The secrets to getting great sound throughout your house.
Thinking of equipping your house with speakers so you can enjoy music and audio throughout?
There’s a dizzying array of choices these days, including traditional freestanding cabinet-style
(or box) speakers, in-wall and in-ceiling speakers that sit flush against the room surface, even slim on-wall speakers to match a flat-panel plasma or LCD display.
So here are a few oft-overlooked things to look and listen for when choosing loudspeakers. You don’t have to be an audio expert to follow these pointers, but they will certainly set you and your home audio system apart.
Cabinet-style speakers come with boxed enclosures; that’s what their cabinets are. But in-wall and in-ceiling speakers should also have enclosures or back boxes, as they are sometimes called. Enclosures and back boxes prevent the sound that emanates from the back of the speaker driver from bleeding into adjoining rooms and other parts of the house. This and any vibration dampening will also help prevent in-wall speakers from vibrating the plasterboard surrounding them.
Another benefit of enclosures is to prevent debris and bits of insulation from becoming lodged in a speaker driver, resulting in unwanted vibrations and poor performance. Foams and other methods also can be used to insulate the sound of in-wall and in-ceiling speakers from bleeding into other rooms.
You’ll likely use your audio system differently from room to room. You might like it loud in the family room and softer in the bedroom, home office and kitchen. That can necessitate different sizes and types of loudspeakers
and that’s OK. What you won’t think is okay, though, is the possibility of walking from room to room and not being satisfied with the sound in one place or another. That’s why you should try to use one brand of speakers throughout your house, at least for the whole-house audio system. Many speaker manufacturers try to maintain a consistent tonal quality throughout their entire line of speakers, so you can enjoy hearing both high-quality in-walls in one room and less expensive in-ceiling speakers in another.
Consider the room
One of the most important elements in selecting a loudspeaker, besides your own preferences, is the room’s features: its size, shape, volume, finish materials and furnishings
all affect the sound quality. Specifically, consider whether the room has hard surfaces (such as marble or wood floors and glass walls) that will render a brighter or echoed sound, or absorptive surfaces such as carpets and drapes that will soften or deaden the sound. This should help determine what type or model of speaker to use.
Your custom-electronics dealer or installer should be sensitive to the changes in sound from room to room in your home. Question if a company suggests using the exact same model and size of speaker in two very different- size or different-sounding rooms.
Shopping for a dealer
You need to have a person who really understands those nuances, room to room. Indeed, a custom-electronics professional should listen and be open to your needs, and help you choose the brand of loudspeakers and different types and models to be used around your house. An installer and architect should take the time to look at people’s lifestyles and they should talk about and show the differences from speaker to speaker.
Audition the speakers
You can experience how prospective speakers sound by receiving a demonstration at an electronics dealer’s showroom. Don’t be coaxed into buying any speaker that doesn’t sound good to you. You are the one who is going to be hearing these speakers every day, so they’d better produce a sound you like.
Also, don’t be afraid of auditioning speakers if you’re not an audio expert. Feel free to bring a CD of an artist or a song you are very familiar with – oftentimes the older, the better. Listen for parts that you like. Listen for new sounds you may hear, good and bad. And consider what the music heard through those speakers does for you. Does it give you goose bumps? Does it make your face screw up?
If you’re still uncomfortable about your knowledge of audio or music, don’t despair. Perhaps the best way to judge loudspeakers is to listen to a voice, perhaps one on the radio. That’s because we’re all very experienced at whether a person’s voice sounds right. Remember that with home theatre speakers, the best test is whether the dialogue is intelligible at a low volume.
Choose the sensitive one
Getting the right amount of power to your speakers is important. But in most rooms where you may only listen to music at low to moderate levels, having 20 to 30 watts of amplification per channel to the speakers is more than adequate. You’ll likely send more power to the home theatre speakers. And don’t let junior talk you into 100 watts per channel in his bedroom. He doesn’t need it, and neither do you.
Even more important than power is sensitivity, which in speakers is measured in a rating of about 86 to 93 decibels (db).
The higher the rating, the more sensitive the speaker is, and the better it will perform at higher volumes. And remember this: a difference of just three db in sensitivity is roughly akin to doubling the amount of amplification sent to a speaker. Sensitivity trumps power once again.
Finally, don’t settle for the cheapest speakers. Remember that you can have the world’s greatest CD player, music server, multiroom audio or home theatre system, but if you have lousy speakers, your music will sound lousy as well. Speakers are the most critical link between your ears and the sound stored on a CD or DVD.
Some people may recommend spending a certain per cent of your audio, home-theatre or entire home electronics budget on loudspeakers, but there are many factors to consider, depending on your own tastes, your preferences and the many nuances of your home.
Look at warranties as well, and remember that ultimately, you will be the best judge of how you will live with loudspeakers throughout your house.