The best bookshelf speakers solve a question every music lover has had to face: How do I get great sound without taking up a lot of space? In the speaker world, bigger typically means better because the space is used for larger drivers (the part of a speaker that produces sound). Bigger speakers, typically called floor-standing speakers, also have the luxury of having multiple drivers — one dedicated for bass, midrange, and treble frequencies.
The best bookshelf speakers offer a similar level of audio quality, but come in a far smaller package. You're giving up some fidelity in the name of space, but it's a fair tradeoff. You're talking about speakers that could literally fit on the shelf of a bookshelf, and wouldn't look out of place on a media console, office desk, or either side of a turntable. A good set of bookshelf speakers should last many years, if not a lifetime, so it's worth making a bigger investment if you care about audio quality. If you're interested in speakers that sound better than the ones coming out of your laptop or computer monitor in your now-permanent home office, a less expensive bookshelf pair will easily clear the bar.
Whether this is your first foray into the world of serious audio, or you're itching for an upgrade to the entry-level speakers you've used for years, these are the best bookshelf speakers right now.
How We Picked the Best Bookshelf Speakers
Recommending speakers is difficult because what constitutes "good sound" can vary substantially from person to person. The genre of music you like, the way it was mastered, the shape of your room, your volume tolerance, how far away you sit from the speakers, how you position them, and the way you plan to use them all play a part in how they'll sound. And that's before we get into the fact that every pair of ears is different, and humans begin to hear fewer frequencies as we get older.
So we've tried to be as objective as possible when evaluating speakers. We’ve subjected them to various tests, which you can read about here. By playing music from different genres, in different formats, at different volume levels, we've gotten a pretty good handle on the type of sound we're looking for, which is generally regarded as "flat," meaning bass, midrange, and treble frequencies aren't artificially inflated. This gives you the freedom to go into your phone, tablet, computer, or A/V receiver's EQ (equalization) settings and make tweaks that suit your ears. Instead of undoing someone else's work, you'll be doing your own.
Size: All bookshelf speakers are smaller than their floor-standing siblings, but they can still vary quite a bit in size. We've chosen bookshelf speakers that are small enough to fit unobtrusively from the sides of your desk, to bigger ones that were designed to be used as part of a home-theater system. A bookshelf speaker's size typically dictates the best way to use them: Smaller speakers for more casual listening, bigger speakers for a more audiophile experience.
Drivers: We mentioned earlier that drivers were the part of a speaker that creates sound. For the best possible experience, you'll want a bookshelf speaker that has multiple drivers. Don't get us wrong, we've heard — and will recommend — great single-driver bookshelf speakers, but there's no denying the fact that multi-driver systems simply sound better.
Inputs: Some bookshelf speakers were designed for one purpose: To be connected to an A/V receiver. Newer ones are self-contained speaker systems that can be connected to a computer, TV, or any other device. In the latter case, we're recommending bookshelf speakers with a wide assortment of inputs, from USB-C to optical audio and RCA (red and white). The more inputs a speaker has, the more ways they can be used. We like single-use gadgets, although in the case of bookshelf speakers, this multi-functionality comes at the cost of audio quality.
Powered or Unpowered: Bookshelf speakers come in two styles: Unpowered (known as passive) wherein the speaker doesn't have any built-in amplification, and powered, wherein the speaker has a built-in amp and can be used independently of an A/V receiver. We'll get into the pros and cons of each style a little later, but this is one of the first decisions you'll have to make when deciding which bookshelf speaker is right for you. Find out more about how we test audio gear.
Best Bluetooth Speakers: Reviews and Recommendations
Best Overall: Q-Acoustics 3030i
Why They Made The Cut: You won't find a better-sounding (or looking) pair of bookshelf speakers than Q-Acoustics' 3030is.
— Size: 12.6 inches tall x 7.9 inches wide x 12.3 inches deep
— Type: Passive
— Inputs: N/A
— Excellent sound
— Timeless look
— World-class design
— Require external amplification
Q-Acoustics' 3030i bookshelf speakers are the definition of the idiom home run. From conception to execution, we can't think of a better pair of bookshelf speakers available right now.
The story starts with Q-Acoustics' seemingly tireless pursuit of aesthetic brilliance. The speakers will look good regardless of where you set them up, or the decor of your room. Their futuristic, minimalist industrial design is both eye-catching and understated. Let's be honest, the speakers just look cool. To cover their bases, Q-Acoustics offers its 3030i bookshelf speakers in four colors, which range from "arctic" white to "carbon" black.
