Big, Small, or hung from the wall?
By Jim Bray
Part One: First Steps
Part Two: The Components We Used
Part Three: Buying a TV
Part Four: Buying a
Part Five: Accessorizing
Part Six: Buying a Receiver
Part Seven: Buying Speakers
Part Eight: More on Buying Speakers
Your Ears are the Best Speakers
By Jim Bray
Looking for new speakers? The most important rule of thumb to consider
is "Trust Your Own Ears."
You may get gobs of gobbledygook from sales people who speak in language
that means something to audiophiles or engineers but, when push comes
to shove, its your money, so you should like how a speaker sounds
even if the clerk looks down his or her nose at you.
Besides that, speakers should also be matched to your amplifier (or receiver,
etc.), when it comes to impedance and power, and you should take a few
steps to ensure you place them correctly in your room.
Impedance, measured in Ohms, is the resistance of a device to electrical
current (the lack of resistance creates something called a superconductor).
If your speakers are rated at 8 ohm impedance (or 4 ohm, etc.), the amp
should be rated similarly. Most mainstream systems shouldnt pose
a problem here, but remember to check!
The power rating is important because if your amp pumps out too much,
your speakers could end up as little smoking ruins on your living room
floor. Likewise, too little power and your speakers won't be used properly
and may go on strike for higher wattage.
A "peak" power rating is a measure of the most power a speaker will handle
before smoke starts pouring out "Continuous" power means just that: the
speakersll hum along happily at that rating, but beware pumping
much more than that into them for more than an instant or two at a time.
Most amps' power ratings are given in "continuous" watts per channel
(per speaker), so if you match the amp's continuous power rating to the
speaker's you should be fine.
This is a gross oversimplification (I havent mentioned current,
for instance), but its all most people need to know to get up and
Where you put your speakers is also vital to your happiness, and not
just for reasons of room esthetics. For good stereo separation, the speakers
should be far enough apart for a full soundstage to be heard, but not
so far apart that it sounds artificial or "hollow." Experiment!
If you put your speakers too close to a corner or a wall, the bass can
sound too "boomy," which may be nice if you like listening to explosions
but which does little for the subtleties of a string bass. Then
again, if your speakers are lacking in bass, sticking them in a corner
can make 'em sound as if they have a little more "oomph" than they really
Manufacturers, or dealers worth their snuff, can often give you advice
as to speaker placement, so don't be afraid to ask. Your speakers may
even come with directions or diagrams that can help. You might even want
to take a drawing of your listening room into the store with you so the
salesperson can make a better recommendation of which speakers will work
best in your environment. You can even try cajoling the salesperson into
actually taking a look at your room though youre more likely
to be successful here if youre planning to spend a goodly amount
at a high end store.
You probably dont need to go that far, however. While in the grand
scheme of things optimum speaker placement will help ensure optimal sound,
you have to live in the real world and if youre happy with the way
your speakers sound wherever you put them, youve undoubtedly made
a good choice.
Subwoofers can be placed nearly anywhere, since the energy they transmit
isnt directional, but the same rules of thumb as above apply. My
subwoofer sounds best aimed into a corner, about four inches away from
each wall; a sub I reviewed a few months ago sounded best next to the
TV, aimed into the room.
You can also color the sound with your amplifier's (actually
your preamplifier's) tone controls, though this will get your hand slapped
by high end audiophiles. Tone controls, or an equalizer, can also help
compensate for flaws in your system or your room, though theyre
no substitute for a well-designed room and a system that sounds good without
Remember: ignore the hype! It doesnt matter if your speakers have
the latest tweeter configurations or are constructed via black magic.
Buy what you like.
Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.
Tell us at TechnoFile what YOU think