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We love media. Digital audio accounts for 11% of media consumption. Live streaming has also increased in popularity since the market is worth $70 billion as of 2021. There are also over two billion OTT users worldwide. Whether we’re consuming Netflix or Spotify, we need some good speakers to consume media. Great speakers are also essential if you work in audio or if you’re simply an audiophile who loves nothing more than listening to vinyl.
So, how do you find the best speakers?
What to Look for in Speakers
First, let’s start with a basic one: what to look for in your next set of speakers. Keep in mind, everyone has different needs, and this list may vary for you.
When looking at a pair of speakers, you’ll see a long list of specifications. While I recommend you do your due diligence in finding the ideal speaker specifications for you, there are specifications that are more important than others.
- Power handling: this is the maximum wattage that your speakers can handle from the amplifier. However, you’ll get better results when you match your speakers to the right receiver or amplifier.
- Impedance: the resistance the speakers have to power. This is defined by a single number in ohms. 8 ohms is the standard number. Any number less than 8 and the speakers will require a better amplifier or more power, in general.
- Sensitivity: shows you how efficiently the speakers use the power. This is defined by the code SPL.
- Room factor: this spec shows how much power your speakers can give a specific room. For example, an 80-100 Watt speaker is ideal for a bedroom where you may casually be watching TV or listening to music. If you have a larger room, say for a home theater, you’ll need stronger speakers.
The purpose of your speakers will largely depend on the specs. For example, the room factor signifies where you’ll be using your speakers and for what purpose.
Let’s put it this way. You don’t need huge and powerful speakers if you’re simply watching Netflix or listening to Spotify while cooking and cleaning; however, if you’re an enthusiast and want to increase.
As stated previously, the room factor is one of the key specs to consider. Your speakers require plenty of room to achieve the best sound. That’s because sound waves react with their environment. In other words, if you want speakers for your turntable but live in a small and cluttered apartment, you’ll need to buy smaller speakers.
Keep in mind, just because the speakers are small doesn’t mean they decline in quality. Size is just more suitable for certain scenarios, such as using speakers for your computer versus your DIY home theater.
With that being said, larger speakers need to be a certain distance from the wall. For example, some manufacturers may recommend a six-foot distance between the speakers and the wall. This mainly applies to larger speakers, but you’ll want to measure your space and pay attention to the manufacturer’s requirements.
Pure sound comes from the wiring.
All speakers have a certain number of terminals to connect a specific number of wires. Many speakers only allow a single-wire system, though some speakers have more terminals. For example, if you bi-wire your cables in a four-terminal system, you’ll have better sound precision compared with a single-wire system. You may also want to wire two speakers together so your speakers can reach the same driver, resulting in a more powerful sound.
Keep in mind that these wiring intricacies aren’t required. This is just a spec that may matter to serious audiophiles.
Different Types of Speakers
Let’s look at the differences between these terms:
- Standing: exactly what it sounds like. These speakers stand on the floor and are typically the biggest speakers. These speakers are capable of delivering the highest volume, but they’re also able to offer the highest bass and more dynamics, in general.
- Mounted: mounted speakers usually attach to the wall or anywhere else you want. Wall mount speakers are more flexible, and you have more placement options. These speakers are most popular to use for surround sound, which is why you mainly see them in home theaters.
- Desk: desk speakers are what they sound like. They’re small speakers that fit on your desk, perfect to use for your computer. Desk speakers connect to your computer using a variety of inputs, such as your USB drive.
- Bookshelf: Don’t get desk speakers mixed up with bookshelf speakers. Bookshelf speakers are similar to desk speakers because they’re small enough to fit in a small space, such as a bookshelf. However, they’re a step up with desk speakers in terms of quality but aren’t as powerful as standing speakers. They’re an ideal middle-ground if you want something more for your turntable but don’t need powerful and professional-quality speakers.
- Wireless: wireless speakers are best if you want to listen to music on your phone or another device but don’t want anything too powerful. Wireless speakers usually connect to your device via Bluetooth. Many are extremely small, small enough to be portable. But just because these speakers are small doesn’t mean they’re not powerful. Many of these speakers reach high volumes, perfect for those who want to jam to Spotify or enjoy their favorite YouTube videos.
Passive, Active, or Powered?
Your speakers can be either passive, active, or powered.
Most speakers on the market are passive. This means that the power comes from the amplifier. The speakers themselves use a crossover to direct the signal from the amplifier to the separate drivers. Passive speakers are more convenient to the user. You don’t need separate power cables to the speakers, saving you time while connecting your speakers. But passive speakers are really only ideal if you just need a basic power system.
If you need something more advanced, choose powered or active speakers. With powered speakers, the signal comes from inside the speaker cabinet. The speaker will require a separate mains feed, but you will have a better balanced and overall clearer sound. Because the amplifier is located inside the speakers, they will be able to reach higher volumes.
