Best Bookshelf Speakers

Today we review the best bookshelf speakers. First off let me say, you can do all of the comparisons you want between floor and bookshelf speakers, but the plain truth is that most people who purchase bookshelf speakers do so either because of space and cost considerations, or to place them on stands (or mount them on a wall) as rear surround-sound speakers.

Nearly everyone who has the room and the budget for free-standing front speakers will choose them over bookshelf models, because floor speakers have better bass response (at the very least) and sound more realistic when reproducing movie soundtracks. That doesn’t mean, however, that bookshelf units are a poor choice; far from it. The best bookshelf speakers can deliver clear, detailed sound through high-quality drivers, and when paired with a good subwoofer they can even approach the performance of much more expensive brand name floor speakers. In other words, don’t panic if you can’t afford the free-standing speakers you’ve been drooling over.

There are lots of small, inexpensive speakers that aren’t worth your time when shopping. They include models that are poorly manufactured, ones that use inferior components, or those look as cheap as their price. But there are some truly outstanding bookshelf speakers on the market that can fill a small-to-medium sized room with impressive sound, or perform admirably as satellite speakers in a surround-sound system.

First and foremost when searching for the best bookshelf speakers, we paid attention to the listening experience and looked at the specs and construction details that were responsible for the audio. We looked at the quality of the speakers’ drivers, frequency response and signal-to-noise ratios, the power ratings of the units, the effectiveness of the crossover that separates highs and lows, and even the material used to build the cabinets (which can have a major impact on audio quality).

We also considered size, since that’s obviously a key factor in the minds of most people buying bookcase speakers; some manufacturers have a tendency to label very large models as “bookcase” units even though they wouldn’t fit into any home bookcase we’ve seen. Finally we factored price into the equation, giving “bonus points” to speakers which deliver the best audio for the money. That’s why, for example, you’ll see a “better” – and more expensive – set of speakers ranked at #2 on our list of best bookshelf speakers. They sound a little better than the #1 pair, but they cost a great deal more.

Let’s look at the bookshelf speakers that go to 11. (Yes, that’s a reference to the film This Is Spinal Tap. If you haven’t seen the movie, you should.)

ELAC B6 Debut Series 6.5″ Bookshelf Speakers

The B6’s will blow your mind. They’re the first speakers created for ELAC by famed designer Andrew Jones, who became renowned in the audio world for the amazing work he did at KEF and Infinity where some of his speakers sold for tens of thousands of dollars. These, however, sell for less than $300 per pair and are truly amazing for their size.

We’ll admit that at 14 inches tall by 8½ inches wide these are at the top end of what we’d consider an appropriate size for bookshelf units. They’re worth cramming them into your bookcase, though, and they’re perfect for surround-sound speaker stands. The B6 Debuts are two-way bass-reflex speakers with terrific drivers: a 6.5-inch woven Aramid fiber woofer and a one-inch cloth dome tweeter with a custom-built deep spheroid profile. The eight-element crossover is particularly effective as well. A bass port behind the speakers helps with their low-end performance, which may actually make you think about whether you really need a subwoofer with these speakers. (You probably do, for best sound.)

The bass delivered by the B6s is certainly tight and powerful and doesn’t degrade with volume, but there’s much more to praise. The mids and highs are clear, clean and well-defined – in fact, if you weren’t sure where the audio was coming from you might not believe it was being delivered by a pair of bookshelf speakers.

These ELACs are solidly built, and while they’re not gorgeous they’re relatively attractive, with a black, brushed-vinyl finish and black cloth grill cover. Forget the appearance though, because they’ll fit in just about anywhere. What’s more important is that the sound from the B6 Debuts is fabulous, and simply stunning at this price.

