What are “bookshelf speakers” and do they really belong on a bookshelf?

Week of November 6th, 2005

Q: I have seen you throw out the term “bookshelf speaker” or “bookshelf-sized speaker”. What’s the definition and context for that term as you use it?

-Phil Pyram, Shoreview, Minn.

A: A bookshelf speaker is one that fits comfortably on a bookshelf and is somewhat larger than the tiny teacup-sized speakers used in surround systems. This usually means a box speaker with a woofer between 4.5 inches and 6 inches in diameter. A tower speaker, which sits on the floor without stands or is too large to fit on a bookshelf is the next size up.

Your question leads to our lesson for today. Despite the “bookshelf speaker” name, a bookshelf is probably the absolute worst place in the world to place speakers. The bookshelf and walls surrounding it have undesirable acoustic effects that interfere with the speaker’s sound. Any audiophile worth his or her salt will readily tell you that speaker placement is

Besides the unpleasant effects to the sound coming from the front of the speaker, many speakers have ports in the back that improve the bass as well as reduce the speaker’s wattage requirements. The cabinet of the speaker is made to take the sound radiating from the back of the woofer and send it through this port, which is tuned to integrate with the sound emanating from the front. The port is designed to breathe freely. If it is radiating into the back of a bookshelf, an unpleasant chuffing sound can result.

The best place for bookshelf speakers is on sturdy stands. The stands should be tall enough so the tweeter is at ear level when you sit. Experimenting with placement and moving them just a few inches, or toeing them slightly can improve the sound quality greatly. Try it in your own system and see!

Comments are closed.