With active speakers, each speaker has its own amplifier. Crossover works at line-level, giving you greater control over the sound you want to achieve.
Hey, you want your speakers to look nice. This is especially important if you have guests over; whether you’re hosting a movie night or a listening party for your new vinyl, you’ll want some pretty speakers for your guests to enjoy.
Fortunately, speakers come in all shapes, sizes, colors, finishes, and more. Everyone has different preferences on their speaker appearance. I suggest looking at your overall decor and your own interests to choose the best-looking speakers.
Testing and Reviews
This should be common knowledge, but always read reviews before buying speakers. If you’re ordering speakers online, most retailers have a review section written by verified buyers. Common outlets include Amazon, Google Shopping, and Best Buy.
You can also turn to general review blogs. You can find reviews with various focuses. These include broad reviews such as “the best speakers of the year” all the way to “best active speakers.” These products are tried and tested by the product experts, so they only provide their honest reviews.
Keep in mind that you should take reviews with a grain of salt. A common problem with reviews, specifically customer reviews, is they take one minor flaw way too seriously.
Read their review but keep an open mind. Take some factors into consideration, such as the speaker price vs. quality, the reviewer’s purpose for purchasing the speaker (if they provide it), how they used the speaker (i.e. for their home theater or for listening to Spotify), certain details (such as if the speakers really improved the sound compared to the built-in speaker of a TV, computer, etc.), type of speaker, and if the customer had any connection issues.
Other blogs recommend that the user tests their own speakers. While we 100% recommend you take this approach, it doesn’t work when you’re trying to FIND the best speakers. In order to know you’re getting quality speakers beforehand, you’ll want them tried and tested by other consumers such as yourself.
For this reason, YouTube will be your best asset. You can see other reviewers testing out various speakers and providing their honest insight. YouTuber BubVisuals gives us his honest review of these Logitech budget computer speakers and covers many topics such as the specs, hooking them up, and sound quality. Next, he puts the speakers through a test on video. He first tests a song before adding bass and after.
There are a variety of videos like this for more than just computer speaks — you can find test videos for bookshelf speakers and even studio monitors. Keep in mind, many reviewers may be affiliates to a company or are sent the product for free in exchange for a review. However, the reviewer should still be providing their honest opinion. You should still make sure the review doesn’t sound too promotional. If it does, find another review.
Setting a Speaker Budget
While we all want the best speakers, it’s also important to keep money in your bank account. That’s why setting a speaker budget is vital. But instead of setting a specific dollar amount, focus on speaker quality. Choose a few speakers that have the specs and features you need plus great reviews. Compare their prices and choose the most affordable one. You should also take advantage of speaker deals if you find them.
If you absolutely need to set a budget price, you should still know the specs you need.
This means you may need to know when you can increase that set price if you find the best speakers for you. You should still research reviews and test videos. Understand that you may need to upgrade your speakers in the future, especially if you’re using speakers for a professional purpose such as audio engineering or video editing. In that case, it may be best to purchase premium speakers now.
Even if you’re not on a strict budget, there may be times when you may need to spend less on speakers. For example, let’s say you’re building a home theater. Most of your money will go toward a high-end TV, so you may want to budget a bit more for the speakers.
However, let’s say you’re putting your vinyl rig together and bought the turntable and receiver at close to nothing. In that case, splurge on some high-quality speakers.
Should You Buy Speakers Online or at a Store?
The online shopping world opened up more opportunities to buy a variety of products, including speakers. But should you still purchase speakers in-store? Both have their pros and cons.
Let’s start with brick-and-mortar stores. Most brick-and-mortar stores have been around for decades, sell high-quality brands and products, and have wonderful brand recognition. They’re often the most trusted names, compared to online stores, which are usually new.
Remember how we mentioned testing the speakers? The best part about buying speakers from a store is the staff will usually let you test the speakers. Speakers also have the risk of getting damaged in the shipping process, so you can take them back home in one piece when buying them directly from the store.
You can also look at their shape and size to better determine if that’s what you’re looking for. While rare, there are some speakers you can’t find online. That’s why checking your local electronics store initially is always worth it. You also don’t need to pay for shipping or wait for the product to arrive.
And if you don’t like the speakers? Returning the speakers in-store is significantly easier than returning products online.
There are advantages to buying speakers online. When buying speakers in-store, you usually deal with pushy salespeople who either try and upcharge you or sell you extra gear that you don’t need. You can avoid that hassle when buying speakers online. You also have plenty of time to conduct research and read reviews.
While you have to pay for shipping when you order online, e-commerce stores don’t have the overhead that brick-and-mortar stores have. This results in reduced prices. Online stores also offer the same benefits as brick-and-mortar stores, including returns/exchanges, warranties, and more.
Do You Need Speaker Protection?
