The purchase of hi-fi loudspeakers begins long before handing over your hard earned cash. It is an emotive purchase, with each individual possessing different motivation fuelling their search for their ideal speaker. Whatever you may be looking for, it can be difficult to know where to start in a market that, although thrilling, can also be somewhat baffling to newcomers. In this blog, we will offer a comprehensive look at the points to consider when beginning your journey to a new speaker.
Whatever you may be looking for, it can be difficult to know where to start in a market that, although thrilling, can also be somewhat baffling to newcomers. In this blog, we will offer a comprehensive look at the points to consider when beginning your journey to a new speaker.
The first thing to consider before searching the market is what level of investment you are looking to make. With models reaching the price of a small car, you need to be sure of what is driving your desire for a new set of loudspeakers.
Whether you are aspiring to a particular model; looking for a change from your current set-up; searching for a specific sound experience or perhaps returning to the world of hi-fi after some time away, it is useful to have your reasons clear. This list is by no means exhaustive and your scenario may be completely different. Understanding this, the team at Audio Affair offer a bespoke service to help you make an informed choice. Let’s take a closer look at the features you may want to consider when searching for your new loudspeakers.
The Wharfedale Diamond 10.1, (pictured above) an award-winning example of bookshelf speakers, currently on sale at Audio Affair. Click on the link to buy now.
Stand Mount or Floor Standing?
You may have heard some of the below terms bandied about, so it is important to have a basic understanding of these to help shape your decision. First, let’s start with the basics. Speakers are generally split into two categories: stand mount design (also known as bookshelf speakers) and floorstanding respectively.
A stand mount design is small and compact, making it ideal for those with limited space. Some people may place these on a shelf (hence it’s alternative name), however we thoroughly recommend placing them on stands for wider sound distribution and isolation from the floor. If you choose a stand, ideally it should be filled with Atacama Atabite’s (or similar).
In contrast, a floorstander is “bigger”: it is physically larger and often has larger woofers allowing it to move more air. It recreates instrument timbre with more precision to create a more realistic listen. Its towering design makes it a statement piece in any home; however this also comes with the drawback of the user needing ample room to accommodate it.
2-Way, 3-Way or More?
Once you’ve established which you want, next you will need to down to specifics. Many designs are distinguished between being a 2-way or 3-way design (or more!).
These terms simply refer to the number of drivers within the cabinet. If you are looking for a bass-rich sound, opt for a 3-way model which enjoys two woofers, therefore double the lower frequency ability.
Alternatively, you may want to consider a Dual Concentric model, where two drivers are joined in one assembly, often the tweeter and mid-range. By doing so point source accuracy is improved, reducing phase coherence and offering beautiful clean response especially on solo instruments. You may see speakers with that our three-way design – or should I say appear to be but actually what looks like one driver is a “dual concentric” and therefore the speakers is “4-way”. Check out the KEF Reference 3.
To Port or not to Port
Another differentiation can be found between ported and non-ported designs. A ported model features a portal either on the front or back of the cabinet, which drains out excess pressure to avoid damaging the drivers. We recommend not placing a rear ported design too close to a wall as this pressure/sound leakage is detrimental to the performance.
If you are planning on placing your speaker next to a wall or close to furniture, it is better to opt for a non-ported speaker, also known as an ‘infinite baffle’, (or in the case of rear walls “front ported” ) which are completely closed models. ATC are particularly noted for their designs within this area.
Delving further into the inner detailing of speakers, it is worth thinking about the driver material and how closely it matches your desired sound. A metal driver will produce a much sharper soundscape than the softer sound created by paper or bextrene doped paper.
With driver options ranging from beryllium tweeters to paper cone woofers, it is crucial that your choice takes the driver into account. It will have a significant impact on the model’s sound performance and pairing abilities so it is undoubtedly worth taking the time to consider this, or if you are unsure speak to a member of our team.
