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Today, most bookshelf speakers are designed to be used with a subwoofer to reproduce the full audible range. For full-range, some classic bookshelf speakers from the 1970's and 1980's are among the best (like the AR's LST, BBC's LS3/5a and Ohm's CAM's). Oldies are still goodies!
• Do you want concert level music in your house?
• Do you have a whole room to dedicate to your home theater?
• Are you attracted to tall monolithic shapes?
If you answered yes to most of these questions, tower speakers may be right for you. If you have the room for them, tower speakers have plenty of positive attributes. The high frequency drivers on tower speakers are placed at ear level (perfect for seated listening). Since they are not restricted by a small cabinet, the drivers in tower speakers are usually designed for deeper bass and higher output. The best thing to do is to listen to these speakers in your room before you buy. Just because that tower speaker looks pretty doesn't mean it will sound good in your home.
Book shelf speakers are great for small home theaters, or low-powered amplifiers. They're perfect if you don't require high SPL's and lack the space for tower speakers. Used with a powered subwoofer, a decent set of bookshelf speakers will give most tower speakers a run for their money. Not only does the subwoofer give you the low bass of tower speaker but, because the main speakers are so small, your speaker placement options are broader.
As with any choice, do your research and audition many different speakers, to see what appeals to you. Ideally, audition the most likely speakers in your home before you buy.
Some people think the bookshelf versus tower speaker debate is merely a cosmetic decision but, in reality, each type of speaker has its pros and cons. A speaker decision should depend on the room in which the speakers will be placed.
Bookshelf speakers usually sound similar regardless of room size, but don't expect them to be the center of a high decibel home theater. Also keep in mind too that there are many speakers that don't fit into either category.
About thirty years ago, a company called Ohm Acoustics gained popularity in the audiophile crowd for their Walsh Driver series of loudspeakers. Pioneered by Lincoln Walsh, the Walsh driver uses a very special inverted cone, which fires outward to produce very life-like sound. Their Model F from 1972 is one of the highest regarded tower speakers ever made. It has a small footprint, and projects an extremely wide, open soundstage.
Over the years, the model has been refined and, currently, the top of the line Walsh 5 Mk-2 is produced. The entire Walsh series is renowned for their imaging and soundstage, and what Ohm refers to as 'Full Room Stereo'. The fact that Ohm Acoustics still produces an ever-evolving line of Walsh driver speakers, and even upgrades older models is a testament to their dedication.