If you’re looking for a new addition to your home theater system, bedroom, or office, you’ve probably come across both bookshelf and tower speakers.
While the differences in appearance are obvious, it’s not always clear which kind of speaker is best suited to your needs.
We’ve made it easy with this simple breakdown of bookshelf vs tower speakers.
We tackle the properties of each speaker, explain how they rate in each category, and show through a case study which is the best kind of speaker for you.
What’s the difference between Bookshelf and Tower Speakers?
If you’re new to the world of audio, it can be overwhelming to see the vast array of speakers on the market.
Each one has a different shape, function, and quality of sound, which can be difficult to differentiate if you don’t know where to start.
Simple speaking, bookshelf speakers are compact units that are designed to fit in small places. They are efficient and can comfortably cover a decent frequency response, with enough volume to fill small or medium sized rooms.
They generally come in pairs, with multiple setup options to achieve surround sound. They also usually have a 2 way design, although you may find some models with a 3 way design.
On the other hand, tower speakers are tall, vertical speakers that are usually free-standing. They have larger drivers and can reproduce a much wider frequency response that includes more bass.
They have either a 3 or even 4 way design that allows each driver to precisely reproduce warm, balanced sound.
Read on to discover more details about bookshelf vs tower speakers.
Quick Summary: Bookshelf Vs Tower Speakers
- Flexible installation options
- Balanced sound
- More budget-friendly
- Less impactful bass
- Lower maximum volume
- Less sensitive
- Fuller range of sound with healthy bass
- Surround sound effect
- High maximum volume
- High sensitivity
- Large and bulky
- Higher power consumption
- More expensive
A Detailed Guide to Bookshelf Vs Tower Speakers
Overall Sound Quality
When it comes to overall sound quality, it’s important to assess how well a speaker can deliver accurate, detailed sound across lows, mids, and highs.
However, more than this, it’s about which speakers can deliver immersive sound that brings music and movies to life, rather than them feeling like a recording.
Bookshelf speakers are either 2 or sometimes 3 way units, with woofers and tweeters at a minimum, and sometimes the addition of a mid-range voice coil or super tweeter. In a 2 way setup, the individual drivers target high and low frequencies, so there is slightly less accuracy than a 3 way speaker.
Tower speakers tend to be 3 way speakers, with dedicated drivers for lows, mids, and highs. This allows them to deliver more detailed and precise sound across all the frequencies.
Some varieties are even 4 way speakers, with an extra bass driver to bring those thumping lower frequencies to life.
Tower speakers are also larger in general, with larger drivers, which allows them to cover more extensive frequency ranges.
However, it all comes down to the construction. If you compare a cheap 3 way tower speaker with a premium 2 way bookshelf speaker, you’re going to hear much higher quality sound from the latter.
That being said, if you’re comparing similarly priced speakers, tower speakers win in the category of overall sound quality.
Winner: Tower speakers.
Music or Movies?
You might be surprised to hear that different speakers are suited to different audio types, whether that be music, movies, or video games.
If you’re looking for speakers to pump your favorite tunes and bring life to your next house parties, there’s no looking past tower speakers. They can cover the full range of frequencies needed for all genres of music and deliver it at volume.
However, if you’re more into movies, you should ideally invest in both kinds of speakers.
In a smaller setup with a receiver and center speaker, you can use bookshelf speakers in a L/R setup to achieve full surround sound. This is a key advantage because they can double as surround speakers.
However, if you’re looking for that full cinematic experience, it’s worth buying bookshelf and tower speakers to round out all frequencies and enjoy sound from every direction.
Winner: Bookshelf speakers.
It’s all about that bass….or is it?
For music enthusiasts and cinema lovers, the answer is a resounding YES.
Bass adds an extra dimension to audio, getting under your skin and making you feel music and movies just as much as you hear them. In a full audiophile setup, you’ll have a subwoofer to handle the bass.
However, if you can’t or don’t want a sub, both bookshelf and tower speakers can pick up the lower frequencies.
Bookshelf speakers have limited bass capabilities due to their smaller size and usual 2 way playback. You’re still going to hear the lower frequencies, but bass enthusiasts will be sorely disappointed with the output.
In tower speakers, the dedicated bass driver(s) allows the speakers to comfortably reproduce the bass frequencies. Because of this dedicated driver, they can reach lower frequencies more accurately.
They are also larger in general, allowing them to move significantly more air than bookshelf speakers, achieving a much deeper and richer sound.
We still recommend investing in a premium subwoofer if you want the full bass effect, but tower speakers trump bookshelf speakers in this category.
Winner: Tower speakers.
In an ideal world, we all have dedicated rooms that we can set up as home theaters or party palaces, filled with a multitude of audio equipment.
However, this isn’t the case for most people, and space is often a point of compromise.
If you are working with a small room with limited floor space, then bookshelf speakers are a no brainer. You can tuck them away on the shelf and, despite their small size, they will be able to deliver sufficient sound to fill the space.
On the other hand, tower speakers are large and bulky, needing designated space on the floor. They also often need to be away from the wall to avoid booming sound, meaning that you can’t have them flush against the edges of your room.
