Bookshelf speakers are good for surround sound. You can use them as the main front left and right speakers instead of floor-standing speakers. Or you can use them as the surround speakers to the sides or rear of your listening position.
As you can see, bookshelf speakers are your flexible friend within a surround sound setup. You can find out more about where and how best to use them below, but let’s first consider what is meant by surround sound.
What Is Surround Sound?
Surround sound is what transforms your TV room into a home theater.
A surround sound system uses several speakers. They combine to provide realistic and immersive cinema-like sound. So, you feel engulfed, as if the movie is playing out all around you.
Surround sound systems are generally defined by numbers. The ones you’ll most often encounter for home theater are 5.1 and 7.1.
The initial digit refers to how many speakers are in the setup. The second number refers to the subwoofer, which provides the low bass frequencies.
In a 5.1 setup, you usually have the following:
- A center channel speaker directly facing the listening position
- One front left and one front right speaker placed on either side of the center speaker
- Surround left and surround right speakers to the sides or behind your listening position
- Plus a subwoofer
In a 7.1 setup, you have four surround speakers placed at the sides and rear.
So, where do bookshelf speakers come into this kind of setup?
What Are Bookshelf Speakers?
Bookshelf speakers are the compact box-shaped speakers most of us are familiar with. These Klipsch R-41M bookshelf speakers at under 12” (30.5cm) high, are typical.
The following video explains the frequency ranges in more detail:
Their frequency range coverage and their size make bookshelf speakers versatile. So, when used correctly, they can take on various roles in your surround sound setup.
Bookshelf Speakers as Front Left and Right Speakers
The front left and right speakers in a surround sound setup go either side of the center speaker. Together with the center speaker, they produce the majority of the movie sound.
Floor standing speakers that cover the full frequency range are often used in the front left and right positions. But, they’re large and costly.
Space and Money-Saving Advantage
So, if your space or budget is limited, floor-standing speakers may not be practical. That’s where bookshelf speakers have an advantage.
So, unless you have a large room or budget, bookshelf speakers are ideal substitutes for floor-standing speakers.
But, floor-standing speakers go lower down the frequency range than bookshelf speakers. So, your bookshelf speakers will need a little help.
Covering the Full Frequency Range
Because of their size, floor-standing speakers can accommodate more drivers. That’s how most can cover more of the frequency range, including the low end. And it’s at the low end that bookshelf speakers are lacking.
But, that doesn’t mean you’ll have to compromise on sound quality if using bookshelf speakers. Pairing bookshelf speakers with a subwoofer to take care of the low end can give you excellent sound quality.
The sub-woofer will provide the bone-shaking sub-bass that bookshelf speakers lack. So, you’ll end up with the full frequency range.
But, even with a subwoofer, you’ll need to make sure you position your bookshelf speakers correctly. Correct positioning maximizes sound quality.
Positioning of Bookshelf Speakers
Their compactness means you can put bookshelf speakers on a shelf or on other furniture. Or you can wall-mount them. Just keep them off the floor.
That’s because to get optimal sound quality out of bookshelf speakers; you need the tweeter at ear level. That’s ear-level in your main listening position.
Ideally, you should use speaker stands like these ECHOGEAR Premium Bookshelf Speaker Stands. Such stands raise the speakers to just the right height.
Walls and Enclosures
Also bear in mind that most speakers perform best when not enclosed by walls or cabinets. So, place them away from walls and avoid partially enclosed shelving. Experiment to see what works best in your space.
You’ll need to angle bookshelf speakers towards the main listening position. That’s because they’re monopole or direct-radiating speakers. They distribute their sound in a single direction, namely, forward.
So, if you think of your TV or screen as being at 12 o’clock, the front and left speaker positions are at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock. Angle them, so the sound from both meets at an apex just behind your head in your listening position.
Again, adjust the exact angles and positioning to get the best sound for you and your room. That’s all part of the fun.
Bookshelf Speakers as Surround Speakers
Surround speakers in a 5.1 surround sound system at the side or rear of the listening position. In a 7.1 setup, there will be both side and rear surround speakers.
Surround Speakers Provide Diffuse Sound
Surround speakers provide ambient sounds, enhancing the atmosphere. These are the sounds that complete the enveloping effect of a surround sound system.
Their design is such that they disperse the sound, making it hard to pinpoint from where it’s coming. So, when you hear raindrops on a soundtrack, the sound seems to be all around you, making it more realistic.
The sound dispersion occurs through the use of drivers facing in opposite directions. There are two types, bipole, and dipole, which we don’t need to get into here.
But what the physical positioning of the drivers means is that the sound isn’t directed straight at the listener. Instead, it’s spread along the walls, so it radiates throughout the room.
You can see the driver arrangement in these Klipsch RP-250S Reference Premiere surround speakers.
Can Bookshelf Speakers Work as Surround Speakers?
As mentioned, bookshelf speakers are monopole speakers. They fire sound in a forward direction only. You’d think that makes them unsuitable for use as surround sound speakers.
But, if you have a large enough room, bookshelf speakers will work well as side or rear surrounds. They’ll need to be a reasonable distance away from the listening position. That gives room for the sound to disperse.
If your room is small, bookshelf speakers in the surround positions might be too close to the listening position. So, the sound might be too direct and distracting instead of being ambient and part of the background.
But it depends on your space, your listening preferences, and what you’re watching.
For example, perhaps you don’t have much room on the sides of your listening position, but you have room to the rear. In that case, you could still use bookshelf speakers as rear surrounds.
You might also find that bookshelf speakers work fine as surrounds, even though the room is small. Each space is different, so hard and fast rules don’t always apply.
Additionally, many soundtracks are mixed with ambient sound effects specifically for surround channels. That means diffusion of those audio effects is now taken care of in the sound mixing. So, sound diffusion no longer needs special speakers.
So, for such soundtracks, bookshelf speakers are more than able to function as surround speakers, even in small rooms.
Just don’t forget that you’ll still need to raise bookshelf speakers so that the tweeters are at ear-level.
There you have it; bookshelf speakers are good for surround sound.
They’re more than at home as the main front left and right speakers when paired with a subwoofer, or as surround speakers.
You may have to experiment with positioning and angles to achieve the best sound for your space. But, that’s a process well worth undertaking because bookshelf speakers aren’t only good for surround sound, get it right, and they can be great.