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Top 5 Things to Look for in Bookshelf Speakers

by Paul Sanders


Home audio electronics have progressed to the point where you can assemble a speaker system without spending a fortune. Bookshelf speakers are ideal for constructing your own home theater surround-sound system. Selecting the speakers yourself lets you customize the sound quality to your exact specifications. Here are the top five things to look for when shopping for your bookshelf speakers.

Buying Bookshelf Speakers:

  1. Signal-to-noise ratio: Check the description for "SNR" or "S/N." This specification measures the ratio of original audio signal that has been corrupted by noise and is related to the clarity of sound your bookshelf speakers produce. Bookshelf speakers with a higher S/N ratio will have reduced background audio noise.

  2. Frequency response: This is the range of sound frequencies that your stereo bookshelf speakers produce. You ears can hear in the 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz range. The wider the range between numbers, the better your bookshelf speakers will reproduce sounds. If you're choosing speakers for surround sound, you may want speakers that use large and small speaker drivers to separate into the high and middle ranges of the human spectrum, with a subwoofer to handle low frequencies.

  3. Power: If you like your music and your movies loud, get speakers that can handle operating at higher power. Bookshelf speakers will list both normal and maximum power in watts. Consistently running your bookshelf speakers above normal can damage them.

  4. Total harmonic distortion: A receiver or amplifier can increase the volume of sound, but it degrades the sound at the same time. A lower THD percentage means your bookshelf speakers reproduce sound better at high volumes. Look for speakers rated at 1 percent or lower.

  5. Connector cables: How you connect the bookshelf speakers to the amplifier or receiver matters. Lower gauge (heavier) speaker wire or connector cable has a lower electrical resistance than higher gauges, so it affects the audio quality less. Try to match ohm ratings of your speaker wire with the ratings of the bookshelf speakers you choose.

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