Listening to music or watching movies need one crucial part — a good sound system. People often compare bookshelf speakers and studio monitors because these two are the extremes of sound systems. But which of these is better, and should you really get it?
Studio monitors are the best speakers that you can get because of their power and accuracy. However, it’s not an ideal option for average consumers because of the technicalities it requires. Bookshelf speakers are a better option for many users because they’re simple and still improve audio output.
Bookshelf speakers and studio monitors are two very different speakers with varying purposes. Let’s talk about both of them in great detail to find what’s suitable for you. After this article, you’ll know:
- The speaker with a better output
- The best application for both speakers
- The right time to get one over the other
Bookshelf Speakers at a Glance
Bookshelf speakers are compact speakers that allow you to maximize the sound you’re getting in a small to medium-sized room. They’re leaning towards usability and aesthetics because these are consumer-grade speakers that should sound and look good right out of the box.
Bookshelf speakers are the most common you’ll find because it has everything that an average consumer needs. You can connect it to an existing home theater system or use it as a standalone speaker connected to a device. It improves audio quality without spending as much on a full-blown sound system and without the complexities of configuring more advanced speakers.
We call them bookshelf speakers because users are supposed to put them on a raised surface like a bookshelf. However, it doesn’t mean that you can only put it on a bookshelf to get the best sound quality — it’s actually quite the opposite.
Interestingly, bookshelf speakers won’t produce the best audio if you place them on a bookshelf. If you want to get quality sounds from it, you should put it at least 1 foot (30.5 cm) away from the wall or above the ground. Sure, it forces you to think outside the box when looking for a proper place for it, but it’s what you need to get better audio quality.
You can put it anywhere — on wall brackets or speaker stands — as long as it’s not on the floor and close to the ground or the wall. Putting bookshelf speakers on a bookshelf should be your last resort when it comes to setting it up in your room.
Walls restrict the sounds that these speakers can produce. Even if you invest in high-end bookshelf speakers, you may not get exceptional sound quality if you position it close to the wall.
Pros of Bookshelf Speakers
Bookshelf speakers are well-rounded compact speakers that are suitable for most users. It has almost everything that an average consumer needs, including good quality audio, usability, and aesthetics. Aside from these, there are other advantages that you can get from using bookshelf speakers, including:
- Affordable option to improve audio: Bookshelf speakers are slightly more affordable than other speakers, but it can drastically improve your home theater system. It’s a consumer-grade speaker that won’t require you to invest in high-end audio systems, which is a significant advantage, especially for those who are only going to use it in small to medium-sized rooms.
- Flexibility with placement: Unlike most speakers, bookshelf speakers give you the flexibility in choosing where you want to place them. It can be on a speaker stand, table, or anywhere that gives it enough space to produce the best audio quality. There are no restrictions for these speakers’ placement, as long as they’re close to the user’s ear level. That’s why it’s easier to plan the room and save space for your sound system.
- Bass/Subwoofer placements: Bass or subwoofers take a lot of space, even if you’re only using 2.1 speakers. However, it’s a lot easier for you to find the ideal spot for it if you’re using bookshelf speakers. The assembly is more straightforward, and you won’t have to spend a lot of time figuring out how your speakers can match the room’s aesthetics.
Cons of Bookshelf Speakers
Despite all the advantages that you can get from using bookshelf speakers, there are instances where they may not be an ideal option. In fact, if you need the best audio output, it would be better to look for other options. Here are some of the cons that you’ll get from using bookshelf speakers:
- Requires a speaker stand: If you have minimal space on your desk, you need to have speaker stands to hold these speakers. Remember, bookshelf speakers should be at least close to the user’s ear level. Although these stands don’t cost a lot, it still adds to the total cost of setting up your sound system.
- Less bass even with subwoofer: Bookshelf speakers are consumer-grade speakers that sound good straight out of the box. However, if you require a bit more bass, you’ll have to configure it properly, which can be challenging for many people. In fact, audiophiles even advise people to stay away from bookshelf speakers if they need better bass.
- Not ideal for large spaces: Bookshelf speakers are only suitable for small to medium-sized rooms. If you’re going to use it in larger areas, you may not get the same quality from it. That’s why despite being a more affordable option, many people still opt to invest in high-end speakers, especially for large theater rooms.
