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Bookshelf Speakers - This article is part of a series.
I’ve been looking for a new pair of near-field speakers for my office. Many years ago, I made my first foray into passive bookshelves with a fairly low budget. I landed on a pair of Micca MB42x w/ a SMSL SA-50 desktop amp. While certainly nothing special, they served their purpose for nearly a decade, considering I usually preferred Headphones. However, in my current environment, I find myself using my speakers instead 90% of the time, or more. And as my other audio components, and budget, have improved dramatically, my desktop system was long-ago left in the dust.
Search Parameters #
There are a number of variables to consider when searching for a pair of near-field bookshelf speakers. To start, near-field generally represents a speaker meant to be utilized in close quarters, vs the typical distance of 6+ feet.
- Frequency Response: This indicates the range of frequencies a speaker can reproduce. While sub-bass extension wasn’t critical for my use case, as I use a separate subwoofer, a balanced frequency response across the rest of the spectrum is essential for accurate sound reproduction. Ideally, one should look for speakers with a relatively flat response within the range of human hearing (20Hz - 20kHz).
- Sensitivity: This refers to how efficiently a speaker converts power into sound. Higher sensitivity means the speaker will play louder with less power, which can be beneficial for lower-powered amplifiers. A sensitivity of around 85-90 dB is generally acceptable for near-field listening.
- Impedance: Measured in ohms, impedance is the speaker’s resistance to the flow of electrical current. Most speakers have an impedance of 4, 6, or 8 ohms. It’s important to ensure the target amplifier is compatible with the speaker’s impedance to avoid overloading or under-powering the speakers.
- Driver Size/Type: I preferred a maximum woofer size of 6.5 inches, a typical max for near-field. But it’s also important to consider the driver composition and arrangement as well. Multiple drivers (e.g., tweeter, midrange, woofer) can provide a more detailed and accurate sound reproduction, even with smaller individual driver sizes. Some speakers, like the KEF LS50 Meta, use innovative driver designs (Uni-Q) to improve sound quality.
- Enclosure: The speaker’s cabinet plays a crucial role in its sound quality. Some designs, like bass-reflex, may deliver better bass response, while others, like sealed enclosures, can provide tighter, more controlled sound. Consider your preferences when evaluating enclosure types.
- Imaging and Soundstage: Good imaging and soundstage ensure an accurate spatial representation of the sound, which is particularly important for near-field listening. Look for speakers with detailed and precise imaging to create an immersive listening experience.
- Reviews and Personal Taste: Reading professional and user reviews can give insights into a speaker’s performance and whether it matches your preferences. Remember that personal taste plays a significant role in the ideal speaker choice, so auditioning speakers when possible is highly recommended.
|Speaker Name/Model||Avg Retail Price||Driver Size & Type/Number||Frequency Response||Sensitivity||Impedance||Notes|
|KEF LS50 Meta||$1,499||5.25" Uni-Q driver||47Hz - 45kHz||85dB||8 ohms||With their unique Uni-Q driver array and excellent imaging, these speakers offer a wide and accurate soundstage. Ideal for those seeking precision and detail in a compact form factor.|
|ELAC Debut 2.0 B6.2||$349||6.5" Aramid Fiber and 1" silk dome tweeter||44Hz - 35kHz||87dB||6 ohms||Designed by audio legend Andrew Jones, these speakers offer a great balance of performance and value with a warm and natural sound signature. They’re perfect for anyone wanting high-quality sound without breaking the bank.|
|SVS Prime Bookshelf||$599||6.25" glass fiber||48Hz - 25kHz||87dB||8 ohms||Known for their tight and controlled bass, the SVS Prime Bookshelf speakers are a great option for those looking for a powerful and dynamic listening experience.|
|Q Acoustics 3030i||$399||6.5" Aramid Fiber and 1" decoupled double-dome tweeter||46Hz - 30kHz||88dB||6 ohms||These speakers deliver a balanced and natural sound signature, making them well-suited for those who enjoy a wide range of music genres.|
|Triangle Borea BR03||$549||5.25" cellulose and 1" silk dome tweeter||49Hz - 22kHz||90dB||8 ohms||lively and engaging sound, these speakers are a great choice for those who like to feel emotionally connected to their music.|
|Focal Chorus 706||$749||6.5" Polyglass mid-bass driver and 1" Al/Mg inverted dome tweeter||55Hz - 28kHz||90dB||8 ohms||neutral and transparent sound signature, perfect for audiophiles who want accurate and detailed sound reproduction|
|Focal Aria 906||$1500||6.5" Polyglass mid-bass driver and 1" Al/Mg inverted dome tweeter||55Hz - 28kHz||90dB||8 ohms||neutral and transparent sound signature, perfect for audiophiles who want accurate and detailed sound reproduction|
|Wharfedale Diamond 12.2||$599||5.12" woven Kevlar||52Hz - 20kHz||88dB||8 ohms||Great value, good clarity|
|Wharfedale Evo 4.1||$599||4.5" woven Kevlar and 1" soft dome tweeter||52Hz - 22kHz||86dB||4 ohms||warm and natural sound signature that’s great for acoustic music and vocals|
|Wharfedale Evo 4.2||$749||5.25" woven Kevlar||41Hz - 22kHz||88dB||4 ohms||Deep bass extension, versatile|
|KEF Q350||$699||6.5" aluminum||63Hz - 28kHz||87dB||8 ohms||6.5" Uni-Q driver that provides a wide soundstage. They’re great for music lovers who want clear, detailed sound at all volumes.|
|Dali Oberon 3||$799||7" wood fiber||47Hz - 26kHz||87dB||6 ohms||Clear and balanced sound|
|Monitor Audio Bronze 2||$||6.5" C-CAM mid/bass driver and 1" C-CAM Gold Dome tweeter||Hz - kHz||dB||ohms||detailed and dynamic sound that’s great for both music and movies|
|Klipsch RP-600M||$||6.5" woofer and 1" titanium LTS vented tweeter||Hz - kHz||dB||ohms||ideal for people who like to listen to music at high volumes, and want a speaker that can handle it without distortion|
|B&W 607||$||5" Continuum cone driver and 1" Decoupled Double Dome Al tweeter||Hz - kHz||dB||ohms||balanced and detailed sound that’s great for music of all genres|
Just a few options here!
As I pursued my decision making process, I had several criteria in the front of mind. One was aesthetics, considering these speakers would be a key feature of my desk and, thus, office, where I spend most of my time. However, it certainly wasn’t the most important. Another was size, both of the driver(s) and cabinet, as these are meant to be used for near-field. Of course, the key criteria (outside budget) was the speaker’s performance with my preferred music types.
Unfortunately, I still haven’t made my final purchase! However, I have narrowed my choices down to the Focal line of 6.5" drivers, notably the Focal Aria 906. So why the delay? They’re difficult to find! Particularly at a decent price. That said, I have a few leads on some great sets, so hopefully I will be updating you here with a review shortly!