Detailed Guide to The Different Types of Speakers for Home Use

Detailed Guide To Home Speakers

Time to purchase new home speakers? There are, in fact, more than 500 manufacturers of speakers of all shapes and sizes.

This article is intended to provide assistance to those who want to gain information about the feasible options before a selection of a specific make or model is made. Simply put it intends to inform the reader of the various types of speakers available in the market. It is not intended to guide those who want professional equipment that exceeds the expectations of the average home speaker user.

It should be emphasized that taste differs regarding the sound and quality coming from your speakers in the same way as taste varies when it comes to the selection of clothes or décor for residential purposes. A good guide is to say that the best sound system is the one that the purchaser likes best.

From a historical perspective, the electrical loudspeaker is approximately 100 years old. Before that horns were used to distribute sound but they were far less effective than our present drivers. Loud sounds could only be reproduced with the arrival of electricity also accommodating large areas like public halls and outside areas. The reason for the relatively late development of speakers was a complex mix of various disciplines including electricity, mechanical engineering, radio sound waves and scientific disciplines like physics and chemistry. Since the introduction of electrodynamic speakers in the 1920’s they evolved to the modern, efficient equipment that we know today, coming in many styles and shapes.

Contents

Functions of Component Parts of Speakers

Speakers have various components that perform specified functions. Depending on the purpose of the speakers, they differ in shape and size to fit the practical requirements of their functions.

The level of sound is expressed in terms of the number of Hertz (Hz) with the lower numbers representing the low bass and the higher ones extremely shrill sounds. The normal human ear can distinguish audio between 20Hz to 20000Hz. Some sounds lower than 20Hz can still be experienced by humans as these sounds produce vibrations that can be physically felt by people and are reproduced by subwoofers. Speakers can only reproduce a portion of the spectrum of sound available to the human ear. That is why different components are required to bring the full experience of sound to life. Each one creates vibrations in the surrounding air through the cone installed in the speaker that compliments the electrical signals it receives. A further refinement that should be taken note of is the fact that speakers contain segments of circuitry to ensure that the audio signals in a specific range are sent to the intended driver. Low-frequency signals will in this way be directed to the woofers or subwoofers where it is intended for reproduction.

Midrange

The typical function of a midrange speaker is the main distribution of sound including dialogue and music. It is, therefore, the basic type of speaker with the widest range of coverage of frequencies. They cannot, however, deal with the high frequency and low-frequency notes on the extreme ends of the sound spectrum.

Tweeters

Tweeters are constructed to handle with great efficiency, top frequencies or in other words the shrill high pitched notes. Some tweeters are called mid-tweeters and others super tweeters for obvious reasons.

Woofers

Woofers and their relatives, subwoofers respond to a given range of frequencies at the lower end of the sound spectrum. The more common midrange speakers although responsible for the majority of the sounds are not designed to reproduce these lower bass sounds. The basic woofers deal with frequencies between 20 to 2000Hz while mid-woofers have a range between 200 to 5000Hz.

Subwoofers

Consigned to reproduce very low bass frequencies of your audio, subwoofers produce roars, thunder and growls to movies including bass guitar sounds in music. Subwoofers enrich and complete your listening experience and do justice to the complete enjoyment of your music and movies. They immerse the listener in the available audio by adding sounds like drums, earthquakes, thunder, and volcanoes. Their range or reproductions is limited between 20 to 200Hz but they can reach frequencies as low as 5Hz with the aid of special equipment in the sub. In general, subwoofers are larger and the size increases the listening enjoyment. The best ones have their own amplifier for sound balancing purposes and are connected to the mains. Wireless connections are also possible.

Most audio drivers will contain a midrange speaker, a woofer and a tweeter in one container namely the ordinary speakers around your listening instruments. Subwoofers are used alone and it is you likely that there will be at least one subwoofer in a home theatre system independent from the other speakers.

There is nothing to prevent home occupiers to mix and match speakers and other equipment or to strengthen a system over time by adding additional speakers. No compelling requirement exists for all equipment to be from the same manufacturer. Flexibility is a good ally in getting to the best solution.