Studio Monitors at a Glance
Studio monitors are professional-grade speakers that people use when they need a more accurate audio reproduction. These are loudspeakers in enclosures, often used for recording studios, filmmaking, and other audio productions.
When you’re listening to music, the quality you hear is subjective to your impression. If it sounds right for you, it won’t matter if the output you’re getting is the quality that the artists intended. In fact, even cheap speakers may sound good, as long as it has the right configuration for the output. It’s what we call the consumer mentality.
If you visit a store, everything sounds exceptional, even if it’s not what the artist intended. Manufacturers often use audio coloration to make sounds more impressive than it really is, with the intent of appealing to average consumers.
Studio monitors are the opposite of what consumer-grade speakers do. It lets you hear sounds as accurately as possible, regardless of how good or bad it may be. Artists often use it for audio production because it allows them to hear accurately without focusing on how the output sounds.
Aside from this, most studio monitors are active. It has a built-in amplifier to power the system and produce sounds independent from any source. Each unit within the system also has its power amplifiers—the bass, midrange, treble, and other parts of the ensemble have a separate power amp. By doing this, studio monitors become more accurate without depending on the same power source.
Pros of Studio Monitors
Studio monitors are professional-grade speakers that people use for various audio productions, but consumers can also use these for their sound system to take advantage of the following:
- Great audio quality: When it comes to audio quality, studio monitors are the best. It’ll be challenging for consumer-grade speakers to beat it, especially with its independent power sources. If you want to have the best sounding speakers that produce sounds as accurately as possible, you can never go wrong with choosing studio monitors.
- Lossless output: The output that we hear from consumer-grade speakers are often compressed. The configuration is the one that makes it possible for it to sound better. Studio monitors have independent power sources that allow the speaker to produce the highest quality without compression.
- Better bass: The bass sounds cleaner, deeper, and crisper with studio monitors. One reason for it is because it doesn’t have power restrictions as a regular speaker does. Sure, it’ll take quite some time to configure it according to your room, but you can get the best bass output from speakers that is never possible with regular speakers.
Cons of Studio Monitors
Despite having superior audio quality, it’s still not the best option for most people. Studio monitors are more of a niche speaker than for general use. Here are some of the disadvantages that you can get from using them for your sound system:
- Volume control is challenging: Studio monitors have independent power amplifiers, so there’s no easy way for you to control the volume. You’ll have to work with each unit to get the output that you want. Although it’s not much of an issue if you’re working on content creation, it can be daunting for consumers who only want the best quality without much configuration.
- Multiple power sources: Setting up studio monitors will be more challenging as you start to plug them into the power sources. Remember, each unit you have in the system will have different power amplifiers that need power outlets. Not only will it be bad for cable management, but your room also needs a proper setup for these speakers to work properly.
- Bad aesthetics: Studio monitors may be the best sounding speakers you can get, but these are not the ones you want in your living room or home theater. Not only will it be hard to configure, but they’re also not made to be aesthetically pleasing. Aside from the cables that you need to put together to set it up, the enclosures themselves look clunky and cumbersome for any room.
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Bookshelf Speakers vs. Studio Monitors: Comparison
Bookshelf speakers are consumer-grade speakers that you can easily configure. It works as a standalone or a part of your home theater system, making it easier for you to have the setup you need. They’re also made to match any room’s aesthetics, so you don’t have to worry about modifying them just to look good.
On the other hand, studio monitors aren’t ideal for consumers because of the configuration that it needs, and the enclosures that it has. You need to spend quite some time and money to make them look nicer for a room, and configuring them is a whole other story. Consumers shouldn’t have these in their home theater setup unless they want to have the best and most accurate audio possible.
When it comes to audio quality, bookshelf speakers are great because it’s what the manufacturers want. Sure, the output also varies, but all of them sound good right out of the box. There won’t be a problem with using these speakers unless you want to start producing accurate sounds.
Nonetheless, consumers won’t bother themselves in getting accurate audio, as long as it sounds good for them. It’s also a much simpler option because most bookshelf speakers are plug-and-play systems. Unless you want to have better flexibility, which most consumers won’t even bother with, you don’t have to do anything to make these speakers sound good.
