The Book on Bookshelf Speakers
Modest price and compact size make bookshelf speakers a great option for your home theater or stereo setup.
Bookshelf Speakers
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May 21, 2008 by Dennis P. Barker

Depending on their use, many bookshelf speakers are also magnetically shielded (for home theater) so that the speaker drivers will not interfere with the TV’s picture. These can be placed right next to (or on top/bottom) the television itself. Speakers that are non-shielded will interfere with the TV’s picture. If your speakers are not shielded, keep them several feet away from the set. 

Many really tiny or cube-like speakers can only include one driver to produce a full-range of sound. This type of speaker was originally conceived and made quite popular by BOSE. The next size up in the bookshelf speaker line would be satellite speakers. These diminutive speakers, which are larger than cubes, may only be the size of your palm or slightly larger. Satellites are very popular with home theater speaker systems. The next size up is the small bookshelf or box-type, which may be either in a box or rectangular configuration.  Flat-panel speakers may also fit into this category as well.  This type of bookshelf speaker features a reduced depth, and can easily be placed next to a flat-panel TV so that it seamlessly blends with the television’s cabinetry.

Besides being used for front or rear speakers, bookshelf speakers may also be used as the center channel as well. For several manufacturers, they simply alter the layout of the drivers to a horizontal position instead of vertical one for center channel versions. Most home theater speaker systems today are made-up of smaller bookshelf-type speakers that are identical in driver layout. And, many produce sounds equal to or greater than large behemoth-sized floor-standing models. Wireless is a speaker category that has been around for a several years that offers the delusion of not having to run speaker wires around your living/family room. Several companies (such as JVC, Panasonic, or Samsung) offer wireless rear speaker or subwoofer solutions. 

Bookshelf speakers can be finished in white or black. Many also come in various types of wood finishes. As well, many come in aluminum or metal cabinetry with a silvery finish to match many flat-panel TVs. Today, bookshelf speakers are designed to fit unobtrusively in many living/family room environments. 

How to Buy
If you are replacing your old stereo speakers, you probably are buying into home theater. If so, might want to consider several from the same manufacturer. By choosing the same manufacturer, all of the speakers are balanced and matched together with the same timbre. Today, many brands bundle together speakers in various configurations, e.g. the front three speakers, or center + surrounds into packages, for example, as well as a pair.  They also put together five-, six-, and seven- or eight-piece systems including subwoofers as well. Check your needs. Major brands include Atlantic Technology, B & W, Boston Acoustics, JBL, Infinity, Meridian, Snell, and Polk among others. There are hundreds of loudspeaker companies to choose from.

Home theater speakers can be somewhat smaller than regular speakers and clearly fall into the bookshelf category. Manufacturers have taken care to design their products to fit well into living room or family room settings without the end user feeling overwhelmed by speaker madness. It was one thing to have your spouse getting used to the tower speakers of your HiFi System, now they have five or six smaller speakers that have to fit into your environment. The beauty of smaller speakers is that they can sit on shelves, be next to the TV, or be attached to the wall. They are even ascetically pleasing, as they have been designed to function in living areas, which was one of the reasons that BOSE speaker cubes have become so popular. There are now bookshelf-type speakers now for every taste or living room situation. Speakers are no longer just function, but clearly about form as well. Ah, I’m reminded of the musical Chicago because bookshelf speakers can both “razzle” and “dazzle” you through their aural brilliance. I think I’m ready for some razzle-dazzle now.

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Dennis P. Barker - Contributing Writer
Dennis has been involved with Consumer Electronics forever it seems. His 25+-year career includes a 12-year tour of duty at Consumer Reports magazine, as well as stints as a product reviewer, market analyst, technical editor, and consultant for the electronics industry. He lives in Ossining, NY with his two children, one demanding cat and piles of A/V equipment.

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