The Reader Question – Bookshelf or floorstanding speaker?

Multitest bookshelfs



We get a lot of questions at Alpha Audio. Some questions are asked regularly. We’ll take those questions out and answer them in the section: The Readers’ Question. This time: bookshelf or floorstanding speaker. An interesting question!

It’s nice to see that everyone here has their own preferences. We are convinced that there is nothing more personal than the reproduction characteristics of a loudspeaker. Your editor has a soft spot for bookshelfs. Monitor speakers. And then perhaps for certain brands, although this should not be taken into account in a review of course. That is more about describing the sound and estimating whether the goal of the design has been achieved.

Imaging and full range

In fact, buying a system is a balance between budget and making concessions. Unless you may are a millionaire and have such a massive budget that anything is possible. But in many cases that is not the case and you will have to work with the resources you have.

A monitor loudspeaker is often particularly good at creating a precise stereo image. This is partly due to the – often – simple design. There are only two units, a relatively small housing and a fairly simple filter. As a positive consequence, the manufacturer’s budget can be focused on fewer parts, so better parts can be used. In addition, a small cabinet has fewer problems. Think resonances, reflections… et cetera.

There’s also a downside. A monitor is hardly ever capable of playing full range. There is less cabinet volume and fewer units to fit in it. Most – not all! – bookshelfs are two-way, giving the woofer both the middle and the lower frequencies. That’s okay, as long as you don’t play very loud, but you’ll understand that if you start playing electronic music, it has its limitations. Less volume and a woofer with more work results in less deep bass and less pressure in the bass.

In some cases, a floorstander will just win there. Know that not all floorstanders go deeper than bookshelf models.  And don’t give more energy in the bass either. A Focal Sopra No1 goes up to about 45 Hz at +/- 3dB. We can guarantee that this is correct and that a Sopra is still quite punchy at that frequency. An average floorstander doesn’t do it any better. But a good model is.


So is it the choice between low pressure or imaging? Can’t we do both? Yes, we can. But then you come in a spicy price range is our experience. There are of course floor standing models with a beautiful imaging and a nice tight and deep bass. Anyway, that’s something you will pay a premium for. Our experience is that it is always advisable to listen to a floor standing model as well as a monitor speaker in a certain price range. That’s how you hear the trade-off. And so you can determine what is decisive for you.


It’s a myth that a bookshelf needs less space. It’s just not like that. A good monitor speaker should also have its free space, and the do have an equally large footprint. After all, they’re on a speaker stand. In short: they take up just as much space. But it looks less bulky.

It is also not immediately so that they can be closer to the wall. Your editor’s DALI Epicon-2 and Focal Sopra No1 are just about 1 meter from the wall. Then they sound spatial and balanced. At the Alpha Audio Editors offices, it may differ, according to the model they use. Closed models can often be slightly closer to the wall. Think ATC.

A practical disadvantage of a bookshelf is the speaker cable connection: the connection is often – not always – on the back of the loudspeaker. So, it will be high up. For a bookshelf standing on a stand, that is about 60 – 80cm in height. The cable will hang… on its connectors. With a floorstanding model, that connections is at the base.

Bottom line

Both models have advantages and disadvantages. A monitor is basically a simpler loudspeaker, allowing more focus on quality for a given budget. This is expressed – at the same price – in more precision than a floor-standing model. However, a floor stand can give more low pressure and can potentially also be lower than a bookshelf. It’s up to you to decide what makes the difference.

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