Important Factors to Consider Before Buying Stereo Speakers

Stacks of different speakers in a room
With so many to choose from, buying a new speaker can seem overwhelming!. Ole Spata / EyeEm / Getty Images

Speakers determine the overall sound quality of your system, so it's definitely worth the extra time to listen to several different models before making a decision. But a good set of speakers alone won't necessarily guarantee favorable results. Other important factors in choosing the right model include: speaker type, listening space, stereo components used to power the system, and, of course, personal preference.

1) Sound Quality is a Personal Decision

Just like with art, food, or wine, sound quality is a very personal judgment. Everyone has different tastes, so what sounds fantastic to one may only be so-so to someone else. There is no "best-ever" speaker out there, and more than one kind can have equal appeal to individual ears. When shopping for speakers, listen to several models with music that you're intimately familiar with. Bring along your favorite albums (e.g. CDs and/or a flash drive with digital tracks) when you shop and use what you hear to identify the speakers that sound good. Having some experience in listening to live music is also a good gauge for evaluating speakers. The music should sound natural to your ears, have a balanced tone quality, and be easy to enjoy for long periods without fatigue. Don't let yourself feel rushed! Sometimes it takes listening to a speaker several times – often with different types of music – before making a final decision.

    2) Types of Speakers

    There are a variety of speakers to choose from across a great many brands, which can feel a little intimidating at first. Narrowing down the field first certainly helps move the process along. Examples of types of speakers include (but are not limited to) floor-standing, bookshelf, satellite, subwoofer, sound bar, and portable.

    Some, such as on-wall speakers, can be placed and plugged in immediately, while in-wall or in-ceiling types may require special installation and/or fixtures. Speakers can be wired, wireless, or both, either as a simple stereo pair or multi-channel for surround sound. Again, choice should be based on personal preference and need.

    Floor-standing and bookshelf speakers generally have the best overall sound because the drivers and enclosures are matched for performance. However, such models take up floor space, which can be an important consideration for room layouts. Satellite speakers tend to be very small speakers that are best-combined with a subwoofer, resulting in a far more compact audio system. A soundbar is another convenient option for those who want to enhance audio (usually for televisions) without much fuss or space used. In-wall speakers usually have grilles that can be painted to match the walls for that invisible (or close to it) speaker effect. Portable speakers are fun and easy, often featuring wireless connectivity and rechargeable batteries, but frequently lack robust sound when compared to more traditional types.

    3) Rooms and Acoustics

    Not every kind of speaker is going to sound great in the chosen area.

    Smaller speakers may work for a regular bedroom, but can sound meek or pale when placed in a family room. Alternately, larger speakers can easily overwhelm tiny spaces. Generally, bigger speakers are more capable at delivering higher decibel levels, but it's good to check the watt output to be sure. Room dimensions, contents, and materials also affect audio. Sound can reflect off of exposed walls, large furniture, and bare floors, while rugs, carpets, and cushions can end up absorbing sound. It's good to have a balance of both. Vaulted ceilings can create a more open atmosphere, while narrower spaces can lead to a more intimate performance.

     

    4) Matching with the Right Components

    For best results, speakers should be matched with an amplifier or receiver that delivers the right amount of power. Manufacturers usually specify a range of amplifier power necessary to properly power each unit. For example, a speaker may require a range of 30 - 100 W of output power to operate well, so this specification serves well as a general guideline. Read up about amplifier power if you are unsure. If going with a multi-channel or surround-sound set-up, it's recommended to stick with the same brand of speakers for performance reasons. If it's a mix-and-match situation, one may simply need to spend a little more time fine-tuning.

      5) Optimizing the System:

      After you get your speakers home, take the time to correctly connect, install, and place the speakers to get the absolute best performance possible. A little patience now pays off in the long run. Some speakers sound best when near or up against a wall, while others do well when given more breathing room. Tweeters and mid-range drivers tend to sound better when positioned at ear-level. Read these links for additional tips to get the most out of your audio hardware.