Choosing Home-Theater Speakers

Follow these 7 tips for surrounding yourself with the perfect sound.

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Mounted Television and Speakers

Not all surround-sound speakers are created equal, and mixing and matching brands is far from the audio ideal. Check out these tips for choosing the right speakers for your home theater:

1. Get five or seven timbre-matched speakers, depending on whether you have a 5.1 or a 7.1 system. Although timbre matching is quite technical, it simply means that each speaker will produce similar sounds. The sound should seamless throughout your room. A small center-channel speaker from one manufacturer and large floor-standing speakers from a different manufacturer isn't the best match (although it's the kind of setup found in most homes).

2. For most people with a medium-size living room or den, 12- to 15-inch-tall bookshelf speakers make a lot of sense. They're a convenient size that won't overwhelm a room and can be found in almost every price range. Typically, bookshelf speakers don't bring a lot of bass, but that's okay because the subwoofer will handle those low frequencies.

3. Only a dedicated home-theater space or large multipurpose room should contain speakers of the large variety, 38 inches and up. Although the best of the speakers in this range do sound great and can be loud, it's overkill for most rooms.

4. The subwoofer is an important part of the overall surround-sound system. It delivers all the deep bass impact on DVDs and CDs. Most midpriced systems, though, come with a woofer, a small driver in a small cabinet with a small amplifier. This is fine for music, but deep bass won't be heard on DVDs. So pony up for a real subwoofer with a bigger woofer driver, a bigger amplifier and a bigger cabinet, which all add up to one thing: deep, deep bass. Go ahead and get the biggest and most powerful subwoofer your budget will allow. This bass boost will make satellite speakers of any size sound bigger and better.

5. Some consumers get caught up in power ratings, or "wattage," when buying speakers, but in reality those numbers are just an advisory from the manufacturer. It's not necessary to match a 100-watt amp with speakers rated at 100 watts, but use these ratings as a guide for choosing speakers that fall at or above the amp's wattage.

6. When shopping for speakers, one of the big mistakes people make is listening to unfamiliar program material, usually a demo CD or DVD that the store may have on hand. When you do this, there's no way of knowing whether a speaker system is really to your liking. Bring familiar CDs or DVDs¾after listening to them, one speaker system is going to stand out over the other.

7. Every home theater and speakers come complete with cables, but consider getting after-market cables. They'll make for better video and better audio, and the cables will last longer without problems. There are a lot of inflated claims about the performance of some cables, with price tags to match, but it's not necessary to pay thousands of dollars for overly thick cables. A good rule of thumb is to spend 10 percent to 15 percent of the cost of the overall home-entertainment system on the cables. One thing to look for is gold-plated connectors. Unlike nickel or tin-plated connectors, gold won't corrode, and corrosion causes distortion.

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