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What is a Bookshelf Speaker? – Made For Home Use!

You may not be an audio enthusiast, but I’m sure you’ve seen this type of speaker before right? Perhaps you’ve noticed some people using them on shelves in their own living rooms, but never really thought they were anything special. Well, if you are hungry for more knowledge, then you must find out what is a Bookshelf Speaker!

In my experience, consumers in general don’t realise that there is a specific name for speakers of this design. Most people probably just view them as “regular” home speakers, built for casual listening uses. This observation isn’t exactly wrong, but there is much more to these speakers than you know. Hence, let us learn more about them!

Bookshelf Speaker – Made for the Shelves?

Otherwise known as “bookshelf loudspeaker”, a bookshelf speaker is basically a compact loudspeaker, designed to be suitable for consumer-level home audio applications. It is very commonly integrated as part of a shelf stereo pair or home theatre system. Due to its compact size, it is often placed on a raised surface such as a bookshelf.

Altec Lansing Speakers

A pair of Altec Lansing bookshelf loudspeakers

Here are the topics that we’ll be looking at:

  • History
  • Market developments
  • Home theatre applications

History

Back in the 50s and 60s, high quality consumer speakers were typically large and built into “floor-standing” speaker enclosures. On the other hand, small and compact speaker cabinets were very cheap, but widely regarded as low quality speakers. However, starting from the 1960s, several speaker manufacturers began producing more high-fidelity speakers with compact sizes.

Floorstanding speaker

Floor-standing speakers / Photo by Jacques / CC BY 2.0

There was an increasing demand for smaller sized speakers from hi-fi enthusiasts who lived in smaller apartments, and did not have the space to accommodate sound systems with large speaker enclosures. Thus, the bookshelf speaker was invented by Edgar Villchur, who along with his partner Henry Kloss, founded Acoustic Research.

Villchur’s primary invention was the “sealed box” design, which is an acoustic suspension that separates the woofer and other drivers in their own enclosed chambers. The drivers however, were much stiffer and smaller as compared to the earlier ported designs. The acoustic suspension design allows the air in the sealed box to function like a spring, preventing excessive excursions.

Market Developments

From the 90s onwards, various market and technical developments have resulted in the popularity of bookshelf speakers. Enhancements in mass-production technologies have made high-quality bookshelf speakers affordable for most consumers. Technical refinement in components such as amplifiers and signal processors, has upgraded the sound quality of affordable home sound systems, which strengthens the demand for more production.

Home Theatre Applications

Home theatre systems benefit a lot from the use of bookshelf speakers, since surround sound audio requires five or more speakers rather than the typical two-speaker setup for stereo systems. Instead of using large speakers, bookshelf speakers can now be used for the side, back, and sometimes the front and center channels. This helps to reduce cost and also save space.

home theatre

A typical 5.1 home theatre system / Photo by Paul Townsend / CC BY-SA 2.0

Furthermore, it is common for home theatre systems today, to include a dedicated subwoofer cabinet for the handling of low frequencies. This actually alleviates the technical burden of reproducing the lower frequencies from the other speakers. Hence, without the need for heavy, expensive low bass drivers and large speaker enclosures, the other speakers can be made smaller.

That’s all I have for you folks today. Do you have a pair of bookshelf speakers at home? How do you normally use them?

Let me know your thoughts down below, and do share this article!

Farhan

When I'm not rocking out to great music, I'd prefer to be sleeping on a field on a windy day =)

4 Comments

  1. I am somewhat of a music enthusiast and with that, I am always on the search for better quality, more visually appealing speakers. I do not use any kind of surround sound, it doesn’t usually sound as great I find while listening to music. I certainly appreciate bookshelf speakers better as it adds to the aesthetics of my computer setup (im a gamer, how my desktop looks is very important!) . Thanks for the write-up and history on how it all came to be.

    • Hello Andrew!

      Yeah, people typically do not need a surround sound setup when it comes to casual music listening. Such systems are geared more towards movies. I’m glad you found my article educational!

      Thanks a lot!

  2. Thanks for sharing this information! I certainly didn’t know that these speakers are called bookshelf speakers and it never occurred to me that they can be placed on a bookshelf! This is also because although they may be relatively compact already they are still quite big in size and take up a lot of space.

    • Hi Daniel!

      Happy to know that you’ve learnt something new today. Thanks for visiting!

      Cheers!

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