Best Bookshelf Speakers 2021: Top Picks, Buying Guide, Reviews - Rolling Stone
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The Best Bookshelf Speakers Our Editors Are Using Right Now

These speakers think outside of the box when it comes to sound quality and power

Edifier P17

Amazon

Products featured are independently selected by our editorial team and we may earn a commission from purchases made from our links; the retailer may also receive certain auditable data for accounting purposes.

If you’re setting up your home audio system and floor space is at a premium, consider picking up a pair of bookshelf speakers. Larger than a portable speaker but more compact than floor speakers, bookshelf speakers deliver loud amplification and solid, stereo sound for small to medium-sized rooms.

They won’t get you the same room-shaking power or rumbling bass that a full-sized set will provide, but for your office, den, or bedroom, they’ll be more than enough. If you’re setting up a home theater system, pair the speakers with a subwoofer to really amp up your listening experience.

What Are Bookshelf Speakers?

There are many factors to consider when choosing the right bookshelf speakers for you; below are the most important ones, which we considered while we were researching this list.

Size: Bookshelf speakers got their namesake for being small enough to literally fit on the shelf of a bookcase, but they can still vary in size and weight. We included those measurements with each pick, so you’ll know what to expect. This is especially important to consider if you want to move the speakers around to find the “sweet spot” in your room.

Drivers: Drivers are the part of the speaker that produce sound; generally, larger drivers are better, but their material and location on the speaker matters, too. Our picks all have multiple drivers, which handle different frequencies, so music will sound clear and smooth.

Passive vs Active: Bookshelf speakers come in two different styles: passive and active. Passive speakers, like the one on this list, have no built-in amplification, which means you need to connect them to a stereo receiver for them to work. Active speakers are a more all-in-one solution; they have a preamp, volume controls, and inputs (ports that let you plug devices into them) on the speakers themselves.

We chose passive speakers for this guide because you get to choose the other hardware they’re connected to rather than relying on what the speaker company chose. Active speakers are also heavier than passive ones, and can have smaller drivers because the speaker housing has to accommodate a lot more hardware.

BEST OVERALL: Klipsch The Fives Powered Speaker System

Klipsch

The Fives are a new pair of powered bookshelf speakers from Klipsch, and it blew us away during our testing.

The speakers 18.5 inches tall, 17.5 inches wide, and 13.5 inches deep, which means they’re a little big for a desk, but the perfect size for a living room entertainment center. Each speaker has a 4.5 inch long throw woofer, and a 1 inch titanium dome woofer set behind an angled horn that disperses its sound more equally.

This audio hardware is set inside a hand-crafted wood cabinet, with a magnetically attached woven cloth grill. The speakers scream class, and will elevate the look if whichever room they’re in. Klipsch said The Fives were designed to make “Real Hi-Fi Sound”, and they deliver.

The bass sounds full, but not to the point of drowning out the midrange and treble. This is especially impressive from a pair of bookshelf speakers because the drivers are spaced so close together. Sounds in the high frequencies — think cymbals — sound detailed and clear, but never shrill.

These speakers sound great regardless of what type of music you’re listening to, but we were especially impressed at how they handled complicated tracks. We could hear element, from instruments, to vocals, to effects without distortion. Rather than competing to be heard, the sounds on these tracks sounded correct.

The Fives are powered speakers, and Klipsch designed them to handle any situation. You can hook up a turntable to their RCA (red and white) inputs, a TV to its HDMI or optical inputs, a computer to its USB input, or connect to them wirelessly over Bluetooth. You can switch between these inputs by using the included remote, or turning a dial on top of the left speaker. We’ve tested the speakers in many of these scenarios, and they always sounded great.

If you want a no-compromise pair of bookshelf speakers, or want to put together an all-in-one compact home audio system, you can’t do better than The Fives by Klipsch.

Buy: Klipsch The Fives at $799.00

BEST BUDGET PICK: Edifier P17

Amazon

Edifier has earned a reputation for making well-built, good looking speakers, and the P17 is a great example why. It’s an updated version of the company’s P12, another excellent pair of bookshelf speakers.

At 6.6 x 5 x 9.4 inches and 9.47 pounds, the P17 is a mid-sized bookshelf speaker, which makes it best-suited for an office or living room. The outside frame also comes with a hinge that lets you mount them to a wall.

Each speaker in this pair has two drivers: A four-inch bass driver, and a 3/4-inch silk dome tweeter. A hole beneath the bass driver, which Edifier calls the “bass reflex port” enhances low frequencies. This three-piece array should produce clear audio, with a fair balance of bass, midrange, and treble frequencies.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the P17’s classy, wooden frame, and black speaker grates, which create a timeless look that will fit in with any room.

Buy: Edifier P17 at $89.99

BEST FOR SURROUND SOUND: Pioneer SP-BS22A-LR

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Pioneer’s SP-BS22A-LR is the latest set of speakers designed for the company by Andrew Jones, one of the most famous speaker designers of all time.

At $329, they’re more expensive than Pioneer’s previous generation, but that’s because they’re designed to work in a Dolby Atmos surround sound system. The speakers, which are 22.9 inches tall, 10.8 inches wide, and 17.3 inches deep have three drivers: A four inch woofer, one inch tweeter facing forward, and a four-inch woofer facing upward.

In a Dolby Atmos system, sound will be routed upward and forward to create a true, 360-degree audio experience. Classic albums and movies like Abbey Road and The Matrix have been remastered to include a Dolby Atmos mix, and more will follow soon.

These speakers will shine as part of a surround sound home theater system, but they’re also a solid pick if you need a stereo pair. They’re passive, so you’ll need to hook them up to a stereo receiver. These are the ideal bookshelf speakers to get if you’re building an audiophile surround sound system piece by piece.

Buy: Pioneer SP-BS22A-LR at

BEST AUDIOPHILE PICK: ELAC Uni-fi UB5 Bookshelf Speaker

elac-bookshelf-speakers-review

Amazon

We mentioned speaker designer Andrew Jones earlier, and his work is on full display with ELAC’s UB5. The speaker displays what he’s capable of when creating speakers for more serious audiophiles.

The UB5s have a 5 1/4-inch woofer made out of aluminum with a four-inch midrange cone inside of it, and a one-inch soft dome tweeter. The two drivers are positioned concentrically (overlapping on top of one another),to create a better balance between bass, midrange, and treble frequencies.

This concentric design was custom made for these ELAC speakers, so their sound will stand out against the other options in this guide.

If there’s one commonality between this pair of speakers and the ones Andrew Jones designed for Pioneer, it’s its bigger size. The UB5s measure 10.8 x 7.9 x 12.8 inches, and weigh 35.9 pounds. These speakers are a serious piece of audio equipment, so you’ll really need the right space to take advantage of them.

Buy: ELAC Uni-fi UB85 Bookshelf Speakers at $499.99

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