Studio monitors produce raw, accurate audio that sounds exactly as what the artists intended. They require a bit more configuration, but it’ll be difficult for consumer-grade speakers to match the accuracy and quality that studio monitors can produce. It could be an overkill for most setups and might not even get the most out of it if you’re only going to use them as a daily speaker.
It can also be daunting for average consumers to look for the best studio monitors because big box stores also configure them to sound great. If you’re out to look for the best studio monitors, it’ll be very easy for you to fall prey to the consumer mentality that focuses on output rather than accuracy.
For more information, check out this article about whether studio monitors need an audio interface.
Which One Should You Choose?
There’s only one reason why you’d want studio monitors over bookshelf speakers: audio output. If you want to produce the best audio with the accuracy that the artist intended, it’s the best option that you have. Aside from the flexibility in configuring the output, it also has enough power that makes it an even more accurate speaker than regular ones.
However, that’s the only significant advantage that you can get from using studio monitors as your speakers. Personally, I like how the studio monitors sound. There’s no regular speaker that can match the quality that it produces. Still, I wouldn’t use it as a speaker for my home theater because of the complexity and configuration that I need to go through just to make it work with an existing setup.
If you’re looking for speakers that sound good and provides you with a bit of flexibility with the output, bookshelf speakers are your best option. It may not have the same quality and accuracy that you’d get from studio monitors, but they still sound great.
Aside from the audio quality, bookshelf speakers also look better than studio monitors. If you’re going for a particular design in your room, it’ll be easy for you to incorporate bookshelf speakers. The setup is also much easier, and you don’t have to worry about configuring them to have the quality you want. Overall, it’s a much simpler option than studio monitors.
Choosing a Studio Monitor
Studio monitors are for professionals, sound engineers, and content creators. Although consumers can have these in their home theater systems, they need to go through many things to take advantage of the exceptional sound quality it produces. Studio monitors are more of a niche product that won’t be useful for many people, especially those only looking to improve their sound system.
They don’t look great out of the box, so you may need to modify their enclosures if you want to make them look good for your room. Many consider the difference in output negligible, especially if you consider what you need to do to set it up. So, unless you need a speaker that produces raw, accurate sounds without coloration, studio monitors won’t serve you well.
Choosing a Bookshelf Speaker
The standard for consumer-grade speakers is quite high. Nowadays, it’ll be hard to find a speaker that falls below an average consumer’s expectations. Sure, high-end speakers sound exceptionally better than most, but a more critical factor that you need to consider is the location where you’ll place these speakers and the purpose they will serve.
Even with high-end speakers, the output will be mediocre if you can’t get it in the right location. Most bookshelf speakers are only suitable for small to medium-sized rooms, so if you’re going to use it in larger areas, you might need to invest a bit more for larger speakers.
How you’re planning to use the speakers is also a crucial factor. Those who are only starting a home theater setup can never go wrong with bookshelf speakers. Most content creators may even get away with these and not have a problem with their production, but if you need more than average audio output, it would be best to opt for studio monitors.
Choosing between bookshelf speakers and studio monitors can be daunting for many people, but knowing where you’ll use it and how you’re going to use it will make your decision much easier.
Studio monitors sound better than bookshelf speakers, but it doesn’t mean that it’s a better option for you. In fact, good bookshelf speakers are often more than enough to meet an average consumer’s needs.
- Klipsch: Bookshelf Speakers: What You Need to Know
- Cnet: The Dirty Little Secret About Bookshelf Speakers
- Peachpit: Comparing Floorstanding and Bookshelf Speakers
- AudioCircle: Pros and Cons of Full Range Speakers vs Bookshelf Plus Subs
- Andertons: What’s the Difference Between Studio Monitors and Regular Speakers?
- Quora: What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Studio Monitors As HiFi Speakers?
- Pro Tools Expert: What Are The Drawbacks To Mixing On Small Studio Monitors? Our Top List Of Pros & Cons
- Neumann: What’s the Difference Between Home Stereo Speakers and Studio Monitors?