Dynamic, Electrostatic, Planar Magnetic
Now we are getting technical. Speakers can be differentiated by how they move air, thereby causing vibrations that vibrate the eardrum so we hear sound. Speakers can be broadly divided into three kinds: dynamic, electrostatic and planar magnetic.
In a dynamic speaker, air is moved by the motion of the coil moving back and forward surrounded by a magnetic field.
An electrostatic model works differently, as electricity is passed through a conductive membrane (in-between two conductive grids), which causes its membrane to vibrate. It is this vibration that creates sound.
Planar magnetic is a combination of both technologies however they do not conduct electricity as the movement of a thin membrane is achieved via a magnet field as it is in dynamic designs.
The Mission LX-2, an example of Dynamic speaker design
The Quad ESL 2912, an example of Electrostatic speaker design
Oppo PM-1Planar Magnetic Headphones, an example of Planar Magnetic technology
Bi-wiring, tri-wiring and bi-amping
With these foundations covered, now we can look at the intricacies of bi-wiring, tri-wiring and bi-amping. This sounds complicated but is actually pretty simple; it refers to the number of wires in relation to the number of drivers.
For bi-wiring designs, a 2 to 4 cable offers a 2 plug at the amp end and 4 plug at the speaker end. This splits the signal between the tweeter and woofer so the amp powers both separately. As a result, the speaker can offer a more defined sound with better separation.
Tri-wiring works exactly the same but for models with three drivers, and quad-wiring likewise.
Bi-amping refers to the process of using two amps to drive each individual speaker, this makes much more difference than “Bi-wiring”. Some dismiss this totally in favour of using higher quality jumpers at the speaker end and running a 2-2 shotgun speaker cable. As with wiring, amping for stereo can increase in multiples of one (bi,tri,quad etc).
Moving away from the technicalities of speakers, let’s consider how the aesthetic can sway your choice. Of course sound quality is everyone’s priority but the appearance of a speaker often runs a close second.
A speaker will become an integral part of the home so you want to ensure you are happy with its appearance. Speakers come in a variety of finishes such as veneer, real wood and matt/gloss finishes.
ProAc is famed for their exquisite real wood veneer finishes which are ‘book matched’, where the finish on the left speaker is a mirror image of the right. You can also find a car paint match finish for models such as the KEF BLADE. With some high-end models, you can essentially choose whatever colour you like, something that the team at Audio Affair are happy to assist with.
Once you have settled on your speaker, it is may be necessary to invest in accessories to ensure they function to their optimum level. For bookshelf speakers, a speaker stand is a must to ensure a clean bass response and imaging: for the correct set up, stands should be filled with Atacama Atabites (or similar!) and then finished with Atacama Gel Pads (bluetac works too however it’s messy and can damage the bottom of the speaker.) Atacama HD Spike Shoes can be used also if you need to protect wooden floors. One such product gaining much notoriety is the ISO Acoustics GAIA, check them out here.
Finally, you need to consider how a speaker will slot into your room and your existing system. Matching speakers to an amplifier is an important and often overlooked point. Take into account the wattage of your amp and the sensitivity of the speaker to make sure they are well aligned. Remember to match low wattage to high sensitivity or high wattage to low sensitivity and you can’t go wrong.
Speaker cables are a must, with copper and silver designs proving the most popular (or a combination of both.) Choosing a cable speaker raises its own questions, so be sure to head back to the Audio Affair blog for more on this here.
Your speakers will become part of the furniture, so it is crucial that your room is ready. Soft furnishings such as curtains and sofas are speaker-friendly and can enhance their ability to perform in any given room. If you don’t mind your home resembling a recording studio, you can even invest in acoustic wall panels! For more information on room placement, check out our blog on the topic for some handy tips.
Whether you are starting your search from scratch or already have a pair in mind, don’t hesitate to call us at Audio Affair or drop by our showroom where we can assist you with your search for your perfect speakers.
Most importantly, however, this is a rewarding process so enjoy your new speakers once you have decided!