TECH Q AND A: How do I choose the right speakers?
Q. I am looking for speakers and keep going round and round on the Web. The audiophiles are fanatic and it is difficult to discern reality from hype. I will NEVER be able to distinguish such differences, and I don't really care, either. I just wa...
Q. I am looking for speakers and keep going round and round on the Web. The audiophiles are fanatic and it is difficult to discern reality from hype. I will NEVER be able to distinguish such differences, and I don't really care, either. I just want good sound for my money.
Pragmatically speaking, is there any difference for the average person who is not an audiophile? Are $5,000 speakers worth it or is it all marketing? What is the point of diminishing returns for the average person, dollar-wise? There are so many vendors!
--E.H., Sharon, Mass.
A. Spending a fortune does not always get the best sound. One year at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) I heard a $130,000 system that did not sound as good as the $5,500 system in the room below it. A non-audiophile friend accompanying me offered the same opinion without being asked. He had no idea what was what and how much it all cost. He just said, "The system downstairs sounded a lot better!"
I will answer based on my experience answering quite a few e-mails from "average people" who are not audiophiles, with "average rooms" and a good quality receiver. My experience has been that if you choose well, $1,200 to $1,500 for a 5.1 channel home theater speaker system based on bookshelf or small tower speakers provides movie and music performance that the non-audiophile will be completely thrilled with. There is a caveat. To get the best speakers stay away from big-box stores and go to an independent specialty retailer or direct sales manufacturer. Two systems to consider in this range are Axiom Epic Midi systems ( www.axiomaudio.com ) or a Paradigm Monitor based system ( www.paradigm.com ). The upcoming Arx (formerly Acculine) speakers from theaudioinsider.com will be in this category, as well.
If you want sound that can be described as beautiful and spectacular, there are two Definitive Technology systems that provide performance competitive with the megabuck gear. A complete Definitive Mythos STS surround system sells for $3,999, and the top-of-the-line Mythos ST surround system sells for $5,500. At CES I saw DTS demonstrate DTS Master Audio using Definitive Mythos speakers, and one audio reviewer aptly said the Mythos ST system provides 95 percent of the performance of a competing $50,000 system, an assessment I concur with. Learn more at www.definitivetech.com .
Reproducing music is more challenging than reproducing movie soundtracks, so if you are building a stereo music system you may want to budget more toward the two speakers. You can find musically satisfying bookshelf speakers from the above brands for $249 and up, with more money getting you bigger speakers, more bass, more refinement, and more detail. You can even get American-made exotic speakers for under $1,000 per pair. Check out the $599 flat panel Magnepan MMG ( www.magnepan.com ) and the Ohm Walsh models at www.ohmspeakers.com if you want something special and different.
While there are diminishing returns, if you are an audiophile (or want to be) and have lots of money I don't think $10,000 or $20,000 for a pair of stereo speakers is out of line if it suits your tastes and makes you happy. For most people, though, it is complete overkill, especially when you can get much of the performance for a fraction of the cost.