Speakers make the biggest change in any audio system. Even with the best components, stereo and home theater systems featuring poor speakers will not perform as expected. A variety of different types of speakers exist to reproduce sound from home, car and computer audio systems. Architectural audio speakers hide in walls and ceilings, while bookshelf and floorstanding speakers offer quality sound from solid enclosures. Even mobile audio systems feature multiple types of speakers, depending on your vehicle's configuration and your sonic goals. Learning about these different iterations will help you make a proper determination for what works best for you, given your audio environment and tastes.
Staying visually discrete without enormous sonic compromise, in-wall and in-ceiling speakers provide sound to discretely styled home theater systems and multiroom distributed audio. These speakers mount directly to the wall or ceiling, featuring grilles and bezels that are painted or stained to match the mounting surface. Many of these speakers offer swiveling woofers and tweeters, allowing you to aim the sound toward the most advantageous locations. Although the wiring is more complex, involving routing through walls and ceilings, the near-invisible nature of these products mitigates for many the difficulty with installation and slight reduction in sonic fidelity.
Mobile audio speakers are very similar to home speakers, with the primary difference being that they do not have enclosures. Car and marine speakers come in combination woofer/tweeter versions known as coaxial speakers. This speaker type is most often used to upgrade from factory speakers, and normally are the less expensive option among mobile speakers. Upgrading from these designs are component speakers, featuring a separate woofer and tweeter for increased mounting options. Component speakers are normally among or approaching the upper echelon of car audio products, offering superior power handling and sound quality. Subwoofers add the low end that smaller speakers cannot, rounding out the sound and providing an engaging visceral quality to the sonic experience. Coaxial and component speakers mount in doors and decks, while subwoofers conventionally install in an enclosure of the proper size and volume.
Bookshelf and Floorstanding Options
Comprising the majority of home audio speakers, bookshelf and floorstanding models use a variety of enclosure shapes and sizes to achieve the manufacturer's target sonic goals. Bookshelf speakers come in a variety of sizes, designed to mount on shelves, in an entertainment center or on stands. Floorstanding speakers are found in three- and four-way designs, referring to the number of crossover points in the speaker. For example, a floorstanding design with a woofer, tweeter and midrange is normally considered a three-way speaker. Bookshelf speakers are two-way designs, featuring only a woofer and tweeter. The choice of speaker depends on space in the room and whether you intend to use a subwoofer to provide muscle and body to bass drums and guitar. Home-theater arrays use a pair of main speakers, center channel for dialogue, subwoofer and at least one pair of surround speakers. In this case, the subwoofer provides the ".1" channel in a 5.1 or 7.1 system, re-creating explosions and gunshots with exciting impact.
Subwoofer/satellite systems feature five or more small speakers, using a subwoofer to handle nearly all of the bass duties. These speaker types are commonly used when low speaker visibility is desired, low amplifier power is used or if in-wall or in-ceiling speaker installation is impractical. These speaker systems are often seen as "home theater in a box" packages, offering the speakers, receiver and sometimes a source like a DVD or Blu-ray player. Very often, these systems are not upgradable, as the receiver is designed for use only with the speakers included with the unit.
A fast and relatively simple way to upgrade basic television sound, sound bars mount below flat-panel televisions. These speakers feature numerous drivers inside one sleek, rectangular enclosure, bouncing sound off of side walls to create a simulated surround effect. Often these products have their own internal amplification, although you may select one that requires a separate receiver. Sound bars typically include outputs for subwoofers, adding more impact and dynamics to a discrete audio setup. Sound bars are made by most major speaker companies, meaning their performance is still quite good given the specialized nature of the product.
Speakers for a quick connection to an iPod or other MP3 player are great for bedside music or in a small room or office space. These units feature an integrated dock, built-in speakers and sometimes a built-in AM/FM tuner. Many of these designs are compatible with Apple's AirPlay protocol, enabling wireless streaming from an iPhone or iPod Touch to the speakers without having to physically dock the device. Other computer speakers come in surround and stereo formats, using the headphone output or a USB connection. These speakers also usually have some provision for headphone or portable audio-device connectivity, simplifying connections and reducing desktop wiring clutter.
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