Stereo speakers often form the nucleus of a surround sound system, anchoring on-screen effects and soundtracks. Stereo speakers are found in many shapes and sizes along with multiple finish options. Choosing which speakers to purchase is usually a matter of deciding between looks, sound and size. Getting all three elements to agree with your goals, however, is not always easy.
Research brands you're interested in. Read reviews concerning build quality and overall owner satisfaction. Unless you're loyal to a certain brand already, you can use this information to narrow your shopping list.
Choose high-quality, familiar musical content to bring with you to audition. This can be on multiple compact discs or a portable music player with uncompressed audio files. Don't cheat yourself by using poor-quality MP3 files. You cannot gauge a quality speaker using low-quality sources.
Try to find a listening environment in the shop that closely mimics your listening environment. If your speakers will be placed on a bookshelf, speaker stands or used with a subwoofer, better shops will try to replicate this.
Listen for harsh high frequencies and boomy bass. These are traits you want to avoid. Look for speakers that do not over- or under-emphasize vocals or other elements of the music. Since your music and movies will vary in loudness and tone, you want a speaker that reproduces those traits faithfully without additional coloration.
Start at lower volumes, progressively turning up the sound. A good speaker plays everything clearly at most any volume, until the amplifier begins to distort.
Walk from side to side to see if the music image follows you. Better speakers produce a wide pattern of sound, called a "soundstage." This allows good sound in a variety of spots in the room outside of the center. When you are in between the speakers, they should seem to sonically disappear as individual units.
Switch between two speakers as your song plays to get a quick reference between speaker qualities. Ideally, have your consultant or salesperson switch without telling you which is on. Let your ears decide. Listening rooms with speaker selectors facilitate this.
Find speakers that match the aesthetic of the room or other furniture. Although this should take a backseat to the sound, in some environments these are important considerations.
Examine the back of the speaker. Look for a port on the rear. These speakers should be placed roughly 18 inches from the wall, so they might be excessively bass-heavy in enclosed spaces or on a shelf.
Look for two sets of binding terminals. Advanced systems often use a separate amplifier for the bass, midrange and high sections of a speaker, known as a bi-amped configuration. This distributes the power load among different sections of the speaker. It also allows you to choose a different amplifier for different tasks, based on sonic characteristics of the amplifier.
Tap on the cabinet. A hollow thumpy sound might indicate thin speaker walls or a lack of internal bracing. If a speaker feels solid, it's a good indicator other quality considerations were used in building the unit. Solid, braced speakers tend to be clearer, since more sound is projected toward you instead of being wasted on vibration.
- Don't let price dictate your perception of the sound. Blind testing is a way for you to subjectively decide with speakers sound good to you. After narrowing your choices based on sonic qualities, you can then narrow further by price, getting closer to your desired spending limit.
- Listening rooms with high-powered amplifiers, equalization and acoustic treatments might not mimic your listening space at home. Some shops covertly employ these methods to alter your perception of their speakers. Use caution if you're in a space where the electronics are not visible or the room is overly treated.
- CDs or portable music player
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