Last Updated on January 10, 2023 by Norvan Martin
One of the most common questions our readers ask us is, “which should I buy, satellite or bookshelf speakers?” Before we answer this question, let’s define these speakers and help you see how each of them can satisfy your various entertainment needs.
What are Satellites and Bookshelf Speakers?
Satellites, also known as satellite speakers, are the small loudspeakers typically positioned beside and behind the listening position.
In a 5.1 sound surround sound system, they’re placed beside the listening area. In higher configurations such as 7.1, they’re positioned on the side and behind.
Satellite speakers are designed to redefine the audio system performance, mainly when used with a separate subwoofer or woofer. So, you are highly likely to come across various satellite speaker systems.
One of the most common satellite speaker systems is the 2.1 setup. This figure shows that the speaker configuration consists of two satellites that use a subwoofer. If you want to play stereo audio, this could work for you.
The 5.1 setup, on the other hand, is made up of five satellite speakers that use a single sub. This audio setup is best for playing multi-channel tracks.
Satellite speakers don’t have a built-in subwoofer. That’s why you can’t use it without an external sub, especially if you need the lows, which are great for improving the listening experience.
When used as part of a surround system, you don’t need an additional sub. For example, the single subwoofer in a 5.1 surround system is enough.
This differentiates them from tower speakers that must rest on the ground or the floor.
Moreover, unlike towering speakers, they maximize sound in relatively small spaces. So, they are ideal if you don’t have a spacious living room.
However, since these speakers are full-range, they’re popular with music fans residing in large living spaces too.
Key Differences Between Satellite Speakers and Bookshelf Speakers
If you’re looking for the most critical differences between satellite and bookshelf speakers, find a detailed summary below.
Sound Quality: Satellite speakers are best known for producing pleasing surround sound effects. This makes them best for movies.
On the other hand, since bookshelf speakers have a pervasive acoustic range, they’re most suitable for music purposes.
Frequency Range: Satellite speakers produce quality mid-range and mid-bass frequencies. You can’t use them if you want frequencies below 100Hz. They typically produce between 150 to 200 Hz.
In other words, they concentrate on higher frequencies, thereby helping to reduce sound distortion. Nevertheless, since they can’t produce the lows, they are best for complementing prominent speakers.
As already mention, bookshelf speakers are full-range speakers. This means they are designed to handle a broader range. Inside each enclosure, you find high-and low-frequency drivers. This is why you can use them without additional subwoofers or woofers and still achieve top-quality quality.
Bookshelf speakers typically produce frequencies ranging from 20 kHz to 50Hz. some may go put to 120 Hz. Check out the frequency response of the SVS Prime Satellite 5.1 Speaker System for example.
On-wall or Tiny ‘satellite’ speakers: 150-200 Hz.
Small center, surround sound, bookshelf: 100-120 Hz.
Size: Satellite speakers are considerably small. You can find some that are less than 6 inches. On the other hand, bookshelf speakers are relatively large and can be used as front speakers.
Placement: Satellite speakers were designed to be placed on the sides or behind the listening area. Nonetheless, due to the speakers’ favorable size and weight, you can place them wherever you wish.
Bookshelf speakers sit on bookshelves or other types of furniture that are available in the room.
How to Install Bookshelf Speakers
Here are a few important things that you need to do when installing bookshelf speakers:
Set Up the Room
Start by figuring out where the speakers will go in your room. The best place depends on the size of your space and your reasons for installing bookshelf speakers.
These factors can determine whether you’ll set up the speaker on your desk, your entertainment center, a dedicated bookshelf speaker stand, or an actual bookshelf.
If you encounter much trouble trying to set up the room, you can resort to Bluetooth bookshelf speakers. With these speakers, you can connect wirelessly and save space. It also guarantees a clean, sleek aesthetic appeal devoid of tangled wires in the living space.
Remember to place the tweeters at ear level whether it rests on a bookshelf, table, or any other surface. This lets the listeners get quality sound. The tweeters are designed to make things more detailed and crisp, but poor positioning can cost you this.
Moreover, set up the speakers to ensure they project the sound across the listening room’s length.
In most cases, it’s tempting to set up these bookshelf speakers against walls or in corners due to the desire to save space. Some people also do this to enhance the aesthetic value of their spaces. However, it can double or triple the low frequencies, preventing listeners from hearing other frequencies.
To be on the safe side, ensure there’s an equal distance from the side walls. Besides, it would help if you placed the speaker 2-or-3 feet from the rear wall.
Create the Ideal Listening Position
Now you’ve set up the room bearing in mind the challenges involved in installing bookshelf speakers away from the walls or corners.
It’s time you create the “sweet spot.” This term refers to the point within the listening room where sound is most balanced.
Identify the ideal listening position. It could be the center of the room or a favorite location on your living room couch.
Place the speakers on each side of your turntable or TV set. If possible, create an equilateral triangle between the listening position and the bookshelf speakers. You may need to rearrange your furniture or equipment to achieve this.
