Where they fall short, though, is bass reproduction. Their diminutive stature means less space in the cabinet for large woofers, so you can't expect bookshelf speakers to have the same sound as a set of towers, and many can't play as loud either. If you find them inadequate, though, you can always add an external subwoofer down the road.
Floor-standing speakers, on the other hand, have their own set of shortcomings. Most obvious are their size and price. While you can tuck bookshelf speakers away, their floor-standing counterparts are, as their name suggests, big enough to stand on their own. As such, they can dominate a room visually as well as sonically. Their bigger footprint means that air has more room to move around inside the cabinet, and thus they can produce fuller, richer audio than other types of speakers.
The benefit is that if you pick the right floor-standers, you can probably forgo a subwoofer, for a cleaner, simpler setup. In addition to woofers for bass, plenty of floor-standing speakers (like towers) pack in upwards of three drivers for a clear midrange and treble.
You can get a decent pair of bookshelf speakers for around $300, but brand-new towers can cost anywhere between hundreds and thousands of dollars each. Again, it's worth visiting your local shop to browse their stock and decide what sounds best. Bring in your favorite music, be it a CD, a record or your smartphone, and pick the pair that sounds best with what you typically listen to. Chances are you'll be surprised at what a good set of speakers can reveal in albums you've cherished for decades. The next step after that is figuring out which ones sound great and agree with your budget.
Active versus passive
All of the speakers we've talked about thus far require an external power source for them to reproduce sound. As such, they're passive. Active speakers like the AudioEngine HD6 (below) have amplifiers built in, which can save time and money, not to mention space. Sources like turntables and CD players plug directly into the speakers, or, in the case of Spotify, for example, wirelessly, without the need for additional dongles. They also have the potential to sound better than passive speakers, because in ideal situations the amplifier is matched to the drivers' capabilities. Meaning they've been designed in a vacuum to pump out the best possible sound.
However, active speakers are less flexible and tend to cost more. With passive speakers and an amp, if you don't like the way the speakers sound, you can easily replace those rather than the entire setup. With active speakers, by design, that isn't possible -- you'll have to start from scratch each time until you find speakers that you like. Additionally, each speaker will need its own power source, so placement can be limited by the number of electrical outlets in your space.
If you're going for passive speakers, you need wire. There have been countless blind tests pitting "premium" speaker wire against no-name copper, and most people can't tell the difference, not even if it's a contest between wire coat hangers and Monster Cables. As a general rule, you shouldn't need anything fancier than 12-gauge multi-strand copper wire. A 100-foot spool of 12-gauge shouldn't cost you much more than $30. If you're running a particularly high-powered system and need longer than 50-foot runs, just buy heavier wire.
Just because you're buying dumb old gear doesn't mean you can't smarten it up. Whether it's an inexpensive solution like a $35 Chromecast Audio (below) or a similarly priced Bluetooth dongle, it isn't all that difficult to play your digital music collection through your stereo. Apple fans can pick up an AirPort Express Base Station for $99 to easily add Cupertino's wireless technology to their existing setups. Regardless of which you choose, connecting any of the above to an amp or receiver is as simple as hooking a set of RCA cables from the device into an empty input. With the AirPort, though, you'll need to provide your own mini-stereo-to-dual-RCA jack cable.
If you're really committed and would rather not deal with the limitations of those options, you could opt for the Sonos Connect. At $349, it's dramatically more expensive than either a Bluetooth dongle or Chromecast Audio, but that investment will allow you to add music streaming to your existing setup (it needs to be powered) and will put all of your tunes around the entire house via WiFi. It also opens up an easy option for adding multi-room audio to your home by adding additional Sonos speakers as you can afford them.
Hopefully, by this point the idea of building a stereo is a lot less daunting and you feel confident enough to walk into your local stereo shop to start browsing. There is a lot to consider still (picking out components, mostly), but at this point it comes down to personal preferences. Have any tips we might've missed? Leave them in the comments below. Happy listening!