How to Choose Speakers

Speaker Make The System

If a person’s got second-rate speakers they’ve got a second-rate home theater, no matter how high-end the other components. Any home theater junkie will tell you the best way to improve a home theater is with a speaker upgrade. Heck, many experts even go as far as recommending that half your entire home theater budget be spent on the speakers.

Ultimately, comparing speakers really comes down to one major thing: that erogenous zone known as your inner ear.

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Your Comparison Checklist

Please use this checklist as you shop for your new speakers

The name—Does the company have a reputation for making great speakers? Be sure and shop only those brands that are whole-heartedly dedicated to excellence in sound. Time spent reading some trade reviews and scrolling some online sites will point you in the right direction. Some of the brand names we respect are:

  • Aperion Audio
  • Boston Acoustics
  • Bowers & Wilkins (B&W)
  • Energy
  • Klipsch
  • Infinity
  • M&K
  • NHT
  • Paradigm
  • Polk Audio

You’ll notice this list doesn’t include many of the bigger names that star in the electronics superstores. It’s not that their speakers aren’t good, it’s just that they aren’t great. Your ears are very sophisticated little devices. They’ll ultimately pick up the flaws and limitations that will nag you into regret. The brands identified above are designed to keep your aural senses smitten for years to come.

The showroom vs. your room—What is the best way to audition them? It’s ideal to test drive speakers in your own room with your own system. To help you whittle down to the two or three brands you’re willing to invite home for an audition, you can start by listening to speakers in the store using your favorite DVD or CD. Note the speaker brand that best produces the experience you’re going for. Be sure there are no enhancements being used on a receiver or equalizer. It’s best if all the brands are heard under the same conditions.

How do you find the perfect speaker system if you can’t compare them accurately at a store? Easy. Do a little research, read a few reviews, then buy only from those who offer great return policies (especially on speakers). Remember: it should be your right to return or exchange the speakers if you’re not completely satisfied.

Type of speakers—What is the difference between Direct Radiating and Dipole?

Direct Radiating are the speakers you picture in your mind’s eye. The ones with tweeters and woofers all facing the same direction. Direct speakers are used for the front speakers (center channel and front left/right), but can also be used as surrounds.

Dipole speakers are more commonly used as surround speakers because they have more a dispersed sound field. They are the only type of speaker certified by THX for use as surround channel speakers. Bipole speakers work basically the same way.

Quality—How does the speaker look and feel when you handle it? Go ahead, pick up the speaker. Does it feel substantive, like it’s made of heavy-duty materials? Tap on the enclosure. It’s good if it sounds solid, not so good if it sounds hollow. Are the binding posts (wire connections) a 5-way binding post or do the connections seem a little on the scrawny side? Obviously, binding posts are preferred.
Warranty—What is the manufacturers warranty? Are the speakers made by a company you trust will honor the warranty?
In-home Audition and Return Policy-Do you have the option to return the speakers after you have lived with them for a few weeks? Just like a new baseball glove, speakers need some time to break-in, time for the speaker to loosen up and settle. Only then will any shortcomings surface. Bottom line: a first rate store should offer a first rate return policy.
Price—What can you expect to pay? If you haven’t discovered this yet, you soon will. Speaker prices run the gamut from suspiciously cheap to “you’ve got to be joking”. The good news is there are some amazing speakers for the price. Remember: while other components come and go with technological advancements, a remarkable set of speakers can last for years, even decades.

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Complete Your Sound System Solution

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