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New Loudspeaker Technology

New Developments Allow for Music Everywhere in the Home

Anyone who has seriously shopped for a stereo system knows that the speakers are the most important component. The general rule of thumb is that you are supposed to spend half of your budget on speakers and the other half on all of the other components such as a receiver and CD player, etc. That’s because speakers have the most audible differences between brands and models. Sure, you can hear the differences between brands of receivers, but it’s hard. Speakers, on the other hand, have very clear-cut differences in sound. Some speakers have big, open, dynamic output that sounds like a live concert. Others deliver clean, accurate sounds akin to studio monitors. It really comes down to personal preference, and that is why you must take some time and listen.

Bring your own CDs-and make sure that you have a variety: acoustic music, electric music, and vocals. A good female vocal CD can really test a speaker’s midrange reproduction, which is often a problem for some inferior models. Listen if there is a seamless transition between the singer’s lower and upper ranges. A good pair of speakers can handle a constant frequency sweep without dropout. Also check out the bass response. Bring music with serious low bass content. Many speakers can deliver good mid-bass, such as 100 Hz and above. Great speakers can also give some punch to the really low notes. Many music fans will opt to supplement their system with a powered subwoofer for really deep bass. And now powered subwoofers can come built in to the main speakers. Finally, bring some violin concertos to see how the speakers handle really high-frequency reproduction. Highs should be smooth. Beware of shrill and metallic high frequencies, which are a telltale sign of an inferior loudspeaker.

The above conventional speaker wisdom really pertains to your main speakers. But with multi-room, multi-zone technology, you could be bringing home two or three pairs of speakers with your system instead of just one. And, of course, five-channel surround sound systems mean that five or six speaker systems have become standard fare for audio and video buffs. Let’s explore new loudspeaker developments such as powered towers, in-wall, outdoor, and wireless speakers so that you can be armed with enough information to make a good buying decision at the hi-fi store.

Each speaker manufacturer, (and there are close to a thousand of them) has its own technique for producing sound. Some use horn-loaded tweeters for a “live” sound. Others use a pair of tweeters-one in the front and one in the back-for a three-dimensional sound.

There are many different techniques that can be combined, including with-driver configuration, complement, and material. And there are other factors, such as crossover electronics and cabinet design and material, that you will drive yourself crazy trying to remember it all. Here’s some sound advice: Go to the local specialty audio store (the one where speakers are in small sound rooms, not out on the main floor with the TVs and dishwashers) and hook up with a sales consultant who knows what he or she’s talking about. Generally any reputable audio store will have enough different brands that you will be able to get three or four choices and not get so completely inundated with speaker designs that buying a pair becomes a full-time job.

Bookshelf Speakers

Many folks opt to purchase bookshelf speakers for their first stereo system because they tend to be less expensive and smaller than floor-standing speakers. Better-quality driver material now allows smaller speakers to deliver broader dynamic range without distortion. Even so, it is hard to recommend just a pair of bookshelf speakers as the primary members of the main system because nine times out of ten, you will still be missing some low bass sounds. Bookshelf speakers do work well as part of a six-channel surround system with subwoofer because the combination of multiple speakers produces quite a dramatic effect. And bookshelf speakers work well in secondary rooms where the listening might not be as critical and speakers are used more for background music.

Floor-Standing Speakers

Most boys dream of large, floor-standing speakers as the focal point of their living room. But they then grow up (a subjective term) and realize that their significant other generally will not allow big speakers as a substitute for art. Manufacturers have realized this and have found ways to produce sleeker speakers that still deliver full-range sound. Nevertheless, larger, floor-standing speakers can accommodate larger bass drivers, or woofers. Generally speaking, the larger the woofer space, the lower the bass that can be reproduced. Many speakers will actually include two woofers, and/or a “drone” bass radiator that further enhances the low-frequency output.

Another new trend in speaker design is the “powered tower.” Manufacturers are starting to incorporate powered subwoofers into the speakers themselves so that you don’t have to have a bunch of different boxes in your living room.

Powered Subwoofers

These devices are speakers dedicated to the reproduction of bass. Bass is generally regarded as sound that measures 150 Hz and below (humans can theoretically hear down to 20 Hz). But even if you can’t hear the actual notes, you can feel them in your chest. Not only is a subwoofer a “must have” for electric music, it is also fantastic for watching action movies on DVD! But subwoofers didn’t just start with the first Lethal Weapon film. They were actually born of audiophile, classical heritage. There is nothing quite like listening to a symphony when you can feel the kettledrums and double basses. Imagine listening to the 1812 Overture with one.

Basically, a powered subwoofer is a box a little larger than a milk crate. It contains a large woofer-at least eight inches, but twelve or fifteen is the norm. And it contains a crossover to filter out all of the high and mid frequencies, as well as a powerful amplifier. A subwoofer amp starts at a minimum of 100 watts and can go up to 1,000! The woofer usually faces downward to the floor, so it looks like a small coffee table. And a powered subwoofer can be placed anywhere in the room. That is because low bass frequencies cannot be localized. The subwoofer might be at the opposite end of the room from the main speakers, but the ear hears all of the sounds coming from one place. And low bass is a monaural phenomenon so you only need one since they don’t play in stereo.