We mentioned warranties briefly. Most companies offer some form of protection for free, while others offer better warranties at a price. Should you really purchase this extra service? Well, it depends.
As stated previously, there’s a risk your speakers could sustain damage — especially when ordering online. Purchasing a warranty guarantees you’re covered, no matter what happens to your speakers.
Understand that warranties usually don’t cover everything, so it’s important to read the terms and conditions before investing in speaker protection. Warranties also don’t last forever. Your speakers will inevitably age and will lose quality, so it’s more worth it to purchase a longer warranty than a shorter one.
The type of speakers you buy should also impact this decision. For example, if you’re buying high-quality studio monitors for work, you should absolutely purchase a warranty in case something happens and you need your monitors for your everyday job. Even if you’re using speakers for recreational reasons, a warranty will come in handy if they’re vintage. A warranty may even be worth it if it’s not too expensive, i.e., under $50.
The truth of the matter is, you can buy great speakers without a separate warranty. Just be careful with your speakers and understand the risks of not purchasing a warranty. You will still want to see what protections the manufacturer offers for free, such as an exchange if the speakers stop working. And last but not least, as long as you purchase high-quality speakers, you really shouldn’t need a separate warranty.
Our Favorite Speakers
We understand that speakers embody multiple categories. That’s why we’re naming the best speakers based on certain common buying factors.
The Best Bluetooth Speakers: Sonos Roam
For a Bluetooth speaker, the Sonos Roam comes with a lot of power. This speaker has bass-heavy audio, so it’s even ideal to use outdoors. It’s not only perfect for listening to music and YouTube, but it also has smart speaker functions. While it has Bluetooth connectivity, it can also connect to your device via WiFi. This means you can connect it to Alexa, Google Assistant, and just about any smart home device.
- Powerful sound
- The sound may be too overwhelming for some
- Expensive compared to other Bluetooth speakers
The Best Computer Speakers: Audioengine A2+
These speakers aren’t new, but they’re still the best computer speakers even by today’s standards. With a built-in DAC, these speakers have amazing sound quality. They easily connect to your computer’s USB and have a very sleek design. Keep in mind, these speakers don’t have a subwoofer, so these aren’t ideal if you want deep bass (though you can opt for an external woofer).
- Powerful audio
- Easy to connect via USB
- Built-in DAC
- No subwoofer
The Best Bookshelf Speakers: ELAC Debut 2.0 B5.2
ELAC is a trusted name in the speaker world. And out of all of their products, the Debut 2.0 B5.2 is one of their best efforts. For the money you’re paying, the performance is amazing. They play practically any music genre flawlessly with incredible detail. These speakers will highlight all dynamics in any sound and tone. That’s why I especially recommend these for vinyl.
- Solid structure
- Detailed sound
- Easy to set up
- Fits on practically any bookshelf or other surface
- Lots of other great speakers in the market, this is just the best for the price
Best Home Theater Speakers: SVS Prime Satellite 5.1 Package
SVS is a respected name in the industry and a good one for your home theater setup. If you’re truly looking for an authentic sound that shakes the room and makes you feel like you’re in the movie, these are the best speakers for you. Plus, these speakers are easy to set up and fit practically anywhere, even in a small room.
- Loud and clear sound
- Cheaper than other home theater speakers
- Need a separate amplifier and/or receiver
Question: Do I Need a Subwoofer?
Answer: For many, a subwoofer is an essential part of their sound system. But if you’re on a budget and don’t care about the extra bass, just one subwoofer is fine. One subwoofer stands fine on its own and produces enough bass. However, if you truly want a quality sound system, you may want to consider investing in a subwoofer. Plus, the second subwoofer will evenly distribute the bass.
Question: Can I Buy a Subwoofer From a Different Brand Than My Speakers?
Answer: Yes, you can. And not only that, but it’s a good idea. However, always buy from a brand that’s known for making good subwoofers, whether or not it’s the same brand that made your speakers. You should also follow the same advice when selecting subwoofers, such as reading reviews and watching testing videos.
Question: My Speakers Include a Warranty. Should I Buy an Extended Warranty?
Answer: If your speakers include a warranty, there’s usually no point in buying an extended warranty.
Most warranties cover speaker damage and problems for a few years after you buy them. And if your speakers are relatively affordable, your money will go to better use on a new pair of speakers. However, there are times when an extended warranty is necessary. For example, if you’re buying a premium sound system for your home theater that costs $1k+, then the extended warranty will be a smart investment.
However, be sure to shop around for warranties. Don’t be quick to buy the warranty that the manufacturer offers.
From streaming Netflix on your home theater to listening to your favorite vinyl, there are many reasons why we need speakers. However, you should be smart about your speaker investment. Identify the purpose of your speakers, check out the specifications, determine room factor, wiring preference, and the type of speaker you want. From here, you can look up reviews. You can always start with some of our favorite speaker picks.
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