back, you will find additional features such as two 1/4-inch TRS inputs and stereo RCA inputs. Although these speakers are marketed primarily for professional applications, the Eris 3.5 has a relatively low price tag that makes this product highly accessible, even to the average consumer.
If you care about design, go with the ELAC Debut 2.0 B6.2
Though it isn’t always the case, chances are that bigger speakers will sound better. Don’t be thrown off by the large size of the ELAC Debut 2.0 B6.2 speakers. Each weighs almost 7.4kg (16.3lbs) and measures 27 x 19.5 x 37.5cm, so you might want to make sure that you have enough space for them. As far as specs go, these are rocking 6.5-inch woofers and 1-inch tweeters and should handle whatever you throw at them.
One thing worth mentioning is that these are passive speakers, so you will most likely need a receiver or amplifier. They have an impedance of 6Ω, and the all-black enclosure ensures they can blend into your living room seamlessly. These don’t have any fancy features, so there isn’t much else to say about them. They just get it right.
What makes the Audioengine HD3 a good set of Bluetooth-enabled bookshelf speakers?
While Audioengine HD3 is technically more on the side of computer speakers, you can also use this set as a pair of bookshelf speakers if you want. The speakers aren’t as large as some of the other picks on this list standing at around 30cm (11.8in) tall, so they might not be your preferred choice for a living room setup. But if you’re looking to deck out a listening station or actually want speakers that will fit on a bookshelf, these are a great option.
Not only do they have stereo RCA inputs and outputs for you to connect to, but they also have Bluetooth built-in so you can play wirelessly off your phone or similar device in a pinch. It features the aptX audio codec, resulting in better sound quality, and it also has a built-in DAC capable of upsampling to 24-bit, achieving a higher signal-to-noise ratio and lower noise floor.
Another contender for best-sounding bookshelf speakers is the Triangle Borea BR03
Though a set of passive speakers meant for use with an existing receiver setup, the Triangle Borea BR03 is a very good option for those looking to spend under $500. They’re not cheap, but the speakers are well-regarded by many for their performance and finish.
There are no Bluetooth options here, or really any other features of note. The Triangle Borea BR03 does one thing and one thing only: reproduce sound. However, that’s just what the doctor ordered for many legacy setups, especially if you don’t want your speakers to become yet another Bluetooth system that people try to connect to while they’re in the room.
The Edifier R1280DB is a great bang-for-your-buck pair of bookshelf speakers
The Edifier R1280DB packs most of what you’d want in a good pair of bookshelf speakers, costing just over $100 USD. While these speakers are kind of clunky and the design isn’t as sleek as some of the other options, Edifier has a retro aesthetic that some people might be drawn to. These powered speakers have a super easy setup that only requires you to plug them in. It doesn’t get much easier.
Plus, it comes with a dedicated remote control so you can adjust the volume from across the room. On the speaker’s side, you’ll find three knobs: one for volume, another for treble, and the third to control bass. So if you want to tweak how your music sounds these basic controls should get the job done. On top of easily hooking up to your TV, PC, or gaming console, you get Bluetooth so that you can stream music too.
How about the Q Acoustics 3020i?
For around $400 you can pick up the stylish Q Acoustics 3020i with its clean magnetically attached covers. Its bass port is located in the back, so yes it’s a bookshelf speaker, but you’ll want some space between it and the wall to get the most bass. Speaking of bass, the 3020i is not the biggest bass fiend, but the audio quality is very nice, as is the price.
The best bookshelf speakers: Notable mentions
- Elac Debut 2.0 B5.2: For a hundred dollars less than the B6.2, this speaker provides a similar sound to its bigger sibling — albeit with smaller woofers.
- Fluance Ai40: These bookshelf speakers feature Bluetooth connectivity, aptX support, and great sound quality — all wrapped up in a sleek, matte black enclosure.
- Fluance Signature HiFi: For $200 USD, these passive surround sound bookshelf speakers are a great deal for both a home theater setup and a bedroom music-listening setup. They have a pleasant sound all across the frequency spectrum.
- KLH Albany II: This pair of speakers offers quite a bit of value for the price. KLH may not be a household name, but it has the lineage to back it up. It won’t give you the most accurate audio, but it ought to sound pleasant.
- Klipsch The Fives: Like the Edifier R1280DB/T you get EQ knobs, but with greater refinement and a better build, and with Klipsch’s signature emphasis on the high-frequency range. You can use these speakers with a TV or stereo. It’s not cheap, so look for a sale.
- PreSonus Eris 3.5 BT: For an additional $30, you get the speaker’s acclaimed sound quality with added Bluetooth capabilities.
- PreSonus Eris 4.5: If you’re willing to spend just under $200 on bookshelf speakers, the PreSonus Eris 4.5 provides improved treble and mid-frequency clarity, compared to the smaller Eris 3.5.
