When you’re setting up your home theater, you’re likely to come across a number of different styles of speakers, including bookshelf speakers and front speakers. Because they’re often more affordable than front speakers, you might be wondering – can I use bookshelf speakers as front speakers?
Bookshelf speakers can be used as front speakers if you’re on a budget, but they don’t have the same sound potential and aren’t as good as front speakers for larger spaces.
In this article, I’ll show you some of the key differences between bookshelf speakers and front speakers, as well as teaching you the pros and cons of substituting bookshelf speakers for front speakers and giving you some great options for bookshelf speakers, as well.
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What’s the Difference Between Bookshelf Speakers and Front Speakers?
Before you make the decision on whether you want to use front speakers or bookshelf speakers for your latest home theater update, it’s important that you understand the difference between the two so you can make an informed decision.
Bookshelf speakers are any speakers that can be placed on top of a fixed surface like a bookshelf, side table, or other location that’s near your TV screen. They are often used as an addition to larger home theater setups but can also be used individually as a small yet complete setup.
Bookshelf speakers are some of the smallest speakers available on the market. They’re specifically designed to be put to use in smaller spaces where you don’t need as much sound amplitude. They’re best used in apartments where you don’t necessarily want a loud theater setup, but still want to be able to have high-quality sound when you’re watching flicks.
Another reason that people like bookshelf speakers is because they’re portable. While they’re not designed to take out and about like small Bluetooth speakers, most models of bookshelf speakers can be brought outside for an outdoor movie night or barbecue. They’re also easy to pack up if you’re moving.
Lower Volume Potential/Range of Sound
Though they’re small and handy, the bummer about using bookshelf speakers is that they’re likely to have a smaller range of sound potential than larger standing front speakers. The above-cited article from Audio Advice does a great job explaining the differences between the two and how smaller speaker units generally have a smaller sound frequency range.
Front Speakers (Tower Speakers)
Front speakers, also known as tower speakers or standing speakers, are large speaker units that stand freely on the floor of your living room (or home theater). They’re heavier than your standard bookshelf speakers and are more stable, as they don’t have to be placed on a separate surface.
Standing speakers are generally far bigger than bookshelf speakers. Most bookshelf speakers don’t get much taller than your standard encyclopedia, while standing speakers can be up to four of five feet tall. Even though they’re a bit unwieldy to bring into the house when you first buy them, the large size is advantageous because of the volume potential. Bigger speakers = bigger sound.
For better or for worse, standing speakers stay exactly where they’re put. They are not portable like bookshelf speakers – these behemoth tower speakers stay where they’re placed. This makes it impossible to move around and bring outside/on the road, but it also means that they make a great addition to your home theater setup because their mass means more bass and depth of sound.
Higher Range of Sound Potential
The biggest advantage that front speakers have over bookshelf speakers is the sound potential. The writers at Audio Advice discuss the concept of efficiency, which is the ability of the speaker to emit a loud sound. They also discuss how easy it is for a large speaker to emit loud sounds.
It’s much easier to play deep, loud audio on a big speaker than it is for a small set of speakers to try to send out the same noise. Think about it like this: playing loud audio on a floor speaker is like trying to pull a trailer with a pickup truck (easy, right?)
Now imagine how hard it would be for a small sedan to play the same audio. That small sedan is your little pair of bookshelf speakers. Not only does the car barely pull the trailer – but the car also breaks down from the strain.
Pros of Using Bookshelf Speakers As Front Speakers
If you’re looking to save a few bucks on your home theater setup, you should consider buying a pair of bookshelf speakers instead of investing in two giant standing speakers. While it’s easy to find bookshelf speakers that are within the $100 to $200 range, it’s impossible to do the same for standing front speakers unless you’re buying them old and used.
Better for Smaller Spaces
Especially if you’re someone who lives in an apartment where blasting your favorite action movie isn’t an option, you’re better off purchasing a high-quality pair of bookshelf speakers compared to large tower speakers. Bookshelf speakers, given the brand and variety, have the potential to offer great home theater-like sound in a small space without the need for booming bass and audio.
Easier for People Who Move a Lot
If you’re someone who moves from apartment to apartment every year or so, or if you’re a college student who lives in a dorm or small shared house, then it’s likely that you’ll want to get bookshelf speakers instead of standing speakers. It’s a pain to try and move standing speakers, while bookshelf speakers can simply be packed into a box and taken on the road.
Cons of Using Bookshelf Speakers As Front Speakers
Less Depth of Sound
While bookshelf speakers are great for people who are mobile or live in a smaller space, it’s likely that the depth of sound that comes from a small set of bookshelf speakers just isn’t enough if you live in a larger house or have a whole room dedicated as your home theater. Bookshelf speakers are great for people with little homes, but if you’re living large, opt for the standing tower speakers.
Lower Volume Potential
The potential for volume in bookshelf speakers is low simply because of their size. As discussed previously, it’s hard for a small set of bookshelf speakers to pull the weight of bass-heavy, deep, loud audio. This is because bookshelf speakers aren’t equipped with enough hardware to accommodate the sound.
When you purchase a set of high-quality standing tower speakers, you’re not just buying a “look” – you’re buying an experience. Specifically, you’re buying the experience of profoundly crisp and clear sound. The sound that comes from cheaper bookshelf speakers is often staticky and garbled, while high-quality, top-of-the-line front speakers give you movie-theater quality sound in your own home.
Technically, bookshelf speakers can be used as front speakers. They offer the following benefits:
- They are more affordable than standing front speakers
- They are great for small spaces that don’t need excess noise
- They are easy to move around and take outside or on the road
However, if you’re looking for the best home theater experience, you’re going to want to invest in a nice, high-quality set of standing tower speakers. Front speakers offer a greater range of sound as well as more efficiency, meaning that they can handle more loud, booming audio than small speakers.
While you definitely can use bookshelf speakers as front speakers, do yourself a favor and splurge on real front speakers for better movie nights.