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Getting to Know the Four Basic Shapes and Sizes of Speakers

You'll probably run into four generic shape and size categories of speakers for your home audio system. These four categories are:

  • Floorstanding: These speakers can be as tall as you are, can handle the full range of frequencies, and may or may not own the low-bass frequencies often taken over by the subwoofer.
  • Bookshelf: These aptly named speakers are designed for smaller footprints (the amount of space they take up). You often find them on a bookshelf or discreetly mounted on the wall. Sometimes, you see them on speaker stands to bring them up to ear-level (which is the best way to install these types of speakers). They are usually designed to handle the midrange and high-end frequencies and are typically mated to a subwoofer in your installation. You may hear bookshelf speakers described by the term satellite speakers.
  • Subwoofer: These are larger and heavier speakers than the bookshelf models and are usually kept on the floor due to their size and weight. These contain the large drivers for low-frequency use.
  • In-wall: In-wall speakers share most of their characteristics with the bookshelf models; these are smaller speakers designed more for the midrange and high-end frequencies. Although some have enclosures that are mounted into the wall, the majority of these systems use the wall's own enclosed nature as its enclosure. The drivers and other pieces and parts (like the crossovers) are mounted in a frame mounted flush with the wall or ceiling.

In general, in-wall speakers are more for whole-home background music and to contribute to the surround sound of a home theater. For the most part, the benefit of these speakers is their ability to be located in places that have more aesthetic than acoustic appeal. They stay tucked away in corners or low on walls, but their acoustical contribution is mainly for background and surround types of sound.

Depending on the construction of the walls themselves, in-wall speakers that lack their own enclosure may spread sound along the wall rather than direct sound forward. If you find yourself planning in-wall speakers, take some extra time to study up on the best ways to optimize their location and performance.

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