Bookshelf speakers, also called compact speakers, are ideal for enjoying quality sound while minimizing clutter. These speakers can often be placed on a piece of furniture, on a shelf, in a bookcase or even on dedicated stands or wall brackets, thus facilitating their integration in any interior.
There are many models of compact speakers and it can sometimes be difficult to determine which pair best suits your musical tastes, your listening room or your amplifier. What are the essential characteristics that a bookshelf speaker must have? Is a passive speaker better than a smart speaker? In this comparative guide of the best bookshelf speakers of 2021, we will give you all the essential elements to find the speaker best suited to your needs.
Bookshelf or floorstanding speaker?
More than a choice made for their compactness, bookshelf speakers offer interesting advantages over floorstanding speakers. Their price is often lower than the floorstanding model of the same range. To provide sound in a small room or for close listening, the compact format of bookshelf speakers is ideal and offers a more coherent reproduction than a floorstanding model which requires much more space to express itself.
In addition, because the speaker cabinet is small, the risk of coloration or alteration of the sound is much less important. As a result, compact models offer a more punchy, more energetic sound with a lot of detail. This type of speaker is able to combine rhythm and precision in surprising ways and can even provide a better sound image in a room of modest size when compared to their floorstander counterparts.
Bass-reflex or closed enclosure?
Some compact speakers have a closed, fully airtight enclosure, while others are equipped with a port. This second method, called bass-reflex, extends the speaker’s response in the lows. Most often, the port is circular and is located at the rear of the enclosure. In this case, it is better to leave a space of ten or twenty centimeters between the speaker and the rear wall, unless you want to artificially boost the bass level. Therefore, if the loudspeaker is to be placed on a shelf or in a bookcase, it is better to choose a compact model with a port located on the front panel like the Focal Chorus 706, the Klipsch RB-81 MKII and the Davis Acoustics Mia 30.
Unlike floorstanding speakers which often have many drivers, bookshelf speakers are usually only have two: a midbass and a tweeter. On some speakers such as the Fyne Audio F500 and the KEF LS50 Meta, the tweeter is located directly in the center of the mid bass driver. This is called a coaxial driver. In addition to saving more space, this configuration optimizes the phase by ensuring that the different frequencies are broadcast from the same point and are thus better perceived by the listener. A few manufacturers, Cabasse in the lead, use this technology to produce three-way bookshelf speakers, with a woofer and a coaxial midrange driver/tweeter. This is the case of the Cabasse MC170 Antigua and Cabasse MC40 Minorca speakers.
Bookshelf speaker design
In addition to acoustic performance, the design should also be taken into consideration when choosing your bookshelf speakers. The latter being intended to be installed in the living room, the bedroom or the office, it is necessary that they blend in or perfectly match the furniture. Some manufacturers are therefore innovating by offering models with more refined and more discreet shapes than standard models. This is the case of the French brand Elipson, with the Elipson Planet L and Elipson Planet M spherical speakers. This atypical shape also has the advantage of eliminating the rear wave for a more natural and precise reproduction.
The technical choices made by manufacturers to design the drivers also often contribute to the final design of the loudspeakers. Examples of this is Klipsch and its copper-colored drivers, Dali and its burgundy cellulose fiber drivers, and Davis Acoustics with its yellow fiberglass drivers.
In the technical specifications, many manufacturers indicate the recommended amplification power for the bookshelf speaker in order to facilitate the choice of amplifier. The power of the amplifier must be in line with the values recommended for the speakers, or even a little higher. For many technical reasons, it is preferable to opt for an amp that is slightly more powerful than the speakers, because there will be no need to push it to its limits to enjoy a suitable sound level. This recommendation remains valid whether it is a hi-fi stereo amplifier, a WiFi/Bluetooth amplifier, a DAC amplifier, a receiver, a tube amplifier, an AV receiver or a power amp.
It is also necessary to ensure that the impedance of the speakers is compatible with the characteristics of the amplifier. Speakers with lower impedance than that for which the amplifier is designed may cause it to overheat.
