Our Sound Experts frequently get questions about the differences between and benefits of bookshelf and tower speakers. Choosing between bookshelf vs. tower speakers (also known as desktop and floorstanding speakers) can be a bit of a quandary, since each offers distinct advantages depending on the situation.
It’s not that one is better than the other, but rather – depending on your room, budget, and sound preferences – choosing between bookshelf vs. tower speakers becomes a lot easier when you can match the speaker to your specific scenario.
With that in mind, here are the three main factors you need to consider when choosing between bookshelf vs. tower speakers.
The amount of space you have in a room is an obvious concern when choosing between bookshelf vs. tower speakers. But it’s not just a matter of where you want to put your speakers and having enough space, it’s also about the dimensions of the room and how the frequencies and output will fill the space.
If you have a small room you should be fine with bookshelf or desktop speakers, especially if most of the listening happens in the nearfield, or close to the speakers. If you have a larger room, especially one with ample seating, tower speakers are the better choice due to their additional output/volume capabilities and fuller bass, without requiring a subwoofer
If you don’t have the floor space for tower speakers, but you do have a shelf or piece of furniture available, your choice is obvious. However, there are certain things to keep in mind:
- Bookshelf speakers can be stand-mounted if no furniture is available or if it fits the desired set-up.
- The verticality of tower speakers and the fact they they don’t need a stand can sometimes make them more space-friendly than bookshelf speakers with stands.
- If you already have or are planning on integrating a subwoofer to enhance bass with your desktop speakers (or tower speakers), you will have to account for additional shelf or floor space and the ideal placement location.
A huge factor to consider when choosing between bookshelf vs. tower speakers is, of course, the amount of money you have to spend.
Speakers can cost anywhere from $50 to more than $100,000. This incredibly wide range has to do with the various structural and mechanical elements that comprise a loudspeaker system and the wide range in the quality of materials that can be used for each of those elements.
Top performing floorstanding speakers usually start around $500 a piece, so if you’re on a really tight budget you’re probably better offer with desktop speakers, which start around $150 for mini bookshelf speakers (also known as satellite speakers) and $250 for full range bookshelf speakers.
Optimal Sound Quality At More Listening Positions
Even with careful placement, a single subwoofer will not have an optimal frequency response at all listening positions in the room. In any given room location, a subwoofer has a unique ‘modal pattern’ (standing waves with peaks/nulls) and associated frequency response at the listening position. Listeners will often notice that moving even a few feet away from the ‘sweet spot’ will often result in notably worse bass sound quality. With properly located dual subwoofers, the respective modal patterns will overlap, which greatly increases the modal density in the room. The result is a smoother frequency response at more listening positions in the room, with less potential for obvious peaks/nulls in the frequency response. This also makes it easier for auto-set-up programs like Audyssey MultEQ to equalize the subwoofer channel.
Last but certainly not least is the quality and type of sound you are seeking.
In general, a great sounding speaker should always embody a few key traits in order to deliver a truly immersive and convincing experience. This includes accuracy, refinement and the ability to remain true to the content – to delicately present subtle details and to make a dramatic but believable sonic statement when needed. Any great bookshelf or tower speaker must also possess room-energizing output capabilities and excellent dynamic range from sparkling highs to potent and well-defined bass.
On a more spiritual level, a great speaker should truthfully convey the emotional and sensory experience the director, musician or sound engineer intended us to feel and never get in the way. You should find yourself so immersed in the content that you forget you’re listening to speakers – that’s really the sign of a great speaker.
In terms of sound differences between desktop and tower speakers, there are two main factors to consider:
A speaker’s volume (also called “output” and “loudness”) is a function of the speaker’s “sensitivity”, or how effectively it converts power (watts) from the amplifier into volume (decibels). The more sensitive the speaker, the less power it needs from the amplifier to play loud. Tower speakers are generally more sensitive and hence able to produce more volume than desktop speakers, so if you’re looking to crank it up and blast the neighbors away, you’re probably better off with tower speakers.
Bass and Overall Sound Quality
For audiophiles and speaker addicts, this is perhaps the most controversial and hotly debated part of choosing between tower speakers vs. desktop speakers.
There are many who swear by the superior sound quality of bookshelf speakers supplemented with subwoofers to handle the bass, while just as many will tell you tower speakers are the way to go to get a fuller sound without the need of subwoofers. Ultimately, it depends on what you’re looking for in terms of sound and what your personal preferences are.
One of the most important elements of speaker sound quality is their ability to handle bass, and it’s one of the trickiest things to get right in a speaker. The bigger size of tower speakers allows them to move more air through the drivers than desktop or bookshelf speakers, which generally allows them to produce deeper, more impactful bass than standalone bookshelf speakers. Towers generally have more woofer drivers as well, which creates even more bass. So if deep and powerful bass is important to you and you don’t want to add a subwoofer, towers are probably the way to go.
Keep in mind, there are many full range bookshelf speakers that don’t require a subwoofer, so it’s not a necessity. But if you do want the extra low frequency punch that only a great subwoofer can provide, they are a great idea and you can read our post on how to properly integrate subwoofers and loudspeakers to get the best performance possible.
Think About it, but Don’t Overthink it: Just Listen
In the end, choosing between tower speakers and desktop speakers is really about trying to get the best sound possible for your budget, your listening needs, and the size and type of room you will be using the speakers in.