If you stream your favourite tracks from your smartphone and watch films on your laptop, you’re missing out.
Speakers are an essential part of any home entertainment experience, and paramount to ensuring optimum sound quality for music, movies, gaming and more.
While most of us pay particular attention to storage, screen resolution or camera quality on our devices, sound capabilities are often overlooked, meaning you never truly hear sound as the creator intended.
Whether you’re in the market for a Bluetooth speaker, soundbar or even a hi-fi, you don’t need to spend your life savings on a great set-up. Here is everything you need to know for a quality audio experience.
The Basics For Budding Audiophiles
In order to emit sound waves, speakers use magnets and a coil to turn electrical signals into vibrations on a cone. The higher the frequency of the vibrations, the higher the pitch of sound. Volume, meanwhile, is controlled by the size of those vibrations.
There are two components of speakers to look out for. Woofers - including subwoofers - produce lower frequency sounds using bigger cones. Tweeters are for higher frequency sounds using smaller cones.
Hi-fi systems were probably your first experience of home speakers, but for the most part they’ve been replaced with newer ways of listening as we’ve moved from vinyl and CDs to MP3s and streaming on devices.
With that in mind, home audio is one of the few areas of technology where many of us are actually having a worse experience than decades ago.
In short, speakers on smartphones and laptops produce less impressive sound because there isn't room to reproduce heavy bass and loud volumes. There are also power supply limitations, which is why you often get that tinny sound.
In fact, speakers in smaller devices are often specifically designed to cut out lower frequency sounds to avoid hardware problems, so investing in some quality speakers is a must.
The first step for all budding audiophiles is deciding what type of speaker to purchase.
What To Consider Before Buying
Soundbars are designed to sit below your TV to boost the integrated stereo speakers. Some of the more powerful ones can replicate surround sound too. A soundbar paired with a subwoofer (a type of woofer) will give best results on low frequency sounds, like explosions in a movie.
Home theatre systems take things one step further. Multiple speakers provide a true surround sound experience, albeit with a little more space and effort (read: cables) required to get those higher volumes for a more immersive experience. Again, great for movies, although stereo sound is usually better for music.
If wires aren’t your thing, and you’re more likely to use speakers for music, wireless systems can be most convenient. They are typically controlled via Wi-Fi, AirPlay or Bluetooth (or a combination of the three) through your device. This is a great option if you want multi-room audio and use music streaming services like Spotify, which are usually built-in. They can also often form part of a bigger sound system throughout your home, such as pairing a compatible soundbar in the living room with a speaker in the bedroom.
In the battle of the wireless formats, the advantages of Wi-Fi and AirPlay over Bluetooth include a more reliable connection in bigger homes and your device being freed up to use for other tasks. If you want to hear notifications or YouTube videos through the speakers, Bluetooth is the way to go. Many wireless speakers come with both options built-in.
If you’ve still got a large CD collection, or are riding the wave of the vinyl revival, a hi-fi could be what you’re looking for, and you may be surprised to know that features now include USB and Bluetooth, as well as the more traditional uses like CD and radio, so you’re able to get the best of both worlds.
Optimising Your Sound At Home
For the serious among us who want studio-quality sound at home, ensure your speakers support high-resolution audio. It’s a format backed by the music industry that provides lossless sound superior to CDs. You’ll want to purchase songs in file formats such as FLAC and ALAC, or find a HD streaming service — Spotify and Apple Music are yet to offer this to users, but there are other options out there including Tidal.
In terms of tech specs for speakers, one of the most common features highlighted is watts, which refers to how much power it can handle without causing damage. If crazy parties are your thing and you’re after the loudest possible sound, the more watts the better to avoid distortion.
Finally, don’t be afraid to test out speakers in your home, as they’ll sound different in other spaces. They’ll also sound different to individual ears, so trust your gut and pick the speaker that physically sounds best to your ears, rather than relying on a list of tech specs.
The ultimate goal for quality home audio is for it to reflect the way it was recorded as accurately as possible, allowing you to hear the dynamic range of vocals and instruments. The best way to get there is by considering which speaker is best for your space, checking the build quality and features and then testing it with your very own ears.