Loudspeakers Buyer’s Guide
Every home stereo system has a set of loudspeakers which convert the electrical signals received from the media player into sound waves. This expert guide aims to explain the different types of loudspeakers; important features to take into consideration when reviewing them, as well as provide guidance on the types of loudspeakers available within the various budget ranges.
Available types of loudspeakers
There is a wide variety of loudspeakers available and to help with your selection this section aims to describe the main categories of loudspeakers.
- Monopole loudspeakers
All the drivers within a loudspeaker unit face the same direction.
- Bipole loudspeakers
These surround sound loudspeakers use two sets of drivers which diffuse the sound by radiating the sound in different directions.
- Front and center channel loudspeakers
The front left and right loudspeakers are responsible for reproducing the main sound in a soundtrack, while the center channel loudspeaker is responsible for the character voices thereby obtaining a surround sound effect.
These loudspeakers reproduce the lowest frequency sounds, normally bass frequencies of 80Hz or less.
Wireless loudspeakers can be placed anywhere around the home and receive a signal from the media player or HiFi system via an transmitter connected to the system.
- In-Wall / In Ceiling
These loudspeakers are mounted flush against the ceiling or the wall, and can be placed anywhere in the house. In wall loudspeakers can be more difficult to install than in ceiling loudspeakers; however both these types do offer excellent quality sound.
These are compact loudspeakers which are often the standard for mini-HiFi’s. They are generally monopole type speakers.
The following specifications are important to consider during your review of loudspeakers.
- Dynamic, electrostatic, horn type or planar-magnetic drivers
Apart from selecting the type of loudspeaker, it is important to know whether it should be dynamic, electrostatic, horn or planar-magnetic.
Most bookshelf loudspeakers are dynamic with one woofer and one tweeter driver. Electrostatic loudspeakers only use one driver to reproduce the low and high frequency sounds. Horn type drivers produce a better quality sound than dynamic drivers as they use a wave guide attached to the end of the dynamic drivers. Planar-magnetic drivers are similar to electrostatic drivers however they have a thin, tall and narrow metal ribbon diaphragm.
- Passive or active
Passive loudspeakers do not have a built-in amplifier and therefore need to be connected to the amplifier through the loudspeaker wires. Active loudspeakers do have a built-in amplifier but as they need power they must be placed closed to a power socket. Active loudspeakers are generally quite expensive.
- Surround sound
Surround sound refers to the ability to produce a 3-dimensional sound output by using multichannel audio devices. There are three main formats of surround sound: Dolby Pro Logic; Dolby Digital and Digital Theater Systems (DTS).
Impedance is measured in Ohms and refers to the electrical resistance in relation to the voltage. Loudspeakers should have an impedance of 8 Ohms.
- Frequency response
Affecting the overall sound quality, the specified frequency response is the range of frequencies the loudspeakers are able to reproduce.
This relates to the amount of power required to produce loud sounds. Stated as decibels (dB), a low dB rating means that the loudspeaker will require more power to sound loud.
Entry level budget
It is possible to purchase a set of cheap loudspeakers for under $100. Most of the loudspeakers within the entry level budget range are quite compact.
The Alesis M1 Active 320 USB loudspeaker set enables you to play audio from your PC as they work via a USB connection. With dynamic drivers, they have a frequency response of 58Hz – 25kHz and a signal to noise ratio of 88dB. Priced at around $90, this set of loudspeakers has received an overall expert rating of 60%; refer to www.testseek.com for more details.
Cheaper loudspeakers do not offer the best sound quality and the options are pretty limited, but if you do not need a professional sounding system then they are more than adequate.
If sound quality is an issue and you want more options then expect to pay between $100 and $200.
The Fostex PMO.4 Powered Studio Monitor loudspeaker set produces a good sound quality and can be purchased for around $170. These 18 Watt dynamic, compact loudspeakers are great for desktop use. They offer a frequency response of 60Hz – 30 kHz and have 4 inch woofers and UFLC 0.65 inch soft dome tweeters.
For top quality sound and the widest range of options, including outdoor and wireless loudspeaker systems, expect to pay over $200.
The Mirage OMD-15 loudspeakers are stylish and offer superior sound. Priced at around $600, these floor standing loudspeakers use omnipolar technology to achieve surround sound. With an average expert review rating of 93%; you can’t go wrong. Refer to www.testseek.com for further information.
Cheaper loudspeakers don’t offer the best sound quality, but are great for the casual user. If you are unsure which loudspeakers are the best, refer to expert reviews like those available at www.testseek.com to see the advantages and disadvantages of the different types.
Disclaimer: This guide was written in late 2008 and the specific product recommendations may be outdated. However the basic discussions in this buyer's guide may still be of great value.
Written by; TestSeek staff