Sound at home. What are your options?

Sound at home. What are your options?

When purchasing a sound system, it’s important to know where to start as the array of options can be overwhelming. Soundbars, stereo and surround sound systems are great options but which is right for you? 
 
Let’s start with a quick breakdown of what’s required to reproduce sound. Essentially, a speaker with an internal/external amplifier is required. The quality or range of sound (highs/treble to lows/bass) is determined by the quality of the amplifier and speaker size combination. A combination of small and large drivers, powered by quality amplifiers will give you a wide and rich range of sound. 
 
Soundbars are a decent option to consider when upgrading your sound from the in-built TV speaker. However, it’s important to keep in mind, the speakers and amplifiers are physically small which limits them to only being able to produce high frequencies. To supplement this, a subwoofer can be added for bass but this can lead to these systems sounding hollow or lacking mid-range. Midrange frequencies, especially for music, are crucial to determine tone & definition. They are very important for guitar, piano, brass, woodwind, even the body of a drumkit or the personality of a bass guitar. Our ears are tuned to be sensitive to midrange frequencies which the human voice lies in. This unconvincing hollow range needs to properly considered when weighing up if a soundbar is your ideal option.
 
If you love music, then a stereo or simple surround sound system is the way to go. This requires separate speaker and amplification components. Compared to a soundbar this may seem ‘bulky’, but a wide range of speaker styles are available which really can become the highlight of your décor. Take a look at our Bower & Wilkins speaker highlight video below or click here for great examples of stylish speakers. Don’t forget hidden in-wall speakers can be installed if a minimalist style is what your want.



The most important factor to focus on is that a separate speaker system can produce mid-range frequencies and do it really well. Clarity and bass are also covered but the mid range reproduction is the crucial difference from a soundbar. Floor standing tower speakers offer a full set of drivers within the one housing which work in harmony to produce a rich and complete soundscape. Tower speakers generally contain a ‘tweeter’ dedicated to highs (this determines clarity, think crash cymbals on a drum kit) a mid-range driver for mids (gives music life and tonality – think the tom tom solo on Phil Collin’s In the Air Tonight) and a bass driver or two for low frequencies (think kick drum). 
 
Keep in mind that music is recorded across 2 channels (left & right) so it is vital to have separate left and right speakers to reproduce the music as it was recorded. For film and TV, most stereo amps or AV receivers are capable of reproducing the sound through 2 channels. However, TV shows and movies are produced with more than 2 channels of audio. At least 5 channels of audio plus a dedicated channel for bass is the norm – this is 5.1. For film, a centre speaker enhances the overall soundscape significantly because it focuses on speech and dialogue, leaving the left and right speakers for action and music. Adding surround/in-ceiling speakers gives the listener spatial effects, like a plane flying overhead. This can be expanded up to 11 speakers and dual sub combo in Dolby ATMOS configurations for a gold glass experience, but more on this another time.

If you’re 50/50 music and movies and want a system that’s sleek, a 3.1ch setup is a high performing middle ground between soundbar and home theatre. Essentially, the signal quality and power of a dedicated amp, combined with larger high-quality left, right and centre speakers with a sub, will produce a significantly better soundstage. Spreading these across your room or around your TV will give you much more realistic sound imagery. Words won’t do this difference justice. Take a look at our speaker packages here which includes some 3.1ch systems ready to go.
 
The other advantage of a component system is the ability to add to and customise your configuration over time. You can add a pair of surround speakers either on stands, wall mounted, in-ceiling, in-wall or even wireless. Soundbars don’t allow this much flexibility because everything is built in to the single chassis, which will need replacing as new technology surpasses the old. On the other hand, a dedicated speaker system can last for a decade or more with proper care.
 
Hopefully this provides some insight into what’s available. Though, the only real way to feel the difference is with your own ears.We have a range of soundbars, stereo and surround sound systems set up and on display in our showroom to demo, so come in and have a listen for yourself. If you’d like more info on the above, chat to us online, over the phone or in the showroom.

 

James Moors, Assistant Manager, Audio Engineer