Paul has been passionate about playing, recording, and listening to music for over 35 years. Born in the U.K., he now lives in Florida.
In my experience, bookshelf speakers are an excellent way to fulfill home audio and theater system needs. They are especially great for bedrooms, office spaces, kitchens, studies, and den areas, as they can provide respectable audio quality without taking up lots of precious floor or wall space, or interfering with the general décor.
The technological advancements in speaker technology that have been made over recent years in regard to audio fidelity in compact speakers are really quite remarkable. You simply do not need large speakers anymore to achieve a sound that is acceptable to most audiophiles.
I typically use them in conjunction with a subwoofer to provide an additional boost to the lower frequencies, but not always. It depends on the speakers and the room.
2020's 3 Best Bookshelf Speakers
Below are three speakers that I can enthusiastically recommend:
- Polk Audio T15 100 Watt: Excellent Value
- Edifier R1280T Powered: Compact and Punchy
- Klipsch RP-600M: Superior Audio Quality
I give some general background to speaker technology, specifications, and set up below, followed by a detailed explanation and links to each of my selections.
Polk Audio T15 100 Watt: Excellent Value
I've had a pair of these Polk Audio T15 100 Watt home theater bookshelf speakers in my kitchen for several years (I love to play music while I cook and clean). Despite their compact size, they put out 100 Watts of power, which makes them more than capable of filling a small room with some quality sound.
The audio is delivered via a 50.75" tweeter and a 5.25" Dynamic Balance Driver. The bass is surprisingly powerful for their size. Priced in the affordable range, these speakers are difficult to beat when it comes to value.
Polk T15 Pros:
- Amazing value for money, especially if you have a limited budget.
- Produce a natural, well-balanced sound.
- I wanted something wall-mountable and they checked the box.
- Powerful for their size.
Polk T15 Cons:
- I feel they could do with a little more strength at the low end, but still a great buy for the price.
Edifier R1280T Powered: Compact and Punchy
I have a pair of Edifier R1280T Powered Bookshelf Speakers in my bedroom. They put out an incredible sound for speakers that only cost me $99. Although they are compact, they deliver a punchy sound.
Here are my pros and cons:
Edifier R1280T Pros
- Outstanding value.
- I love the remote control, I can lie in bed and adjust the volume from there.
- They look great. My wife often complains about my audio equipment, but even she likes them.
- Can connect them up to any device that has a 3.5mm headphone output.
Edifier R1280T Cons
- The side controls have never been much use to me.
Klipsch RP-600M: Superior Audio Quality
My admiration for Klipsch goes back some time. Therefore, when I was looking for some quality speakers to use in my office space they were definitely one of the first speaker makers on my list. I work from home and spend most of my waking hours listening to music so the audio quality has to be good.
These Klipsch RP-600M bookshelf speakers are state of the art, each with a 1” titanium lts vented tweeter with hybrid tractrix Horn, 6.5" Spun copper cerametallic woofer, and bass-reflex via rear-firing tractrix port. There is generous cabinet space for a bookshelf speaker, meaning increased performance at the treble and bass ends.
My pros and cons are:
Klipsch RP-600M Pros
- Outstanding audio, clear and crisp, especially in the mid to high frequencies.
- Well built and sturdy construction
- State-of-the-art driver technology..
- They look just absolutely great.
Klipsch RP-600M Cons
- Despite the lows produced being exceptional for a bookshelf, I would still recommend a subwoofer if you like your music to make a thump.
Brief Guide to Types of Speaker Drivers/Cones
The drivers, also called cones, are crucial to the audio quality because it is they that have the role of converting electrical energy into the sound waves.
Bookshelf speakers typically have two drivers: a woofer and a tweeter. The woofer supplies the bass end of the sound, typically around 40 to 1000 Hertz. Tweeter deal with the high end, sounds, up to around 20 kilohertz.
Some speakers are 3-way, which means that they also have mid-range drivers to deal with the mid-range frequencies. There are also full range drivers which are supposed to supply low, mid, and high sounds all from one driver - I would be cautious about buying an inexpensive full range driver, however, as the audio quality is generally not good.
Many beginner buyers skip reading through all the technical specifications. But understanding what the specs mean for each model is essential if you want to buy the right speakers for your needs.
