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The term shelf stereo refers to any home stereo system that is small enough for placement on a shelf or other similar location. Shelf stereo systems are becoming more popular as their capabilities increase while their size decreases. The term may be used to describe systems ranging from a basic, battery-powered boombox to a sophisticated, multi-function high-powered receiver and speakers. Shelf stereos are often rated using the total system power in order to "beef-up" their apparent power.
In terms of amplifier power, many shelf stereo systems have a total system power greater than 500 watts, which is considerably more than many surround sound receivers, which are usually higher in price. Most shelf stereos use either the standard two channel format or the 2.1 channel format (which includes a subwoofer), with the latter being more common in the higher powered systems. The "point one" indicates the use of a subwoofer along with the two main speakers.
However, this is the main difference between shelf stereos and surround sound receivers. Surround sound receivers most commonly use 2.1, 5.1, 6.1, and 7.1 speaker setups that provide true surround sound. Shelf stereos can accept different types of media. Many stereos come with or have the ability to connect:
- a digital audio player (for e.g. MP3 or FLAC audio files), such as iPod
- Bluetooth devices
- USB flash memory drives
- satellite radio
The size of 2010-era shelf stereos has also changed. Many of the popular stereos are one connected piece as opposed to multiple speakers that separate from a main unit. Among the new one-piece shelf stereos are the stand-alone iPod speaker system. These systems are made primarily for the use of iPods and utilize an iPod dock.