The Numbers Allocated to Different Speakers

When you buy speakers you are bound to notice that they refer to certain numbers used to differentiate between the contents of each full set. Examples of these numbered markings are 2.1, 5.1 and 7.1. The significance of this practice of numbering audio equipment is quite simple and easy to understand. The first number indicates the number of ordinary speakers and the second number the subwoofer included in the full package. Thus 2.1 may refer to two bookshelf speakers with one subwoofer. The number 5 and 7 before the period indicates that you have either 5 or 7 ordinary speakers plus one subwoofer. This is the world of surround sound where your listening experience is lifted to a higher level of enjoyment. Noises coming from behind you will intensify the reality of your watching and listening adventure. Even a system with only two speakers placed on either side of the TV or CD player will provide quite adequate listening joy. You may even find that some perspective is added to the audio by sound travelling from the left to the right or vice versa, e.g. the sound of an airplane flying by.

A 5.1 system will give you the true surround sound experience. It provides you with 4 ordinary speakers, albeit some with different functions, as well as a centrepiece. The centre channel is placed in front of the TV with a speaker for the left front output and another one for the right front. The centrepiece is a merge of the left front and right front speakers. These three speakers are responsible for most of the dialogue. The back speakers also left and right will detect sounds played in the background like music or harsh sudden sounds like two vehicles colliding. Sometimes specifications will go further and indicate the number with an added slash like 3/2.1. This means there are 3 full range channels in the front with 2 at the back and then after the period the 1 for the subwoofer. A 5.1 and a 3/2.1 is technically the same. Sometimes the matter is taken even further with a colon added to the mix. Like 3/2:3.1. This indicates three full range speakers in the front, and two at the back but added to the back of speakers is an additional sound channel providing you with essentially 6 channels of sound. A special device in the two back speakers thus gives you an additional channel of sound.

Measurement of Sound

Frequency deals with the pitch of the sound that you are hearing and decibels measure the loudness of the speaker. Frequency measured in Hertz(Hz) would, therefore, be a major consideration in the purchase of audio equipment. Decibels(dB) deal with the potential loudness of a driver and is also important. Technically speaking Hertz and Decibels are two units used in sound and wave mechanics.

How important are these measurement when it comes to the purchase of audio instruments for your home? The aspects of frequency and loudness are probably more important for sound enthusiasts. For buyers intended to benefit from this article, it is far more important to have a system that produces natural and clear sound. Dialogue for movies should be heard and understood. There should also be balance in the complete sound that reaches the ear. Trust your own feelings about the equipment you are looking at and you will probably not go wrong.

The Four Primary Dimensions Describing Home Speakers

1. Placement

All home speakers come in wide variety of styles, looks, and prices. The next portion of this article will refer to the classification of home speakers in terms of the locality where they are intended to be used.

Floor Standing Speakers

Preferred by most audio clients, even those who can be considered as amateur enthusiasts, floor standing speakers are large and bulky, although sleeker models are also entering the market. Floor standing speakers are considered the standard for electrical sound reproduction, usually coming in pairs. They provide the user with the maximum flexibility to place them at places in the room where they best fit in with the rest of the furniture. They can be moved around as the listener pleases and also move house with the user when it is necessary. It can be assumed that these speakers are already optimized for the best performance when they leave the shop floor. Do not place floor speakers at angles that square of the corners of your room as it will cancel out some sounds causing a measure of hearing failure.

Take into consideration the décor of your room as you do not want your speakers to spoil an aspect of your room that also affected your budget and may detract from your lifestyle.

Bookshelf Speakers

These speakers are considerably smaller than the floor standing ones and therefore use much less space. They can be placed on the TV cabinet, on a stand on the floor or on a shelf. The performance of shelf speakers can be enhanced with the use of a subwoofer to emphasize very low bass frequencies. Large speakers in a bookshelf that produce considerable bass should be avoided as it can create a resonance when the bass bounces around the cabinet. Some bookshelf speakers stop playing bass at around 80 Hz and are recommended for this reason.

