This is the question all of us will face when looking to upgrade an audio entertainment system.

To make it easy, let’s break things down.

Front Baffle And Drivers
(Image credit Spark)

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What Makes A Speaker, A Speaker

Speakers are of made of different parts that all work together to produce sound, each one being key to making that sound as clear and accurate as possible.

  • Tweeter – Produces the high frequency sounds, can be a dome as shown above, or a ribbon.
  • Mid-range driver – Produces the mid-range frequencies, this is optional on some speakers. Some speakers may only have a tweeter and low frequency woofer.
  • Woofer – Produces the bass frequencies.
  • Subwoofer (low end driver) – Produces the lowest frequencies, in some cases below 20Hz, the limit of human hearing.
  • The cabinet – This is what all of the parts are housed in, can be made of many different materials, wood is the most common.
  • Crossover – Separates the frequencies between the tweeters and woofers so the sound is correctly produced.

Yes, Size Matters

First, know what you need. Are you looking for something compact, or something larger?

Monitor Audio Bookshelf Speaker
(Image credit Monitor Audio USA)

Compact speakers, often called bookshelf speakers, are a great choice for those new to audio. They can easily be switched out and upgraded as desired, and even paired with a subwoofer to increase the power and quality of the lower frequencies produced by the system. The downside is they can lack bass as their small size makes them better-suited to reproduce higher to mid-range frequencies.

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B&W Tower Speaker
(Image credit Bowers-Wilkins)

Larger speakers, often called tower, floor-standing or full range, are also a great choice but require more space in which to reside for best effect. Most have at least one tweeter, one mid-range driver and one woofer. This allows a floor-standing speaker to produce the full spectrum of sound within a room. The downside is that they require more room and are often far more expensive than a bookshelf speaker.

So which is best? The answer is neither; both can be great speakers and some may sound better than others. Choose what works best for your room, don’t be afraid to upgrade in the future and always, always listen to the speakers before you buy.

Conclusions

With so many different types of speakers and materials they are made from, it can be hard to choose. Sound quality should be your ultimate guide. Look for speakers made from good materials, avoid those with lots of plastic or cabinets that are very light in weight. However, what you see is nowhere near as important as how the speaker sounds, you should definitely always listen to a speaker before you buy it. Ask yourself, do I like the way it sounds? If not, keep looking, there is always many to choose from. Take every chance you get to stop and just enjoy the music of every speaker you come across, you may be surprised to find what types of speakers you truly enjoy. It’s hard to argue with your own ears after all.

  • Jim Milton

    When I first got started in HiFi, you could go down to the local stereo shop on Main St. and audition speakers from several different manufacturers. Bookshelf or towers, they carried them all. They would let you bring your own tapes/vinyl…and eventually those newfangled CDs…and you could A/B speakers all afternoon. Now, with on-line shopping, that has all gone the way of the dinosaur. Most depressing.

    How do others audition speakers these days?

  • Altplasma

    When I purchased my last set of box speakers, I was able to find another owner who lived nearby. He graciously allowed me to audition the speakers for a couple of hours. Small manufacturers seem to use these audition threads quite a bit.

    As much as I like those speakers, I find them fatiguing despite many tweaks to various system components. Recently, I built a set of active speakers based on a Linkwitz design. There wasn’t anyone in my area who could help me test drive them, so it was a leap of faith (informed by lots of online research). I really enjoy those speakers and would like to move up to the three-way design at some point.