Home Entertainment Speaker Buying Guide

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There are a few things to take into consideration when shopping for speakers. First and foremost, you need to consider the size of your space. For the most part, large spaces require large speakers, and inversely, smaller spaces are best served with smaller speakers. Speakers too small for a room can sound tinny and diminutive is a cavernous space, while speakers too big for a room can will overwhelm the space. Other things to take into consideration is the type of system you want to put together, your personal taste, and budget.

JBL Arena 125C 5.5" 2-Way Passive Center Loudspeaker

Before making any decisions on the speakers you’re going to purchase, you first need to determine what you want out of a speaker system. Are you looking to put together a multi-channel home theater system, complete with a receiver capable of decoding object-based surround sound technology like Dolby Atmos and DTS:X? Perhaps, you want a small stereo system, or even a soundbar. Regardless of what kind of system you’re looking to put together, the good news is that there is an ideal solution for you, and hopefully this guide will help you in the decision-making process.

MartinLogan Motion AFX Dolby Atmos-Enabled Add-On Speaker

Floor-Standing Speakers

Floor-standing speakers are full-size speakers that are meant to be placed on the floor. They vary in size, but if you have a large space, then moderate to large floor-standing speakers should be considered to fill the space with sound adequately. Ideally, you’ll want floor-standing speakers as your front speakers. The type of speakers rounding out the rest of a multi-channel system can be flexible. Depending on the size of your space, the size of the floor-standing speakers, or your personal taste in bass response, full range floor-standing speakers can perform and deliver low frequencies sufficiently enough to skip a subwoofer altogether.

Polk Audio Signature Series S60 Floorstanding Speaker

Bookshelf Speakers

Bookshelf speakers are compact speakers that work well as the front speakers in smaller spaces, or as rear channel speakers in a multi-channel system. Unlike floor-standing speakers, they need to be elevated or placed on a raised surface. Ideally, you should place them on dedicated speaker stands, or as the name implies, they can be placed on bookshelves.

Klipsch R-15PM Powered Speakers

Center Channel Speakers

The center channel speaker is an integral part of a multi-channel system. It handles the dialogue of the audio track. As the name implies, this speaker is placed in the center of the system, ideally between the front left and front right speakers.

Klipsch Reference Premiere RP-450C Center Speaker

Dolby Atmos Add-on Speakers

If you want to experience Dolby Atmos object-based surround sound technology in your system, you will need at least two speakers (and a maximum of four) for height channels. These can be either upward-firing or in-ceiling speakers. If you opt for upward-firing speakers, implementing them is simple. They can be placed directly atop your front or rear speakers.

Definitive Technology A90 Dolby Atmos Add-On Speaker Modules

Additionally, there are also speakers that come with a built-in upward-firing Dolby Atmos channel built into the same speaker enclosure. Upward-firing speakers work by bouncing sound from the ceiling in your listening space to make it seem as though sound were coming from above you. DTS:X doesn’t require upward-firing or ceiling speakers, so you won’t need anything else to enjoy it.

In-Ceiling and In-Wall Speakers

In-ceiling and in-wall speakers are a great solution for people who want an unobtrusive, neat, and clean speaker installation in their space. In addition, in-ceiling speakers also work well as height channels in a system that can decode Dolby Atmos audio.

Bose® Virtually Invisible™ 791 Series II In-Ceiling Speakers

Soundbars

Soundbars are an option for smaller spaces, or for those who also want an unobtrusive speaker system. They offer a fine alternative to traditional speaker systems in tight quarters, thanks to their sleek, clutter-free, space-saving design. Soundbars deliver significantly more powerful sound than the sound that you will get from your display. Gone are the days where owning a soundbar meant you couldn’t partake in the latest sound technology. Some soundbars feature built-in Dolby Atmos technology with upward-firing speakers, enabling you to enjoy object-based audio.

Bose® Solo™ 5 TV Sound System

Home Theater in a Box

For those who want to skip the hassle or complications of buying a speaker system separately, they can opt for a home theater in box. A home theater in a box is complete, ready-made home theater speaker system package that combines a multi-channel amplifier or receiver with several speakers, a subwoofer, a remote, and all the cables required to connect the system for use. They will also often include a video source like a DVD or Blu-ray player.

Bose® Lifestyle™ 650 Home Theater System with OmniJewel Speakers

Subwoofers

For a true bottom end and superlative LFE (low-frequency effects), you’ll need a subwoofer. Subwoofers are designed specifically to deliver low-pitched audio and LFE, otherwise known as bass. They’re meant to integrate into your speaker system, with the sole goal of providing the bottom end and low frequencies that your speakers simply cannot deliver. Subwoofers come in a variety of sizes, but the same rule applies as it does with speakers. Larger spaces will be better served with larger subwoofers.

Sonos SUB Wireless Subwoofer with Integrated SONOSNet 2.0 Extender

You can also integrate two subwoofers into your system. The benefits of dual subwoofers include less localized and directional LFE. You’ll get a better, more immersive bass response with two subwoofers that is delivered evenly across the room. Two smaller subwoofers in tandem will even perform better than one larger one. They’ll offer a wider dynamic range and smoother frequency response, thanks to flexible placement.

2 Comments

Great article, but you forgot the most important issue: the buyer must LISTEN to the speakers before purchase. All speakers sound different, and if you don't like the sound before you buy them, you never will!

Keep in mind that speakers need a break in period, so listening to brand new speakers might not be a good idea.

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