Choosing speakers is perhaps the most important thing you can do when you put together your sound or home cinema system. Although they are limited to what they receive from the amplifier and signal source, it is the speaker's task of converting electrical signals into sound waves that can be heard.
Types of speakers
With floorstanding speakers you can get excellence sound quality, without necessarily paying huge amounts of money. The largest and most powerful speakers can be found in this category. Both floor-standing speakers, and speakers in the compact category are considered very good all-round speakers.
Compact or bookshelf speakers
These speakers are considerably smaller than floor speakers, and they are for this reason far more friendly when it comes to their location in the home. They can be positioned almost anywhere, such as on the wall or on bookshelves. Prices for these models are lower than floor speakers, so their quality is not as good and the bass will not be as prominent. But still there are many speakers in this category that provide very good all-round sound quality.
These are small, space-saving speakers, that cannot produce deep bass on their own, and thus must be partnered with a subwoofer for good quality sound.
As the name implies, this speaker can be inserted into a wall, and are well suited for those who do not find speakers on the floor or shelves as the most decorative elements in their home. Despite these models being placed inside a wall, they give excellent sound quality.
These kind of speakers are mostly used in a home theater system, where they are put behind (or on the side of) the sofa to give the best surround effects. If you are thinking of getting side/rear speakers for your home theater, it might be nice to know that you can use regular compact speakers for this purpose.
This type of speaker belongs in a complete home theater system, and are excellent when it comes to sound from movies. They are often slightly oblong and placed on a shelf above the TV.
This is a kind of all-in-one solution for those who don't want cables or bulky speaker boxes. Sound bars pack a complete sound system into one speaker, which are often long and narrow. Sometimes they are accompanied with a subwoofer, so you can experience the deepest bass.
This is also a speaker that belongs to a complete home theater system, and the main point of it is to bring out the detail in the bass and add a more powerful sound. It should ideally be placed on the floor, which also makes it discreet, since you should be able to place it almost anywhere in the room when watching movies or listen to music. Within this category there are also active subwoofers, that have built-in amplifiers.
These type of speakers have become more important with the increasing use of smartphones and tablets. In particular, there are many small and portable speakers for the iPhone and iPod. This means that you can stream from your iPhone, or place your phone in the docking station, and listen to your music.
Active speakers (built-in amplifier)
Once a solution for those who didn't want huge amounts of equipment, or the high price of a complete sound system. Here, the amplifier is built-in to the speaker. These type of speakers are ideal for computer use.
If you want good sound quality when you're sitting at your PC, these type of speakers will provide an all-round good quality compared to the computer's monitor. These tend to be small and compact, and are designed to stand next to the machine on your desk.
Wireless streaming music systems
As streaming services such as Spotify and Wimp become increasingly popular, there has been a big increase of so-called wireless streaming music system on the market, such as Sonos and Bluesound. These consist of speakers with a built-in amplifier. One of the advantages of these type of speakers is that you can place several speakers in several rooms and play the same music simultaneously.
The main characteristics of loudspeakers
It is recommended to listen to several different speakers in the store before you decide to buy. What you should listen for is how the bass sounds, how well you can hear nuances, and how powerful the soundstage becomes. But what best suits you, will depend entirely on what you will be using the speakers for, and what kind of music you like.
We usually talk about two uses for speakers: general music listening and home theater systems. If you are going to listen to music, for example, it is common to connect two speakers to the amplifier for a stereo effect. This can be both floor standing and compact speakers, depending on how much space you have, and how much power you want. Many people also choose to add a subwoofer.
Should you have a home theater system, you'll be happy to achieve a surround effect, with a center speaker above the TV, two floor standing/compact speakers next to your TV and two rear speakers (which may well be compact speakers) behind the sofa. In addition, a subwoofer provides more details in the deepest tones/bass, and a overall more powerful sound.
Type of music
What type of music do you like to listen to? If you like rock or metal music, it will probably be better to go for the big, floor-standing speakers. If you are a classical enthusiast, it is important to choose speakers that bring out the nuances and have a good sound image. In that case compact speakers would be a good choice.
There are two main things to consider: one is how much free space you have, and the other is how much power you want from your speakers. If you have a small home, it is perhaps not a good idea to go for the largest floor standing speakers, as these will take up lots of space and will appear dominant in your home. In that case, compact speakers that you can place on a shelf or on a tripod would be a good option. You also will not need large speakers to fill a small room with sound.
As mentioned earlier you get the most power in big, floor-standing speakers. So, if you are looking for that powerful sound, with big bass this is the best option for you.
If you want the least amount of equipment, and are after something that is space-saving, go for the so-called sound bars where the entire sound system is packed in a single, slim speaker.
Compatibility with your amplifier/receiver
If you already have an amplifier or receiver, make sure that this is compatible with the speakers you are considering buying. The amplifier must have enough power to drive the speakers. This is also something you have to think very carefully about when shopping for large, powerful speakers.
A classic problem a hifi enthusiast might encounter is that your partner may not be as thrilled to have big, black speakers standing in the living room. Fortunately, manufacturers are also thinking of design and appearance of speakers, and there are an ever-growing range of stylish speakers to choose from now. Speakers today come in various different colours and are often slightly narrower in design - for those who are concerned about that sort of thing.