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floorstanding vs. bookshelf (2 channel system)

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21 replies to this topic

#1 of 22 OFFLINE   David Walker

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Posted April 10 2003 - 11:23 AM

Which is superior? I've heard that until you're ready to put $2000 into floors, bookshelves are better. Yet, I've heard that bookshelves (without a sub) cannot give you enough bass for "the full experience." What's the verdict? I was just about ready to plunk down $800ish on a pair of bookshelves for my 2 channel system, but when calling local places for prices, found time and time again the salesmen recommending floorstanders for the same price or maybe a little more. It seems that there are GREAT bookshelves to be had for only $500-600, and maybe the next step up from these should be full size. I use this board for advice a lot, only because I respect you guys' opinions so much. So, on this, what do you think? I'm not asking for a product rec's (yet at least!), but really just curious about the topic.

#2 of 22 OFFLINE   Greg_R



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Posted April 10 2003 - 12:31 PM

Assuming $800, here are some gross generalizations: Floorstanding speakers: - Better bass extension - Potentially better dynamics / impact - No $$$ for stands Bookshelf speakers: - "tighter" sound (less cabinet resonances) - better imaging / soundstage (with proper positioning) - have to buy stands I would go with the bookshelf speakers unless you have no intention of ever getting a subwoofer. With the bookshelves you can add a sub and get the best of both worlds (bass extension, dynamics, etc.). Now when you get into the $3k+ range I feel that floorstanding speakers offer some advantages over bookshelf speakers.

#3 of 22 OFFLINE   David Walker

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Posted April 10 2003 - 01:47 PM

Greg, so are you saying that a good bookshelf pair with an added sub can definitely outperform an $800 pair of standalones as a whole?

#4 of 22 OFFLINE   Craig_Kg


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Posted April 10 2003 - 01:53 PM

It needs to be a very good, tight sub - if you include the sub in the $800, I'd say no.
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#5 of 22 OFFLINE   David Walker

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Posted April 10 2003 - 02:12 PM

What about throwing another variable into the mix...room size. Obviously a pair of bookshelves can better fill a small room with sound than it can in a larger room. But in that same small room, put a pair of floorstanders. Is the quality going to be much better than the bookshelves? In other words, is there a sound degradation from floorstanders when you put them in a smaller room? Will it fill up the room too much with sound? Is that possible?

#6 of 22 OFFLINE   Scott Oliver

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Posted April 10 2003 - 05:01 PM

Personally, I don't think there are any REALLY good floorstanders to be had for $800, whereas their are a lot of good bookshelf options.

But don't take my word for it go out and listen to some stuff around town.

If you are worried about bass, take my suggestion on the used pair of Audio Note speakers on Audiogon right now. They can get low, as their specs show.
Model AN-J - 2-way rear ported, 1" tweeter, 8" bass driver, -6dB @ 28hz and 22khz, 93-94dB/w/m efficient. Priced from $2,450/pr (XL) to $20,350/pr (SEC Silver w/top veneer and piano lacquer). Dimensions:23"Hx13"Wx9.25"D
Audiogon ad here:

#7 of 22 OFFLINE   Brett DiMichele

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Posted April 10 2003 - 09:24 PM


Okay how about for $1000.00/PR

Can any good Towers be had for that price?

I am curious to see your answer (I probably don't agree but
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#8 of 22 OFFLINE   Steve_Ma


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Posted April 10 2003 - 10:40 PM

The definition of "good speakers" is way to subjective. My opinion: There are solid offerings in that price range. So what's the plan? Are you budgeting for a sub or not? If not, the answer is easy. You'll need towers. If you are getting a sub the decision gets tougher. I believe that most towers still need a sub to fill out the really low stuff. Do a search and you'll see this issue has been debated ad-nauseum. Also, I have my tower speakers and a sub both placed in a rather small and awkwardly shaped room. I'm fortunate that the room (and furnishings) gives me a real solid bass response and the system sounds decent with no EQ'ing. My point is that I don't think towers necessarily overwhelm a small room. Good Luck, --Steve