The company spent just as much time designing the inside of the cabinet as the outside, ensuring the highest level of performance from a speaker this side. Using a custom point-to-point bracing system, which keeps both of the speaker's drivers — a 6.5-inch bass driver and .9-inch tweeter — from rattling when you crank the volume. In our experience, Q-Acoustics' point-to-point technology does make a difference, which is especially noticeable during softer passages of sparsely arranged songs, where such distortion is most noticeable.
We've spent time praising the design of the 3030i bookshelf speakers because it deserves to be recognized, but their appearance is matched by their near-flawless sound. We defy you to find a better sounding pair of bookshelf speakers anywhere near this price range. Music, whether it's acoustic or electric, modern pop or classic rock, hard bop jazz or contemporary classical sounds incredible when it comes out of these speakers. Q-Acoustics used the right components, positioned them in the perfect way, and let you handle the rest. How the speakers sound will depend, in part, on the audio quality of the music you select, and the amp you use, but we're certain Q-Acoustics' 3030i bookshelf speakers won't be the weak link in your setup. In fact, we're confident that they'll only elevate the system you have now.
If you're okay with setting up a pair of passive speakers that require external amplification — we have an A/V receiver recommendation if that's the case — run, don't walk to get a pair of Q-Acoustic 3030i bookshelf speakers. They're that good.
Best Budget: Edifier RT1280DBs
Why They Made The Cut: Edifier continually raises the bar on what we expect from sub-$150 speakers, and the RT1280DBs continue that trend.
— Size: 17 inches tall, 11.8 inches wide, 7.2 inches deep
— Type: Active
— Inputs: Two RCA, one optical audio, one coaxial, one subwoofer output.
— Physical EQ knobs
— Remote controlled
— No USB port
Budget audio gear is typically rife with compromises, but Edifier proves you don't need to spend a lot to get a lot with its R1280DBs bookshelf speakers.
Each speaker has a 4-inch bass driver and .5-inch tweeter, which should deliver solid sound. Our experience with Edifier's speakers has been universally positive, and this updated version of the venerable R12080DB should be no different. We're also fans of the wood grain cabinet Edifier uses for its speakers, which comes off classier in person than it might in photos.
Two features help set Edifier's R1280DBs apart from the pack in this price range: its physical EQ knobs, which allow you to adjust the way these speakers sound without touching a software setting, and the included remote. In our experience, the knobs on Edifier's speakers can change their sound pretty dramatically, and there's something aesthetically pleasing about physically changing the EQ. It makes you feel like you're more in control of the speakers' sound, and lets you make the subtlest of tweaks.
Edifier's remotes, though somewhat cheap-feeling, have done a good job in our tests. The ability to switch the speakers' input from across the room is convenient, especially if you want to use the R1280DBs' Bluetooth mode to wirelessly stream music. It's not that walking over to the speakers, turning them on, and switching the input is tedious, it's just that using the remote is nicer. Remotes are commonplace for more expensive active speakers, but are a welcome surprise in Edifier's less expensive models.
We've found that the EQ Edifier uses for its speakers to be mostly tasteful, but you can plug in a subwoofer if you want to pump up the bass. It's nice to be able to upgrade your setup later on if your needs change, so we appreciate the addition of a subwoofer output on this model. In fact, the R1280DBs have a wide range of inputs, which allows you to use them with lots of devices very easily. The only input they lack is a USB port, which is kind of a shame if you want to use them with a computer. Yes, you can use the included Y-cable to plug them into its headphone jack, but we've found the audio quality using a USB connection on speakers to be a little better.
Still, Edifier's R1280DBs are an excellent choice if you want good sound without breaking the bank.
Best Powered Speakers: Fluance Ai61
Why They Made The Cut: Fluance Ai61 are the Swiss Army knife of powered bookshelf speakers, and the best ones we've tested in quite some time.
— Size: 15.6 inches tall, 9.2 inches wide, 13.1 inches deep
— Type: Active
— Inputs: RCA, USB-C, Optical audio, subwoofer output, Bluetooth
— Impressive build quality
— A wide array of inputs
— Can be used passively
— Large size
We won't lie, Fluance's Ai61s can look a little imposing on a desk, but the company used that extra space to build in bigger drivers and a better amp. The 6.5-inch woofer and 1-inch tweeter continually allowed the Ai61s to punch above their weight sound-wise.
