5 Things to Consider Before Buying Stereo Speakers

Important considerations from sound quality to optimizing the speaker system

Speakers determine the overall sound quality of your stereo system, so it's worth the extra time to listen to several different models before making a decision.

Good speakers alone don't always guarantee favorable results, however. Other essential elements include the speaker type, listening space, personal preferences, and other home audio stereo considerations. Here's a look at five factors to consider before purchasing stereo speakers.

5 Things To Consider When Buying Speakers

Regardless of the specific necessities of what you may or may not need from stereo speakers, there are some critical areas you'll want to think about while you shop around. Each of these criteria has several different options, and what's perfect for one person may not be ideal for another. But there are the five most important things to look for when on the hunt for new speakers:

  • Cost
  • Sound Quality
  • Speaker Type
  • Rooms and Acoustics
  • Matching the Right Components

How Much Will a Set of Stereo Speakers Cost?

The cost of stereo speakers can vary wildly, from around $70 to several thousand, depending on size, brand, quality, and complexity. Remember that the most expensive option isn't automatically the best because much of a speaker's effectiveness depends on its environment. For instance, there's no need to spend thousands on a giant pair of speakers if the room you'll use them in is small. Likewise, a small $30 speaker probably isn't ideal for an immersive home theater setup.

Price Range  What You Can Expect
 $70-$100 Typically just the basics. Enough to get the job done but likely won't create an impressive soundscape. Can use around 30+ watts on the low end and 100 watts on the higher end, and produce between 80 to 100 decibels. Often more compact and a good fit for smaller spaces.
 $100-$500 Depending on the manufacturer, this price point can include a single tower speaker or an entire multi-speaker sound system. Sizes can vary quite a bit but tend to be too large for placing on a bookshelf. Wattage requirements and decibel levels can also vary quite a bit, but are about on par with more affordable options. They may or may not include their own woofers or drivers.
 $500+ Offers more 2-way and 3-way speaker options. Speakers tend to have a more premium look and finish to them. Most include standing floor speakers, and more powerful bookshelf-sized speakers are also available. Typically draws more power (between 100 to 200+ watts).

Sound Quality

Sound quality is a very personal judgment. Everyone has different tastes, so what sounds fantastic to one person may underwhelm another. There is no "best-ever" speaker out there, and more than one kind can have equal appeal to individual ears.

Listen to several models with music you know well when shopping for speakers. Bring along your favorite music on CDs or a flash drive with digital tracks when you shop to get a feel for the speakers that appeal to you.

Listening to live music is also a good gauge for evaluating speakers. The music should sound natural to your ears, have a balanced tone, and be easy to enjoy for long periods.

Don't rush. Sometimes it takes listening to a speaker several times, often with different types of music, before making a final decision.

Types of Speakers

There are a variety of speakers to choose from across many brands. While the number of options can feel intimidating, narrowing down the speaker type you want helps move the process.

Examples of speaker types include floor-standing, bookshelf, satellite, subwoofer, soundbar, portable, and more. Some, such as on-wall speakers, can be placed and plugged in immediately, while in-wall or in-ceiling types may require installation or fixtures. Speakers can be wired or wireless, or both as a simple stereo pair or multi-channel for surround sound. Personal preference and need should drive your choice.

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, a consideration for room layouts.

Satellite speakers tend to be tiny speakers that are best when 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. 

In-wall speakers usually have grills you can paint to match the walls for an 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 compared to more traditional types.

Rooms and Acoustics

Not every kind of speaker will sound great in the chosen area. Smaller speakers may work for a regular bedroom, but they may sound weak or pale when placed in a family room. More prominent speakers can easily overwhelm tiny spaces.

Room dimensions, contents, and materials also affect audio. Sound can bounce from exposed walls, large furniture, and bare floors, while rugs, carpets, and cushions often absorb sound. It's good to have a balance of both. Vaulted ceilings create a more open atmosphere, while narrower spaces lead to a more intimate feel. 

Generally, bigger speakers can deliver higher decibel levels, but checking the wattage output is a good idea.

Matching With the Right Components

For best results, match speakers with an amplifier or receiver that can deliver the right amount of power. Manufacturers usually specify a range of amplifier power necessary to power each unit correctly. For example, a speaker may require 30 to 100 watts of output power to operate well.

If going with a multi-channel or surround-sound setup, stick with the same brand of speakers for performance reasons. However, if it's a mix-and-match situation, you may need more fine-tuning.

Speaker Variations

There are a few additional variations to stereo speakers, too. For example, center-channel speakers can be essential for a home theater setup as they provide a separate source of sound from your left and right speakers. In addition, they're handy for making sure dialog can be heard and understood more easily.

Like in-wall speakers, some in-ceiling speakers aren't necessarily as helpful as a more standard surround sound system, but they still serve a purpose. In particular, in-ceiling speakers work great with sound formats that support or simulate more vertical audio (like Dolby Atmos).

Finally, there are smart speakers such as the Amazon Echo and Google Nest. Installation is typically straightforward, and many smart speakers offer voice control options. They're small, so they don't take up much space, and are often good at adequately filling most standard-sized rooms with sound—though they're no substitute for a proper sound system.

Who Should Buy Stereo Speakers?

Complex, expensive sound systems are probably best left to audiophiles and home theater enthusiasts. That said, if you feel like you aren't getting what you want out of your current setup when listening to music or watching a movie, a few speakers could be just what you need.

What to Do After You Buy Stereo Speakers

After you get your speakers home, take 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.

More Tips for Buying Stereo Speakers

  • Don't rush it. Start small if you aren't sure whether or not you want to dive into setting up a sound system. Find one or two affordable speakers that you think will fit your needs, and see how it goes. You can always get more if you decide you want an even heartier sound.
  • Check with friends and family. You may already know someone with a sound system or home theater. Ask if you can visit them and check out their setup. If you like what you hear, ask them about what they're using.
  • Be aware of your location. The bigger and more complex your setup becomes, the more likely it will get loud. Think about your cohabitants, where your speakers would reside, and any neighbors sharing a wall or floor.
  • Can I bridge my home stereo speakers?

    It is possible to combine stereo channels into a single mono channel output. To do so, connect the speaker's + and - cable leads to the inner + and - speaker terminals, then set the bridge zone to Mono.

  • Who can I contact to fix my speakers?

    It is possible to fix speakers yourself, but if that's not feasible, you can hire someone to take care of it. Most residential areas have several small shops that are up to the task, although the specifics of what's available will depend on your location.

  • How can I tell if a speaker's capacitors are bad?

    If the capacitors on your speakers are starting to fail, it will affect their frequency. This can create various types of audio distortions including a crackling sound, "weaker" audio, muddled bass, or be generally unbalanced.

  • How do I make my wired speakers wireless?

    You can convert your wired speakers to wireless using a number of different types of adapters, audio systems, or some Chromecast and Echo devices.

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