In the realm of home speaker shopping, the choices come down to this: Tower (standing) or bookshelf models. If you are short on space, bookshelf models make the most sense, but here’s the ironic kicker: Despite their name, so-called “bookshelf” speakers really shouldn’t be placed on bookshelves or in other similar enclosures. No, to sound their best, such speakers should be placed on stands or, in some cases, on wall brackets – and then they need to be positioned, as with any other loudspeaker design.
Once your speakers are placed correctly upon quality stands, it’s time to get to work with regard to positioning – because, if anything, poor speaker positioning can break a rich, involving hi-fi experience.
A general rule we like to follow is to put bookshelf speakers at the virtual 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock positions, angling them in towards your listening position (an approach known in audiophile circles as “toe-in”). Additionally, the tweeters of the speakers should be at ear-level for optimal performance.
Some Ins and Outs of Bookshelf Speakers
Designed to sit upon a stand, table or other open, elevated surface – anywhere but the floor – bookshelf speakers (see our under $300 and $200 picks) were specifically oriented to maximize sound in small-to-medium-sizes environments. As with choosing electronic components for your hi-fi rig, doing some homework before making a decision will definitely yield benefits; for example: some bookshelf speaker models are tuned and geared more towards home theater applications, while others are routinely chosen by music aficionados who know a thing or two about putting together an incredible two-channel (i.e. hi-fi) system.
Avoid placing your speakers (and your listening seat for that matter) completely up against a wall; when speaker stands are pulled out into a room a little, more direct sound is output from the speakers with less reflected off walls and other surfaces. Want to hear more of those intricate details that comprise the music you love? This is the way to achieve it.
If you’re ready to get serious with your hi-fi endeavors, strategically-placed acoustic panels and room treatment products can help dissipate reflected sound, though this is truly outside the scope of this article.
This YouTube video from Dynaudio representatives covers everything about speaker placement.
Contrary to what many casual home hi-fi fans say, bookshelf speakers can be every bit as involving and impactful as floor-standing tower speakers – but they need to be set up properly.
The first thing you should do is place them on sturdy speaker stands (bookshelf options) away from a wall, followed by ensuring that they’re at ear-level height. From there, subtle tweaks such as angling them inward towards the “sweet spot” (primary listening position) can make all the difference in terms of what you will actually hear.