How to Buy Bookshelf Speakers?

by admin on August 18, 2014

High-quality sound used to be reserved for large or floor standing speakers. However, today’s consumers can purchase great sounding compact speakers in a wide variety of price ranges. Bookshelf speakers are small speakers that can fit on shelves in living rooms, dens, dining rooms, bedrooms, and typically any other space inside a home. Buying the right bookshelf speakers depends on the buyer’s needs and budget. Some speakers are better for home entertainment systems while others work well for music.

Learning about the different components of bookshelf speakers, along with their various sizes and technical aspects, can help consumers choose the best speaker for their requirements. Before buyers commit to a specific brand or style they should educate themselves on the basics of bookshelf speakers.

Learn About Bookshelf Speakers

Bookshelf speakers are consumer-grade speakers meant for a stereo or home theater system. They are compact and designed to be placed on a raised surface, such as a shelf or table. There are some bookshelf speakers which are wall mountable as well. Sizes of bookshelf speakers range from about four inches to seven inches in height. Buyers can purchase bookshelf speakers as part of a five-piece home theater package or separately as a two-piece set. The invention of separate subwoofer components has made it possible to create high-quality bookshelf speakers. The smaller speakers no longer carry the heavy bass sounds and can focus on transmitting high frequency waves. Consumers can find full-range bookshelf speakers that don’t require any separate components; but, remember that high-quality sound commands a premium price.

Hertz, Watts, and Decibels

Bookshelf speakers  shoppers will find three common unit of measure used to describe the different functionalities of the speaker components: Hertz, watts, and decibels. Hertz (Hz) is a unit of sound frequency used to measure various sound levels in speakers. Humans can hear between 20-2000 Hz. Watts (W) measure the rate of energy conversion or transfer. Decibels (dB) are used to measure the intensity of a particular sound. The more decibels a speaker outputs, the louder it will be. Hertz are defined by cycles per second while watts are expressed in joules per second. When shopping for speakers, remember that the lower the hertz number, the heavier the bass sound while be. Use the wattage rating of a bookshelf speaker to measure what kind of amplifier to use with it. Try to match a 100-watt speaker with a 100-watt amp. Buyers looking for very loud speakers should purchase equipment that can reach a high decibel level.

Bookshelf Speaker Uses

Some buyers want bookshelf speakers to play music while others want to hook them up to a television set and DVD player. Some speakers are meant for playing low while others sound better at louder volumes. Picking a great set of bookshelf speakers means choosing the right speakers for a person’s individual needs. Some speakers are designed more for stereo use while others sound better as part of a surround sound ensemble. When buying bookshelf speakers, purchase products that are designed for specific uses.

Bookshelf Speaker Components

Before buying, shoppers should research the different parts of a bookshelf speaker. Most speakers consist of two drivers, a cabinet, and a crossover network. These parts work together in harmony to produce different types of sound and various levels of quality. Buyers in the market for bookshelf speakers should evaluate all the different components of their perspective speakers

Speaker Drivers

Drivers, also known as cones, are the mechanisms inside a speaker that convert electrical energy into sound waves. Bookshelf speakers will commonly have two drivers, a woofer, and a tweeter. A woofer produces low-frequency sounds commonly known as bass, reaching 40 to 1000 Hertz. Tweeters, on the other hand, emit high frequencies, up to 20 kilohertz. Some speakers will only have a tweeter while others only contain a woofer. In this case, buyers will need to purchase complementary speakers in order to enjoy a full range of sound.

Additionally, driver types include midrange drivers, which, as the name suggests, offer a mid-frequency sounds. Midrange drivers are found in three-way multi-driver speaker systems and produce 500 to 3000 Hz. Subwoofers produce deep sounds and are dedicated solely to producing bass sounds from 20 Hz to 200 Hz. This is the lowest end of the spectrum. Lastly, full range drivers do the work of a woofer, midrange, and tweeter with a single driver. Bookshelf speaker buyers should be cautious of purchasing an inexpensive full range speaker; high-quality sound generally commands a premium.