Wall Mounted Speakers

Some people prefer wall mounted speakers that can deliver very good sound performance equal to the floor and shelf models. When matching the TV set they can be pleasing to the eye. They require neither floor nor shelf space.

In-wall Speakers

The quality of the sound provided by in-wall speakers can be excellent to improve listening enjoyment. This quality can be enhanced by the use of a back box with the built-in speaker. The back box, which is not expensive, prevents the sound from escaping and ensures that the sound waves are distributed equally. They are good sellers being very popular with the public. The benefit of fitting in-wall speakers is that they take up no floor or shelf space. They can also be made virtually undetectable if the box where they are fitted into the wall is painted the same colour as the wall.

Unless you are a handyman yourself you may need professional assistance to install these speakers. They are, in addition, not easy to remove and take with you should you change residence.

In-Ceiling Speakers

Installed overhead these speakers are similar to in-wall ones and can in much the same way be provided with a back box and the same benefits. They can produce excellent results in terms of performance. As with in-wall speakers, they will not interfere with your décor plans. They can also be fitted in surround sound systems, especially in smaller rooms where there may not be enough space to fit all the required equipment. Once again professional installation is probably the way to go.

Outdoor Speakers

Perhaps you want to have the benefit of sound in outside areas like a veranda, the garden or the swimming pool. Outside speakers are specifically devised for this purpose. They are robust and able to withstand all weather conditions including high and low temperatures and humidity. Often they can withstand some exposure to water. Other positive features are an added enclosure to increase the protection required outdoors and metal grills to keep small animals like birds and rodents out. The cones in ordinary speakers are often made from cardboard paper but in the case of outdoor speakers are replaced with polypropylene to enhance durability.

Satellite Speakers with Woofer Combination

Compared to other speakers, satellite speakers are small. They take up little space, yet offer good quality of sound. Because of their small size, they can be placed without problems. They are often used with a subwoofer to provide the bass that satellite speakers mostly lack. The subwoofer, although a larger instrument, can also be concealed readily e.g. by placing it under a cabinet or table where it will be difficult to observe.

Built-in Speakers

Stereo sets, TV’s, computers etc. all come with built-in speakers. Some may possibly produce adequate sound but not great sound. This is the reason why these devices are connected to speakers systems. The external speakers enhance audio and provide the great experience that modern speaker gear brings to listening situations.

Portable Speakers

Powered by rechargeable batteries portable speakers allow you to take listening to music with you where you go, be it outdoors, your garage or workroom to name a few. They provide flexibility and add to the joy that music brings to our life experiences.

Soundbars

If you select not to install speakers around your room or to go for the in-wall options, but insist on compelling sound, a wise option may be a soundbar. They look great and compliment most TV’s like flat screens, plasma and more. The built-in speakers of your TV are not worth very much and soundbars can produce an experience comparable to the highest quality speakers. Soundbars are produced with several speakers in one containter placed to bounce sound waves off the walls distributing the sound around the room.

Smart Speakers

Speakers capable of receiving voice commands and acting on those commands are referred to in the audio industry as smart speakers. These speakers use a number of types of connection networks to perform additional functions. They are fast growing in popularity taking us the next step forward in the technology explosion the world is seeing. The voice control of these speakers is built into them and they will comply with spoken commands given to them. Pretty smart for sure. Precisely what your smart speaker can do depends on the programming installed in the speaker when you purchase it. It will play the music that you command, keep time for chores that require timing, control your TV or video player, make bookings with service providers, control lights and heating and much more. Features that are designed for audio experts today, soon appear to become the norm for the normal household to bring exciting times and new horizons.

Elevational Speakers

Yet another feature of sound reproduction that takes us into the realm of what was previously considered science fiction. This is the next generation of sound duplication that takes the 5.1 and 7.1 surround sound experience to a higher level. The traditional models of surround sound brought us all sorts of additional experiences with sound moving around and coming from different directions. Vibrations from surround sound are directed straight from the speakers to the listeners. With elevational speakers sounds from different objects comes from all angles, moving around the room and to the listeners in an amazing way, providing depth and clarity. The speakers should be placed at a level more of less equal to the listeners’ ears. There function is to direct sound towards the ceiling from where the sound is reflected to the listener in a way to engulf you in the resultant effects. Although the same effect can be obtained with the installation of in-ceiling speakers, this is an improved solution in view of the fact that in-ceiling installations are not always practical.

