Since speakers will likely have the greatest affect on the way your audio system sounds, selection is crucially important. To me, there are two major factors to consider when choosing speakers: Sound and Cosmetics. Many would put budget in there as well; but I feel it is better to choose the speakers you really like first; then check the price tag. If it is less than you expected to spend, feel lucky and go forward. If it is well out of your budget, enjoy the sound and consider it your new reference.
If the speaker you want is at your budget – or even if it pushes beyond your budget –give it serious consideration. You may be able to economize on another part of your system to get this level of sound quality (often you can save on electronics and only lose features – not performance). The speakers are almost always the limiting factor in music and home theater systems. If you have to take a pass on your first choice, try to find a speaker that comes close…
There is a technical term used by dealers and many enthusiasts as well, SAF – Spouse Acceptance Factor. It speaks to the reality that one spouse – generally, but not always, the husband – is more concerned with the way a component sounds or the features it has rather than the effect it has on the décor of the room. Since the speakers are likely to be largest component other than a screen in a home theater system, they must be cosmetically acceptable to everyone living with them.
Often the Internet can give you a good idea of the speaker’s appearance, except for scale (where you need life-style photos that show the speaker in a room setting). A word of warning: with many home theater systems and subwoofer/satellite system the life-style photo will try to hide the relatively large subwoofer – look closely. Seeing the system (including any subwoofers) in a dealer’s show room is even better. The best, of course, is having them in your home, with your furniture. Be certain you can return them if they “just don’t fit.”
Although most of Ohm’s business comes from the Internet, neither the ‘net nor magazine reviews should be used for making the final decision on sound quality. There are just too many variables and too many opinions. You are relying on the opinions of others listening to speakers in other rooms. If the strengths they describe are the type of things you want, that’s a good indication the speakers are something to consider. If the weakness they describe (and no speaker is perfect) are ones you fear, forget-about-em as there are plenty of other speakers to consider.
You can also listen in a dealer’s showroom or at a friend’s home; but, again, that will only show you what they sound like in those rooms with those sources and electronics (and a dealer will know how to get the best out of the speakers in the showroom). Again, the best location to audition the sound quality is in your own room with your own sources and system. Plan to spend time experimenting with placement to get the most from the speakers. My experience indicates moving a speaker as little as a foot can make a bigger change in the sound quality than changing CD players from less than $100 Blue-Ray DVD player to a multi-thousand dollar transport/DAC combination.
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Use your home listening room for the final evaluation of both sonic qualities and cosmetics – you are going to live with them. Be certain to get return privileges as speakers will sound different in different rooms.
Enjoy & Good Listening!
John Strohbeen Author
John Strohbeen is the president of Ohm Speakers.