5 Factors 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 definitely 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 important 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.

Factor 1: 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.

When shopping for speakers, listen to several models with music that you're intimately familiar with. Bring along your favorite music, on CDs or on 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 quality, and be easy to enjoy for long periods of time.

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

Factor 2: Types of Speakers

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

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 special installation and/or fixtures. Speakers can be wired, wireless, or both, either 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, which can be an important consideration for room layouts.

Satellite speakers tend to be very small 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 used. 

In-wall speakers usually have grills that can be painted 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 when compared to more traditional types.

Factor 3: 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. Larger 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 are more capable of delivering higher decibel levels, but it's good to check the wattage output to be sure.

Factor 4: 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 properly power each unit. For example, a speaker may require a range of 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. If it's a mix-and-match situation, more fine-tuning may be needed.

Factor 5: Optimizing the System

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.

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