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Floorstanding and Bookshelf Speakers

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New Member
Jul 27, 2006
Floorstanding and Bookshelf Speakers

Bookshelf Speakers
If you don't have the space, the budget, or the inclination for big floorstanding speakers, go with something a little smaller. The most popular speakers for home theater use are bookshelf speakers, so named because they're small enough to fit on a bookshelf or a stand.

Because you can't fit really big speakers into a small box, bookshelf systems are limited in terms of the number and size of speaker drivers. Most bookshelf speakers are two-way systems, containing a tweeter (for highs) and a midrange driver or midsize woofer?typically 8 inches or less. But the right bookshelf speaker design can deliver surprisingly good sound, with more than acceptable bass response. Of course, you can and probably should supplement a bookshelf system with a separate subwoofer, especially for home theater use.

What a bookshelf speaker gives up in bass, it makes up in sound imaging. Smaller speakers are better at providing a distinct sound stage?pinpointing sounds in space. Bigger speakers can get a bit "mushy" in terms of where sounds are positioned in the sound field. Smaller speakers put sounds in specific places, for terrific imaging.

Smaller speakers also tend to be a bit more neutral in terms of fidelity to the original sound. Many large (and expensive) floorstanding systems color the sound to some degree; true audiophiles can easily tell one speaker from another by its sound characteristics. Bookshelf speakers are less likely to color the sound, and thus deliver more neutral reproduction.

As with floorstanding speakers, the more money you spend, the better the sound you'll receive. And the best bookshelf systems deliver sound practically indistinguishable from what you'll get from a similar floorstanding system.

Floorstanding Speakers
Floorstanding speakers, often called tower speakers, have been an audiophile mainstay for decades. A floorstanding speaker is so named because it's tall enough to sit on the floor. A floorstanding speaker cabinet is taller than it is wide (or deep), typically standing two feet or more in height.

Because of their large cabinets, floorstanding speakers can hold more and larger speaker drivers. Really big floorstanding systems might have 12-inch or 15-inch diameter woofers. Some floorstanding systems contain a half-dozen or more separate speakers.

You can find floorstanding speakers in two-way, three-way, and four-way configurations.

The chief benefit of a floorstanding speaker is the enhanced bass response. Because you can fit a big woofer in that big cabinet, most floorstanding speakers don't need a separate subwoofer to reproduce low bass frequencies. But just because you don't need a subwoofer doesn't mean you won't want one?and you still need a separate subwoofer for Dolby Digital's ".1" low-frequency effects (LFE) channel. Generally speaking, the bigger the speaker system, the more bass you'll hear. And more bass means better reproduction for rock music and large-scale classical music. If you're a music lover, you can't beat the sound you get from a good pair of floorstanding speakers.

Floorstanding speakers are also more efficient than smaller systems. You get louder sound for the same amount of power because those bigger speakers move more air into the room. For example, you may be able to achieve the same sound level out of large floorstanding speakers run at 75 watts/channel than you would from smaller bookshelf speakers run at 100 watts/channel. (Or, run at the same power level, a good set of floorstanding speaker will simply sound louder than a set of bookshelf speakers.) This isn't always true, however, as speaker efficiency differs significantly from model to model based on speaker construction and design.

Big floorstanding speakers also tend to be more expensive than bookshelf speakers, and they take up more floor space. That room-filling sound comes at a price?in terms of both money and square inches! But some of that purchase price goes toward the fancy wood cabinet. The best floorstanding speakers are high-quality furniture, and make a design statement in any room.