#9 of 22 OFFLINE   Greg_R



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Posted April 11 2003 - 11:35 AM

I don't want to use 'good' and 'bad'. I would say that for $800 (or even $1k) you can purchase a set of bookshelf speakers that will have a tighter sound and better imaging/soundstage than a $1k floorstander. The floorstanding speaker will have greater extension. There are certainly some good (IMO) tower speakers in this price range. I just feel that the best bang/buck is with a sub/sat system (given the budget). For a $2k example, compare the Paradigm Studio 40s (w. $1k sub) to the Studio 100s. Here's some reasons why: - a smaller enclosure is less expensive to build, ship and store (thus more $$$ is used in the parts, design, or enclosure). - the smaller panels in a bookshelf are less likely to resonate. A vibrating enclosure is a form of distortion (bad). - A subwoofer will handle the low frequency duties (giving you better bass extension). - A subwoofer allows for optimal placement of the sub driver for in-room response (usually in a different position than the mains which are placed for imaging). - No low frequencies in the mains free up additional power in the amplifier. This results in better dynamics and lower distortion in your mains. Tower speakers are likely to have greater SPL capability and dynamic response (due to the driver displacement). However, I find that a good bookshelf speaker is capable of plenty of SPL and impact in my (medium sized) room. My biased suggestion: If you never plan on getting a sub (I don't know why) then get a set of $800 tower speakers. If you plan on getting a sub when budget permits, then get the bookshelf speakers now and get a sub later. If you only have $800 then get a sub/sat system (i.e. like a set of JBL N or S series bookshelves + a Adire Rava or Hsu VTF-2).

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Posted April 11 2003 - 12:47 PM

Something else to consider. Some speakers (monitors and even some towers) require or almost require a sub for music (to play the normal music dynamic range...organs and synths are an exception). With HT, I think a sub is pretty much a requirement for the full experience.

Because I didn't want to use a sub with music, I built some "music full range" monitors. They are on the large size for a monitor, but not quite a tower either.

here are two speakers that fit that particular bill:

I happened to build the Ushers since I was more on a budget.
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#11 of 22 OFFLINE   David Walker

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Posted April 11 2003 - 06:32 PM

from what it sounds like, just about everyone is leaning towards the booshelves.... I'm leaning that way too. And now that I think about it, I probably will add a sub when the time is right, so great bookshelf speakers just seem logical. Hopefully the lack of bass won't be unbearable in the meantime though.

#12 of 22 OFFLINE   Scott Oliver

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Posted April 12 2003 - 10:46 AM

If you can find a bookshelf at this price range that can reach the 40-50 Hz range, I think you will find them very satisfying for music reproduction in terms of bass. I believe the low end of the bass guitar is in the 40 Hz range and just a few other real instruments go below that (big drums, organ)

Speakers cutting off in the 60-80 Hz range will however probably be unsatisfying in the bass region, and adding a sub would need to be a much higher priority. That is if you play music that has bass on it, if you are just listening to jazz and chamber music all the time then you would never know the difference, but I doubt that is all you listen to. Posted Image

#13 of 22 OFFLINE   Tony Genovese

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Posted April 12 2003 - 01:11 PM

These will give almost all of it within (or just slightly above) your price range:


They can be had here:


A local dealer will probably get them to you for close to $800 if you push them.

No need for a sub for music with these puppies... unless you want to listen to organ music.

#14 of 22 OFFLINE   Jeff Kohn

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Posted April 13 2003 - 03:49 AM

I'll just point out that the "booshelves image better" point no longer really holds, plenty of manufacturers make towers that are just as slim as their bookshelves, only they extent to the floor instead of needing a stand. You can get plenty of imaging from good towers. If I had $800 to spend on a pair of speakers for music, I'd get the Axiom M60ti's. No need for a sub with music, and they sound great.
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#15 of 22 OFFLINE   John Garcia

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Posted April 13 2003 - 04:45 AM

