Good bookshelf speakers are among the most versatile components of any audio system, whether it’s used as an integral part of a home theater setup or primarily for enjoying great stereo music. The Klipsch B-20, our TopTenREVIEWS Gold Award winning bookshelf loudspeakers, are among the very best available for a price that can fit nicely into most budgets.
The size of bookshelf speakers is one of their most important attributes. Being rather small, they don’t present the placement obstacles that can be an issue for their larger counterparts, floor standing speakers. They can be positioned, as the name implies, on a shelf, on speaker stands or just about any flat surface. While the Klipsch B-20 could be positioned on a wall-mounted shelf, much of the benefit of its rear-firing bass-reflex design would be nullified by such an installation.
Conversely, the diminutive size of even the best bookshelf speakers is the root of their one inherent shortfall. It's physically impossible for speakers this small to produce the lowest bass tones. The issue is not limited to the Klipsch B-20s; rather, it’s characteristic of the entire product class. That accepted, these are great little speakers that pack a big punch. They have a lot going for them in every regard and compare favorably across the board with other top-rated products such as the Infinity Primus P162 and the Boston Acoustics CS 26. Though the competition among these speakers is very close, the extremely high efficiency of the Klipsch B-20 compared to the rest of the field was the deciding factor in making them our top choice.
While allowing for individual variation, it’s generally accepted that the range of human hearing goes from a very low 20 Hertz (Hz) up to 20,000Hz, more frequently written as 20kHz. Hertz is a term used to describe frequency with 1Hz equal to one sound wave cycle per second. In the strictest of terms, a full-range speaker would be capable of accurately reproducing this entire range, 20Hz to 20kHz, seamlessly and naturally. In practical terms, no speaker, and certainly not one that’s limited to the size of bookshelf speakers, can do that. In relatively simple terms, the reason is that the low frequency driver simply isn’t large enough to move enough air to produce tones down to 20Hz.
Be that as it may, the Klipsch B-20 comes remarkably close. While it can’t boast the lowest bass specification nor the highest treble response of any speaker we’ve evaluated, its 62Hz-23kHz range is among the best at covering the most important frequencies with great accuracy and transparency. We mention transparency at this point because it’s very easy to get a little too hung up on specifications when describing audio equipment. Transparency is that more qualitative aspect of a speaker that allows it to reproduce sound exactly as it was recorded without adding its own unique peculiarities. In that regard, these bookshelf speakers are hard to beat.
As important as their frequency response is, the most impressive and distinguishing specification of the Klipsch B-20 bookshelf speakers is their sensitivity. At 92.5 decibels (dB) they’re notably more efficient than any other speakers in our survey. Not to get too technical, but it’s important to know that speaker efficiency is a logarithmic function rather than being linear. In practical terms, that means that a speaker that is a mere 3db less efficient requires double the amplifier power to make it perform at the same level. While it can be correctly inferred that a more efficient speaker will play more loudly with a given level of amplifier input, it’s far more important that sound quality is far better because the amp doesn’t have to work very hard to produce the desired results.
The amount of amplifier power required to effectively drive a pair of speakers doesn’t specifically relate to the sound that will be produced by it, but it is important to know with regard to matching electronic components with the right speakers. Klipsch doesn’t state a specific minimum input wattage, but it’s impressive to note that it will handle a substantial 85W of power on a continuous basis – quite a feat for bookshelf speakers of this size. It will also handle peak power, or transients, of up to 340W. That can be particularly important when watching films with explosions or similar sound effects. It will also handle the most dramatic of musical crescendos.
The Klipsch B-20 is magnetically shielded. This guards against interference from other devices, in particular CRT televisions or monitors. That can be important in a home theater arrangement.
Like most of the bookshelf speakers in this price range, the Klipsch B-20 is of the two-way design, meaning there are two distinct drivers housed within the enclosure. The majority of the sound is routed to a single 5.25-inch low-frequency driver. It’s responsible for the frequencies that would be covered by the woofer and the mid-range drivers in larger speakers. Constructed of injection molded graphite, or IMG, it’s a bit stiffer than comparable paper-coned drivers and tends to react faster and more precisely.
A passive crossover set at 2250Hz routes higher frequencies to the 0.75-inch aluminum diaphragm tweeter. The rather stiff material helps this high-frequency driver react quickly and precisely to treble content. It’s coupled with a patented Tractrix Horn, a feature for which Klipsch is famous and contributes to extraordinary top-end performance. Extending up to 23kHz, the speaker produces an exceptional ambiance that is missed by lesser drivers.
The Klipsch B-20, like most bookshelf speakers, is of the bass reflex design. This allows for increased bass sound by routing the air pressure created by rearward movement of the low frequency out of the enclosure. In this case, the sound is released via a rear-firing port. The downside of the design is that bass tones can be somewhat muddier, or less precise, than with an acoustic suspension speaker, which is the alternative. Nonetheless, the tone of this speaker is very tight and pleasing.
Klipsch offers a wide variety of customer support options. They can be contacted by telephone or online chat during weekday business hours. The website includes an extensive FAQs section as well as PDF versions of owner manuals and other product literature. A helpful community forum is also available on the site.
Bookshelf speakers are desirable for a number of reasons. Their size makes them easy to place and they tend to be less expensive than floor standing speakers. While they can’t reproduce the same depth of sound as their larger counterparts, we found the Klipsch B-20 to be the top performer in the bookshelf speakers category. We were particularly impressed with their sensitivity which adds clarity to the sound across the audio spectrum. The offer a very wide dynamic range and their power handling capabilities are also admirable. In reasonably priced bookshelf speakers, this is about as good as it gets.
The speaker offers exceptional sensitivity making the most of an amplifier’s capabilities.
We’d like to see bass response extend a bit lower. Black ash is the only finish color.
This is our top pick in bookshelf speakers for home theater or stereo music reproduction.