If you are looking at buying a pair of stereo speakers, but are not sure which is the best option for you, look no further than this installment of the SmartHouse buyers guide. We cover the ins and outs of what you need to know before buying a pair of top notch speakers for stereo sound, as well as links to reviews of our favourites.
While loudspeakers are relatively straightforward in construction, they have one of the most difficult jobs in hi-fi – turning an electrical signal into an acoustic one. Most consist of two or more drive units in a box that usually has a port in it to make life easier for the cone in your mid and/or bass driver. Alternatives to this arrangement include panel speakers, which use electrostatic or ribbon technology, and horns, which use drive units in complex cabinets that greatly improve efficiency.
Box speakers are either designed to stand on the floor (floorstanders) or on a stand (stand or shelfmounts). Floorstanders have greater internal volume which can -translate into greater efficiency and/or bass extension, but less substantial designs also introduce cabinet resonance and thus distortion. But they don’t need stands and therefore have the aesthetic edge. Standmounts have less cabinet to vibrate and often score in terms of imaging and timing, but need good stands to
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The closer the speaker is to a wall, the greater the reinforcement of bass. As all rooms differ, there’s no simple formula for placement and experimentation will yield the best results. Altering the angle at which the speakers face the listener can also make a difference to balance and stereo image.
Many stereo speakers can be augmented with centre and surround channels from the same brand to create a multichannel system. The most important element is a centre channel, which needs to match the stereo pair as closely as possible. For the best musical results, surrounds should be as per the front left and right channels, but if space or funds don’t permit, smaller designs can be used quite effectively.
Because speakers and the rooms they are used in vary so much, choosing a pair tends to be quite subjective. To find some that will suit you, try to listen to a good variety to hear how they differ, and if -possible, audition some at home. Tonal balance tends to vary the most, but is less important than more subtle factors such as timing and dynamics. Finally, listen with your ears not your eyes – great-looking speakers aren’t necessarily great sounding.
Floorstanding speakers and stands have threaded inserts for spikes that allow rigid coupling with the floor. These have the advantage of draining resonance from the speaker and giving tighter bass, but can result in more vibration getting back to the electronics and often cause the floor to resonate as well.
Though some speakers have a power rating, this isn’t as informative as a rating for how difficult they are to drive, nor does it -indicate wattage extremes for the -partnering amp. In practice, an amplifier cannot be too powerful. Our listings quote ease of drive to indicate how much power your amp needs to avoid a mismatch. An above-average (A+) speaker will work with amps rated at 25W plus, while an -average (A) speaker will need 50W or more, and a below average (A-) speaker could require 100W plus to sound its best. These are guidelines rather than rules.
If speakers are rated at 75 watts, does that mean I need a 75 watt amp?
No, see above Power section for the full story.
Which speakers are best for small rooms?
Those designed to work close to the wall will be smoother in confined spaces. Speakers that have relatively dry, tight bass will also sound better.
Which speakers are best for big rooms?
Big, efficient, easy-to-drive designs are more likely to be able to fill a room better than compact models.
Do I need to buy centre and surround channels from the same brand as my stereo speakers?
Yes, assuming that you’re -wanting to create a -homogenous surround sound experience, where voices don’t change when they move from one channel to another.
We’ve got full reviews of our standout favourite stereo speakers online. In no particular order – here they are listed below, click on the model number to go straight to the review.
JBL Studio L880: Good value floorstander with neutrality, massive headroom and plenty of punch. Could be more transparent.
Monitor Audio GS10: More neutral tonally than some recent MAs, Quality stereo design which takes up little room and easy to drive.
Ruark Sabre III: Straightforward engineering combined with high finish quality that delivers a beautifully timed and engaging sound.
Canton Vento Ref 5DC: Strikingly handsome speaker has a studiedly neutral balance with delightful midband analysis.
Focal Chorus 826 V: Times nicely, goes loud with ease and will produce procise imaging if appropriately setup.
Meridian M3100: Attractive and capable active (125w) with great imaging and strong bass. High neutrality and good power handling.