Below is a very brief explanation of what they mean:
- Frequency response - This is basically telling you the range of sounds that a speaker can produce. The better the speakers, the better the drivers deliver both the extreme highs and lows of a piece of audio in a natural sounding way. Generally speaking, if you are buying a more expensive speaker, then look for accurate bass, if you are searching at the more affordable end, then look for speakers with extended high frequency response. The best speakers have a balance between the high and low frequencies. The majority of bookshelf speakers are made with some limitations, however, and are capable of reaching 45-20,000 Hz
- Impedance This is a measure of electrical resistance encountered by the speaker driver, normally 4, 6, or 16 ohms. Knowing the impedance can be useful for matching speakers with an amplifier, so that distortion can be minimized. Bookshelf speakers should generally have an 8 ohm impedance.
- Voltage Sensitivity This relates to how loud the speaker will play at a given voltage and requires special attention when deciding the right match up between an amplifier and speakers. It is usually expressed as X dB per X V input. Most people buying bookshelf speakers will be using a relatively small amplifier so will desire a higher decibel ranking: at least 86 dB.
- Power Handling Another important spec worth understanding, this spec tells you how much power a speaker can handle and is expressed in watts. See what output your intended amplifier has and try to match the speakers accordingly.
Consider Adding a Subwoofer
A subwoofer will fill out the low frequency end of your audio, supplying a fuller overall sound with more depth and allowing your bookshelf speakers to work on the mids and highs.
Accurate and powerful bass delivery can dramatically improve the audio experience, whether you are listening to music or watching a movie (it's incredible how much actually being able to hear the deep tones improves your experience of a drama!).
If your speaker does not reach 50 Hz or lower frequencies, then it is not considered to be full range, and you should definitely seriously think about buying a subwoofer. Plus even if your bookshelf speaker does deliver bass, it won't do it as effectively as a sub will.
Subwoofers can vastly improve a sound system in my experience, especially when they are complementing smaller sized bookshelf speakers.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2013 Paul Goodman
Robin L Charest on July 22, 2019:
Hello, I have 2 floor standing Klipsch RF3s. I have 3 Focal Sib XL and a Polkaudio 100w sub.
Oh yeah, plus Onkyo TX-NR414. I know that isn't a great reciever but it has to do.
How would you recommend hooking this up?
Thank you very much. Robin
AudioNirvana on December 03, 2016:
I have to disagree with the argument that small speakers sound as good as large. This may be true in extreme cases, such as very expensive small speakers. You simply cannot get the same low end response from an 8" sub as you get from a 15" sub. In my opinion, the smaller subs trying to do the work of a large sub sound sloppy and overworked,especially when your really pushing them. A larger sub with better power handling will sound tighter, deeper, and more pleasing. You can get a set of pioneer csg-405 speakers on eBay for $200 that will blow away any small speakers until you start spending thousands, and maybe even then. I think it comes down to budget. If you need great sounding speakers with a mediocre budget, go for the large speakers. If you have a large budget, then get a bigger house so you can get bigger speakers! If you don't believe me, you can get a frequency analyzer app and test your speaker's frequency response. The larger speakers simply do a better job at low frequency. A plus to having them is that you no longer have to buy a powered subwoofer.
Sanjay on November 07, 2016:
Your article was very helpful
I have YAMAHA AS500 AMPLIFIER PLZ SUGGEST ME MATCHABLE BOOK SHELF SPEAKERS AND A POWERED SUB
HOPE U WILL GUIDE ME WITH YOUR EXPERT OPINIONS
HAVE A GOOD DAY SIR
Grant S on December 28, 2014:
Interesting I notice you did not mention the Pioneer low end speakers designed by Andrew Jones. They blow away most of the speakers in your list and are cheap. Have you actually listened to them?
Jason R. Manning from Sacramento, California on May 18, 2014:
Greetings fellow audio buff. Nice hub, I happen to agree with you regarding the quality and ability of modern day bookshelf speakers. I used to own a couple pairs of full range tower speakers. I recently sold my Monitor Audio RX8's and now have a pair of KEF R300's. I added a Polk Audio pro sub and I can tell you I have no loss from missing the RX8's. My soundstage is deeper and wider with this new set up.
I also happen to own a pair of Polk Audio Rti4 in my bedroom. Very capable pair that I picked up direct from Polk Auidos's outlet at $175. Good job on this hub, I hope you get more readers. Cheers.