Any speaker that reaches 50 Hz or lower is considered full range. Full range speakers only require a subwoofer addition in the case of multi-channel home theater units

Crossover Network

Crossover networks divide the frequencies between the two or three drivers. A high-quality crossover network will keep high and low frequencies separated via a low-pass filter (LPF) and a high-pass filter (HPF). Two-way crossovers will divide the frequency range between two speakers while a three-way crossover separates the sounds between three speakers. The crossover point is the level at which the LPF and HPF roll off the different frequencies. Crossover points for two-way systems hover around 2,300 Hertz, or cycles per second. In three-way systems, midrange drivers work with the crossover network to supplement the work of the woofer and tweeter.

Cabinet

The container holding the components of a bookshelf speaker together is known as the cabinet. Cabinets can be metal, wood, or fiberboard, and different types produces unique sounds. Cabinets should be sturdy and rigid to absorb the driver’s vibration

Cabinet designs are split into two main categories, though other types do exist. The most common is a sealed enclosure, also known as an acoustic suspension enclosure. These are completely sealed, meaning no air can escape. This produces a very deep bass. These types are not as efficient as a bass reflex design which relies on an opening, known as a port, to push sound waves out. Although the overall sound level is increased, precision decreases in a bass reflex system.

Bookshelf Speaker Specifications

When choosing bookshelf speakers, buyers should carefully review the speakers’ specs. However, for most novices, the numbers and measurements don’t really mean much. Learning about the different specifications manufacturers use to describe and rank their speakers can help consumers choose the right product for their individual needs.

Frequency Response

Also known as frequency range, frequency response refers to the range of sounds a speaker can reproduce. A good speaker system will use a combination of tweeters and woofers to replicate sounds as naturally as possible. It will be able to produce low basses and very high frequencies.

Those without concern for budget should look for very deep, high-quality bass. Consumers who want a lower priced item should search for speakers with extended high frequency response. Buyers in the market for stereo bookshelf speakers will most likely be satisfied with a mid-range speaker. The best speakers will have a solid balance between high and low frequencies. Speakers with too much emphasis on high frequencies might sound pitchy while speakers that are overly focused on bass might sound boomy or too tonal.

Full frequency response speakers produce very high-quality, incredibly realistic sound. However, most bookshelf speakers are made with restricted frequency response and are capable of reaching 45-20,000 Hz. Typical restricted frequency response variances range from .5 dB to 3 dB. The smaller the variance, the better the sound will be.

Impedance

Impedance measures the resistance to electricity an amplifier and speaker driver will encounter. Impedance is generally expressed as 4, 8, or 16 ohms. These measurements are helpful for matching speakers and amps together because poorly matched equipment could sound distorted. While impedance rankings aren’t an exact science since the measurement varies with frequency, bookshelf speakers should be bought with an 8 ohm impedance.

Voltage Sensitivity and Power Handling

When hooking up a bookshelf speaker to an amplifier, pay attention to its voltage sensitivity, and power handling, also known a wattage rating. Voltage sensitivity refers to how loud a speaker will play for a given voltage, typically expressed by X dB per X V input. For bookshelf speakers, consumers will want an efficiency of at least 86 dB or higher. Most likely, consumers will be hooking up small amps to these speakers, so a higher decibel ranking is preferable.

The power handling or wattage rating is the amount of power a speaker can handle without damage. Look over the speaker’s wattage and try to match it up to an amplifier’s wattage. Try to not to use an amp that is too small or too large to prevent damage and sound distortion.

Bookshelf Speaker Size

Many believe the old adage “bigger is better” when it comes to speakers. However, technological advances have dramatically improved the sound quality of smaller speakers. While it’s true larger floor speakers generally produce greater sounds and have the space for more complicated internal mechanisms, the booming sound of a compact bookshelf speaker can certainly rival its bigger counterparts. Also, bookshelf speakers are typically less expensive than floor speakers, which is an added bonus.