Indeed, the speakers revealed a surprising amount of clarity from the music we played. Background instruments sounded sharp, and we never encountered any harsh treble or overpowering bass during our tests. We did find the Ai61s a little bass heavy, but that's part of what you get when listening to music using a speaker with that big a woofer at close range. The sound mellowed out when we hooked up a turntable to the speakers, and we took a few steps back.
Fluance is quick to point out the fact that its speakers use precision-crafted wood cabinets, and feature premium materials like neodymium (magnetic metal) and glass fiber. In our experience, these details do make a difference in how speakers sound, since they're meant to reduce distortion or other audio anomalies. The drivers in a speaker vibrate when you play music, especially at high volumes, so using the right materials allow them to handle that movement without cracking or coming loose.
Overall, we were very pleased with the way the Ai61s were designed, and more importantly how they sounded. We highly recommend them to anyone with enough space on their desk.
The Ai61s' room-shaking sound is complemented by a wide array of inputs, including the USB-C port we missed on Edifier's R1280DBs. This was the input we used most often, with the Bluetooth mode coming in second. When it comes to inputs on bookshelf speakers, we're of the mind that the more the merrier, since they'll allow you to repurpose them if your listening habits change.
Fluance's Ai61 bookshelf speakers may look a little imposing when you first take them out of the box, but don't let that put you off. In a short period of time, you'll only be focusing on how they sound.
Best For Gamers: Razer Nommo Chroma
Why They Made The Cut: Razer's Nommo Chroma speakers were designed to fit seamlessly in a modern PC gaming setup thanks to the multi-color LEDs built into their base.
— Size: 5.5 inches tall, 6.7 inches wide, 8.6 inches deep
— Type: Active
— Inputs: USB, 3.5mm
— Upward-facing drivers
— Multi-color LEDs
— Desk-friendly size
— Single driver audio system
Gaming soundtracks have become increasingly sophisticated over the years, and deserve to be heard on better speakers than the weak-sounding ones built into a laptop or monitor. Razer is one of the most highly-regarded gaming PC makers around, so it's no surprise that its Nommo Chroma speakers are the perfect fit for a PC gamer's desk.
The speakers have a single-driver audio system, which will limit their overall sound quality, but Razer used a design trick that compensates for that in some way. The cylindrically shaped speakers are tilted upward, directly at your face, so sound will hit your ears more directly. The back of the speakers also feature a rear-firing bass port, which can also help round out the Nomma Chroma's performance by pushing low frequencies out the back of the speaker. You can also tune the bass of these speakers by twisting a physical control next to the volume knob.
While the Nommo Chroma speakers may not be able to compete head-to-head with some of the other speakers we're recommending, they'll certainly hold their own, and will be a big step up from the speakers built into laptops and monitors. Plus, the Nommo Chromas have one feature gamers will certainly appreciate: a programmable LED light array built into the base of each speaker. Colorful LEDs have become very popular in the PC gaming community because they add flair to a player's setup. The colors of these lights can be adjusted using an app called Razer Synapse available on Windows and MacOS.
You can connect the Nommo Chroma speakers to your computer with a USB cable, which is required if you want to use Razer Synapse to program their lights, or a standard 3.5mm audio cable. We like that Razer gives you the choice, even if one is clearly superior. Most speakers are designed exclusively with audio quality in mind, so it's nice to see Razer take a slightly different approach. The Nommo Chromas will sound solid, but they're designed for a specific community — gamers — that's typically overlooked by audio companies.
Most Sustainable: House Of Marley Get Together Duo
Why They Made The Cut: The Get Together Duo speakers have one of the most unique speaker designs we've ever come across, and are made from eco-friendly materials to boot.
— Size: 7.9 inches tall x 4.1 inches wide x 5.1 inches deep
— Type: Active
— Inputs: Two RCA inputs, one USB-C input, two auxiliary inputs, Bluetooth
— Made from sustainable materials
— Highly portable
— Can be used independently
— Smaller speakers produce less sound
If you want a pair of bookshelf speakers that were made with sustainability in mind, your only option is House of Marley's Get Together Duos, and given their quality, that's not such a bad thing.