If you can’t create the triangle, ensure the speakers are as close to each other as possible.
Fine-Tune the Angle
To create a balanced stereo image, you should angle the speakers towards the listening position. Adjust until you find the right spot. If you’ve got a protractor, use it to ensure the speakers are at 60 degrees.
Test the Speakers
Turn on one of your favorite songs and turn up the volume. Take your seat at the listening position and see whether there are balance or reflection issues.
You can make small adjustments to the sweet spot and the speakers’ position until you get the desired sound quality.
Note: Bookshelf speakers should rest on shelves and other similar surfaces. In most cases, you’ll find the ideal furniture near walls or corners, which can make placement tricky when installing bookshelf speakers. As a rule, for optimal performance, you should still avoid the walls.
How to Install Satellite Speakers
As already indicated, you can use satellite speakers as surrounds. After setting up the listening room appropriately, you can mount them on the wall or place them on speaker stands.
Of course, unlike bookshelf speakers that can serve as front speakers, these speakers should be located beside and behind the listening area. Let’s see how different surround systems could determine the placement of your satellite speakers.
5.1 Surround System
In this surround configuration, you place your satellite speakers to the right and left of the listening position.
For optimum sound quality, you aim them directly toward the sweet spot. If you can’t place them here due to space limitations, consider a few feet behind the sweet spot. If that works, face the speakers forward.
For the best sound effects, ensure the speakers are one-to-two feet above the ear level. Check out our article on surround sound speaker systems to find out more.
7.1 Surround System
If you’re setting up a 7.1 surround system, you’ll install the first pair of satellite speakers by following the steps we’ve discussed above (5.1 surround).
After that, find another pair of satellite speakers and position them behind the listening area. Ensure they face forward. Check out our article on surround sound speaker systems to find out more.
You should position these speakers 1-or-2 feet above the ear level.
Which Speakers Should I Buy, Satellite or Bookshelf Speakers?
You buy any of these speakers depending on your needs. We’ve indicated a few instances when you should go for satellite speakers instead of bookshelf speakers and vice versa. Let’s take a look at more reasons below.
When Should I Choose Satellite Over Bookshelf Speakers?
Choose satellites when you’re looking for speakers that are:
- Easier to integrate into a sound system
- Smaller and more compact (Can install them anywhere)
- Tailored to Fit in almost all interiors and appear perfectly natural with a wide assortment of sound systems
- Designed to complement bigger speakers (Work best as surrounds).
When Should I Choose Bookshelf Speakers over Satellite Speakers
Choose bookshelf speakers when you need speakers that are:
- Designed to provide a significant upgrade for your home theatre system. You can use them as front and height speakers. If you don’t have satellites, you can also use them as surround speakers.
- Suitable for handling the lows, highs, and mids. Bookshelf speakers come with built-in subs.
- Designed to produce louder volumes than satellites
- If you are looking for a vintage option, there are several vintage bookshelf speakers out there.
Bookshelf speakers are great speakers and can offer much more than satellites, but they require more skills to integrate into a sound system.
Are bookshelf speakers better than computer speakers?
Computer speakers tend to be on the smaller side and they usually come with a subwoofer. They have also been observed to have trouble with mid-range frequencies.
Considering the overall quality of the audio, you will get better-sounding audio from bookshelf speakers.
Satellite Speaker With Subwoofer
The average speaker, including various bookshelf models, is created to reproduce bass frequencies. This is because speaker manufacturers do not know if users will possess a subwoofer or not.
Satellite speakers are much smaller in size than most speakers, they possess only two speaker drivers in each product. Some manufacturers utilize only one driver, neglecting a tweeter. As such, satellite speakers are specifically designed to omit all deep bass and most mid-bass.
The subwoofer gets the bass and the small speaker gets all the rest. Satellite speakers are an extension of this.
Are Bose Satellite Speakers Good?
Bose satellite speakers are known to produce high-quality sound, and even then, there are various high-end models for users to upgrade to. The Bose Bass Module series, which includes the Bose Bass Module 500 and the Bose Bass Module 700, has been designed to give users a live experience that is fully immersive.
Can I Use Satellite Speakers As Main Speakers?
When placed in a 2.1, 5.0 or 5.1 arrangement, a satellite speaker can produce high-definition quality sound even when positioned in small spaces.
They can be used as the main speaker system in small to medium rooms.
Now you can see why we say both satellites and bookshelf speakers can satisfy your entertainment needs.
If there’s no extra space in your living room, but you’ve got a piece of furniture, bookshelf speakers suit you. If they can’t sit on the furniture at ear level, satellites will sort you out.
You also need to consider other things like whether you’ve got bigger speakers that your new speakers can complement or not. This way, you’ll make the best decision on whether to buy satellites or bookshelf speakers.
Norvan Martin is the founder of BoomSpeaker.com. He is a professional Electronics Engineer and is passionate about home theater systems and AV electronics. BoomSpeaker was created as an online hub to share his knowledge and experiences as it relates to home theaters and home audio electronics.