Facts and figures for the ELAC B6 Debut Series 6.5” Bookshelf Speakers:

  • Type: Two-way, bass reflex
  • Peak power: 120W per channel
  • Woofer: 6.5 inch woven Aramid fiber cone
  • Tweeter: 1 inch cloth dome
  • Crossover frequency: 3,000 Hz
  • Frequency response: 44 Hz to 20 KHz
  • Sensitivity: 87dB
  • Dimensions (each speaker): 14 x 8.5 x 10 inches
  • Weight (each): 14.3 pounds
  • Warranty: 3 years

Check ELAC B6 6.5″ Bookshelf Speaker Price on Amazon

2. KEF Q300B Bookshelf Loudspeakers

These are the speakers we mentioned at the start – the ones which sound a little better than the ELACs, but cost a lot more – in fact, about double the price. They’re the same height (14 inches) as the ELACs and a bit deeper and wider, but still just about the right dimensions to fit into a generous-sized bookshelf although they’re also better suited to speaker stands.

Anyone who’s done much reading about speakers knows that KEF is an upper-level brand, and the company’s Uni-Q driver array is justifiably praised for the clear and natural sound it produces. The Q300Bs, naturally, feature the Uni-Q “point source” array and that’s the reason behind the outstanding sound delivered by these speakers; there’s a 6.5-inch aluminum cone woofer with a two-inch voice coil to handle low ends well, and a one-inch tweeter situated in the middle of the woofer, along with waveguides to increase sound dispersion.

The result is a terrific sound stage with outstanding dynamic range and response (you’ll notice that the +/-3dB frequency response range is twice as high as the ELAC’s). The bass is strong without being overwhelming, the highs can be a little thin at times but are still sharp and satisfying without being shrill, and the mids fill in the audio picture beautifully. You’re going to need bigger and more intricately-designed speakers (at a higher cost) to find better sound.

The Q300Bs look ordinary (although there’s a sharp-looking chrome strip with logo across the front). Their performance is anything but ordinary.

Details for the KEF Q300B Bookshelf Loudspeakers:

  • Type: Two-way, bass reflex
  • Peak power: 120W per channel
  • Woofer: 6.5 inch aluminum cone
  • Tweeter: 1 inch dome
  • Crossover frequency: 2,500 Hz
  • Frequency response: 42 Hz to 40 KHz
  • Sensitivity: 87dB
  • Dimensions (each speaker): 14 x 8.5 x 12 inches
  • Weight (each): 17 pounds
  • Warranty: 3 years

Check KEF Q300b Bookshelf Loudspeaker Price on Amazon

3. Polk Audio RTI A1 Bookshelf Speakers

The A1s usually sell for around the same price as the ELAC B6s, but they’ve been on the market for years and you can often find them on sale for $100 less. If you do, grab them – they’re definitely the best bookshelf speakers you’ll ever find for around $200, with the quality and performance you’d expect from a speaker with the Polk name on it.

These bookshelf models are somewhat smaller than the first two speakers we’ve reviewed, 12 inches high and only 11 inches deep. But that doesn’t mean that they cut corners on the inside. There’s a 5.25-inch dynamic balance polymer composite woofer and a one-inch silk/polymer composite dome tweeter, combined with many of the proprietary Polk design features the company is known for such as a neodymium magnet with heat sink, PowerPort bass venting to eliminate distortion on low frequencies, and ARC (acoustic resonance control) to keep the audio from being affected by the resonance of the speaker cabinet. Even though these are Polk’s most compact speaker, the company hasn’t scrimped on design.

All of that techie detail doesn’t really matter once you listen to the A1s, because their clean and natural sound tells the real story. The lows won’t blow you away, and the highs may be a bit too bright for some people’s tastes, but the dynamic range and clarity is startlingly good for a small pair of bookshelf speakers, without distortion or other annoyances. As long as you don’t expect the same performance you’d get from a pair of huge Polk towers, you’ll be thrilled.

These speakers are more attractive than the first two options on our rankings, with a modern look and slightly curved cabinets. They’re also available in warm cherry wood finish as well as standard black. We like them a lot.