2. Application

Music Speakers

Music speakers usually consist of two midrange speakers to bring the listener a quality experience. Both on-floor and on-shelf speakers will bring you a great musical experience but quality can improve the experience to a high degree.

Surround Sound Speakers

Surround sound is undoubtedly a better option for movie fans than stereo or soundbars. They consist of 5 or 7 speakers with various channels performing specific functions and cannot operate properly without a subwoofer. They do what they say namely envelope you in sound from different directions making for a very pleasant listening experience.

Home Theater Speakers

Taking sound reproduction to an even higher level is the home theater systems which can have as many as 11 channels of sound plus 2 subwoofers. They are mostly very expensive but deliver a result that is truly theatre like. The terms surround sound and home theater, are used interchangeably in the market. Buyers should be aware of this and make informed decisions when purchasing equipment.

Multi-Room Speakers

Multi-room speakers are just what the name says, namely speakers in different rooms in your house and subject to your choice even in every available room. Once installed, the same music can be played on these speakers through all spaces and even different music in different localities. Numerous producers make multi-room systems and there are many platforms too, offering experiences according to price and quality. Music can be played from a number of your devices like a CD player or a computer or from streaming services that provide music for this purpose. The speakers used will be wireless and an app on a smartphone will allow for control of the system. Compatibility may present problems and one may be forced to use the same brands throughout all the rooms serviced by speakers.

Computer Speakers

Some computers have built-in speakers with an internal amplifier. External speakers operated through electrical power can be driven through a USB port. Bluetooth speakers for computers are wireless if battery driven. Most of the built-in speakers of computers are inadequate and connection to external speakers is important even if just a headset placed over the ears. More sophisticated stand-alone speakers may come with a subwoofer for the obvious reason of improving quality of listening. Most computers can be connected to any external sound system.

3. Connectivity

Wired

Most speakers systems are powered by electricity obtained from the wall outlets in your home. As not only the amplifier uses electricity but sound waves are also transmitted along electrical wires it involves a high degree of wiring which can be unsightly, if not risky. With the explosion of new technology reaching the market things are changing rapidly and a future where wiring will play a less important role is predicted although some sort of basic electrical power remains necessary even for the wireless options. No system has been devised to transmit electricity without wires and at present, that possibility seems to be remote.

Wireless

Speakers that receive their signals via radio frequency as opposed to the cables for the electrically powered ones are referred to as wireless. Truth is that such speakers always need at least one wire that connects to a wall plug and the name is therefore somewhat misleading. Wireless speakers have their limitations. When infrared signals are used a direct line of sight is required between the TV and the speakers. In the case of 5.1 and 7.1 systems wires would be required to plug into the wall for each of the speakers. The positive of wireless speakers is that they can eliminate the necessity for wires from the TV or video player to the speakers. Truth is that wireless systems too often lead to a compromise in the quality of the sound produced which is a big no-no. Technology is making great strides in satisfying the wishes of consumers and doing so with the high standard of quality that the users demand. There is excellent equipment available that is becoming more sophisticated all the time making it easier to decide on your own requirements in terms of sound and speakers.

Besides infrared signals, wireless speakers are used most commonly with Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.

Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi is technology that allows two devices to talk to each other typically your TV, smart phone or iPod. Most of these devices will have built-in Wi-Fi technology which you can be used with wireless speakers or when existing electrical speakers are converted to wireless. An important feature of Wi-Fi technology is that it can cover a large area with a range of about 120 feet. Placed correctly the signals can cover an entire house. Not all systems are compatible when using Wi-Fi and this should be kept in mind. Some advanced systems provide excellent quality.

