A good set of bookshelf speakers can completely transform the way that you listen to music, watch movies, and play games. You can instantly improve your listening experience in any room of the house without sacrificing floor space.
Some top-of-the-line speaker systems today can cost thousands of dollars to purchase and install. For buyers on a budget, though, there are plenty of options under $500 that are able to produce a full spectrum of rich, robust sound. This is the ideal price range to look into for a personal home sound system, especially when sprucing up smaller spaces.
All You Need to Know About Bookshelf Speakers
Bookshelf speakers may not seem complicated, but there are a few considerations you should keep in mind.
What is a Bookshelf Speaker?
When many people think about sound systems, they envision large amplifiers and speaker towers that are often found in clubs and concert venues. This type of audio equipment is usually overkill when it comes to home entertainment systems, however. Not only is it expensive, but it also takes up a significant amount of space in smaller rooms.
Bookshelf speakers are designed to sit on elevated surfaces such as countertops, tables, shelves, and more. This makes it easy to place them somewhere that’s out of the way without stifling sound quality. Most bookshelf speakers require the use of an external amp or AV receiver, which gives users more control over their media setup and allows for separate hardware upgrades over time.
Powered speakers, on the other hand, have amplifiers built into each unit. This design lets users plug their speakers directly into their sound system, which can make life a little easier for those less familiar with the hardware involved.
Before looking into different bookshelf speaker models, it's essential that shoppers familiarize themselves with the basics of how a speaker works. Speakers use drivers to convert an electrical audio signal to sound waves, with the types of drivers that a speaker uses affecting the quality of the sound produced. In general, bookshelf speakers have two drivers. Woofers generate bass, while tweeters create higher frequency sounds. Some speakers also use a third mid-range driver to produce a fuller sound.
What Can You Expect from a Bookshelf Speaker in the $500 Range?
While many people tend to assume that more expensive equates to better quality, this isn’t always the case when it comes to bookshelf speakers. In tight spaces, professional-grade equipment that costs thousands of dollars often offer a comparable sound quality to cheaper equivalents. Expensive speakers that are designed to fill a larger space may even have subpar sound quality in small to medium-sized rooms.
For a personal sound system, it's often best to stick to speakers under $500. Many bookshelf models within this price range can offer a crisp, clear sound quality without eating up too much of a buyer's budget. This being said, consumers should be wary of opting for the cheapest speaker set available, as this may compromise sound quality. Many manufacturers use better hardware in their products starting around the $200 to $300 price range.
Selecting the Best Bookshelf Speakers for Vinyl
In recent years, vinyl has made a comeback. Not only do vinyl records have a nostalgic charm for many, but they’re also thought to offer a more vibrant quality of sound that’s closer to a live recording. It’s impossible to enjoy the full vinyl experience without the right set of speakers, though.
Vinyl is typically played on a two-channel, or stereo, system. It can require a bit more of a finicky setup than CDs, MP3, or other music formats. Speakers used to play vinyl should have powerful drivers that can play both bass and high frequencies with clarity to avoid distorting the music. It’s best to look for higher-end speakers that use quality hardware to produce a full spectrum of sound.
Bluetooth technology allows devices to communicate wirelessly, which is especially handy in this era of smartphones and mobile devices. Bookshelf speakers with Bluetooth capabilities enable users to play music anytime, anywhere using a wireless network. This gives you a hands-free connection that doesn't force you to sacrifice sound quality for convenience. Some Bluetooth speakers are even portable so that you can get the music pumping at home or on the go.
Once you’ve settled on a pair of speakers, the next step is to set them up. Bookshelf speakers are designed to go on just about any surface, making it easy for you to add them to your entertainment system. The tweeters of a set of speakers should rest around ear-level for the best quality of sound, whether you plan to listen when sitting or standing.
When space constraints permit, it’s best to place bookshelf speakers around the 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock positions. You should angle them towards whatever you plan to make your listening space, whether that’s a couch, an alcove, or an adjoining room.
Most often, bookshelf speakers are left free-standing on surfaces, making it easy to examine, repair, or replace equipment as necessary. In environments with pets and children, however, speakers may be at risk of getting knocked over and damaged. If this is the case, homeowners may want to consider permanently screwing their speaker casing to a shelf. There is also a wide variety of wall mounting options that offer a safe place for your speakers.
Connecting Your Speakers
There is a variety of equipment that you can connect to your bookshelf speakers, either via wired connections or through Bluetooth. Most people aim to hook their speakers up to a TV, a PC, a laptop, or a turntable, or another entertainment system. While it's easy to connect directly to a powered speaker set using RCA hookups and mini-jacks, most bookshelf speaker models need to be connected to an external amp or receiver.
When hooking speakers up to a receiver, it's crucial to take specs such as sensitivity rating into consideration. The sensitivity rating of a set is the amount of sound generated when inputting a reference tone of 1 Watt. In other words, speakers with a high sensitivity rating don't need much power to create sounds and can be paired with just about any amplifier. A speaker set with a low sensitivity rating requires a connection to a more powerful amp.
