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So if you’re like me, and consider yourself to be a true audiophile, you might think it’s acceptable to spend loads of money on a good set of speakers.
However, when I was looking at prices, I started wondering whether expensive speakers are worth the money.
Are Expensive Speakers Better And Worth It?
Generally, expensive speakers perform better than budget speakers, particularly if you’re looking for the truest audio quality. However, it’s more important to make sure the speakers do what you need, rather than focusing on the price tag.
The issue is that when it comes to deciding whether expensive speakers are better you end up using a very subjective term.
Expensive to one person might not be expensive to another. I think it’s better to make sure the speakers do what you need them to, and that you’re still working within budget.
The rest of this article gives you more information on what to look for in good speakers, and some tips on finding the best for your needs.
What To Look For In Good Speakers
As I mentioned, expensive is a subjective term, but for the purpose of this article, we’ll define it as an amount that’s more than what you’d generally pay for a similar piece of equipment.
At the same time, quality is subjective, as one set of speakers might be amazing for playing games or watching films, but not very good for listening to music.
However, quality can be measured using objective terms. There are certain things you should look for in a good set of speakers that define them as good quality, including:
Whether your intended speakers have a subwoofer or not is irrelevant. Check out my top recommendations for subwoofers for every budget based on actual testing in realistic home environments. Either way you should expect deep bass that is noticeable at any volume.
Treble is the high end of the sound wave spectrum, and a good set of speaker should continue to give clear treble regardless of the volume.
High quality speakers should have little or no distortion of sound when you turn them right up.
Poor quality speakers will begin to distort and vibrate when they get too loud, and this should be an indication of poor performance.
Good quality speakers should generally be more sensitive than poor speakers. Sensitivity refers to how much power the set of speakers need to produce sound, and so more sensitive speakers require less power to make the same volume.
Speaker sensitivity is measured in decibels of sound pressure level for every watt of amplifier power, usually measured from 1m away from the speakers. This all sounds very confusing (and it is), but all you need to know is that good speakers will be between 85 and 91 dB, and anything less than this isn’t worth looking at.
These are some general points to look out for when choosing a set of speakers. Many of these can be tested simply by listening to the speakers, although this obviously might not be something you can test before buying them.
Another helpful tip, particularly if you’re buying online, is to read user reviews. Forums are a good place for this kind of information, as many audiophiles like sharing their experiences to help others.
If these figures weren’t enough to help you make a decision, or you’re looking to be very well informed before setting out, here are some more things to look for:
Speaker impedance is the measure of how much power a speaker will need to work, and is measured in ohms. 8 ohms is a pretty standard measurement, and will certainly get the job done.
You can also get speakers that work at 4 ohms, but these are much more expensive, and you’ll need a much better amp to use them to their full potential.
Total Harmonic Distortion
This is the figure that measures how accurately speakers reproduce sound from an audio source. You need to look for low numbers here when choosing good quality speakers, and you should expect to see between 0.05% and 0.08%.
This measures the kind of volume speakers can pump out in short bursts, for example sound spikes while watching a film. If you want this, look for speakers with large headroom.
You can use a combination (or all) of these figures to decide on whether a set of speakers is good quality. As I mentioned, the most important thing is to make sure they do what you need them to, and this should be more important than the price or objective quality.
For example, a cheaper set of speakers might be perfect for gaming, but would be useless for music. Pay attention to your priorities to narrow down your search, and then bring in objective measures to make your choice.
Now that you have a sense of what to look for, follow the advice in the video below on speaker selection.
Do Different Audio Tracks Make The Same Demands On Speakers?
Realistically, sound waves are sound waves, and so one set of speakers should be appropriate for all jobs. However, this isn’t actually the case due to the different demands audio will put on the speakers.
I looked into this because I mainly wanted to use my speakers for music, but also wanted ones that performed well when watching films.
So, in a nutshell, sound waves come in a wide range of frequencies. Music, as a general rule, contains a much wider range of frequencies than a film’s audio track would, but conversely you typically won’t find many lower frequency tones in music tracks.
Sure, songs will have bass in them, but unless you’re listening to church pipe organs, you won’t be going that low.
On the flipside to this is film audio. Special effects will tend to use much lower frequencies than music, and need to do so at much higher volume.
If you think back to the last explosion you saw in a cinema and remember how deep and resonant that bass was, then you’ll understand what I mean.
The other thing to bear in mind is that the dynamic range, which is the difference between the ends of the volume spectrum, and the frequency range, which is the range between bass and treble, are both generally much larger in films.
Music stays within a reasonably confined range of both frequency and dynamics, whereas there’s much more scope in a film.
So, what does this mean for you when it comes to choosing a set of speakers? Basically, it means that if you want to watch films and have good quality audio, make this your priority. A set of speakers that has the range needed for good audio quality will have absolutely no problem keeping up with any music you play through them.
You obviously need to make sure that the speakers are also capable of handling dialogue, which means they need to be very clear, regardless of the volume.
Also, all speakers should have a subwoofer installed somewhere (whether this is integrated or separate doesn’t matter), otherwise they won’t be able to handle the bass needed for either films or music.
Does The Size Of Speakers Make A Difference?
One of the things I noticed when researching different speakers is that there’s a growing market for very compact speakers, both in stereo and surround sound systems.
When it comes to a home theater setup, you might be thinking smaller is better, simply because it can offer a cleaner and less cluttered look.
However, when it comes to speakers, size does tend to matter. Bigger speakers will generally be more powerful, and capable of putting out louder audio.
