Don’t overlook this essential part of the system
No matter how good your stereo system is, it will only sound as good as the speakers you have. Your speakers are an essential component of your listening experience at home. While it’s possible to spend a five figure sum on speakers, it’s not necessary to achieve decent sound quality.
Any money spent on speakers is an investment though, as usually they can last for a very long time, while they don’t become outdated as quickly as other home theatre equipment. It’s possible to start with just one or two speakers, adding others later on – Such as subwoofers, rear surrounds – whatever your budget allows and your need dictates.
Consider the following factors when buying:
The sound performance of speakers can be affected by the kind of room they are used in. Everything from the room’s shape, the furniture and even the type of walls can have an impact on how the sound produced is propagated.
When choosing speaker wire, the most important consideration is the resistance rating, which is a measure of the speaker wire’s electrical conductivity. More power is able to reach the speakers with lower resistance speaker wire. Speaker wire resistance should therefore match the speaker’s impedance rating. If speaker wire resistance exceeds that of the speaker impedance by 5% or more, this could cause lower sound quality or distortion.
Speaker power is measured in watts, and this rating is an indication of how much electric power the speaker can use before it suffers from damage. Speakers that have greater power can achieve higher volumes with no hindrance to sound quality or loss of clarity. Speaker power is usually described in two different ways:
Nominal Power – Displayed as RMS (root-mean-square), this indicates the level the speakers are able to continuously operate with no risk of them being damaged and very little distortion experienced.
Peak Power – This is an indication of the speaker’s highest power level it can experience without risking any damage.
Speakers contain many small electrical components inside them that make up the speaker drivers and amplifiers, and these offer a very small resistance to electricity. This resistance is known as impedance. A speaker’s impedance is usually rated in Ohms, the most common ratings being 4, 8 or 16 Ohms. Impedance ratings can be used to match amplifiers and receivers to different speakers which is useful if you don’t want to buy a six or eight piece set but instead link up speakers from different manufacturers. Remember that poor sound quality or in the worst case scenario, irreparable damage can be caused by mismatched audio components.
This describes the range of sounds that a speaker produces. The average human’s ears can pick up sounds between 20 and 20,000 Hz. A good quality speaker system will be able to replicate this sound range naturally, by using a combination of different types of speakers, subwoofers etc.
Types of speakers include the following:
Super-Tweeters – These speakers feature high frequency response, producing sounds well beyond the 20 kHz range. This enables them to reproduce high pitch sounds with minimal distortion.
Tweeters – Less high-pitched than super-tweeters, these speakers nevertheless still have a good audio scope, reaching up to 20 kHz.
Mid Range Speakers – These speakers fall in a 500 Hz to 3000 Hz range.
Sub-Woofers – Low sounds are produced with the 40 Hz to 1000 Hz range.
Full Range Speakers – Use a single driver and attempt to reproduce the whole range of sound frequencies heard by humans.
Sound pressure levels (SPL) are measured in decibels (dB), describing the volume that speakers produce from a given voltage. Sensitivity has no universal standard, but a high sensitivity rating is a good indication of the speaker’s efficiency at translating power to audio volume.
Abbreviated as S/N or SNR, this is also measure in dB and regards the overall clarity of audio produced. The audio you want to hear is known as “signal”, while the background interference is known simply as “noise”. Interference is inevitable in any speaker system, so look for a high S/N ratio which will indicate good clarity.
Total Harmonic Distortion
THD as it’s known, is measured as a percentage and is similar to S/N in that it’s an indication of sound clarity. High quality speakers generally have a THD rating of less than 1%.
Price is nearly always a good indicator of great quality. If you’re really prepared to pay anything for your sounds, then you really can’t do much better than the Aperion Intimus 4T Hybrid SD, priced at around $1,569, or else the KEF KHT-3005, which come in a classy egg-shaped style and will set you back in excess of $1,749.95.
Those with a mid-sized budget may well like Mirage’s MX 5.1 Home Theater System, available from $679.99, while those on smaller budget’s will find it hard to beat the Energy Take Classic 5.1, which offers superb sound quality and super-smooth looks for just $399.99
Where to buy
We recommend Cnet’s online comparison tool as the best place to shop for speakers online, as they cover just about every major brand and offer in depth reviews on all their offerings.