Bookshelf Speakers, otherwise known as Stand Mount Speakers provide a powerful execution of sound from a small cabinet size.
As technology has moved on, the line between bookshelf speakers and floorstanding speakers has become a little blurry, therefore there is no hard and fast rule to it all.
Bookshelf speakers/ stand mount speakers are physically smaller and are therefore able to be placed in more confined spaces. However, we always recommend bookshelf speakers to be placed on stands or something solid.
Generally speaking placement on a bookshelf, or tight up next to a wall is not approved of as it distorts the sound and doesn't give the speaker enough room to truly perform. Surrounding books, shelves, cupboards etc will all effect the quality/ direction of the sound, so please don't think you can simply plonk them anywhere. Having said that, front ported speakers do help with this issue, especially when speakers need to be tucked up next to a wall. So if space is of a real premium, you may want to look for front ported speakers (bass hole in front).
Another favoured method for us is for speakers to be mounted high up on the walls. Yes you need to give ample breathing space, and the direction of speaker is also important but overall we find that the sound stage is larger due to there being less in the way of the speaker. This is something you can't easily do with floorstanding speakers.
It is fine if you're using stand mounts whilst watching TV, however all that sound is planting itself into the sofa, chairs and tables. When walking around or socialising this isn't ideal. By lifting them up the speakers have a clear line to your ears reducing distortion and providing maximum volume for output given.
We will say however this is much more suited to hi-fi listening than home cinema listening in confined environments. Also you may want to be careful if you have lots of glass or hard surfaces around, as that can sound 'bright' which is not nice. If this is the case you may want some soft furnishings around e.g. rugs, carpets, curtains etc.
Due to smaller cabinet/ cone sizes the bookshelf speaker has often been seen as driving less bass than their floorstanding counterparts. However cone size, materials used and cabinet design will all affect this. You may find the opposite!
At Gulland Audio we are actually big fans of bookshelf speakers as often they provide all the clarity of high end speakers with a much smaller price tag. Some may scorn, but we also agree that adding a subwoofer with your bookshelf's can prove to be quite pleasing. This provides much of the low end frequencies (potentially more than any floorstanding speaker) yet maintaining the punch and clarity of the mid/ highs. However if matched with a low grade sub, you can find the sound to be off balance and muddy, so be careful with matching.
Once again, this is very open for discussion, but we often find that bookshelf speakers have more vigour and rhythm in comparison to their less 'tight' floorstanding counterparts. If you're in an environment which doesn't require vast spaces to be filled, then the bookshelf should be more than ample.
Stand Mount/ Bookshelf speakers use far less materials than floorstanding speakers. This greatly reduces the cost of the product overall. Therefore if you're looking at the cheaper ranges of speakers (e.g. below £300), you may find that you will get more performance out of a bookshelf than a floorstanding speaker. However please keep in mind the price of the stands for your speakers, as these can add up. Also please note that price isn't always an indicator of good quality sound, so don't choose speakers just on price alone. Think of speakers like wine, you like some you don't like others. Price is often irrelevant.