Most bookshelf speakers are six inches to twenty-four inches tall. The largest practical size for a bookshelf speaker is approximately twenty-four inches tall by twelve inches wide. If buying speakers on the smaller side, purchase a subwoofer to go along with the speakers to maximize sound. Just remember size it only a small factor in determining bookshelf speaker quality.

Bookshelf Speaker Accessories

Bookshelf speakers aren’t all that useful without other equipment to hook it up to. If buyers don’t already have a home entertainment or stereo system at home, they will need to purchase suitable equipment. Additionally, consumers will need a place to put their speakers, as bookshelf speakers aren’t free-standing.

Stereo System

Consumers in the market for a stereo system will want to hook up their speakers to anamplifier with an AM/FM radio tuner, CD player, and a docking station for their Mp3 player. Buyers might also buy a subwoofer if their speaker doesn’t have great woofer drivers. When purchasing components separately, make sure to voice-match the speakers by staying in the same family or brand so the sound doesn’t get distorted.

Home Theater System

Obviously, consumers wishing to experience a home theater will need a television setto hook up their bookshelf speakers to. Buyers will also probably want surround sound speakers for maximum sound experience, as well as subwoofers. A DVD player is also an important addition to a home theater system. Consumers can choose to join their home theater system with their stereo system.

Bookshelf Speaker Stands

Contrary to their name, the best place for bookshelf speakers is not on a bookshelf. When placed on a bookshelf, the sound will be absorbed by the furniture and the wall behind it. Metal and solid stands are available with rubber grips to sit steadily on carpet or hard floor. Stands should reach ear level when the listener is seated. Place speaker stands as far away from the wall as possible and don’t crowd the area with objects that will block the noise.

Wall Mounts

Buyers who don’t want to put their bookshelf speakers on stands can opt to mount them to a wall. There are different types of wall mounts; some are adjustable, some are mounted shelves that protrude from the wall, while others are stationary mounts that attach to the back of the speaker.

Audio Cables

Most speakers and systems will come with the required cables but sometimes extra wiring components are needed. This is especially true for those purchasing used speakers. Consumers might need subwoofer cables, speaker wires, stereo cables, banana wires, and more. Always read over packaging before purchasing to learn the specific parts needed to make the speakers operate. When buying on eBay, ask the seller about extra cables if that information isn’t readily available.

Researching Bookshelf Speaker Brands

Some top bookshelf speaker brands include Bose, Sony, Polk, Pioneer, Bowers and Wilkins, Definitive Technology, MartinLogan, and Mirage. This is not an exhaustive list by any means, as there are over 500 brands of home electronic manufacturers. Always research a specific brand before buying. Read customer reviews, talk to home electronics experts, and visit company websites. Some brands have better reputations than others. Certain brands will definitely be pricier than their competitors.

Buying Bookshelf Speakers and Accessories

Bookshelf speakers can be found in large electronic stores, music stores, specialty shops, through Internet retailers, and on online auctions sites like eBay . Be prepared to ask the retailer or eBay seller about compatibility and installation. The seller should be knowledgeable and helpful to ensure buyers are purchasing the right product. When purchasing bookshelf speakers with additional items, it’s best to buy them together. Many electronics won’t work well (or at all) with accessories of a different brand.

Conclusion

Thanks to today’s advanced technology, loud, high-quality sound can come from small bookshelf speakers. Bookshelf speakers are great additions to a home theater system or stereo system. For electronic novices, buying bookshelf speakers can seem confusing due to the technological terms used to describe them. Remember that Hz, dB, and W are units of measure to describe a speaker’s sound. The speakers themselves are composed of drivers, a crossover network, and a cabinet. Different specifications of speakers include frequency response, impedance, power handling, and voltage sensitivity. These specs are important for knowing what kind of sound will come out of the speakers as well as matching them with other equipment. Bookshelf speakers are sold in many electronic stores as well as online at sites like amazon

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