Bookshelf speakers do sound a lot better on dedicated speaker stands which take up floor space anyway. However, this does depend on design, and most models sound great regardless of positioning.
When it comes to space constraints, bookshelf speakers take out the title.
Winner: Bookshelf speakers.
Volume and Sensitivity
Sometimes bigger is better, and that’s certainly true when it comes to volume capabilities.
We can differentiate volume and sensitivity in simple terms: volume is how loudly a speaker can play sound, and sensitivity is how easily it can do it.
Tower speakers are significantly larger and therefore able to handle greater amplification, but they’re also more sensitive. This means that they can handle these higher volumes with minimal distortion.
If you want to try to achieve the same volume with bookshelf speakers, you’ll have to compromise on sound quality because of the reduced sensitivity.
Therefore, if loud and clean are your priorities, tower speakers are the way to go.
Winner: Tower speakers.
Aesthetics and Style
Looks aren’t everything, but we can’t pretend they’re not important. Especially when it comes to audio equipment, aesthetics can be the make or break for your ideal speakers.
If you’re the kind of person who prefers minimalist design, then there’s probably nothing worse than a tower speaker. It’s bulky, visible, and almost impossible to hide unless you’re willing to install acoustic curtains.
Bookshelf speakers will fit your aesthetic perfectly because you can hide them away on a shelf or in the cabinet, without detracting from your overall decor.
However, if you’re looking for a super modern look, tower speakers have more appeal as a centerpiece in your home entertainment room. They’re large, flashy, and sleek, with enough features to get your visitors’ eyes boggling.
Vintage will never go out of style, and both bookshelf and tower speakers are available in gorgeous classic designs that feature real wood and simple details.
Therefore, whether bookshelf or tower speakers are better for you is based on your personal aesthetic. Only you can make the call on this one.
Budget is one of the most important factors when considering bookshelf vs tower speakers.
Whether you’re wanting to spend $100 or more than $1000, there are speakers available in all price ranges. However, tower speakers are generally more expensive, starting at around $500 for a decent model.
You can easily find midrange quality bookshelf speakers for a much lower price. So, if price is the biggest sticking point, then you’re much better off choosing to go with bookshelf speakers.
Winner: Bookshelf speakers.
Case Study: Bookshelf Vs Tower Speakers with approx. $200 Price Tag
The bookshelf speakers: Polk Signature Series S15
The tower speaker: Sony SSCS3
To really illustrate the differences between bookshelf and tower speakers at a similar price point, we found excellent examples of $200 speakers for each.
Polk Signature Series S15 Bookshelf Speakers
- High quality construction
- Minimal distortion
- 2 way playback
- Modern, minimalist design
- Reliable surround sound
- Lightweight and compact
- Limited frequency response
- Low minimum volume
Sony SSCS3 Tower Speakers
- Extended frequency response
- 3 way playback
- Can fill room with sound
The Polk Signature Series S15 Bookshelf Speakers vs Sony SSCS3 Tower Speaker
If we take a closer look at the S15 and the SSCS3, we can see key differences between bookshelf and tower speakers.
The most obvious is the size. While the S15 speakers measure 8.4 inches at their tallest point, the SSCS3 is more than 40 inches high. Both speakers are lightweight, but you will need floor and air space to accommodate the tower speaker.
When it comes to frequency response, the Sony tower speaker has a much more extensive range. It can reach as low as 45 Khz, picking up those thumping bass frequencies. In comparison, the Polk S15 speakers can only pick up signals as low as 67 Khz.
Therefore, if you’re looking to enjoy deep, pounding bass, then the tower speaker is a much better option.
The speakers also fit the classic design at their price point: the bookshelf speakers have 2 way playback and the tower speaker has 3 way playback. The Sony tower speaker features a bass driver, tweeter, and super tweeter, allowing each driver to focus on its own frequency range of bass, treble, or alto.
In comparison, the Polk S15 speakers have just midrange drivers and tweeters, meaning that they miss out on a lot of the lower frequencies.
The last obvious comparison is the volume capabilities. While the tower speaker can handle up to 145W of power, the bookshelf speakers can only handle up to 100W. While this might not sound like a lot, it can be the difference between filling a small or medium sized room.
Through this brief comparison, you can see that the Polk Signature Series S15 tower speakers are compact and reliable, delivering good sound across the midrange and high notes. They can easily fill a small room with sound but will struggle in larger spaces.
The Sony SSCS3 tower speaker is considerably taller and bulkier, making it difficult to fit in a smaller space. However, this is a trade off for a 3 way design that can easily pick up lower frequencies and deliver them at a higher volume, filling a larger sized room with sound.
The Verdict: Bookshelf Vs Tower Speakers
If you look at the criteria alone, then it might seem that tower speakers win because they top more categories. This is true if you have a general space and audio needs, but as always, it depends on you.
Both kinds of speakers excel in different categories, with bookshelf speakers giving you the flexibility to enjoy excellent sound in smaller spaces or expand your home cinema setup.
Tower speakers are the winners if you prioritize volume, bass, and frequency response, with the space to accommodate the bulkier units.
Whichever speaker you choose, remember to identify your specific needs and you can’t go wrong.
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Trent is a music lover, musical instrument player and passionate audio afficionado.