- Sony SSCS5 and STRDH190 home stereo receiver bundle: If you don’t know where to start and how to set up your home audio system, you can’t go wrong with a bundle. These Sony bookshelf speakers are guaranteed to work with the 2-channel receiver.
What you should know about bookshelf speakers
Bookshelf speakers are a bit of an oddity in the market, as their role has largely been supplanted by Bluetooth speakers and soundbars. However, that doesn’t mean that you should ignore them — on the contrary, a set of good bookshelf speakers can handily outperform portable options and really tie together an office, family room, or workshop. Maybe you have a turntable on the shelf or another physical media source. Maybe you just want a listening spot. In any case, there’s an argument to be made about picking up bookshelf speakers to save on space where a much more expensive and bulky system just wouldn’t do. Where a set of studio monitors wouldn’t fit on a shelf or be designed with a reflective surface behind them, bookshelf speakers will have these design constraints in mind.
What’s the difference between active and passive speakers?
When you first start searching for bookshelf speakers you’ll probably come across two terms fairly often: active and passive. So what does that even mean? It’s simpler than it sounds, and it all boils down to the method by which the speaker in question gets its power. If you have to plug it into a wall, it’s powered. If it doesn’t have an AC plug and only connects via speaker wires to a receiver or amp, then it’s passive.
Active speakers need amplification as well, but the amps are built into the speaker enclosure which makes it easier to set up as all you have to do is plug it in. Of course, that makes replacing the amp inside fairly difficult. Conversely, replacing or upgrading your amp on a pair of passive speakers is much simpler (though probably not cheap). That said, the initial setup is a little more involved. It isn’t exactly difficult so don’t be turned off by it, but it’s not as easy as just plugging a speaker into the wall. You just have to decide how hands-on you want to be, and if you already have other equipment such as an amplifier that will help determine your choice too.
What is an amplifier?
If none of that meant anything to you because you’re not sure what an amp is in the first place, then this section is for you. While you may be tempted to think of speakers as magic, they’re not. They’re just the magnificent result of human engineering. To function properly, they need enough power. An amplifier is a device that, thankfully, does exactly as its name suggests. It takes the electricity from the wall you plugged it into and amplifies it to provide an adequate amount of current to your speaker. For home theater needs, this role is typically filled by what’s called a “receiver.”
Unlike with most headphones, you’re going to need an amp when it comes to unpowered bookshelf speakers. If you have active speakers, then good news: the company that made your speakers already paired them with an amp that comes in the enclosure, so you don’t have to worry about anything. If you’re leaning towards passive speakers, then you’ll have to be aware of how much juice you’re pushing through to your speakers, or you might blow them.
Can bookshelf speakers be used for surround sound?
Of course, you can use bookshelf speakers for a surround sound setup. If you walk into your local home theater store you’ll likely see giant, five-foot-tall speakers that cost thousands of dollars perfectly positioned at different angles around a plush couch that costs as much as a few months’ rent. Luckily, that’s not the only way to enjoy surround sound audio. Good bookshelf speakers will get the job done as well, and because they’re usually smaller than floor-standing speakers you can easily mount them on the wall so you can use your space.
You can also consider whether you actually want to get a soundbar with additional satellite speakers instead of a bookshelf speaker setup. This makes the most sense for people whose rooms host their TVs and double as their favorite music-listening spot.
Does it matter what cables you use?
No, it doesn’t matter what cables you use. Well, it doesn’t matter how expensive they are anyways, it matters that you choose cables with the proper connections. Beyond that though, you could use a coathanger if you wanted to — there’s little to no benefit to shelling out crazy amounts of money for cabling. Many of the options here will come with cables made by the manufacturer, so you won’t have to worry so much about choosing yet another thing to buy.
Seriously, no need to overthink it — just enjoy.
What are the best speakers for vinyl?
The long and short of it is, the best bookshelf speakers for vinyl will be powered ones with a phono input to replace the preamp and amplifier stages of your setup. Despite how old the technology is, it’s never been easier to get set up with vinyl (assuming you have access to records). We outline the best turntables for vinyl here, but there are plenty of powered options out there that will take the hassle out of setup-building.
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Frequently asked questions about bookshelf speakers
Just because they’re called bookshelf speakers doesn’t mean they’re necessarily meant to sit on a bookshelf. These speakers were designed to work on any elevated surface, which is where the idea of the term “bookshelf” came from. Ideally, bookshelf speakers function best on top of your desk, or on speaker stands.
In short, they’re not the best. This is cause bookshelf speakers tend to have an imbalanced sound that over-emphasizes certain frequencies. While this is perfect for the casual listener, audio enthusiasts require a more accurate reproduction of their mix. If you need a pair of speakers for mixing, forgo the bookshelf speakers and invest in a pair of studio monitors.