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At the very best, it's difficult to get good low bass from a stand-mounted speaker, mostly because of the physical design constraints: Typically 6" or 8" woofer and small cabinet size.
So, why is this design so popular? Glad you asked: Because it lowers the cost of the speaker and because it appeals to people who have limited space.
Almost inevitably, however, people who buy 2-way stand-mounted speakers end up also buying one or two real woofers (aka subwoofers). This turns their 2-way speaker into a 3-way speaker, which typically is what was needed in the first place.
Depending upon specific user circumstances, it may be better to find a tower style speaker - utilizing that vertical space for a 10" woofer or two, rather than for a pretty pedestal.
Edits: 02/22/17Follow Ups:
"Almost inevitably, however, people who buy 2-way stand-mounted speakers end up also buying one or two real woofers (aka subwoofers)."
Nobody I know that owns decent monitors that at least go down to 40-45hz or so in room feels a need for subwoofers. Many of my friends live in small Manhattan apartments which are not conducive to 20hz bass - not to mention the paucity of notes that low.
If ya have something like a Proac Tablette I agree that you'd likely want a subwoofer. But there's a helluva lotta good monitors available nowadays that provide a satisfying degree of bass heft.
In small and medium sized rooms, I'd rather have a 3-way system made from high quality 2-way stand-mounters plus stereo subs. I can usually get smoother bass response that way because of the flexibility to place the subs in the best locations for bass. And it will play deeper. And it will usually sound more coherent because the whole midrange is covered by a single driver, and usually the soundstaging is better too. The main downside is that it's harder to set up. To do it right requires measuring IMO and takes time and experimentation. For people who just plop a sub down in the corner and twiddle knobs by ear, the results depend a lot on luck.
There is also the cost argument. The audible spectrum spans about 10 octaves. Given a fixed budget, you can buy a standmounter that covers 8.5-9 octaves and gives you better performance over 7-8 of them, or you can buy a floorstander that covers 9.5 octaves and gives you better performance over 1-2 of them.
On the other hand, in a big room I'd rather have a larger floorstander. I've tried using small stand-mounted loudspeakers in large rooms and they just don't have enough dynamics. And in a larger room, it's usually easier to keep speakers away from room boundaries, and usually you're listening further away which allows the sound from multiple drivers on a larger speaker to integrate properly.
If I understand you correctly, you're saying "it depends"? ;)
In any case, we seem to agree that, at a minimum, a 3-way is necessary for high quality sound.
Indeed it does. I lived in a small city apartment while I worked in Sydney for a few years, and used a pair of small standmounts, Focus Audio FS-688s. In the relatively close to wall placement I was forced to put them in, they hit their spec of 45Hz -3dB. And that was satisfying enough 90% of the time. So I understand Rick's point.
Back in my house in the US, I had Dynaudio C2s plus subs. The thing I missed the most in Sydney wasn't the bass, it was the soundstaging. When I had them in my downstairs room in my house, the Focus Audio 688s were awesome at soundstaging, but due to the size and unusual shape of that Sydney apartment I just couldn't place them where they could shine.
Now that I'm back living in my house again, I want full range sound. And that definitely requires a 3-way system. But I've come around to the view that there is a right sized speaker for the room. Too small of a speaker in too big of a room is not satisfying, even augmented with subs. And too large of a speaker in too small of a room is not satisfying either. So I guess it boils down to where you put the crossover. In a small room I'd rather go 2.2 and have the crossover in the bass. In a very large room, I'd rather have the crossover in the lower midrange so large woofers are covering the whole bass range. In a medium-large size room, it depends.
As is usually the case, it comes down to taste, sensitivity to quality, and music genre.
Just to be clear, are you referring to 40-45 Hz at -3 dB or -6 dB, or even -10 dB? And, the roll-off below some frequency can be either gentle or steep. So, not all apples are equal.
Some people are satisfied with "reasonably good" bass. Other people, who might describe themselves as audiophiles or critical listeners, often employ a so-called "subwoofer" because a stand-mounted 8" 2-way doesn't do a proper job of reproducing that bottom octave and a half.
Acoustic instruments bottom out in the low/mid 30-ish Hz range. Synthesized sounds can go much lower.
If a person listens to string or brass quintets, -3 dB at 45 Hz is plenty good. Even most jazz music bottoms out around there. The lowest note on a "string bass" (double bass) is a bit above 40Hz, and the lowest note on a standard piano is approx. 55 Hz. Harp goes lower, and the 10' Bosendorfer piano goes to C below the standard A.
In any case, from what I read here, there's a lot of 2-way stand-mounted owners who are using add-on woofers.
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