Bluetooth

Like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth technology is built into most modern devices and provides an alternative to the connection of audio and speakers. They have a limited range going as low as 15 feet. Some versions of Bluetooth are not compatible with use for speakers and this should be taken note of when this technology is planned for employment. Quality is usually good and for the ordinary home user, no loss of quality should be detected.

As can be seen, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth both have advantages but also some negative aspects. Faced with the available options the consumer is advised to do additional research before moving to the purchase phase.

4. Power Sources

Powered

A powered speaker has its own dedicated amplifier built into the speaker. It stands to reason therefore that it gets plugged into a handy electrical outlet. These speakers usually have crossover elements that enable the signals to be categorized in terms of the sound spectrum and then sent to the right speakers for broadcasting. But, even if a speaker is described as powered it may lack the crossover features that are important to the listener. These speakers are also equipped with a cut-off which means they can produce deep bass audio up to a certain level after which the bass is eliminated. In this way, they do not sound unclear or lacking definition. Most powered speakers have these features but there are some that have a scarcity of the required components and will be a disappointment. Plugged in speakers usually, provide more powerful sound.

Passive

Some speakers have no independent source of power as they draw power from the main amplifier or receiver especially subwoofers. Unlike most of the powered ones, they have no cut-off with the result that there will be a lot of bass in voices. Nevertheless, personal choice also plays a role in the selection of speakers and consumers may prefer the one or the other option.

Battery

Battery power simply means that the device that receives sound signals is not powered by mains electricity but by rechargeable batteries. The obvious downside is that these batteries must be recharged from time to time and this means that you may be robbed from the use of the device for the charging period. Remember that your vehicle can also be used for recharging purposes. Some rechargeable batteries now come with an operational use of up to 8 hours that clearly gives the user a great amount of flexibility. For use in outdoor settings, it may provide a good answer as a backup system for the electrical ones that is installed permanently indoors. Most of the battery-powered speakers are now compatible with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

The Hybrid Option

A somewhat expensive option for the need to power your speakers is available on condition that your budget can accommodate this solution. The speakers are powered by both electricity and rechargeable batteries and can, therefore, be used plugged in indoors and with the batteries when you are outside on the patio. It provides you with ample opportunity to use speakers as portables.

Other Considerations When Purchasing Home Speakers

The Available Space

The room or space available for a sound system is of critical importance as it plays an important role in the quality of the sound. The power to arrange a room to achieve this goal lies with the user. Sound goes directly to ears but also gets reflected off hard surfaces and brings about a second wave of sound. This fact actually results in a fuller more lavish encounter, adding a rich spaciousness to the audio. The opposite is, however, also true because the layout and features of a room can have a negative effect on listening pleasure becoming vague, harsh or distorted.

Here are some tips. Move the furniture in your room around and explore the results. Find the best spots for couch and chairs to compliment your equipment. Bookshelves filled with all kinds of ornaments, books, and plants can go a long way to diffuse reflected sound. Hard surfaces like floors and windows can be softened by the use of rugs and drapes.

Take note that some speakers are designed to deal with the problem of reflection by the use of automatic speaker adjustments and bass equalizers.

The size of the area where the sound system is to be used should also be kept in mind. In a small room, a 7 speaker system would be overpowering. It serves no purpose to purchase rear speakers for an area where the seats of the occupants are placed against the walls and in-ceiling speakers may be a better option. If, on the other hand, your entertainment area is large and spacious the audio system should complement the size and provide adequate sound to cover the entire area for good results.

The Purpose of the Speakers

Different speakers have divergent functions. The principal speakers are the three front speakers. If money is to be spent these are the important ones in terms of best quality for your available funding. They should harmonize and integrate the available sound to the highest degree.

The back speakers either in a 5.1 or 7.1 system, are important but this is an area where you can skimp somewhat without losing too much quality. We have dealt with the importance of subwoofers to bring a richness of sound to your mix specifically in relation to the low bass sounds. A single subwoofer would be quite adequate for most home users, improving listening in s stunning way.

