Floorstanding and Bookshelf Speakers - Which Is Right For You?

Cerwin Vega VE Series and LG Tall Boy Speakers
Cerwin Vega VE Series and LG Tall Boy Speakers. Images provided by Cerwin Vega and LG

Loudspeakers have to sound good, but another important is how they fit into your room size and decor. With that in mind, loudspeakers come in two main exterior physical types: Floorstanding and Bookshelf. However, within those two categories, there is a lot of variation in terms of size and shape.

Floorstanding Speakers

From the beginning of Hi-Fidelity sound, floorstanding speakers have been the favored type of speaker for serious music listening.

What make floorstanding speakers is a preferred option is that they don't need to placed on a table or stand, are a large enough to house multiple speaker drivers, which may include a tweeter for the high frequencies, midrange for dialog and vocals, and woofer for low frequencies.

Some floorstanding speakers might also include an additional passive radiator, or front or rear port (Bass Reflex) that is used to extend low frequency output. In fact, there are some floor standing speakers that actually include a built-in powered subwoofer that really extends low frequency performance.

However, floorstanding speakers don't necessarily need to be big and bulky, another floorstanding speaker design that takes a very slim approach is referred to as the "Tall Boy" speaker, which is sometimes used in home theater-in-a-box systems (see example in the photo attached to this article).

As an additional note, floorstanding speakers are sometimes referred to as tower speakers.

An example of a floorstanding speaker is the Fluance XL5F.

An example of floorstanding speakers with built-in powered subwoofers is the Definite Technology BP9000 Series.

Bookshelf Speakers

Another common speaker design that is available, is referred to as a Bookshelf speaker. As their name implies, these speakers are more compact than floorstanding speakers, and although some are small enough to fit on bookshelf, most are actually larger, but can easily sit on a table, placed on a stand, and can even be mounted on a wall.

Bookshelf speakers typically have a "box" design, but there are some that nothing more than small cubes (Bose), and some are spherical (Orb Audio, Anthony Gallo Acoustics).

However, due their size, although some bookshelf speakers actually have a better low frequency response than you might expect, for serious music listening and movie viewing, it is best to pair bookshelf speakers with a separate subwoofer for access to those lower bass frequencies.

Bookshelf speakers are a better match when integrated into a home theater surround sound setup. In this case, the bookshelf speakers are used for the front and surround left and right channels, while a subwoofer is used for bass.

One example of a bookshelf speaker is the SVS Prime Evelation

Center Channel Speakers

Also, there is a variation of the Bookshelf that is referred to as a center channel speaker. This type of speaker is used most commonly in a home theater speaker setup.

A center channel speaker typically has a horizontal design. In other words, while floorstanding and standard bookshelf speakers house speakers in vertical arrangement (usually with the tweeter on the top, and the midrange/woofer below the tweeter), a center channel speaker often times has two midrange/woofers on its left and right side, and a tweeter in the middle.

This horizontal design enables the speaker to placed above or below a TV or video projection screen, either on a shelf or mounted on a wall.

LCR Speakers

Another type of speaker form factor, that is specially designed for home theater use, is referred to as an LCR speaker. LCR means Left, Center, Right. What this means, is that inside a single horizontal cabinet, an LCR speaker houses speakers for the left, center, and right channels in a home theater setup.

Because of their wide horizontal design, LCR speakers outwardly look like a sound bar, and are sometimes referred to as passive sound bars. The reason for the passive designation, is that unlike "real" sound bars, an LCR speaker requires connection to external amplifiers or a home theater receiver in order to produce sound.

However, exclusive of the way it has to be connected, its physical design still has some of the advantages of a sound bar, as you don't need separate left/right bookshelf and center channel speakers - their functions are in-cased in an all-in-one space-saving cabinet.

So, Which Type Of Speaker Design Is Best?

Whether you need to choose a Floorstanding, Bookshelf, or LCR Speaker for your home audio/home theater setup is really up to you, but here are some things to take into consideration.

If you are interested in dedicated serious stereo music listening, consider floorstanding speakers, as they typically provide a full range sound that is good match for music listening.

If you are interested in serious music listening, but don't have space for floorstanding speakers, then consider a set of bookshelf speakers for the left and right channels, and a subwoofer for the lower frequencies.

For a home theater setup, you have the option using floorstanding or bookshelf speakers for the front left and right channels, but consider bookshelf speakers for the surround channels - and, of course, compact center channel speaker that can be placed above or below a TV or video projection screen.

However, even if you are using floorstanding speakers for the front left and right channels, it is still advisable to add a subwoofer for the extreme low frequencies that are common in movies. However, one exception to this rule is if you have a floorstanding left and right channel speakers that have their own built-in powered subwoofers.

No matter what type of speaker (or speakers) you think you need or desire, before making a final purchase decision, you should take advantage of any listening opportunities, starting with friends and neighbors that have stereo and/or home theater speaker setups, as well as going to a dealer that has dedicated sound room for demonstrating different types of speaker.

Also, when you venture out for listening tests, take some of your own CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray Discs, and even music on your smartphone so you can hear what the speakers sound like with your favorite music or movies.

Of course, the final test comes when you get your speakers home and hear them in your room environment - and although you should be satisfied with the results, do make sure you inquire about any product return privileges.