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TECH Q AND A: Should I replace small satellite speakers with bookshelf speakers?

Q. I'm building a sound system to listen exclusively to classical music and opera. I already own an 8-inch Polk subwoofer and need some advice on which $300 bookshelf speakers to use with them. Do you think replacing my small satellite speakers w...

Q. I'm building a sound system to listen exclusively to classical music and opera. I already own an 8-inch Polk subwoofer and need some advice on which $300 bookshelf speakers to use with them. Do you think replacing my small satellite speakers with bookshelf speakers will yield a higher quality listening experience?

--M.F., State College, Pa.

A. You are definitely on the right track. Bookshelf speakers are the best compromise between size and sound, delivering a full midrange that tiny speakers lack while taking up less space than tower speakers. Paired with your subwoofer you will get full-range sound, and even without a subwoofer good bookshelf speakers still sound very satisfying. For best results put them on speaker stands.

I'd start my search with the $298/pair Axiom Audio M2v2. The M2v2 has clear, full, dynamic sound that works well with all kinds of music. Based in Ontario, Canada, Axiom sells direct to consumers and has become legendary for top quality, great service, and one of the very best Web sites in the speaker business. See them at www.axiomaudio.com .

Paradigm, another Canadian manufacturer, only sells through audio specialty shops so you can hear them before you buy -- a rarity these days. The $250/pair Paradigm Atom Monitor has long been the darling of the audio press and is often considered the place to start if you want high-end sound. The Atoms sound a bit warmer than the Axioms so if a warm, pleasing sound is what you are after, these are a great choice. Check them out at www.paradigm.com .

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I've received quite a few e-mails lately asking what happened to the Acculine speakers from The Audio Insider. I recommended Acculine enthusiastically for years but recently they were discontinued. Acculine speakers used an exotic leaf tweeter usually found only in speakers costing several thousand dollars or more. The clarity, detail and purity of their sound must be heard to be appreciated and at the original $249 per pair asking price, the Acculine A1 bookshelf speakers were an incredible value. The cabinets were plain looking, but the sound certainly was not!

The Acculine concept of exotic technology at affordable prices will soon return under a new name. Sometime in the first quarter of 2010 The Audio Insider will introduce Arx speakers, which use leaf tweeter technology combined with, as they put it, "bass technology just as radical as its treble technology." I was told prices will hold the line, which means the Arx bookshelf speaker will sell for around $249, the towers and center channel a bit more. If you do not need speakers right away you may want to learn more about these before you buy. Visit www.theaudioinsider.com for more information.

If some readers find these recommendations a bit too pricey for your needs or budget, there is still hope. One of the most cost-effective product recommendations I have ever made is the Insignia NS-B2111 bookshelf speakers available at Best Buy for only $89.97 a pair. They are attractively styled and finished, but you can't blast them too loudly or the cabinets resonate and affect the sound somewhat. At normal listening volumes they sound just great, and readers purchasing them have all been surprised at how very good they are. I know I was surprised when I first heard them!

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