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Speaker Basics

The Basics of Loudspeakers

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Speaker Types and Sizes

When selecting speakers first decide on the type of speaker you want then narrow your search to a brand, style and sound quality you like. Speakers come in many different types and styles: floorstanding, bookshelf, in-wall, in-ceiling and satellite/subwoofer. Everyone has different listening tastes and preferences, and sound quality is a personal decision, so choose a speaker based on its sound quality.

  • Floorstanding Speakers: Also known as an in-room speaker, floorstanding speakers are generally the largest, and are available in a wide range of styles and prices. Their advantages include placement flexibility in your room and you can take them with you when moving. Another advantage is that the cabinet or enclosure is optimized or tuned to provide the best performance. Because of this, most audio enthusiasts and very discriminating listeners prefer floorstanding speakers.

  • Bookshelf Speakers: Bookshelf speakers are similar to floorstanding speakers, though much smaller and take less space. In most cases, they’re small enough to fit on a shelf or a floor stand. Some consumers choose smaller bookshelf speakers and add a subwoofer for bass. Bookshelf speakers can also offer excellent performance and take less space than floorstanding speakers.

  • In-Wall Speakers: In-wall speakers are very popular because they can sound very good but take no floor space. When painted to match the wall color they virtually disappear. They offer good performance, especially models that include an enclosure or back-box. Keep in mind that they may require professional installation (especially for wiring) and they are more difficult to take with you if you move. If you're handy with home improvement projects, check out my article about how to install in-wall speakers.

  • On-Wall Speakers:On-wall speakers are a great complement to a flat-panel television. Many on-wall speakers offer sound quality as good as floorstanding speakers and cosmetically match the television.

  • In-Ceiling Speakers: These are similar to in-walls except they are installed overhead. They also offer good performance and are generally used as surround sound speakers, especially in rooms where there is little floor or wall space available for speakers behind the listener. In-ceiling speakers may also require professional installation.

  • Satellite/Subwoofer Combination: This type of speaker system uses small ‘satellite’ speakers, combined with a subwoofer. They consume little space and offer good sound quality. They are also easy to place in a room and the subwoofer can be concealed under a table.

Make Your Speaker Selection Based on Sound Quality

A friend recently asked me “What is the best speaker to buy?” My answer was simple: “The best speaker is the one that sounds good to you.” Choosing speakers is a personal decision and should be based on the type of speaker you want and your listening preferences. Just like there is no ‘best wine’ or ‘best car’, everyone has different opinions. Your personal tastes should guide your decision. Speakers don’t have to be expensive to sound good either. That’s why there are over 500 speaker brands. Speakers are the most important determinant of the overall sound quality so listen to several before making a decision. When you shop for speakers take a few favorite music discs with you to help you decide. You don’t have to know a lot about speakers to know what you like. When you get your new speakers home remember that proper placement is the key to getting the best sound quality.

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