Surround Sound

Surround sound is the most popular phenomenon to hit the stereo business since the CD player. It is difficult to find a two-channel stereo receiver nowadays-most are 5-channel surround sound. The latest advancement that has become the standard for all new technology such as DVD, digital satellite, and digital high definition television, is Dolby digital 5.1. This is the most accurate and most dramatic surround system by far because it incorporates digital technology for the most defined channel separation and broadest dynamic range. It is called 5.1 because it delivers five channels of full range sound-right front, center, left front, right rear, and left rear. The “.1” refers to the dedicated subwoofer channel since it is not full range.

The most popular-and indeed the simplest-way of getting into surround sound is to get an all-in-one surround sound speaker package. The conventional wisdom is that it is best to go with a single manufacturer rather than to mix and match. That is because the timbre of a single manufacturer’s speakers is matched, delivering better quality, smoother surround sound. Many speaker manufacturers now produce surround sound speaker packages that incorporate a power amplifier, inputs for a TV and DVD player, as well as remote control, so you don’t even need a surround sound receiver.

Outdoor Speakers

If you have a receiver that has multi-room or multi-zone capability, you can have music in more than just your main listening room. Multi-room means that you can listen to the same source in more than one room. Multi-zone means that you can listen to different sources in different rooms (e.g., a CD player in the den, and the radio in the kitchen). Even if have neither, if your receiver delivers enough power, you can add an outboard speaker switching box and have three to six pairs of speakers running throughout the house.

Once you have the proper amplification set up, you can start adding speakers. The most popular additional rooms of music aren’t rooms at all, but outdoor areas! With the advancement of water-resistant technology, great-sounding outdoor speakers are now quite affordable. They all come with mounting brackets so they can be installed under your eaves, or surrounding your hot tub. There are even speakers that look like rocks for that au natural look!

In-Wall Speakers

If you are building a house or adding a room, you will want to strongly consider getting it “pre-wired” for sound. This simply means that a hi-fi store that specializes in custom installation will send a team out to run speaker wires before the sheet rock goes up. There will be easy access terminals in the wall, which resemble a light switch plate. This way, you can easily add speakers either mounted on the wall on brackets, or flush mounted in the wall and painted over so that music is heard but not seen.

If your house is done already, then you can get the installation folks to snake wires behind the walls, in the basement, or through the crawl spaces to achieve the same result. Any house can be retro-fitted for music in all rooms, but it is easier if the house was built after WWII.

If you decide to flush mount speakers in other rooms, you will have to also get a volume control so that you can adjust the volume or turn it off completely. You can also get extra remote control sensors, and if you have a receiver with an outboard remote interface, you can run wires from the sensor to the receiver in your main listening room. Now you can change tracks on your CD, or change sources altogether by pointing the auxiliary remote control at the flush mounted sensor. On the horizon is RF technology, which means that your remote will send its instruction through the air via radio signals rather than being limited by line-of-sight, as with infrared technology. RF remotes are starting to become available with many systems and will probably make remote wall sensors obsolete.

Generally speaking, the larger the woofers in the in-wall speakers, the better the bass response for richer sound. If you want better sound in the dining room, you may opt for in-wall speakers with 6.5-inch or even 8-inch woofers. In the bathroom, you may just want to go for a standard 5-inch size. A new trend for in-wall speakers is a round design so that they will mount in recessed light fixtures in the ceiling.

Wireless speakers

There are now ways that you can have music in other rooms without having to snake wires through the walls. One way sends the signals through your house’s AC current system. All you do is plug the powered speaker into the wall socket and it mirrors the sounds of the main system. The other way is through 900 MHz technology. The FCC designated the 900 MHz bandwidth for consumer electronics purposes only so there are now a myriad of cordless phones, wireless headphones, and now wireless speakers using this new, interference-free system. Neither of these two wireless systems delivers the same fidelity as running dedicated speaker wires through the walls, but you never know what the future will hold, so stay tuned.

Now Hear This Speakers Large and Small

Boston Acoustics System 9000 complete surround sound speaker package is an

all-in-one home theater system. In one box, you’ll get four main/surround speakers, as well as center channel speaker for dialogue, and a powered 75-watt subwoofer. You can pick one up for about $1,000.

Advent AW-820 900 MHz wireless speakers will pick up the signal via the transmitter you hook up to your main stereo system. Put them anywhere, indoors or out-up to 150 feet away. They run on either batteries or on an AC adapter. Each speaker delivers 10 watts of power for truly decent sound. They sell for less than $200 per pair.

Boston Acoustics’ VR-960 powered floor-standing speakers incorporate a powered subwoofer. Their sleek design is deceiving because they can produce thunderous bass. They feature a 65-watt power amp and subwoofer, combined with BA’s VR tweeter system for fantastic full-range sound. They sell for around $1,000 per pair.

The Polk RMDS-1 complete home theater system includes a full-featured control interface, AM/FM tuner, preamp, Dolby Digitalprocessor, high-current six channel power amplifier, five compact satellite speakers, and a 10 inch subwoofer. The RMDS-1 system carries a suggested retail price of $2699.

Mission 771 bookshelf speakers are audiophile-quality speakers at a pretty affordable price. They deliver a broad frequency response for bookshelf speakers-70 Hz-20 kHz. They feature a spring-loaded tweeter for clear, smooth highs, and an Aerogel woofer for clean midrange and bass. They come in cherry wood veneer or black and sell for around $400 per pair.

The new psb speakers model Stratus Silver i is a slim, elegant tower system combining two 6-1/2 woofers and a 1-inch aluminum-dome tweeter in a “2-1/2” design. The system’s new pedestal base provides added internal volume for slight improvement in bass response over the original Silver. Optionally available in distinctive high-gloss black. They sell for $1,799 per pair.

Originally Published