Connected compact speakers are a good option to enjoy a high fidelity stereo reproduction with a real pair of speakers, but without the hassle of multiple devices and cables to connect them. Long considered a pipe dream, wireless hi-fi speakers are now in our living rooms, driven by the explosion of dematerialized music and streaming. You can now easily enjoy your tracks stored on a smartphone, shared on the network (DLNA) or even played from online music services. This field has been booming for several years, with ever more efficient models such as the Klipsch The Fives Custom #2, KEF LSX Wireless, Dali Oberon 1 C, B&W Formation Duo or even the KEF LS50 Wireless 2, essential in this category.
The best bookshelf speakers under €500
- Klipsch RB-81 MKII: 20cm midbass driver, 150W RMS, 8 ohms, 97dB
- Focal Chorus 706: 16.5cm midbass driver, 120W RMS, 8 ohms, 90dB
- Eltax Monitor III: 13cm midbass driver, 90W RMS, 8 ohms, 89dB
- Davis Acoustics Mia 30: 13cm midbass driver, 80W RMS, 8 ohms, 88dB
- Q Acoustics 3030i: 16.5cm midbass driver, 75W RMS, 6 ohms, 88dB
The best bookshelf speakers between €500 and €1000
- Focal Aria 906:16.5cm midbass driver, 120W RMS, 8 ohms, 89.5dB
- KEF Q350: 16.5cm coaxial driver, 120W RMS, 8 ohms, 87dB
- Elipson Prestige Facet 8B: 17cm midbass driver, 85W RMS, 6 ohms, 91dB
- Dali Opticon 1 MKII: 13cm midbass driver, 100W RMS, 4 ohms, 86dB
- Cabasse MC40 Minorca: 17cm midbass driver, 75W RMS, 8 ohms, 89dB
The best bookshelf speakers between €1000 and €3000
- KEF LS50 Meta: 13cm coaxial speaker, 100W RMS, 8 ohms, 85dB
- B&W 705 S2 : 16.5cm midbass driver, 120W RMS, 8 ohms, 88dB
- Jean-Marie Reynaud Bliss Jubilee: 17cm midbass driver, 80W RMS, 4 ohms, 88dB
- Sonus Faber Sonetto II: 16.5cm midbass driver, 200W RMS, 4 ohms, 87dB
- Elipson Legacy 3210: 16.5cm midbass driver, 100W RMS, 6 ohms, 88dB
The best bookshelf speakers over €3000
- Q Acoustics Concept 300: 16.5cm midbass driver, 200W RMS, 6 ohms, 84dB
- PMC twenty5.22i: 17cm midbass driver, 100W RMS, 8 ohms, 89dB
- Atohm GT1-HD : 15cm midbass driver, 100W RMS, 6 ohms, 89dB
- Dali epicon 2: 16.5cm midbass driver, 200W RMS, 4 ohms, 89dB
- B&W 805 D3: 16.5cm midbass driver, 120W RMS, 8 ohms, 88dB
The best WiFi/Bluetooth bookshelf speakers
- Elipson Prestige Facet 6B BT: 14cm midbass driver, 70W RMS, Bluetooth, analog and digital inputs
- KEF LSX Wireless: 11.5cm coaxial driver, 2 x 130W + 2 x 60W, Bluetooth and WiFi, HD streaming, analog and digital inputs
- Q Acoustics Q Active 200 Google: 14cm woofer, 2 x 100W RMS, Bluetooth and WiFi, HD streaming, analog and digital inputs
- Dali Rubicon 2 C: 16.5cm midbass driver, 200W RMS, Bluetooth, analog and digital inputs
- KEF LS50 Wireless 2: 13cm coaxial speaker, 2 x 280W + 2 x 100W, Bluetooth and WiFi, HD streaming, analog and digital inputs
Naturally, we couldn’t add every speaker to this comparison, which is incomplete. Son-Vidéo.com now offers a large number of different bookshelf speakers. So we had to make some choices. These are of course totally debatable and necessarily subjective. To complete this comparison and find the best pair of speakers for your needs, do not hesitate to visit one of our 16 stores to compare brands and speaker sizes, but above all to listen to each model.