I am not a fan of floorstanders, both of my systems use bookshelf speakers. However, for music ONLY, if you are looking for some impact, clean bass without messing with a x-over, I would have to say floorstanders would be the way to go. My current second system is music only, as is the one I am building to replace it with, and I will still be using bookshelf speakers because I am not looking for extreme amounts of bass, but rather clear, clean midrange. This system uses no sub.
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#16 of 22 OFFLINE   Walt Park

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Posted April 13 2003 - 04:52 AM

I've always felt that towers try to be a catchall, but catchall's almost always have to compromise something. If you want the best imaging and the bass extension, why not go with a bookshelf, and a sub. Until you get into car priced speakers, a decent sub will have better/cleaner bass extension than towers. If you think about it, how is the catchall going to compete with a sub, when the sub is specifically designed to make good clean bass. If you want to go to the obscene with towers, we can go even more obscene with subs and infinite baffles. Then think about imaging/soundstage. Once you cut out the difficulty in driving the bass, the midbass/woofer can concentrate alot more on a narrower range. The tweet is usually isolated more or less anyway, so it's gain is in not competing for clean power with the bass that would have to be handled in a tower. Bass sucks up tons of power to make, so by using a sub, your amp can do a better job on working the higher freq's that do imaging/soundstage. Face it, bass does not image. Also by separating the bass, and keeping it smaller, there's no big driver throwing juice into the power backwards when it recoils, so there's less noise to the speakers doing the imaging/staging. Ok, now lets look at the narrow baffle theory. If you want to say that a narrower baffle sounds more precise, then it's basically a function of surface area that is reflecting. If you had the same driver arrangement in a bookshelf on stands, there's that much less reflecting from the front. A good stand is stable, and does not reflect sound. If you want to say that the tower is the stand, you might be able to say it's stable, but you cant really say it doesn't reflect sound. The nuts are rounding the edges of the speaker, esp the fronts to reduce that surface even more. As with anything, if you have enough money to throw at it, you can get a great pair of big speakers. Like a line array, which moves insane amounts of air, with nice ribbons from floor to ceiling, and will probably spank the sub/sat, but um.. Their big, and expensive, which is a problem for people both space and budget wise. Anyway, I think under most circumstances, a nice pair of small speakers with a sub will sound better than towers. Size is not everything.

#17 of 22 OFFLINE   FrantzM


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Posted April 13 2003 - 05:58 AM

Hi List Given a good amplifier and a medium sized room. The PSB Image 5 T is a solid performer at $800, the pair. Floorstanding with surprising amount of bass and yes excellent imaging. Frantz

#18 of 22 OFFLINE   Lewis Besze

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Posted April 13 2003 - 06:46 AM

Just last week I auditioned the Vienna Acoustics "Haydn",a very small bookshelf.I also auditioned Boston Acoustic's floorstander with built in subs[powered].The Haydn was simply in different leauge,it left the large Bostons in the dust,when considering imaging,soundstage,midrange purity,[transperancy],they also had surprisingly good amount of bass,for it's size.Yes the only area it give up to the Bostons were the low end. BTW they both cost @$1000.00 a pair. I just replaced My Def Tech towers with Polk LSI 9's. I plan on to write a "review" on them soon.

#19 of 22 OFFLINE   MarkO


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Posted April 13 2003 - 09:39 AM

As others already mentioned,,The most important aspect is matching the speaker to the room it will be used in.

#20 of 22 OFFLINE   Brian Bunge

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Posted April 13 2003 - 11:00 AM

If you're looking for big dynamics and have a large room then I prefer 3-way towers using multiple 8" or larger drivers. I feel that they aleviate a lot of the bass/midbass duties from the smaller 5.25"-6.5" woofers in 2-way speakers. Then I would use a quality subwoofer with a crossover in the 60Hz range if possible. Otherwise, in a smaller room I'd prefer monitor sized speakers with a quality sub and an 80Hz crossover. Lewis, concerning the VA's vs. the BA's, that's exactly what I would expect you to hear. IMHO, they're geared towards two very different types of customers with the VA's geared more towards a 2-channel crowd and the BA's geared more towards HT. If I have to have a system that must pull double duty then I always go for the more musical speakers first.
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