Shapes and Sizes of Speakers

7 of 11 in Series: The Essentials of Speakers

Home theater speaker systems come in all shapes and sizes. Speakers fall into four categories of shapes and sizes: floor-standing, bookshelf, subwoofer, and in-wall speakers.

Here a closer look at types of speakers:

  • Floor-standing: These speakers can be as tall as you are, can handle the full range of audio frequencies, and may or may not be used to produce 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. They are usually designed to handle the midrange and high-end frequencies. You may hear bookshelf speakers described as satellite speakers.

    Many manufacturers have designed special bookshelf-style speakers with mounting brackets and a sleek (and thin) enclosure designed for wall mounting next to a flat-panel plasma or LCD display. These speakers are usually referred to as wall mounts.

  • Subwoofer: These speakers are larger and heavier 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 (bass sounds) use.

  • In-wall: In-wall speakers share most of their characteristics with 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 are mounted in a frame that is fitted flush with the wall or ceiling.

    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 installed in places that have more aesthetic than acoustic appeal. They stay tucked away in corners or low on walls. Also, 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 time to study the best ways to optimize their location and performance. This is not to say that there aren’t good-sounding in-wall speakers — there are, and many high-end manufacturers make in-wall speakers these days. But good in-walls are typically more expensive than otherwise comparable bookshelf or floor-standing speakers.

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