Some of the rear speakers are bi-directional, technically referred to as bipole as they contain two speakers in the same encasement. The implication is that sound is forwarded in two directions from the speakers. Placement is crucial as the sound should not be directed straight to the listeners. A variant for bipole is dipole where there is a similar installation of two speakers in the box but the sound is phased alternatively. When one side increases in strength the other side subsides with the process repeating in the alternative and creating a sensation of moving sound.

Remember, the purpose for which you use speakers is key to the selection that you make. Music sounds great on just two floor or two shelf standing speakers possibly combined with a subwoofer. For movie fans, a soundbar with subwoofer may do very well but surround sound may be an even better solution. Personal choice and budget may guide the selection that fits the user.

Imaging

Imaging refers to the ability of a system to distribute sounds so that the source and location of the audio can be identified over the whole area of sound available. Speakers thus have the ability to position individual sounds within the listening area. Although a feature to be taken note of, imaging is not that important for overall listening pleasure.

Combining Existing Equipment with Speakers

It is possible to mix existing equipment e.g. an amplifier with new speakers but compatibility must be ensured before the purchase is made. Technically speaking your amplifier must be capable of driving your speakers adequately and securely. The sound emanating from the combinations is another acid test for the successful coupling of old and new.

Speakers have a natural resistance to the electrical signals your amplifier is providing to them referred to as impedance. This resistance or impedance is measured in ohms. The resistance is unavoidable as the amplifier will burn out if the impedance is absent. Most amplifiers and receivers are designed to drive on an 8-ohm load. If the load is lighter the possibility of burnout becomes more threatening. Speakers with a lower resistance than 8 ohms will require more effort from the amplifier and then the problem arises. The more speakers the amplifier must drive, the higher the danger. The solution is to purchase speakers with 8-ohm resistance which should ensure that the amplifier remains in a healthy operational state.

You may also look at the sensitivity of your speakers. Sensitivity refers to how loud a speaker plays per watt. The sensitivity is expressed in Decibel (dB). Low sensitivity requires more power and places the amplifier under strain. A sensitivity of at least 89 dB going up to 100 dB is recommended to address this problem effectively.

Finally look at the sound characteristics of your equipment. They should complement each other in sound characteristics as opposed to distorting the sound emanating from the new combinations. If both amplifier and speakers have the tendency to release a bright sound it may well produce a result that you find unpleasant. Combining an amplifier with a soothing character with bright speakers may produce a tempered sound pleasing to the ears.

Total Harmonic Distortion

Sometimes the salesperson may refer to the term “total harmonic distortion” or a reference to the terms may be found on the box of your newly bought box set of speakers. The lower the THD of a speaker the more realistic and accurate the sound will be with the minimum of distortion. Try and find a set that has less than 1% THD. Beware of those that may have a THD of as much as 10% because there will be considerable distortion.

Wattage - Power Rating

There is a tendency for sound gear to be issued with more and more power or watts if you want to use the technical term. Salespeople will advise purchasers that the higher the wattage of your system the better its performance will be. Over time competing manufacturers have increased the wattage of new equipment primarily because they are forced to do so in order to keep up with the competition. The ideal answer is excellent audio equipment with a power wattage that will enable the operation of the equipment in an efficient and balanced way. The unfortunate truth is that some manufacturers will place so much emphasis on the power that they skimp on the issue of quality equipment. There is no real problem of a lack of power in audio instruments but there are cases where poor quality equipment is loaded with unnecessary power. Wattage is, in terms of this view not too important in adding quality to the sound that you hear, nor does it indicate louder sound. Some good equipment will operate at peak levels with a lower level of watts than the excessive amount of watts forced upon the public by the manufacturing industry.

Conclusion

If sound is important to buyers then note should be taken that speakers are the most critical component that determines the quality of your sound. So if a decision is made to buy or replace speakers it will serve the client well to do some testing of the available and affordable speakers. Take some CD’s and perhaps DVD’s with you when shopping for the right drivers of that all-important sound. Do some reading and some research so that you can make an informed decision. You will know the sound that you like best when you hear it on condition that the preferred speakers fit in with your overall audio plans. Two heads are better than one, so take your partner with you and accommodate the views of both parties.

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