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If you walked into a car dealership and blurted out, “Sell me a motor vehicle,” the salespeople would hopefully spend a little time qualifying you as a customer before shepherding you into an office to sign paperwork. This also isn’t an effective way to buy speakers for your home. There are just too many options that serve totally different needs. This article will help you pinpoint your personal requirements, and direct you toward making the right purchase.
The best way to whittle down your choices is to determine how you intend to use your new speakers. Each section of this article begins with a question. If a question identifies one of your needs, read on for more information—and to see which products we recommend.
This category of products is called Portable Speakers, and they’re extremely popular. Like the smartphones and tablets that define our era, these speakers are compact, futuristic looking, battery powered, and loaded with advanced features. They’re great to use at home, and you can toss them in a bag and head out the door with them, too.
The majority feature Bluetooth connectivity, a standard wireless protocol that’s found in nearly every mobile device and laptop computer you encounter. The beauty of Bluetooth is that audio cables aren’t required to connect your music player to the speaker. You just enable Bluetooth on your device and pair it with the portable speaker (which is usually accomplished with just a few taps or clicks) and you can start listening.
When shopping for a portable speaker, don’t naïvely assume that they all have Bluetooth. There are many speakers that don’t. Another thing to be aware of is that opinions on sound quality vary wildly. What sounds immersive and “room filling” to one person could elicit the opposite response from someone else. Size is also an important factor to consider. The smaller the speaker is, the easier it is to carry around—but it won’t be as full sounding as a larger option.
The more expensive speakers in this category tend to have the upper hand sound-quality wise, but that doesn’t mean that all of the less expensive options sound bad. Read customer reviews, and seek the advice of a B&H sales professional to narrow your search (you can contact them via email, live chat, or at 1-800-606-6969). While not perfect in every way, the portable speakers from Bose are good options. More affordable models, like the JBL Flip 2, offer impressive performance for the price.
While portable speakers are handy, not everyone is seeking a battery-powered unit for the road. There’s something to be said for speakers that stay in one place in your home, that don’t require charging or battery swapping. This category of speakers is called Wireless Home Speakers.
There are advantages to having wireless speakers that plug into the wall for power. They often have heftier built-in amplifiers than their battery-powered cousins, which make louder volume levels possible. Also, since they don’t move around, they’re a lot more likely to be present when you want to use them (not stowed away in a beach bag in the trunk of the car).
Many wireless speakers feature Bluetooth connectivity, but there are some that can connect to your home’s Wi-Fi router, or a wired Ethernet network. Sonos, one of the most popular wireless home speaker systems, doesn’t have Bluetooth connectivity at all. These speakers rely solely on your home network. The advantage of using your network as opposed to Bluetooth is: range. Bluetooth has a range of around 30 to 40 feet (give or take, depending on the circumstances). This limitation is obvious when you’re using a Bluetooth speaker. Step into an adjoining room or behind a wall with your device, and your music may cut out. Wireless speakers that operate on your network don’t have this problem.
Besides Sonos, other popular choices include the Marshall Audio systems, which have built-in Bluetooth and visually resemble Jimi Hendrix’s guitar amplifiers. Owners of these systems praise their sound quality and their overall design and build. A good option for those on a budget is the Creative Labs D200, which also features Bluetooth and above-average sound quality.
High-tech wireless speakers are not a silver-bullet solution that satisfies everyone’s needs. If you have an A/V receiver or a traditional home stereo system that’s in need of speakers, you require a completely different kind of product. What you need in these cases are either Floor Standing Speakers or Bookshelf Speakers.
Speakers such as these do not have built-in amplifiers, Bluetooth connectivity, or wireless capability. They’re just speakers. You connect them with old-fashioned speaker wire. It’s a basic design that has remained largely the same for the better part of a century.
When you’re purchasing this kind of product, you need to match the power rating of the speaker to the wattage of the amplifier. Figuring this out can get extremely technical, but thankfully, this complexity isn’t necessary. You can keep things simple by making sure that the wattage of the amplifier is greater than the power rating of the speakers.
People often worry about damaging speakers by overpowering them; however, it’s always better to have an amplifier that’s more powerful than the speakers. Why? If the amplifier is underpowered, it will have to work harder to drive the speakers, and this extra work can shorten the life of receiver dramatically.
First you need to determine the “Maximum Output Power” specification of your amplifier. Find the model number of your system, and do some research. Keep in mind that the term “Maximum Output Power” isn’t used universally by every manufacturer. The wattage specification could be labeled as something else. When you find a pair of speakers that you like, you need to make sure that their “Maximum Handling Power” specification is lower than the “Maximum Output Power” of your amp.
The following is an example. The Maximum Output Power of a Yamaha R-S700 receiver is 160W. Sony SS-CS5 speakers have a Maximum Handling Power specification of 100W. Using the simple rule of having an amplifier that’s more powerful than the speakers, this receiver and speaker combination is a good match. Once again, asking for advice from a B&H sales professional is recommended when you’re configuring a system.
Using the simple rule of having an amplifier that’s more powerful than the speakers, this receiver and speaker combination is a good match.
A good option for bookshelf speakers are the Yamaha NS-6490. They’re three-way speakers, meaning that they have three separate drivers: a woofer, a midrange driver, and a tweeter, which create more dynamic reproduction of sound. These speakers are budget friendly, and owners are typically very pleased with their sound quality.
The built-in speakers in most televisions don’t provide great fidelity, but there are many external speaker products available that can improve what you hear. A common solution is to get a surround sound system. This involves setting up five or more speakers around a room, and a subwoofer, too. If this seems like overkill, check out soundbars, which are long, narrow speakers that are much less invasive.
If surround sound is what you’re after, you need to decide how large a system you want. They range from 5.1 (5 speakers and a single subwoofer) and get as expansive as 11.2 (11 speakers and two subwoofers). There are two different kinds of surround sound systems that you can choose from: Home Theater in a Box systems (which are often referred to as HTiB) and Home Theater Receivers. The nice thing about HTiB systems is that they provide you with all of the components you need, in a single kit. You won’t have to worry about matching the power rating of the speakers with the wattage of the amplifier, because the manufacturer has taken this step for you.
A good HTiB option is the Onkyo HT-S7700. It’s a 5.1 system with excellent sound quality and an easy setup process. Want to spend less? Check out the Vizio SB3851-C0. This 5.1 kit includes a soundbar and subwoofer that connect via Bluetooth (no speaker wire), as well as two rear speakers. The rear speakers need to connect with included speaker wire. Owners appreciate its sound quality and easy setup.
The other way to configure your surround sound system is to purchase a Home Theater Receiver and the required speakers separately. Obviously, going this route is a more involved process. You can learn a lot about it by reading the B&H Home Theater Buying Guide; communicating with a B&H sales professional is highly advised, as well. The advantage of configuring your own system is that you can mix and match receiver and speaker manufacturers and get exactly the custom setup you want.
There are many surround sound receiver options available, but if you’re looking to get a 7.1 system running, a good system to consider is the Yamaha AVENTAGE RX-A740. This receiver delivers excellent sound quality, and has some nifty tricks up its sleeve, like being able to upscale video to nearly 4K UHD resolution and connect to your home network. If you want to do 7.1 surround on more of a budget, consider the Sony STR-DH750. It provides great sound and has some advanced features like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and NFC connectivity.
Hopefully, this article has given you a better idea of what kind of speaker to buy for your home entertainment system. We want you to leave this imaginary car dealership with the ideal sedan, pickup truck—or speakers—that will serve your specific needs.