The speaker cabinets are made out of natural bamboo, and wrapped in House of Marley's customRewind Fabric, which is made from 30 percent reclaimed hemp, 30 percent reclaimed organic cotton, and 40 percent recycled PET (polyethylene terephthalate) aka polyester. Not every component in these speakers is made sustainably, but the Get Together Duos are a lot more eco-friendly than most electronics. House of Marley has also committed to using 100 percent recyclable packaging for all of its gear.
On their surface, the Get Together Duos look like a typical pair of bookshelf speakers. They have a two driver audio system made up of 3.5-inch woofer and 1-inch tweeter. The speakers are very small, which will limit the amount of audio they can produce, but that's the only downside we could find with these speakers. If your space is limited, this con is actually a pretty significant pro.
Despite their small size, House of Marley packed the Get Together Duo bookshelf speakers with a lot of inputs. Each speaker has an RCA and auxiliary input, the left one has a USB-C port, too. The fact that both of these active speakers have inputs on them is strange, until you realize that each one can be used independently. At a desk, you can connect the two speakers like a traditional pair of stereo speakers. When you head outside, you can take the right speaker with you and use it as a wireless mono speaker, and stream music to it over Bluetooth.
This two-in-one approach is really cool, and unlike anything we've seen from similar speakers. It's not a feature you're likely to see in other speakers anytime soon, either, because the Get Together Duos were designed from the ground up to support it. The company says the right speaker can last up to 20 hours on a single charge, which is pretty good when compared to other Bluetooth speakers of a similar size.
If you care about the environment, and want a pair of Bluetooth speakers that can take care of your audio needs inside and outside of your home, House of Marley's Get Together Duos are the ones to get.
What to Consider When Getting a Pair of Bookshelf Speakers
Powered or Unpowered
The decision between getting powered and unpowered bookshelf speakers comes down to two factors: How do you want to use your speakers, and how much space do you have. Powered speakers are typically larger because of their built-in amplifier, but ultimately take up less space because you don't have to dedicate room to an A/V receiver, an audio component not known for its small size. Powered bookshelf speakers are also more convenient if you want to use them for multiple purposes — streaming to them via Bluetooth from your phone, hooking them up directly to a turntable without many wires, and plugging them into a TV. For most people, powered bookshelf speakers make the most sense.
That said, unpowered speakers have some distinct advantages. Because they don't have a built-in amp, there's more room for bigger drivers, which leads to better overall audio quality. Passive speakers can also last longer, because they don't have any electronics inside of them that can flake out over time. A single pair of high quality passive bookshelf speakers should last a lifetime, even as you upgrade the other components in your audio system. If you like longevity over flexibility, they're the way to go.
Some of the powered speakers we're recommending support wireless streaming standards like Bluetooth or AirPlay 2. If you want to have the most cable-free setup possible, getting a speaker with this feature is essential. Just be mindful of the fact that digital audio files are compressed when streamed over Bluetooth, so you will suffer a loss in quality in the name of convenience.
Q: How long do bookshelf speakers last?
Unlike most electronics, a pair of powered or unpowered bookshelf speakers should last a decade or more. The powered speakers we're recommending have the latest inputs and wireless standards used by computers, TVs, smartphones, and tablets.
Q: Should I get floor-standing speakers instead?
That depends. If you want the best-sounding speakers possible, and have a lot of space, floor-standing speakers offer the best possible experience.
Q: Are powered bookshelf speakers reliable?
Yes. In our tests, powered bookshelf speakers can last several years without showing signs of degradation.
Q: Which speaker cable should I get?
If you've chosen to get passive speakers, you'll need to get speaker cable to use them. It's easy to spend a lot of money on cables, but we recommend getting a set from Bluejeans. The company prides itself on making durable, high-quality cables that won't need to be upgraded or swapped out after a couple of years.
Q: Do powered speakers come with the appropriate cables?
Yes. In our experience, powered speaker makers include USB and optical audio cables, so you can use them with any source you want right out of the box.
Final Thoughts on Bookshelf Speakers
The rise of home offices, and apartment dwellers who crave good sound has been good for the bookshelf speaker. It's forced audio companies both big and small to find interesting ways to shrink down key audio components without losing quality. These same audio companies have had to refine their designs to reduce the amount of distortion created when the speaker vibrates while playing music.
Powered speaker makers have had the added bonus of making sure the amps they use are long-lasting. Still, bookshelf speakers are the audio component that's easiest to recommend to most people. They solve several common problems, namely how to get good-sounding audio without taking up tons of space. If you're ready to invest in audio gear, there's never been a better time to get bookshelf speakers.
This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.