Smart Home Integration
More and more people are turning their living space into a smart home setup, including the home entertainment or theater system. Smart technology makes it possible to set up an audio system for the whole house. You can wirelessly connect speakers throughout multiple rooms and control the entire system using your smartphone or mobile device.
Smart home systems such as Amazon Echo and Google Home have their own wireless speakers that seamlessly hook up to the system, but it’s also possible to hook up external speakers for superior sound quality. You can either connect using Bluetooth or via an auxiliary cable. Sonos users can connect existing speakers to their system using speaker adapters.
Bookshelf Speaker Reviews
Many audiophiles are probably already familiar with the Audioengine A5+ speaker system. It’s received numerous awards for performance while still costing under $500. The A5+ is our favorite speaker thanks to the quality of sound that it offers. The system has been designed to play a powerful yet punchy bass, even at high volumes.
These speakers feature a powered design with classic A/B analog amplifiers. This type of amp offers a warmer sound than most digits varieties, making the A5+ good for vinyl music as well as other formats. A powered setup also makes these speakers easy to install in just minutes. You can you both RCA and mini-jack input to connect to your turntable, computer, TV, gaming console, and even Sonos Connect.
The A5+ is built with quality components that help it to sound better and last longer. Kevlar woofers and silk dome tweeters are resistant to wear and tear. An attractive case also helps to protect the speakers from damage. You can purchase these bookshelf speakers in black, white, or bamboo to match your decor.[/expand]
If you’re looking for quality speakers for under $100, Micca’s standard MB42 bookshelf offers the same level of quality as many of its more expensive counterparts. It’s sleek design not only carrier with it a classic look, but also helps to ensure that both bass and treble frequencies sound smooth. A balanced woven carbon fiber woofer helps to prevent low tones from sounding muddy, while a high-performance silk dome tweeter prevents distortion in higher notes.
MB42 speakers aren't self-powered, and so they need to be hooked up to an amplifier or receiver to work. When hooking up an amp, keep in mind that while these speakers have a relatively high sensitivity, they work best with devices designed to handle speakers with an impedance of 6 to 8 ohms. There is a wide range of amps that are compatible with MB42 Bookshelf speakers.
The Micca MB42 design offers a high clarity of sound, but it works best in small spaces. The speaker works better at lower volumes, as higher volumes can lead to a tinny quality due to excessive vibration.[/expand]
Bass response and vocal clarity are both essential when it comes to playing vinyl. The KEF Q100 boasts a rich, round, well-defined sound that can help to make records sound like a live performance thanks in part to its carefully crafted Uni-Q driver array. An oversized, centrally located aluminum dome tweeter helps to keep higher frequencies sounding clean.
Not only does the Q100 offer powerful basslines and crystal-clear trebles, but a braced magnesium/aluminum alloy cone helps to improve mid-range sounds. KEF Z-flex surround technology helps to ensure that music sounds smooth no matter where you are in a room.
The Q100 is a non-powered speaker, and so it needs to be connected to an amplifier or receiver to operate. Thanks to a relatively high sensitivity it’s compatible with most receivers that can help you to connect to your turntable, computer, tv, or another device.[/expand]
These active bookshelf speakers have a unique modern design that comes in a sleek piano black or warm cherry wood finish. A wooden case created a warm, natural sound that can fill any room without excessive vibration. The R2000DB also has built-in Digital Signal Processing (DSP) and Dynamic Range Control (DRC) to help minimize distortion.
You can easily connect to a number of devices using these speakers’ Bluetooth connectivity settings. Through Bluetooth, you can pair your smartphone or mobile device to the R2000D to listen to your favorite music whenever you want.
You can also directly connect these powered speakers using optical and RCA input. The R2000D can hook up to your TV, your computer, or your gaming system without causing you a headache.[/expand]
If you’re willing to spend a little bit more on a set of speakers, The Uni-fi UB5 offers both form and functionality for smaller spaces. These speakers are designed to be extra-slim to give you even more free space around your entertainment center. Their sleek, modern design comes in either black or white finish with silver trim.
Luckily, the UB5’s attractive design doesn’t compromise sound quality. You get the sort of sound that you’d expect from speakers in the price range, delivering clarity in tones ranging from low bass to high treble. It has three drivers, including a mid-range driver that offers a more well-rounded sound.
These speakers are passive, and so they need an amplifier or a receiver to use. The UB5 works best with a more powerful amp, but with the right setup, these speakers will deliver a rich sound that can help to brighten both small and larger spaces.[/expand]
Bookshelf speakers can help to give you a smoother sound quality of your media center without forcing you to sacrifice your space. What's more, you can find plenty of quality options for under $500. We highly recommend the Audioengine A5+ as our top pick of bookshelf speaker within this price range.
Its build includes top-of-the-line components that allow it to produce a rich, warm sound that brings the best out of anything from vinyl to MP3 files. Whether you're a diehard audiophile or a budding hobbyist, the A5+ is a great starter speaker that's easy to set up to transform your home sound system into an immersive listening experience.