More info on the Polk Audio RTI A1 Bookshelf Speakers:

  • Type: Two-way, bass reflex
  • Peak power: 125W per channel
  • Woofer: 5.25 inch polymer composite cone with rubber surround
  • Tweeter: 1 inch silk/polymer composite dome
  • Crossover frequency: 1,900 Hz
  • Frequency response: 50 Hz to 27 KHz
  • Sensitivity: 89dB
  • Dimensions (each speaker): 12 x 7.5 x 11 inches
  • Weight (each): 12 pounds
  • Warranty: 5 years

Check Polk Audio RTI A1 Bookshelf Speaker Price on Amazon

4. Pioneer SP-BS22-LR Bookshelf Loudspeakers

Does the name Andrew Jones sound familiar? He designed our top-rated ELAC B6 speakers, but in between his work at KEF and Infinity and his current position with ELAC he was at Pioneer; one of the things he did there was revitalize the company’s lower-end speakers. The SP-BS22s are one of his many success stories, delivering solid audio for a budget price a bit above $100 (yes, that’s for the pair).

Jones brought some innovative and interesting approaches to these 12-inch high bookshelf speakers and included some components usually only found on much more expensive models. The woofer is just four-inches, but has a structured-surface diaphragm to prevent breakup and increase rigidity. The one-inch dome tweeter uses a custom waveguide for increased sensitivity, and the signals are efficiently passed through a six-element crossover similar to the one in the ELAC, very unusual at this price level. Even the curved cabinets are designed to minimize noise and maximize performance.

Ah yes, the performance. Let’s face it, there’s only so much you can do for a hundred bucks – but Jones has done a lot more than you would imagine to be possible. The audio isn’t dazzling but it’s exceedingly clear and rich, with the mids particularly vibrant and impressive. You won’t get the extended lows and highs of high-end speakers with greater frequency response, but the bass is deep and clean and the highs are smooth and real. Overall, the audio is extremely satisfying.

The graining on the cabinet, along with the curved, removable grill, makes these bookshelf speakers quite attractive. Their performance and low price make them a steal.

Digging deeper into the Pioneer SP-BS22-LR Bookshelf Loudspeakers:

  • Type: Two-way, bass reflex
  • Peak power: 90W per channel
  • Woofer: 4 inch textured polypropylene
  • Tweeter: 1 inch soft dome
  • Crossover frequency: 3,000 Hz
  • Frequency response: 55 Hz to 20 KHz
  • Sensitivity: 85dB
  • Dimensions (each speaker): 12.6 x 7.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Weight (each): 9 pounds
  • Warranty: 1 year, limited

Check Pioneer SP-BS22-LR Bookshelf Loudspeaker Price on Amazon

5. Dayton Audio B652 Bookshelf Speakers

You’re not going to find better bargains than the Pioneers, but we understand that even speakers in the $100 range are expensive if you don’t have the budget for them. So the final entry on our list of best bookshelf speakers comes in at about half that price. You won’t get audio comparable to the Pioneers or Polks from these 11-inch tall Dayton speakers, but you’ll still be impressed.

Dayton is best known for selling high-quality drivers for people who build their own speakers, so they’re a reputable audio company and not one of those “unknown” brands you see on drugstore or discount store shelves. The B652s have surprisingly large 6.5-inch cone woofers, along with 5/8-inch dome tweeters that are ferro-fluid cooled. The end result is audio that’s much more detailed than you’d have any right to expect from $50 speakers, with good balance between highs, mids and lows.

We’d be more likely to use these as computer speakers than front speakers in a surround-sound system, but they’ll do the job quite well either way – at least until you’re ready to invest a little more into your audio.

Digging deeper into the Pioneer SP-BS22-LR Bookshelf Loudspeakers:

  • Type: Two-way, bass reflex
  • Peak power: 75W per channel
  • Woofer: 6.5 inch polypropylene
  • Tweeter: 5/8 inch polycarbonate dome
  • Crossover frequency: n/a

Check Dayton Audio B652 Bookshelf Speaker Price on Amazon

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