Also, bigger speakers give manufacturers more room to include bigger, and often better, parts. They also tend to put out better and deeper bass, and can do so at pretty much any volume. You should also find that proportionately, large, high quality speakers will be cheaper than small ones.
That said, you can still get compact speakers that pack a punch, but they will be much more expensive. Some high-end models can really deliver excellent bass and do so at very high volumes, but these are usually top of the line speakers, and will be outside most people’s price range.
You should also bear in mind the size of your room. Large speakers will do a much better job at filling a big room, and you’d probably find that small speakers wouldn’t be capable of delivering the volume and bass needed.
The reverse isn’t true in small rooms though, and if you’ve got the space, stick with larger speakers. You’ll have better sound and will probably be able to go much louder than necessary.
Surround Sound Vs. Stereo, Which Is Better?
When it comes to picking the right speaker system for your home theater, the type you choose will have a big impact on the price you can expect to pay.
Remember, more expensive isn’t always better, but there will be quality increases with price increases. As a general rule, surround sound systems will be more expensive simply because they have more speakers.
Choosing the right speaker system for your home theater should be one of the most important decisions you make, and you should ideally build the rest of your setup around this decision. So which is better, surround sound or stereo?
- Stereo speakers are the typical and most common choice, and come in pairs (this is where the stereo part comes in).
- Stereo speakers divide sound into two channels, which are generally labeled as left and right.
- All music tracks are recorded in stereo, so this is their default output. Music can be played through surround sound, but it obviously doesn’t use all the speakers.
- What does this mean for you? If your home theater is mainly going to be a music listening station, stick with stereo. You won’t get full use out of a surround sound system.
- Stereo is also fine for films because it’s the standard audio track for these too. So if you just want a good set of speakers that don’t break the bank, stick with stereo.
- Stereo speakers can also be paired with a separate subwoofer to make them a 2.1 channel system. This is still recognized as stereo, so won’t have any impact on your music (apart from making the bass much deeper).
- Surround sound systems typically come in 5.1 and 7.1 channel systems. This refers to the amount of speakers (5 and 7 respectively) that are connected to the system. The .1 refers to the subwoofer.
- These are the best choice if you want a home theater that prioritizes films over everything else.
- Many film audio tracks offer surround sound (particularly Blu-Ray, which may even give you several options).
- Surround sound systems can still play stereo tracks, but the audio will only come from the two main speakers, and the rest will remain inactive.
- Surround sound is generally more expensive, but you’re paying for the extra equipment.
The main takeaway from this is that surround sound is great for films, but will still only play music in audio. So if you want a music heavy home theater, go with stereo. If not, go for surround sound.
Tips For Getting The Most Out Of Your Speakers
Hopefully I’ve made it clear that price isn’t always the thing to look at, and that while quality and price are both subjective, there are some things to look for when choosing speakers.
You might decide to spend that little bit extra on some speakers to make sure you’re getting as much as possible from your audio. However, they won’t be worth the investment if you cut corners elsewhere, so here are some helpful tips for getting the most out of your speakers.
You’re probably going to need to connect things up to your system, and for this you might need to buy some wires. If this is the case, make sure you don’t cut corners.
Poor quality wires will lead to loss of sound quality, and might not be able to keep up with the demands your speakers are making on them.
You ideally should look for wires with the best conductivity. The best metals for this are copper, silver, and gold. They might cost a bit more, but it’s definitely worth the investment to get the most from your speakers.
2. Room acoustics are everything
Why spend hundreds (maybe even thousands) on a good speaker system, only for the sound waves to bounce around the room?
Hardwood floors are one of the worst culprits for reflecting sound waves, and should generally be avoided in home theaters.
If you can’t do much about this, lay down a rug to help absorb sound better. You can also buy acoustic panels to help deal with reflection issues.
3. Nothing should sit in front of the speakers
This should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: nothing should block the speakers. There should be a clear path between the speaker and your sitting area, so if this isn’t the case, make it so.
While it might not have a noticeable effect on volume, it can massively impact clarity, making your expensive speakers essentially worth it.
4. Be very careful with your speaker placement
This point basically follows up from the previous two points, and is the most important. Speaker placement is crucial, and should provide appropriate coverage for the whole room. If you notice any quiet spots, reposition and try again, or add more speakers.
There’s no real correct placement for speakers in terms of layout, but you should always aim for balance. For example, if you have 2 speakers, make sure they’re equal distances away from your seating area.
The same is true for 5 and 7 channel systems, but these require a bit more work. All rooms are different, so trial and error is your friend here.
5. But also be careful with your seating placement
You’ve probably noticed that I consider setting up a home theater to be a military exercise, but it is. Everything needs to be carefully positioned to get the most out of the potentially expensive equipment. Seating is important here too, as you need to be able to enjoy your home theater.
The most important rule is don’t place your seating in the middle of the room if using a single subwoofer. There will be a massive bass void directly in front of the sub, meaning you’re missing out on the best bit.
Either position your seating slightly off center, or install 2 subwoofers to compensate for audio gaps.
Final Thoughts On Expensive Speakers
When it comes to speakers, expensive isn’t always better, but you will generally get better performance from higher end equipment.
While there are objective measurements you can use to test a speaker’s quality, it’s much more important to ensure they do what you need them to.
There’s little point in getting a set of speakers that are fine for music, but can’t keep up with the demands of film audio. After all, don’t you want to get your money’s worth from those expensive speakers?